Movies, movies, movies!

Nurse Bob's film reviews

When rating a film I ask myself these three questions: What is the director’s goal or purpose? How does the director try to achieve it? Is the director successful? Hence a big box office hit may get a “5” while a Eurosleaze sexploitation flick gets a “7”. My rating system in a nutshell:

10 = Brilliant!
9 = Exceptional
8 = Very Good
7 = Good
6 = Average
5 = Forgettable
4 = Bad
3 = Dismal
2 = Dog Barf
1 = Beyond Awful


~ ~ ~ ~


Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (Canada 2004) (8): The best grunge werewolf movie since the original Gingersnaps, Brett Sullivan’s winning mix of gore, bleak humour, and depressive teenaged angst looks like it should have been based on a graphic novel. In the first movie Brigitte (a sour Emily Perkins personifying Goth misery) was forced to dispatch her sister Ginger after the latter snapped and became a voracious lycanthrope. Now cursed with the same supernatural malady, her attempts at self-medication have landed her in Canada’s dingiest rehab ward. Run by a savvy ex-addict and staffed with a platitude-spouting social worker and a sexual predator orderly, Brigitte must find a means of escaping before the next full moon puts her over the edge. Meanwhile, as if things couldn’t be worse, Ginger’s ghost has begun egging her on and an amorous male werewolf has come sniffing for her… Perkin’s sullen, unkempt performance finds its perfect counterpoint in co-star Tatiana Maslany who plays sidekick and fellow inmate “Ghost”, a suspiciously chipper tween whose unhealthy obsession with comic books has made her determined to help Brigitte with her hairy predicament. Wintry Albertan exterior shots are complimented by shabby interior sets to give the entire production an aura of wrack and ruin further accented by a score of morose ballads and minor riffs. From the opening carnage in a motel parking lot to a final comeuppance at grandmother’s house (literally!) both cast and crew know they are fashioning a B-Movie shocker, but they do so with such gusto and wit (oh that crooked wink at “grrl power”, and that group session which goes off the rails) that I found myself cheering them on despite the occasional misstep.

Museum Hours
(Austria 2015) (8): Johan works as a security guard at the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum in Vienna where his quiet day-to-day observations have made him something of a student in human behaviour. Anne is a Canadian who’s traveled to Austria from Montreal in order to be with her gravely ill cousin. When the two meet a relaxed friendship develops which sees Johan acting as Anne’s tour guide, translator, and confidante—their leisurely strolls through the museum’s many corridors giving rise to small talk about all things great and small. Jem Cohen’s charming little indie film juxtaposes quotidian life in a big city with silent works of art that somehow manage to imbue one another with a magical realism—modern day urban hustle finding counterpoint in the medieval hustle of a Bruegel village scene; a boat ride through Vienna’s underground catacombs reminiscent of a scene from an Egyptian papyrus; and everywhere images of joy and conflict reflected in the museum’s countless oils and sculptures (in one cunning twist a group of observers become the naked observed). Leads Bobby Sommer and Mary Margaret O’Hara give performances so grounded and believable that at times Cohen’s opus takes on the spontaneity of a documentary, indeed one prolonged scene of a curator explaining a series of paintings to her tour group becomes a fascinating lesson in itself. A kindhearted and unassuming slice of life about two remarkably unremarkable people which brings home the fact that life doesn’t imitate art, life is art.

