Throwback Thursday: Cruel Intentions

Fun fact: the first time I watched this film it was at an outdoor theatre sponsored by my local church (that year we had a hot young monk helping with the church’s fundraising and somehow got away with showing this film, The Ninth Gate, and Final Destination). Having said that, this movie was considered the hottest teen film at the time, as well as having one of the best soundtracks after Romeo + Juliet (and that one was hard to beat!).

The movie is a modern adaptation of the French novel, Dangerous Liaisons (a film was made in 1988 and now Starz recently did a series). So instead of being at a French court, Cruel Intentions bases itself on the lives of rich Manhattan kids, focusing on step-siblings Kathryn and Sebastian.

Kathryn is pissed off because her ex dumped her over the 4th of July weekend for a naive virgin, deeming her too “slutty” for him, and wants Sebastian to help her destroy her ex by corrupting his current girlfriend Cecile. But Sebastian, notorious for ruining the lives of young girls with his charm and sociopathic ways has his eyes set on virginal Annette. Kathryn wagers that he cannot seduce Annette and if she wins, she will get his retro Jaguar, however, if she were to lose, she alludes that she would be down to have anal sex – and thus the bet is made.

The movie opens with Placebo’s Every You, Every Me – and with lyrics such as, “Sucker love, I always find someone to bruise and leave behind,” it quickly captures the mood of this movie. Now, upon this second viewing (I never rewatched it after that time from the outdoor theatre) it’s pretty evident that Sarah Michelle Gellar (who played the manipulative Kathryn) essentially carried the movie with her boss girl ways, cold cruelty, and sensuality. Although every gal viewing this movie couldn’t help but to fall for Ryan Phillippe’s charming take on Sebastian. Rewatching the movie, I was quickly reminded of why at the time I didn’t find his character charming, and I soon realized upon my second viewing that the actor looked very similar to this guy from school (who yes was cute) but had this knack for always trying to pick me up or find ways to touch me that at the time I found annoying and borderline harassing.

The movie was massively successful, it earned $75 million out of a $10 million budget and at the time was one of the raciest teen films. Nowadays, we’re more used to series like Euphoria, so Cruel Intentions seems very tame in comparison, but overall, it’s still a fun movie and that’s mostly because of its talented cast and cool soundtrack (the best use of Bittersweet Symphony you’ll ever see onscreen). Some things are dated (such as gay shaming), but some things still speak true today (such as Kathryn’s frustration with having to keep up a fake facade in order to be liked because women get a bad rep when they admit to liking sex). Despite all the flashy fun that the movie delivers, it goes without saying that there are problematic moments such as homophobia, racial insensitivity, and downplaying sexual assault. It was a product of its time, but we shouldn’t overlook some of its problematic issues.

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3 Symbols in NOPE and What They Mean

The upright shoe.

When child star Jupe was on set for the sitcom Gordy’s Home, the titular chimp went berserk when a balloon pops causing havoc on set, killing and mauling the actors and staff from the show. During Gordy’s violent moment, Jupe and the camera focus on a white shoe that belonged to Jupe’s TV sister, standing upright with a tiny spot of blood. Later in life, we notice that he keeps this shoe in a memorabilia room. Some have mentioned that the upright shoe could be a manifestation of a bad miracle. However, I think the upright shoe is a symbol for the saying, “Waiting for the other shoe to drop,” and in a way, Jupe has lived his whole life waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it does drop, this time he isn’t so lucky as he was in ’98.

Animal Abuse in the Film Industry.

The theme of animal abuse in Nope was extraordinarily evident from the very beginning when the movie starts with sound footage of a chimp, Gordy becoming violent during a filmed sitcom episode. Soon after, we notice the film industry being just as careless with the horse Lucky, on the set of a commercial, despite OJ basically begging the white cast and crew to be mindful of the animal and not to do anything that may startle it. But they didn’t listen to him, thus resulting in Lucky kicking out – and the director firing both the horse and his handler OJ. The film in a way wanted to show what happens when humans try to tame animals that aren’t meant to be tamed, and that in the end, their true nature will come out and the humans will suffer for their arrogance.

