The Last Few Movies XL – This Won’t Be for Everyone

So here’s the last few movies I saw in the order of how much I liked them.

Spasms

18. Maybe I’m in the wrong here, but Spasms (1983) was the most boring movie I have seen about a giant snake from hell that possesses people. It has a couple fun moments and some decent gross-out special effects and Oliver Reed is always fun to watch, but it didn’t hold my attention.

BASEketball (1998) directed by David Zucker • Reviews, film + cast ...

17. Director David Zucker (part of the brilliant creative team behind Airplane! and The Naked Gun) teams up with the geniuses behind South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, to deliver a truly embarrassingly unfunny comedy. Maybe if I had seen Baseketball (1998) when I was 10, I would have found it at least somewhat amusing. The tragedy is that bad dramas can be amazing comedies, but bad comedies are just tedious cringe-fests. Still love the creative team behind it though. If you have fond memories of this one, maybe just keep those memories without trying to re-watch it.

Paramount Sends 'The Lovebirds' to Netflix | Hollywood Reporter

16. Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani star in the romantic comedy, The Lovebirds (2020). The two leads are talented, but the script here just feels kind of lazy and they don’t have believable chemistry. And it’s not really funny either. Or romantic. I like both actors, but it would have been nice to see them in a better movie.

Great Moments in Cinema: Miracle Man (2013) - YouTube

15. Miracle Man (2013) is an awkward retelling of the gospel of Jesus (at least from his Temptation in the Desert to the Resurrection of Lazarus) set in modern day. It’s got everything you want in a bad movie, but also boasts being what may just be the ugliest film I have ever seen. The framing, lighting, editing, after effects, and incessant use of green screen are painfully abrasive on the senses. There’s several laughs to be had, but not a bad movie I’ll be revisiting anytime.

Allan Fish Online Film Festival Day 8: A Thief in the Night (1972 ...

14. I faced one of my fears and re-watched a film that traumatized me when I was a kid. Forget Left Behind, A Thief in the Night (1972) is the O.G. Rapture nightmare story. The Rapture, for those not raised in an evangelical bubble, is the Christian belief that, in the End Times, all the Christians will be whisked up to Heaven in the twinkling of an eye and then the Tribulation will start – complete with Antichrist and Armageddon, etc. The movie lays out their brand of eschatology several times and was designed to convert teens to its flavor of Christianity. But, surprise, a girl gets left behind and has to endure the world turning upside down after almost everyone she knows gets Raptured. Honest reaction on the re-watch: the title song is still haunting and pretty decent and the bulk of the movie is just kind of boring, but it does pick up in the final act and there is a pretty good twist. It’s a bad movie that spawned two sequels (I recall the middle one being the best, although still pretty bad) and several copycats.

Review: Céline and Julie Go Boating - Slant Magazine

13. If you can sit through 3+ hours of meandering surreal French New Wave silliness then Jacques Rivette’s Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974) is the movie for you. I really enjoyed the 70s fashion, interiors, and stylish shots of Paris, but ultimately found it difficult to follow when almost anything can happen and nothing made sense. There is a bit of a ghost mystery plot that becomes the dominant theme towards the end. That’s something. Not bad, but a bit long, drifting, and maybe not exactly my cup of tea.

Ali G Indahouse (2002) YIFY - Download Movie TORRENT - YTS

12. It’s amazing how fast comedy can age. Sacha Baron Cohen stars as hip-hop enthusiast, misogynist chav, and lovable dolt, Ali G, in Ali G Indahouse (2002). Da Ali G Show was legit great; Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan was groundbreaking; and Brüno was pretty funny too. But what made those things great were the real people caught on camera being awful and awkward, whereas Indahouse is a completely fictional carbon copy of the predictable Happy Madison Productions formula. Tucked away behind some passable to fine gross-out humor is some toothless political satire, but it pales in comparison to the series on which it was based. It still got a few laughs out of me and I’m always happy to see Ali G.

Not in Kansas Any More: Movie Musings: The Anderson Tapes (1971)

11. Sean Connery stars as a ex-con assembling a crew in the Sidney Lumet heist drama, The Anderson Tapes (1971). I love me some Sidney Lumet. This is the guy behind Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, and Network. And I love me some Sean Connery. He can be 007, a renegade Russian submarine captain, and wear a red diaper in Zardoz. Who else has that range? And I absolutely love a good heist movie. And all in all, the movie is fine. It’s fine. It’s a got a good cast, a couple pretty good scenes, and an interesting examination of the rise of surveillance. It’s fine.

Apollo Cinema on Twitter: "B-Movie Bingo is back with Turkish Star ...

10. Legendary bad movie, Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam aka The Man Who Saved the World aka Turkish Star Wars (1982), is a must see for fans of so-bad-it’s-good cinema. I’ve seen this film maybe 5 times  (because I am quite mad, you know) and it’s always a pleasure to spring on some unsuspecting friends. The film is notorious for stealing footage and music from several other films (most noticeably, Star Wars and Indiana Jones) and cobbling together this nonsensical space adventure that boasts a lot of jumping. Highlights include: silly alien costumes; rock punching training montage; a Darth Vader knockoff drinking blood out of children via crazy straw, thus turning them into mummy slaves; a scene where a man melts a giant, golden, spiky sword into a magical cauldron with a human brain and plunges his bare fists into the molten liquid to have them emerge as power gloves.

House of Self-Indulgence: Killing American Style (Amir Shervan, 1990)

9. I saw a trailer and read “from the director of Samurai Cop” and “starring Robert Z’Dar” and I was in. Killing American Style (1988) is peak bad late 80s/early 90s action schlock. Bad guys hold up in a mansion until the man of the house finally decides to be the main character in the last 10 minutes. While nowhere near as epic as Amir Shervan’s legendary Samurai Cop, this little flick does have a lot of unintentionally funny bits and it is a lot of fun (if you can get passed all the casual sexual assault typical of the era and genre).

Midsommar: what the hell just happened? Discuss with spoilers ...

8. I finally saw Ari Aster’s Scandinavian flavored horror flick, Midsommar (2019). Dani (Florence Pugh) winds up tagging along on a trip to Europe with her boyfriend who is too chicken to break up with her. Sweden, magic mushrooms, and creepy cult antics ensue. It’s an effective bit of folk horror that’s ultimately about a breakup. But in the most messed up way. I tend to prefer slow-burn, soul-shattering horror as opposed to jump-scares and gross-out stuff. It’s got a bit of gore and a bit of dark humor and left me feeling suitably creeped out. If you liked the The Wicker Man (the original now) then check this bad boy out.

Review: In Fabric, Peter Strickland's Sinister Sartorial Satire

7. Director Peter Strickland certainly has a style. In Fabric (2018) is the story of a mysterious (perhaps haunted?) dress and how it effects the lives of those who are unfortunate enough to wear it. Similar in style to Strickland’s other film, Berberian Sound Studio, it’s an atmospheric wind up with horror undertones. Marianne Jean-Baptiste gives a great performance as one of the owners of the dress and I love the zany rituals and mechanics of the wacky department store and their hilariously eerie saleswomen (Fatma Mohamed being the stand out). It’s weird and befuddled me at each turn.

Focus - The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, USA, 90 ...

6. A landmark of New Queer Cinema, Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman (1996) is a breezy Indie romantic comedy that’s also a love letter to film history. When an aspiring documentary filmmaker working at a Philadelphia video rental store (Dunye) chances upon an old 30s melodrama called Plantation Memories, she finds herself captivated by a mysterious actress playing the mammy type role, credited only as “The Watermelon Woman.” She begins to document her investigation into uncovering the lost history of this person, while also juggling her sometimes rocky relationships with her best friend (Valarie Walker) and her new partner (Guinevere Turner). There is a bit of that clunky exposition-laden dialogue common in indie works of the time, but the film is unique and feels like a breath of fresh air. You can tell it is a singular vision (Dunye wrote, directed, and edited it) and it is proudly black and proudly lesbian.