Truth and Justice
(Estonia 2019) (10): The sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons—and daughters, and wives, and livestock—in Tanel Toom’s widescreen morality play set in the latter part of the 19th century, a family epic presented with all the gravitas of a biblical judgment. Two men whose farms abut one another spend a lifetime locking horns both in and out of court. Andres, a young idealist determined to forge a homestead out of an acreage littered with rocks and bogs, is obsessed with “truth and justice”, or at least the austere, unyielding version of it he gleans from his nightly bible readings. Pearu, on the other hand, is a drunken liar and a cheat determined to drive Andres away just like he did with the farm’s previous two owners. Over the course of the next 24 years the two men will wage an ongoing battle of wills which will threaten to transform Andres into everything he once loathed while claiming collateral damage on both sides of the fence. Against an arresting backdrop of pastoral fields and rustic log homes, plain pigheadedness will be mistaken for virtue, hills and vales will become cursed, and “God’s word” will fall like a series of invectives as the two men try each other both before the law and in the court of popular opinion at the local drinking establishment. Impeccably performed by a cast of children and adults, and weighted down by Mihkel Zilmer’s sombre score of orchestral moves and synthesized pulses, this is a simple parable told in grand style.

An Honest Liar
(USA 2014) (7): Aside from a successful stage career, Toronto-born magician and escape artist extraordinaire James “The Amazing” Randi devoted most of his professional life to debunking so-called psychics and faith healers. “I’m a magician…” he stated once, “…so I know how to deceive people and I know when they’re being deceived.” Turning his considerable talents to the likes of Israeli spoon-bender Uri Geller and evangelical conman Peter Popoff—he managed to recreate Geller’s alleged psychic powers using basic stagecraft and Popoff’s faith healing services were exposed as a scam in one of Randi’s most famous sting operations—he championed the pursuit of skepticism. A darling of the lecture circuit where he was a favourite speaker, Randi was also the target of considerable acrimony from crackpots and sheep who needed to believe—whether in God, in E.T.s, or in the paranormal. An interesting bio given a further human edge when directors Tyler Measom and Justin Weintstein focus on the fallibilities of the man behind the movement. In the closet until he was well into his 80s, Randi’s 20+ year relationship with artist José Alvarez, thirty-three years his junior, would itself become the focal point of a deception—perhaps the greatest of his career. Ironically, as an aging Randi retreated from the public spotlight those he once targeted continued to flourish giving P. T. Barnum’s famous observation that “there’s a sucker born every minute” extra sting. Sadly, Randi passed away in 2020 at the age of 92 leaving the one million dollar prize he offered to anyone who could prove the existence of the paranormal still unclaimed.

The Prisoner of Zenda
(USA 1937) (6): Of all the screen adaptations based on Anthony Hope’s novel this one, directed by John Cromwell, is considered by some to be the best. When the future king of an Eastern European country (Ronald Colman) is drugged into a temporary coma on the eve of his coronation by his jealous half-brother Michael (Raymond Massey) who wishes to steal the crown for himself, his loyal aides enlist the help of visiting Englishman Rudolf Rassendyll (also Ronald Colman) who, being a distant cousin to the royal family, bears an uncanny resemblance to the indisposed monarch. Temporarily standing in for the real king so that the coronation can proceed, Rudolf manages to fool everyone thanks to some prompting from the palace aides, but the royal ruse is threatened with exposure when the real king is kidnapped by Michael’s henchman (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. despicably suave) and Rudolf falls for Princess Flavia (Madeleine Carroll) the king’s intended fiancée. A swashbuckler whose twin Oscar nominations for musical score and art direction were well earned—the string section alone is enough to make you lean forward in your seat while magnificent castle interiors are highlighted by a crane shot over a sprawling ballroom and the candlelit shadows of two sword fighters looming large across a dungeon wall. But Colman was already too old to play a dashing romantic lead and the movie’s ham-fisted theatrics too often go over the top with exaggerated performances that hearken back to the silent film era—Massey scowls and hisses, Fairbanks sneers and strikes a pose, and Colman and Carroll threaten to bring down the palace with a cringeworthy scene of weepy embraces. Genre classic or overbaked melodrama? Definitely the former even though it contains too much of the latter for my particular tastes.

