THE LAST FEW MOVIES I SAW: EPISODE XXXII – Why Oh Why?

More movies of any stripe ranked against each other in an exercise in arbitrariness!

Sorry, guys. There’s a LOT of pretty disappointing ones on this list.

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21. Bats(1999) is the worst kind of creature feature. Lazy, tedious, too expository, and not nearly enough funny special effects. The bat noises are funny and so are some of the puppets. But this makes Eight-Legged Freaks look like a masterpiece of horror.

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20. Conquest (1983) is unwatchable. Seriously. I didn’t even finish it. It’s unwatchable. And I mean that in a few different ways. For one, the protagonists have negative charisma and are impossible to like. Two, every scene features drab, gray characters in a drab, gray world annoyingly back-lit to the point of silhouette and consistently obfuscated by plumes of smoke/mist coming from…somewhere. Directed by Lucio Fulci (Don’t Torture a Duckling and A Woman in Lizard’s Skin), this is an unpleasant looking Italian-Mexican-Spanish co-production mercifully featuring at least some nudity and some creative violence. I actually dug the character design of the villainous (a topless, cavewoman g-string clad figure with a big, golden head and covered in snakes. Bold. Tacky. Completely insane). It’s artier than much of the artless sword-and-sorcery epics of this era, but it’s pretty bad. And smoky.

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19. Running Free (1994) is the story of a clinically obnoxious 12 year old boy and the wolverine who loved him. It’s the sort of family adventure ilk my mother would have let me borrow from the library. Sure, the acting is bad and the general plotlessness is laughable, but they did have a helicopter, at least one good explosion, a decent plane crash, and the beautiful Alaskan wilderness as their backdrop. It’s a coming-of-age tale that’s an insult to the intelligence of 12-year-olds everywhere. Most of those crappy direct-to-video movies I did rent back in the day had a lot more going for them.

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18. After Conquest, I thought maybe Barbarian Queen (1985) might be a bit better. And although it was largely a totally artless skin flick with lackluster action, the female cast was attractive (in an aggressively objectifying way) and you could actually see what was happening in each shot due to not having smoke everywhere. Barbarian Queen is problematic in several other ways, but the visibility inches this Argentinian production ahead of Conquest. It at least gave us some laughs while it made us feel completely filthy for watching it.

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17. Tae-bo legend Billy Blanks stars in a truly awful sci-fi action movie about a school for assassins that trains its members with embarrassingly realized virtual reality. Expect No Mercy (1995), if the title tells you anything, is a nondescript and dull flick that could be about anything. “Expect no mercy” isn’t even a decent tagline. There are a few scenes that are laughably fun, but not enough to warrant a re-watch anytime soon. Spoiler alert: I did shed a tear for the iguana guy.

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16. Geena Davis stars as a pirate queen and already you see what’s wrong. Cutthroat Island (1995) is a swashbuckling adventure comedy infamous for being a flop and bankrupting a studio. There is production value and, genuinely some of the action sequences are executed very well. The big problem with this is tone. Davis and co-star Matthew Modine have no chemistry and Modine is given the task of speaking entirely in awkward smart-ass remarks that are meant to infuse his character with charm and charisma, but accomplish just the opposite. It’s miscast and too long, but you gotta give credit for the location cinematography and lavish sets and props to Davis to doing a lot of her own stunts. Almost every scene has a hundred extras in it, all intricately adorned in period buccaneer garb. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on a Xena: Warrior Princess kick, but had they cast Lucy Lawless and Bruce Campbell this could have been fire.

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15. TerrorVision(1986) is a horror comedy that’s running of cheese-factor fumes. An extra-terrestrial monster (the Hungry Beast) is mistakenly beamed down to Earth via a Floridian’s new satellite dish. The slimy, grotesque creature materializes out of television sets to gobble up members of the cartoony Putterman family. Where They Live and The Stuff used science-fiction/horror to create clever social satires on the state of American consumerism, TerrorVision is content to just be a dumb monster movie. Most of the laughs come from just how over-the-top every single detail of this campy film is. It has one or two pretty decent scenes and some quotable lines, but the tone is just so goofy and gleefully brainless that, although perhaps the filmmakers’ intentions, it disappoints because it always feels like it could have been better. A bit more gore could have elevated it. I did like the ending and the creature was pretty gross. So points for that.

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14. Kung-fu and British horror finally get the crossover we didn’t know we wanted until The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974). Hammer Studios teamed up with the Shaw Brothers and the results are a bit of a charming mess. It’s not a great movie, but it’s trashy and silly enough to sort of warm your little heart. Peter Cushing appears once again as vampire hunter Van Helsing, now in China to battle an endless army of vampire zombie slaves. He lets his Chinese counterparts do most of the battling.

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13. Taraji P. Henson stars in Proud Mary (2018), a sort of throwback to blaxploitation films like Coffy and Foxy Brown. Mary is an assassin trying to atone for her sins by taking in an orphaned boy. But as the body count rises, Mary’s problems only get more complicated. You can tell there’s love going into this, but the finished result is a somewhat bland film punctuated by moments of style and funk. When it cuts loose and has fun, it’s great and justifies some of the contrivances. It just plays it too safe most of the time.

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12. A yearning for nostalgia had me re-watch Disney’s Hercules (1997). You all know it. And I had much the same reaction as an adult as I did as a kid. It’s gorgeously and stylishly animated. James Woods as a snaky car salesman Hades and his demon henchmen, as well as the three fates, are hilarious. The singing muses were fun. And that’s about it. Danny DeVito’s voice is too distracting as Hercules’ trainer, Phil. The romance is meh. The story just isn’t particularly fulfilling. Which is a real shame. Because, again, the 2D animation is among Disney’s best. I get it if you love it. To me, it’s just missing too many elements to be good. And I’m not even touching the bastardization of Greek mythology.

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11. Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) is a fantastically grim dark comedy about a man in over his head, just trying to get home. John Landis’ Into the Night (1985) is a bit of a mild success in a similar genre. Jeff Goldblum is an insomniac engineer who gets involved with a beautiful jewel thief (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) and spends the next 48 hours trying to shake the bad guys and stay alive. It has romance and comedy, but…how can we say it? Not enough to be called a romance or a comedy. There’s some suspense and then some cartoon slapstick. Not John Landis’ best film, but if the cast intrigues you (and there are a few fun cameos), you could do worse.

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10. Adam McKay writes and directs the story of Dick Cheney (played by Christian Bale) in Vice (2018). It’s a cheeky, nonlinear patchwork that presents the man’s opportunistic rise to power but somehow never manages to clearly establish his motivations or convictions (the movie tries to take care of that by brushing it aside early on). Bale is good, as is a lot of the cast, but the movie feels more like an exercise in montage editing than a serious political drama of any magnitude. It’s breezy enough, but far from the hard hitting political biopic it could have been.

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9. I begrudgingly enjoyed Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017). Why begrudgingly? Because that’s the reaction a decent re-imagining can sometimes garner. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan star as the video-game avatars of our high school protagonists trapped in the cursed Jumanji. It has some clever gags, a great cast, creative suspense elements, and they get their mileage out of the gender swapping schtick. Ultimately, it’s a slick family adventure that’s smarter than it had to be and decidedly doing something different with the source material and it works. It just has that squeaky clean sheen. You know the one? Where everything is set-dressed to perfection? I just hate that. But if I can overcome my curmudgeonly temperament to enjoy this guy, it’s can’t be that bad.