The Meaning behind FE1111.

Angel’s truck has a sticker with FE (standing for Fry’s Electronics) while 1111 is a reference to Jeremiah 11:11 famously referenced in Jordan Peele’s sophomore film US. The biblical reference is, “Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.’” Meaning that God has no intention of saving man for something they brought upon themselves (usually caused by the human obsession with greed and power).

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Film Review: Luckiest Girl Alive

Full disclosure, when I started reading the novel, I struggled with the first chapters because I found present Ani to be too fixated on looks and appearances, especially when it came to clothes and her views on marriage (when I read the book I was still unmarried and was annoyed that the character could be so judgmental on what was the perfect age to be married by). It wasn’t until we got to meet teen Ani (then known as TifAni) that I warmed up to the character and could feel like we actually had more in common than I would’ve anticipated. Having said this, at the time I really enjoyed the novel so when the film hit Netflix last week I quickly viewed it.

Maybe because the author, Jessica Knoll has written three books since Luckiest Girl Alive, but I felt like the screenplay for the film (also written by the author) managed to convey a powerful punch to the gut, in a way that the book didn’t (I much prefer the film’s ending than the book ending). The writing was raw, sharp, and went for the jugular, in other words, it doesn’t aim to please, rather it aims to seize what is rightfully theirs, without shame.

The movie, much like the book has us meet present Ani – who seems to have it all, impressive journalist career, rich fiancé, and is on her way to becoming an editor for The New York Times. And yet, she’s plagued by an incident from her past that’s linked to personal trauma as well as collective trauma. Mila Kunis skillfully brings this complex character to life in the present timeline, while Chiara Aurelia portrays teen Ani is a stark contrast to her present self, as teen Ani is curvaceous with unruly hair who desperately wishes to be accepted by her blue blood rich classmates at her posh private High School. Present Ani is impeccable in looks, but when her fiancé Luke steps away from the table at the restaurant, we see her scarf down two slices of pizza with a hunger that the viewer knows that there’s something brewing instead of Ani that wishes to unleash itself. That she isn’t being her authentic self because present Ani thinks the only way she can move on from her past is to deny everything she was as a teen.

This is a very harrowing yet powerful movie, and if you’re a woman it’s one you don’t want to miss because finally there’s a character that is both complex and messy and yet manages to honor her younger self in the end by doing something that her teenage self would’ve approved of. The way in which Mila Kunis delivers the most eloquent fuck you in the final scene will make you think that that fuck you is one that many women can stand behind

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Film Review: The Immaculate Room

Typically, it’s always a challenge to have a movie with only two actors carrying the film for a good portion of it, especially when the setting doesn’t change. From the very beginning, a couple, Kate (Kate Bosworth) and Mikey (Emile Hirsch) are contestants in a strange game in which they agree to spend 50 days living in a white room. If they manage to do that, the couple will win $5 million dollars, if for some reason one of them chooses to leave the room prior to 50 days, the prize money drops to $1 million.

The room has the chilly aesthetic of a chic art gallery, and with no form of entertainment whatsoever, the couple must learn to live with boredom for 50 days. We soon learn that Kate views the money as a means to put her mind at ease after spending a life worrying about her finances, while Mikey comes from a wealthy family and it’s still unclear why the money would mean much to him other than to be supportive of his girlfriend. For most pre-lockdown people, staying in a room for 50 days would’ve seemed like an easy feat, but as lockdown made us all realize, being confined is actually much harder than it looks.

Hirsch is animated as Mikey, as he explains what he would do with the money if he were to win, or how to kill boredom he begins to read the tag on his shirt in different accents. Bosworth’s performance is more contained as her character Kate tries to keep herself together with daily affirmations. It isn’t until the addition of external people that she gets triggered and her balance begins to tilt. The couple’s shut-in world begins to shake the moment Simone (Ashley Greene Khoury) enters the room, which sparks jealousy and tension to rise between the couple. It doesn’t take long for the ugly emotions to surface for it to bring things to a head.

