THE LAST FEW MOVIES I SAW: EPISODE XXVIII – The Good, the Bland, and the Fugly

I did it again. What did you see? Anything good?

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19. Deathstalker (1983) somehow garnered multiple sequels. Set in a dimly lit Medieval fantasy hell-scape, the character of Deathstalker is an unrepentantly selfish, impulsive, violent rapist on a quest to just get power for himself. He is our hero. And he learns nothing throughout his adventures. This was an uncomfortable watch. There is one extended sequence that had me questioning everything though. The evil wizard turns his oafish henchman into a pretty lady to spy on Deathstalker…who immediately rapes him, gets upset because he senses something is wrong, and then kicks him out into the hallway where he gets comforted by some women before they murder him. I almost forgot how stupid the bad guy’s head tattoo was.

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18. Full Moon Pictures’ Dollman (1991) started out so promising. A no-nonsense cop from another galaxy with a special gun that has exploding bullets chases a mutant head creature bad guy through space before ending up in the grittiest city on planet Earth. Only to find he’s just a few inches tall on our planet. After about the first 20 minutes it just becomes a boring slog of bad low angle shots.

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17. This next one is almost unwatchable, but part of me has a soft spot for the homespun special effects. Winterbeast (1992) is the story of some park rangers having to deal with a spate of supernatural murders. My no-frills synopsis is more exciting and coherent than the movie. I do give the film some credit. Even if nothing makes any sense, I applaud them for having so many different kinds of monsters (chiefly realized via poorly done stop-motion). If the audience understood the rules or if the monsters had some clear motivation or predictable strike pattern instead of just random, chaotic nonsense we would get at least some semblance of suspense or stakes. The guy who runs The Wild Goose Lodge is hilarious.

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16. I know I watched Sorceress (1982), but don’t remember anything about it. I want to say there was nudity and a couple weird monsters. Man. I am drawing a blank here. Oh wait. Yes, I do remember one thing. I remember finding the creepy, horny satyr to be deeply upsetting.

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15. If you love big, expensive, sanctimonious religious epics watch Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments. If you’re somehow into The Robe or Androcles and the Lion, then check out Quo Vadis (1951). It’s a clunky film on the whole, but the spectacle and sheer bigness of everything is cool. The Coliseum scenes are no Ben-Hur hippodrome, but it is something to see 1950s Hollywood reimagine ancient Rome. Watching Nero (played by a particularly hammy Peter Ustinov) torch the city was fun. Also stars Deborah Kerr and Robert Taylor.

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14. Ever since RLM reviewed the obscure, low budget, sci-fi horror flick Xtro (1982), I’ve been intrigued. And I finally got a chance to see it. It is dark and strange and gross and ambiguous. A loving husband and father gets abducted by aliens and shows up years later…but something is different. Gozu points for having a scene where a woman births a grown man. Also killer toy soldier man. Definitely some imagination at work in this movie.

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13. What happens when six brothers are trapped in a small NYC apartment by their controlling father for their whole developing lives? In the documentary The Wolfpack (2015), we meet the Angulo family and their pure obsession with movies (their only connection to the outside world). A fascinating look at isolation and what people bind themselves to and how they cope with trauma. The boys are so likable and their love of recreating all of their favorite movies is so infectious that the film is hard not to enjoy.

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12. OK, so Predator (1987) with Arnold is a masterpiece. People have been very mean about its first sequel, Predator 2 (1990) with Danny Glover. But honestly, it’s a blast. Changing the setting from the jungle to the city and the military guys to brutal L.A. gangs just makes the most logical sense. It expands on the Predator’s backstory in effective, visual ways. My only beef? Danny Glover just kind of gets lucky whereas Arnold had to use his wits. Also stars Gary Busey and Bill Paxton.

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11. The Ornithologist (2016) is a surreal Portuguese film that I wish I understood better. A bird watcher gets kayak-wrecked by rapids and meets two Chinese pilgrims lost on the Camino de Santiago. They tie him up and then things get weird. I loved the first half of the movie, but once the symbolism began to compound, my unfamiliarity with the life of Saint Anthony of Padua kept a lot of the meaning hidden. It’s atmospheric and odd and beautifully shot.

