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

Happy New Year. I do it again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode XVI – Z for Zombie

As always, I rank the films on no concrete scale or rubric. Just what I thought of them. The further down the list, the more I liked it. It’s not science.

Terrible:

This never happens in the movie.

I actually had to stop watching Mesa of Lost Women (1953) before the third act. It is a slog to get through. As much as I enjoy some of the hammy acting and weird kinkiness (the tarantula woman’s sexy dance was funny watching with grandma), the poor quality of the picture and sound and slow nothingness of the pace made it difficult to follow. I like actor Harmon Stevens’ placid and infantile hypnotized grin after one of the spider women stabs him (with something??), but then it was depressing seeing a sad looking Jackie Coogan (Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, The Addams Family‘s Uncle Fester) as the mad scientist who operates out of some weird Mexican cave. No idea how it ended. Did I mention the terrible two measures of tensionless score that’s stuck on repeat?

But it seems better in stills.

Ever think about how Casablanca would be improved by being set in a post apocalyptic future and giving Bogart massive gazongas? Well Barb Wire (1996) starring Pamela Anderson Lee may be just the thing for you. Pam is an ex-freedom fighter and a club owner and a stripper who moonlights as an agent/assassin and a hooker. It’s as ridiculous as you can imagine, and I guarantee you that whatever you’re picturing in your head is better, sexier, and more coherent than what they filmed. Despite trying so hard to be sexy and action packed, it just comes off as cold and stilted for the most part. I did like Big Fatso (Andre Rosey Brown) and a lot of the line deliveries were so bad they were hilarious. Udo Kier, Clint Howard, and Boba Fett’s dad co-star.

This guy reminded me of Hedonism Bot from Futurama.

I didn’t expect much from the David Carradine sword-and-sorcery vehicle literally called The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984) and boy was I overestimating it. It’s basically a ripoff of Yojimbo (or Fistful of Dollars) but set in a poorly defined fantasy world. Where Mesa of Lost Women was hard to watch, this one is at least entertainingly bad (for the most part). At least there’s tons of needless and degrading nudity (so much so that there’s even a dancer who has four breasts—like they couldn’t find a way to get enough tits into this movie already) and at least two cheesy puppet monsters.

I Didn’t Entirely Get It:

It’s a lot of this.

The premise for Kon Ichikawa’s Being Two Isn’t Easy (1962) is cute enough: daily life as seen alternately from a 2 year old’s perspective and that of his parents. It’s not a bad little film, I just found it somewhat tedious. At best it’s an interesting look into Japanese life in the 60s, but the baby narration was too eloquent and all-knowing to be taken seriously and the family drama felt bland (but maybe that was the point??).

Don’t get too excited. It’s not nearly this trippy.

Sorry, 1960s Japan. Kazui Nihonmatsu’s Genocide (1968) wasn’t wacky enough. Oh, it’s wacky alright, and I would recommend it, but it never lives up to it’s gorgeously surreal title sequence. A disaster movie about bugs staging a revolt against humanity could stand more bug photography (a la Phase IV) and less loony pantomiming…although that does add to its silly charm. In fairness, any plot that features a female holocaust survivor turned evil mad scientist who wants to poison humanity with bug juice to make them go insane and die has to at least be seen. It’s silly. It’s zany. It’s that kinda fun B-movie, not-everything-makes-sense sort of thing. But a movie about killer bugs needs more bugs. One point of interest is the starkly anti-American position it takes. In that regard it reminded me a little bit of the Korean film The Host. Charlie is great. If you see it, you’ll learn who Charlie is.

Getting Better:

Lots of pretty scenery.

John Maclean’s Slow West (2015) is a spectacularly photographed arthouse western about a young Scottish man (Kodi Smit-McPhee) searching the untamed American frontier for the woman he loves with the help of a cynical outlaw (Michael Fassbender). It’s a slow-going movie more akin to Dead Man than Silverado, and it is littered with strange western tableaus. I liked it just fine until in a scene that figuratively pours salt in our hero’s wounds he literally has a jar marked “salt” get broken over his head and poured into his wounds. It was such a laughable, on-the-nose moment that it took me out of the drama faster than Japan’s Maglev train. Not a literal train. That would be silly. Recommended for fans of artsy neo-westerns and great cinematography.

See? No Brad Pitt.

