Last Few Movies XLI – Monster and Mayhem

My quest to find and revisit the most interesting movies every made continues.

Once again, films are listed in the order that I enjoyed them.

Movie Review: Never Too Young to Die (1986) - As Vast as Space and ...

25. John Stamos (Full House) and Vanity (The Last Dragon) star in Never Too Young to Die (1986), a pretty forgettably bad B-action movie that does at least boast a truly gloriously camp hermaphrodite villain played by Gene Simmons of Kiss. Also Robert Englund appears briefly as a nerd.

Fireproof - Available Now

24. Christian movie icon, Kirk Cameron, is a firefighter who learns not be such a dick to his wife and his wife learns the importance of valuing her dick of a husband in Fireproof (2008). As far as hokey religious flicks go, the production value isn’t the worst and, despite some alienating dogma speech and strict adherence to gender roles, it does mean well.

What the 'Big Short' Movie Gets Right—and Wrong—About the ...

23. Adam McKay’s The Big Short (2015) is a sprawling real-life drama peppered with a multitude of characters vexing about the housing market bubble of the early 2000s. It’s an important issue. I just found it rather tedious and don’t remember a single thing from it.

Trilogy of Terror: Solarbabies (1986) - Noiseless Chatter

22. Imagine a post-apocalyptic desert world where fascists run orphanages and the orphans form roller skate ball game squads and then an alien orb that can conjure water shows up and stuff. This is Solarbabies (1986). It’s all very stupid, but it has Jamie Gertz and some pretty decent production value.

C Me Dance - EricDSnider.com

21. Weirdly I’d seen this one before. C Me Dance (2009) is another low-budget Christian production that features a ballet dancer whose mom dies and then she gets cancer but then God gives her the ability to convert people and make them repent just by looking at them, but then Satan tries to intimidate her into knocking it off. And honestly, with a plot this wacky, had this been an Italian flick from the 60s, it would have made so much more sense. It’s got a few inadvertent laugh-out-loud moments, but not my favorite of the genre.

Brian Clark on Twitter: "death spa is really good… "

20. A slasher movie set in a bougie health club? Cue the killer lightning strike opening of Death Spa (1989). Death Spa is a bad slasher film that doesn’t quite make my cut for great schlock, despite its bonkers plot. Two things that Death Spa needed more of: more spa and/or gym equipment-related deaths and a clear point of view (do the filmmakers view the health spa trend with disdain?). As it stands, it just reads as a random location that hadn’t been done yet. A bit more location-specific gore and a dose of satire would have pushed it up a few notches. The ghost/computer nonsense was marvelously stupid though.

Dagon (2001) directed by Scott Gordon | Eldritch horror, Cosmic ...

19. Legendary horror director, Stuart Gordon, falters slightly in the mostly fun Lovecraft misfire, Dagon (2008). A young couple gets shipwrecked and winds up in a remote Spanish fishing villages where the townsfolk are turning into fish creatures. It’s decent schlock that could stand to be a bit schlockier, but like I said: it’s mostly fun. I’d give it a look if you’re into Lovecraft adaptations. It’s no Re-Animator or From Beyond, but it’s not without its charm.

Green Screen: The Oral History of 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ...

18. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) is still the best. Before it became a recognized franchise, you have to appreciate just how insane the premise was here. Humanoid surfer dude karate turtles get trained by a rat in the sewer so they can take down an evil gang that grooms children to be ninja. Corey Feldman is reading all of his lines at an 11.

Eugene V. Debs and the Endurance of Socialism | The New Yorker

17. I knew nothing about Eugene V. Debs. We didn’t really learn about the American labor movement in school. I only knew Vermont Senator, Bernie Sanders, had mentioned him in a few interviews, and recently tweeted about the documentary The Revolutionist: Eugene V. Debs (2019). So I watched it. It’s a great primer into the socialist, activist, and trade unionist, Eugene V. Debs. People interested in the history of unions and the labor movement in the US should find this character pretty interesting. It really goes to show how much we take for granted and how long people like Debs have been fighting and how far we still have to go to improve the conditions and protect the rights of employees everywhere.

