The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode XXXV – Very Important Stuff

It’s like I keep watching movies or something. That’s crazy. Anyway, if you’re new to this format. I watch several films at random and arbitrarily rank them against each other based on my subjective whims.

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19. What can you say about Hal Needham’s Megaforce (1982) that Team America: World Police hasn’t already? For a movie engineered around doing motorcycle stunts and blowing stuff up in the desert with tanks, this is one long, dull, and very beige slog. Barry Bostwick stars as Ace Hunter, the leader of a crack squad of international soldiers armed with the best technology ever dreamed. Together they go after Duke Gurerra (Henry Silva) and kind of just mess up his base. But then it turns out it’s a trap and Gurerra won’t let them leave. Megaforce has a couple laugh-out-loud WTF moments, but most of the time I was trying to figure out the plot.

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18. The original Jaws is a natural disaster/creature feature masterpiece. The concept is straightforward. The cast is great. Infamous for its slew of sequels of diminishing quality, Jaws 2 (1978) follows Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) dealing with yet another shark on Amity beach. No Robert Shaw. No Richard Dreyfuss. No epic bond forged by three hapless shark hunters on a mission. Instead we get some teens and Brody running around being as sweaty as ever. It’s forgettable, but it’ll entertain while it’s happening.

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17. I keep watching Howling movies. I still have yet to see the original Joe Dante film, but I have developed an obsession since watching Howling III: The Marsupials and Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (aka Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch) and now Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988). And, yes, in that order. Admittedly this series is a hot garbage mess with fluctuating cinematic ineptitude, but dammit if they aren’t fun as hell. There is barely any werewolf stuff in this movie. Possibly three seconds total, mostly of a pretty bad looking puppet head only shown in closeup and most assuredly, not originally filmed for this movie. These movies may be unapologetic schlock, but they still make me howl.

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16. A Night in Heaven (1983) is the story of a love triangle between a NASA scientist, his frumpy and affection-denied speech teacher wife, and her failing student who strips to pay his way through college. And it is told in the most un-cinematic and confusing of ways. Who is the main character? What is the moral? Is it just a slice of life cutting between male strip club hijinks and a quiet engineer ominously loading his gun? I really want to spoil the ending here because it is insane. After the woman (Leslie Anne Warren) finally succumbs to her student’s advances and she gets one night in heaven, she’s ready to throw it all away. But then stripper boy sexes someone else up. The only way to reset the timeline and undo this horrible infidelity is for NASA husband to secretly kidnap stripper boy, take him to the swamp, force him to strip naked at gunpoint, shoot at him, and leave him for dead. Then he goes home and forgives his wife and the music swells. I get that the character needed to reassert his dominance and masculinity, but the movie posits that this was a good thing?? The movie is bonkers and we laughed a lot, but truly the soundtrack is fantastic.

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15. Robot thrillers are becoming less and less clunky as a subgenre. And that is reason to celebrate. I Am Mother (2019) is the story of the robot Mother (Rose Byrne and Luke Hawker), her human daughter (Clara Ruugard), and the strange woman (Hillary Swank) who enters their self-contained world. A twisty and turny slow-burn that keeps you paranoid and guessing. Sleek sci-fi minimalism with wonderful puppetry.

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14. For the life of me, I can’t remember which Thin Man movies I’ve already seen. If you’re a fan of the sardonic sleuthing alcoholic couple of Nick and Nora Charles (played, as always by William Powell and Myrna Loy) then why not polish off the series with this race track caper, Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) and whatever other movies are left? More sarcastic remarks! More sleuthing! Markedly less alcoholism. They have a kid now. Like a lot of famous detectives, the show is less about the mystery plot and more about the detectives themselves. And I, for one, am chill with that.

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13. Dennis Quaid is a loser navy pilot who gets shrunk down to the size of a cell in a top secret science experiment, but then gets accidentally injected into Martin Short’s ass. This is Joe Dante’s Innerspace (1987). It’s a wacky plot with plenty of clever twists and turns and unique problems to solve and ultimately becomes the story of a nebbish learning to listen to his literal inner-voice to find the courage to be a man. Wonderful visual effects and tightly structured storytelling. Meg Ryan and Robert Picardo co-star.