Love is Strange
(USA 2014) (8): Light as a feather and just as soft, Ira Sachs’ bittersweet love story starts off as a “gay movie” before quickly moving beyond genre constrictions to render up something more universal. After being together for almost forty years, Ben and George (John Lithgow, Alfred Molina) are finally able to get married and waste no time rushing to do so. Sadly, George’s proud announcement causes him to lose his job at the Catholic school where he taught music putting the couple in dire financial straits that necessitate selling their co-op. Now forced to live apart as they come to rely on friends and relations with small NYC apartments, Ben moves in with his nephew’s family while George holes up with a young gay couple. Ben’s presence ultimately causes friction in his nephew’s household, especially with the couple’s moody teenaged son Joey (Charlie Tahan) whose room he’s commandeered. George, on the other hand, feels the generational gap more than ever as his hosts put on one loud party after another. And all the while the two elderly newlyweds are missing each other terribly. Not a strong premise, yet one which Sachs effectively uses to address issues of love, belonging, and what defines a family. Ben is an amateur painter whose nostalgic canvases of young men seem like an attempt to recapture something that’s been lost. George’s efforts to instill a love of music in his students likewise indicates a yearning for the romance which age and circumstances are slowly eroding away. But despite this, the two men are the only constant pillars in a film where everyone else is in flux from Joey’s sense of alienation to the young couple who break up between one song and the next while George looks on dispassionately. A multi-generational slice of life with all the joys and sorrows that implies, Sachs is wise enough to refrain from fixing everything for a tidy ending yet he still manages to assure us that healing is as much a part of living as pain, and that life will continue to go on even after the screen fades to black. A delicate background score of Chopin piano pieces sets the mood perfectly.

Odd Thomas
(USA 2013) (7): Odd Thomas sees dead people, a talent which has helped the local police chief (Willem Dafoe) solve more than one crime. But Odd also sees “bordachs”, otherwise invisible harbingers of death and destruction who always show up shortly before a particularly grisly demise. Now his small town of Pico Mundo is literally crawling with thousands of the gelatinous monsters indicating something horrible is about to go down and Odd only a few days to figure out what it is so he can try and prevent it. And then a peculiar stranger stumbles into town… Based on Dean Koontz’s series of novels, director Stephen Sommers’ supernatural detective flick feels like something out of the 80s—complete with shopping mall, young love, and an ice cream shop—and that’s not a bad thing. There’s definitely a touch of comic book to his production where actions loom larger than life (is that a doorway to HELL?!) and the bad guys are so thoroughly despicable you want to hiss at the screen. Sommers, to his credit, is not only aware of this he actually revels in it thereby giving audiences a wild ride full of CGI bogeymen, rotting body parts, and a weepy twist that chokes you up even though you can see it coming from a mile away. The late Anton Yelchin does justice to the role of Odd, playing the short order cook-slash-psychic crusader with a hammy “aww shucks” abandon and the supporting cast are all down with the joke. A few laughs, a few macabre jolts, and a sense of déjà-vu nostalgia for everyone that remembers those old teen scream matinees. Fun stuff, silly script and all.

CJ7
(Hong Kong) (6): Writer/director Stephen Chow draws on a little bit of Roald Dahl and a whole lot of Steven Spielberg for this Chinese E.T. knock-off whose sense of whimsy is too often overshadowed by schmaltz and corn. It centres on little Dicky Chow, perhaps the sweetest boy in all of Asia (actually played by actress Jiao Xu) and his dirt poor day labourer dad, Ti (the director himself). Living in a one-room hovel the two exist on whatever dad can find in the local garbage dump, be it old clothes for the closet or rotten apples for dessert, and amuse themselves at night by seeing how many cockroaches they can smush. But Ti is determined to see Dicky succeed in life even if it means slaving away at a construction site in order to pay for his private school tuition. Then one night Ti brings home a mysterious green ball he found during his nightly scrounging, a ball which turns out to be a little alien with a furry face atop a squishy green body and a voice somewhere between cooing dove and chattering chipmunk. Comical mischief and a few life lessons follow as the space puppy, nicknamed “CJ7”, uses its extraterrestrial powers—channeled through a glowing antenna reminiscent of E.T.’s finger—to give father and son a new sense of purpose. Or something. B-grade CGI effects have you almost believing the actors are looking at something real and a cast of adorable classroom moppets (including an adult male in schoolgirl drag dubbed with a six-year old’s voice?!) cement the film’s demographic. But watching CJ7 strike Kung Fu poses and pull funny faces is barely enough to sustain an adult’s interest and those stretches of teary pathos, with the orchestra practically falling over itself trying to twist your heart, are a tad too manipulative to be effective. Completely inoffensive for all that, and some of the comedic elements actually work especially Dicky’s dealings with the pint-sized class bully and one high-tech daydream. Family fare that’s decent enough for a 90-minute commitment. And yes, there’s a toy franchise.