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8. If you’ve read this blog before, you know I seem to unfavorably give the advantage to well-executed schlock. Red Sonja (1985) is the second sequel in the Conan trilogy. (I think. The world seems familiar and Arnold’s back, but he’s playing a different guy.) I call this type of film ESL cinema. Mostly Italian crew and then star Brigitte Nielsen in Danish and Arnold is Austrian so the script is odd to begin with and then the line readings the next wave of surreality. It’s a fun, brainless sword-and-sorcery adventure with lots of violence and a few monsters and some truly great sets. Ennio Morricone does the score too! I can’t rate it higher because there’s this annoying child king who’s in it and he sucks. Sorry, little buddy. You nailed those fight moves though!

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7. The Legend of Suram Fortress (1985) Sergei Parajanov (Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors) co-directs with Dodo Abashidze to deliver a surreal collection of tableaux vivants (fans of Parajanov’s The Color of the Pomegranates will undoubtedly find some comparisons to be made) that tell a Georgian folktale of a crumbling fortress that seemingly demands a sacrifice. It may not be for everyone, but for those with a taste for Eastern European symbolic visual poetry, it’s definitely worth a look. Even if The Color of the Pomegranates is probably the more ambitious and superior film.

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6. T2 Trainspotting (2017) is the sequel I don’t if anyone expected to see for Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996). Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle are back to show us what has happened in the last 20 years. It’s been awhile, boys. Glad to see you again. Obviously, tensions are high since Renton double-crossed everyone and Bregbie’s been to jail. Some folks are just lifelong junkies, but maybe they were cheated out of a second chance? It’s a decent flick for fans of the original. Anjela Nedyalkova plays a new character, Veronika, who makes a nice complicated addition to the ensemble.

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5. The Lego Batman Movie(2017) could have been a lazy, soulless cash grab and still have been a huge commercial success. However, much like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a little bit of love and effort make the proceedings far more clever and enjoyable than they had any right to be. Yes, there are jokes and knowing nods to previous Batman incarnations and a stellar voice cast, but the real treat (for me at least) was the wholesome—if a skosh maudlin—plot. All of the character arcs build and snap together in as satisfying a way as a handful of Lego pieces. It’s funny because, in its own transparently on-the-nose way, it is ultimately rather touching and shows it really “gets” Batman. That it takes the emotions of its Lego cast as seriously as it does, it gets a big laugh out of me.

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4. Going in, I knew nothing of Class of 1984 (1982). And I am so glad I went in cold. It starts as a ham-fisted melodrama about a new teacher in a cartoonishly evil inner city school ravaged by teen gangsters, but then it turns into a positively delicious revenge thriller. Disgruntled teachers everywhere can watch this for catharsis (but don’t get any ideas). Features a somewhat out-of-place Roddy McDowell and a very young Michael J. Fox in supporting roles. I admire a movie that finds cruelly creative ways to brutally murder its teen cast. In all seriousness, it’s not a great film at all. I loved it.

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3. Oddball Kyle Mooney stars as a kidnapped boy who’s been raised in an underground fantasy (created by Mark Hamill) in Dave McCary’s Brigsby Bear (2017). It’s not a comedy per se. When James (Mooney) is awkwardly reunited with his biological family, he struggles because he feels no connection to them and they know nothing of “Brigsby Bear”, an imagined bizarro VHS series conjured for whatever reason by his abductor (Mark Hamill). All James knows is if “Brigsby Bear” isn’t real, he wants to make it real. And the story that unfolds in exactly the way you might imagine ironic viral video culture to do so. It’s more of a quirky indie drama that ultimately leaves you just feeling good inside. I loved it.

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2. How have I never seen The Last Dragon (1985) before? Seriously. This is almost as good as Samurai Cop. It’s more competently shot and assembled, but no less outlandish and wonderfully cheesy. From our excruciatingly fay and naive kung fu teen protagonist (Taimak) to the wonderful scene-chewing bombast that is the film’s villain, Sho’nuff/The Shogun of Harlem, The Last Dragon never lets up. Fans of action schlock and kung-fu are sure to love this one.

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1. There’s a Chinese mummy (that isn’t exactly what it seems) on train crossing the frozen Russian wilderness. But once you look at it, it takes your soul. Or something. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee star as rival scientists (my favorite flavor of rivalry) in The Horror Express (1972). Throw a dapper Telly Savalas in there for good measure. It’s a bit cheesy, but all the better for it. Glowing ghoul eyes and zombie Cossacks and Hammer-styled gore and atmosphere. For fans of this era of horror or of Lee or Cushing will enjoy this breezy spook flick with all its murder and mayhem confined to one claustrophobic train.

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The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode XXXI – None of the “Saw” Movies Ranked

Happy New Year. I do it again.

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16. Shane Black is back and directing The Predators (2018). This is perhaps not what some fans were hoping for. I wish I had more to say about it. I really like the original with Schwarzenegger, and the first sequel with Danny Glover was pretty fun overall (I’m drawing a blank on the one with Adrian Brody on the planet. I know I’ve seen it, but I don’t remember much from it. The Alien crossovers don’t count.), but I didn’t find this new movie very entertaining. Or thrilling. Or scary. Or funny. You know when a movie just feels like stuff. This felt like stuff. I still believe in Shane Black’s wit and writing. Hoping we’ll get something better next time.

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15. The Green Lantern (2011). That’s right. The one with pre-Deadpool Ryan Reynolds. And, honestly? Not as bad as I was expecting. If I compare it to other superhero movies, it’s not that great, but I kind of liked the concept of an intergalactic council harnessing the power of will to manifest anything. I realize that’s just describing the character’s super power from the source material. And yeah. That’s kind of it. It just lent itself to having some innovative action. The effects are also a weakness, but the ideas they’re trying to pull off are kinda cool. But then I also didn’t hate Ang Lee’s Hulk either.

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14. It’s a perennial favorite and I’ve never liked it. White Christmas (1954) is the story of war buddies turned song-and-dance men trying to put on a big show in a Vermont hotel that’s run by their old army captain (Dean Jagger). I may love Danny Kaye in The Court Jester, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Inspector General, and other comedy adventures, but here he’s too sappy and maudlin and it has never worked for me. Bing Crosby is as Bing Crosby as he gets, which is fine. I dig his drowsy, detached line deliveries. The plot is weird. It glosses over the arguably more interesting war and the duo’s rise to fame and then just decides to focus on Danny trying to get a dame for Bing and then putting on an overproduced Christmas variety show in a failing bed and breakfast. Vera Allen and Rosemary Clooney play the dames (and thank god they have better chemistry than the leading men). Some decent songs and some very fake looking sets.

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13. Sometimes you watch a movie to get a hit of nostalgia while also having a good laugh. Surf Ninjas (1993) might be peak 90s 10-year-old boy fantasy. Super chill brothers who love to surf, hate school, and always have a smart aleck remark discover they are actually lost royalty of a small Southeast Asian island nation. The only problem is that an evil and completely hammy Leslie Nielson is playing the despot. With the power of surfing, and being a ninja (sort of), and having random untapped kung-fu abilities and handheld video game based clairvoyance, the two boys (and a particularly obnoxious Rob Schneider) will restore peace to their kingdom. If you’re in a mood, you could do worse.

