The Death of Stalin Review


Whenever I hear about something particularly ludicrous that Trump has done, be it the fake TIME Magazine hanging at his golf clubs or him just staring directly at a solar eclipse, my reaction is usually to laugh, and then shudder. This guy has nuclear codes. That reaction was felt many, many times watching The Death of Stalin, the new film from Veep creator Armando Iannucci. It’s a comedy, and a very funny one at that, but every laugh is superseded by a mounting feeling of dread that only intensifies as the story hurtles towards its shocking, grotesque finale. Screenwriters Iannucci, David Schneider, Ian Martin, and Peter Fellows present the mostly true story, albeit with a very accelerated timeline, of the chaos that followed Stalin’s unexpected demise, and the film is entirely unafraid of depicting the atrocities committed by the Soviet government during their regime.

Consider one scene, where the remaining members of the Central Committee gather all the doctors in Moscow to try and save their dying leader. The only problem is that Stalin had previously rounded up the majority of doctors in the capital, and shipped them elsewhere to be tortured for their role in a supposed plot to assassinate Soviet leadership. Needless to say, it proves very challenging to find a good doctor, and Stalin dies of a cerebral hemorrhage. The irony here is undeniably funny, and is played for all it’s worth, as is the incompetence of the only doctors that were deemed of no threat to Stalin, and the incessant scheming of everyone on the Central Committee. The menace sets in when, after Stalin dies, every civilian witness is either forcibly taken away in trucks, or shot on the spot.

It would have been easy to simply portray the leadership as buffoons, and skirt around the terror they inflicted on the people they governed. Indeed, being unfamiliar with the works of Iannucci, and knowing only what the poster looked like, this was what I expected. And while they certainly have their buffoonish moments – a scene where Steve Buscemi’s Khrushchev repeatedly uses Stalin’s lifeless feet to point the direction they should carry him is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long while – they are never portrayed as anything less than monsters. When they inevitably make a movie about the horror show that is the Trump Administration I hope this is the route they take, rather than the softball approach of, say, Oliver Stone’s W. Ideally the film would also be directed by Armando Iannucci.

The production values in The Death of Stalin are superb. Cinematographer Zac Nicholson’s Moscow is a gray wasteland, a city devoid of hope, at the mercy of voracious wolves. The score by Chris Willis ranges from bombastic (every time a new character is introduced, time slows down and the music swells) to poignant (a son turning his father over to the secret police). It is incredibly rare that a comedy looks and sounds this good. The cast is stellar, with my favourite performances being Buscemi’s wolf-in-sheep’s clothing portrayal of Nikita Khrushchev, and Simon Russell Beale’s truly astounding turn as Lavrenti Beria, the head of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police. Beale commands every scene he’s in, oscillating effortlessly between Beria’s reptilian charm, untethered ambition, and barely concealed desperation.

The Death of Stalin is not going to be for everyone. There are sequences, especially in the final fifteen minutes, when comedy takes a definite backseat to horror. As the Central Committee’s squabbling and scheming is replaced by swift and brutal action, we are reminded that yes, this actually happened, yes, this is still happening in plenty of countries, and yes, until we can find an alternative to power hungry psychopaths running the world, this will continue to happen, again, and again, and again.

Pacific Rim: Uprising Review


There are three kinds of “bad” movies:

  1. The ones that are boring. These usually have incomprehensible plots, bland characters, and a third act dreamed up while the movie was shooting. Think The Cloverfield Paradox or anything from the DC Extended Universe that isn’t Wonder Woman
  2. The ones that are morally reprehensible. These usually feature sexist and/or racist portrayals of women and people of colour, and often just have a misguided or hateful view of humanity. Think Jurassic World or anything directed by Michael Bay
  3. The ones that entertain you and therefore aren’t bad at all. These usually feature goofy stories, cornball dialogue, and everyone involved committing 110%. Think Mission: Impossible II or Pacific Rim: Uprising

I will qualify by saying that I am an unabashed fan of Pacific Rim. I acknowledge that it has issues, and would be a much better movie if Mako was the lead, but Guillermo del Toro writes and directs with such love for genre and characters that I always have a great time watching it. The fact that it pretty effectively builds an entire world is a plus, as are the numerous scenes of giant robots fighting giant aliens.