French Can Can – 1954, Jean Renoir | Wonders in the Dark

16. Jean Gabin stars as the man who brings the working-class Parisian café-concert to the wealthier elite in Jean Renoir’s French Cancan (1954). It’s a love letter to 19th century showbiz and painters like the director’s own father, Pierre-Auguste Renoir. It’s breezy and enjoyable, especially if you’re into costumes and getting a glimpse into the art scene of Paris’s past.

Argoman the Fantastic Superman (1967) - Backdrops — The Movie ...

15. This is basically Batman but in Casino Royale (1967) without the irony (I think). Argoman, the Fantastic Superman (1967) is classic Italian schlock with a groovy Austin Powers aesthetic. Argoman can (I think) do anything. He can use telekinesis and punch people and influence people’s wills and who knows what else. His morals are ambiguous (he’s a skosh rapey and he murders so many people) and when he’s not in his zany outfit, he looks like the archetypal man in vintage ad illustrations. This is for fans of camp.

American Factory Wins Oscar | ucomm blog

14. A Chinese company buys a defunct Ohio factory and brings it back to life in the hopes of expanding business in the documentary American Factory (2019) directed by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. This is a fascinating look at capitalism, culture clash, and the working class people caught in between. I highly recommend this doc for anyone interested in our ongoing global corporate takeover.

The Blob (1988) – film review | mossfilm

13. I never thought the original Blob from 1958 was that great. It had a kooky theme song and some fun set-pieces, but Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake, The Blob, is everything a good remake should be. A mysterious blob of goo crash lands outside a small American town and proceeds to absorb everyone that comes into its path. It has some added humor, well-done gross-out effects, and some classic 80s punk anti-government satire. The 80s heralded some of the great remakes of classic horror-sci-fi and The Blob deserves to be mentioned alongside Carpenter’s The Thing and Cronenberg’s The Fly.

Quick Gun Murugan: Mind it!

12. A reincarnating vegetarian superhuman cowboy goes head to head with a corrupt beef franchise restauranteur in the Indian comedy-melodrama, Quick Gun Murugun (2009). It’s like a live-action cartoon complete with outlandish plots and physics-bending action scenes. We laughed a lot. It’s loads of fun if you’re in the mood for something a bit lighter and silly.

Invasion of Alien Bikini - CinéLounge

11. This low-budget Korean sci-fi comedy romance starts super frenetic and aggressive before it settles you in for a rather unique slow-burn horror. Invasion of Alien Bikini (2011) takes place over one night, mostly in the apartment of Young-Gun (Young-geun Hong), a celibate oddball and runty vigilante. When he rescues a young girl (Eun-Jung Ha) from what he believes to be street ruffians, he unwittingly signs up for the date from hell. Plot twist: she’s an alien and needs his seed by midnight or else she’ll die. But Young-Gun is a chaste and honorable man (and battling a lot of childhood trauma and general social awkardness). Thus a frantic struggle to forcibly extract his sperm ensues. The film is darkly funny and imaginative. I found it reminiscent of another weird Korean film; Save the Green Planet.

The 1999 Satire Starring RuPaul You Need to See | AnOther

10. Before Saved!, there was Jamie Babbit’s But I’m a Cheerleader (1999) starring Natasha Lyonne, Cathy Moriarty, Clea DuVall, and RuPaul. Megan Bloomfield (Lyonne) thinks she’s just your regular, all-American high school girl. But her family knows there’s something terribly, horrifically, unforgivably wrong with her. She’s a lesbian! So Megan gets shipped off to conversion therapy camp. A comedic voyage of self-discovery ensues.