Call me a Philistine. I don’t care. I get why Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) is such an influential science fiction film, but I regrettably confess that having already seen Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys (which pilfered the plot of La Jetée) I was a little let down. La Jetée is a French short film told entirely with still black and white photographs and voice-over narration. It chronicles a man who is haunted by childhood memories and is made to travel through time. It’s good. It’s told in an innovative way. But ultimately (don’t hate me, film people) I liked the Bruce Willis movie better and found it more detailed and dramatically satisfying.

Pay attention to that plant in the top left.

Who’s more affable and likable and all-American than Henry Fonda? [Well, Jimmy Stewart, but that’s the subject of another day.] Honestly, I never got the appeal of Henry Fonda. He was always so slow and serious to be a believable person (although I do enjoy a lot of his movies—Young Mr. Lincoln being one of them). Mister Roberts (1955) is one of those gung-ho American navy movies your grandfather watches because he was in the navy (at least it is with my grandfather). Henry Fonda (12 Angry Men), James Cagney (White Heat), William Powell (The Thin Man), and Jack Lemmon (Glengarry Glen Ross) star in the movie about a real swell officer (Fonda) on a ship too far from battle to see action, the crew who loved him, and the commanding officer who was a bit of dick to everybody (Cagney). It’s got a few really great scenes, a few really hokey scenes, and it does feel a bit too long. It’s more Operation Petticoat than M*A*S*H. Soapy, but it’s worth a look just for some of the psychological showdowns between Fonda and Cagney.

More Worth It:

Every time she talks all I hear is, “I’m the boss, applesauce!”

John Patrick Shanley adapts his own stage play to the screen with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. Doubt (2008) is an austere little movie about a no-nonsense nun (Streep in her best Judge Judy voice) who suspects a priest (Hoffman) of molesting a young boy, but she has no proof and we—the audience—are not entirely sure who to believe. It’s a simple and effective drama with good acting and cinematography. Fans of the play will like it and fans of movies that do not give easy answers will too.

Shut up. I liked it.

[Full disclosure: I moved to Spain last week. I saw this movie in Spanish and I don’t really speak Spanish, but I think I got the gist. So maybe this is a testament to visual storytelling?] I didn’t like Despicable Me enough to bother with the sequel, but I was consistently entertained by the adorable gibberish, cutesy antics, and energetic animation of Minions (2015). It was creative and funny and I liked watching the weird characters get in and out of trouble. I also enjoyed some of the sixties tunes. It’s a different premise for sure: a species that evolved a psychological need to be subservient to a powerful master (preferably evil) searches for the perfect leader to ally with.

Grimly Good:

It’s how would have wanted to go.

Shôhei Imamura is a legendary Japanese filmmaker whose work I have not really explored yet. Boo, me. I know. Vengeance is Mine (1979) is a bleak portrait of a thief and murderer named Iwao Enokizu (Ken Ogata), based on real life criminal, Akira Nishiguchi. It explores his relationship with his family and a few women he cons. It’s not a sentimental film. It doesn’t glamorize crime. There are really no positive characters in the film (I did like the old lady who had been a jailbird herself). It’s gritty and gloriously shot. Fans of Japanese cinema or crime drama should not miss this one.

Kinda wish there were more zombies like the melty guy and bisected dog and headless guy.

I don’t know why I never really got into zombie movies. Especially when I really do enjoy a lot of them (White Zombie, Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later, etc.). Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon made his directing feature debut with The Return of the Living Dead (1985). It’s a fantastic bit of horror comedy, fully embracing its zaniness but still giving us some decent writing and fun characters. Two employees accidentally release a canister-o-zombie and things only escalate at an alarming rate from there. The zombies can’t really be killed so that makes it a little trickier. Classic fun.

Not exactly “The Thing” or “The Fly”, but it’s a slimy time to be had.

H.P. Lovecraft gets adapted a lot. I have no idea what the original story looked like, but Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) directs one crazy, slimy, prosthetic-filled science fiction horror yarn with From Beyond (1986). An unexplained “science machine” reveals another dimension filled with phosphorescent flying eels that are surrounding us at all times. When sexual deviant, Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel), gets his head bitten off by an unseen monster, his assistant (Jeffrey Combs) gets institutionalized unless he can prove his sanity to a kind doctor (Barbara Crampton) and a cop named Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree). Returning to the attic in the mysterious house, they get multiple scary encounters with Pretorius’s new, monstrous form. The movie is absolutely nuts and I loved it…probably loved it more because so little of it makes any sense. The special effects are great and gross.

Rising Above:

The face British people make when they see a spider crawling on your shoulder.