Le Quattro Volte movie review (2011) | Roger Ebert

5. This wordless Italian film about life and its interconnected-ness may not be for everyone, but I enjoyed Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Voltre (2010). Inspired by an idea pontificated by Pythagoras, the film presents metempsychosis, or reincarnation, in a small village. In four phases, we follow an old shepherd until his death and seeming rebirth as a baby goat who is then becomes a fir tree before being converted into a kiln to make charcoal for the people. Quiet and beautifully shot, it will fill you with a resonating appreciation of life and its many forms…if you let it.

DREAMS ARE WHAT LE CINEMA IS FOR...: WALK ON THE WILD SIDE 1962

4. Capucine, Jane Fonda, Laurence Harvey, Barbara Stanwyk, and Anne Baxter star in this steamy Great Depression era melodrama, Walk On the Wild Side (1962) directed by Edward Dmytryk. Dove (Harvey), lonesome Texas wanderer, meets a brash, immoral runaway, Kitty (Fonda), on his journey to find his long, lost old flame, Hallie (Capucine), in New Orleans, where, he will learn, she is working as an artist but also a prostitute in the upscale bordello called the Doll House. The actors really lean into the juicy, melodramatic lines and plot. It’s a particular style and probably a little silly for some, but honestly, I enjoyed this tawdry little flick. I could watch French actress, Capucine, sink her teeth into this over-the-top dialogue like it was nothing all day.

Shoplifters' Review: This Cannes Winner Is a Must-See - The Atlantic

3. Hirokazu Koreeda’s drama, Shoplifters (2018), centers around a poor family somewhere in Tokyo who steal what they can to get by. They have their own codes and rules and are united (despite most of them not being exactly related), but, to the outside world, they are criminals who deserve to be punished for their wrongdoings. Shoplifters is a tender and humanizing story and I recommend it.

Wake in Fright (1971)

2. An uptight English professor (Gary Bond) in the middle-of-nowhere Australia gets a Christmas break and winds up stuck en route to Sidney in the podunk desert wasteland of Bundanyabba (locally known as “The Yabba”) in Wake in Fright (1971), directed by Ted Kotcheff. Initially disgusted by the sweaty, uncouth yokels, the out-of-his-depths school teacher quickly descends into drunkenness, gambling, and late night kangaroo hunting. Co-starring Donald Pleasance and Chips Rafferty, this is one wicked nightmare loaded with debauchery, violence, and philosophy only a scorching hellscape like the Outback could produce. I loved it. Other movies where an uptight city guy gets converted to a looser lifestyle I would also recommend: Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso and Michael Cacoyannis’ Zorba the Greek.

Pin on Folklore, Myth, Religion

1. If you like your folk horror black and white, Eastern European, and weird as hell, then, please, check out the amazingly beautiful Estonian film, November (2017), directed by Rainer Sarnet. Reminiscent of František Vláčil’s Marketa Lazarová and Parajanov’s Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors, November weaves its way through an atmospheric world of folk legend, casual magic, and doomed desire. Oh, and it’s funny too. It’s a wonderfully twisted unrequited love triangle between a simple peasant boy, a wealthy German baroness, and a desperate witch, but it is also about the weird little village of aging oddballs and their ghostly relatives, their various deals with the Devil, their possessed piles of junk that function as slaves, and their battles against the Plague. The cinematography is striking, moody, and utterly sucks you into this dark fairy tale realm that feels extracted from a dream.


BONUS: Animated Shorts

Most of these can be found on Vimeo! Honestly, check some of these out.

Animation: Phenomena Exotica | Broadsheet.ie

Phenomena Exotica (2020) is a Gilliam-esque examination of synchronicity, directed by Jossie Malis. Similar to the intro to P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia, this sardonic short showcases several curious examples of coincidence and hints at the greater sense of overriding existential dread.

Armstrong" Short Film by Russ Etheridge | STASH MAGAZINE

Armstrong (2020) is a hypnotically beautiful story loaded with pleasing shapes, sounds, and colors directed by Russ Etheridge. When the moon disappears, the very fabric of the characters’ reality begins to fall apart and the hero must save herself, her unrequited crush, and the world itself. I absolutely loved the design.

A Cautionary Tale About the COVID-19 Booty Call

Quaranteen (2020), directed by Gustavo Carreiro, is a black and white and red descent into the pandemic paranoia and an ill-fated booty call that culminates in a showdown between a boy on a bicycle and a giant COVID19 virus and, ultimately, a humorous PSA folk ballad.

P'tit Belliveau - L'eau entre mes doigts - YouTube

P’tit Belliveau – L’eau entre mes doigts (2020) is a music video. But I really just dug the hell out of it. Weird and wonderfully Québecois.

The Black and White Body Horror of 'Revenge Story'

Revenge Story (2019) is the story of a ballerina who gets her neck messed up from a chiropractor’s error. Overcome with rage at her unfair misfortune, the ballerina succumbs to the singularly consuming desire for revenge, which ultimately leads to more hurt instead of the catharsis she seeks. Innovative design and great score.

Analysis Paralysis (2016)

Analysis Paralysis (2016) is a pretty accurate depiction of anxiety and overthinking, I’d say. This is what it feels like. But what got me was how the protagonist had to look outward to help other people in order to find some peace with his own obsessive compulsiveness.

Wet City" by Nate Sherman and Nick Vokey | STASH MAGAZINE

Wet City (2019) features music and narration by Sean Wing and created by Nick Vokey and Nate Sherman. It is hopefully not-too-prophetic depiction of a distant future where water now covers the Earth and the survivors cling to any semblance of the familiar they can, even if it is befriending a cybernetic vegetarian shark named Horizon. When bad guys ransack a ramshackle apartment complex and sharknap Horizon, our hero sets out on a journey to rescue her and encounters the remaining splintered factions of humanity in this post apocalyptic comedy.

Superbia by Luca Toth | Animation | Short Film

Superbia (2016), by Luca Tóth, is a stunningly gorgeous, surreal, and gleefully psycho-sexual journey into a land of topsy-turvy gender roles and bizarre ritual.

THE LAST FEW MOVIES XXXX – Quarantine: Tokyo Drift

These are the last few movies I watched. Mostly, they were fun. The first two are rough watches, but they still offer unique experiences in their own right. Folks wondering why they can’t find most of these movies on Netflix, might I suggest Criterion streaming, MUBI, and even Kanopy?

Waterloo: the movie about Napoleon's final battle - Cliomuse ...

A sweeping, costumed spectacle of historical warfare and an impressive wrangling of literally tens of thousands of military extras cannot save the poorly plotted, dramatically dull, and abysmally acted 2+ hour Waterloo (1970) directed by Sergei Bondarchuk and produced by Dino de Laurentiis. The cast is good on paper. Rod Steiger is Napoleon and Christopher Plummer is Wellington, but the bad script and uninspired directing (I hope you like joyless soliloquies filmed six inches from the actor’s eyes) make this a hammy and yawn-inducing slog. Credit where it’s due: the staging of the immense battles is fascinating – if not exactly thrilling or consistently coherent. This Soviet/Italian co-production doesn’t hold a candle to Abel Gance’s 1927 Napoleon. Seriously, watch the silent one instead. The opening snowball fight alone is worth it.

UnRated Music Entertainment Magazine: Black Devil Doll From Hell ...

On a technical level, Chester Novell Turner’s fetish-horror flick Black Devil Doll from Hell (1984), is worse than Waterloo. And although it may not feel like it, at 1 hour and 10 minutes, it is mercifully shorter. It’s an amateurish mess, but it is a unique experience. A good, chaste, church-going woman purchases a dreadlocked ventriloquist dummy from a local thrift shop and soon discovers the doll is alive(?), evil, and has the power to awaken her repressed sexually ravenous side. It was a deeply uncomfortable watch and I ended up apologizing to my guests. This one is only for die-hard fans of blaxploitation, weirdo cinema, and so-bad-it’s-questionable movies.

