HOLD THE DARK – not to be confused with Julie Taymor’s musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark – is a made-for-Netflix movie from 2018. I guess time flies, because I didn’t realize it had been that many years I’d been meaning to see it. It was on my list because it’s the fourth film from director Jeremy Saulnier (MURDER PARTY, BLUE RUIN, GREEN ROOM), and it’s written by Macon Blair, who appeared in all of those as an actor (and directed the upcoming remake of THE TOXIC AVENGER).
The best label I can come up with to describe this one is an Alaskan Gothic. It’s quiet and gloomy, with lots of snow, tiny fire-lit cabins, death and superstition. A movie that gives you the feeling of cold, wet socks inside your boots, and wearing a heavy winter coat indoors. It starts with a little boy playing outside in the small Alaskan village of Keelut, and a wolf approaches. And then the kid is gone – apparently not the first child to disappear around here. His mother Medora (Riley Keough, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD) sends a letter to a wolf expert named Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright, SHAFT) who once had to kill a wolf and wrote about it in a book she read. She wants him to kill this wolf before her husband Vernon (The Northman himself, Alexander Skarsgard) gets back from the war. (read the rest of this shit…)
When I first encountered the trailer for INFINITY POOL I spotted Mia Goth, who gave one of my favorite performances last year in PEARL, so I knew I would be seeing it. Then I noticed Alexander Skarsgård, star of one of my other favorite 2022 movies, THE NORTHMAN. And at the end I learned it was the new one from writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, whose 2020 film POSSESSOR really knocked me on my ass, so this was a first show opening day kind of deal for me. And it lived up to my hopes.
It’s the story of novelist James Foster (Skarsgård, 13, BATTLESHIP, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, GODZILLA VS. KONG) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman, STEP UP REVOLUTION, IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON) on vacation at a resort in the exotic foreign land of Latoka. It’s a beautiful place on the sea, but it’s creepy – fenced off with guards, tourists aren’t allowed to leave, so the closest thing to visiting the locals is going to restaurants in the resort’s fake downtown area. James is already thinking he was an idiot to believe this trip could break his six year lack of inspiration since publishing his one obscure and poorly reviewed novel. (read the rest of this shit…)
THE NORTHMAN is the new one from Robert Eggers (THE WITCH), his version of a badass viking revenge story. Of course that’s filtered through his arcane sensibilities, making it a cousin to David Lowery’s fantasy-by-way-of-A24 movie THE GREEN KNIGHT and, moreso, Nicolas Winding Refn’s VALHALLA RISING. It’s actually a little bit more straightforward and traditionally entertaining than either of those, or at least doesn’t descend into an abyss of strangeness with no visible exit sign. But it’s not GLADIATOR either. It won’t pass as a movie made for normal people.
It has a basis in Icelandic folklore, especially versions of the story of Amleth, which inspired Hamlet. Eggers wrote it with an Icelandic author named Sjón, who wrote REYKJAVIK WHALE WATCHING MASSACRE and LAMB, but also grew up with Bjork, co-wrote some of her songs and performed with The Sugarcubes under the name “Johnny Triumph,” so he got her to have a cameo as a prophetic witch or whatever. A significant casting coup there in my opinion. She doesn’t act that much but it would be cool if this gave her the bug again and then she got to be a villain in FAST X or something. (read the rest of this shit…)
GODZILLA VS. KONG follows GODZILLA, KONG: SKULL ISLAND and GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS as the fourth movie in the 21st Century American kaiju series known as The MonsterVerse. When it comes to the giant monsters, as I’ve told you before, I’m a Gamera guy. I’m not trying to be a hipster and choose the less popular thing to show off, it’s just a fact – he’s the Guardian of the Universe. But setting him aside, Godzilla and his Monster Island pals have always interested me more than the King Kong movies, as great as some of those are.
So hopefully that puts some weight behind me saying that this crossover – which stacks the cards for Kong by starting with him, spending much of the movie with him and treating him as the underdog hero – is easily the best of the series.
It got me instantly. Opening with Kong waking up to a perfect needle drop and a sunny day on Skull Island, he scratches his ass as he groggily stumbles to the waterfall for a shower. It’s just a great example of those times I love when monsters just get to live a normal life instead of always leaping through the air and roaring at the camera. (read the rest of this shit…)
Let’s say you are a pretty decent commercial Hollywood filmmaker and you have accepted the conventional wisdom that you are now living in a “brand” and “i.p.” culture, a world where studios only want to make – and people only want to see – movies based on famous titles of TV shows and comic books and things that they remember from before. And let’s say that the toy company Hasbro has stumbled into running a movie production company after Michael Bay turned their Transformers toys into a gigantic movie franchise. And that now they are convinced they can do the same thing with the classic board game Battleship.
Well, that actually happened one time to Peter Berg (THE RUNDOWN), who had not directed a movie for a couple years after his not-brand-based Summer Fling HANCOCK floundered in 2008, and his response was “Why not?” Or maybe “I guess?” or perhaps “Okay. Fine.” Since the game is very simple, with no story or characters and I’d say less than five identifiable characteristics that would need to be used in an adaptation, he and screenwriters Jon and Erich Hoeber (RED 1 and 2) could just use it as a fake name to slap onto an expensive wannabe blockbuster than any sane person would know was gonna be broadly rejected only because of the board game name that they didn’t need to put on it. But that’s life.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: THANK YOU studios for continuing to make these expensive old-timey adventure character movies even though they are always financially disastrous. I for one appreciate the gesture!
Of this type of movie, Gore Verbinski’s THE LONE RANGER is far and away the most entertaining and masterful. THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is closer to the level of the last major Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation, Andrew Stanton’s JOHN CARTER. It’s a little slicker than that one, but also a little more normal since it takes place on Earth with Earth type animals. Yet it’s not what I expected at all. It knows that you already know the basics about Tarzan, so it tries to walk that delicate line of giving you a different spin without sacrificing the classic Tarzan shit you expect. It also tries to capture some of the feel of stories written a hundred years ago while looking at matters of race, gender and culture with today’s eyes. And it does these things fairly successfully.
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