American Animals
(UK 2018) (9): College art major Spencer Reinhard is tired of his average life and yearns for something that will set him apart from the herd. Then he becomes acquainted with his university’s priceless collection of rare books including a volume of watercolours depicting American fowl by James Audubon—artwork which gives the film both its name and central metaphor—and a plan begins to hatch. Joining up with three other disaffected students including anarchist slacker Warren Lipka (and possibly inspired by the movies of Quentin Tarantino) Spencer et al plan a daring daytime theft of several valuable books from the library’s minimally secured “special collections” room. Of course life isn’t like the movies and despite ringleader Lipka’s best laid plans problems, both logistical and psychological, begin to add up. A true story based on an actual 2004 robbery in Lexington, Kentucky, writer/director Bart Layton’s multi-layered scrutiny of restless youth and the pursuit of American-style celebrity unfolds at breakneck speed, stopping now and again to break that fourth wall as the real students behind the characters—now adults—give account for their actions, their stories often conflicting as they mistake one another’s memories for their own. Segueing between reality and dramatization, and elevated by a phenomenal soundtrack including a show-stopping rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Who By Fire”, Layton’s arthouse hybrid of heist flick and psychodrama is pure cinema. With evocative cinematography that draws upon everything from strobing flashlights to anxiety-riddled verité, and four powerhouse performances from leads Barry Keoghan, Blake Jenner, Jared Abrahamson, and Evan Peters, American Animals is not so much a crime re-enactment as it is a dissection of those egocentric forces which led up to it. Finally, as if to add a dash of irony to this underlying theme, Layton concludes with a brief “where are they now?” segment which suggests that life sometimes does imitate art. Or is it the other way around?

Infinitely Polar Bear
(USA 2014 ) (7): Based on her memories of growing up with a dad who struggled with mental illness writer/director Maya Forbes’ charming little indie film, a surprise hit at Sundance, doesn’t gloss over the day to day realities of such a living arrangement but neither does she deny the fact that her home, however impoverished, was nevertheless filled with love. Set in 1978 Boston, Amelia Stuart and her little sister Faith (Forbes’ real life daughter Imogene Wolodarsky and newcomer Ashley Aufderheide, both phenomenal) are no strangers to the wild rides and small mortifications that accompany their bi-polar father, Cam (Mark Ruffalo, painfully convincing). Whether he’s staring into the fridge for hours, filling the apartment with “future projects”, or else going off on manic tangents, life is rarely predictable—a fact which has caused both little girls to mature beyond their years. But at least there’s food on the table (dad’s a great cook) and the knowledge that through it all mom and dad, despite being estranged, have their backs—even if dad is sometimes flat on his face. And then their mother (Zoe Saldana, solid) decides to pursue an 18-month MBA degree in New York City so she can better her job prospects, a decision which will leave Faith and Amelia in the sole care of their father. Balking at this immense responsibility, both dad and daughters face the future with some trepidation—but with a little determination and a (hopefully) strict medication regime things just might work out. Or not. While some may accuse the film of downplaying the seriousness of Cam’s condition and the impact it would have on his children, Ruffalo brings a sense of warmth and humanity to the role which never stoops to stereotypes. Here is a man who loves his family first and foremost regardless of the roadblocks mental health occasionally throws in his way. Additionally, children have far more resilience than they’re credited with hence Amelia and Faith have become experts at making lemonade out of lemons while keeping dad more or less on the right track with constant childlike reality checks: “I’m a good neighbour!” asserts Cam after his somewhat overbearing attempts to help the lady next door result in a door being closed in his face, “You’re an annoying neighbour!” blurts out Faith, “People see you and run…in the opposite direction!” adds Amelia. Awash in contrasts which underline the film’s themes of conflict vs harmony—dad is white, mom is black; dad comes from money (though the trust fund is controlled with a miserly fist), mom doesn’t; dad often marches to a different drummer, mom stands still—Forbes’ film may lean slightly to the sunnier side, but then again they’re her memories and if she looks back on them with more fondness than grief who are we to disagree?