The film begins with a study on boredom and if it’s possible to be driven mad by it, but it quickly devolves into the malice of greed and how far would one go to keep the prize in question. Again, for being a film that focuses mostly on two characters and one location, the script was interesting, although this film is less Squid Games than I had anticipated and ends on a positive note.

The movie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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Film Review: Nightmare Alley

By the time this post will be live, Nightmare Alley will have been nominated for Best Picture for 2022. Now, as a horror fan, it always excites me whenever I see a horror film on the Academy Awards ballot, so of course, I’m thrilled to see it there. At the same time, I don’t feel like this film was Del Toro’s best. This film was a remake of the 1947’s Nightmare Alley, in which Tyrone Power played the lead, but also was the one to insist for the film to be made in the first place. Having watched the original film, it’s very difficult to enjoy Bradley Cooper attempting to be the leading noir man when despite his best efforts at being a good actor, simply lacks the charisma of a true leading man (especially when you compare Power’s stage presence with his).

The film is adapted from the bestselling novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham. The plot is a fascinating one: a man down on hi luck joins a traveling carnival. The man in question is Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) and he quickly grows fascinated with wanting to learn the tricks to become a mentalist (mind reader). He believes he can outsmart the average man and in doing so can make money off of their stupidity and hope.

That is until he meets Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) a psychiatrist with wealthy clients. The two team up to try to schill money out of the wealthy, but Stanton makes the mistake of thinking that he’s more powerful and cunning than he actually is.

Of course, Del Toro excels in depicting the perfect noir film scenes and the pacing is excellent, and the cast’s saving graces are Cate Blanchett and Toni Collette. But with a movie that runs over two hours, it’s difficult to root for a leading man that we don’t care anything about (in the 1947 original we do feel sorry for Tyrone Power’s Stanton) in this remake, we can’t help but be happy for Bradley Cooper’s Stanton to get exactly what he deserved.

If you haven’t watched the original you may enjoy this version more than I did, or if at least you don’t expect much from your leading men other than being “easy on the eye,” as Toni Collette’s Zeena tells Stanton in the very beginning, then you may overlook this miscasting. Other than that, I recommend the film because the plot is interesting and has a very bold message: Can we truly outrun our real nature, or will we ultimately befall what we really are? I’d also say to read the book because it’s excellent.

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Film Review: Last Night In Soho

I’ve enjoyed Edgar Wright films ever since he began with Shaun of the Dead. Now, Last Night In Soho doesn’t have time to be witty or funny as it’s drenched in dread and blood.

This film has everything I personally love, London, 60’s music, and a badass chick in the form of Sandy (Anya Taylor-Joy). But the true breakout star of this movie is shy Eloise played by the superb Thomasin McKenzie. Eloise has fashion designer aspirations and when she’s over the moon when she’s accepted to a fashion school in London. Only she finds out real quick that London isn’t as amazing as it seems when she fails to fit in with her college peers and seeks refuge in Soho where she rents a room from Miss Collins.

The moment Eloise enters the room, she begins to have visions of the past. Every night when she goes to sleep she mysteriously enters the world of 1960’s London and sees the night life from the eyes of aspiring singer Sandy. Initially, Eloise is smitten to enter the world she always wanted to inhabit. In her waking life, she tries to emulate Sandy, by her looks, haircolour, and speech. But she soon discovers that all the glitz and glamour isn’t as it seems especially when she witnesses a brutal murder. Soon, she’s being haunted even in her waking life, and the fine line between reality and fiction weave in a terrible fever dream that comes to a brutal head in the final act.

This film will leave you speechless in the final act but also with a smirk.

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Film Review: The Advent Calendar

This film from writer-director Patrick Rideremont is a fever dream of a modern fairytale of storts. Eva (Eugenie Derouand) is a former ballet dancer who is now stuck in a wheelchair after a car accident (caused by her best friend). Said best friend gives her an ancient Advent Calendar for her birthday and this is when the Faustian thrills begin.

