We watched a bunch of movies again. Michelle Yeoh appeared in some of them.
I want to respect the hustle, but Death Kappa (2010) is just kind of ugly and annoying. At this point, I’ve seen so many movies that I’ve become very demanding of my yokai and kaiju fare. Waste of time.
I love big lug Lou Ferrigno in a low budget Italian sword-and-sorcery epic (thinking mostly Hercules, I guess). That said, Sinbad of the Seven Seas (1989), directed by Enzo G. Castellari and Luigi Cozzi, suffers greatly from two glaring flaws: overall kidsie tone and the majority of the action being narrated by tension-murdering voiceover. Frequent Dario Argento actress, Daria Nicolodi, was apparently added in during post production to salvage a cinematic mess in Peter Falk a la Princess Bride type bookend segments, which really undercut all of what little build the film has going for it.
Cruel Jaws (1995) is a Jaws ripoff that’s pretty dumb and bad, but the shark is kind of cute in it.
The trifecta of Italian horror schlock bands together to make a movie that has a bit of a cult following, but frankly bored us. Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2), Lucio Fulci (Cat in the Brain), and Bruno Mattei (Cruel Jaws) team up to for Zombi 3 (1988), a jungly mess of flying heads and helicopters. The word tensionlessnss comes to mind. We all enjoyed the disc jockey though. Should have done more with that.
Michelle Yeoh stars in Magnificent Warriors (1987), an action-packed kung-fu Indiana Jones-style adventure set in a remote kingdom in Tibet during the Second Sino-Japanese War. On paper, I should love this. I understand that I’m a monster, but I absolutely could not focus on anything here. There’s some excellently choreographed action sequences, but the story is joylessly wacky, weightless, and weirdly without any personality. And all in service of saying that Japanese Imperialism is bad but Chinese Imperialism, well that’s another story. When it ended, I realized I had seen this on TV years ago… and didn’t really enjoy it then either. I love Michelle Yeoh, but she’s been in way better movies. Richard Ng is the best thing going here.
Brain De Palma does Hitchcock, softcore, and transphobia! It’s Dressed to Kill (1980), starring Michael Caine, Nancy Allen, and Angie Dickinson. I think if the whole movie were as bonkers as the last ten minutes, this would have worked better for me. But seriously, if you’re going to draw this many parallels to Hitchcock’s Psycho, you better bring more to the table than split diopter.
This movie is objectively bad and makes no sense, but it was exactly what I needed when it came into my life and I love it. Spookies (1986) boasts some isolated moments that are wild and/or so-insane-it-transcends-reason. A grim reaper explodes. An adult man uses puppets for everything. A woman turns into a spider monster. There are farting poop ghosts. A man dives through door. And none of it even comes close to coming together.
In a movie about every animal in the North American woods attacking a group of hikers, the best thing about Day of the Animals (1977) is a power-tripping shirtless Leslie Nielson. Take a shot every time Nielson calls Christopher George “hot shot”.
Robert Siodmak directs a British noir starring Charles Laughton. Sounds like great ingredients to me. The Suspect (1944) should have been more fun. It’s got a few suspensful scenes and a some nice fog-soaked streets, but it’s a bit slow and the atrocious fake English accents really got to me. I guess I prefer American noir.
I was a massive fan of the Adult Swim show throughout college. A part of me will always have a soft spot for Frylock, Meatwad, Master Shake, and Carl. Aqua Teen Forever: Plantasm (2022) (the second feature-length Aqua Teen Hunger Force film after 2007’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters) differentiates itself from the show in that it kind of has a plot and a point to make. There’s still a lot of stream-of-consciousness surreal gags and purposely stupid nonsense that goes nowhere, but it’s mostly a jab at Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk (though it’s obviously no Sorry to Bother You). Is it good? Look, it’s beyond that, and I watched it on a plane. I was just happy to see the boys back together again.
David Cronenberg is such a perfect little sicko. I unabashedly love how grimy and gross he makes Canada look in his early films. Rabid (1977), like his earlier Shivers, is another non-zombie zombie movie. And it’s WAY weirder than rabies. After a pandemic, perhaps this movie is even more relevant now. Plus, there’s something really viscerally upsetting about a slimy, blood appendage with a fang on it that emerges out of a pulsing orifice located in the armpit.
Turkish action star, Cüneyt Arkın, stars in The Sword and the Claw aka Lion Man (1975), a pre-Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (aka The Man Who Saved the World aka Turkish Star Wars) medieval adventure about the rightful heir to the throne growing up a feral wild man with the strength to murder hundreds of men simply by touching their faces. The colors are garish, the costumes are cheap, the action is ludicrous, and the music is pilfered from better movies. But that’s kind of why you’d watch this sort of thing.