Film Freak Central - Phenomena (1985) - Blu-ray Disc

9. Italian cinema of a certain era was certainly a trip. Iconic horror and giallo filmmaker and most assured perverted psychopath, Dario Argento, gives us the works in Phenomena (1985). If you thought Suspiria was a bit nutty and hard to follow, buckle up. Phenomena is a lot of disparate pieces and half-baked fragments of ideas blended together with a sort of hyper-stylized insane dream logic that congeal to form a truly impressive and perplexing, grotesque mess. An America teen (Jennifer Connolly) is sent to a boarding school in a Swiss village plagued by a serial killer who is mutilating young girls. The heroine can also communicate with insects for some reason. Also she sleepwalks. Also she may be developing a split personality. Then there’s an old entomologist (Donald Pleasance) who has a chimpanzee nurse. And that chimpanzee nurse – I cannot stress enough – rules. There’s plenty of clunky dialogue, bizarre character interactions, and gory surprises. The soundtrack seems hilariously mismatched with almost every scene, despite some great standalone themes from Goblin.

Meantime (1984) | The Criterion Collection

8. No one does depressing working class British drama like director Mike Leigh. Meantime (1983) boasts some stellar performances by young Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, and Phil Daniels (also the Trunchbull herself, Pam Davis). Squalor and class dynamics play prominent roles in this story of two brothers stuck in a miserable East End flat with their parents. Cleanse the palate with Leigh’s lighter fare like Happy-Go-Lucky and Topsy-Turvy. And then gear up for Naked, which appears later on this list.

From the Camel to Machinery: The Construction of Turksib and the ...

7. Who would have thought that a silent Soviet documentary about the construction of the Turkestan–Siberia Railway would be so cool? Turksib (1929) is that documentary. It’s a fascinating portrait of the region and the peoples who reside there as well as a technical examination of the engineers that built the railway. It’s soft propaganda, but a unique film for fans of trains or folks interested in the history of documentaries.

Mighty Kaiju, Right Beside You. DAIMAJIN TRILOGY (1966) | by ...

6. Question: Is Kimiyoshi Yasuda’s Daimajin (1966) the best classic kaiju movie? It’s a definite contender. It might just be my new favorite. While not as iconic as Godzilla or Gamera, Daimajin has something special. It’s framed as a folktale and set during feudal Japan so we get some fun samurai hijinks before the colossal destruction in the finale. It’s a slower movie, but unlike a lot of kaiju movies, the human drama is a bit more engrossing. Around the midway point I was begging for the monster to make an appearance and finally wreak some havoc, but it all builds to a satisfying conclusion. There’s rituals and coups and prophecy and espionage and murder and, once you get to the third act, and that damn stone samurai god wakes up, it’s nonstop awesome. Do not anger the god of the mountain. It’s easy to see how the Daimajin series influenced the later North Korean film, Pulgasari (which also borrows a bit from Harryhausen’s 20 Million Miles to Earth).

Goregirl on Twitter: "Now watching (re-watching) Basket Case (1982 ...

5. Micro-budget indie horror doesn’t get much better than Frank Henenlotter’s Basket Case (1982), the tale of a mystery man from upstate named Duane wandering the grimiest streets of New York City with a big wicker basket under his arm. What’s in the basket? That secret is revealed pretty early on. It’s his malformed twin brother. Psychically linked, the pair are on a revenge killing spree. It’s a wild premise, but the fact that every single character (no matter how minor) gets plenty of quirk and “business” to do just gives an added layer of humor and humanity. It’s great and I get why it’s been recommended to me so many times.

NorShor Classic Film Series: Duck Soup - Perfect Duluth Day

4. I grew up watching a lot of classic comedies from the 1930s and 40s. Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, the Three Stooges, etc. But the Marx Brothers were always my favorites. I recently re-watched Duck Soup (1933) and it is just as anarchic and silly as I remember. Watching it with people unfamiliar with the Marx Brothers was a treat. Comedy doesn’t always age well, but we were all impressed with how many jokes, puns, and gags were crammed into every single scene. If you don’t like a joke, wait three seconds and maybe you’ll dig the next one. Light on plot, Duck Soup features the wise-cracking Groucho wooing the regal Margaret Dumont while he acts as head of state of Freedonia, a peaceful bankrupt country on the brink of war with Sylvania. The hilarious Chico and Harpo are Sylvanian spies and the hapless Zeppo is a secretary or something. It’s a rather broad send-up of foreign diplomacy, politics, and modern warfare, but that doesn’t matter. Duck Soup boasts some of the Marxes very best gags and comedy set pieces (including the famous mirror scene). The first six Marx Brothers movies are their best (shout out to Animal Crackers and A Night at the Opera in particular), and Duck Soup is squarely their funniest.