From love potions, voodoo, and trippy hallucinations, this horror has it all. The rules of the Advent Calendar are quite simple, eat all of the candy in the calendar or you die, follow all of the calendar’s rules or you will die, and don’t you dare throw the calendar away or you will die.

The calendar seemingly seems to give Eva everything she desires, but receiving these “gifts” means that she must be willing to sacrifice something as well. As the days go on, the gifts she reaps are bigger and the sacrifices begin to get much more personal each time.

Reading some reviews of the film, I know some didn’t like the idea that a disabled character would go above and beyond morality to try to regain the use of her legs. And I get why that would be problematic. I think the script should’ve shown the real reason why Eva was obsessed with regaining the use of her legs so that she could dance again (ballet was her life). Without showing the audience how important ballet was to her, her drive to be “normal” feels like a form of ableism.

Overall, the film has beautiful cinematography and the actual Advent Calendar prop is something that all horror enthusiasts would love to have (maybe without the Faustian curse though).

You can check out the film on Shudder.

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Movie Review: Catch Hell

Since I’m currently in the works of trying to write a contained horror script I decided to look up which films fell into that category and this came up. Apparently it came out in 2014, and is produced by Twisted Pictures (known for producing horror films) I was slightly confused as to why it was marketed as a thriller (at least from the blurb) especially since the plot would’ve resonated more with horror fans. I’m not the sort of person who reads reviews before jumping into films or books, I kinda prefer going into something totally blind so as not to spoil the experience with expectations or preconceived opinions.

Now, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a movie directed, co-written, and starring Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions, I Know What You Did Last Summer) since his most recent credits include mostly the action genre but like most first time film directors there are two ways anyone’s first film can go they either make a horror (like Romola Garai’s Amulet) or they make a pseudo-autobiographical film (like Asia Argento’s Scarlet Diva). Now Phillippe decided to flip the switch and do both. It’s a horror film whose protagonist pretty much mirrors Phillippe himself. My horror fam will get me when I say that this film is a cross between Hostel and Lake Placid.

The premise is pretty simple, Reagan Pearce is an actor struggling to find the perfect project that will put him back in the game for A-list films, instead he finds himself having to take roles he’s not too crazy about, whilst also feeling the weight of what it means to be over 40 in Hollywood (basically, a death sentence). That’s why he finds himself heading out to Shreveport, Louisiana for a role he’s not too keen on but that his manager tells him he’s gotta do “cause you know why.”

The following morning he is picked up by a different driver than the day before. Two questionable rednecks pass themselves off as production members, and Reagan reluctantly gets in the van. It doesn’t take long for him to realize he’s made a major mistake but tries not to freak out as red flags are waving neon bright alarms. Unfortunately for him, he soon finds himself being held captive under the premise that he slept with the wife of one of the two men who abducted him. Mike (Ian Barford) is a violent man, convinced that Reagan needs to pay for his transgressions, whilst Junior (Stephen Louis Grush) goes along with the plan as a favor to his uncle. The two keep the actor chained to a wall in an isolated shack, the looks of it reminiscent of Saw.

It doesn’t take long for the torture to happen and as an ex-pianist I can’t help but majorly cringe whenever hands are severely crushed/maimed/or broken. If you’ve seen enough abduction films, you can kind of predict what’s going to happen but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I think this sort of film would’ve found a receptive audience in film fests like Shriekfest or Scream Fest at the time. As someone who has written/directed/starred in my own short film, I can definitely say that it’s a very difficult task so the fact that Phillippe managed to do all of that with 19 filming days, I’m impressed. Ultimately, we never know if Reagan had truly hooked up with Mike’s wife, but he definitely did know her.

The film’s strength is the unpredictability of the two villains, even when we start to see one as the nicer one, you’re thrown another twist and can’t help but cringe expecting the worst to happen. By the way, the nature of this film is high on tension so if you’re expecting to have a moment to relax with some comedic relief, it rarely occurs, but in a way allows us to fully immerse ourselves in Reagan’s perspective and thus feel the same uncertainty, fear, and dread.