Sherlock Holmes has appeared in more forms than almost any other fictional character. Hammer Studios’ The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) was not the first nor the last adaptation of this specific Arthur Conan Doyle mystery, but it might be the best known and liked. Directed by Terence Fisher (he did a lot of Hammer horror movies) and starring Hammer icons Peter Cushing (Star Wars) as Holmes and Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings) as Sir Henry, it has all the Victorian style and spooky atmosphere Hammer was famous for. A great outing for lovers of the legendary sleuth.

It really could have been one hell of a movie.

I had reviewed Island of Souls and Island of Dr. Moreau in past lists. Souls (1932) being fantastically good and Moreau (1996) being a baffling, disjointed disaster of a movie. Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) is a documentary that seeks to elucidate us all as to what happened and how everything went so so very wrong on the set of the infamous adaptation of H.G. Wells starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. David Gregory’s doc features extensive interviews with cast and crew, giving incredible insights into what it was like working on this nightmare project and how everything fell apart at an exponential rate. If you loved Lost in La Mancha or ever saw the 1996 film you owe it to yourself to watch this. It’s absolutely bonkers what went on.

Gagin’s casual disregard for literally everyone but himself make him an interesting hero.

Ride the Pink Horse (1947) is an interesting film noir. Our hero, Gagin (director Robert Montgomery), is an unlikable small time crook and army vet on the hunt for Frank Hugo (Fred Clark) and the money he feels Hugo owes him. What makes the film memorable is the dusty New Mexican town setting and some of the colorful side characters like Pancho (Thomas Gomez), Pila (Wanda Hendrix), and an old FBI agent (Art Smith)…not to mention the giant marionette from your nightmares, Zozobra (god of bad luck), paraded through town at night only to be immolated by the villagers as part of their local festival. If you enjoy noir, this one comes highly recommended.

My Favorites This Time Around:

This scene is actually a really clever sight gag if you end up watching the film.

Another zombie movie. Why do I keep thinking I hate zombies? Before Ip Man, Wilson Yip directed a low-budget teenage horror comedy set in a Hong Kong shopping mall called Bio-Zombie (1998). It’s great fun. When there’s no onscreen action, there’s plenty of wonderful character business propelling the plot. Our main characters, Woody Invincible (Jordan Chan) and Crazy Bee (Sam Lee), are lowlifes, thieves, bullies, and obnoxious dressers. They pal up with two sexy ladies, Jelly (Suk Yin Lai) and Rolls (Angela Ying-Ying Tong) to battle the hordes of advancing zombies. There’s also a lovable sushi chef nerd (Wayne Lee) who brings a lot of comic tragedy to the already zany project. I highly recommend this Hong Kong zombie flick.

A lot of awkwardness in their hotel room.

I have loved every one of Satyajit Ray’s films that I’ve seen. (Check out The Apu Trilogy if you are unfamiliar with him.) Joi Baba Felunath: The Elephant God (1979) is an Indian detective film featuring sleuth Feluda (Soumitra Chatterjee, Apur Sansar) and his two friends—his young cousin (Siddhartha Chatterjee) and the pulp novelist (Santosh Dutta)—trying to locate a missing statuette. The mystery is full of great locations, rich scenes, spooky meetings, and some levity. The characters are fun and, coming from America, it’s sort of exciting to see an original Indian genre film with no songs. One memorably suspenseful scene features the comic relief novelist facing an old knife thrower who may be losing his sight and is definitely suffering from a severe cough. This is actually a sequel to an earlier detective movie featuring Feluda, but I haven’t seen it.

Just like “Homeward Bound,” kids!

Hungarian filmmaker, Kornél Mundruczó, takes you on a gritty and uncomfortable journey through the eyes of a canine named Hagan in White God (2014). A young girl, Lilli (Zsófia Psotta), and her furry best friend have to live with her grouchy divorced father (Sándor Zsótér). Not wanting the dog—and the city not wanting mixed breeds—he gets rid of Hagan. While Lilli goes through a lot of growing up and looking for her dog, Hagan goes on a brutal journey through serious abuse on the streets and the world of dog fighting before finally leading a Spartacus-esque revolution of death-row mongrels, exacting revenge on their tormentors as they storm through the city. It’s about growing up, remembering how to be a family, and about how we treat outsiders. The cinematography and performances are great (both human and dog) and the tension keeps on building. Read any metaphor you want into it or just take it as is. It’s brilliant filmmaking.