Gramps Goes to College (2014) is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in awhile, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t have a great time watching this cringey vanity project. Imagine, if you will, a 60-something year old man writing and starring in a movie about a 60-something year old man going back to college and trying to course correct America’s evil secular academic institutions with embarrassing mic drops stolen from even more embarrassing Christian apologetics books. It’s a real treat that feels pretty confident it completely obliterated the theory of evolution by comparing the human brain to a computer.
Twentieth Century (1934), directed by Howard Hawks, is a pretty mean-spirited pre-Code Hollywood screwball comedy about an underwear model turned stage actress (Carole Lombard) and her rise to stardom under the tutelage of an egotistical terror of a director (John Barrymore), and her escape to Hollywood, and the pair’s subsequent reunion on a train. It’s essentially a comedy about grooming and manipulation with casual gags about suicide and religious people being off their rocker. It’s high energy, that’s for sure. A lot of yelling and screaming and fast-paced dialogue. But that wacky, shouty, angry atmosphere does become tiresome before the film’s conclusion. Narratively it’s a bit shapeless, but I admire a lot of its roughness and John Barrymore’s absolutely Looney Tunes performance. I can see how it would have worked as a stageplay. As a movie, it’s interesting and I would love to see Barrymore in more comedies.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) is perhaps lesser Hitchcock, and it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as some of his best. There are a few pretty classically executed suspense setpieces, but the thing that really holds this one back (and I hate to say it) is Jimmy Stewart. I love Jimmy, but here he comes off as too oafish, creepy, and hostile with his wife (played with spunk by Doris Day). But that orchestra sequence! Also, I have to give it up to Brenda de Banzie in a small role but she brings a lot to it.
Doris Day is back. I saw these proto rom-coms a lot when I was a kid. Lover, Come Back (1961) was the follow up to Pillow Talk (1959) and it once again casts Doris Day as an uptight, sexless killjoy and closeted actor Rock Hudson as the serial womanizer and all around lovable cad. Tony Randall (the best thing about any of these movies) is the wormy little fop. The plot is basically a retread of the previous movie, but it has some great jokes and gags (alas, no Thelma Ritter in this one). These films are interesting in how much they lay the groundwork for romantic comedies to come, and for how poorly some of the gender politics have aged. The trio would later appear together again in Send Me No Flowers (1964).
Duke Mitchell, a nightclub crooner and Dean Martin wannabe (who starred alongside the most irritating Jerry Lewis clone, Sammy Petrillo, in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla), apparently hated The Godfather. If he didn’t, he arguably wouldn’t’ve written, produced, directed, and starred in Massacre Mafia Style (1974) (aka Like Father, Like Son).
Like a lot of vanity projects of this ilk (i.e. small man contrives scenarios to portray himself as the coolest and best at everything and the most sexually desirable yet ultimately still put upon victim who deserves our empathy despite his massive onscreen killcount), it’s cringey and comical, but, unlike a lot of other examples of the subgenre, it’s actually shot decently and Duke, despite how much you hate him and his stupid hair, actually can deliver his overwrought lines pretty well. But it just sucks that he insists on giving himself so many lugubrious soliloquys, some of which seek to justify his character’s (or his own) deep-seated racism, sexism, and egomania.
Massacre Mafia Style has a point of view and is almost refreshing in its smaller, anti-Hollywood indie vibe, but fails fantastically under the weight of several huge time jumps, never knowing what is happening scene to scene, and the monumental hubris of its lead architect. I can respect the attitude that perhaps The Godfather perhaps does a disservice to Italians and mafiosos, but this movie manages to do far worse to them while also being a terrible film. All in all, a fascinating display.
Separated conjoined twins Duane and Belial Bradley return in Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case 2 (1990). The budget is bigger. The world is bigger. The monsters are more numerous and ghoulish. I defintitely appreciate how it picks up right where the first film left off and expands upon the lore and doesn’t do the same thing. This time, the boys end up in the safe haven of Granny Ruth’s secret home for mutant outcasts and such. It’s good. It’s clever. But, for me, I’m a sucker for the griminess and meanness and surprisingly complex nature of that first microbudget outing.
I suppose, as a treatise on beauty and aging and life and all of it, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty (2013) a rather alienating presentation. Beautifully shot. Beautifully scored. Beautifully paced. Beautiful fashion. Beautiful vistas. It’s beautiful. But I can’t relate to any of it. This movie excels at making being rich and famous, yet blissfully detached and above it all in an extremely horny, dreamy Rome look good. But then…how could it not? Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) is always cool. He’s always smoking. He’s always more real than anyone else in the room. But then, if that’s our starting point, it’s a little insufferable watching a self-aware, mediocre man of high stature who got everything he ever wanted simply take a peaceful, soul-searching saunter through the tranquil Italian city and come to the conclusion that life has a lot of stuff in it that some of it is rather nice. It’s tough, because I guess I do like it, but I don’t like like it.