Original 'King Kong' returns to LI theaters | Newsday

3. I also got to introduce the original RKO Pictures King Kong (1933) to my roommate recently. This is the granddaddy of monster movies and it had always terrified and fascinated me as a kid. Re-watching it again, I will stand by this movie. It holds up (just ignore some of the casual ethnocentrism and misogyny or treat it as a product of its time). This is pure, primal adventure. It’s mysterious jungles, lost civilizations, and a giant gorilla god who kidnaps a hot blonde (Fay Wray) and battles dinosaur after dinosaur. Stop-motion pioneer, Willis O’Brien (who would be a huge influence on Ray Harryhausen), had to develop a lot of new techniques to achieve the myriad of impressive creatures and in-camera effects. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s King Kong is still a captivating technical marvel and shockingly violent adventure after nearly 90 years. As an added bonus, today it stands as a remarkable time capsule of 1930s NYC. Still one of my favorite movies.

Pin on Fireball McNamara

2. Another Mike Leigh film. Naked (1993) is truly a depressing portrait of both London and humanity itself. Johnny (played amazingly by David Thewlis) turns up at an ex’s house and just sort of kicks around the joint while psychologically and verbally abusing anyone in his path as he rants in long, snarky, nihilistic screeds. This is a real actor’s film and a real gritty slice-of-life drama. You may feel dirty afterwards, but if you can appreciate despair and pain portrayed in a bitingly human fashion, give it a look.

San Sebastian Film Festival :: Errementari

1. Classic European demons done right. Errementari: the Blacksmith and the Devil (2017) is a delicious Basque horror fantasy directed by Paul Urkijo Alijo. A blacksmith escapes hell and keeps a demon locked up in his workshop until a young orphan girl releases it. I will not reveal any more of the plot. Just watch it. It’s fantastic. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for stories about myth, monsters, and the arbitrary rules that they must follow. Errementari is gorgeously shot and really explores the humanity of its characters in addition to boasting some brilliantly realized makeup effects. And it’s funny too. If you like dark fantasy with rich and familiar yet mysterious atmosphere like November, Border, Tale of Tales, and Pan’s Labyrinth then check this one out. You won’t be disappointed.

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 XXXIX – Quarantine Edition

What luck. I actually dug all of these movies and would recommend every single one (depending on your tastes). As this experiment continues, my ranking means less and less.

Image result for Class of 1999 2: The Substitute (1994)

23. Let me back up here. Awhile back I saw Class of 1984. I loved it. So when I learned there was a sequel, Class of 1999, I had to find it. I did. I watched it and I loved it. And it will appear later on this list. Because that’s how much I loved it. But then I flew too close to the sun on wax wings. I watched the next entry in the series, Class of 1999 2: The Substitute (1994). It starts out on solid ground. We got our emotionless murder-bot substitute teacher (played like a Mormon Terminator by Sasha Mitchell) locking unruly teens in their cars and blowing them up with a hand grenade, while he stands by stoically (but cool guys don’t look at explosions). I was tracking with this schlock until about halfway. This movie is almost two hours and the big paintball fight at the end goes on forever, although we do get a few nice info-dump monologues from mystery man (Rick Hill). It’s not without its charm, but after the first few good kills, you’ll be thinking about watching the first two flicks in the series.

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22. Stone Cold (1991) is exactly the kind of meathead ‘splosion nonsense you want in your early 90s action extravaganza. Plays-by-his-own-rules-Alabama cop, John Stone (Brian Bosworth), gets assigned to go undercover in a white supremacist biker gang led by Chains Cooper (Lance Henriksen). I gotta say, the middle was unbearably boring and the acting isn’t great from our negative charisma lead, but the opening shootout in the grocery store and the big helicopter and motorcycle and machine gun-filled attack on the capital building finale was *chef kiss* fantastic. The hero is kind of dopey and hard to take seriously. The story is meh. But them ‘splosions though. Also features Sam McMurry, Arabella Holzbog, Richard Grant, and William Forsythe. SPOILER ALERT: There’s also a gag where our beefcake protagonist is making a smoothie with increasingly implausible ingredients to then reveal it was actually all for his dog who is actually a huge lizard.