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12. I love Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. I’m human. How could I not. For the life of me, I have seen Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) more than once and I still don’t really know what it’s about. Gentleman thief saves a girl from a gangster yadda yadda yadda. The real star of this movie is the castle. All the nooks and crannies. All the gears and cogs. All beautifully animated and marvelous to look at.

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11. I hope you’re well-versed in Japanese prefectures and their stereotypes. Fly Me to Saitama (2019) is essentially a live-action anime. Cartoonishly over-the-top melodrama and flamboyant costumes in outlandish situations reveling in the absurdity of the empty quest for status and nurturing of regional pride. Framed as a radio drama on a ride from Saitama to Tokyo, the story may be a trifle, but it’s a passably humorous romp into a zany world where everyone has donned their most ridiculous cosplay.

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10. This next one is real hard to score. Night God (2018), directed by Adilkhan Yerzhanov, is a surreal intersection of a mystic Kazakh past and an oppressive post-Soviet present. A depressing series of weird, cold, and wet tableau vivants steeped in cultural despair and existential dread. I could not tell you what Night God is about. I’m not even sure I could honestly recommend it to anybody. Amidst the gradual succession of dilapidated interiors, I found myself feeling frustrated, curious, depressed, disconnected, and full of unease. Less a film and more an unabashedly arty lingering Kafkaesque nightmare that absolutely refuses to hold your hand. While not typically the norm, sometimes I like to be challenged in this way by something I’m completely unfamiliar with.

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9. Well, I’m glad I finally got around to this bad boy. Society (1989) is exactly the type of satirical body-horror bizarro teen flick that appeals to me. OK, so not as good as They Live or The Stuff, and Society‘s lead (try as he might) is no hunky Marty McFly, but come on? A twisted riff on the upper class’s insidious control, incestuousness, and alien-ness with a grimly gross final act? Count me in. The tone may feel a bit wobbly, but it’s definitely worth a look. And WAY better than TerrorVision.

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8. I am very late to the party, I realize, but up until recently I had never seen Quentin Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez experiment known as Grindhouse (2007). I have been a casual fan of both filmmakers as well as a few real classic grindhouse/exploitation flicks. And I love that the two directors tackle the assignment of making a modern grindhouse movie with very different tools and visions. Rodriguez’ Planet Terror is a perfect zombie apocalypse gross-out gore-fest. It’s effortlessly bonkers and absurd and positively wonderful in its darkly cheesy tone. If Rose McGowan with a gun for a leg riding a motorcycle doesn’t make you cheer, you are dead inside.

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7. Planet Terror may be a fun throwback to classic undead gore, but Tarantino’s Death Proof is an utterly brilliant slow-burn horror. Kurt Russell plays a stuntman who kills women with his souped up car and the film is more or less just a big wind up to its signature car chase. Death Proof is cleverly structured and gleefully suspenseful and, honestly, stands on its own as just a solid movie outside of the grindhouse concept. The fake movie trailers that punctuate both films in this wild double-feature are also hilarious and fantastically entertaining. The trailers were directed by Rodriguez, Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, and Eli Roth. While everyone may have their favorites of the bunch, it’s best to watch them together as they were meant to be seen.

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6. The Hot Rock (1972), directed by Peter Yates, is a heist movie starring Robert Redford, George Segal, Moses Gunn, and Zero Mostel. Getting the diamond out of the museum was only the first part. The suspense continues as they keep having to do more cons and more capers to keep track of it and deliver it to their benefactor. Sleek and fun.

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5. The Burial of Kojo (2018), directed by Blitz Bazawule, is a pensive, lyrical Ghanaian film about a little girl’s journey to the spirit world to save her father who has been betrayed by his jealous brother. Slow but sumptuous. Steeped in vibrant colors and an unsettling atmosphere of  tragedy, it’s a rich visual experience that operates on a sort of poetic dream logic.