Bird on a Wire - movie: watch streaming online

I think this a dead genre. The romantic action comedy. Peak Mel Gibson. Peak Goldie Hawn. And Bird on a Wire (1990) still is a bit too silly for the action to hold any suspense. Gibson plays a regular guy (who happens to be a mechanic, a pilot, a carpenter, an inventor, and an almost unkillable athlete) in witness protection and hunted by bad guys who want to stop him from testifying against them. But then his old flame (Hawn) discovers him at a gas station and gets sucked into car chases, motorcycle chases, helicopter chases, shoot outs, and a grisly action finale in a highly implausible zoo. It’s not as good as Romancing the Stone. Pretty meh actually, but fuck, Mel and Goldie look great and seem to be having fun. Also features David Carradine, Bill Duke, and Stephen Tobolowsky.

The Devil's Advocate (1997) - Images - IMDb

I just wanted to watch Al Pacino chew some scenery. I recalled The Devil’s Advocate (1997) being on TV when I was a kid and caught non-chronological snippets of it so had an idea what I was getting into. Keanu Reeves is a Florida lawyer (with a dubious accent) who defends an unrepentant child molester so well that he gets an invitation to go to New York City and work with the big boys. It’s Satan. His new boss is Satan. That’s the movie. The movie itself is kind of dopey, but it has a few good scenes and Pacino plays one hell of a devil. Also features Charlize Theron, Tamara Tunie, and Craig T. Nelson.

Stridulum | Cineclandestino

Surreal, psychedelic Italian cinema perhaps doesn’t get any more bizarro than Giulio Paradisi’s The Visitor (1979). Casually blending Star Wars and The Exorcist, The Visitor may not be a good movie in the traditional sense, but it is unlike anything you’ve seen (if you discount the previously mentioned two movies and The Omen and The Birds and Wild Beasts and a bad acid trip). A bad girl (Paige Connor) with inexplicable telekinetic powers torments her mother (Joanne Nail) and instigates violence so much that it causes space Jesus (Franco Nero) to send an old man (John Huston) to use the power of birds to stop her. It’s mean and it’s crazy. Also features Lance Henriksen, Shelly Winters, Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, and Sam Peckinpah.

Targets (1968)

Film enthusiast and director, Peter Bogdanovich, slams together two different movies in Targets (1968). The parallel narratives follow an aging horror movie icon who feels like an obsolete relic (respectfully cast to legend, Boris Karloff) and a young man who gets “funny ideas” that ultimately lead him to go on a slew of murder sprees. The movie juxtaposes camp horror fantasy thrills with the real life horrors of American gun violence. And it is chilling. The tone shifting may feel a bit off kilter, but maybe that’s the point. Watching this movie in 2020, after growing up in a country seemingly plagued by mass shootings, this film almost feels irresponsible and disrespectful, but perhaps in 1968 this particular flavor of terror was still new.

Bill Paxton In Near Dark |

Regrettably, I spent much of my time watching Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987) unfairly comparing it to The Lost Boys. It starts a little slow, but it does pick up and get interesting by the third act. Adrian Pasdar plays a cowboy who gets bit by a strange girl (Jenny Wright) and winds up in a violent, trailer trash vampire clan. It’s honestly worth it just for the novelty of neo-western vampires and a pretty good truck explosion. Also stars Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein.

Ken Anderson on Twitter: "Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis in Neil ...

I remember seeing this a lot as a kid. It was my grandpa’s favorite movie. Grandma hated it. “If I had a husband like that, I’d throw him out the window!” she’d holler. The Out-of-Towners (1970) follows the Kellermans, a simple married couple from Ohio (played expertly by Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis) as they descend into the weekend from hell in a manic race to make it to a life-changing job interview in New York City. It’s one of those simple-objective-but-everything-goes-wrong type of anxiety-inducing cringe comedy. Lemmon’s character is such an obnoxious, stubborn, weak, impotent, petty, name-taking asshole that he basically brings each of his misfortunes on himself. His stoic wife is along for the ride, but, while supportive, is a great comic foil. Their dynamic and their calamities feels a little too believable at times, making the comedy darker. If you’re a fan of After Hours, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, etc., check this Neil Simon scripted gem.

Prime Video: The Dictator

Although frequently grotesque and juvenile, The Dictator (2012), directed by Larry Charles and starring Ali G/Borat/Bruno himself, Sacha Baron Cohen, is a great modern comedy. In typical Cohen fashion, it gleefully skewers multiple self-aggrandizing targets with fearless abandon. Aladeen (Cohen) is the deranged tyrant leader of the fictional country of Wadiya. When his uncle (Sir Ben Kingsley) plots to remove him on a trip to the United Nations, the deposed despot winds up penniless and powerless in the streets of New York City. His new humble situation gives him some perspective on the world. But not much. I laughed out loud quite a bit and maybe that is because I, too, am a bad person. Features Anna Faris, Jason Mantzoukas, Bobby Lee, John C. Reilly, Rizwan Manji, Fred Armisen, and more.

Baby Driver movie review & film summary (2017) | Roger Ebert

Edgar Wright makes fun movies. Baby Driver (2017) is a fun getaway car chase set to fun music. It’s fun. Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a quiet kid, but a highly skilled driver indebted to a gangster (Kevin Spacey). He drives the cars for heists so he can be free, but crime is never that simple. Great action, tension, and performances make this flick a blast to watch. John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, and Eiza González co-star.

Terminator 2's Robert Patrick: 'James Cameron said I gave him a ...

After watching Terminator last time, we figured it was time to revisit the legendary sequel, Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991). This is James Cameron’s second best film (Aliens beats it, in my opinion) and a perfect sci-fi action movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton are back, this time teaming up to protect her son (Edward Furlong) from another advanced robot from the future, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). The special effects still hold up and the action set pieces are fantastically well done. The original Terminator is more of a gritty thriller, while the sequel has a lot more fun with its premise and does a great job of expanding on the lore.

The Daytrippers (1996) | The Criterion Collection

Family has to come to together to help family because family is all family has sometimes. Unfortunately, family is also the worst. The Daytrippers (1997) is an intimate indie road drama about the Malone family as they drive into the city to confront the man who might be cheating on the eldest daughter, Eliza. Warm and perfectly cast and expertly balanced between humor and drama, you’ll probably want to call your parents or siblings after this. The knockout cast includes Hope Davis, Parker Posey, Liev Shreiber, Anne Meara, Pat McNamara, Stanley Tucci, Campbell Scott, Marcia Gay Harden, and others great character actors.

HyperNormalisation (2016 + subs) by Adam Curtis - A different ...

Adam Curtis’s documentary, HyperNormalisation (2016), summarizes several key world events since 1975 in an attempt to explain how we arrived at the current nonsense world in which we live. A global, interconnected domino effect of individual optimism, hubris, and nefariousness. A world  in which we are all, in a way, both victim and perpetrator of our own personal dystopias. It’s a long, depressive journey through banks, politics, and cyberspace and if that’s your idea of a good time, you’re gross. But the movie, I daresay, is an important watch for anyone seeking to contextualize our current climate.

Anime masterpieces – Movies List on MUBI

I originally had watched Mamoru Oshii’s Angel’s Egg (1985) years ago and was taken by the beautiful animation and bleak, surreal atmosphere. Watching it again while actively trying to unravel its mysterious symbolism has given me even more appreciation for it. A young girl in a dark and empty city guards a strange egg, meets a soldier, and observes living statues hunt the shadows of giant fish. I’ve heard a few different interpretations, and I’ll let the viewer discover its meaning on their own. It’s weird, but there is a deep poetry to the imagery.

Review: Lynn Shelton's politically barbed 'Sword of Trust ...

An inherited sword that allegedly proves that the South won the Civil War is taken to a pawn shop and thus begins our journey into a modern analysis of the lies we believe and the confirmation biases we live with. Sword of Trust (2019) kind of surprised me with how clever it was and is a testament to how far you can get with a decent script and a good cast. Very funny, but also quite subtle and tender. It’s on Netflix. Just go watch it. Stars Marc Maron, Michaela Watkins, Jillian Bell, Jon Bass, and Toby Huss.