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21. Carl J. Sukenick had a vision. And, perhaps, only he can see it. Alien Beasts (1991) is his most famous work. And I do mean work. This was a hard watch. Fans of this site know I am a glutton for unusual and junk cinema and this movie ticks a lot of boxes. But Alien Beasts is incredibly alienating and difficult to follow. There were parts where I was cheering, but for most of it I was just waiting for the long, monotonous, uncomfortable “scenes” to end. This one is truly unique, but it is an endurance test. I probably will check out his other films though. Because I am quite insane and want to know more about the maker. But don’t worry. Better bad movies are coming.

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20. Roseanne Barr stars in the classic tale about a frumpy housewife who exacts revenge on her two-faced husband (Ed Begley, Jr.) and glamorous homewrecker/once-admired romance novelist, Mary Fisher (Meryl Streep). This is She-Devil (1989). It’s funny and nasty and wacky and ultimately empowering, I guess. And I find it hard not to enjoy any movie that has Linda Hunt. Directed by Susan Seidelman.

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19. Everyone’s favorite cockney, Michael Caine, is an aloof debauchee in Alfie (1966), directed by Lewis Gilbert. This famously fourth wall-breaking comedy-drama follows the eponymous lustful libertine as he shags his way through postwar London. All the while, he remains impervious to consequence and oblivious or uncaring to the heartbreak and tragedies he causes. Will he learn anything? Watch this one to find out if you’re a fan of Michael Caine and/or 60s British fashion.

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18. People who love Jim Varney’s renowned yokel alter ego, “Ernest P. Worrell” (I do not), cannot afford to miss Ernest’s first film debut. Not exactly an Ernest movie, Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam (1986) is more an excuse to showcase Varney’s talent for voices, accents, and physical comedy. And for the costume and art departments to go insane. A mad scientist (Varney) plans to take over the world and exact revenge on his childhood rival, the straight-laced, all-American, goody-two-shoes, milquetoast “hero”, Lance Sterling (and his no-nonsense partner, Doris). Dr. Otto is an assault on the senses, and, at times, tedious, but every time Varney is onscreen in any of his various characters it’s really a lot of fun. He commits 110% to all of the over-the-top ridiculousness and really demonstrates that he was a unique artist.

Bob Morales, Ritchie Valens' Older Brother, Dies at 81

17. Lou Diamond Philips stars as pop singer Ritchie Valens in La Bamba (1987). The musical biopic may not be favorite genre, and this flick has its share of ham next to its heart, but it’s pretty good. The movie follows the tragically short career of the Mexican-American musician and songwriter and delves into his fraught relationship with his brother Bob (played wonderfully by Esai Morales). The songs and styles are fun and it has plenty of emotional ups and downs. Also features Elizabeth Peña, Rosanna DeSoto, and Joe Pantoliano.

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16. I’ll say it. Guy Ritchie keeps remaking the same British gangster movie over and over again and no one seems to mind because it’s a really cool movie. Where does Rocknrolla (2008) rank alongside Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Revolver, and Snatch? Who cares? It’s good. It’s fast, funny, convoluted, and has a great cast loaded with sizzling dialogue barked out in brash cockney accents with even bigger egos. Guns and gangsters and double crosses and missing paintings. Also some rock and roll, because why the hell not? Guy Ritchie makes movies for the boys. And also the Aladdin remake. Whatever. I haven’t seen The Gentleman yet, but I’m sure it’s also more of the same and just as fun for it. Features Tom Wilkinson, Idris Elba, Gerard Butler, Thandie Newton, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Toby Kebbell, Karel Roden, Ludacris, and Jeremy Piven.

