Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Tag: movies (page 1 of 5)

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Becky moves to Chicago to live with her brother Otis and his odd roommate Henry. Henry has a grim hobby, into which he recruits Otis.

This has a nasty, gritty, urban-noir feel, seeming more like a product of the early 1970s than 1986 — the cinematography feels very inspired by “Midnight Cowboy” or “Panic in Needle Park,” and not at all like the slick slashers of the ’80s. Henry is a strangely seductive figure, drawing both Otis and Becky into his orbit, and bringing out Otis’ demons in some particularly disturbing scenes. The introduction of the video camera adds another layer to the story, with the recorded murders giving both distance and intimacy to the violence.


Someone is murdering the gay porn actors of Paris; can director Anne crack the case before it’s too late?

This is a stylish homage to the giallo, with many of the genre’s key tropes: a masked killer, brutally on-the-nose murders, several red hearings, cheap-paint-shop-red blood, a twisted psychological explanation for the killer’s deeds. It’s campy and aware of its campiness, but it doesn’t let that get in the way of telling a good story–just beneath the over-the-top melodrama there’s real heartache and love.

The Perfection

Charlotte, a former cello prodigy who had to give up music to care for her dying mother, seeks out her former teachers and their new protege, Elizabeth. But Charlotte has more than music on her mind.

This didn’t go where I thought it would go, and it got there by way of some suspect routes, but overall I enjoyed it. It’s very much a suspend-all-disbelief story that relies on some ludicrous assumptions, but the performances by Allison Williams and Logan Browning bridge the ridiculous situations with believable and complex emotions. There’s some gross stuff along the way, which is what gets the most attention in the buzz this movie has generated, but it’s really the acting, appropriately melodramatic and intense (Steven Weber’s Anton is also satisfyingly creepy), that makes it worth a watch.

Blue My Mind

Mia moves to a new school, where she has to deal with making new friends, tries to fit in with the cool kids, and faces a terrifying physical transformation.

This is a coming-of-age-body-horror tale not unlike “Raw” or “Ginger Snaps,” where the physical transformations of puberty are amplified to horrific levels while the person suffering the change tries to cope with sex, drugs, alcohol, and generalized rebellion, before finally embracing the transformation in all its terrible glory. It’s pretty brutal and stark, but also poetic and lyrical; that mix makes it a highly recommended watch.

Also, thank goodness for subtitles; I think I could probably have caught a lot of this had it been in standard German as taught in American universities or spoken in Bavarian cities, or even in a Plattdeutsch dialect, but Swiss German really is its own thing.

The Untamed

A woman befriends a male nurse in a small Mexican town, and introduces him and his sister to a tentacled creature in a remote cabin that offers both unspeakable pleasure and pain.

If H.P. Lovecraft wrote tele-novellas, this would have been the result: a blend of cosmic horror, family drama, and dangerous desire, with a fair bit of gore and skin. It’s interesting and disturbing, which is a good combination.

What Metal Girls Are Into

Three women staying in a remote rental unit in the desert for a heavy metal festival make a gruesome discovery in the freezer, and find that the landlord and his friends have decidedly uncool intentions.

Fast, funny, and furious, with a good soundtrack and some crunchy kills. It delivers exactly what it promises on the box, in about 15 minutes, with wit and moxie.

The Battery

Mickey and Ben, a pitcher and catcher roaming through a post-apocalyptic New England landscape populated by slow-moving zombies, catch a hint of a possible haven over some purloined walkie-talkies. The mysterious voices they hear, though, don’t lead to salvation.

This 100 minute movie was about 80 minutes too long; I imagine that the world after a zombie apocalypse would indeed be incredibly dull, and that the survivors would tend to get on each others’ nerves, but one doesn’t watch a zombie apocalypse movie expecting the experience to be quite so tedious. I thought that the movie would finally pick up after an hour, when three additional living characters are introduced, but after a few minutes of real drama we get locked into an even more claustrophobic space with Mickey and Ben. I was rooting for the zombies toward the end, and even then was disappointed by a lackluster conclusion with a zombie hoard that can’t even catch a man who has been shot in the leg.


A family’s beach vacation is interrupted by their violent doppelgangers.

There are twists and jumps and scares and blood spatter galore in this epic Jordan Peele horror/fantasy/sci-fi masterpiece. I saw echoes of and nods to classic terrors like “The Shining,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Strangers,” and even “Susperia” (in a beautifully choreographed and bloody dance battle). It goes off the rails, especially at the end, but in a good way, and manages to be both terrifying and hilarious. I think I need to watch it a few more times to fully digest everything going on in this movie.

If Toni Collette deserved an Oscar for “Hereditary” (and she did), then Lupita Nyong’o deserves them all for her dual roles in “Us.”

The Descent

Following a horrible accident, a group of women who have enjoyed thrill-seeking adventures together in the past embark on a spelunking trek. A cave-in and poor planning are not the least of the horrors they encounter underground.

The first half of this movie, with the tensions within the group, the one-upmanship played out in deadly circumstances, and the challenges of battling each other and the caves, was scary enough; I’m a big fan of NPS and Appalachian Mountain Club accident reports, and this was a set up for the worst possible trip assessment in the history of trip assessments. Indeed, I found the troglodytes to be a little over the top and wholly unnecessary, though they did provide some pretty serious scares despite being unevenly powered, sometimes fearsome and other times easily knocked around. Darkness and tight spaces and idiot friends are scary enough.

Without Name

Eric goes into a remote forest to survey the land for a secretive developer with his assistant Olivia, with whom he is having an affair. They encounter a rootless young man who shares his anarchist philosophy and his psychedelic mushrooms, along with some local fairy lore. Olivia leaves after a fight, and Eric makes a mushroom tea from instructions in a book left in the cottage where they’re staying. This proves to be a mistake.

I was originally drawn to this movie because about a quarter of the traditional Irish tunes are called “Gan Anam,” “Without Name”; and that proves to be the “name” that the isolated woodland is called by the predictably hostile locals Eric meets at the pub. This is an enjoyable little movie–it does a good job of portraying the disorientation of being lost in the woods, and Eric’s growing paranoia is nicely unsettling. It would pair nicely with Across the River or The Alchemist Cookbook if you’re looking for disturbed-in-the-woods fair.

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