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4. Writer/director/actor Ryland Brickson Cole Tews marries his cartoonish sense of humor to the aesthetics of a Guy Maddin film for Lake Michigan Monster (2018), a freshwater shanty concerning a deranged faux lighthouse captain’s quest to murder the creature that killed his daddy. Or did it? Or did it have a good reason? Or what even is the Lake Michigan Monster. A briny yarn caked in barnacles and slapstick nonsense. I enjoyed the whole schmear, but the third act is where it captivated me with its bonkers creativity and wonderfully silly special effects.

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3. Yasujirō Ozu (Tokyo Story) is the master of subtle, sublime, slice-of-life storytelling. Good Morning (1959) follows a family in a small Tokyo suburb and the many mini-dramas that play out when two brothers take a vow of silence to pressure their parents into buying a television set. Soft and gentle and simply human.

2. Miguel Llansó (Crumbs) has as unique a cinematic vision as you may ever find and it is exactly my kind of bonkers. Put him alongside Jim Hosking and Harmony Korine. Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (2019) is a spy-fi retro-futurist spoof of, I guess, the internet. Agent Gagano (Daniel Tadesse) gets sent on a suicide mission into the VR world of Psychobook to destroy a virus that wears a Stalin mask. From there we get corrupt African president Batman and some kung-fu scenes and a tragic romance and we even find religion. Or do we? At every turn, Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway surprises, inspires, and confounds and just when you think you’ve figured it out, there are another several spinning plates to keep track of. This won’t be for everyone, but it was most definitely for me. My favorite film I got to see at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival.

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1. Once again. I am late to the party. I was told it was good, but holy smokes. I may not be much of a fan of superhero movies, but as an animation enthusiast, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse (2018) may be one of the best animated features ever made. Spider-People from multiple dimensions team up to stop Kingpin, but there is so much more going on in this action-packed adventure. It might be too smart and too weird and too beautiful to have not done better. The writing is sharp and clever. The emotional hits hit. The action is mind-bending and brilliantly choreographed. Perfect voice cast. Gloriously beautiful character design. All this AND it’s funny? Spider-verse legit inspired me and filled me with joy. This one deserves the hype.


SHORT FILMS BONUS

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Picnic (2019), directed by Mike Pinkney and Michael Reich is the story of three women going for a picnic. That turns into a surreal nightmare, for perhaps no reason whatsoever. Enjoy the cake.

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Cecelia Condit’s Possibly in Michigan (1983) is another surreal nightmare showcasing the golden age of American malls.

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Legendary silent comedian and insane stunt choreographer, Buster Keaton, may be old, but he still has the gentle comic timing of an old master in The Railrodder (1965), a cross country adventure that doesn’t mind if it doesn’t know where it’s going. OK so he’s 70 years old here so don’t expect any over the-top-stunts. Consider this a quiet lollygag for fans.

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Just broaden your world and watch more films by Senegalese filmmaker pioneer Ousmane Sembène. Borom Sarret (1963) is a humble, almost documentarian short about a poor cart driver in Dakar.

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French filmmaker Agnès Varda travels to Sausalito, California to document a distant relative in Uncle Yanco (1967). It’s a short little tribute to her eccentric kin, but colorful and stylish and full of good, warm feelings that make you sort of envious of the special times they shared making this movie.

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THE LAST FEW MOVIES I SAW: EPISODE XXXIV – I am so predictable

The more I do these lists, the more transparent my movie preferences become. I got a pretty obvious film profile. I can’t hide it.

Anyway. One more time. The last few movies I saw ranked by what I thought of them. Enjoy.

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14. An awkward American re-edit of an already pretty bad Taiwanese monster movie. This is Thunder of Gigantic Serpent (1988). A little girl finds a snake that keeps growing until it becomes a full on kaiju. The subplot about an American mercenary named Ted Fast and something with gangsters are added nonsense that go nowhere except to offer some excuses for silly fight scenes. Tonally, the movie is a mess. Is it for children? But then the city destruction! Spoiler alert: best part of the movie comes after they finally kill the giant snake the little girl has an uncomfortably long crying meltdown. It felt metaphorical and cathartic for how much I hated the movie.

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13. Stephen Chow’s God of Cookery (1996) is no Shaolin Soccer. A conceited master chef fraud learns some humility and actual cooking skill when he loses everything and winds up in the streets where he meets Turkey, a savage, ugly woman who knows her way around a food cart. Alas, a lot of the humor didn’t really work for me, but it has one or two decent moments and Chow always has some charm.