Pacific Rim: Uprising certainly won’t win any new converts, but it does a good job presenting the logical next step in the story. It doesn’t just retread the original, but actually builds on what happened at the end of Pacific Rim. One of the strengths of the original film was its diverse cast, and message that if we all work together we can do amazing things. Uprising continues this tradition, and mercifully jettisons Charlie Hunnam in favour of John Boyega, one of the best actors working today. His protagonist elevates this movie considerably, and newcomer Cailee Spaeny holds her own against him, as a young inventor who builds her own giant robot. Jing Tian, who kicked all kinds of ass in The Great Wall is quite good here, portraying a tech billionaire with questionable motives, and Charlie Day and Burn Gorman, who played their characters broad in Pacific Rim crank the dial up to 11, giving truly manic performances that I thoroughly enjoyed. Scott Eastwood is also in this movie.

Director Steven S. DeKnight, best known for the lurid TV series Spartacus, does a serviceable job staging the large scale battles that are this series’ claim to fame. He doesn’t quite make you feel the scale the way del Toro did, and most of the character scenes are basic shot reverse shots, but I could almost always follow exactly what was happening in the action sequences. The screenplay by Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight, and T.S. Nowlin is where the movies’ biggest problems come from. As stated before, Uprising really does tell a second chapter, rather than just rewriting the first. There are times when the story is genuinely surprising, and there is a plot twist that will make fans of the first movie squeal with delight. Unfortunately, most of the characters aren’t very well written, and the film is muddy at best when it comes to their motivations. John Boyega’s protagonist is the son of Idris Elba’s character from the first movie, and is at first presented as wanting nothing to do with the Jaeger (giant robot) Program that his father was famous for. There’s a fun sequence showing him relaxing in an abandoned mansion, trading cars for Sriracha sauce, and just generally living the good life. Then a heist goes wrong and he ends up getting arrested and forced to join the Jaeger Program, which is never a very interesting way to get a main character into Act Two. Cailee Spaeny is recruited as well and has trouble co-piloting the Jaegers…until she just…doesn’t. The villain of the movie is also only doing what they’re doing because they’re possessed – not a good plot development, unless your movie is The Exorcist. The movie’s stakes go from high to low for no reason other than the writers backed themselves in a corner and didn’t know how to get out of it.

All that said, everything moves at a brisk pace, and the film has enough humour to sand down some of the roughest edges. This is a perfect Tuesday movie, or a movie to blow some SCENE points on. I will likely never watch Pacific Rim: Uprising again, but I had a pretty great time with it. Recommended, for fans of Pacific Rim, John Boyega, or movies that don’t feature Charlie Hunnam.

Game Night Review


Like last year’s supremely entertaining Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Game Night is a movie that works much, much better than you’d expect. The plot is about as high concept as you can get – a murder mystery game takes a left turn when a real crime occurs. Luckily, writer Mark Perez didn’t stop there. The film ricochets along, leaping from plot twist to plot twist with manic glee. The cast is uniformly (ahem) game, and the directors, John Francis Daley (Sam from Freaks and Geeks!) and Jonathan Goldstein utilize a surprising amount of visual flair.

The moment the film first used tilt-shift focus I knew we were in good hands. I last saw tilt-shift used in The Social Network during the Henley Royal Regatta race, and was stunned by how unusual it looked. It’s a camera technique that somehow gives the illusion that we are looking at everything in miniature. In The Social Network I can’t think of any reason for using it other than looking cool, but in Game Night, it beautifully creates the feeling of watching game pieces move around a board. This is not the kind of thought that usually goes into movies like this.