His House
(UK 2020) (8): Bol Majur and his wife Rial have gone through hell trying to get to England from South Sudan where their life had been torn to pieces by tribal violence. Now, put up in a tumbledown London housing project while their refugee claim is processed, they come to the sickening realization that Hell has followed them across land and sea for something is crawling in the walls and rotting apparitions are bursting from every dark corner. Despite Bol’s assurances to the board overseeing their case that “We are good people!”, the couple is nevertheless harbouring a tragic secret which refuses to stay buried… Remi Weekes’ first feature film is an amazing mix of allegory and horror that works on many different levels simultaneously. As a ghost story he draws upon every trick in the book with consummate skill from shuffling grotesques lurking in the shadows to hallucinatory passages of putrified cadavers emerging from a blood red sea. As a metaphor for the refugee experience Weekes’ script underscores the confusion of moving to a new land in some very clever ways—Rial’s attempt to walk to a nearby clinic turns into a Kafkaesque trek through streets which seem to shift on their own and locals whose spoken directions turn into contradictory gibberish. And as a guilt-fuelled psychodrama the couple’s collective subconscious—personified by their dingy welfare flat—proves a fertile breeding ground for a host of macabre jolts, all delivered with a distinctly African flair. Leads Wunmi Mosaku as Rial and Sope Dirisu as Bol are perfectly in sync and completely convincing—her haunted eyes belying a strong-willed determination and his stoic denial eroded brick by brick with every supernatural onslaught. Guilt can be a formidable enemy and absolution always comes at a cost. Scary stuff.

The Rain People
(USA 1969) (7): Counted as one of his personal favourites, Francis Ford Coppola was only 29 years old when he wrote and directed The Rain People, a road movie which reduces the zeitgeist of the 60s down to a Pilgrim’s Progress across the heart of America. Feeling so trapped by marriage and impending motherhood, Natalie (Shirley Knight, phenomenal) gets up one morning, writes her husband a note, and heads out west in the family station wagon thus beginning a cross country drive as psychological as it is physical. Her first encounter is “Jimmy” (James Caan), a charmingly naïve drifter whose promising football career was cut short by a serious head injury which left him vulnerable to the vagaries of the big bad world—including Natalie’s own capriciousness which runs hot and cold throughout. Jimmy sees simplicity where she sees only chaos. Next up is state trooper Gordon (Robert Duvall) a masculine authoritarian figure to whom Natalie takes an immediate shine. But Gordon’s machismo is nothing more than a thin veneer concealing a great deal of loneliness and frustration. As these two polar opposites impact her journey in various unexpected ways Natalie is forced to reevaluate her own life decisions—starting with the realization that freedom is not a destination and liberation is not synonymous with irresponsibility. A simple story simply told without all the unnecessary garnishes of a more polished production, although the constant parade of silent flashbacks meant to fill in the blanks could have been toned down a wee bit. Knight delivers one of her career highs as a confused and frightened housewife so alienated from her once carefree single life that she’s begun referring to herself in the third person. She’s a dormouse longing to roar yet only able to squeak out lame excuses to her bewildered husband from various phone booths along the highway. Caan and Duvall are equally strong, one’s open-faced innocence playing off the other’s broken cynicism in an unstable dynamic of which Natalie feels the brunt. Marya Zimmet and Tom Aldredge round out the cast by adding extra breadth to Natalie’s unhappy odyssey: she mirroring Natalie’s own situation in miniature as a neglected yet headstrong child, he providing the snake in an already corrupted Eden as a dishonest business owner.