Winter Light (1963) : CineShots

Ingmar Bergman hits your soul in the gut with his Swedish spiritual ennui and despair. Winter Light (1963) is the story of a pastor (Gunnar Björnstrand) who has lost his faith, but continues to go through the motions until he can contain his heresy no longer. The moment he does, the world appears to break. Bergman fearlessly wrestles with faith and doubt in ways few other filmmakers even attempt to approach. Hauntingly shot by regular Bergman cinematographer, Sven Nykvist. Ingrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom, and Max von Sydow co-star.

MoJo MOVIES: SIcario (*****)

Sicario (2015) is a slick, slow-burn suspense thriller from director Denis Villeneuve. Emily Blunt is an FBI agent who has been recruited by a secretive government task force to take down the drug cartels on the US-Mexican border. She’s kept in the dark about most of the details of the mission and slowly realizes how this twisted world actually works. Bleak and tense, but then I kind of enjoy a movie that’s cool with cynically pointing out how irretrievably vile every aspect of a nebulous system really is. Also stars Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Daniel Kaluuya.

Mississippi Mermaid (1969)

As absurd as the plot twists in François Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid (1969) get, the characters seem to model all the typical beats of a romantic relationship. Or maybe I’ve just had some wacky relationships myself. Anyway, a rich tobacco plantation owner (Jean-Paul Belmondo) on the tropical Réunion Island orders a mail order bride (Catherine Deneuve), but when she does arrive she seems to be hiding something. I would rather not spoil the story. It’s a mean but funny romantic melodrama with lots of sexiness.

Doc Films Retrospective — Tsai Ming-Liang 2020

Another dive into an unfamiliar world, I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (2006) is a peek into the slums of Kuala Lumpur and the dramas that unfold in grimy alleyways and abandoned construction sites. The static camera forces the events of the story to play out like distant tableaus. We are observers, not participants here. It is a very melancholy and human film and it sucked me in.

15 Things You Might Not Know About 'Total Recall' | Mental Floss

Since we were on a bit of a Schwarzenegger kick (we also tried re-watching End of Days but gave up less than 30 minutes in), my roommates and I were trying to figure out what his best movie was. Predator? Conan? Terminator? Commando? Twins? After much debate, it was unanimous. We re-watched Total Recall (1990), which is probably also RoboCop director Paul Verhoeven’s best movie too. It’s typically violent, lumbering, and satirical, but with that added layer of being adapted from a Philip K. Dick short story. Douglas Quaid (Arnie) is your average guy who’d like to try out vacation memory implants. Unfortunately, the process awakens something within him. Is he a real secret agent? Is he insane? Is he even the good guy? These questions lead Quaid on a far out adventure to Mars and into the world of corporate greed and underground mutant rebellions. It’s a goddamn perfect movie and just as fun as when I was ten. Features Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside, and some truly memorable puppetry and effects by Rob Bottin.

THE BOXER'S OMEN | GenreVision — GenreVision

I dig novelty. Show me something I haven’t seen before. That’s my attitude when it comes to movies. The Boxer’s Omen (1983) is one of the craziest movies out there. It’s so insane that it’s almost a spiritual experience. So what is it? It’s a Hong Kong horror-action flick about a boxer who gets sucked into a world of tantric Buddhism and black magic in Thailand, Nepal, and the spiritual realm. The plot doesn’t matter. Magical showdowns with bonkers special effects. That’s all you need to know. The thing I dug most about this movie is that it really gets neck deep into the nonsense mechanics of witchcraft. The movie is all about leveling up and the process and insane rituals involved in, say, reanimating chomping alligator skulls. It’s gross and messed up and completely out there. If you haven’t seen Boxer’s Omen and you like crazy movies, watch this one immediately. I love this movie.

Review: ORLANDO (1992) [Bradford International Film Festival 2014 ...

Sally Potter adapts Virginia Woolf in the gender-bending magical realism period drama Orlando (1992). Tilda Swinton stars as the young nobleman, Orlando, who experiences wealth, privilege, and heartbreak before (for reasons unexplained) wakes up one morning as a woman. The story presents the newfound disadvantages of being female throughout the centuries as Orlando, on Queen Elizabeth I’s request, never grows old and merely persists on living for hundreds of years, discovering new things about herself and her identity. Marvelous scope and sumptuously ornate costumes, Orlando is a unique transporting film experience with a cheeky sense of whimsy that brings an element of refreshing sarcasm to the wacky plot.

The Fits' Takes Viewers Inside The World Of Innovative Dance ...

Writer/director/producer, Anna Rose Holmer, in her debut film, The Fits (2015), deftly captures and poetically rebrands the intricacies of gender and puberty. Toni (Royalty Hightower) is an eleven year old tomboy, lured perhaps by the call of conformity, becomes fixated on transitioning out of the male dominated sport of boxing and into the female dominated realm of dance. The complexities of gender politics abound, yet the film is quiet, distant, and hypnotic. Toni quietly wrestles with her identity as she navigates the two realms and then… the fits begin. Randomly, girls in her dance club start having fits. Some need to be hospitalized. Questions buzz around the potential causes and if and when it will strike another one of them. The metaphor creeps up on you as the film sucks you deeper into its artfully photographed high school world. An exceptionally sublime film about adolescent self-discovery.


BONUS Shorts

Pictures at an Exhibition and Osamu Tezuka's Gallery on Decay ...

Tezuka Osamu visually interprets Russian composer, Modest Mussorgsky, for Pictures at an Exhibition (1966). It’s cheeky and has a bit of satire. Reminded me a bit of the Italian Fantasia parody, Allegro non Troppo.

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer :: Zeitgeist Films

The Brothers Quay pay tribute to the Czech stop-motion master in The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984). It’s unmistakably Quay, but their homages to Svankmajer have never been more apparent. It’s a strange little journey into the surreal.

What's Changed for Working Moms — and What Hasn't — Since 1971

Joyce Chopra chronicles her pregnancy, birth, and the transition into motherhood in Joyce at 34 (1972). This is the film I think we should have watched in health class.

Bum-bum the baby of the fisherman - Ivan Maximov

I am a huge fan of Russian animator, Ivan Maximov. His bizarre worlds, imaginative creatures, rich sound design, and dreamy atmosphere are perfect for the medium of animated shorts. I recently forced a few of his shorts on someone and I do hope they enjoyed them as much as I do. Most of them can be found on YouTube. In this particular session we watched From Left to Right (1989), Wind Along the Coast (2004), The Additional Capabilities of the Snout (2008), and Long Bridge of Desired Direction (2013).

THE LAST FEW MOVIES XXXVIII – Mostly Good

As I continue to do this, an unmistakable personality profile of myself emerges. I am what I am.

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18. The Ultimate Warrior (1975) may feature Yul Brynner as a mysterious fighter in a post apocalyptic New York City, but is ultimately a slow, boring affair with hammy acting, a world that seems as limited as its small set, and only one or two fun fight scenes.

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17. All of the Disney Star Wars movies at least look very good. Lighting, costumes, music, digital and practical effects, etc. are all top notch. But Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019), like the rest of the series is a heaving, hulking, unwieldy mess of a science fantasy whose onscreen misfires belie numerous behind-the-scenes debacles. J. J. Abrams was given the apparently joyless task of dismantling everything Rian Johnson did in The Last Jedi. I had a lot of problems with the Johnson movie as well, but I was actually kind of intrigued by some of the new directions he was trying to pull the franchise. Abrams undoes it all. Or disregards it. This third installment feels completely disconnected from the previous two movies. It’s big, loud, and dumb but at least Ian McDiarmid is having fun as Emperor Palpatine again.

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16. I’m pretty sure Bigfoot vs D.B. Cooper (2014) was made by a guy who didn’t know about the internet and was too timid to make a straight up gay porno. Both title characters are barely featured. Instead most of the film is a group of dopey shirtless beefcakes taking their pants off and posing in front of mirrors for minutes on end. They’re supposed to be going on a turkey hunt (in what looks like a local park), but they aren’t exactly dressed for the occasion. Despite potential protestations from the filmmaker, this is essentially a plotless string of unrelated scenes. We get lots of disconnected airport scenes with tedious voice-over, random northern forest footage, a dude flexing in his underwear and then showering, and – if you’re real patient – a Bigfoot punching someone. This may be one of the most inept films I’ve ever seen. Not as good as Ben & Arthur or a Neil Breen, but we did laugh a lot.

