Two very different films today for October Horror Month. Both were okay but I wanted to like them more than I did…
When A Stranger Calls (1979)
Directed by Fred Walton
Starring: Charles Durning, Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Tony Beckley
Plot Synopsis: (via IMDb) A psychopathic killer terrorizes a babysitter, then returns seven years later to menace her again.
I’d been wanting to see this 1979 horror classic for years! “Have you checked the children?” Such a famous line & I think every teen in the ’80s knew where those calls were coming from even if we hadn’t seen this movie. And, yeah, the beginning of this movie is GREAT. The beginning, as a short story on its own, is a classic.
I have a feeling that the beginning bit is all that anyone truly remembers because, man, this one falls apart in the middle. It kind of completely goes in a different direction & we don’t see Carol Kane again until the very end when it finally picks up slightly again. So I’m glad I finally watched this but it felt like I’d already seen it since I knew all about the beginning. Didn’t realize there would be so little of that good stuff & then the rest of the movie would drag. But I’m still giving it an extra half a point for having such a well known & often spoofed beginning.
My Rating: 6.5/10
Lady Vengeance (친절한금자씨) (Chinjeolhan geumjassi) (2005)
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Starring: Lee Young-ae, Choi Min-sik
Plot Synopsis: (via IMDb) After being wrongfully imprisoned for thirteen years and having her child taken away from her, a woman seeks revenge through increasingly brutal means.
I like a revenge movie & am a fan of quite a few South Korean films so expected to really like this one. I was very disappointed. Then again, I absolutely hated Park Chan-wook’s 2nd film in this “Vengeance Trilogy”, so I don’t know why I expected to like this one. Lady Vengeance is the third film, with Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance being the first & that nasty Oldboy being the second.
I definitely far preferred this to Oldboy, however, and liked the main character, Lee Geum-ja. From Wikipedia, the movie is about “a woman released from prison after serving the sentence for a murder she did not commit. The film tells her story of revenge against the real murderer“. The story was a decent enough revenge story but, as with Park Chan-wook’s other films I’ve seen, the characters are hard to like (although Lee Geum-ja is a far more sympathetic character than Oldboy dude). And her red eyeshadow was cool. I’d look like shit in red eyeshadow. Anyway, the film was okay. I struggle with movies that involve children being harmed so this was a hard watch, although it made me want revenge just as much as the main character. I was just hoping for the film to be a bit better than it was…
Hi again. Hope everyone is still safe & well. I’ve managed to put another post together, this time looking back at what I watched, read & listened to way back in April…
MOVIES WATCHED IN APRIL (ranked best to worst):
– Crimson Peak – I do love a gothic horror and, while none of Guillermo del Toro’s films are personal favorites of mine, I did like The Shape Of Water & think Pan’s Labyrinth is a brilliant & visually stunning film. So I’m not sure what took me so long to check out Crimson Peak as it’s the type of thing I enjoy. And I did definitely enjoy it despite it not being perfect. The story is fine but the atmosphere & the look are what I care about in this type of film and Crimson Peak didn’t disappoint in that department. Loved that creepy dilapidated mansion! I couldn’t find many great images to use for this post but that could be because the movie is quite dark & still images don’t do it justice. I have to say the most disappointing thing in this film are its stars. I’ve never liked Jessica Chastain’s acting & she was as bad as always. I also find Tom Hiddleston a bit bland, although his character was okay, and I’ll never get why Mia Wasikowska became so big when she’s so boring (although this role was perfect for her, so I didn’t mind her in this). But I don’t care that much about who stars in a movie, although it’s an added bonus when it’s actors I do really like. So the stars didn’t ruin this film for me anyway. It’s a pretty straightforward ghost story and a tad predictable but it’s still a solid “haunted house” film with some great imagery. Overall, though, it’s disappointing compared to Guillermo del Toro’s other films. But we can’t expect Pan’s Labyrinth every time. – 7/10
– Dreamgirls – Not sure why I missed this one when it was out. I really liked this & Jennifer Hudson was worthy of her Oscar. I didn’t know anything whatsoever about the musical & didn’t think I knew any of the songs but it turns out that I did know And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going. Good song but those reality show contestants sing it too often! But I suppose that’s okay since it’s how Hudson became famous. Anyway, I love the Motown era and thought this was a really good look at that ’60s into ’70s time period and the rise to fame of a girl group very clearly meant to resemble The Supremes. The songs were good & it was fun hearing ones so closely resembling acts such as The Jackson 5. I have to say that the movie isn’t exactly deep but the characters are good & it’s an enjoyable film. Definitely recommend it to music lovers and anyone interested in a lightweight fictional look at the Motown record industry. It made me want to watch a good documentary about Motown. – 7/10