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12. Finally, an utterly joyless Jackie Chan movie. The Foreigner (2017) is a revenge thriller about a former special ops soldier (Chan) who goes after the Northern Ireland deputy Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) after his daughter is killed in a bombing attributed to the “Authentic IRA”. People expecting a sort of Taken kind of action thriller will be disappointed. I was disappointed. Brosnan and Chan are both good, but the film itself is a bit boring and slow and complicated without being terribly interesting about it.

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11. For the life of me, I can’t tell who the Leprechaun movies are for. Are they for fans of bad horror? Fans of bad comedy? Fans of Warwick Davis? Are they for children? But then, why the boobies? Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997) is absurd garbage. I like Warwick Davis (despite his Irish accent being about as offensive as a minstrel show) and I like schlocky slasher flicks, but the awkward attempts at comedy are so cringe-worthy that it makes this one difficult to stomach. This movie is laughably bad. It looks like a bad TV show. Utter nonsense. But then you must have known that from the title. Why is there a leprechaun in space? Schlock-master director Brian Trenchard-Smith isn’t terribly interested in answering that. Still more watchable than The Foreigner.

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10. I’m not a big fan of the MCU, but I remember enjoying Guardians of the Galaxy overall. So I finally watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) and it’s about as fun as the first one. Maybe better since it has a decent villain this time and a bit more of an emotional center (thanks chiefly to Michael Rooker’s performance as Yondu). Some fun action. Some fun spectacle. Some fun comedy (a bit too much at times). For the record, I liked this sci-fi adventure a lot more than its unfortunate proximity to Leprechaun 4: In Space might have you believe.

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9. Smokin’ Aces (2006) is a movie that gets by on its cool. Several guns-for-hire go after the same annoying target (Jeremy Piven) while the cops try to protect him before he can testify against the mob. It’s got quite the cast (Taraji P. Henson, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Common, Alicia Keys, Chris Pine, Ben Affleck, Andy Garcia, and more). Most of the fun comes from the very different approaches the killers have and their unique styles. Not a bad little action flick and a good ending.

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8. Bon Cop Bad Cop (2006) follows the tropes of a lot of generic American buddy cop flicks, but the Canadian setting gives it a unique flavor and it is kind of refreshing to see a legit bilingual film. A by-the-book Ontario cop and a loose cannon Quebec cop have to team up and begrudgingly work together when a dead body is found on the border between Ontario and Quebec. The chemistry between the actors Patrick Huard and Colm Feore is solid and despite the humor, they play it more-or-less straight, lending some credibility to their performances.

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7. In preparation for the new Netflix series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, I re-watched Jim Henson’s original The Dark Crystal (1982). It’s always kind of fun revisiting old movies you haven’t seen in years. While I still have some issues with the overall storytelling, the audacity of building a fantasy world from scratch with its own ecosystems and mythology and then doing the whole thing with puppets is commendable. The Gelflings are still rather bland. The Wise Ones still feel like we’re missing some backstory. And the Skeksis are still a wonderfully revolting delight. It’s more fun to take in as a bizarre time capsule and a peek inside Jim Henson’s more philosophical and fantastical side. I wish the world had let him do more than the Muppets. We could have used more like this and Labyrinth.

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6. An art gallery owner (Amy Adams) receives a manuscript for a book written by her ex-husband in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals (2016). The book disturbs her and causes her to re-evaluate a lot of her life’s decisions. The book’s protagonist appears to be her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) going through a process of loss and grief following a harrowing encounter with roadside hooligans. But what does it all mean? It’s enigmatic and atmospheric and symbolic and has an unyielding tension. Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson co-star.