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15. I remember seeing The Land That Time Forgot (1975) when I was kid. I had been enamored by the great artwork on the cover. Sadly, the movie did not live up to the cartoon poster. In 1916, a German U-boat destroys a British passenger ship. The survivors board the submarine and the upper hand is traded until they wind up in uncharted waters and trapped on an island locked in prehistoric times. I gave this clunky Doug MacClure vehicle another look and it is still a plodding embarrassment punctuated by inappropriately adorable dinosaur puppets (OF WHICH THERE ARE ENTIRELY NOT ENOUGH OF). McClure is hammy and brash as usual (as it should be), but the German U-boat captain (played by John McEnery) rises above the hokey material to give a nuanced performance. There are a lot of great ideas (the novel was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs) and some interesting commentary on war and nationalism, but the film never manages to do most of these ideas justice. It’s a long, slow windup to an ending that is technically cool but over way too fast.

OK. From here on out, I genuinely enjoyed the movies. Although I still may have a weird soft spot for Land That Time Forgot even if it is garbage.

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14. Sassy and free-spirited Melanie Griffith woos a hapless Jeff Daniels in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild (1986). As the duo trek from misadventure to misadventure, they may be falling for each other for real. And then her ex-husband (Ray Liotta) shows up and things get complicated. It’s breezy and fun and the cast is solid.

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13. Logan(2017), to me, is way more compelling than Joker as far as dark and gritty superhero flicks go. A washed-up, nihilistic Wolverine begrudgingly takes care of a senile and dying Professor X in a distant future where all the X-Men are dead. It’s depressing and somber and has some bloody good violence and apparently it’s what has been missing for me in the X-Men franchise. Folks who follow my ramblings know I struggle to appreciate most superhero movies. I solidly loved Logan. Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart give great performances.

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12. What if a color was so weird it ruined a family? Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space (2019) has some hammy acting and some clunky dialogue, but if you let the neon pink-infused nightmare overtake you, there’s plenty to thrill you. Nicolas Cage is an aspiring alpaca farmer that’s relocated his family to the sticks. A meteor from outer space with an un-describable glow starts making everyone act weird. Because it’s based on a Lovecraft story. It’s a bit of Annihilation meets The Thing and reminded me of From Beyond. The color saturation, some artsy sci-fi/horror elements, and Nicolas Cage’s acting crazy may cause some to draw comparisons with Mandy. While Color Out of Space is nowhere near as good as those films mentioned (but more fun than Annihilation), it’s got its own weird, hypnotic vibe that keeps ratcheting up until the wild ending. Also starring Elliott Knight, Madeleine Arthur, Joely Richardson, and Tommy Chong.

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11. I gave Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus (1947) a re-watch and, questionable depictions of the Himalayan people aside, it’s a stunning drama with gorgeous colors and copious amounts of matte paintings. Some nuns (with Deborah Kerr at the helm) are sent to turn a windswept mountaintop palace into a school and hospital. Try as they might to tame the land, their inexperience and the hostility of the region make progress exceedingly difficult. They wrestle with their faith, are haunted by their past, and begin to lose their grasp on their own sanity. Co-starring David Farrar (in some cheeky short shorts), Kathleen Byron, Sabu, and Jean Simmons.

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10. I do love me some Cronenberg. And this earlier work, Shivers (1975), is a brilliant sort of nightmare. Essentially a zombie movie, but instead of undead corpses desiring to feast upon brains (how hack), a scientist develops a parasite that removes inhibitions and creates sex-crazed violent maniacs. Can one become so controlled by one’s primal urges that one ceases to be oneself? This chilling movie has the answers.

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9. Jack Nicholson plays a depressed radio host who lays his soul bare for whatever listeners he has before getting strung along on a fishy real estate deal scheme concocted by his charismatic brother (Bruce Dern) in Bob Rafelson’s The King of Marvin Gardens (1972). Set in an overcast Atlantic City that feels like purgatory, this drama really sucks you into a sad but fascinating world similar to Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces. It’s funny. It’s pathetic. It’s weird. It’s soul crushing. Ellen Burstyn gives a phenomenal performance as one of Dern’s lovers who is lamenting her fading youth. This is a movie for people who like gritty 70s dramas. So I loved it. Also features Scatman Crothers and Julia Anne Robinson.

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8. Steven Spielberg’s first feature, Duel (1971), is a masterful exercise in minimalism and visual language. Penned by sci fi legend, Richard Matheson, Duel concerns a dweeby businessman (Dennis Weaver) who passes a filthy big rig marked “flammable” on a lonely desert highway and thus inadvertently incurs the disproportionate wrath of the unseen driver. It’s all one long deadly game of cat and mouse on the road. And it is up there with Jaws and Jurassic Park for Spielberg action and suspense.

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7. I don’t even know what I can say about One Cut of the Dead (2019) that won’t ruin it. It’s a zombie movie, but it’s actually not. It’s more about filmmaking itself and it is clever and funny and heartwarming. It takes the concept of Noises Off and transposes it from the stage to film. And it is a wholly enjoyable affair. Better than Noises Off, because this one has zombies. A weirdly heartwarming movie about filmmaking.

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6. This one’s a re-watch, but I am here to say The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) holds up as a brilliant detective farce with absurd visual gags aplenty. Leslie Nielson is at the top of his comedy game here as he delivers ludicrous lines with fierce deadpan stoicism. Based on the sadly short-lived TV series, the first Naked Gun is the best one and one of the best movies Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker ever did.

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5. Tutto a posto e niente in ordine (1975) (aka All Screwed Up) might be my first Lina Wertmüller movie. She’s a renown Italian auteur best known for her comedies. This film is a chaotic pastiche of life in Milan. Gino and Carletto are bumpkins dazzled by the big city bustle and quickly take to pursuing women. A wild flatting situation and the relentless pursuit of work, money, and romance leads to series of funny episodes. I really enjoyed this madcap farce of city life and will be discovering more Wertmüller in the weeks to come.

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4. Ken Loach’s Black Jack (1979) is a refreshingly British picaresque adventure. When an execution goes awry and the French man (Jean Franval) climbs out of his coffin, he forcibly enlists the help of a young boy (Stephen Hirst) to make his getaway. Along the way they meet fops, grifters, vagabonds, snake oil salesman, and a young mad girl being sent away. You may need the subtitles on (the accents may be a bit thick), but Black Jack is a winning adventure for fans of period drama.

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3. Under the Silver Lake (2018), directed by David Robert Mitchell, is like a double postmodern neo noir that satirizes Hollywood, manhood, and pattern-seeking primates’ innate yet inane search for meaning in a cosmically dispassionate universe and skewers our voyeurism, paranoia, and hypocritical sex politics in subtle and sublime ways. It’s Hitchcock. It’s Lynch. It’s a bit of the Coens. And it is a masterpiece. A 33 year old loser dangerously close to being evicted (Andrew Garfield) meets a pretty girl who then disappears and so he embarks on a haphazard sleuthing mission that takes him to psychedelic parties and bomb shelters and cult huts. Beautifully shot. Great performances. Some visceral and truly memorable scenes. And darkly, devastatingly funny.

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2. I gave Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987) a re-watch. It’s a very slow and poetic film, but its unshakable humanism is captivating. Bruno Ganz plays an angel in a black and white world. Humans are fascinating to him. For thousands of years he has silently watched their joy; their despair; their loves; their discoveries; and their curiosity. Does he dare sacrifice his heavenly wings and immortality for a fleeting taste of what it means to be human? Peter Falk plays himself, an intensely introspective actor doing a film in Berlin and his presence adds a gentle touch of peaceful wisdom. Wings of Desire is the type of movie that will make you think about your humanity and our relationship to each other as well as whatever else might be out there.