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12. I love old movies and I love monsters. That said, gimmick maestro William Castle’s Mr. Sardonicus (1961) may only be passably entertaining today. Sardonicus is a man afflicted by a face disfiguration. It happened when he was robbing his father’s grave and his mouth became eternally contorted into a ghoulish grin. Enter the physician (played by Ronald Lewis) and the long journey of persuasion to get him to operate. It has some effective scenes, but Mr. Castle’s bookend cameos to fake a little audience interaction kind of take you out of a pretty decent film. Now it plays more as a curiosity time capsule.

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11. Michael Crichton writes and directs Runaway (1984) starring Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, and Kirstie Alley. In a world where robots are commonplace, what happens when one man decides to turn them into murderous death machines for possibly no reason? You call Tom Selleck and his thick, lustrous mustache to deal with it. It’s a quiet little science fiction thriller with modest aspirations and pretty decent climax. The spider robots were unintentionally adorable.

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7. I’m pretty sure this recent Netflix release has been getting all the advertising it needed from memes. Birdbox (2018) is like if The Happening was good. Something (demons??) is causing all who see it to commit suicide. Sandra Bullock is a reluctant mother who finds herself among the few still fighting to stay alive. It has moments of suspense, but the nonlinear editing sucks a lot of tension out. And the central gimmick of not being able to look is perfectly frustrating. I quite liked it and thought it was clever enough for a “family horror flick” (but maybe I’d be less impressed had I seen A Quiet Place which apparently treads similar ground). If you dig apocalyptic suspense thrillers with the last remnants of civilization disintegrating around you, but always wanted those hellscapes to have more John Malkovich, then boy are you in for a treat.

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10. Andy Samberg and The Lonely Island‘s somewhat surreal and incorrigibly silly sense of humor takes on the Happy-Madison formula of man-child misfit having to raise money and/or save the person by the deadline. Hot Rod (2007) is the story of an aspiring stunt man (Samberg) and his quest to gain respect from his dying, abusive stepfather (Ian McShane). It funny. Isla Fisher, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone, Will Arnett, Chris Parnell, and Sissy Spacek fill out the cast.

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9. Full disclosure: I did not finish this one. I fell asleep and hope to one day finish this oddball flick. If I can ever find it again. John Michael McCarthy’s The Sore Losers (1997) is hard to describe fever dream of a movie and very rough around the edges, but it’s punk aesthetic and sense of anarchy amidst the sleaze and grime make it something you can’t just dismiss. An immortal alien comes to 1954 Earth to kill twelve random people. And that’s about the most I could reckon was happening.

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8. Who’s game for watching Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon meander around and eat expensive food for a third time? Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Spain (2017) once again pairs the two British actors together for some subtle drama and celebrity impression sparring. Maybe the novelty is wearing thin on some of you, but it’s divertingly entertaining for the rest of us.

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6. Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016) is German director Werner Herzog’s attempt to explain the internet. For a thing we are all connected to and for something that has become so dominant so quick, I was mesmerized learning about it. Lo and Behold is a fascinating look behind the motherboard. It may all seem like science fiction, but with Herzog behind the documentary camera, it all feels almost as if it were fantasy.

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5. This is another re-watch. I probably saw Rumble in the Bronx (1995) several times on TV as a kid. Jackie Chan movies were a wonderful tonal shift from the American style action flicks. Rumble, First Strike, and the Drunken Master movies were among my favorites. And this hasn’t really changed. Revisiting it again, I am perhaps more impressed with the action sequences and balance of danger and whimsy. It’s VERY Jackie Chan. He’s completely and unwaveringly good and noble (seemingly, his best friend is a 10 year old boy in a wheelchair). Conversely, the villainous gang members are wicked and heartless (except for the sexy Françoise Yip who warms up to Jackie). It’s all a silly spectacle with loads of bad dubbing, hammy lines, and cheesy plot contrivances, but it’s hard not to enjoy those too. Great fights and dangerous stunts. Anita Mui (who plays Jackie’s stepmother in Legends of the Drunken Master) is hilarious whenever she’s on screen. Directed by frequent Chan collaborator, Stanley Tong.

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4. There have been so many teen sex comedies chronicling intrepid and frequently awkward kids on the daunting quest of trying to lose their virginity. The Last American Virgin (1982) is a remake of director Boaz Davidson’s own 1978 Israeli film, Lemon Popsicle. The story follows Gary, Rick, and David, three high school buds learning about sex the fun way. And the embarrassing way. And the heartbreaking way. Gary (Lawrence Monoson) loves Karen (Diane Franklin), but Karen loves Rick (Steve Antin). Classic. It’s a funny and kind of sweet slice-of-life movie with a good cast and all the melodrama raging teen hormones can give you. It is perhaps doubly fascinating to consider this film on a continuum of coming-of-age teen movies. Perhaps closer to Everybody Wants Some!! (2016) than Rebel Without a Cause (1955). And the music! Oingo Boingo, U2, Devo, The Police, The Cars, Tommy Tutone, and more. It’s a wall-to-wall killer soundtrack.

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3. If you think have ridiculous neighbors, this documentary is for you. Shut Up, Little Man (2011) chronicles the unlikely cult phenomenon of two roommates surreptitiously audio-recorded their next door neighbors’ absurdly comical drunken verbal battles through the walls. Tapes were made and shared among friends and randos and then efforts for expanding the recordings of dubious legality into other mediums for profit. It’s weird, funny, and kind of heart breaking in a way. And it’s exactly the type of oddball subject I demand when viewing a documentary.

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2. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) is a darkly whimsical western anthology film about mortality and the wild frontier from the Coen Brothers. And it is as sublime as it is cruel. Like many of their previous movies (Burn After Reading, A Serious Man, Hail Caesar!), Buster Scruggs is more a philosophically nihilistic windup with the joke being that there ultimately isn’t a real punchline. It’s bleak and morbid and irreverent, but ultimately unfolds like a shaggy dog story, where the journey is more important than the destination. Sort of like life itself. This rather bloody and dusty trail may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it will prove to be a rewarding diversion for those with an appetite for the gleefully grim.

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1. Young People Fucking (2007) is a Canadian sex comedy that does something special for a comedy. It’s actually funny. Not only that; it’s clever. Written and directed by Martin Gero and Aaron Abrams, the film follows multiple couples at different phases of a relationship over the course of one night and demonstrates how the complex act of sex plays out for each. The big cast is balanced well, expertly written, and wonderfully acted. Sometimes painfully awkward, sometimes hopeful and touching, Y.P.F. (as it is alternately known) is consistently entertaining. I’m always a little biased when a comedy genuinely makes me laugh out loud.

And if you like my movie lists, I also do comics on Patheos.

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode XXX – Killer Soundtracks, Horror, and Crazy Evil

Once again I watch movies and rank them arbitrarily by what I thought of them.

Enjoy and Happy Halloween.

