It has been one rough week. My professional and personal life have been filled with much stress. I don’t want to get into the gory details except to say that even when life bogs me down, I can always turn to art to cheer me up. And on that front, it was a very good week. I watched some interesting movies and enjoyed the trailers on some movies that haven’t been released yet. That’s why I do this. I want to celebrate things that make life better. So here we go.
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
This isn’t exactly a great film, but it is exactly what you expect from a William Castle, haunted house movie starring Vincent Price. He stars as an eccentric millionaire who has invited five people to spend the night at the titular house promising them $10,000 if they can survive the night. Right away, we are given a scene in which we find Price talking to his (not particularly happy) wife, admitting that it's all just fun and games. But Castle keeps things moving quickly with plenty of silly scares and a few genuinely creepy moments.
The script is good, the surprises not exactly surprising but twisty enough to keep you guessing, and at 75 minutes, it's so brisk you’ll hardly have time to be anything but thoroughly entertained.
Only John Carpenter in the '80s could turn this ridiculous story (nerdy boy becomes confident cool kid through the magical power of a killer car) into something fantastic. Based upon the Stephen King novel of the same name, Christine tells the story of Arnie Cunningham, a socially awkward teenager stumbling through high school. When he spies a busted-up, dirty old 1958 Plymouth Fury called Christine, it's love at first sight. He buys it on the spot and spends all his time fixing it up with spare parts from the local junk yard. As the car goes from junker to hot rod, Arnie changes from shy nerd to confident punk who gets the car, and the girl. That Christine is a jealous, murderous vehicle with a mind of its own is just the price one has to pay.
Carpenter takes all this silliness very seriously. He’d have to for one little smirk and the whole thing would fall apart, but within that ridiculous story lies a lot of dark humor and a trunk full of fun. It's crafted exceedingly well with that glorious 1980s John Carpenter lighting, a terrific score from him as well, and a great '50s rock 'n' roll soundtrack. There’s also some wonderful practical effects that bring Christine back to pristine condition after she’s wrecked herself during a murderous rampage.
It's not Carpenter’s best work, but it sure is a joy to watch.
I really didn’t want to be interested in this movie. The DC Extended Universe has been very hit and miss and ultimately it's kind of a mess. So much so that DC has decided to start making standalone films that have nothing to do with their Extended Universe, which means that in cases such as this we’ll have two different actors playing the same character in films that have nothing to do with each other. That sounds exhausting.
When they announced Joaquin Phoenix would be starring in a standalone version of the Joker, I was nonplussed. I like him as an actor but I can really do without a Joker movie. Or at least that’s what I thought before I saw this trailer. As much as I don’t want to see or like this film, this trailer looks really interesting. Phoenix seems to be taking the character to a place he’s never been before (at least not cinematically). Of course, the actual film could still be a disaster, but consider me intrigued.
The Land Unknown
A lost world story about a group of explorers who investigate an unusually warm patch of Antarctica and discover a hidden jungle world full of dinosaurs. Made in 1957 on a pretty cheap budget, the set design is fantastical, beautiful, and surprisingly in depth. The dinosaurs are, well, not as good, but they have that cheap sci-fi charm. They include an actual lizard optically enlarged to look gigantic, a man in an obvious rubber suit made to look like a T-Rex, and and an actually decent-looking Elasmosaurus. The story is basic but it's well done, the script is tight ,and the acting is pretty good. I found it to be rip-roaring fun. I’ll have a full review up soon.
The Fifth Doctor
My big birthday presents this year were the new Blu-ray sets of Tom Baker’s and Peter Davison’s first seasons as the Doctor. Since the local college station plays Tom Baker stories every Friday and since we just watched Baker’s last one on the big screen, we opted to start in on Davison’s turn. Thus far we’ve watched Castrovalva, Four to Doomsday, and Kinda. In those stories, Davison is still finding his footing in the role, but they are still a lot of fun and it's clear the producers are enjoying working with a new actor and creating a new character. I’ve seen all those stories before and it's great to have them in one set, but the real joy of this new box is the massive amount of bonus material. Each story is on its own Blu-ray disk, and they are chock full of commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage, documentaries, and more. I’ll be spending many weeks digging through it all and increasing my love for the Fifth Doctor.
The Dead Don’t Die
The trailer for Jim Jarmusch’s new zombie comedy dropped on April 1, and I was really afraid that it was all some kind of prank, but four days later, it appears that it is really happening. Jarmusch’s films often have a wry humor to them but they generally fall into the definite drama category so to see him go full-on yucks mode is both startling and really awesome. It stars Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, RZA, Selena Gomez, Carol Kane, and Tom Waits, which is obviously a fantastic cast and more than enough reason to see the film on its own, but just watch that trailer and then come stand in line with me for tickets.