The (AHEM) players are, as previously mentioned, 100% on board for this film’s very specific tone. It’s a dark comedy that isn’t afraid of getting dark, but somehow it always finds a way to pull up before things get nasty. Take, for example, a particularly hilarious scene where Rachel McAdams’ character performs impromptu surgery on her husband, played by Jason Bateman. There’s a bullet lodged in his arm (how it got there is too funny to spoil), and, after some quick Googling she makes a “small incision” over the bullet hole. Except it’s not small. It’s also not big enough to be unrealistic; it’s the kind of mistake a nervous person might genuinely make. Instead of being mad, however, Jason Bateman remains completely supportive of his wife’s attempts to heal him. It’s a surprisingly sweet moment that stems from something that could have gotten pretty rough.

My favourite cast member is Jesse Plemons who plays a police officer who really wants to be a part of game night. His character is certainly the most exaggerated in the movie, and Perez wisely ensures he doesn’t overstay his welcome. Kyle Chandler has a great time playing against type as Jason Bateman’s much more successful brother and Billy Magnussen is the nice version of his terrifying character from Ingrid Goes West. Lamorne Morris of New Girl fame, and Kylie Bunbury share the movie’s funniest scene, involving her confessing who she slept with while they were on a break. Stick around until after the credits are over for the resolution to that inspired bit of business. Sharon Horgan rounds out the cast as Billy Magnussen’s game night date, and their will-they/won’t-they dynamic is quite delightful. If you’re wondering why Sharon Horgan’s voice sounds so familiar, she played Courtney Portnoy, the formerly portly consort in the seaport resort, on BoJack Horseman.

This movie won’t change your life, and the general lightness of the proceedings prevent the stakes from ever feeling that high, but I don’t think there’s a movie playing in theatres right now that’s as much damn fun as Game Night. Except maybe Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – wait that movie’s STILL in theatres? Wow. Well done, Jumanji, well done.

American Psycho Review

American Psycho

At a Trump protest I saw a sign that I will never forget: “There’s only one minority destroying America – The Rich”. It’s a statement that’s hard to argue with, and I can’t think of a movie that illustrates this idea more memorably than Mary Harron’s American Psycho. I must confess I was surprised to discover that this movie was directed by a woman (as was Bret Easton Ellis, the author of the novel, but the less said about him the better). Upon a rewatch, I am beyond grateful that a female director helmed this adaptation; the second choice was Oliver Stone, and I cringe thinking about what that would look like. Harron took a book written by a misogynist, and turned it into a savage satire of toxic masculinity, white male privilege, and greed.

Christian Bale plays Patrick Bateman, a rich investment banker working in Manhattan. He keeps an obsessively clean apartment and office, has an encyclopedic knowledge of music, and murders people for fun. Bale is one of our finest actors, and I think this is my favourite performance of his. He portrays every facet of Bateman – jealousy, pride, self-hatred, obsessiveness – and dials them up 50%, resulting in a larger than life performance that, miraculously, always remains believable. Harron too, heightens the world of American Psycho enough to be satire, but never parody. This enables the film to turn on a dime, from a laugh out loud sequence involving business card one-upmanship, to a truly repellent scene where Bateman offers a homeless man money, before viciously ending his life, and the life of his dog.

This brings us to the detractors, of both the book and the film. Having never read the book, I can’t speak to them, but as a huge fan of the movie, I will make an argument for its value. Like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Pulp Fiction, this movie has been condemned by some as gratuitously violent. But also like those two films, surprisingly little violence is actually seen – the average Bond movie contains more on screen deaths. I would argue that American Psycho is not a movie that glamorizes any of the violence it portrays. Martin Scorsese has often been accused of glorifying bad behaviour (Goodfellas and The Wolf of Wall Street are the most frequently cited examples) but Scorsese and Harron understand that the only way to truly examine evil, and why people do evil things, is to get inside the mind of a bad person. They also understand that sometimes bad people win.

