The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Part 5 of my 13 Ghost Movies of Halloween!

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  • Directed by Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez
  • Starring Heather Donahue, Michael C Williams, Joshua Leonard
  • Written by Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sanchez
  • Horror
  • Rated R
  • 1hr 21mins.
  • 30 July 1999

Synopsis

In what could be considered the real beginning of the ‘found footage’ craze, The Blair Witch Project tells the story of three film students who go into the woods to film a documentary about a local haunting legend and disappear, leaving behind only the footage on their cameras.

How’s the Story

The story is actually something revolutionary. Nowadays it isn’t so odd to come across a ‘found footage’ movie, and there are whole TV shows based on the idea regarding like Bigfoot eating campers or whatever, but in 1999 when this film came out, it was something so new and different and absolutely awesome.

As for the actual story, it’s pretty fun. Three young folks go into the woods to plan a documentary, they get lost, they get ‘got’. Simple but really fun.

How’s the Acting

It’s weirdly good, but in college film classes I heard that there’s a reason for that. I mean, there are a few parts that seem a little over the top from the guys, but the girl especially REALLY sells it. Like, DAMN dude. It really doesn’t seem like acting in some spots and I loved that.

How’s the Writing/Directing

The way this movie was made is what I commented on above in the acting section, and that is that the direction was largely done remotely with direction notes left in places for the actors to find. However, the direction notes for each actor were different, and the idea was that basically, to get a realistic level of frustration and discomfort, the actors all think they got the same notes so they’re performing to those notes, and then the other ones are ‘refusing’ to perform the same way. Since they can’t break character, it causes true emotional tenseness. Of course, obviously this is highly shitty, because it’s basically psychological torture of actors to get them to perform, but hey, it was effective! Very, very smart way to do it.

How’s the Cinematography

I mean, it’s terrible, it’s meant to be found-footage and done at night on amateur equipment, so about 30% of the movie is a black screen and just ambient audio of people screaming and fighting, but that’s what makes it special, right? If everything was shot like a Dawkins job, it wouldn’t work as a ‘believable’ found-footage movie. But the best choice they make regarding cinematography, in my opinion, is the fact that you never actually SEE anything.

You hear scary shit, you see them reacting to scary shit, but other than some hand prints on a wall and a bloody cloth for a second, it’s so effectively creepy because you don’t SEE what’s so scary, you just see their fear.

Is It Worth Watching?

YES!

I honestly thought this was going to be something soooo stupid, because in 1999 I was 8 years old, and obviously I heard the hype but didn’t see it, and the idea alone sounded pretty dumb. I didn’t even know it was about a haunting at all until this year when I was looking for Halloween movies about ghosts and this was on the lists. I figured it would be cheesy and stupid, but I actually loved this.

It was scary as hell to my ‘I don’t like horror movies’ ass who decided to watch it in the middle of the night, alone in my room, with no lights on. Just…. damn, dude. I took my cat with me to go brush my teeth and get ready for bed. That’s how heightened my senses were after watching this one.

This is just a good scary movie that isn’t gross or too traumatizing, and I think that’s the reason it’s so scary: the fear is the thing that makes it scary, not the thing. I’ve been lost in the woods. It’s one of the most uncomfortable things ever and I was lost while carrying a gun in the middle of the day knowing that, somewhere within a few miles, my dad was waiting for me. They’re helpless, which is far more terrifying than any monster or murderer. They’re alone, in the woods, with something stalking them, no weapons, and their navigational tools are gone or failing them. And it’s terrifying.

This is just a really effective movie for me. The only gripe I have is how abrupt the ending is, but if it weren’t abrupt then the whole ‘found footage’ thing would fail miserably, right?

 

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Casper (1995)

Part 4 of my 13 Ghost Movies of Halloween!