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1.  With zero irony, Nabwana I. G. G.’s Wakaliwood action comedy, Bad Black (2016), is my unadulterated favorite film in a while. While the narrating Video Joker may offer some playful commentary and added meta-textual comedy, the story itself plunges you headfirst into the slums of Uganda. Bad Black (Nalwanga Gloria) is a young girl (played by Kirabo Beatrice as a kid) who winds up in a child gang, but when she kills their oppressive leader she becomes the baddest gang lord in Kampala. The movie gleefully shifts from heavy themes of human trafficking and murder to wacky kung fu fights (that are legit decently choreographed). You also get a white American doctor (Alan Ssali Hofmanis) being trained by a kid named Wesley Snipes (Kasule Rolean) to become a “commando”. Twists and turns and revelations connect everything back to truly satisfying conclusion. Wakaliwood is famous for its low budget, but this is real world cinema. Who Killed Captain Alex? blew me away when I first saw it. But Bad Black is a solid improvement. It’s faster, easier to follow, funnier, and arguably has better action (more kung fu!).

BONUS SHORTS

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David Lynch interrogates a monkey in What Did Jack Do (2020). It’s very David Lynch. I like David Lynch. I did not like What Did Jack Do.

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Special effects maestro Phil Tippett has been working on his stop-motion passion project, Mad God (2013-?), for several years now. And he’s still going! In a dystopian hellscape, a mysterious, be-goggled urban spelunker is deposited on a voyage of exploration into mechanical catacombs and pulsing corridors of suffering. A horrific, tormented fever dream awaits all those who dare enter. A work of art, to be sure.

THE LAST FEW MOVIES: EPISODE XXXVII – A Pretty Good Year

Happy holidays. Watch some movies.

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16. Disney once again saps all energy, magic, and joy out of another stone cold classic with their remake of The Lion King (2019). It’s a hollow, dour, boring slog. The photo-realism is technically impressive but lacks style and emotional resonance. I’m not  against this concept working. It just doesn’t work. Great voice cast on paper, but they all sound half asleep (with the exception of maybe Billy Eichner).

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15. Holiday Inn (1942) has Bing Crosby in blackface and was still better than The Lion King. Fred Astaire has a couple dance numbers and it features the cozy holiday anthem, “White Christmas” (and other songs from Irving Berlin). Holiday Inn was later turned into White Christmas in 1954 with Bing and Danny Kaye, which is a better film that I also don’t particularly care for.

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14. Gave an old Bill Murray classic a re-watch. Ivan Reitman’s Stripes (1981) may be better remembered fondly than re-experienced. There are some very funny bits and lines, but overall the film is disjointed, hasn’t aged the best, and I never got the attack RV. You could re-watch the wacky hijinks of a schlubby bunch of dudes bumble and smart-mouth their way through boot camp or you could watch some of the better movies with Bill Murray or Harold Ramis or John Candy, etc.

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13. Finally saw Joker (2018). It was pretty good. What I hate about movies with so much public tug-o-war over if it’s the best thing ever or the worst is that the fuss usually diminishes the experience of the film itself. As an homage to Scorsese’s King of Comedy, it’s pretty decent. As a mainstream film approaching the conversation on class struggle, it’s blunt but not bad. As a movie about the iconic Batman nemesis, it’s kind of bewildering. Had the movie had zero connection to the comic book Joker character, it would have been far more interesting (to me, anyway) but it would have had a harder time getting seen. As a movie about mental illness, it’s iffy. Joaquin Phoenix is good and the cinematography is gritty and saturated with the right combination of colors. Maybe the trouble I have with telling a story about the vulnerable and tragic beginnings of the clown prince of crime is that it strips him of his anarchic mystique.

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12. Stunning animation, meticulous art direction, and a clever script all serve to make Sergio Pablos’ Klaus (2019) an instant holiday classic. When a freeloading postal flunky gets sent to the remotest outpost on the map, he discovers a village at perpetual civil war (think a Scandinavian flavored Hatfields vs McCoys type thing). In order to reach his mail quota, the postman teams up with a reclusive woodsman who used to make toys. The rest is Christmas magic. Klaus is wacky but restrained. It has humor and heart in equal measure. The attention to detail and the groundbreaking animation techniques really showcase the unique energy of 2D animation. It’s an original film that will definitely be worth revisiting every year. Featuring the voices of Jason Schwartzman, J.K. Simmons, Joan Cusack, Rashida Jones, Norm Macdonald, and more.

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11. Martin Scorsese assembles the most iconic Italian American actors to give us a movie called The Irishman (2019). Robert DeNiro plays an Irish enforcer to the Italian mob (run by Joe Pesci) and winds up being chums with union leader, Jimmy Hoffa (played by the irascible Al Pacino). It’s a slow-moving period piece that’s a pleasant pastiche of the director’s earlier works (most notably Casino and Goodfellas). Simply let the narrative wash over you scene to scene. While not my favorite Scorsese flick, it’s a smooth ride that goes down easy. I may wish it had a bit more bite to it, but it was great seeing Pesci and the gang again.

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10. Fernando Ferreira Meirelles (City of God) directs Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes (2019), a quiet drama about Pope Benedict XVI’s abdication of his role to Cardinal Bergoglio. It’s an abstract sort of world, this film invites you in to observe. It’s a world of ancient, ornate artwork and old men pontificating on different ideas. And the differences in values are treated with intelligence and sincerity. Hopkins and Pryce give excellent performances. I enjoyed watching the relationship between the two men evolve.

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9. Just as I had hoped, Eddie Murphy is back. Murphy plays blaxploitation legend Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name (2019). Perhaps it paints Moore’s work in a light that is more profound than his oeuvre merits, but that’s part of this behind-the-scenes fantasy’s charm. It is satisfying to watch Murphy’s portrayal of the man cracking the code to his comedy, discovering this flamboyant character, and, in the face of adversity, sticking to his guns and doing it all his way. Fans of Rudy Ray Moore, blaxploitation, film history, or any member of the star-studded cast won’t be disappointed. Features Wesley Snipes, Craig Robinson, Titus Burgess, Keegan-Michael Key, Da’vine Joy Randolph, Snoop Dogg, Mike Epps, and Chris Rock.

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8. Taika Waititi follows in the footsteps of Chaplin, Lubitsch, Brooks, and Benigni with a film that lampoons the utter absurdity of the Third Reich in Jojo Rabbit (2019). The film follows a young boy (Roman Griffin Davis) who is brainwashed into the Hitler Youth and discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) in their house. Most similar to Waititi’s earlier film, The Hunt for the Wilderpeople (a classic on its own), many may find it reminiscent of the films of Wes Anderson. Unlike Anderson, however, Waititi isn’t afraid of being tender or showing emotion. While the setting and subject matter may be serious, the comedy lands with zing and crackle. Taika Waititi is fun as a camp Hitler imaginary friend, but Sam Rockwell steals the show as a thoroughly disenfranchised alcoholic soldier. Rebel Wilson and Stephen Merchant are also great in their small roles. Johansson, as Jojo’s mother, is the heart of the film.

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7. Music! Magic! A donkey that shits precious jewels! Incest! It’s Donkey Skin (1970). Catherine Deneuve stars as a princess who flees the kingdom where her weird, horny father wants to marry her in this bonkers and very French fairy tale. Sumptuous costumes, lush sets, eye popping colors, acerbic wit, and a healthy dose of comic surreality make this musical fantasy one you’ll want to experience again. Wonderfully weird.

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6. Souleymane Cissé’s fantasy epic from Mali, Yeelen (1987), operates on its own logic. Young Nianankoro (Issiaka Kane) leaves his elderly mother to go on a quest to face his father, an evil wizard who wants his son dead. Nianankoro is blessed with magical powers of his own, and these powers serve him well on his journey as he meets kings, warriors, his uncle, and a hyena man who knows the future. Yeelen is a wholly unique cinematic experience that fans of world cinema cannot miss.

