I’ve heard the buzz, but nothing could have prepared me for “Hereditary”, a brilliant horror movie that ranks as one of the best films of the year. It’s incredible to think that there’s still room for originality in an already exhausted genre. But first time writer-director Ari Aster had other ideas. His movie gets in your head from the word go and refuses to leave. In telling the story of a family’s descent into darkness following the death of a grandmother, Aster has crafted a unique piece, one that keeps its distance from the Hollywood formula. His movie dares to take its time, and keeps coming at you, before it leaves you completely shattered. Toni Collette’s quietly implosive performance as a mother with demons of her own will break your heart. Now that I think of it, it’s so easy to mistake “Hereditary” for a family drama, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The horror elements are alive and well here, but at its core, it’s a devastating tale of a family that will self-destruct in front of your eyes. It’s a staggering achievement, as you’ll find yourself rooting for these characters, every step of the way. That’s all I’m going to say about “Hereditary”, the better to let you get lost in its dark poetry and enveloping mystery. Aster doesn’t hold his punches, but that’s what makes his movie unique and unforgettable.
I don’t know what truly defines a “Halloween” movie. It’s not always a horror movie (see “Hocus Pocus”), and it might as well be an animated film (“The Corpse Bride” is a fine example of that). So without really focusing on a specific genre, I give you a list of films I personally enjoy watching during Halloween season.
Ed Wood (1994)
My favorite Tim Burton movie and one of my all time favorite films for many reasons. “Ed Wood” is the reason why I fell in love with classic Universal monsters as well as Bela Lugosi movies. Set in the 50’s, it tells the real-life story of the worst director of all time, who made crappy low budget horror films out of sheer passion. Johnny Depp has never been better, and who can forget the late, great Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi? I’ve seen “Ed Wood” so many times, and it’s still a fresh experience every single time.
Henry Selick made a name for himself when he directed “The Nightmare Before Christmas” in the 90’s, but it’s “Coraline” that truly stood out for me. This is an exceptional animated film about a young girl who finds a secret door in her new home and discovers an alternate version of her life. The result is a funny film, with a chilling atmosphere and unique sense of humor. Selick himself worked on the production design, and if you watched it at the time of its release, then you’ve probably experienced some of the best 3D gimmicks ever made. I can’t think of a better animated film to recommend for a Halloween gathering.
The Others (2001)
Hard to believe that it’s been 17 years since this superior horror film hit theaters back in 2001. I watched it with my mom (who hated anything scary but watched it with me anyway), and it’s an experience that still haunts us to this day. Nicole Kidman is terrific as a mother who tries to protect her children from a photo-sensitivity disease by keeping them indoor at all times. But nothing is truly what it seems in this old mansion. Is the place haunted? That’s the mystery that eats at you in this exceptional horror film, but it wouldn’t have been the same without its shocking twist. My lips are sealed. If you’ve never seen this movie, now’s the time.
Happy Death Day (2017)
A recent film, but a good one nonetheless. It’s best to describe “Happy Death Day” as a cross between “Groundhog Day” (one of my favorite films) and basically any slasher film you can think of (the movie even pokes fun of that and I loved that about it). Jessica Rothe plays a college student who keeps reliving the day of her murder over and over again. I will not say more, allowing you to witness the way director Christopher Landon keeps coming up with twists and turns, even when you know there’s nowhere else he can go. And Rothe excels as a woman seeking answers: who’s trying to kill her? This movie will keep you guessing at every turn.
Jeepers Creepers (2001)
I love this movie. There, I said it. It caught me off guard at the time of its release, and some of its images still haunt me to this day. Justin Long was better known for his comedic roles, but as a teenager passing through a creepy countryside with his sister, he pulls this one off quite well. Little do they know that they’re about to encounter a flesh-eating creature that would stop at nothing. And I do mean nothing. This isn’t a flawless film by any means, but it’s an original idea that spawned a couple of forgettable sequels.
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
You knew I’d throw in a crappy slasher film eventually, and “I know what you did last Summer” is one of my favorites. The genre was at its peak in the 90’s, and all the kids my age eagerly awaited the next slasher film playing at the local multiplex. While “Scream” is highly regarded as a classic in the genre, this one faded into obscurity. It’s still a fun film to revisit, and as silly as it may sound, I enjoy every minute of it. So if you’re looking for a cheesy slasher film to watch this Halloween, look no further.