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  • Directed by Brad Silberling
  • Starring Christina Ricci, Bill Pullman, Malachi Pearson
  • Written by Sherri Stoner, Deanna Oliver
  • Family, Comedy
  • Rated PG
  • 1hr 40mins
  • 26 May 1995

Synopsis

A woman inherits a condemned property from her father and when it turns out to be haunted, she seeks out Dr. Harvey, an infamous ‘ghost therapist’, who helps the ‘living impaired’ settle their unfinished business and cross over to the other side. When he and his daughter, Kat, arrive at Whipstaff Manner, they encounter the ghost of a little boy, Casper, and his three disgusting uncles who are haunting the mansion.

How’s the Story?

This has always been just a good story. There’s so much feeling and depth into it and yet it’s still so fun and mostly lighthearted. The loner child and her father who is clearly still somewhat scarred by the loss of his wife is something pretty bleak for a family movie, but something that is understandable. The story of Casper’s death and his father’s life’s work to try and resurrect his son is something so moving and emotional. Up against those serious stories, there’s still so much comedy and lighthearted fun in this movie, and it’s just really well done. It’s the kind of story that you know was really thought out to achieve such a balance of sadness and fun.

How’s the Acting?

The acting is pretty standard. There’s nothing terrible and nothing crazy outstanding in this one. I would say that Christina Ricci as Kat is easily the best actor in this one, but it’s Christina Ricci, as a child actress, she was so great always and continues to be so today.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

I love the writing in this movie. There are so many little moments that are just so special. There’s a reason this is one of my favorite movies of all times. I love to hate Carrigan. She’s such a fun baddie. Some of her scenes are just so much fun. Also, like I talked about in the story, the way they manage to make you cry watching a family movie like this one is just really good. The part where she asks Casper if her mom will forget her the way he’s forgotten his life is something so delicately balanced, and that small moment balances out with the scene where her dad gets ghosted and does forget her for a moment, and it just makes your heart ache for this kid. Add in the scene where her mother’s angel or whatever comes down to visit the dad and give a final goodbye, and this is one that really tugs at your heartstrings. It’s just really, really well written.

How’s the Cinematography?

The way that they managed to use the space in these scenes is just brilliant. The choices were nearly limitless when it came to camera work and yet they all make so much sense. There’s just a lot of great things going on in this film visually and it all works pretty well.

Is It Worth Watching?

Absolutely. Whether you’re a kid, have kids, or just are an adult with nothing better to do than relive your childhood and cry over all the emotions you didn’t quite get as a kid, this is just a solid Halloween movie. It’s a staple. The fact this wasn’t on TV anywhere this month (at least on my TV service) is really mind boggling. I own it, so it’s no biggie, but still. I’m just… appalled. There are certain Halloween movies you can’t do October without, and this is one of them.

My Rating: 8/10

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Scooby Doo on Zombie Island (1998)

Part 3 of my 13 Ghost Movies of Halloween!

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  • Directed by Hiroshi Aoyama, Kazumi Fukushima
  • Starring Scott Innes, Billy West
  • Written by Davis Doi, Glenn Leopold
  • Animated, Family, Mystery
  • Rated G
  • 1hr 17mins.
  • 22 September 1998

Synopsis

After Scooby and the Gang have split up and put Mystery Inc. behind them after growing sick of the monster always being a man in a mask, they’re all brought together again to celebrate Daphne’s birthday by finding her a real, live ghost story. In New Orleans, they meet a woman who tells them she works at a haunted house on an island in a bayou and welcomes them to come investigate the ‘definitely haunted’ Moon Scar Island. When they get there, what they find on Moon Scar Island is more than they ever expected.

How’s the Story?

This is a great story! It’s one of the very best of all the Scooby Doo movies there are, and trust me, there’s a LOT of Scooby Doo movies. Look, spoiler alert: the ghosts are freaking real. This is the best of my beloved childhood Scooby Doo movies (and oh God did I ever love Scooby Doo as a kid …. and maybe on into adulthood) because for once the ghosts and monsters were real!