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5. I, of course, recognize that Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) isn’t exactly a beloved classic…which is exactly why it’s perfect for one of these lists. Ghoulishly bad puns aside, this is actually a fun bit of horror-comedy and Billy Zane plays a damn good Satan. A group of random people get stuck in an old church that is slowly filling with bloodthirsty demons. Unlike Leprechaun 4, both the horror elements and the dark comedy elements work and play off each other quite well. I’m a bit of a sucker for good horror-comedy. In addition to Billy Zane and the book-ending Crypt Keeper himself, the cast also includes Jada Pinkett, William Sadler, Thomas Haden Church, C. C. H. Pounder, Charles Fleischer, and Dick Miller. It’s not an important film and it isn’t really aiming for anything other than a diverting 90 minutes of spooky mayhem.

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4. Boy, am I glad I finally got around to watching this one. The Lost Boys (1987), directed by Joel Schumacher, is about as 80s as you can get. A homoerotic punk vampire gang (led by Kiefer Sutherland), a comic book store nerd crew of wannabe vampire hunters (led by Corey Feldman), and the lost big brother (Jason Patric) who gets caught between his human life and a new world of power and horror. Great soundtrack too and Jami Gertz is gorgeous. I wouldn’t change a thing.

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3. I really do need to watch more John Waters films. Cecil B. Demented (2000) is the gonzo story of a renegade troupe of movie snob terrorists and underground filmmakers who set out to fight back against soulless, lowest common denominator Hollywood tripe (like Forrest Gump 2 starring Kevin Nealon) by kidnapping bratty A-lister Honey Whitlock (Melanie Griffith) and staging a back-lot revolution. Its bonkers and joyful and full of exactly what one would expect John Waters’ attitudes about Hollywood to be. While Waters does put Hollywood blockbusters dead center in his sniper scopes, he’s not above mocking his terrorist protagonists for the delusional, idealistic weirdos they are. It’s sort of the whole movie ecosystem he skewers in this dark comedy. I especially loved that the gang all had auteur tattoos (from Kenneth Anger and Otto Preminger to Pedro Almodóvar and Sam Fuller). Cecil B. Demented is a movie for angry movie nerds and fans of underground cinema. Cast includes Stephen Dorff, Mink Stole, Ricki Lake, and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

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2. A Swedish border patrol agent with a rare chromosome disorder has an encounter with a mysterious traveler who may be just like her in Ali Abbasi’s Border (2018). Somewhere between a low-key, slow-burn horror and a dark drama steeped in magical realism, Border is something of a masterpiece that is full of surprises. I’m really torn because I want to say more about the film, but I really don’t want to spoil anything. It’s a work of art. And I definitely recommend it.

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1. Comic book writer and animator Dash Shaw creates a stylistically unique teen world in the utterly brilliant disaster comedy, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea (2017). Jason Schwartman, Reggie Watts, Susan Sarandon, Lena Dunham, and Maya Rudolph lend their voices to the inventively animated world. It’s a bit of The Poseidon Adventure and a bit of Rushmore and, at times, an allegory for climate change. I may be somewhat predisposed to respond positively to a movie like this, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it too.

THE LAST FEW MOVIES I SAW: EPISODE XXXIII – Robots and Ghouls

Once again, I collect and rank the last several films I saw. Some I really loved. A lot were interesting and inadvertently humorous. None I hated. Film is subjective. These lists are a celebration of that.

Enjoy. And, as always, if you have a recommendation for me… give it to me.

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24. Full Moon Features sure knows how to make one hell of a trailer. They produced a lot of schlocky horror flicks that, sadly, don’t always measure up to their ads or nifty concepts. Lurking Fear (1994) is the story of a man fresh out of prison who goes to dig up money buried with a corpse on a spooky, stormy night. Too bad for him that naughty gangsters are also after the money. And also a cadre of ghoul hunters are chilling at the same cemetery, hoping to finally end the evil reign of these ill-defined creatures once and for all. Also a pregnant woman. It’s a mess, but has some OK atmosphere and Jeffrey Combs is in it and he’s always fun to watch.

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23. The movie with the infamous “Garbage day!” scene. Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987) is a bad movie held together by the even more laughably bad performance by Eric Freeman. He absolutely makes this movie. The first third of the film is a rehashing of the first film. They use lots of footage from the original. It’s like movie SparkNotes. So you can skip the first one. It looks bad, but not nearly as fun. Mean nuns. Murderous Santas. A bland horror tale of revenge with some laugh out loud moments.