– Captain Fantastic – Enjoyed this as well, although I have to be in the right kind of mood for “quirky indie drama with good performances”. I often like these type of films but sometimes I absolutely hate them & find them phoney & pretentious. Captain Fantastic is a good film & Viggo Mortensen was deserving of his Best Actor Oscar nomination. As with most movies like this, I couldn’t in any way relate to these characters with a very different sort of lifestyle but the film did well in making you care about them and wanting the best possible life for them. The question is what is the best possible life for them? Not everyone has the same values, goals & dreams. I admit this movie is deserving of a much higher rating than I’m giving it. It’s a very good film (it’s certainly better than Crimson Peak) but it’s a bit too “drama” for me. I like my quirky indie dramas to have a touch more comedy as well. Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, The Way Way Back, etc etc. Think I had that expectation for Captain Fantastic for some reason. But as I said – Very good film & performances. I recommend it if this genre is your type of thing. – 7/10
– Blinded By The Light – It’s very hard to not compare this film to the other 2019 British feelgood movie written around another band/singer and their songs (Yesterday, in which a guy wakes up to find he’s the only person with any memory of The Beatles and their music). Not gonna lie – I’m not a fan of Bruce Springsteen’s music at all while I absolutely loveThe Beatles (top ten here), so I was of course going to enjoy Yesterday much more than Blinded By The Light (and I prefer Manfred Mann’s version of that song – Sorry, Bruce!).
Which film is actually better? It’s hard to say. Yesterday was very flawed and completely failed to explore the complexities of its ambitious idea but I really liked it anyway. I like a good story and Yesterday had such a brilliant idea of exploring an alternate universe in which The Beatles never existed. As I watch so many movies, I get bored with seeing the same predictable stories over & over again so Yesterday was a treat even if it didn’t quite do its brilliant idea justice.
Blinded By The Light is indeed a feelgood film. I enjoyed it & think lovers of Springsteen would all very much enjoy it as well. But the film doesn’t feel like anything we’ve not seen before. Quirky feelgood indie movies are as predictable as quirky indie dramas. I wanted to like this movie more as it’s very “sweet” and god knows feelgood films are badly needed with the world being so shit at the moment. But, while it put a smile on my face while watching it, I can’t say it’s one that I’ll remember that well in a year. Again, it’s a good film for its genre but I’ve just seen too much of this genre… Sorry! I feel bad for not liking it more.
I should point out that it’s a true story, which is great. Here’s what Wikipedia says about that: “It was inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and his love of the works of Bruce Springsteen. Manzoor co-wrote the script, with Gurinder Chadha and Paul Mayeda Berges. It is based on Manzoor’s 2007 memoir Greetings from Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll.” I like the true story & Manzoor seems like a nice guy and I can totally relate to being moved by music. I feel that way about music & movies. I can’t imagine life without them and this film helps show just how important art can be to people. Art can literally change a person’s life. This is a well-written film with a good story & likeable characters. I do wonder how much more I’d like it if it was based around an artist I love in the same way that Manzoor loves Springsteen. – 7/10
– Boy – More quirky indie drama stuff! This one has more comedy thrown in, though. So it’s a quirky indie dramedy. It was a struggle to know how to rank all the movies I saw in April. I realise I’ve given my most common “good but didn’t blow me away” rating of 7/10 to the majority this month. The rankings don’t really matter but Boy is probably a better film than Blinded By The Light while Crimson Peak is admittedly probably the “worst” of the 7/10 films. But I rank on personal enjoyment. If you like quirky indie dramedy & Taika Waititi’s humor, you’ll like Boy. Like Jojo Rabbit, the kid actors are the best thing about the film (especially James Rolleston as Boy). Waititi plays the very unsympathetic father who suddenly come back into his kids’ lives. He’s funny as usual but also an asshole (you’re meant to feel this way about him, though). I of course appreciated that this was set in 1984 & it was cute that Boy was a big Michael Jackson fan. I also always appreciate a good coming of age film and likeable characters such as Boy and his little brother Rocky. It’s worth watching to see earlier work from Waititi. It’s probably most similar to Hunt For The Wilderpeople so I think you’ll like Boy of you liked that. I think I actually prefer Boy to that one. – 7/10