The election of Donald Trump hurt in ways I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand. To watch helplessly as this grotesque personification of America’s worst qualities rose to the position of President of the United States just felt so completely and utterly wrong. I’ve always known to some degree or another that the rich run the world, but seeing how horribly this can go off the rails shook me to the core. This is the crux of American Psycho. The violence isn’t that graphic, and the movie has such a wicked sense of humour about the absurdity of the situations Patrick finds himself in that one can’t help but laugh. It’s only after it’s over that the true horror of the film begins to creep in.

Patrick Bateman is a monster, in every sense of the word, but so are the people in his circle. They aren’t literally killing people, but they all profit off the misery of others and enjoy themselves while doing it. Patrick is the predatory behaviour of the rich taken to its logical end point. Every time a politician talks about gutting health care, Patrick Bateman is there, smiling. The NRA may not have pulled the trigger on the mass shootings plaguing the US, but they bear a huge amount of the responsibility. To study the history of capitalism is to witness the rich kill the poor, usually indirectly, sometimes not. Already George W. Bush is becoming something of a nostalgic figure, but let us never forget the countless people who were killed in his war for oil. American Psycho is set amid the Reaganomics madness of the 1980s but it could just as easily take place today. Patrick Bateman is a timeless figure, a malevolent, petulant ghoul who will be around long after we’re gone.

The film does has a silver lining though – Patrick is miserable. Nothing in life brings him joy. He admits that the only identifiable emotions he feels are greed and disgust. I have trouble imagining Donald Trump feeling anything else. The pursuit of money is not the pursuit of happiness, and I think deep down we all know it. In the end, we may all be at the mercy of the Patrick Bateman’s of this world, but every time we do something selfless or just plain kind, we win, just a little bit.

Black Panther Review


There’s a moment in Black Panther when a group of warriors lift their shields. The shields are made of cloth and are inspired by the traditional painted robes of the Ndebele people of South Africa. The warriors hoist their fabrics in unison, and the combined shields conjure a shimmering forcefield around them. It’s fucking awesome. The scene lasts only a few seconds, but should give you a pretty good idea of the joys that Black Panther has in store.

The story is ninety-nine percent standalone, with a brief flashback to the events of Captain America: Civil War, when our protagonist, Prince T’Challa’s father was murdered. Prince T’Challa AKA the Black Panther, is next in line to assume the throne of Wakanda, a fictional African country that is secretly the most advanced nation in the world. This advancement comes courtesy of a meteor made of vibranium that fell to earth many, many years ago. Fearing that the outside world would attempt to steal the ultra-rare magic metal, the kings and queens of Wakanda have for centuries kept the nation completely isolated. Their futuristic society is hidden beneath a hologram of an immense rainforest, and everything outside it appears to be a third world country. The idea of isolationism vs internationalism becomes the central conflict of the film, and how it all plays out will not be spoiled here.

The entire cast is phenomenal. Chadwick Boseman plays the conflicted king of Wakanda with Shakespearean intensity, and Letitia Wright gives a hilarious performance has his tech genius sister. Danai Gurira plays Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda (seriously just go see this freaking movie) and she kicks an unbelievable amount of ass. Andy Serkis gives a scenery chewing performance that somehow actually works, and Lupita Nyong’o is great as always as Nakia, an undercover spy. My personal favourite performance, however, goes to Michael B. Jordan as the villain, Erik. He is hands-down Marvel’s best villain to date, and Jordan completely steals every scene he’s in. His plan, once revealed, comes from a deep desire to make the world a better place, and should lead to some important real-world conversations.

My only real quibble is with the action sequences, which aren’t nearly as thrilling as I’d hoped from director Ryan Coogler, who staged Creed’s boxing scenes with perfection. Like most Marvel films, it’s hard to follow what’s going on once the action starts, and the combat often looks a little too CGI’d. That said, there are moments in the action scenes that stand out, and most are staged with enough inventiveness to keep them interesting.