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5. Regardless of to what degree you disliked The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson is a filmmaker. Knives Out (2019) doesn’t reinvent the whodunit mystery genre, but it perfectly gels all the typical ingredients with such grace and style that it makes for a delicious outing to the theater. A sly gentleman sleuth (Daniel Craig with a Southern drawl) investigates the mysterious suicide of a wealthy novelist and patriarch (Christopher Plummer). The grieving family members are interrogated and as the plot continues to twist, their temperaments are pushed to reveal their true colors. Very Agatha Christie. Very wry. Very clever script and enjoyable performances. Stellar cast includes Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Lakeith Stanfield, Frank Oz, and more.

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4. The Host director, Bong Joon Ho tackles class struggle in the brilliantly bleak South Korean satirical thriller Parasite (2019). The poor Kim family seek to exploit the filthy rich Park family. Loaded with twists and tension, it’s best you don’t know too much. Stars Kang-Ho Song, Cho Yeo-jeong, and Park So-dam.

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3. Since Z (1969) is one of my all time favorite movies, it seems logical I would love Costa-Gavras’s equally politically frustrating State of Siege (1972). And I do. An American diplomat is found dead in Uruguay. The rest of the film plots out the web of complicated events and taut political climate that led to this tragic bookend. From its gritty aesthetic to its unapologetic portrayal of right-wing fascism and leftist terror response, its a movie for grownups that sucks you in, bludgeons you with its pessimism, and leaves you grasping for what to do. Much like Z, there are no real main characters. Everything is presented from a cold, almost documentarian, distance. Features Yves Montand, O. E. Hasse, Jean-Luc Bideau, and Jacques Perrin.

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2. It may not be the best movie technically, but for sheer enjoyment nothing can top Neil Breen’s fifth feature film, Twisted Pair (2018). Cade and Cale are identical twins (Breen in a dual role) who get abducted by aliens and made into humanoids (he means robots) and return to Earth with markedly different ideas about how to save humanity from itself. Twisted Pair contains most of the Breen hallmarks you come to expect, but in putting himself against himself, it’s as if he is examining his Messiah Complex with a more introspection than ever before. Breen’s the kind of writer-producer-director-star-caterer you wish for; a brilliantly incomprehensible narcissist whose insistence on writing himself as the most misunderstood yet intelligent, physically strong, sexually desirable, morally superior, and, now, more conscious human being alive that belies his incompetence as a filmmaker and his childlike understanding of reality. Paradox of paradoxes, all of these outwardly negative descriptors aggregate into something truly hypnotic and confoundingly pure. Perhaps his most personal work yet. He doesn’t ask what it means to be human. That question is too small. In Twisted Pair, he dares to ask the ultimate question: what does it mean to be Breen? I can’t thank Neil Breen enough for bringing these blessings of cinematic joy into the world.

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1. Fanny and Alexander(1982) is like the ultimate Ingmar Bergman film and one of the very best Christmas movies. Yes, even better than Die Hard. I had seen the 188 minute theatrical cut years ago at the New Beverly Cinema, but this holiday season I strapped in for the full length 312 minute mini series version. And what a marvel of filmmaking it is. Despite its intimidating length, I’d say it’s more accessible than say Persona. The story follows the affluent Ekdahl family, in particular the youngest children of the sickly theater director and his smoking hot wife. And what a gaggle of complex characters and deep, dark themes the legendary Swedish auteur has collected. Gorgeous to look at with each frame and peppered with laughs of whimsy and gasps of horror, this might be my favorite Bergman.

BONUS SHORT

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Anna Biller’s unique knack for recapturing the aesthetics of the days cinema past (this time, classic 1950s westerns) and juxtaposing them against feminist themes is on display in A Visit from the Incubus (2001). A woman (Biller) is being harassed every night in her sleep by a lascivious sex demon, so she takes him on the only way she can: by outperforming him on the stage at the local saloon. Colorful and tongue-in-cheek.

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode XXXVI – Halloween 2019

It’s Halloween and I am watching some spooky movies about it. As always, the films are ranked in order of what I thought of them. If you’re looking for something to watch, there’s a few in here that are definitely memorable.

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19. I hope you like more underwater footage than Thunderball. This is Beyond Atlantis (1973). And good grief is there a lot of swimming. Here’s the plot: a bunch of slimy city folk (including the late Sid Haig playing a character named East Eddie) travel to an island inhabited by a tribe of people with huge eyeballs to collect priceless pearls. Sid Haig and hot bikini bods (mainly Leigh Christian) make this Filipino-American flick sporadically watchable, but a bit tedious.

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18. I think it’s fairly apparent that I am a ravenous Redlettermedia fan. They are living the dream. And they recommended Suburban Sasquatch (2004). So I watched it. Most of it. It is so laughably amateurish that it becomes more of a slog to sit through. It’s tepid and boring and vaguely Christian. Bigfoot sucks. He sucks as a character. He sucks as a cryptoid. I hate it. This movie had us laughing out loud at quite a few parts, but it just becomes so repetitive and profoundly ugly to look at that all the hammy acting and cheesy dialogue in the world can’t justify the product as a whole. Perhaps I will finish the last 20 minutes. But I don’t feel any pressing need to.

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17. R.O.T.O.R. (1987) is another sci-fi B-movie with some funny moments (that stupid mouthy robot in the picture is a highlight) but ultimately not very memorable. It’s derivative of Terminator and Robocop, but there are a few laughs to be had. Fun fact: the title “R.O.T.O.R” stands for Robotic Officer of the Tactical Operations Research/Reserve Unit. For reference, the rest of the film is just as clunky.

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16. What a series. I keep watching Howling sequels, guys. I still haven’t seen the acclaimed Joe Dante original. But this series is a trip. Each new entry is bad in remarkably different ways. Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf is still my favorite (mainly because the of killer song, Sybil Danning, Christopher Lee, and its unabashed sleaziness). Howling III: The Marsupials is easily the stupidest (and most objectionable – straight up marsupial werewolf birthing sequence). Howling IV: The Original Nightmare is the most uninspired and boring. And now, Howling V: The Rebirth (1989) gets a few points from me. Perhaps the most ambitious in its first act. It assembles a gaggle of unlikable haircuts that have been selected to tour an ancient castle in Hungary. A castle that was abandoned 500 years ago. A castle that’s cursed. Yes, it’s stupid and almost entirely bloodless with only slightly more werewolf sightings that Howling IV, but the castle is neat and it has actual cinematography. You’ll be begging for it to end by the third kill, but you’ll keep watching because it’s The Howling.

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15. I like Zach Galifianakis. I think he’s a very comical actor with a lot more talent and personal whimsy than Hollywood knows what to do with. Between Two Ferns: The Movie (2019) takes Zach’s webseries: a celebrity interview show riffing on public access programming, and stretches it as far as it can go. It’s not bad, but less is more with this concept maybe. Is Zach an oblivious oaf bumbling over poorly constructed interview questions or is he a cunning critic playfully skewering the rich and famous? The movie informs us he is somehow both. And it doesn’t exactly work. It has some good humor, but the hardest I laughed was at the outtakes during the end credits and I think that’s because that’s when it was the most genuine. The template of a phony interview show, giving the host an opening to roast his subjects is classic, but as an engaging narrative subject, it’s on wobbly ground. Somewhere between Jiminy Glick, Ali G, and Eric Andre is Zach Galifianakis. Sitting, awkwardly, between two ferns.

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14. A deaf woman is trapped in a waking nightmare when a murderous lunatic stumbles on her house in the woods and decides to psychologically torture her as he gets closer and closer in Hush (2016). It’s pretty direct and minimalist and gets the job done with a small cast in a single setting and it does it effectively. There’s a bit of ham, but it taps into that primal fear of being watched and having your privacy stolen. Once the killer removes his mask (way too early), the movie never feels as sharp, but it still works well enough.

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13. Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! (2017) starts off as a tale of a quiet wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and an intense poet (Jarvier Bardem) living in an idyllic house in the country. When the poet allows a stranger (Ed Harris) to stay in their house, things get awkward. As he overstays his welcome and invites more people, it takes a toll on the wife (the centerpiece of the film and whose perspective all of the action is viewed from). About a third of the way in, the symbolism gets so heavy-handed that you begin to see what the whole thing is about. Sort of. But I feel like this movie, while thought provoking and dealing with interesting themes (many of which I genuinely want to see explored more in cinema), gets mired in its own pretentiousness and shocking grimness. Is it art? Yes. Do I want to see it again? No?