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22. Evilspeak (1981) is the classic story about a bullied nerd (Clint Howard) at a military academy who discovers a Satanic library in the basement and uses computers to help him summon demons to get revenge. It’s got a few pretty memorable scenes (mostly involving violence and murder), but it feels long in the middle when the movie has teased us enough and we just want to see the Carrie styled bloodbath.

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21. I love cowboy westerns and have always disliked John Wayne. He’s good in a couple movies (True Grit, Stagecoach), but he’s just one of those iconic actors that never made a positive impression on me. But this movie has Maureen O’Hara and a pretty straightforward plot. I had seen Big Jake (1971) as a kid and caught it again recently. Some decent shootouts and suspense. He’s just trying to rescue his kidnapped grandson.

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20. Highway to Hell (1991) is a fantastically dark action-horror concept mired by the filmmakers insisting it be a lowbrow comedy. Our young protagonist’s girlfriend gets kidnapped by a literal cop from Hell. The rest of the movie is the adventure through Hell (looking a lot like the American Southwest) and onto Hell City to get her back. Because it plays so silly and cutesie, the stakes never feel that high and most of the comedy does not really work (unless Gilbert Gottfried playing Hitler in a cameo is hilarious to you). There are a few fun special effects here and there, but ultimately there’s not enough visually to make Hell feel like much more than a sunny stretch of highway in Arizona.

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19. Robot Holocaust (1986) is a straight awful movie. Terrible sets. Even worse costumes. And the acting! The main villainess delivers her lines like she is just coming off anesthesia. It’s no Starcrash, but we laughed a lot and sometimes that’s all I ask for in my sci-fi schlock.

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18. Pumpkinhead (1988) is not great, but I admire that it does try to be different. When a man’s young son is accidentally killed by vacationing teens, he goes to a witch to make a deal and perform the rites needed to conjure the demon known as Pumpkinhead. Lance Henikson plays the tortured father who becomes linked with the monster he has unleashed. The practical effects of the creature and the witch’s swamp are highlights visually.

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17. Zoo (2007) is that documentary about the guy who died from having sex with a horse. The film also takes a distant but humanizing look at zoophiles in general and how that underworld sometimes operates in strange corners of society. More pensive than shocking, the movie focuses on individuals rather than go into gruesome detail of the incident. Almost Lynchian.

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16. Visually sumptuous, gorgeously ornate costumes, breathtaking locations, and a script so convoluted and incomprehensible you may be scratching your head as to how many rewrites it didn’t get during its infamous 25+ year production history. Terry Gilliam’s cinematic oeuvre creaks from bold, hallucinatory, and inspired to unwieldy and frustrating with indulgent bombast eclipsing anything meaningful. I still rank much of his pre-2000s work among my favorite films, but The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019) is a problematic and unsatisfying mess that continuously picks up plot threads that don’t really go anywhere. The film has moments of brilliance. When it leans into the fantasy and the adventure aspects, it approaches something, but it’s ultimately a far more cynical, grouchy, and out of touch film that unceremoniously dispatches characters, plot threads, stakes, and messages with awkward weightlessness. What is it all about? What is the story? What is being said? It is very dense and it looks great and has a fine cast (wish Adam Driver’s protagonist had at least one redeeming quality or that we actually felt the magnitude of Jonathan Pryce’s character arc or that the wonderful Olga Kurylenko and Joana Ribiero were more than just eye candy as both have fantastic screen presence). As the more straight Don Quixote elements were the best bits, it makes me wonder how great the film could have been had it been more of a straight adaptation of the famous novel instead of the deeply uninteresting non-redemption story of a cowardly, asshole film director who ruins the lives of those around him. Unless that is the point. How autobiographical is this movie?