Marvel should be applauded for greenlighting Black Panther and for giving Coogler the creative freedom he needed to bring his vision to life. This is top tier Marvel, up there with Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, and really demands to be seen on the big screen, and with an audience. Go see it!

Paddington 2 Review


I think I may have already seen my favourite movie of 2018. Paddington 2 improves on the excellent original in every way, and can justifiably be called one of the best sequels of all time.

As the film begins, Paddington is not only a full-fledged member of the Brown family, but an invaluable part of the entire neighborhood. His unassailable optimism and belief in finding the best in people has made Windsor Gardens a merrier place. One fateful day he enters Gruber’s Antiques and finds a pop-up book of London. We are then treated to a hauntingly beautiful journey through the book, as Paddington imagines showing his Aunt Lucy (currently residing at Lima’s Home for Retired Bears) the city that he’s grown to love. He decides it would make the perfect present for Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, one that could give her a glimpse of the city she always wanted to see. It’s quite expensive so Paddington vows to get a job and save up enough money to buy the book.

And so the story begins, and where it goes from there is too wonderful to spoil. Virtually everyone from the original movie returns, and adds delightful new layers to their characters. I was particularly impressed by Madeline Harris as Judy Brown, who, after a bad breakup, starts a school newspaper and becomes an intrepid reporter. Ben Whishaw, once again, breathes life into the titular character and turns in a truly magnificent performance. He is both naive and wise, playful and serious, and it’s here that this film truly shines – it understands what it’s like to be a child. Children may not understand the world the way adults do, but they know far more than they are often given credit for. Paddington 2, like its predecessor, respects children. There are no jokes “just for the adults”, no mean spiritedness, and no cheap shots. The kids in my audience were having a blast, as were their parents.

The slapstick humour is genuinely inspired and reminded me how funny a well-executed gag can be. A moment later on in the film contains a winking nod to Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, and this reference is 100% earned. There are sequences that would be right at home in a Buster Keaton movie, such is the clarity of the filmmaking. This movie also contains the best Hugh Grant performance since, well, ever. His portrayal of a villainous washed up actor is one for the ages, and he’s clearly having a great time poking fun at himself. Brendan Gleeson shows up as a chef, and literally everything he does made me laugh.

If you haven’t seen the original yet I would highly recommend watching it before this one, but this movie very much stands on its own and could certainly be seen without any prior knowledge of the world of Paddington. I’ve heard that the creator of the books, Michael Bond, was a big fan of the first film and felt that Paul King and everyone involved had done justice to his creation. He sadly passed away before the release of Paddington 2, but I am confident he would have loved it. The world needs more Paddington, and I don’t think he could be in better hands.

Suspiria Review


This movie is insane. It’s a pure blast of sight of sound that hits the ground running and doesn’t let up until the end credits have rolled. It’s the Mad Max: Fury Road of horror movies, and that’s not a comparison I make lightly. I think Guillermo del Toro may have said it best when talking to IndieWire about the upcoming 4K restoration of Suspiria – “There are two types of genre movies; the ones that take you on a ride but you know it’s never going to go off the rails, and other horror films where you feel that the driver is a madman, and this bus could go off the clip at any second.” Dario Argento is said madman, and I loved every minute of the batshit crazy ride he took me on.

Before going any further, let me implore you to please, please not look up anything about this movie. It is, at its heart, a mystery, but almost everything I’ve read about the film spoils the ending. So tread lightly! That said, I will try to keep this review as spoiler free as possible. We open with our protagonist, Suzy Bannion, arriving in Germany, amidst a torrential rainstorm in the dead of night. She hails a cab that takes her to her destination, a blood red building with an ornate sign reading ‘Tanz Akademie’. As she gets out of the car, the door to the building flies open revealing a woman who is yelling something indecipherable over the booming thunder and pelting rain. The woman runs into the storm before Suzy can speak to her.