– Rise Of The Guardians – I have to admit that I’m always a bit snobby about DreamWorks films. In comparison to Disney and especially Pixar & Studio Ghibli, DreamWorks’ films are just not as good (in my opinion, at least). I don’t like Shrek or How To Train Your Dragon to the degree that others do (Kung Fu Panda is probably my favorite, although I have yet to see Abominable which I did like the look of). So it may be because I went in with low expectations but I enjoyed Rise Of The Guardians. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still not as good as the output from those other studios but I liked the story as it felt quite original & having the connection to all the different holidays via Santa, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, etc, was fun. But, meh, whatever. It’s still not going to be a favorite animated film. Like most DreamWorks movies, it’s a “one-time-watch” for me. – 7/10
– Lady Vengeance (친절한금자씨) (Chinjeolhan geumjassi) – I like a revenge movie & am a fan of quite a few South Korean films so expected to really like this one. I was very disappointed. Then again, I absolutely hated Park Chan-wook’s 2nd film in this “Vengeance Trilogy”, so I don’t know why I expected to like this one. Lady Vengeance is the third film, with Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance being the first & that nasty Oldboy being the second. I definitely far preferred this to Oldboy, however, and liked the main character, Lee Geum-ja. From Wikipedia, the movie is about “a woman released from prison after serving the sentence for a murder she did not commit. The film tells her story of revenge against the real murderer“. The story was a decent enough revenge story but, as with Park Chan-wook’s other films I’ve seen, the characters are hard to like (although Lee Geum-ja is a far more sympathetic character than Oldboy dude). And her red eyeshadow was cool. I’d look like shit in red eyeshadow. Anyway, the film was okay. I was just hoping for it to be a bit better than it was… – 6.5/10
– Three Identical Strangers – This was a fascinating documentary about triplets who were separated at birth & adopted by different families. They and their adoptive families were unaware of the other siblings. The story of how they later discovered each other was also great so I won’t spoil that here. Then, when you think this true story can’t get any more crazy, it goes in a completely unexpected direction. I don’t know why but I have to force myself to watch documentaries even though there are some great ones. This is a really good one & deserves a higher rating but I just enjoy fictional movies more. Weird, I know. But this story is almost stranger than fiction & I recommend it to the many people who do love good documentaries. Oh – the triplets got quite famous when their story first came out & it got them a cameo ogling Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan… (below) – 6.5/10
– The Sun Is Also A Star – I read & liked this YA book by Nicola Yoon (my book review is HERE). It wasn’t exactly anything new and I read way too much YA but, whatever – it was an enjoyable enough read. The movie adaptation was pretty faithful. Except for the ending! Why do they change stuff?? Well, I guess the changed ending was okay. Also, they managed to make the girl a bit more likeable in the movie (she was kind of bitchy in the book). Meh. If you like YA romance, you’ll like this just fine. But as (almost) always, the book is better. – 6.5/10
– Anna – Yeah, this movie is fucking ridiculous. And kind of creepy pervy (as to be expected from Luc Besson). I love how only gorgeous women can be spies in movies. And how they have to do a bunch of fighting in sexy heels & stockings. Surely it’s easier to kick ass in appropriate clothing?! And how they have to fuck everyone (in this movie, at least – fuck the good guy, fuck the bad guy, fuck the other sexy female model because of course our sexy spy is so sexy that she has to go undercover as a model…). So if you like sexy spy chick movies with lots of fucking, you’ll like this. Is it the best of this genre? Hell no! But it’s certainly not the worst either. It was far more enjoyable than that idiotic Red Sparrow movie and probably a bit better than Atomic Blonde (which was also fucking ridiculous but I kind of liked). Overall, I guess I kind of liked this one too. It was helped by the fact that Helen Mirren was in it. The original saucy minx! – 6.5/10
– Isn’t It Romantic – What can I say? It was the start of lockdown & I watched any old shit in April. And this one ended up not being too bad. At least the idea behind it was fun. From Wikipedia: “The film stars Rebel Wilson as a woman who finds herself in a world where everything around her plays out like a clichéd PG-13 romantic comedy“. I liked the nods to those guilty pleasure chick flicks, like how Wilson wears the same outfit as Julia Roberts does in Pretty Woman (above). And, although not nearly as hot as brother Chris, Liam Hemsworth is a cutie. It won’t change your life but it’s a decent enough lazy Sunday afternoon romantic comedy. – 6/10
– Dark Skies – This was fine for a horror about aliens. We’ve not had a horror movie involving aliens experimenting on us in a while. This sub genre was a big thing at one point! I’ve always found the alien abduction movies pretty effectively creepy & thought this movie was an okay example of this type of film. Maybe I liked it as the whole alien abduction thing really scared me as a young kid. I honestly thought I’d be abducted & experimented on. Seriously. I think I watched way too much old sci-fi and original Twilight Zone episodes as a kid. I also like Keri Russell as an actress (love the film Waitress). The family were likeable (as far as horror movies go – it’s not the best genre for character development) & the story was fine & it was fairly creepy. Good enough. – 6/10