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15. Behind the Curve (2018) is another documentary. This one takes a look at the flat Earth movement. If you’ve seen any of the thousands of YouTube videos exposing the truth about how our planet is actually flat and everyone is just lying to you…for some reason, then you’re already familiar with the typical arguments and talking points. All of which are easily debunked. Behind the Curve, rather than focus on the wacky claims put forth, instead chooses to make the viewer more intimate with the personalities behind the movement. Sure, they’re all a bit delusional and seem to hold more than a few bizarre beliefs for similarly baffling reasons, but behind that glazed look in their eye is an inquiring human mind that has maybe just gone astray. The movie doesn’t go out of its way to challenge their claims. It just gives them enough rope to hang themselves. The hubris and myopia are real things that effect us all. If you’re interested in cults, conspiracy theories, and how people can get sucked into those worlds and stay there, it’s an interesting peek into that space.

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14. For low-key horror films, Green Room (2015) almost succeeds in being brilliant. A broke punk band gets a gig playing in an old barn in the woods that just happens to be a hub for neo-Nazis. That should be enough to get the ball rolling, and had it been it I think this movie would have been a lot more satisfying. There’s an added plot of a murdered man (Anton Yelchin’s character sees too much) and then the Nazi leader (Patrick Stewart) shows up to contain it all. Had it just been the fact that punks were duped into performing there and that their onstage anti-fascist antics incite the white supremacist mob to violence, I think things would have been much more streamlined and interesting. But it seemed the movie was almost uncomfortable with just saying that Nazis are bad in and of themselves. As is, it’s decent. Better than a lot of horror in the same vein. But could have been great.

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13. Mystics of Bali(1981) wastes no precious time in getting into it. An attractive American girl wants to learn the most powerful magic there is. For some reason. Her Filipino friend (who she continues to tease with the promise of a relationship) agrees to introduce her to a witch in the jungle. She meets the witch, but the witch only wishes to use the foolish girl. She turns the girl into a penanggalan: a traditional Filipino floating vampire head with all of the internal organs hanging out the neck. This is more than just a bad a movie. It’s wonderfully weird. It’s slow to get going, but once the nonsense begins, it keeps going until we learn that white women, like jungle witches, are not to be trusted and that if you have one magic uncle and he dies, don’t worry. You probably have another, more powerful ghost uncle to save the day.

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12. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Michael Pollan takes on a journey into America’s diet. In Defense of Food (2015) covers a lot of basic stuff, but it does so in such an engaging and open way that it pulls you in. From the history of manipulative health language in advertising to the villages of small African tribes that live as organically as possible, Pollan is eager to discover what we should eat and how we can enjoy the food we eat.

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11. Just look at that still. That is amazing. Motel Hell (1980) is the best Texas Chainsaw Massacre knockoff you can find, I’d wager. Human heads popping out of the ground like vegetables. A cannibal bed and breakfast. A pig headed chainsaw duel. This movie is cheap, fast, and hits you just when it needs to. Like greasy fast food.

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10. Luigi Cozzi’s The Adventures of Hercules(1985) is a sword and sorcery sequel that has wacky Italian production written all over it. We really wanted to watch the original with Sybil Danning (Howling 2), but we had to make do. Lou Ferrigno stars as the mighty son of Zeus. It’s very episodic and most of the scenes are clunky exposition for how to solve a problem that will be solved within the next three minutes. It’s wonderfully, watchably schlocky. I’m pretty sure they rotoscoped the t-rex battle from the original King Kong for the constellation fight at the end. It’s great and I can’t wait to find the first Hercules.

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9. Mark Duplass plays a man with terminal cancer. Ray Romano is his somewhat socially awkward neighbor. Together they go on a short road trip to pick up some medically prescribed suicide pills. This is Paddleton (2019). It’s a quiet and low-key dramedy that keeps its distance and deals with a difficult subject in a straightforward and sensitive way. Romano is perfectly cast.

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8. Shallow Grave (1994) is a sly little film about three roommates (Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, and Christopher Eccleston) in Edinburgh and it was Danny Boyle’s directorial debut. When their new roommate dies in the flat, the trio aren’t sure what to do. Mainly because it turns out he had a suitcase full of money. How does one dispose of a body? How long before they can spend the money? What happens if someone comes looking for it? What happens if you can no longer trust your close friends? Streamlined and efficient black comedy.

