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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS SHORTS

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

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

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

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

RIP Sid Haig

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode 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.

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.