Charisma-less blank slate, Olivier Gruner, stars in the late Albert Pyun’s sci-fi masterpiece, Nemesis (1992). Don’t ask me to recount the plot. It’s a low budget movie with a lot of action occuring in dusty junkyards. It may be cheap and stupid, but it’s got style and wild camera movement that’ll keep you engaged. Also features Tim Thomerson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Deborah Shelton, Sven-Ole Thorsen, Brion James, Merle Kennedy, Jackie Earl Haley, and Thomas Jayne.
Maggie Cheung (Irma Vep), Michelle Yeoh (Supercop 2), and Anita Mui (Rumble in the Bronx) star in the superhero fanatasy action comedy, The Heroic Trio (1993). Chinese cinema of this stripe sometimes throws me with its tonal shifts. It’s all wacky, silly, cartoon mayhem until one of our heroes drops a baby down a shaft and its head lands on a rusty nail and the baby dies. But we’re quickly past grim violence like that and back to motorcycles spinning through the air and splitting bullets in half with shurikens. The plot’s kinda all over the place. A crazy guy is kidnapping babies to raise them as his unstoppable cannibal army, but none of that is particularly interesting. It’s more about the bonkers action. I do love Cheung, Yeoh, and Mui, and I feel like they deserved a better script to showcase their abilities, but I understand this is mostly a broad action comedy with goofy slapstick…that also blows up children while they piss themselves. Not their best work, but it’s definitely something and we had fun watching it. Every shot looks amazing with wind and fog and dramatic angles.
Looking for a classic East Asian cowboy kung-fu Western? Before America’s Shanghai Noon and South Korea’s The Good, the Bad, the Weird and Thailand’s Tears of the Black Tiger there was Hong Kong’s Millionaires Express (1986), written and directed by and starring the great Sammo Hung. It’s a well constructed sendup of the cowboy genre that features some fantastic kung-fu combat and daring stuntwork that should satisfy your itch for cowboy action comedy. It’s also a who’s who of Hong Kong action cinema. If you’re even just a passing fan, you’ll probably be like hey wait was that guy in so-and-so? It’s good fun. My only complaint: not enough train. The bulk of the movie takes place in a dusty town.
I’m still a big Arnold fan. Total Recall, Terminator 1 and 2, Predator, Conan, and Commando (1985) (and yes, in that order) are all amazing films and classics of a particular style of roided up American action flick. Commando is a simple story. Arnold Schwarzenegger is John Matrix, a retired special agent whose daughter (Alyssa Milano) gets kidnapped. This setup allows for our protagonist to go on a savage murder spree of hulking bad guys to get her back. Arguably the dream of every straight American male. It’s breezy and dumb and is peppered with the ratatat of bullets and plenty of explosions. If the opening credits featuring Matrix having cute excursions with his kid (sharing ice cream and petting baby deer) doesn’t clue you in to the winking nature of what’s going on then we must just speak a different cinema language.
We, as a society, can be pretty dumb about food. People seemed pretty divided on The Menu (2022). I went knowing nothing about it, and that’s probably what made me like it so much. I like a dark comedy that satirizes high society and gets a bunch of actors in a room together for a simple yet smart setup.Maybe it could have gone harder in any direction, but it satisfied me well enough. Ralph Fiennes (questionable regional American accent aside) is always fun to watch, and it is a joy to watch him devour every scene. And Anya Taylor-Joy eating a hamburger is the best ad for McDonald’s I’ve seen in years.
What happens when you put Stranger Things, Attack the Block, and The Thing in a blender? You get Nyla Innuksuk’s Innuit sci-fi body horror Slash/Back (2022). A handful of young girls in a tiny town in northern Nunavut are the only thing standing in the way of alien annihilation. Some of the kid acting and dialogue might not be the strongest, but the movie is a breath of fresh air. We need more gateway sci-fi and horror for kids. Not enough Gremlins, Krampuses, The Gates out there.
Road Games (1981) is a seemingly forgotten Australian truck thriller. It’s kind of like Rear Window, but for a trucker. This movie made me have to reassess what I think Stacy Keach is capable of. He carries this film and he plays it super weird. He’s funny and imaginative, but odd and poetic. Honestly? More likable than Burt Reynolds in Smoky and the Bandit. Dual is still the better truck movie, but that was Spielberg and who could compete?
What do ya know? I never saw Jennifer’s Body (2009) before, and, in a more just world, this would have been a bigger hit than Twilight. Snarkily written by Diablo Cody (Juno) and stylishly directed by Karyn Kusama (The Invitation), Amanda Seyfried stars as the nerd girl who watches her hot bitch friend (Megan Fox) succumbs to supernatural cannibalistic powers. It’s all done so well (even if it is SUPER 2009) and captures that caustic high school energy you need for a story like this. It reminded me of Ginger Snaps in that it uses monsters and magic to show how female relationships can change drastically over time.