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17. I’ve never been more disappointed to see the Iron Giant. What happened to you, Steven Spielberg? You used to be cool. What even is Ready Player One (2018)? This unwatchable garbage somehow manages to make nostalgia feel as cheap, hollow, and gross as it probably should have been all along. Maybe it’s because I’m not a gamer, but I had a hard time finding anything interesting in the plot, the characters, or even the visuals. Obnoxious kids with no point of view play a video game in a giant online platform to Willy Wonka themselves into saving the digital world from a corporation. And a lot of the goings on hinge on the audience buying that the kids of the future will be as obsessed with 80s and 90s pop culture as we are.

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16. It may be boring and not scary in the least, but at least it’s annoying too. Stephen King’s Children of the Corn (1984) is the story of a rural Nebraska town where the kids have started worshiping some blood-thirsty entity and have killed all the adults. Then Linda Hamilton and her boyfriend wind up there. Creepy Midwestern cult town premise is fun. Sadly squandered on this movie. How did this manage to collect 8 sequels??

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15. Emilio Estevez is Billy the Kid and his gang is comprised of Lou Diamond Philips, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, Dermot Mulroney, and Casey Siemaszko in Young Guns (1988). And it is everything that Silverado did, but not as good. The cast is appealing and the scenery is gorgeous, but it doesn’t all quite flow. Weirdly, the sexy saxophone and electric guitar laden soundtrack by Anthony Marinelli and Brian Banks, while amazing by itself, really gives the movie as a whole a dated and hokey feel. Honestly, you can skip the film. Listen to the soundtrack. It’s great. Also features Terence Stamp, Terry O’Quinn, and Jack Palance.

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14. I will probably see anything that comes out of Aardman Studios. From Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run to The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, they have proven that they know silly and are pros in stop-motion animation. I trust them and I trust Nick Park. Early Man (2018) might be my least favorite, but it still has some comfortingly British quirk appeal. It’s about a clash of tribes (one more technologically advanced while the other is good-natured but simple and stunted) and how they meet on the soccer green to even things out.

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13. I love me some classic Jackie Chan and Armour of God 2: Operation Condor (1991) has some great action set pieces. Jackie and three international women (Carol Cheng, Eva Cobo, and Shôko Ikeda) race across Morocco to McGuffin McGuffin McGuffin. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. And that’s fine. The the Nazi base wind tunnel fight finale is a high point. Like a lot of Jackie Chan movies, it’s more about the star’s charm, charisma, and dangerous physical stunts that propel it forward. I would have ranked this one higher (as the fight choreography is great), but the godawful musical score sucks so much suspense and energy out of every single scene. Watch the movie. The wacky synth antics are way too silly and cheap. A lot of the non-physical comedy is awkward too. Then there’s the Tintin levels of racial caricature. But really, it’s the music that drags this adventure down several pegs.

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12. I hadn’t seen Hocus Pocus (1993) since I was a kid and I don’t think I ever watched the whole thing. I do find the typical 90’s Disney live -action teen protagonists to be insufferably saccharine and ultimately the story and squeaky tone are a bit too Disney channel made-for-TV Halloween movie-of-the-week for my taste, but those witches. Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, and Sarah Jessica Parker are having so much goddamn fun in their cartoony roles, that it’s absolutely infectious. Yes, the movie itself is cheesy and bad. And those talking cat special effects have not aged well. But the playfully fake and well lit sets and the wonderfully wacky witch performances make it more than watchable fun. Also, very young Thora Birch.

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11. I couldn’t make it more than 20 minutes into Tales from the Darkside. Maybe it gets better, but I couldn’t do it. So I switched to another zany horror anthology flick, Stephen King’s Creepshow (1982). It’s whimsical and macabre Halloween fun. I wish it had been a bit funnier or a bit scarier (or both), but it was a pleasant palette cleanser after Darkside failed to enthrall.

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10. This next one was an interesting recommendation (I do so appreciate those). Eyes of Fire (1983) is an independent horror flick set in the wild American frontier. Some settlers wander into uncharted territory where the Native tribes will not enter. But there’s something in the ground that is evil. It’s a unique, lo-fi slow-burn of a film, but it definitely has that folk horror atmosphere.

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9. Tales from the Hood 2 (2018) is the type of wacky, satirical horror anthology that I look for. The movie is just having fun spinning these tales and Keith David looks like he’s having an absolute blast chewing the scenery as an enigmatic storyteller. He’s telling stories to help program a police robot that would be used by a corrupt, racist private prison owner. Naturally, he installs the robot with a greater understanding of race relations than the inventor intended. I definitely need to watch the original Tales from the Hood now.

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8. So I take it that this movie disregards all but the first Halloween from 1978. If you love the deranged killer in a mask aesthetic, Michael Meyers is kind of the gold standard. Halloween (2018) sees Michael’s return, as well as the return of Jamie Lee Curtis (who looks just a bit too put together to be this obsessed, tortured recluse. Seriously, mess the woman’s hair up a bit or something). It’s got its share of silliness, but the movie’s strengths lie in capturing that pared down retro feel. It’s a simple little slasher flick that hearkens back to a simpler time. I wanted more of the babysitter and that kid dynamic. Only interesting characters in the movie.

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7. Beyond the Gates (2016) is a retro-styled indie horror flick that answers the question: What if Jumanji was Saw though? This very slow thriller follows two brothers who discover a spooky VCR board game in the back of an old VHS store. Can you feel the 80’s yet? Also, their dad might be trapped inside. I liked the understated performance by Graham Skipper, the synth intro, and the lady on the TV screen (Stuart Gordon regular, Barbara Crampton!). It’s slow, but atmospheric, and it has a bit of gore. Not a bad flick to stick on this Halloween.

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6. Ex-Machina director, Alex Garland, is back with more depressing sci-fi. Annihilation (2018) is a pretty solid story about life, evolution, and, potentially, our ultimate doom. Something lands from outer space and begins to spread like a cancer, slowly attaching itself to every living cell and altering the ecosystem in unexpected ways. It’s slow and smart and sometimes freaky. The main cast includes Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, and Gina Rodriguez. They are all fine actors, but something about the overall atmosphere of this movie renders their performances here sadly dull. This movie gets by on its intriguing concepts, metaphor, and some creepy visuals. Also, that music at the end in the lighthouse. What was that? Amazeballs. That’s what it was.

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5. The Raid director, Gareth Evans, tones the action down a bit in favor of a brooding period thriller set on a craggy island inhabited by a weird, budding cult. Apostle (2018) may pay some homage to the classic Wicker Man type of tale, but it had a few turns that make it something unique. It is beautifully shot too. There was one surprise about this particular cult that is revealed about two-thirds the way through and that is kind of what elevated it for me. It’s not The Witch, but overall, a pretty good period horror movie.

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4. Detention(2011) is a stylish surreal-meta-indie-horror-comedy-science-fiction film that is exploding with style and flare to spare. Is it a slasher movie? Is it a time travel movie? Is it a teen romance movie? Is it everything and more? Yes, to the last thing. Riley (Shanley Caswell) feels like a loser at Grizzly Lake High School. And prom is coming. And so is a masked serial killer. But this little comedy is far too clever to be so simple. I’d rather not say more. Watch it.

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3. If you are a fan of Dolemite, Blacula, or Coffy then chances are you’ll get exactly what Black Dynamite (2009) is doing. Black Dynamite pays homage to classic 70’s blaxploitation while also serving as a righteous spoof of the genre. It’s an over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek funky adventure that is running purely on its style and humor. The cast (led by co-writer Michael Jai White as the eponymous Black Dynamite) is all hitting the tone perfectly. This is a winky, clever movie for movie fans.