– Rock Of Ages – Ugh. I fucking hated this. I’m probably being way too harsh on it since I guess it’s not the worst movie ever. But holy fuck is it cheesy!!! Okay, I was a teenager in the ’80s into early ’90s so I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t listen to Guns N’ Roses, Poison, Skid Row, Def Leppard, etc etc etc. All that cheesy hair metal! I liked all of it. But I feel the need to clarify that I preferred stuff like Metallica, Anthrax, AC/DC & Led Zeppelin at that same time, so don’t judge & assume that I only liked the more poppy hair metal like a lot of girls back then. The uglier the band, the better the actual music! 😉
Where was I?! Reminiscing. Man I feel so old now. So, yes, this music is seen as being very cheesy now & I admittedly haven’t listened to much of it since then whereas I still listen to stuff like Black Sabbath & Metallica. But it was accepted at the time and, let’s be honest, it seems damn good compared to the mainstream shit on the radio in 2020. But, while this music was very mainstream & most of the bands were too “pretty” to be fully taken seriously, they all lived that rock lifestyle to the fullest. God, the disgusting stories that Mötley Crüe must be able to tell! Sex, drugs & rock ‘n’ roll. That’s what I expect from these bands. This film sucks all of the life out of these bands & how they lived. It pretends to have characters living that lifestyle, especially the ridiculously stupid Tom Cruise character, while the cast sing dreadful Glee-inspired versions of songs I once liked. I suppose I was expecting a fun look at that era but it instead felt like this was made by kids who didn’t live through that time. So I looked it up and the writers are the same sort of age as me. Really?! That’s surprising, as the movie doesn’t capture a love for that era and instead comes across as phoney. So, yeah – I wasn’t a fan of this film. Obviously. – 4.5/10
– Lady And The Tramp – Disney classic. Puppy Lady is adorable. The spaghetti scene rules. The Siamese cats are bitches. Not the best Disney film but that’s only because there are SO MANY great Disney films. Probably still within my Top 20. Oh yeah – I ranked the Disney films years ago on this blog (here). That’s so out of date! I think I’d change some now. I should update that sometime. Anyway, it looks like I ranked Lady And The Tramp at 14. – 8/10
– The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – I’ve linked my original review so don’t need to say much other than that I like these films (although this & the first one are much better than the final two). – 7.5/10
– Yellow Submarine – Love this psychedelic weirdness! And I love The Beatles (as I mentioned in the Blinded By The Light review above). So I of course enjoy the music in this. I’ve always liked the imagery in this one as well. Fun animation & great music & weird as shit movie. They had great drugs in the ’60s. Nothing interesting gets made anymore. – 7.5/10
– The Terminal – Rewatched this one as a family. The hubby has always really liked this movie (not sure why). Anyway, Tom Hanks is good as always and the story is unique. I always knew it was inspired by a true story but, holy shit, I just looked it up and the real guy lived in the airport for 18 years!!! That’s crazy. This is a fun, feelgood movie and Stanley Tucci is a total asshole in it. I still don’t understand why his character was so mean to Hanks! – 7/10
– Just Go With It – So, yeah, my daughter is liking the silliness of the Adam Sandler movies so I’ve rewatched a lot of his stuff in the past year. This one is certainly not one of his best but at least it’s far better than his very worst (he does have some very bad ones!). This one is… Meh. He always has better chemistry with Drew Barrymore than with Jennifer Aniston. – 6/10
BOOKS, TV, MUSIC, MISCELLANEOUS IN APRIL
MUSIC LISTENED TO
– Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor II – I really liked the first EP, which I reviewed here, so was looking forward to the second EP coming out. Enjoyed Part II as well but Simmer is still by far the best song.
– Dune by Frank Herbert – I started reading this in March & it took me months to finish as I just wasn’t able to concentrate on anything at that time. Liked it, though. I’ll maybe try to review it in my June roundup post, as I think that’s when I finally finished it…
TV SHOWS WATCHED
– The Mandalorian – I’m not going to say much about this show as I’ll just ramble on forever. I adore this show (yes, The Child is THE reason why I love it so much). The Child is the pinnacle of cuteness. Nothing will top “Baby Yoda”. But, damn, it’s such a good show. It’s better than the Star Warssequel trilogy. It’s made me like Star Wars again (not that I stopped, but I did find the recent films disappointing). And the score by Ludwig Göransson is BRILLIANT. Love it. And the artwork during the credits! Love everything about this show so far. I don’t have a bad thing to say about it.