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15. The Albert and David Maysles documentary, Grey Gardens (1975), is a fascinating look into a deteriorating East Hampton home inhabited by a mother and daughter duo both named Edith Beale, and the aunt and first cousin to Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Edith the younger seems to be living in a fantasy world while her aging mother reminisces about her long-gone glory days. The two Ediths rag on each other a lot in their New England upper class accents throughout the film. Depressing, wistful, and human.

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14. Laika Studios’ CoralineParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Kubo and the Two Strings are all brimming with impeccable artistry and imagination. Missing Link (2019) continues the tradition. Once again it is beautiful to behold, fun to ponder its complex themes, and somehow missing some tiny yet perhaps crucial and elusive component. I can’t quite put my finger on it. But I will watch everything they do. In Missing Link, an English adventurer, Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), searches for belonging in the highly exclusive “Society of Great Men” while a lonely Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis) longs to find the family he never knew among the Yetis of the legendary Himalayan city of Shangri-La. It’s a technically impressive adventure loaded with humor, action, and comeuppance. Voice cast also features Zoe Saldana, Stephen Fry, Timothy Olyphant, and Emma Thompson.

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13. I really do miss good comedies. Mindhorn (2016), the story of a washed up TV actor turned police operative, delivers the laughs. Writer Julian Barratt stars as arrogant hack, Richard Thorncroft (formerly TV’s Detective Bruce Mindhorn). He must return to the Isle of Man to aid the local police in catching a killer. A killer who seems to believe the Mindhorn character to be a real detective. It’s a clever premise executed well. Also features Essie Davis and Steve Coogan.

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12. Once again, my affinity for schlock shines through. Mutilations (1986) is a marvelous Mormon sci-fi/horror flick with some innovative special effects on a shoestring budget and the very best bad acting you could want. It is sort of surreal watching a movie where you just know the entire cast and crew attend the same church. Skip Alien Beasts. Mutilations is where it’s at. I loved it. Even if the pacing in the last act makes this hour long movie feel like it might be two. It is careful when to play its hand and what to show, giving way for many wonderful surprises along the way. I can’t say enough about this, but I also don’t want to say too much. All I know is writer/director/producer Larry Thomas 100% believes in aliens and Joseph Smith.

Starship Troopers' May Be Getting a Sequel TV Series With the ...

11. Robocop director Paul Verhoeven does hyper-violent action satire right. A culture of jingoism and zealotry brainwashes generations of humans to sacrifice their lives for what they are told is the good of the planet. They will deploy to the arachnid planet of Klendathu where will they engage the alien enemy. What else can be said about Starship Troopers (1997)? It’s cynical and tongue-in-cheek and yet still plays as a completely straight action adventure. Stars Casper van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Jake Busey, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, Neil Patrick Harris, and Patrick Muldoon.

Overthinking The Terminator, 30th Anniversary Edition ...

10. James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) is a classic example of a perfect sci fi/thriller. Expedient, streamlined story told mostly visually with little revelations for the characters along the way. It’s dark, gritty, and clever. It’s as efficient as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s unstoppable cyborg assassin. And the sequel is even better.

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9. I’ve seen Jason and the Argonauts (1963) once or twice in the past, but every time I see it I gain new appreciation for it. Whether it’s the brilliant Ray Harryhausen stop-motion creatures and monsters or the refreshing sense of classic adventure, this tale of the noble Jason questing to locate the legendary Golden Fleece never fails to fill me with joy and excitement. It may be old and some viewers may find it creaky, but between the bronze giant Talos, the hissing hydra, the skeleton warriors, and perhaps my favorite depiction of Hercules (played by Nigel Green), I believe it’s a hard film not to like.

Force Material Episode XII: The Bridge on the River Kwai

8. While visiting the parents, we ended watching a classic I’ve seen several times. David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) was my favorite war movie as a kid (more of a POW movie). The steamy jungle location, the frustration of living in captivity, the menacing Japanese Colonel Saito (memorably played by the great Sessue Hayakawa), and the ultimate madness of war all made an impact on me. It’s still an engaging battle of wills – between Hayakawa’s ruthless military leader and Sir Alec Guinness’s dogmatic captive Colonel and again between William Holden’s American soldier just trying to live and Jack Hawkins’ stubborn British Major hellbent on destroying the bridge. It’s a fascinating series of character studies that delves into obsession, survival, zealotry, and commitment to rules.