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2. And now for a little silent Scandinavian documentary on the history of witches. Haxan (1922) aims to educate, dramatize, and creep you out. Beginning with profiles on cross-cultural ghouls and ancient models of the universe, this bizarre film stages spooky reenactments set in witch hovels adorned with bird skeletons, cauldrons, and demons. It’s all pretty cool and watching it now, it functions as a twofold time capsule.

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1. Perhaps, the film with the most style this time around is Mandy (2018), and it is absolutely bonkers. Directed by Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow), this is one gnarly and seriously messed up movie. It’s a simple revenge plot. Evil cult does bad things. Nicolas Cage must get revenge. But between purple lit chainsaw duels and LSD-addled demon biker gangs, there’s a weirdness that’s hard to quite put a finger on. It feels like a dream, or, perhaps more aptly, a drug-induced nightmare. It’s violent, mean, and totally insane. For those with the appetite for this type of nonsense, it comes highly recommended. Once again, the score is hypnotic.

THE LAST FEW MOVIES I SAW: EPISODE XXIX – Son of the List

The last few movies I saw in order of what I thought of them. Special bonus round of short films from the Batroun Mediterranean Film Festival! Visiting Lebanon has been fun.

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If the whole cast played it with the weird over-the-top winky humor of Nick Kroll, it may have been salvageable. As is, Uncle Drew (2018) is depressingly unfunny, uncool, tone deaf, and the basketball action is filmed so badly and lazily it embarrasses everyone involved. Your favorite NBA players pretending to be old and crushing it at basketball shouldn’t be a joyless slog. It should be light, breezy, silly, and fun.

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Love, Simon (2018) is a coming of age tale about a high school student coming out as gay to his family and friends. In an unrelatably kush and affluent town at an unbelievably twee and pristine movie high school. Color me jaded. I did not like the presentation.

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I like creature features. I’m easy. I know this. Critters 2: The Main Course (1988) is fun, schlocky mayhem with enough cheesy puppets and gore to satisfy fans of the Gremlins-knockoff sub-genre of horror comedy. Alien bounty hunters and giant, killer critter balls of destruction galore.

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Laserblast (1978) is the unintentionally hilarious story about loser who finds an extraterrestrial arm cannon death-ray and becomes a real jerk. This movie is cheap. It looks like shit. The nasty stop-motion aliens are regrettably adorable. I kind of dig the gun though. The small town desert setting was interesting. And just the joy of this idiot getting revenge on all these bumpkin townsfolk before the aliens can unceremoniously stop him, is worth it. More than anything though, it made me want to watch Turbo Kid again.

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I recently re-watched a move that I must have seen dozens of times. The Golden Child (1986) was always on TV when I was a kid. Watching it as an adult, it’s got a lot more chinks in its armor that I wished to remember. Eddie Murphy is sleepier and less funny than in most of his other movies from this time. The tone bounces from quirky supernatural hijinks (like a less inspired Big Trouble in Littler China) to a young murdered girl’s blood found in oatmeal to get a magic Chinese baby to eat it so demons can take over (or something). It doesn’t work most of the time, but it still has a dancing Pepsi can and one or two memorable supernatural encounters. Charlotte Lewis is still hot. Charles Dance is still menacing. And who doesn’t get lost in Victor Wong’s face?

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Italian cinema is great at being either arty or wonderfully violent and sacrilegious. The Church (1989) was co-written by Dario Argento and I, for one, will suffer through the slow incomprehensible bits to get to the glorious punctuations of wicked insanity. It’s not the best example of Italian horror, but there’s enough in here to make it an occasionally restrained bonkers. An old cathedral is built on top of a mass grave. Naturally, demons happen.

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I’ll be honest. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) has a LOT of problems. Some of them casting. Some of them directing. Most of them lighting. Why is every scene so washed out and dark and impossible to see? For all my misgivings, of all the Disney-helmed Star Wars movies, this one had the best plot. It’s actually kind of a fun space adventure. At least you can feel that in the script. And it does have its moments. Chewbacca was fun in this one. Childish Gambino had a few cute scenes. At least everything wasn’t terrible. Which, for me these days, is a rave review of a Star Wars movie.

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Tickled (2016) is a documentary about Kiwi journalist David Farrier and his haphazard discovery of the online tickle fetish community and a sick and seedy underworld character who maliciously entraps and blackmails his victims. Truly, anything can happen on the internet. Best beware. A fun trip down a dark rabbit hole that more resembles a spider’s web the further Farrier explores. I wish the film were able to provide more closure.

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Ghost Stories (2017) is a handsome looking modern supernatural horror with just the right balance of black humor to spine tingles. Three spooky tales are connected as a paranormal debunker (played by Andy Nyman, who also co-wrote and co-directed) tries to unravel the mysteries to prove to himself and the world that there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark. But no matter how empirical and skeptical one may be, some things still haunt you. Clever, delicious twists, and genuine chills.

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Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005) is another coming-of-age story about a young man discovering he is attracted to men. He’s up against homophobia, four brothers, and a very conservative father. Set in Quebec in the 1960s and 70s, the film has an impressive soundtrack of popular songs. It’s an entertaining little drama with humor and heart.

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Spike Lee doing genre movies is…well, it takes getting used to. He infuses a bit of racial commentary, but Inside Man (2006) is just a pretty solid heist thriller. Well cast (Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster are standouts) and tightly wound, it’s nice to see just a good, focused crime drama. Even if I will forever unfairly compare movies like this to Dog Day Afternoon, but that’s my own bit of baggage.

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I don’t usually watch concept album movies so I’m not sure how to score this. Singer Janelle Monáe stars in Dirty Computer (2018). It’s more of a long, stylish music video than a movie. But there’s a thematic narrative in there. All in all, I loved the music and the look. But this may be cheating to include in here. What’s next? I include standup specials I watch? Maybe.

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Welcome to low-key high-stakes world of hifalutin modern art galleries and the denizens that keep it all going. This is Ruben Östlund’s The Square (2017). It’s a subtle and satirical film that follows a museum curator who deals with personal drama while promoting a new installation and trying to avert scandal. It is a barbed film that skewers artist pomposity, viral marketing, manufactured controversy, free speech, classism, and the politics of balancing it all while remaining relevant and edgy (but not too edgy). A slow burn, but great.

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Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You (2018) is a brilliantly stylized black comedy and brutal social commentary on corporatism and race politics. The dark absurdist sense of humor takes a bit getting accustomed to, but by the end you will be glad you did. Struggling call center employee Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) dons a “white voice” to maneuver up the corporate ranks, but at what cost? Perhaps his very humanity.

BONUS ROUND!!!

So after finishing the month of August at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I went to Beirut, Lebanon with a comedian friend to unwind. In the fishing town of Batroun I got to attend the Batroun Mediterranean Film Festival. In a beautiful outdoor atrium in a museum showcasing the Lebanese diaspora, I got to see the opening ceremonies and four short films. Including the festival winner!

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Como yo te amo (2016) is a Spanish comedy directed by Fernando García-Ruiz Rubio. A petty thief falls in love with the officer that arrested him and spends the next several years committing crimes just for the chance to see her again.