How’s the (voice) Acting?

The voice acting is pretty great in this one. The thing about Scooby Doo is that the talent is linked to how much like the original TV voice actors the characters sound, and this is a wonderful fit. You would think that Billy West was Casey Kasem, he sounds so much like Shaggy. The accents on the southern lady and the french-Cajun lady are kinda funny sounding, but hey, it’s a kids movie. Things are always meant to be exaggerated.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

How cool is it that the writers decided, ‘screw it! REAL zombies!’??? Man, this one is just so good. Also I like the way the story is developed to have all these little side-plots that bring more to what’s on the screen than just a straight up episode of Scooby Doo. I really love how the plot unfolds in this one and how much gravity there is here. This one is pretty morbid. I mean, there’s real death involved in this one. It’s not nearly as light-hearted as most of these types of movies.

How’s the Cinematography Animation?

For 1998, straight-forward animation, this one is pretty solid. I really like the ghosts. The way they look and move are really interesting. Also, it keeps that ‘Scooby Doo’ aesthetic of ‘the thing they will interact with is more detailed than everything else’ is so fun. I love that detail and I love that it’s included in this movie decades after the original TV show.

Is It Worth Watching?

I love this movie no less at 26 than I did at 8 years old. It’s just good. It’s a good, solid Scooby Doo movie. If you like that type of thing, you’re going to love this one.

(Although ‘going to’ is kinda weird to me, since I generally assume everybody under the age of 35 grew up watching this one.)

I’m going to score this one comparing it to all the other Scooby Doo movies that I’ve seen, so it gets a solid high score!

My Rating: 8/10

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Thir13en Ghosts (2001)

Part 2 of my 13 Ghost Movies of Halloween!

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  • Directed by Steve Beck
  • Starring Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard
  • Written by Neal Marshall Stevens
  • Horror
  • Rated R
  • 1 hr 32 mins.
  • 26 October 2001

Synopsis

A family that recently suffered the loss of their home and their mom in a terrible fire inherits the estate of an odd, estranged uncle who was a collector of very unique things and died under mysterious circumstances. Included in this estate is a house with more amazing secrets than just how its clockwork structure works…

How’s the Story?

Admittedly, the idea is actually pretty cool. The idea of some eccentric collector going so far he wants to collect GHOSTS and keep them in his ghost prison and it going horribly wrong is really interesting. And the family inheriting their crazy uncle’s estate without warning is such a classic way to explore this really unique idea. Honestly? Story alone, ignoring the execution entirely, this is a great story. Really fun.

How’s the Acting?

The acting is horrible. Holy crap, this movie is one of the worst-acted things I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s crazy how bad it is. It’s also really weird since obviously Tony Shalhoub, Matthew Lillard, and Embeth Davidtz are all really good actors. This movie is like the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen on how bad it can actually be, and turning good actors into horrible ones is almost an achievement, honestly.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

This is basically what I assume turned all those great actors into horrible ones: the worst-written source material possible and shitty directing. Seriously, it’s almost a talent to be such a bad director that you can make these people suck. And while the story is good, the way this is written is just laughably bad. I’m not kidding, there were lines delivered in some places that had me going “WHAT THE HELL?!” and laughing, they’re so, so, so bad.

How’s the Cinematography?

Okay, the cinematography isn’t great but the fact they were able to film a movie in a bunch of glass sets at all is pretty impressive. Reflective surfaces are a filmmakers worst nightmare, and this whole movie is one big reflective surface. The house is just amazing. I give this movie an entire extra point just for how inventive and beautiful that house is and the way it’s captured on camera is just really fun. So, while it’s not amazing, the cinematography is way better than the writing, directing, and acting, which is at least somewhat of a positive.