– The Golden Girls – I can’t even begin to tell you just HOW MUCH I loved watching this on Channel 5 during my working-from-home lunch breaks through lockdown. Seriously, it was the highlight of each weekday! And the show has aged well, to be honest. It’s still funny as hell. Love it and still love these ladies. Protect Betty White forever! But Channel 5 only aired 4 seasons. I’m still pissed off about that. Show the rest, Channel 5! Please!!!
– The Masked Singer US – God this show was cheesy & stupid but also kind of… entertaining, I guess. I watched the U.K. one too. I was rubbish at guessing who anyone was. At least I’d heard of most of the stars in the U.S. one (except the sports stars). They really scraped the bottom of the barrel for the U.K. one! I’m not posting an image from this stupid show. Here’s The Mandalorian again…
BLOG PLANS FOR AUGUST
I’m hoping to post the rest of my monthly roundup posts for May, June & July… If I get around to writing them.
Let’s listen to Ludwig Göransson’s awesome theme music for The Mandalorian:
Written by Wentworth Miller
Music by Clint Mansell
Running time: 99 minutes
India Stoker’s beloved father dies in a car accident on her 18th birthday. Soon after, the mysterious Uncle Charlie comes to stay with India and her cold & distant mother. India never even knew her father had a brother and she starts to suspect that Uncle Charlie may not be all he seems.
I think it’s pretty well known that the inspiration for Stoker was Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow Of A Doubt. Being a pretty big Hitchcock fan and having just watched that one this year (review HERE), I can certainly see how similar the films are and how much Wentworth Miller clearly must love Shadow Of A Doubt. As to be expected, though, it’s not as good as Hitchcock’s film.
I missed Stoker when it was in cinemas and I was so mad because it looked interesting & I really wanted to see it. But as it wasn’t Fast & Furious 23 or some shit like that, it was only on for one week at my local cinema. So, anyway, after fellow movie geeks seemed to love it despite some not so great reviews I think I had probably hyped it up too much in my mind & that may be why I was a little disappointed with the film.
I’ve never seen Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy and had wanted to do this review along with that one but just haven’t had time to watch it. I’m assuming it’s a better film with all the best bits of Stoker, like some great visuals and all that director-y stuff that I know nothing about, but with a better story. Stoker looked great & it had this wonderful creepy atmosphere that I really liked. But the overall story wasn’t all that shocking or original and, with a different director, I think it would be a very forgettable film.
I also think everyone did fine in their roles but no one really blew me away.
Mia Wasikowska was fine but I think plenty of other actresses could have played the role too. Matthew Goode has this insane look going on in his eyes so I think he was right for the role but, again, I think there are others who could have played Uncle Charlie and I can’t help but say that Joseph Cotten was a creepier Uncle Charlie in Shadow Of A Doubt. At least the character of India in Stoker has much more depth than Hitchcock’s Charlie, niece of the uncle with the same name. Nicole Kidman is also fine but she always is – I didn’t really feel like we were seeing anything new from her here.
Overall I just found the story too predictable. It was too much “style over substance” for me. I don’t think it was bad but, if you’re going to make a film so clearly inspired by Hitchcock, I think you need to do a better job on the suspense in the film. You’re not going to top the Master in that regard but there are other films that have achieved a growing sense of anxiousness more than Stoker does, which never exactly had me on the edge of my seat.
Stoker is a very atmospheric film that is lovely to look at and one I’m sure that people who know anything about filmmaking would probably appreciate. In the hands of a less talented director (and without a certain shower scene), I think it would be a very forgettable film. It’s a good Hitchcock-inspired mystery but just can’t match his brilliantly suspenseful storytelling. But who can? Although it sounds like I almost hated Stoker, I did actually enjoy it. It’s a solid effort & I appreciate the attempt to make something other than the same old tired mainstream movie in this world full of horrible sequels, remakes, and “Ow, my balls!” comedies. Stoker is worth a watch for film fans but I would hope that everyone will have already seen Hitchcock’s biggest classics first to see the true master of suspense at work.
My Rating: 6.5/10
And I’m on a Movie Haiku kick again so here’s one for Stoker. Warning if you’ve not seen it – SLIGHT SPOILER:
Strange Uncle Charlie
Masturbating in shower
Hitchcock this is not
Which leads me to two of my lists on which Stoker probably now at least deserves an honorable mention. 😉