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“Santa Claus is a capitalist.” Kapitalistis (2017) is a Belgian comedy directed by Pablo Munoz Gomez. A poor father takes on odd jobs in order to get his 5 year old son the expensive Power Max backpack he desperately wants. It’s cute and quirky and the just the right amount of dark holiday cynicism.

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Sound of Vladivostok (2018) is a Russian documentary directed by Marios Ioannou Elia. In the spirit of Dziga Vertov’s 1929 The Man with a Movie Camera, this wordless, plotless journey is more about showcasing the aural grandeur and majesty of this amazing Eastern city. Short, but inspiring and beautiful.

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The festival winner was the Lebanese sci-fi comedy mockumentary, Manivelle: The Last Days of the Man of Tomorrow (2017), directed by Fadi Baki Fdz. It chronicles the life of a decaying and increasingly delusional mechanical man. Once an impressive gift bestowed to the people of Lebanon by the French in the 1940s, later a wannabe movie star and socialite and political weapon, now a decrepit out of touch mass of wires and parts who refuses to acknowledge the sins of his past. It’s a great short and I also cannot thank the director enough for letting me crash at his place during my stay in Beirut. For folks on my Instagram, that’s whose cat has been sleeping on me all the time.

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.

THE LAST FEW MOVIES I SAW: EPISODE XXVII – More of the Same

I make the movie list again. You don’t own me. The order is based on vaguely how much I liked them.

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Ghoulies (1984) kind of sucks. It’s just barely better than Dolls. It has one or two fun scenes, but it’s altogether too bloodless and devoid of even cheesy scares. If you’ve ever had a rubber puppet that got half melted from being left on a hot porch for a week and played with it afterward, I guarantee you that was more entertaining. Demon conjuring should be more fun than this.

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I love Stephen Chow. Or, perhaps, more accurately, I really liked Shaolin Soccer and keep hoping I’ll get something close to the genius of Kung-Fu Hustle again. The Mermaid (2016) is a chaotic mess. It’s crammed with madness and some unconventional convolutions and it does have a couple moments that approach humor or elegance, but ultimately this fantasy tale of a mermaid posing as a human to lure and assassinate an eccentric billionaire developer to save her dying clan (pod? school? shoal?) is just ugly and bounces a bit too concussively between awkwardly handled wacky, cartoon slapstick to shocking, serious violence laden with ham-handed heavy environmental messaging. I guess it’s a kid’s movie. Credit for being imaginative (read as “different”). It’s still ugly to look at.

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Director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) adapts Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice (2014) with Joaquin Phoenix as stoner detective Larry “Doc” Sportello in 1970s Los Angeles. It’s stylish, dry, and I’m sure it’s not bad, but I have no memory of anything that happens in it. Every time I try to recall something from this movie I can only come up with scenes from The Long Goodbye, The Big Lebowski, or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. All other movies I love and actually want to see again.

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Malibu Express (1985) is terrible, sexist 80s action schlock of the highest order. It’s dimwitted, gratuitously nudity filled, and wonderfully unintentionally hilarious. If you liked Samurai Cop, Miami Connection, or Hard Ticket to Hawaii, this should be next on your list.

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Before Sam Raimi directed Spiderman and fresh off the Evil Dead trilogy, there was Darkman (1990), a wholly original superhero revenge fantasy thriller seemingly taking cues from classic horror (like 1932’s Doctor X). Liam Neeson is a scientist who gets blown up by the mafia, but comes back with a hideous disfigurement, super-strength, uncontrollably volatile mood-swings, an unevenly portrayed aversion to the sun, and the ability to scientifically replicate anyone’s face with synthetic flesh to exact revenge and attempt to maintain a normal relationship with his girlfriend (Frances McDormand). This is a re-watch as it was on TV a lot when I was a kid. I think I have developed a newfound appreciation for it. It’s bonkers and great fun. The makeup, special effects, and action set-pieces are a great. This character straight up murders dudes. Spiderman doesn’t do that. This is pure, over-the-top Raimi.

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Hidden Figures (2016) is based on the inspiring true story of the black female mathematicians who had to deal with both sexism, racism, and personal hardship to help NASA get to space to compete with the Soviets. It’s a quiet, safe, historical movie you can watch with your mom (which I did). The only real prejudice this movie has to overcome with me, however, is my longstanding beef with movies about math. The excellent cast and clean cinematography elevate it a notch above charming and the historical significance bumps it up another couple notches. I did spend an inordinate amount of time subconsciously anticipating Taraji P. Henson getting it on with a fish monster. Thanks, Del Toro. You’ve ruined female-protagonists-working-for-the-US-government-during-the-Cold-War-co-starring-Octavia-Spencer movies.

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I’m not a monster. I swear. I understand fully that Howling II: …Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985) is objectively a horrible movie. It is also the hardest I’ve laughed in a long time. The end credits simply destroyed me. I was left in total disbelief and in physical pain from laughing. I don’t even remember the plot making much sense. I just remember grotesquely awkward werewolf orgies and Christopher Lee. No matter how awful the movie is, Mr. Lee retains his dignity throughout. Like a goddamn champ. Sybil Danning (Malibu Express) also shines as Stirba, the werewolf queen or something. Legit, she’s fantastic and having a blast with this stupid, stupid movie.

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Neill Blomkamp will never live down the success of District 9. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to make interesting, junk-filled sci-fi worlds. Chappie (2015) is the gritty reboot of Short Circuit we didn’t know we wanted. It has some decent action and the robot effects look amazing. But in my humble opinion, casting Die Antwoord (Ninja and Yolandi Visser) was hands down the best decision made here. Dev Patel is good too, but he has a tough time competing with mulleted Hugh Jackman murder-gasming in a Robocop death robot. Then they start downloading souls into computers and it’s just too stupid for me. I can handle a lot of stupid (see Howling 2), but come on. This is what this movie is about? We’re downloading souls? But I’m weird. I want a whole movie of Yolandi Visser reading storybooks to a robot.

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Thor: Ragnorak (2017) is the first Marvel movie I think actually liked. Not just tolerated, but more or less enjoyed.  Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy were decently entertaining too. This was better. No small part of this has to do with director Taika Waititi (What We Do In the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), I’m sure. It’s still a lot of mindless CG bloat, but it has the spirit of fun about itself. The actors are actually charming in this one too and it might be the first time I didn’t totally hate how the Marvel Cinematic Universe directed all of its action scenes.

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Political chaos! This seems familiar. I enjoyed Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin (2017) not as an accurate portrayal of the political power vacuum in the Soviet Union following the death of Joseph Stalin, but for it’s sheer viciousness in depicting the cutthroat, two-facedness of modern politics. This is pitch black comedy at its pitch blackest. Like In the Loop, the script crackles with fork-tongued insults being flung by an exceedingly capable cast. Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, and Steve Buscemi are stand-outs.

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Wes Anderson gonna do what a Wes Anderson do. All of his typical motifs are here. Twee, quirky, dry adult despondency galore. That said, he knows his strengths and winds them all up tight as a drum in this complex—and surprisingly political—plot about dogs, boys, Japan, propaganda, and love. This is Isle of Dogs (2018). Even if the emotional distance his characters typically insist upon alienates you, it is stunningly gorgeous to look at. And the offbeat comedy, sprawling cast of favorites, inventive stop-motion animation, and continuously rising stakes should pull you in even further. The world and atmosphere of this movie is pure cinema magic. And one that can only be realized via stop-motion.