I remember, many years ago now, arriving in Auckland, New Zealand at one in the morning. My friend and I made our way to our hostel, and as we walked down dimly lit streets with shadowy figures watching us go by, we felt an overwhelming sense of menace. The opening minutes of Suspiria capture that feeling better than any film I’ve ever seen. In Auckland that feeling evaporated the next day, when those dark streets were flooded with sunlight, the shadowy figures were just ordinary people, and my friend and I could laugh about how scared we’d been. In Suspiria that feeling only intensifies as the film progresses.

Argento utilizes a pallet of mostly primary colours, and his cinematographer, Luciano Tovoli, shoots them with such assuredness and intensity that every frame of Suspiria could be a poster for it. The sound design, featuring a wonderfully discordant soundtrack by Goblin (of Dawn of the Dead fame), is similarly top notch. This combined with Franco Fraticelli’s frenetic editing elevates Suspiria’s simple story and characters to a piece of pure cinema that I’m sure will only improve with subsequent viewings; I’ve already pre-ordered the Blu-ray of the aforementioned 4K restoration.

Dario Argento said, in an interview with Ain’t It Cool News, that “films are dreams. Many, many critics say to me that my films are not good because they are too unbelievable. But this is my style. I tell stories like they are dreams.” This film is bizarre. Some of the actors have been dubbed over to mask their Italian accents, making them seem like they aren’t quite speaking the words that are coming out of their mouths. The blood is the reddest red I’ve ever seen. Though all the students at the Tanz Dance Academy are adults, the door handles are positioned at eye-level, dwarfing Suzy Bannion to the size of a child. Trying to explain what makes Suspiria great is a bit like trying to explain a dream you just had. What made perfect sense while sleeping is disjointed and confusing when awake. While explaining dreams to someone may be futile, I hope that trying to explain why I love this movie isn’t. Because, unlike dreams, this is a technicolor nightmare that everyone can experience. And should.


The Post Review


A week before taking office, Donald Trump shouted down a CNN reporter and first uttered what was to become his favourite catchphrase – “You are fake news.” Over the next month he waged all out war on the media, culminating in sending out a tweet on February 17, 2017 calling the liberal media (read: every major news outlet besides Fox) “the enemy of the American people.” It sounded like something from the Nixon tapes, but instead of being uttered clandestinely in the Oval Office, this was being screamed at the public at full volume. While I was cowering at my computer wondering how on earth we were going to make it through another three years, eleven months of this, Steven Spielberg was reading a script and preparing to make it into a movie as quickly as humanly possible.

I could not believe the similarities between today and what happened with the Nixon administration against their avowed enemies The New York Times and The Washington Post,” said Spielberg in a December 5th interview with the Hollywood Reporter. “I realized this was the only year to make this film.” Nine months after first reading the spec script by Liz Hannah, The Post was being screened for the press.

This sense of urgency is very much on the screen; from start to finish The Post feels like a story that NEEDS to be told. The plot of the film in brief: Meryl Streep plays Katherine Graham, a wealthy socialite who was handed the reigns of The Washington Post after the death of her husband. The movie takes place in 1971, after she’s been running the paper for a little under a decade. When we meet her she is struggling to assert herself as head of the company. Her board members, advisors, and top staff are all male, and they frequently talk over her, or act like she’s not there. Enter the Pentagon Papers, a study, prepared by the Department of Defense, of the US’s military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. These highly classified documents detail decades of the government lying to the American people about many facets of the war, from reckless operations to fear of the USA’s worldwide humiliation should they accept defeat.

Daniel Ellsberg, who worked on the study, leaks part of the report to The New York Times, a much more established paper than The Washington Post, and three months later the Times publishes a front page story detailing what the documents expose. They plan to publish a lot more than just one story, but before they can, the Nixon administration hits them with a court injunction, which they abide by and temporarily halt further stories involving the Pentagon Papers. The next day, however, The Washington Post tracks down Ellsberg and obtains thousands of pages of the Papers. It’s now up to Graham to decide whether or not to go against the court and publish.

