THE LAST FEW MOVIES XXXX – Quarantine: Tokyo Drift

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

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

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

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

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

Bird on a Wire - movie: watch streaming online

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

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

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

Stridulum | Cineclandestino

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

Targets (1968)

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

Bill Paxton In Near Dark |

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

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

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

Prime Video: The Dictator

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

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

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

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

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

The Daytrippers (1996) | The Criterion Collection

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

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

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

Anime masterpieces – Movies List on MUBI

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

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

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

Winter Light (1963) : CineShots

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

MoJo MOVIES: SIcario (*****)

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

Mississippi Mermaid (1969)

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

Doc Films Retrospective — Tsai Ming-Liang 2020

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

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

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

THE BOXER'S OMEN | GenreVision — GenreVision

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

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

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

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

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

BONUS Shorts

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

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

The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer :: Zeitgeist Films

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

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

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

Bum-bum the baby of the fisherman - Ivan Maximov

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


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

Related image

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

Image result for rise of skywalker

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

Image result for bigfoot vs db cooper

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

Related image

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

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

Image result for something wild 1986

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

Related image

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

Image result for color out of space movie still

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

Image result for black narcissus 1947

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

Related image

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

Related image

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

Related image

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

Related image

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

Related image

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

Image result for tutto a posto e niente in ordine

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

Related image

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

Image result for under the silver lake

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

Related image

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

Image result for bad black wakaliwood

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


Image result for what did jack do

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

Related image

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


More movies of any stripe ranked against each other in an exercise in arbitrariness!

Sorry, guys. There’s a LOT of pretty disappointing ones on this list.

Related image

21. Bats(1999) is the worst kind of creature feature. Lazy, tedious, too expository, and not nearly enough funny special effects. The bat noises are funny and so are some of the puppets. But this makes Eight-Legged Freaks look like a masterpiece of horror.

Related image

20. Conquest (1983) is unwatchable. Seriously. I didn’t even finish it. It’s unwatchable. And I mean that in a few different ways. For one, the protagonists have negative charisma and are impossible to like. Two, every scene features drab, gray characters in a drab, gray world annoyingly back-lit to the point of silhouette and consistently obfuscated by plumes of smoke/mist coming from…somewhere. Directed by Lucio Fulci (Don’t Torture a Duckling and A Woman in Lizard’s Skin), this is an unpleasant looking Italian-Mexican-Spanish co-production mercifully featuring at least some nudity and some creative violence. I actually dug the character design of the villainous (a topless, cavewoman g-string clad figure with a big, golden head and covered in snakes. Bold. Tacky. Completely insane). It’s artier than much of the artless sword-and-sorcery epics of this era, but it’s pretty bad. And smoky.

Image result for running free 1994

19. Running Free (1994) is the story of a clinically obnoxious 12 year old boy and the wolverine who loved him. It’s the sort of family adventure ilk my mother would have let me borrow from the library. Sure, the acting is bad and the general plotlessness is laughable, but they did have a helicopter, at least one good explosion, a decent plane crash, and the beautiful Alaskan wilderness as their backdrop. It’s a coming-of-age tale that’s an insult to the intelligence of 12-year-olds everywhere. Most of those crappy direct-to-video movies I did rent back in the day had a lot more going for them.

Related image

18. After Conquest, I thought maybe Barbarian Queen (1985) might be a bit better. And although it was largely a totally artless skin flick with lackluster action, the female cast was attractive (in an aggressively objectifying way) and you could actually see what was happening in each shot due to not having smoke everywhere. Barbarian Queen is problematic in several other ways, but the visibility inches this Argentinian production ahead of Conquest. It at least gave us some laughs while it made us feel completely filthy for watching it.

Image result for expect no mercy 1995

17. Tae-bo legend Billy Blanks stars in a truly awful sci-fi action movie about a school for assassins that trains its members with embarrassingly realized virtual reality. Expect No Mercy (1995), if the title tells you anything, is a nondescript and dull flick that could be about anything. “Expect no mercy” isn’t even a decent tagline. There are a few scenes that are laughably fun, but not enough to warrant a re-watch anytime soon. Spoiler alert: I did shed a tear for the iguana guy.

Image result for cutthroat island 1995

16. Geena Davis stars as a pirate queen and already you see what’s wrong. Cutthroat Island (1995) is a swashbuckling adventure comedy infamous for being a flop and bankrupting a studio. There is production value and, genuinely some of the action sequences are executed very well. The big problem with this is tone. Davis and co-star Matthew Modine have no chemistry and Modine is given the task of speaking entirely in awkward smart-ass remarks that are meant to infuse his character with charm and charisma, but accomplish just the opposite. It’s miscast and too long, but you gotta give credit for the location cinematography and lavish sets and props to Davis to doing a lot of her own stunts. Almost every scene has a hundred extras in it, all intricately adorned in period buccaneer garb. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on a Xena: Warrior Princess kick, but had they cast Lucy Lawless and Bruce Campbell this could have been fire.