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Aubrey Plaza stars in Ingrid Goes West (2017). Ingrid is a troubled social media addict who stalks an Instagram celebrity (Elizabeth Olsen) into friendship. And eventually her haphazard tapestry of lies and deceptions catches up with her. This is the type of bleak, black comedy that perhaps functions better as a subtle horror movie of our modern world. Very well written characters and marvelous tension.

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In Five Easy Pieces (1970), Jack Nicholson is an underachieving wash-up who leaves his job on the oil rigs to return home to see his dying father. He is an angry, impulsive, sad man spinning his wheels but going nowhere, unable to create meaningful relationships and perhaps it is refreshing to know these symptoms are not a Millennial affectation. The great performances, gritty unglamorousness, and the transportative time-capsule quality old movies possess are more than reason enough to check this classic out.

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Police Beat (2005) is the simple tale of an African immigrant bike cop in Seattle going through the monotony of facing mysterious crimes whilst battling a paranoid internal monologue regarding the departure of his American girlfriend. It’s weirdly hypnotic. A real surprise treat. I loved it.

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This is another re-watch. I first discovered Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles (1989) while doing my college radio show that specifically sought out batshit movies. Upon each viewing, I realize newfound appreciation for this little gem. Meet the Feebles may be my favorite Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) movie. It is such an unapologetic assault on the viewer that you actually have to admire the revolting excesses the filmmakers put their all-puppet cast through. There are multiple disgusting and depressing plots to follow, but the basic outline is that it is the premier of a brand new variety show and everything goes wrong. It has ups and downs throughout, but once you hit the final act, buckle up for pure Jackson unhinged. Sex, drugs, gore, mass murder; you name it, this movie has it. And all with puppets. And it’s a musical! Mean-spirited, sleazy, gross, and completely hilarious. Meet the Feebles is hideous and wonderful. It won’t be for everybody, but screw those guys.

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Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Synecdoche New York) and Duke Johnson team up to create the most depressing stop-motion film possibly ever. I loved it. Anomalisa (2015) is the story of Michael Stone (David Thewlis), a depressed middle-aged man who is suffocating in the mundanity of existence. Literally every single voice he hears—whether it’s the radio, cab drivers, airline passengers, or his own family—sound exactly the same (all voiced by Tom Noonan). And then he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Anomalisa is a gorgeously, subtly animated film that might feel a little too real for comfort. On a list that includes The Death of Stalin and Ingrid Goes West, this is the blackest comedy here. It’s an emotionally gutting experience. But sometimes, I like to be gutted.

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode XXVI – Kneel Before Breen

I watched more movies because I’m stupid. Ordered, as always, worst to best.

This list contains a perhaps uncharacteristically high number of what would traditionally be labeled as “bad” or “so-bad-it’s-good” movies. I take movies very seriously. Not all movies—or even all bad movies—are created equally. As subjective a scale as it may be, I have tried to rank the films (good and bad) by genuine enjoyability. For this reason, we must look beyond the technical aspects to the deeper things within.

21. The Wizard of Paws (2015) was a stupid decision. Talking magic dog and a kid reeling from the death of his dad or something. We didn’t finish it. It was perplexing, upsetting, and awful, I’ll give it that, but, as you will see, there are far better bad films out there. Just wait.

20. James Franco directs and stars as infamous bad movie icon, Tommy Wiseau, in The Disaster Artist (2017). Like many folks, I have a long, torrid, personal relationship with The Room. From my first viewing of it years ago and finding everything Wiseau had ever done to some awkward, fresh-out-of-college attempts to pitch a series with him, we go way back. That said, turning the celebrated bad movie into a standard Hollywood comedy about making a bad movie in Hollywood has risks. It has its moments, but it will never be as entertaining as The Room and that’s probably obvious. However, it also falls short of being as interesting or revealing as Rick Harper’s documentary Room Full of Spoons. And for movies about making movies I think it’s hard to compete with Tim Burton’s Ed Wood or Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion. You can tell they love The Room, but this one feels more geared toward James Franco and Seth Rogen fans rather than The Room aficionados.

19. Re-watching Peter Yates’ sword and sorcery and science-fiction epic, Krull (1983), reminded me why I remembered it and why I hadn’t watched it in so long. Really good start and moments of fun, but ultimately a bit of an aimless slog. With an impressive budget, this space-fantasy misfire boasts some wonderful sets and visuals, yet these high points are dashed by weak leads, a dopey story, and every single scene going on for way too long. Krull could have been as fun as Flash Gordon but, in its attempts to take itself more seriously and mimic Conan the Barbarian (and failing), it falls short. Despite being geared to adults craving high fantasy, Dark Crystal is more grownup than Krull. Watchable, but meh.

18. One of the last cel-animated feature films for Disney (and one that apparently tanked so hard they put all focus onto CG features after that) was Treasure Planet (2002). The environments, atmosphere, and animation are fluid and beautifully rendered. A lot of the comedy doesn’t quite work, but it’s a beautifully realized adventure story that, while not be perfect, is still a lot of fun. It’s Treasure Island in space. Kid me would have loved this. The Ice Pirates is another pirates in space movie if you need more.

17. Star Wars: the Last Jedi (2017) is another Star Wars movie. This is a series that continues to draw me in with its nostalgia and continues to be alternately interesting and disappointing. Mark Hamill gives probably his best performance as Luke in this one, despite his misgivings about the script. You’ve already seen the movie by now. It’s a bit of a mess. As a Star Wars film or just as a film, it just doesn’t feel complete or focused. Like The Force Awakens, it at least looks good and it’s not completely devoid of entertainment value. Just not something I feel the need to see again.

16. You really couldn’t ask for a more uninspiring title for a movie about hitmen (and women) than Hired to Kill (1990). A bro-y mercenary guy (Brian Thompson) assembles a crack squad of mercenary ladies to pose as fashion models so they can go kill somebody in South America for some reason. It’s stupid and laden with cringeworthy machismo, but the villain being played by a blatantly drunk Oliver Reed really bumps this one up.

15. Wolfgang Petersen (NeverEnding StoryDas BootAir Force One) directs the sci-fi flick about overcoming your intergalactic differences, Enemy Mine (1985). Unwieldy double entendre title and out-of-place attempts at wacky hijinks aside, this space version of John Boorman’s Hell in the Pacific is actually pretty good. Dennis Quaid (the human) is serviceable, and Louis Gossett, Jr. (the hermaphroditic alien) puts more effort in than what might be required. The makeup and special effects are pretty good and it has some solid scenes between the two uneasy allies. It suffers from some awkward tonal shifts and a lagging pace, but it’s worth a look. Or just watch Hell in the Pacific instead with Toshio Mifune and Lee Marvin.

14. I never saw Bad Santa (2003) before. It was funny. It had a good cast. I liked the story. Director Terry Zwigoff (Ghost WorldCrumb) has an eye for oddballs and misfits. Billy Bob Thornton is an alcoholic burglar who poses as a mall Santa Claus. He’s bad. Get it? His reluctant relationship with a socially inept boy (Brett Kelly) is the heart of the movie. Tony Cox, Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham, and John Ritter round out the cast of funny people.