What continually amazes me about Spielberg (other than how crazy fast he can work – seriously, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List came out in the SAME year) is his ability to tell a functional story. He has a truly remarkable talent, perhaps more so than any other filmmaker, to present information to an audience in a way that’s both clear and entertaining. There’s a lot going on in this movie, but we always have all the information we need to understand what’s happening and, more importantly, why.

The movie is not subtle in its themes of overcoming sexism in the workplace and the importance of freedom of the press, because this is not the time to be subtle about these things. In a time when a known sexual predator can be elected president, we need all hands on deck. This is a film written by a woman, about a woman, and as much as I love Spielberg, I wish there had been a woman in the director’s chair. Meryl Streep delivers what might be my favourite performance of hers. She sincerely conveys Katherine Graham’s strength and vulnerability, and watching her slowly gain confidence in herself and her abilities as a leader is an inspiration. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, and I lost track of how many times I thought “Oh, it’s that person!” Add in cinematography from Janusz Kamiński, a score by John Williams, and editing by Michael Kahn, and you get a pretty damn polished package that I wish more people were talking about.

We live in frightening times, and it’s easy to feel like everything’s hopeless. Fox News has been the most watched cable news station in the US for 16 years in a row. The wealth gap is higher now than it ever has been. That horrible, horrible man, and his horrible, horrible party are calling the shots, and will be for the next three years (at least). We need more art like The Post – art that helps us see how doing what’s right and good, even when up against terrible power, can lead to real change. It worked for Katherine Graham, it worked for the incredible MeToo movement, and I believe it will keep working. In the immortal words of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial…“Be good.”

P.S. Spielberg shot Raiders of the Lost Ark in 73 days. 73 DAYS. How is that even possible?!


Creepshow Review


I first saw Creepshow on a family vacation in Parksville. I was 14 years old and had watched a total of one horror movie in my time on earth – The Sixth Sense. Well, I watched about half of it before frantically turning off the TV and having nightmares for a year. Horror wasn’t for me, and yet, deep down, lay a desire to face my fears and just watch a scary movie from start to finish. Cut to the little town of Parksville, on Vancouver Island. It’s a quiet place, where the biggest event is a sandcastle building contest that’s held every summer. As used to be the case with quiet towns without much to do, there was a surprising number of video rental stores (six I believe). On perhaps the third day of the vacation I went for a walk and, though drawn there by mysterious forces beyond my control, found myself in a video store called Flix ‘N’ Pix, staring at a wall of horror movies on VHS.

I gazed with morbid fascination at the horrific images on display. I remember one in particular, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, had on the back a graphic screen capture of a person with massively swollen cheeks literally eating themselves to death! There was The Exorcist, a movie my Dad had declared the scariest thing he had ever seen. Something called The Evil Dead, with a big red “Adults Only” sticker on the case. And there was a section with horror movies for sale. One caught my eye more than the others. It’s cover was a sepia toned image of a smiling ghoul selling movie tickets at a theatre. It’s title was one word…Creepshow. On the glass of the ghoul’s ticket kiosk was a sign – “The most fun you’ll ever have being scared!” …That didn’t sound too bad. Before I could chicken out I grabbed the cassette and strolled up to the counter. For a moment I panicked – what if they wouldn’t let me buy it? I glanced at the back – RATED R. I was about to bail, forget the whole crazy idea, when the person behind the counter said “Oh, good pick!” Five bucks later I was blinking in the Parksville sunshine, Creepshow proudly clutched in my hands.