Is It Worth Watching

YES! It’s the worst movie I’ve seen in a long time, but to the point that it’s good. It’s kind of comparable to The Covenant but with 100% less homoeroticism and twice as much ‘oh wow this is so bad its good’. Genuinely fun, absolutely terrible, and utterly rewatchable. I saw like a scene of this when I was like 12 and was terrified, but honestly if I had seen the whole movie, I would’ve realized this is fantastic fun.

Seriously, watch this. It’s so fun. You cannot imagine how much fun this movie is. Especially if you have a few drinks and then watch it, because that would just make it so much more fun I bet. It’s terrible but in the best way ever. I’m rating it so low because it’s shit, but it’s shit in a good way.

My Rating: 4/10

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The Innocents (1961)

Part 1 of my 13 Ghost Movies of Halloween!

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  • Directed by Jack Clayton
  • Starring Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin
  • Written by William Archibald, Truman Capote
  • Horror
  • Rated Approved (I’d say PG-13)
  • 1hr 40 mins
  • Feb. 1961

Synopsis

A governess, Miss Giddens, is hired to go out to a country estate and care for two children, Flora and Miles, since their uncle, a world-traveling bachelor, has no desire to have any involvement in the childrens’ upbringing. Upon settling in, Miss Giddens begins to suspect something very wrong is going on in that estate.

How’s the Story?

The story is basically Turn of the Screw, which I didn’t realize until I was in the middle of it. Which isn’t a bad thing, that’s a great story, I just didn’t look into this one before I watched it. If you’re unfamiliar with Turn of the Screw, basically, lady becomes governess and finds out the place is hella haunted. In this case, it’s haunted by the ghosts of the former groundskeeper and former governess, who were having an illicit affair. She begins to suspect something is wrong with the children, and it’s all linked back to the groundskeeper and governess.

How’s the Acting?

The acting is pretty good bearing in mind that it’s 1961, when over-acting was still a big thing. The little children in particular are really good and CREEPY AS HELL. Miles scares the shit out of me. The way the children act less dramatically really cements how scary they are in the whole ordeal.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

It’s very interesting the way that this movie is written in such a way that you’re not ever really sure what’s coming next. By that I mean that it’s more step by step and less ‘big picture’. One thing I never saw coming was that ending. It was a biiiig shock. Also, the way its directed builds suspense with small things instead of hokey dramatics.

How’s the Cinematography?

The ghost outside the window is scary as hell. Holy crap. I know that’s not super impressive, but it’s just a visually appealing movie for a horror.

Is It Worth Watching?

Definitely! I don’t have tons to say because it wasn’t something SUPER AMAZING, but if you want a spooky ghost movie that’s not too scary and isn’t at all gory, this is a great one to give a shot. It’s basically just a solid adaptation of Turn of the Screw so any literature junkies will have a good time with this one, too.

My Rating: 7/10

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Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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  • Directed by Denis Villeneuve
  • Starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford
  • Written by Hampton Francher, Michael Green
  • Science Fiction
  • Rated R
  • 2hr 44min
  • 6 October 2017

Synopsis

A sequel to the 1982 classic, Blade Runner 4049 follows a modern day Blade Runner, police officers who hunt down the old model Replicants, artificial humans created for service to humans, as he discovers a shocking event in the past that could change the human-replicant world forever.

How’s the Story?

The story was really good. There was so much going on that the nearly 3 hour movie didn’t feel that long at all. I’m a big fan of this type of ‘beings created to be slaves finding humanity in spite of not being actually human’ science fiction, and this was honestly just a really well-developed story from beginning to end. I loved the way it kind of had this step-by-step mystery vibe alongside the Science Fiction, because I’m a huge fan of mystery!

How’s the Acting?

The acting in this is phenomenal! I’m not usually a big Ryan Gosling fan. I liked The Nice Guys. That’s about it. However, he’s great here. K’s journey was so brilliantly done, and he conveyed so much without too very much dialogue. That’s probably the best part of this movie. A lot of the acting is acting, not just ‘the writing drives the actors performances’. All I can say is that this is definitely Gosling’s best performance, though coming from me, that isn’t saying too much.