13. This next one is in the same wheelhouse as Samurai Cop and Miami Connection. Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) is the movie the biggest meatheads in your high school would have put together. Hilarious amounts of unjustified nudity, over the top nonsensical violence, thinly veiled homophobia, misogyny, and overall amateurishness, make this schlocky low-budget action flick a must-watch. Its incompetence make it a little hard to follow, but it has enough laugh-out-loud moments that I have to recommend it.

12. More aliens! I sought this one out after The Nightmare documentary piqued my interest. Christopher Walken is suffering from selective amnesia after aliens probe him in Communion (1989). This was actually better than I was expecting. It’s a little cheesy, but the performances and ominous surreality elevate it into something genuinely fascinating. Communion is a movie that treats its “out there” subject with refreshing compassion.

11. Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009) is a very well-crafted sci-fi rumination on what it means to be human yada yada yada. I’d hate to spoil anything, but it is more than Act II of 2001: a Space Odyssey. Sam Rockwell gives an amazing couple of performances here. The Clint Mansell score is also pretty good.

10. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (Jesus Camp) turn their documentarian eye toward religion once again. Hasidic Jewish community of New York City are the focus of One of Us (2017), and it is every bit as upsetting as Jesus Camp. The Hasidic community has a lot in common with the Amish. For all the piety and devotion to tradition, there is also a controlling insularity that seriously hinder development and impede escape. Watch this with Louis Theroux’s My Scientology Movie and then take a long moment and seriously examine your own religion and the walls it may also have.

9. Monsters again. I was honestly expecting C.H.U.D. (1984) to be another so-bad-it’s-good creature feature, but, to my surprise C.H.U.D. (aka Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers) simply delivers as a movie. It’s got a solid cast you care about, gritty and atmospheric locations, and surprisingly human portrayal of the homeless. There are reports of disappearances in the sewers and only one cop (Christopher Curry), a homeless preacher man (Daniel Stern), and a photographer (John Heard) seem to be interested in uncovering why. Kim Griest and George Martin also have fun roles. Despite the films intentional lack of closure, C.H.U.D., while maybe no They Live or The Stuff, is well worth a watch. Weirdly, the monsters themselves are the weakest element in the movie.

8. Wadjda (2102), directed by Haifaa Al Mansour, is a Saudi film about a little girl who wants a bike in a culture that forbids girls to ride bikes. Simple setup. Waad Mohammed gives a natural performance as the title character, Wadjda. Traditions and culture can be stifling and the filmmakers understand that all too well. The characters’ struggles are real and by the end, you really, really want her to get that damn bike.

7. Too cultural? Not enough monsters? What if we combine the two? Kimiyoshi Yasuda’s Yokai Monsters: One Hundred Monsters (1968) is everything. A little more Kwaidan than Hausu, but great fun all the way. One hundred Japanese ghosts and demons come together to thwart the bad guys. Also there are samurai. Wonderfully fun practical effects and puppetry give the production a very unique feel. I’ll be watching this one again soon.

6. Let’s stay in Japan a half tick longer. Woman in the Dunes (1964), directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara (The Face of Another), is the story of an entomologist (Eiji Okada) who winds up trapped in a hovel buried in the sand with a strange widow (Kyōko Kishida). That’s all you need to get started. Sumptuously photographed. Beautiful and compelling.

5. You may think I’m insane, but holy hell, was Chopping Mall (1986) a lot of fun. It was everything I wanted in a movie about mall security robots that get struck by lightning and become evil and go on a murder spree against some unsuspecting teens. I laughed out loud. I cheered. I yelled at the screen. Chopping Mall knows what it is and is having a blast doing it. We are at maximum cheese here. Get ready for gleeful, creative violence, hammy acting, and a killer synth-pop score by Chuck Cirino.

4. Under normal circumstances this would be a B movie. But not so. Dear Guillermo del Toro, please, continue to make adult fairy tales. The Shape of Water (2017) goes right alongside Cronos, The Devil’s Backbone, and Pan’s Labyrinth. Sally Hawkins gives a captivating performance as the mute cleaning lady who falls in love with a South American fish man and possible god (Doug Jones) while working at a secret underground government facility . The style, quirkiness, and danger are balanced very well. Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, and Michael Stuhlberg provide great support. The Shape of Water is beautiful and brimming with imagination and tenderness.

3. OK, so after The Shape of Water I developed a slight crush on Sally Hawkins and was recommended Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky (2008). Hawkins plays Poppy, a spunky primary teacher exploding with positivity and charm that can come off as annoying to folks like her tightly-wound driving instructor (played by Eddie Marsan). Optimistic, genuinely funny, and affectingly human, Happy-Go-Lucky is a breath of fresh air. I absolutely fell in love with the character of Poppy and her hopeful worldview. Maybe you will too.

2. Silver Streak (1976), starring Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, Patrick McGoohan, and Jill Clayburgh is one of the great train movies. Directed by Arthur Hiller (The In-Laws, The Man in the Glass Booth), Silver Streak plays like a sexy hybrid of North By Northwest and The Taking of Pelham 123. The chemistry between the actors is brilliant (no wonder Wilder and Pryor would go on to do three more movies together—all of which fall short of this perfect flick). A book editor (Wilder) is taking the Silver Streak from Los Angeles to Chicago when he meets a beautiful woman (Clayburgh), witnesses a murder, and gets thrown from the train again and again trying to save the girl. On one of his detours he meets up with a thief (Pryor) who becomes a friend and help on his mission. I had seen this movie years ago, but I don’t think I fully appreciated it at the time. Also features Ray Walston, Ned Beatty, Scatman Crothers, and Richard Kiel.

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  1. OK. Let’s break the world. My absolute favorite movie screening was a drunken double-feature of two Neil Breen films. I had previously reviewed Double Down and found it to be something special, but in context of Breen’s entire oeuvre, it has catapulted in significance. We hunkered down with our mellow selves to enjoy Fateful Findings (2012) and I Am Here …. Now (2009) back to back. Then a week later we polished off his canon with Pass Thru (2016). Honestly, if you love strange, incoherent, singular visions unimpeded by studio demands or audience expectations and drunk on their own delusional obsessions and ham-handed messages, then please, for the love of everything, watch Neil Breen. Breen eclipses Tommy Wiseau and James Nguyen (Birdemic) in a way that is should be impossible. 

In a way he is a miracle. A gift given by the gods of film. Breen is driven by several passions and you can begin to assemble a fairly probable biography of the writer/director/actor/producer/caterer/music-picker-outer/etc. from spotting repeated motifs and child-like fixations in his work. I could explain the shenanigans that go on within the meticulously constructed worlds he builds in each movie; their flaws, their quirks, their incomprehensible plots, their Tim and Eric-flavored acting, but Breen truly must be seen to be believed. No other person has given me more joy in recent memory, which maybe is sad. Maybe it’s crazy. But I believe in Breen and cannot wait for his new movie, Twisted (which you can help make happen here: https://www.gofundme.com/Twisted-Neil-Breen-Film).

Not all movies—or even all bad movies—are created equally. The films of Neil Breen feel like anthropology classes. They are an intense, intimate character study of the filmmaker himself. They contain endless mystery and questions and I mean this with no irony: I fucking love them.