Vampyres
(UK 1974) (6): Mysterious vampire lovers Fran and Miriam (Marianne Morris and “Miss UK 1970” finalist Anulka) take perverse delight in posing as hitchhikers to lure male motorists to their secluded castle in the woods. Once inside, the men are plied with vintage wine and sexual romps from the two insatiable women before finally being drained (in more ways than one). Trouble looms from two sides however when one victim refuses to die and a newlywed bride, camping nearby with her husband, takes more than a passing interest in the old manor house and its sexy inhabitants. For a Eurotrash sexploitation flick José Ramón Larraz’s slice of softcore lesbian gothic comes with an unexpected amount of atmosphere whenever the cameras stray from all the blood and tits long enough to focus on moonlit storm clouds or a misty graveyard or the mummified corpses of past visitors mouldering away in a dripping cellar. For their part Morris and Anulka waffle between sultry seductresses and cheesy sex kittens, Larraz substituting the usual fangs and coffins clichés with a kind of bent feminism—these two ladies get what they want through sheer wits and sex appeal, a powerful combo which no horny heterosexual man can resist—no sharp teeth required. The gore is mostly limited to gallons of red syrup splashed generously over naked heaving flesh and the staged sex, while intense enough to have given the British censors a field day, is a study in thrashing limbs and scripted grunts issued from between ruby-stained lips. Perfect fodder for a naughty Halloween party providing you can keep from laughing out loud. As an interesting aside, if the exterior mansion shots look familiar to you it’s because similar shots of the same house (Oakley Court) were used in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s astounding!

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
(USA 2019) (5): For years the old abandoned Bellows mansion has towered over the small town of Mill Valley, Pennsylvania. Once the residence of the fabulously wealthy Bellows clan it is now home to spiders and dust—and a terrible secret. Apparently youngest daughter, Sarah, was so hideously deformed the family had her locked away in the basement where she whiled away the hours writing macabre stories (in blood!) and luring local children to their deaths. At least that’s how the legend goes. Now, on Halloween night 1968, goth teen Stella and her friends decide to break into the old place for a lark, but things quickly go awry when they stumble upon Sarah’s book of scary stories—stories which write themselves then proceed to come to life with a murderous vengeance… Based on the books of Alvin Schwartz whose imaginative tales embraced everything from demonic scarecrows to decapitated bogeymen, André Øvredal’s spooky anthology reads better than it plays which is disappointing when you consider Guillermo del Toro helped with the screenplay. The ingredients are all there—moonlit cornfields, creepy corridors, and a haunted house that could put Disneyland’s to shame—but whether it’s the campy performances or a derivative script filled with 80s-style schlock the horror level never goes beyond Goosebumps and the movie’s episodic nature fails to mesh. Further dragging things down is an unfolding backstory in which Stella’s own troubled history parallels that of Sarah’s ghost leading to a climax which is more chick flick that shockfest. And aside from Nixon on the television, a vintage bus, and a rendition of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” playing in the background, 1968 winds up looking like Generation Z playing dress-up—and not very convincingly. Annabelle could eat this film for breakfast.