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12. I re-watched Disney’s The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) with some mischievous tykes and, I gotta say, I think there’s a reason my mind blocked out the memory of the Mr. Toad segment. It not good. It’s beautifully animated, but as a story it simply goes nowhere and is no worthy adaptation of The Wind and the Willows. The Legend of Sleep Hollow part with Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horsemen make up for a lot of time wasted though. I fun little dose of nostalgia. The last fifteen minutes are pure animation gold. Basil Rathbone and Bing Crosby trade off narrating duties on these two classic literary tales.

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11. Ever since I saw Young Frankenstein I have been in love with Marty Feldman. Marty Feldman: Six Degrees of Separation (2006) is a BBC documentary on the memorable actor’s inspired and tragically short career. From his early days in radio and television to the good movies and the bad movies, this biography chronicles his struggles as an artist and his unrelenting humor, joy, and creativity.

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10. Tina Fey’s Mean Girls (2004) is a hot dose of high school anxiety. Lindsay Lohan is the new girl in school and she quickly gets sucked into the teenage drama of warring factions of duplicitous girls (and guys) all vying for status in what is indisputably the most important time in their lives. It’s smart. It’s funny. It’s got a lot of pink. Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Lizzy Caplan, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Lacey Chabert, and Tim Meadows round out the very funny cast.

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9. Did Spielberg secretly direct Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982)? Who cares? It’s great ghostly fun with wonderfully ghoulish special effects. When a typical suburban family starts to notice weird stuff happening in their house they defer to the experts to figure out what is going on. It’s ghosts. Zelda Rubenstein, JoBeth Williams, and Craig T. Nelson give great performances as well.

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8. Rob Zombie’s first film, House of 1000 Corpses (2002) is basically a haunted house ride turned into a movie. It’s aggressive, wacky, and steeped in a familiar Halloween atmosphere all while paying homage (or ripping off) classic scary movies, but with an extra coat of grime and whimsically mean-spirited edge. And it’s funny as hell. It’s a bit of a mess and it won’t be for everybody, but I kind of loved it. Features Sid Haig, Sheri Moon Zombie, Rain Wilson, Karen Black, Walton Goggins, Tom Towles, and even more great faces.

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7. The Body Snatcher (1945), directed by Robert Wise and based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson, is a classic horror yarn about grave robbing for medical research and the unseemly lot a man of science can find himself in all for the pursuit of greater surgical knowledge. Despite some typical period melodrama, the plot and characters are refreshingly complex. Stiff-lipped Henry Daniell gives a typically restrained but compelling performance as the medical instructor who is haunted by his guilt and Boris Karloff is glorious to behold as he connives and cajoles his way from scene to scene. Their relationship is more horror than all the cemetery desecration and skeletons combined. Bela Lugosi also has a small role as a quiet janitor who’s always listening.

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6. This next one is an indie flick that is rough around the edges, but well worth a look. Charles Burnett’s My Brother’s Wedding (1983) is a gritty, human view of life in the ghetto. Pierce is a smart young man with little ambition and his friendship with seedy sorts puts him at odds with his family. At times funny, at times tragic, it’s the sort of unapologetic film that feels like a series of snapshots into the lives of real people. This is what independent cinema was made for.

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5. This movie sets up a brilliantly wacky premise and just keeps delivering with creative twists and turns the whole way through. Dave Made a Maze (2017) is about a cardboard labyrinth that takes on a life of its own and traps its creator and his friends in a deadly world of dead-ends and booby traps. The movie loses me a bit with its heavy-handed metaphors for artists and their creations (not nearly as bad as Mother! though), but its charm, levity, and genuine originality push it to something great and truly memorable. Inspired verbal and visual comedy, a somewhat sappy earnestness, and a raging Minotaur make this whimsical horror comedy an adventure you won’t want to miss.

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4. Tales from the Hood (1995) is a brilliant horror anthology laced with scares and scathing social satire to spare. Clarence Williams III (who is fantastically over the top) plays a sinister funeral director who takes three gang members for a little ride through four tales of terror in order to teach them something. I saw the sequel first and thought it was cheesy but fun. This one is legit great and I loved it.

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3. This is how you do a remake. Dario Argento’s 1977 original film is a high octane, psychedelic, expressionistic horror house that, one may argue, is aggressively style-over-substance. It’s an unforgettable cult classic for a reason. Luca Guadagnino’s remake flips the script entirely and creates a more subdued arthouse horror more focused on unspoken drama and witch politics. While Suspiria (1977) is frenetic and vibrant, Suspiria (2018) is slow and sumptuous. The color palette is muted. The skies are gray and rainy. The Berlin wall looms just outside the windows of the creepy ballet academy. The twists are macabre and surprising, especially if you’ve seen the original. Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, and Mia Goth star and Jessica Harper (the lead from the original) makes a cameo. The only thing that I found a little jarring (in that it took me out of the film) was Professor Lutz Ebersdorf. I get it and it does create an eerie and sort of experimentally otherworldly atmosphere, but it kept distracting me because I couldn’t help but look for the reason behind the odd choice. Ultimately, I think it served the film well and I loved it.

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2. There’s something special about French science fiction (especially animation and comics) from the 70s and 80s. Moebius and others were undoubtedly a huge influence on the style and scope of surreal world building. Gandahar (1987) is very much in this vein. Directed by René Laloux, whose Fantastic Planet remains perhaps the most important sci-fi animation of all time; Gandahar (aka Light Years) is a lesser cousin, but still a wonderfully weird and transporting experience. It’s a tale of oppression and war, but much like Fantastic Planet, it is perhaps even more concerned with the mechanics of this fictitious universe it posits and the ecosystems and overlapping cultures of these alien planets. Time travel elements and the heady concepts explored make this a must see for fans of animated sci-fi. Some disputes over the soundtracks. I watched to the English dub which I believe had the American electronic score. It was good, but I would like to find the French version as well to compare.

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1. I was a big fan of Robert Eggers’ previous film, The Witch, so naturally I could not wait to see The Lighthouse (2019). Shot in glorious black and white on 35mm film and presented in 1.19:1 aspect ratio, the film instantly transports you into a different time period. The forgotten and windswept rock you are stuck on is cold and wet and miles and miles from any living soul save for the briny, old lighthouse keeper played by Willem Dafoe (who chews the scenery like it’s a dinner of lobster claws). Robert Pattinson plays his new assistant, a former lumberman looking to make a few bucks working on the remote, gull-tormented island. Together the two strange men will battle the elements, each other, and their own sanity. The Lighthouse works as a grim psychological horror or as a very black comedy about bad roommates. And it crashes like ice cold waves upon the jagged northeastern cliffs. It festers and blurs. Sexual nightmares of mermaids and guilt come and go as the two men grow further isolated from everything in this world. Unsettling to contemplate and gorgeous to look at.

BONUS SHORTS

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Rowan Atkinson plays an irritating little man who has just been diagnosed with a terminal illness that will end his life in 30 minutes. Dead On Time (1983) shows him racing through the streets trying to fill the fleeting moments of his life with meaning. It’s a diverting little sketch that utilizes its premise well. Suspense, laughs, and a pure heart.

The Hour After Westerly (2019), directed by Nate Bell and Andrew Morehouse, follows a man who loses an hour trying to get home one night. Where did the missing hour go? And why does he keep having visions of a lighthouse? And who is this woman? Gorgeously shot and quietly introspective. Reminds me of The Twilight Zone.

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I hope you like weird anime short films. Cat Soup (2001), directed by Tatsuo Satō, is surreal, grim, bizarre, and cute. A cat travels to the land of the dead to rescue his sister after she drowns. The animation is inspired and beautiful.

Hope you enjoyed that and maybe picked up a movie suggestion or two. You know, as much as I wasn’t into Beyond Atlantis, I can’t deny it had one of the greatest freeze frame endings of all time. Happy Halloween, folks.

RIP Sid Haig

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.

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.