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 XXX – Killer Soundtracks, Horror, and Crazy Evil

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

Enjoy and Happy Halloween.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS ROUND!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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