The Quake
(Norway 2018) (7): So you can essentially take my review for 2015’s The Wave and replace “tsunami” with “earthquake” to get an idea of what this Scandinavian disaster movie is all about. Once again neurotic geologist Kristian Eikjord (Kristoffer Joner looking like a homeless Jesus), still suffering with PTSD from the tidal wave fiasco three years ago, sees a troubling pattern in the seismic activity around Oslo. His suspicions are given some credence when a few small tremblers rattle windows, power lines go off the grid, and rats start behaving badly. But will the authorities listen to his dire warnings before the BIG ONE hits? And will he be able to save his now estranged wife and two kids yet again? Superior to the first movie in every way, director John Andreas Andersen keeps the sentimental treacle and eye-rolling stretches to a minimum and instead builds the tension one tremor at a time until he practically splits the screen with a grand climax that sees city streets buckling and skyscrapers falling like dominos. And that big family crisis—high atop the slanting skeleton of a once luxury hotel—is pure nail-biting cinema. A shot of theatrical adrenaline that had me hooked right from the very first rockslide and left me wondering how Fantefilm Studios will destroy Norway next. How about a kick ass volcano right in the middle of Trondheim?!

We Are Still Here
(USA 2015) (4): Still grieving over their son’s tragic death, Paul and Anne Sacchetti (Andrew Sensenig and Barbara Crampton, both completely forgettable) leave the big city for upstate New York where they hope a change of scenery will mark a new beginning. But the rambling 19th century farmhouse they’ve bought comes with a dark history of murder and supernatural malevolence—cue ghostly bumps and crashes—prompting Anne to seek the help of her psychic friends May and Jacob Lewis (Lisa Marie trying to enunciate past collagen duck lips, Larry Fessenden looking like the fourth Stooge). What the pair discover is far worse than a mere poltergeist however, especially after the creepy locals begin to take an unhealthy interest in their town’s newest inhabitants. Writer/director Ted Geoghegan’s ghost story starts out promisingly despite it’s by now clichéd “something’s-in-the-cellar-so-I-will-investigate-every-dark-corner-with-my-faulty-flashlight” style of jolts. And those milky-eyed barbecued bogeymen, all wreathed in smoke and sparks, are effective enough, at least for the first twenty minutes. But you can only take so many things jumping out at the camera before it becomes predictable and the whole production is hamstrung by uniformly awful performances which ultimately become more horrifying than the crispy bacon demons themselves. Even an interesting backstory (this house has issues!) and a stockpile of gruesome effects fail to lift this one above strictly Z-grade Halloween fare. Apparently Geoghegan was intending this to be an homage to the likes of Fulci, Argento, and Lovecraft, but what we end up with is a passing nod to William Castle instead.

Color Out of Space
(USA 2019) (6): Based on a 1927 short story penned by horror legend H. P. Lovecraft. When a small psychedelic meteorite crashes into the front yard of their country home, Nathan Gardner (a grizzled Nicolas Cage) and his family find themselves beset by all manner of supernatural phenomena from the sudden appearance of impossible flora and fauna to telekinesis and mental manipulation. It seems the extraterrestrial chunk carried an unwelcome passenger—a being composed of pure light—and it’s now intent on turning the Gardner’s quiet idyll into an alien nightmare even as it twists their minds and bodies. Lovecraft's mastery of the English language is mostly lost amid magenta strobe effects, splattered gore, and Cage's string of screaming meltdowns, yet director Richard Stanley has still managed to produce something watchable despite the derivative Hollywood padding which includes such genre shocks as demonic personality shifts (The Amityville Horror); grotesque physical morphing (The Thing); and crawly bugaboos (Alien). There's a Saturday matinee appeal to Stanley's big screen vision however, his macabre comic book flourishes so reminiscent of 1982's Creepshow. But whether the film’s comedic elements were intentional or not is anyone's guess. Cool ending either way.