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10. Brooding noir/horror filmmaker Jacques Tourneur directs the weirdest adaptation of Jane Eyre out there. I Walked with a Zombie (1943) features steamy jungles, sugar plantations, voodoo magic, and, of course, zombies. Before Romero, zombies were more like the ones in this movie and White Zombie. You decide which version you like better.

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9. I bet you thought we were done with bad movies? Nope. David Prior’s Deadly Prey (1987) is a legend in the bad movie community. A squadron of rogue mercenaries kidnap people to practice their killing. Until they kidnap Michael “Mike” Danton (Ted Prior). The best fighter the sadistic colonel ever trained. Classic bad action movie setup. A perfect blend of macho humorlessness and unintentional silliness.

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8. Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) did not do too well, if I understand correctly. And I get why. The leads have negative charisma and the whole world is a complicated jumble of ideas and we rarely feel any tension. I will say this though: the worlds within the film were fascinating and beautifully realized and there was more imagination in the simple details. It’s silly fun and sort of a shadow of The Fifth Element, but with the right chemicals, it’s a fun watch. Better than Avatar and a notch below John Carter. Screw you. I liked the monsters.

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7. Here is the internet’s synopsis of the Japanese-American production Latitude Zero (1969): “A journalist is saved by a giant submarine captained by a 200 year old man who takes him to an underwater paradise city where no one ages. That’s when monsters and mutants sent by the captain’s rival, a 200 year old scientist, attack.” Directed by frequent Godzilla director, Ishirô Honda, this is one wacky movie that is uncomfortably stuck in a 1950s style while trying to be a bit edgier and flirt with the oncoming 70s. Any movie that puts a woman’s brain into a lion’s skull and then attaches condor wings to its back, can’t be all bad. Features Joseph Cotton and Cesar Romero.

6. I hadn’t seen Neil Jordan’s adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire: The 

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Vampire Chronicles (1994) in years. It holds up. Great period costumes and settings. The question of what one does with eternity and unfulfilled desire is to die for. People may have been gushing over Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in this when it came out, but Kirsten Dunst and Stephen Rea steal every scene they are in. If you like your vampires sexy and emo and not-so-subtly gay then revisit this fella. Also features Antonio Banderas and Christian Slater. Also a quick shout out to Neil Jordan’s werewolf movie, The Company of Wolves (1984).

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5. I have teared up at Pixar movies. Not even a little ashamed. But man, did I lose it at the end of Coco (2017). It’s typically clever, vibrant, and impeccably animated, but I was initially skeptical about a Día de Muertos themed Disney flick. But, I’ll be damned if this wasn’t a beautifully touching story about family, mortality, and memory. I’d like to double-feature this with Corpse Bride (but Coco last because it’s better).

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4. L.A. Confidential (1997) is a sexy modern look back at classic noir stories. The 1950s setting is gloriously realized and the cast sizzles. If you want to see Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, and more in a sumptuous period crime drama loaded with double-cross and murder then pop this baby in.

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3. Pedro Almodóvar is a treasure. Talk to Her (2002) is the story of two men and the women in comas they love. Like other Almodóvar films, it’s sad and funny and colorful and complex and human. Javier Cámara and Darío Grandinetti star.

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2. I Am Not Madame Bovary (2016) is the story of a stubborn Chinese woman spending years of her life trying to get the government to acknowledge her divorce was a fraud and force her husband to admit to her that he lied. If the slow pace and mise en scène being limited to a portal view doesn’t put you off then check this one out. The more I let myself become immersed in the films world the more I loved it. It is a very subtle comedy, but what really sells it is the style, the creaking bureaucracy, and Bingbing Fan’s performance as Li Xuelian. There are no villains. This movie is too big for that.

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1. And finally, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project (2017). Like his previous film, Tangerine, this also takes a decidedly unglamorous look at unlucky, broken people on the fringes of society. A little girl makes friends and gets into trouble while her mother makes increasingly bad decisions that cost them dearly. It’s a beautiful and sad drama with the heart to make you care about people you might otherwise have tried to ignore. Also stars Willem Dafoe.

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