Red Eye (2005)
Cillian Murphy. Rachel McAdams. A stormy night on a plane. What more can you ask for? The great, late Wes Craven was better known for such classics as “Nightmare of Elm Street” and “Scream”, but he truly succeeded in manipulating his audience in “Red Eye”, even if he had to resort to familiar techniques. This is a solid film from start to finish and an underrated gem in my opinion.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Not the sequels. Not the remake. The original 1974 film in all its glory. The way I see it, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is much more than just a horror film. It’s a landmark movie that inspired a generation of horror filmmakers. In telling the story of how a group of friends fall victims to a family of cannibalistic psychopaths, director Tobe Hooper keeps you pinned to your seat at every turn. It’s a fantastic achievement that truly ranks as one of the creepiest films you will ever watch.
The Cat and the Canary (1927)
The mother of all haunted house movies. A movie that inspired so many remakes and quite possibly a few Scooby Doo episodes as well. Plot involves relatives of a millionaire who gather in his spooky mansion on the 20th anniversary of his death for the reading of his will. Then someone…wait for it…dies! German Expressionist director Paul Leni cleverly blends black humor with elements of pure horror to create an eerie atmosphere. The result is a film that you’d want to get lost in. Like “Nosferatu” a few years earlier, “The Cat and the Canary” is full of imaginative touches that has the power to haunt your dreams. I double dare you to watch it alone in an empty house.
The Raven (1935)
I wanted a Bela Lugosi/Boris Karloff movie on the list, and “The Raven” is by far one of my favorites. Based on the works of Edgard Allen Poe, “The Raven” focuses on a neurological surgeon (Lugosi of course) who plans to kidnap the woman he loves and kill her fiance with the help of a wanted criminal (that would be Karloff). The result is a chilling atmosphere and a pulse-pounding climax. They don’t make them like they used to anymore.
Honorable mentions: “Get Out” (2017), “It” (2017), “A Quiet Place” (2018), “Drag me To Hell” (2009), “The Addams Family” (1991).
As if we needed more proof of her talent, Glenn Close delivers a masterful performance as the wife of a renowned author (Jonathan Pryce), who is about to receive the Nobel prize for Literature. Over the course of a couple of days in Stockholm, old wounds are reopened and secrets are revealed, as we begin to suspect that she may be the one behind the success of his books. It’s the perfect role for Glenn Close to sink her teeth in, and she makes the most of it. Swedish director Björn Runje takes a straightforward approach to this completely immersive story and allows us to be spectators, taking in the dirty laundry one piece at a time. And for a film that relies heavily on dialogue, it flows extremely well. It helps that Close and Pryce have terrific chemistry. It also helps that the story keeps throwing curves at us. As someone who loves an old-fashioned adult drama every now and then, I immediately warmed up to “The Wife” and would gladly watch it again, just to savor Glenn Close’s wonderful performance. I urge you to seek it out before it gets lost in the shuffle.
Bradley Cooper has managed to do the impossible: take an old-fashioned Hollywood story that’s been done and redone so many times before (in 1937, 1954 and 1976), hire Lady Gaga to play the lead, and turn it into one of the best films of the year. In many ways, “A Star is Born” pays tribute to these old movies, but it also stands on its own by telling its story in a way that feels fresh. Let me put it this way: I loved every minute of it. And yet I have to admit: when I heard that Cooper was working on this remake, I didn’t anticipate such an ambitious piece about dreams realized and unfulfilled in the music industry. And I certainly did not anticipate a terrific soundtrack to go along with it. In terms of plot, I’ll only say that Cooper plays a famous musician who helps a young singer (Gaga) find fame. The success of such a story relies heavily on our ability to root for these characters, and you couldn’t ask for better actors to fill these shoes. Gaga, in her first lead role, is truly sensational. And Cooper, his face a road map to his character’s soul, gives one of the best performances of his career. As for the movie itself, its grounded in reality, but also manages to transport us to a world of fame of fortune in just a heartbeat. It’s obvious that Cooper isn’t merely doing this for the sake of a quick paycheck; this is a labor of love that emerges as something poignant and truly memorable. Put your prejudices aside and take this “remake” on its own terms. That’s what it deserves, because “A Star is Born” is one of the year’s best films.