If you’re a fan of contained semi-campy horror or just a fan of abduction movies, then I would recommend you to check it out.

And if for some reason Ryan Phillippe ever feels compelled to direct something vastly different (but yet still violently brutal) then he should hit me up cause Terror! Depicts the French Revolution in ways you haven’t seen before (plus it’s chock-full of gallows humor cause that’s the only humor I know).

Watch Catch Hell on Amazon Prime Video

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Film Review: Candyman (2021)

Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman…..

NOPE.

Not saying it five times cause we all know what happens next, especially if you’re a 90’s kid. But now with Nia DaCosta’s revamped spiritual sequel to the 1992 original film, a whole new generation can fear the hook. It’s no surprise that I was a huge fan of the original, and some of the old school horror fans didn’t take it well when this sequel was announced. I, instead was excited to see this franchise be resuscitated and now after viewing the film (first film I’ve seen in an actual theatre since the pandemic hit), I’m even more thrilled to see where the Candyman journey may take us in the future.

The absolute pro that this film has is that it manages to seamlessly connect the 1992 film with the current one in a way that doesn’t seem forced nor stilted. We follow the protagonist, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), now an adult, but in the 1992 film was saved from the fire by Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen), unknowingly returns to his origins when he’s back to living in the former Cabrini Green only now filled with high-rise luxury apartments that he shares with art curator girlfriend.

Anthony is introduced to the Candyman legend by William Burke (Coleman Domingo) who gets him up to speed on how the legend originated (the superb use of shadow puppets is used to depict the violent backstories). As it’s true with any urban legend, details have been distorted or forgotten so we soon find out that Candyman isn’t merely Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd) wronged painter, but that it encapsulates an array of different black men that have been wronged throughout the years that have taken up the scepter of Candyman and kept the legend alive.

My only gripe with the film is that it lacked any real feeling of dread. The body horror element added a bit of creep factor, but it’s hard to make a film about a legendary ghoul if the one you’re using isn’t as compelling, frightening, and seductive as Tony Todd’s Daniel was. In fact, the strongest scene in the film is when we’re finally graced with Tony Todd’s cameo, his commanding voice lulling the audience back into a trance that is equal parts mesmerized and scared shitless.

This is not to say though that the franchise doesn’t have room to grow, because I think it does and I honestly can’t wait for a new installment to be made.

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Shriekfest 2021 – Getting a little freaky, getting a little spooky, getting a little SHRIEKY

Photo by: David Hanger

Shriekfest is a Horror Film Festival that is a goldmine of both upcoming and veteran horror talents. Denise Gossett, the founder and organizer of the festival has helped many debut directors and screenwriters find an audience at Shriekfest, which is very much appreciated. There’s suddenly been a resurgence in the horror genre, but Gossett has been an advocate for horror for the past twenty-one years, which is to say that she has seen a lot of horror films to know exactly which ones are worth showcasing and which ones need better tweaking.

I was very excited to receive Press Passes for this event because as a huge horror enthusiast, watching horror films for thirteen hours straight is basically heaven. Not to mention that I really love the chill vibe that the festival has and how appreciative everyone is for being there to view their films and support them. Plus, I really have a soft spot for the Charlie Chaplin theatre at the Raleigh Studios. I’d give anything to watch ALL my movies there. Seriously, folks, if you haven’t seen a film there, you’re missing out.

That being said, I was so happy that this year the event wasn’t canceled as the previous year (pandemic and all – ya know the drill) because the films I got to see this year were incredibly good. The previous years, the shorts tended to be more on the campy side of horror (which I don’t mind cause who doesn’t love the OG Evil Dead am I right?), but I do love it when horror can also be on the uber dark and creepy side, so I was all for that.

I ended up watching 31 shorts and 2 features and I know many of the directors and screenwriters I spoke to asked me how I was going to remember all of them and I told them that I was taking notes of the film titles and what they were about, but that mostly after one day of viewing if I could easily recall my favourites then that means that those were the ones that really stood out to me and were worthy of my mention. Although, I have to admit that there were probably only one or two films I wasn’t too crazy about, for the most part, the shorts were extremely well produced, edited, written, and acted.