Another one worth mentioning is Sylvia Hoeks’s performance as Luv. Her character was just so good and I really think her performance as this sort of abuse-victim-assistant replicant was just so well done and very believable. Of all the characters in this movie, she’s the one that I most ‘believed’, so to speak, and I really think it was down to the acting.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

This movie was written just as well as it was directed, and usually with the best movies, that’s the case. There was so much in this movie that wasn’t told through dialogue and yet the dialogue that happened was all very subtle and there more to lead you than to tell you what’s going on. It takes a good writer to tell so much of a story with such a complex narrative in the span of a single film, and it takes an amazing director to take that script and turn it into a really good movie.

What I got here was the feeling of Shutter Island meets Arrival. Not in content, but in the feel of it. The slow, methodical, step-by-step investigation that unfolds new information at every step feeling that I love so much in Shutter Island is the way this feels. It doesn’t feel drawn out, it doesn’t feel unnecessary, everything feels the way reading a good mystery novel feels: things unfold in just the right order to leave you surprised by what is revealed but without a jarring shock. It’s just a satisfying narrative structure and this film was so satisfying. And the Arrival connection is obvious, because of the director, but the feeling that something so big is happening but we’re watching it through such a personal, narrow scope is present in both films. I love the way that we know and are reminded that this is such a monumental discovery that K has uncovered, but the whole time, it’s very focused on how personal it is to him and what it means for his journey towards discovering his own humanity.

As much as I liked Blade Runner, this sequel is one of the rare times that I honestly don’t even care what it’s a sequel to, it’s just an incredibly written and directed film that’s very, very good.

How’s the Cinematography?

I almost feel like I don’t even need to talk about this part, because we all know how the cinematography is. It’s the biggest thing talked about in the press about this movie. The DP is Roger Deakins, who is a master of his craft known for upwards of 70 films. Pretty much if you’ve been watching movies over the last four decades, you’ve seen a Roger Deakins film.

But to be fair to those who may not have read much into this film before stumbling across this review, this film has some of the most incredibly done cinematography all year. The big, bleak landscapes, the detailed interior shots, the color palates, the unexpected camera angles, all of it is in this movie and all of it is wonderful. The entire look of the Las Vegas portion of the film had me in awe.

Is It Worth Watching?

This movie probably isn’t for all audiences, simply because this is a movie I feel is more enjoyable to us who are ‘into’ film. My 16 year old brother went with me, since it’s SciFi and he loves that genre, and his entire reaction as the credits rolled was, and I quote, “…. what?” He hadn’t really followed anything going on. I barely remember Blade Runner so I didn’t think he would have any trouble following along with it since I followed it very well, given the only backstory you need is flashed on the screen at the opening, but he didn’t understand the point of anything that happened. I don’t think he disliked the movie, but he mostly just didn’t get why we sat through three hours of movie for that story.

That said, I absolutely recommend this movie to the type of people who really love cinema. I didn’t love this movie as a straightforward story, simply because it was nothing I haven’t seen told before, but the way this works as a film is incredible. The elements of film-making are done so well and crafted together in such a way that I’m sure this one will go on the syllabi of my former professors in all my film studies classes in college. The look of it, the feel of it, the quality of the film-making, all of these things just blew me away. I won’t say it’s in any way my favorite movie of the year, because I tend to go more by ‘stories that I love’ for those things, but as far as ‘practices in film-making’ goes, yeah, this one is top 5 for sure.

My Rating: 8/10

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Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

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  • Directed by Matthew Vaughn
  • Starring Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Julianne Moore
  • Written by Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn
  • Comedy, Action
  • Rated R
  • 2hr 21mins
  • 22 September 2017

Synopsis

Set a few years after Valentine tried to take over the world, Kingsman is destroyed by the leader of the Golden Circle drug cartel, Poppy (Julianne Moore). The only surviving members, Merlin and Eggsy, must follow the only clue they have, a bottle of Statesman bourbon, to find help in stopping Poppy once and for all.