Golan/Globus and The Cannon Group appeared in the opening credits and we braced ourselves. X-Ray (1981) (aka Hospital Massacre) was so much more fun than we expected. A woman (Barbi Benton) goes to the hospital for a routine checkup and the film unleashes a cavalcade of murder and terror. The way it teases you with anyone and everyone possibly being the crazy killer you have to watch out for is actually so dumb it’s genius. Everything scary about the hospital is here and dialed up to 11. Also there’s a crazy killer on the loose for some reason.
For me, Six String Samurai (1998) is all about the vibe. It’s a tongue-in-cheek rockabilly action flick loaded with kung-fu kicks and sick guitar licks. It just looks cool. A post-apocalyptic wasteland stands in between our hero and the mythical city of Lost Vegas. There is an annoying kid in this, but I’m willing to look past that for the film’s better points.
Pixar not even flexing hard here, but Luca (2021) was a visual delight. An adventurous fish boy runs away to hideout from his parents in a small Italian village. He makes friends and enters a local bicycle race. The stakes may seem little, but they are perfect. Luca has such a beautifully fresh feeling to it and the character arcs for both the parents and their kids is heartwarming. It may be lesser Pixar, but it’s cute and the lessons are nicely done.
Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash (2015) is a gorgeous looking drama that felt like a sexy cross between Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast and Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac. It’s the psychological horror of univited guests ruining your peaceful vacation…and your life. Tilda Swinton (I love you) plays a rockstar recovering from surgery on a tranquil Italian island with her partner (Matthias Schoenaerts) when suddenly her manically extroverted old flame and producer played by Ralph Fiennes (I love you) shows up with his maybe-daughter (Dakota Johnson) in tow. The rest of the movie is the screw slowly turning and the sexual tension building, and it is marvelous. Ralph Fiennes can do anything.
Sometimes you gotta watch something more than once.
Folk music is an interesting thing to me. I was not around in 1960s Greenwich Village to see it all unfold firsthand, but I can see how it might be easily mocked and derided. What does New York City know about folk music? Isn’t American folk of this time kinda schmaltzy and kitschy? And what a curious oddity that even when the genre is being thoroughly lampooned à la a mockumentary like A Mighty Wind, it still somehow produces unironically catchy tunes that are just so bright-eyed and wistful that I find myself saying, “wow this is hokey. I love it.”
I saw Inside Llewyn Davis (2013) in theaters ten years ago. I dug it well enough, but at the time I didn’t appreciate the genius of it. It’s the story of a loser (Oscar Isaac) who has talent, but can’t seem to not step on rakes in his path. His decisions hurt himself and everyone around him. He’s a blackhole of failure. It’s a bleak portrait of an artist, but it’s not without empathy, and it is laugh out loud funny once you get on its wavelength. Midway through the film, Llewyn takes a car trip from hell to Chicago with an old, crotchety jazz musician (played by the always amazing John Goodman) who maybe puts a curse on him for a disrespectful (although deserved) response he receives. Was the jazz man a witch? Is magic real in this universe? Would it even matter or be detectable or change one thing about the already doomed trajectory of Llewyn’s life? Probably not. And that’s the kind of thing I think the Coen Brothers do best.
I feel like Inside Llewyn Davis doesn’t get enough credit among Coen films and deserves another look with fresh eyes. The look (cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel), the music (by Dave Van Ronk and T Bone Burnett), and the elusively elliptical structure of this film are all so well done. It’s like a darkly whimsical purgatory of cringe. The title character seems to be trapped inside the lyrics of a song he might have sung. Oscar Isaac is absolutely fantastic in it, and it’s worth it just to see him do a wacky little ditty with Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver.
After seeing Dressed to Kill, Brian De Palma redeems himself here. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to see Carrie (1976). A bullied girl from an abusively religious home discovers she has telekinetic abilities. The whole movie is a masterpiece, and I’ll chalk a good 75% of that up to Sissy Spacek’s face selling the hell out of it. I love stumbling into greatness like this. It’s why I watch movies in the first place.
Michelle Yeoh won her Oscar for her performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once, and since we’d been on a kick of watching some of her earlier work (courtesy of Criterion Channel), we revisited one of her best. Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) is a loving, poetic, and beautifully told romantic tragedy that embodies all the hallmarks of the wuxia genre. I’ve seen this movie a dozen times and it still dazzles me. Yeoh, Chow Yun Fat, and Zhang Ziyi exhibit their athleticism and acting chops in equal measure here. Yuen Woo-ping’s fight choreography is as breathtaking as ever (maybe even more now after a glut of overwrought-with-CG lesser action flicks). Anyway, if you never saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, go check it out. They really don’t make movies like this anymore.