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7. Awhile back I watched Class of 1984 and loved it. Needless to say I dropped everything when I learned that director Mark L. Lester made a sequel titled Class of 1999 (1990). Cyborg teachers are sent into a cartoonishly anarchic inner city high school overrun by violence. It’s cyborgs versus teen gangs and all I can say is yes. Finally. I know a lot of this movie is a knock-off from The Terminator, but it’s just so much fun that I actually enjoy it more than some of the technically better movies it steals from.

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6. There have been a lot of war movies. And some of the best ones, in my opinion, explore war’s toll on an individual. Same Mendes’ 1917 (2019) is a World War I epic that immerses the viewer in trench warfare as two soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) are tasked with delivering a message to another platoon to avoid a massacre. Cinematography legend Roger Deakins uses all natural lighting and seemingly one single take to capture the harrowing, heart-pounding action.

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5. Well, this was a wild one. Diamantino (2018) is a Portuguese film directed by Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt. It follows a dimwitted but pure-hearted soccer player who is completely oblivious and naive to all the ways the people surrounding him are playing him for a fool. With empty-headed Diamantino Matamouros (Carloto Cotta) as its vessel, the film celebrates how kindness and goodness can navigate a world of neo-fascist nationalism, tragic refugee crises, and unethical genetic modification. Like Alien Beasts, it’s likely unlike anything you’ve seen, but in a good way. This probably ranks so high because I had no idea what it was before seeing it.

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4. Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Angela Bassett, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, and Regina King star in John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood (1991). The story follows several friends (and their families) as they live and die in a corner of Los Angeles troubled by gang violence and the ever menacing hum of police helicopters in the night. It’s a powerful film with strong performances, emotionally charged moments, and great 90s clothing.

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3. This silent Japanese horror flick is anything but stilted. A Page of Madness (1926) showcases kaleidoscopic visions of insanity, sorrow, and pain. An old janitor works in an asylum to be close to his wife who is one of the patients. Through him, we meet many of the inmates and learn a bit more of the janitor’s tragic backstory and current predicament. The film blurs the lines between reality and insanity skillfully and artfully. Considered lost for many decades, and even now still missing fragments, A Page of Madness holds its own alongside other silent giants like Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Man with a Movie Camera for avant-garde expressionism, hypnotic editing, and surreal montage effects. Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa, but chiefly a collaboration with several Japanese artists in the prewar literary group, Shinkankakuha.

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2. I told you I’d be watching more Lina Wertmüller films. Arguably her most well known, Seven Beauties (1975) stars Giancarlo Giannini as Sicilian rake and wannabe thug who winds up in prison, the psych ward, the front lines of World War II, and finally into a concentration camp. It’s bitingly funny, but also (given the subject matter) achingly human and heavy. This is a complex Italian film that navigates its ever shifting tones with precision and delicacy. I like for a film to devastate me a bit. I absolutely loved it.

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1. Down with the patriarchy. This is Moolaadé (2004). During a purification ritual involving female genital mutilation, several girls escape and seek protection under Collé Ardo (Fatoumata Coulibaly), a woman who, 16 years earlier, denied her own daughter the purification thus leaving her bilakoro (in essence, unfit to be married). She begins a magical protection ceremony (moolaadé) to keep the elders out. From there, the complex politics and drama of the village only snowball. Everything is connected and any deviation from the rigid structure can cause far reaching damage. I have been a fan of director Ousmane Sembène (arguably Senegal’s most well known and important filmmaker), and this may be my favorite work of his. It explores the psychological walls culture allows us to build and how they trap us. I also view Moolaadé as a satire; a piercing examination of the foolish games we, as a society (any society), collectively engage in. Emotional and rewarding watch.

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 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.