It’s not original in any way, but “Night School” has the most important ingredient of them all: Kevin Hart. I wasn’t thrilled with the early reviews, but having seen it myself, I can already categorize it as a “guilty pleasure”, the kind you find yourself coming back to every now and then. Hart plays a likable man who finds himself forced to attend night school in order to pass the GED exam, which will allow him to work in a decent company. That’s it for plot. Nothing special or revolutionary. But it’s the way that Hart handles his material that makes the ride worth taking. He’s a fearless comedian that knows exactly how to entertain his audience, even when the movie itself doesn’t offer something new. So if you’re looking for an entertaining comedy that delivers on its promise, look no further. “Night School” is a fun ride.
If you’ve seen Jack Black in “Goosebumps”, then you probably know what to expect from “The House With a Clock in its Walls”, a fun-filled family film with a dose of “spooky” to keep the adults just as entertained. Black is in top form once again as good old uncle Jonathan, who takes in his nephew Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), following his parents’s death in a car accident. His house, as you might have guessed, is filled with clocks, and wait until you see what happens at night. Based on the acclaimed 1973 children’s novel by John Bellairs, “The House With a Clock in its Walls” sounds like the last movie Eli Roth would direct. Mostly known for his gory horror films (have you seen “Hostel”, kids?), it was refreshing to see him tackle something completely new for once. And with a lavish production, eye-popping visuals, and a sense of humor that is damn near irresistible, the movie kept me entertained at every turn, despite a somehow familiar storyline. Oh and I especially enjoyed seeing Cate Blanchett as Black’s neighbor, a woman with “unusual” powers of her own. There’s a secret buried somewhere in the house, and what follows is non-stop fun ready made for Halloween. Roth, knowing his target audience, let’s it rip. It’s a fun time at the movies for the whole family.
Since it feels rushed and has no real beginning and no end, I’m going to cut right to the chase: “Johnny English Strikes Again” feels like leftovers from the previous films. You can’t convince me that it took 7 years to come up with…this. To be fair, I did laugh a few times, and it’s all because I missed seeing Rowan Atkinson on the big screen. But surely he deserves a funnier script. Or maybe I’m looking too much into it? The first two films weren’t particularly deep, but they were enjoyable (especially the first one, which I’ve seen so many times). This one is more of the same, only less likable. Even the gags feel massively recycled from much funnier Mr. Bean shorts. In terms of plot, English is hired once again to save the country from a cyber-attack. Cue the endless jokes about modern technology and how English is still as old-school as ever. Atkinson is good, as always, but he doesn’t have much to work with. Seeing him back is always a pleasure, but the whole things plays like an outtake. If you’re going to bring back a franchise many thought was dead and buried, at least do it right. Instead, this sequel is completely forgettable.
I have unhealthy attachments to my TV shows. I think about their latest episodes constantly, and I obsess over every single detail and plot twist. Unfortunately, a whole lot of shows get cancelled far too soon, often before they can tap into their full potential.
But let’s be clear, some shows (like Prison BreakandLost) aren’t worthy of being missed. Yes they each had their moments of greatness, but they fizzled out in the end and certainly deserved to go off the air when they did (I’m looking at you Sookie Stackhouse!). But the ten shows below – they definitely should have had longer runs but alas, the television Gods are not always fair.
Suburgatory was a fascinating little comedy that managed to craft a hysterical cartoony world in the span of three short seasons. I don’t know why the show never hit it big, because it was bursting with clever writing and incredible performances. If you’re in the mood for something light, do give this quirky little satire a shot. It’s worth the watch.
Not many people have heard of Samantha Who, but it’s one of those hilarious comedies with a simple premise: an amnesiac tries reconnect with her loved ones after being a total bitch pre-accident. Christina Applegate is one of my favorite comedy actresses, and she’s phenomenal on the show. The added bonus? Every episode contains a badass flashback to Samantha’s evil days. Glorious.
Before he hit gold with Modern Family, Steven Levitan was responsible for Just Shoot Me, one of my favorite comediesever. Set in a fashion magazine, the office vibe was addictive and homey, while the cast bounced off one another beautifully. Also, the show features Nina Van Horn (played to perfection by Wendi Mallick), and she might be the single funniest character in sitcom history.