Related image

15. TerrorVision(1986) is a horror comedy that’s running of cheese-factor fumes. An extra-terrestrial monster (the Hungry Beast) is mistakenly beamed down to Earth via a Floridian’s new satellite dish. The slimy, grotesque creature materializes out of television sets to gobble up members of the cartoony Putterman family. Where They Live and The Stuff used science-fiction/horror to create clever social satires on the state of American consumerism, TerrorVision is content to just be a dumb monster movie. Most of the laughs come from just how over-the-top every single detail of this campy film is. It has one or two pretty decent scenes and some quotable lines, but the tone is just so goofy and gleefully brainless that, although perhaps the filmmakers’ intentions, it disappoints because it always feels like it could have been better. A bit more gore could have elevated it. I did like the ending and the creature was pretty gross. So points for that.

Related image

14. Kung-fu and British horror finally get the crossover we didn’t know we wanted until The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires (1974). Hammer Studios teamed up with the Shaw Brothers and the results are a bit of a charming mess. It’s not a great movie, but it’s trashy and silly enough to sort of warm your little heart. Peter Cushing appears once again as vampire hunter Van Helsing, now in China to battle an endless army of vampire zombie slaves. He lets his Chinese counterparts do most of the battling.

Image result for proud mary

13. Taraji P. Henson stars in Proud Mary (2018), a sort of throwback to blaxploitation films like Coffy and Foxy Brown. Mary is an assassin trying to atone for her sins by taking in an orphaned boy. But as the body count rises, Mary’s problems only get more complicated. You can tell there’s love going into this, but the finished result is a somewhat bland film punctuated by moments of style and funk. When it cuts loose and has fun, it’s great and justifies some of the contrivances. It just plays it too safe most of the time.

Image result for hercules 1997 still

12. A yearning for nostalgia had me re-watch Disney’s Hercules (1997). You all know it. And I had much the same reaction as an adult as I did as a kid. It’s gorgeously and stylishly animated. James Woods as a snaky car salesman Hades and his demon henchmen, as well as the three fates, are hilarious. The singing muses were fun. And that’s about it. Danny DeVito’s voice is too distracting as Hercules’ trainer, Phil. The romance is meh. The story just isn’t particularly fulfilling. Which is a real shame. Because, again, the 2D animation is among Disney’s best. I get it if you love it. To me, it’s just missing too many elements to be good. And I’m not even touching the bastardization of Greek mythology.

Related image

11. Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (1985) is a fantastically grim dark comedy about a man in over his head, just trying to get home. John Landis’ Into the Night (1985) is a bit of a mild success in a similar genre. Jeff Goldblum is an insomniac engineer who gets involved with a beautiful jewel thief (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) and spends the next 48 hours trying to shake the bad guys and stay alive. It has romance and comedy, but…how can we say it? Not enough to be called a romance or a comedy. There’s some suspense and then some cartoon slapstick. Not John Landis’ best film, but if the cast intrigues you (and there are a few fun cameos), you could do worse.

Related image

10. Adam McKay writes and directs the story of Dick Cheney (played by Christian Bale) in Vice (2018). It’s a cheeky, nonlinear patchwork that presents the man’s opportunistic rise to power but somehow never manages to clearly establish his motivations or convictions (the movie tries to take care of that by brushing it aside early on). Bale is good, as is a lot of the cast, but the movie feels more like an exercise in montage editing than a serious political drama of any magnitude. It’s breezy enough, but far from the hard hitting political biopic it could have been.

Image result for jumanji welcome to the jungle

9. I begrudgingly enjoyed Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017). Why begrudgingly? Because that’s the reaction a decent re-imagining can sometimes garner. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan star as the video-game avatars of our high school protagonists trapped in the cursed Jumanji. It has some clever gags, a great cast, creative suspense elements, and they get their mileage out of the gender swapping schtick. Ultimately, it’s a slick family adventure that’s smarter than it had to be and decidedly doing something different with the source material and it works. It just has that squeaky clean sheen. You know the one? Where everything is set-dressed to perfection? I just hate that. But if I can overcome my curmudgeonly temperament to enjoy this guy, it’s can’t be that bad.