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7. Harmony Korine (Gummo) assembles one wacky cast (Matthew McConaughey, Isla Fisher, Snoop Dogg, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence, Stefania LaVie Owen, Jonah Hill, and Jimmy Buffet) in The Beach Bum (2019). It’s the story of a Key West hippie, poet, and stoner (perhaps a redundant collection of words) and his meandering life. You could say it’s about him trying to get money, but that wouldn’t be quite right. It’s more about a wandering spirit that moves in any direction it pleases. I may prefer Spring Breakers for its bolder presentation and harrowing, unpredictable story, but The Beach Bum, while far more subdued and accessible, still boasts plenty of visual style. Like most of Korine’s work, it’s a fascinating glimpse into another American subculture.

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6. Holy moly did I love Fright Night (1985). It’s like the perfect 80s movie. Great soundtrack. Great cast (Chris Sarandon, Amanda Bearse, and Roddy McDowell are so much fun). And some of the best vampire deaths ever filmed. What is a boy to do when a sexy vampire moves in next door? Call his local skeptical horror movie TV presenter and slay him! Genuinely loved this campy, sexy, spooky, fun flick.

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5. Rashida Jones composes a beautiful biographical documentary of her talented father in Quincy (2018). Quincy Jones is one of the most important names in modern American music and music production. This movie is a loving portrait of the man, his life, his troubles, his flaws, and his amazing contributions to the world of music.

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4. Art is a weird sort of thing. Struggle: the Life and Lost Art of Szukalski (2018) is a documentary about discovering an eccentric Polish genius lives right around the corner. From this beginning, we launch into a retrospective of the life of sculptor and esoteric artist Stanislav Szukalski (1893-1987). He’s an odd, little old man, when the film introduces him. Underground comic artists and LA hippies develop a keen fascination in him and then they discover he was actually one of the most important sculptors and possibly the greatest Polish artist of the 20th century. And he’s a bit of a character.

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3. Netflix has been running Love Death Robots. It’s a brilliant concept with some amazing artistry, but, in my opinion, some lackluster writing and, ultimately, I did not like the series. I do hope they push it and get better if they continue. Robot Carnival (1987) is the animated robot anthology that I wanted. Each segment is handled by a different director. Some stories are soft and poetic. Others are bombastic and raucous. I loved the visual richness and inventive styles and mesmerizing stories. Like all anthologies, you’ll have your favorites. This had been on my radar for a long time and I’m glad I finally watched it.

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2. Animator Nina Paley left a very good impression on me with Sita Sings the Blues. I had to applaud its humor, style, novel implementation of music, and narrative inventiveness. Seder-Masochism (2018) is a musical epic comedy brimming with clever satire and incendiary religious commentary while packaged in a bright, colorful package. The story takes Nina’s curious goat character interviewing her Jewish father about her upbringing and juxtaposes it against her retelling of the history of religion, from early man’s worship of feminine Earth mothers to the violent conquest of patriarchal monotheism and into the present day of continual bloodshed over holy real estate. It covers a lot of ground and has a lot of hot takes that may upset or tickle you, but with the lively animation and tunes, it’s a breath of fresh air.

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1. I know I’ve seen the Sidney Lumet masterpiece 12 Angry Men (1957) before, but I on a whim I gave it a re-watch, and seeing it again with adult eyes made me reassess its greatness. It’s a tough feat to set a whole movie in one room and keep the dramatic beats going and create visual distinctiveness within acts. A lot of these points come down to staging, lighting, and cinematography. But it also has a fantastic script and is wonderfully cast. Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, E. G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Joseph Sweeney, Jack Klugman, Ed Begley, Jiří Voskovec, Robert Webber, and Edward Binns are twelve men locked in a jury room, tasked with determining the fate of a young man who has been charged with the murder of his father. The atmosphere is tense from the get go and only tightens as the men debate and talk out the whole meaning of “reasonable doubt” and what their duty is as jurors. The twists, summer heat of the setting, and character quirks keep the drama electric. 12 Angry Men is an American classic and a very patriotic film in the sense that it depicts the ideals of what this one aspect of the judicial system was meant to be. It is inspiring. Lumet, director of Network, Serpico, The Verdict, and Dog Day Afternoon brought this stage play to cinematic life with confidence and finesse. This is a classic for good reason and marvelous lesson in writing, acting, and filmmaking.

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.