Ah, the infamous show about nothing. Seinfeld is widely considered to be the greatest comedy of all time, and it was certainly a staple of my childhood-viewing experience. Kramer, Elaine, George and Jerry Seinfeld were such vile, despicable characters, but you loved them in all their intricacies and complexes. Truly, there’s never been anything quite like Seinfeld, and I miss the gang terribly.
Was there ever any doubt? I know How I Met Your Mother replaced Friends for a lot of people over the course of the past decade, but as far as I’m concerned, Friends is still the far superior show (and at least it didn’t screw up the ending). No other show in recent memory left such a powerful imprint on pop culture, and it’s easy to see why: this is an easy-to-watch show that’s ridiculously lovable on every level. And contrary to what many may claim, I never thought the show’s quality waned in later seasons (just look at all the terrible comedies on the air today). For ten seasons, Friends was always a pleasure to watch, and I think it could have gone on for a hell of a lot longer.
Not a lot of people have heard about Dollhouse, but I was always captivated by its story of a secret facility that programs its “Dolls” (a fancy name for memory-wiped slaves) into whatever personality their clients desire. It was thought-provoking television with a disturbing premise at its core. The first season wasn’t very good as the show struggled with its standalone adventures and stories of the week. However, season two built a long-term story arc and astonishing momentum which lead to a VERY satisfying series finale (a rare thing when a show gets cancelled). And plus, it was created by one of the greatest minds in Hollywood (Joss Whedon, the mastermind behind Buffy, Angel, and Firefly).
Brothers & Sisters is the only show that has ever truly managed to recreate the nuanced and touching dynamics that exist within a family (well, This Is Usis pretty close). Spearheaded by Sally Field and Calista Flockart, this outstanding family drama tugs at the heartstrings and never lets go. The show is five seasons long, and although the ending isn’t the greatest (neither is the last season in general), the first four are television gold. Highly recommended if you’ve got a whacky family who balance their time between arguing and loving the heck out of another.
Forget about the cheesy and embarrassing title, because Desperate Housewives is still one of the wittiest and smartest shows ever made. The scripts are razor-sharp, the performances are impeccable, and the mysteries consistently engaging. I genuinely miss spending time in the batshit crazy world of Wisteria Lane and that’s a magnificent accomplishment. Here’s hoping Marc Cherry can create something as memorable in the coming years (while it’s amusing in a cheap sort of way, Devious Maids does not count).
Spearheaded by the immensely talented Jennifer Garner, Alias holds a very special place in my heart(and almost ties the top spot) as a bold and inventive series that took serialized storytelling to brave new heights. Yes a case could be made that the show went a bit too sci-fi in season three, but all in all, the show’s five seasons are a joy to behold. Sadly, the show never really had a stellar viewership and it was cancelled when it most certainly could have thrived for many years to come. A pity.
13 years later, and the internet is still packed with petitions begging FOX to bring Dark Angel back in the form of a third season or a James Cameron directed film. I certainly echo that sentiment, as the show is one of my all-time favourites. In the span of two short seasons, Cameron managed to build a vivid post-apocalyptic world inhabited by a host of intriguing characters. The show wasn’t perfect (see my detailed episode reviews), but it ended with a finale that certainly left the door open for a whole new world of storytelling that was sadly never explored. As far as I’m concerned, this was the most unjust cancellation in television history, and it’s one that still breaks my heart over a decade later.
It took 9 months, but the best thriller of the year is finally here. The gripping, nerve-frying suspense in this movie will pin you to your seat. And yet, movies like “Searching” are so easy to get wrong (hello, “Unfriended”, “Friend request” and other films of the same genre). That it manages to take a thought provoking look at modern technology without sounding too preachy is no small achievement. Even better is how suspenseful it all is. John Cho is excellent as a widower whose teenage daughter goes missing one day. The only way to investigate? Break into her social media accounts, searching for clues. Director Aneesh Chaganty, in his feature debut, keeps you riveted just by watching a dad go through his daughter’s profiles, desperately trying to find answers. And we’re there with him, every step of the way, until the pulse-pounding climax. There are twists and turns, and nothing is truly as predictable as it appears to be. This is how good this movie is. And as we move along, Chaganty keeps hinting at the dangers of modern technology, again, without sounding too preachy. It’s a major issue, and whether you view it as a cautionary tale or simply as superior storytelling, there’s no denying that “Searching” is incredibly well-made. Let me put it this way: If Hitchcock made a movie in 2018, this would be it. I can’t recommend it enough.