12 Monkeys (1995)
Written by David and Janet Peoples
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Having recently re-watched Chris Marker’s short film La Jetee I decided it was time to watch the feature adaptation, 12 Monkeys again. I had only seen 12 Monkeys once before in college and enjoyed it a lot. It is what led me to Marker’s short, which has gone on to become one of my favorite pieces of film. I also developed a love for Terry Gilliam during my college years, with Brazil becoming one of my favorite pictures, even reading up on the complicated history of how it came to the screen. 12 Monkeys is expectedly a strange film, merging the underlying narrative of La Jetee with Gilliam’s own aesthetic sensibilities.
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The Goldfinch (2019)
Written by Peter Straughan
Directed by John Crowley
I often use sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic to get a sense of how people perceive a movie. I might use this when I’m interested in comparing my favorites with critics and audiences, or in the case of my We Wish You’d Forget film series find movies that universally panned. This year a strange anomaly came across those sites, The Goldfinch. From the trailers, I’d say I was mildly interested in this picture, and I enjoyed Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I had even planned to see The Goldfinch opening week to review it, but life circumstances got in the way. However, I did read some of the reviews and was astonished that it wasn’t just panned a mediocre film but that critics seemed to revile it. Even more surprising was how audiences had the opposite reaction, and as a majority said they enjoyed the picture.
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Dragonball Evolution (2009)
Written by Ben Ramsey
Directed by James Wong
There are some signs a movie is going to be bad. When it comes to properties being adapted to the screen, one of the biggest red flags is when the picture opens with long-winded narration explaining something that happened two thousand years prior. Dragonball Evolution spends its opening moments moving us through a digital mural of images of our villains and explaining what happened back then. The narration only serves to create more confusion and talks about characters in a way that assumes the whole audience is familiar.
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The Nightingale (2018)
Written & Directed by Jennifer Kent
There are moments so harrowing and emotional that occur in The Nightingale that I felt like I might break down in tears. This is a rarity for me to find in a film, having watched so many and become aware of so many tropes and plot formulas. This isn’t to say that the inciting premise of The Nightingale will seem novel to other viewers, it isn’t. This is a revenge film centered around a female protagonist, the type of story told many times before and one that is particularly popular in our time. This isn’t a film about the catharsis of revenge; the final shot makes it clear that our main character is not redeemed in any manner. Instead, this is a story about the seemingly innate drive to seek bloody justice and the tremendous toll that takes on a human being.
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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
Written by Dan & Kevin Hagerman
Directed by André Øvredal
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a book published in 1981, compiled and rewritten by Alvin Schwartz. Schwartz was a writer who was primarily interested in folklore and wordplay, writing more than fifty books on and about these topics. His most famous, of course, is Scary Stories and the two follow up texts. The books contributed to many nightmares for children growing up in the 1980s and 90s, most notably because of the grotesque illustrations of Stephen Gammell. Gammell was also not primarily a horror creator, having illustrated over sixty children’s books, including one of my favorite picture books. When the Relatives Came. This book, like so many texts and pieces of nostalgic media, has been snatched up by their publisher’s parent media corporation to be turned into a movie.
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Written & Directed by Babak Anvari
Wounds is the film adaptation of Nathan Ballingrud’s fantastic 2015 novella “The Visible Filth.” The story centers on Will, a bartender at a scummy dive in New Orleans. One night, while tending bar, a fight breaks out between his friend Eric and another patron that ends with Eric slashed across the cheek. A group of teens using fake IDs scatter when they hear about the cops. As Will cleans up, he discovers a cell phone he thinks belongs to these young people. It’s only when he gets home that he opens the phone and finds disturbing pictures that hint at some sort of ritual performed to connect with another realm. Will’s life slowly becomes infested with a darkness at the edges, creeping closer, threatening to devour him.
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The Thin Red Line (1998)
Written & Directed by Terence Malick
War movies should always be horror movies. Terence Malick seems to have had this in mind when he shot The Thin Red Line, a film made after a twenty-year absence. Malick’s journey adapting the novel by James Jones began in 1988, his producers agreed to help him bring the book to the screen. What followed was a decade of some of the most in-depth research a filmmaker could embark on. Malick consumed everything directly and tangentially related to the story. He read books on the reptiles and amphibians of the Pacific region, the Navajo code talkers, and immersed himself in traditional Japanese drum music. Malick’s ultimate vision of the Pacific theater of World War II was to portray the island of Guadacanal as “raped by the green poison,” a term he used to refer to war.
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