When I got back to the motel my parents announced that it was time to hike Englishman River Falls. I casually asked if I could maybe stay behind and watch the movie I’d just bought. I sheepishly held up my purchase, again expecting the worst. Again, everything went better than expected. My parents were in full vacation mode and, though they didn’t entirely approve of my choice of film, they were pretty excited at the prospect of hiking around gorgeous waterfalls without two kids whining that their feet hurt. With the folks safely out of the way, and my sister reading a Lois Lowry book at the table, I popped in the movie and turned on the TV.

14 years later Creepshow remains one of my all-time favourite horror movies, a genre I’ve been in love with since that fateful day in Parksville. Directed by the legendary George A. Romero, who tragically passed away last year, and written by none other than the king of horror fiction, Stephen King, Creepshow is a wonderful example of top tier talent coming together and bringing out the best in each other. It’s quite possibly the best anthology movie ever made.

Creepshow tells five tales of terror, each inspired by the classic EC horror comics of the 40s and 50s. Those comics revelled in lurid images, splashed in eye popping primary colours. Their narratives were simple morality tales, where some poor soul receives, in gloriously gruesome fashion, their just desserts. Creepshow succeeds in not only capturing the essence of its inspiration, but in truly feeling like a living comic book. It expertly weaves together the vibrant colours, over-the-top characters, and fast paced storytelling that the filmmakers clearly love so dearly. Luckily there is also a lot more going on here than just re-creating source material. The five stories are each scary, fun, and funny, with well-realized characters that feel real despite their archetypical presentation. No segment outstays its welcome, and there’s a real flow to the stories, so much so that I couldn’t imagine them being presented in any other order. Add in a terrific score, Tom Savini’s incomparable practical make-up effects, and unforgettable performances from Leslie Nielsen, Ed Harris, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Ted Danson, and Stephen King himself, and you’ve got the rare movie that actually lives up to its tagline. Creepshow is the most fun you will ever have being scared!

Downsizing Review


In the very near future scientists have found a way to shrink human beings down to a height of about 12 cm. To the films’s credit, it has put a lot of thought into what this would mean for our reality: the middle class can live like the super rich, as money goes a LOT farther when you’re small, people begin to question whether people who “got small” should have the same rights as everyone else, as they don’t contribute nearly as much to the economy, and evil regimes can shrink political dissidents to silence them. Unfortunately the movie barely explores any of these ideas, resulting in a film that is meandering at its best and painfully dull at its worst.

Matt Damon plays the protagonist and turns in a passable performance as an everyman. Kristen Wiig is Damon’s wife, though almost nothing is ever known about her character, Christoph Waltz shows up playing Christoph Waltz, and there are fairly delightful cameos from Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern. The most interesting performance is given by Hong Chau, who was a standout in PT Anderson’s wonderful Inherent Vice. Here she plays a Vietnamese political prisoner who was shrunk against her will, and escaped to America in a TV box. She makes her character feel 100% real and delivers mildly funny lines in a way that elevates them immensely. Sadly, she is ultimately relegated to the role of sidekick to Matt Damon’s increasingly insufferable protagonist.

Downsizing does a good job of making the world feel real and lived in, and there is certainly fun to be had here. Seeing Matt Damon sadly walk down a hallway with a rose half the size of him is undeniably hilarious, and the step by step process of shrinking a human is enjoyable to watch, if a tad long. The film also raises some interesting questions about income inequality, even if it has no interest in answering them. There’s also a bit involving a tiny explosion that made me laugh out loud.

Alexander Payne has made a slew of great movies – Election, Sideways, and Nebraska being my favourites – and knowing that he is capable of so much more renders Downsizing doubly disappointing. It is a perfect example of what happens when you don’t put the necessary work into Act 1 and Act 2. A fun beginning and OK middle devolves into a finale that is a complete mess, due to the lack of character and story built up in the first two acts. Downsizing ends on a shot of the main character’s face, and the fact that we have no idea which one of the movie’s many half-baked themes he is contemplating is a fitting end to an intriguing, if ultimately unsatisfying experience.