One of my favourite shorts was from the Spanish director Alvaro Vicario called Polter. The film was about a guy trying to get rid of poltergeist in his home. The film didn’t take itself too seriously, and the fact that it was fun and campy is what really honed in the ending for me. I really suggest you guys check it out if you can because it’s very well worth the ten minutes it takes to view it. Polter was followed by another very well acted and written short called, A Strange Calm. This short was very dark and sad as it followed two friends, Rosie and Mills who encounter a strange man while they’re out playing in rural California in the 70’s and end up getting abducted. The short was full of tension and dread and overall it was excellent. Now, the shorts seemed to get progressively darker as A Strange Calm was soon followed by Killing Small Animals which was a very disturbing short where the protagonist kills various animals throughout the movie, slowly graduating to bigger ones until the very end where she’s seen abducting a little girl. I wouldn’t say that the short was bad, but I wasn’t that keen on the storyline and wasn’t a fan of seeing various animals getting killed (guess it’s just not my kind of horror).

Meanwhile, The Rule of Three expertly explored how a young woman suffering from severe OCD has to try to overcome her demons while trying to survive a home invasion. The short was filled with dread and suspense and tied everything up in a way that wasn’t cheesy. Wide Awake in Bridgewater may have easily been my favourite short. It was mysterious and held an element of sci-fi that I really liked. An elderly man receives a phonecall from his teenage girlfriend and he tries to figure out what happened to her fifty years ago when she disappeared. It was easily the best written, acted, and edited short and had a satisfying ending. Seek was a fun, thrilling short about two sisters who stop at a rundown restroom only to find out that a strange entity haunts that area.

Love Bite was a refreshing and hilarious take on the zombie trope. A bickering couple soon find out to what lengths one of them will go to just to be proven right, despite the dire consequences that it will bring. It was easily very funny because it was also very relatable. I think any couple whose been together for awhile could easily see themselves in the couple. Being a huge fan of A Nightmare on Elm Street Nancy played by the incredibly awesome Heather Langenkamp, it was a pleasant surprise to see her star in the short Cottonmouth. The short easily flourished cause of Langenkamp’s star power, but it was also engaging as the viewers can’t help but wanting to know who or what is continuously drinking from a glass of water that the protagonist keeps next to her bed stand. Selfie was another short that I enjoyed, where a girl’s photoshopped self somehow manages to come alive and become the monster that she is.

The Otherside dealt with the very real horror of child trafficking and how the mother’s of the victims tend to be haunted by their grief and in this case, one mother in particular not only haunts but seeks revenge to those that do the same to other kids. And last but not least the shorts cycle ended on a high note with Half-Cocked where two doctors find a way to bring a man to life and make him immortal only to find out that that man isn’t appreciative since he had committed suicide. The film was definitely on the campy side of horror but it was a very funny and thrilling ride.

The two features I was able to view were Ten Minutes to Midnight and Redwood Massacre: Annihilation. Ten Minutes to Midnight was a campy fun vampire film about a radio show host (played by the ever charismatic and alluring Caroline Williams) who slowly manifests the signs of vampirism after she’s bitten by a rabid bat. Apart from being a fun film, the movie also focused on an important message, especially for women, how we’re often easily discarded after we’ve passed a certain age. That’s why I love horror, because it’s a genre that dares to tackle difficult topics that other genres simply gloss over.

The last film I viewed was Redwood Massacre: Annihilation that starred horror veteran Danielle Harris (which you may recognize her from the Halloween franchise). I was really excited to check this film out as I have an affinity for killers who choose to use a burlap sack as a mask. All in all, I did enjoy the film, although once we started to surpass the sixty minute mark and no one had died I started to fret when the massacre was going to happen (no need to worry, the promised bloodbath does occur and doesn’t disappoint).

Thirteen hours of film watching was an intense feat but can you truly call yourself a horror fan if you can’t do that? Am I right?

Stay spooky my friends.

Photos by: David Hanger

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