The Lodger
(USA 1944) (7): 20th Century Fox turns a Los Angeles soundstage into a semblance of old London in this worthy remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 thriller. A respectable upper class landlady (Sara Allgood) begins to suspect her new lodger may be none other than Jack the Ripper, especially when he takes an unnatural interest in her vivacious niece (Merle Oberon), an up-and-coming actress. Fogbound streets, gaslights, and horse drawn carriages set the mood, a cast of cockney-spouting extras add a bit of colour, and Oberon’s naughty song and dance routines throw in as much spice as the censors would allow. But the show belongs to larger-than-life Laird Cregar as the mysterious lodger—his massive frame and searing gaze clashing with an unexpectedly soft voice to give one of cinema’s more menacing performances. Notable for its intimate camerawork which has the lens zeroing in on a screaming victim or settling on a corpse’s fingers as they dangle over a flooded gutter, director John Brahm and cinematographer Lucien Ballard cap it all off with a claustrophobic chase sequence reminiscent of Frankenstein’s last stand sans pitchforks and torches. An effective Grand Guignol that combines elements of horror with a 19th century policier. George Sanders co-stars as a Scotland Yard inspector intent on finding the Ripper before he kills again.

Out of the Past
(USA 1998) (7): In the mid-90s Utah highschool student Kelli Peterson, still coming to terms with her own sexuality, decided to start a campus support group for gay, bi, and lesbian students and their supporters. Calling it the “Gay-Straight Alliance” she submitted her proposal to the school authorities never imagining the avalanche of bigotry and homophobia her dream would unleash. With opposition stretching from the Salt Lake City school board to the state legislature, Kelli’s legal odyssey would make international headlines and propel her to the vanguard of the gay rights movement. Using this plucky young woman’s determination as a focal point, director Jeff Dupre puts her experience in a historical context by comparing it to the struggle faced by such heroes of equality as Henry Gerber who founded the first Gay Rights organization in 1925 (he was arrested and lost his job), Bayard Rustin who at one time was Martin Luther King’s right hand man during the civil rights movement (his sexuality became a political hot potato), and Boston socialite Annie Adams Fields who along with her lover, the author Sarah Orne Jewett, moved freely through 19th century high society until changing social mores, fuelled by psychiatric babble, cast a disparaging pall over their relationship. “If we don’t exist in history then we don’t really exist in the present…” states the narrator in an opening monologue, and bolstered by personal letters and a panel of talking heads which include historians, clergy, and politicians, Jeff Dupre’s short documentary suggests that we’ve been LOUD and PROUD for a lot longer than we think. Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton, and Linda Hunt lend their voices.

Three
(Germany 2010) (8): Stem cells are undifferentiated pluripotent entities free of the constraints imposed by specialization and therefore able to become whatever kind of cell they wish to be (figuratively speaking, of course). Using this bit of medical science as a springboard, writer/director Tom Tykwer’s adulterous comedy explores what can happen when human beings similarly free themselves of the constraints imposed by societal norms allowing determinism to give way to liberating acts of free will. Fortyish couple Hanna and Simon have been together for years and although they’re happy enough their sex life has lost much of its spark prompting Hanna to have an affair with Adam, a doctor specializing in—you guessed it—stem cell research! Things get complicated however when Simon, purely by chance, takes a walk on the “bi” side and also begins seeing Adam thus begetting a three-sided affair in which none of the participants are aware of the others’ involvement. Until one fateful night… Juggling themes of death and life (there’s a cancer scare and a fertilized ovum), birth and rebirth, intimacy and loneliness, Tykwer, always the showman, dazzles the screen with clever conceits ranging from overlapping dialogue and multiple screens to animated angels and a touch of absurdism in order to bring home the fact that we are much more than the sum of our cells and love need not be limited by gender roles or biological imperatives. A script that already crackles with insight and wry humour is given further weight by Tykwer’s sly casting: Simon’s job as an artistic engineer involves bringing other people’s visions to life and Adam’s research is aimed at elevating boring skin cells into multi-tasking super cells. A whip smart urban comedy about sex and chimerism that begins with a daydream and ends right smack in the middle of a petri dish.