How’s the Story?

The story has good ideas but it’s poorly executed. There are so many threads here and there that don’t get explored, but overall, it’s just as topical and entertaining as the first Kingsman movie. I think where it falls short mostly is how random Charlie being brought back is. There’s no real reason that was necessary, and there’s no real reason after the first one for the whole story to really happen. It’s one of those movies where it’s good, but it wasn’t necessary. One of my biggest complaints with Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was the same thing. The events of Kingsman: The Secret Service didn’t really NEED this continuation the way this story plays out. They basically wipe the slate clean and this is just another story. Which makes sense in the realm of ‘this is a James Bond spoof’, but it just doesn’t need to exist.

However, independent from the first movie, it’s a solid story.

How’s the Acting?

The acting is pretty good. Taron Egerton continues to be an amazing talent, Mark Strong is Mark Strong, and Colin Firth is Colin Firth. The real standout here is Julianne Moore. I’ve seen her on serious things and in comedies, but rarely does she, to me, do comedy as well as drama. In this movie, she’s just really good. I absolutely adored Poppy even if she is kind of evil.

Also, I’m not sure he was even acting, but Elton John was soooo fun.

How’s the Writing/Directing?

The writing and directing are where I think this movie’s story went wrong. There is so much tonal whiplash going on and it isn’t a good thing. The scene progression doesn’t feel really right in a lot of places. I don’t know if it’s just because of the story or what, but the pacing just feels off. There’s a lot of short scenes that don’t really work together with the other scenes leading up to and following it. There are some things that just don’t seem to have any reason to be there. Like Channing Tatum… what’s the point of him? Don’t get me wrong, any excuse to see him half-naked is fun, but honestly, what is he really doing there? He doesn’t make it ‘personal’ that much because we barely get to know him. Tilde makes the whole thing more personal, he isn’t necessary. Also, Ginger isn’t really necessary and I feel like she’s shoehorned in to make sure there’s one girl spy for sure. (And to have Halle Berry in the movie.)

How’s the Cinematography?

There are some really great shots in this movie, just like in the first one. I love this highly mobile camera style in these movies. While this one lacks some of the wow-factor of the first, there are still sequences that make you go, ‘whooaaa coooool’ and I love it! Nothing is more fun than slow-mo fight scenes, right? The big action moments like car chases and shootouts and the whip-fighting is all just so fun. I’m a big action movie person, and this is one of the more impressive examples of how to make an action movie FUN.

Is It Worth Watching?

It’s definitely worth watching, even though I do find it a bit disappointing after the first one. This movie feels like the creators saw the success of the first Kingsman and then decided to just phone it in, knowing they would have a ready-made audience. This movie’s choices in many places go beyond ‘makes fun of James Bond’ straight into ‘is tacky’ and it’s a letdown. While it’s mad fun, and when not compared to the first, is a solid film, to me as a huge fan of Kingsman: The Secret Service, even though I set my expectations low, this still managed to fall short of those lowered expectations.

What made the first Kingsman so special was the ways in which it subverted the movie spy stereotypes and even, in many ways, hyper-masculine stereotypes, and more importantly, it infused heart into a spy movie in ways that made you really care about the characters instead of them being set pieces like in a James Bond movie that it parodies. This movie lacks all of those things. The only parts of this movie that made me FEEL much of anything were the really sad ones, which is just annoying, because I was so ready to care about the things going on, but this movie fails to evoke those emotions.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is fun, fast paced, fucking HILARIOUS, and an all around solid film, but it is very shallow and superficial compared to Kingsman: The Secret Service and I really think that a person who wasn’t a big fan of the first will enjoy this movie more than those of us who have been waiting impatiently to get more of what the first one gave us, which is a spy movie with a soul.

My Rating: 6/10

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