Related image

8. If you’ve read this blog before, you know I seem to unfavorably give the advantage to well-executed schlock. Red Sonja (1985) is the second sequel in the Conan trilogy. (I think. The world seems familiar and Arnold’s back, but he’s playing a different guy.) I call this type of film ESL cinema. Mostly Italian crew and then star Brigitte Nielsen in Danish and Arnold is Austrian so the script is odd to begin with and then the line readings the next wave of surreality. It’s a fun, brainless sword-and-sorcery adventure with lots of violence and a few monsters and some truly great sets. Ennio Morricone does the score too! I can’t rate it higher because there’s this annoying child king who’s in it and he sucks. Sorry, little buddy. You nailed those fight moves though!

Related image

7. The Legend of Suram Fortress (1985) Sergei Parajanov (Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors) co-directs with Dodo Abashidze to deliver a surreal collection of tableaux vivants (fans of Parajanov’s The Color of the Pomegranates will undoubtedly find some comparisons to be made) that tell a Georgian folktale of a crumbling fortress that seemingly demands a sacrifice. It may not be for everyone, but for those with a taste for Eastern European symbolic visual poetry, it’s definitely worth a look. Even if The Color of the Pomegranates is probably the more ambitious and superior film.

Related image

6. T2 Trainspotting (2017) is the sequel I don’t if anyone expected to see for Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996). Ewan McGregor, Ewan Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle are back to show us what has happened in the last 20 years. It’s been awhile, boys. Glad to see you again. Obviously, tensions are high since Renton double-crossed everyone and Bregbie’s been to jail. Some folks are just lifelong junkies, but maybe they were cheated out of a second chance? It’s a decent flick for fans of the original. Anjela Nedyalkova plays a new character, Veronika, who makes a nice complicated addition to the ensemble.

Related image

5. The Lego Batman Movie(2017) could have been a lazy, soulless cash grab and still have been a huge commercial success. However, much like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a little bit of love and effort make the proceedings far more clever and enjoyable than they had any right to be. Yes, there are jokes and knowing nods to previous Batman incarnations and a stellar voice cast, but the real treat (for me at least) was the wholesome—if a skosh maudlin—plot. All of the character arcs build and snap together in as satisfying a way as a handful of Lego pieces. It’s funny because, in its own transparently on-the-nose way, it is ultimately rather touching and shows it really “gets” Batman. That it takes the emotions of its Lego cast as seriously as it does, it gets a big laugh out of me.

Image result for class of 1984

4. Going in, I knew nothing of Class of 1984 (1982). And I am so glad I went in cold. It starts as a ham-fisted melodrama about a new teacher in a cartoonishly evil inner city school ravaged by teen gangsters, but then it turns into a positively delicious revenge thriller. Disgruntled teachers everywhere can watch this for catharsis (but don’t get any ideas). Features a somewhat out-of-place Roddy McDowell and a very young Michael J. Fox in supporting roles. I admire a movie that finds cruelly creative ways to brutally murder its teen cast. In all seriousness, it’s not a great film at all. I loved it.

Related image

3. Oddball Kyle Mooney stars as a kidnapped boy who’s been raised in an underground fantasy (created by Mark Hamill) in Dave McCary’s Brigsby Bear (2017). It’s not a comedy per se. When James (Mooney) is awkwardly reunited with his biological family, he struggles because he feels no connection to them and they know nothing of “Brigsby Bear”, an imagined bizarro VHS series conjured for whatever reason by his abductor (Mark Hamill). All James knows is if “Brigsby Bear” isn’t real, he wants to make it real. And the story that unfolds in exactly the way you might imagine ironic viral video culture to do so. It’s more of a quirky indie drama that ultimately leaves you just feeling good inside. I loved it.

Related image

2. How have I never seen The Last Dragon (1985) before? Seriously. This is almost as good as Samurai Cop. It’s more competently shot and assembled, but no less outlandish and wonderfully cheesy. From our excruciatingly fay and naive kung fu teen protagonist (Taimak) to the wonderful scene-chewing bombast that is the film’s villain, Sho’nuff/The Shogun of Harlem, The Last Dragon never lets up. Fans of action schlock and kung-fu are sure to love this one.

Related image

1. There’s a Chinese mummy (that isn’t exactly what it seems) on train crossing the frozen Russian wilderness. But once you look at it, it takes your soul. Or something. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee star as rival scientists (my favorite flavor of rivalry) in The Horror Express (1972). Throw a dapper Telly Savalas in there for good measure. It’s a bit cheesy, but all the better for it. Glowing ghoul eyes and zombie Cossacks and Hammer-styled gore and atmosphere. For fans of this era of horror or of Lee or Cushing will enjoy this breezy spook flick with all its murder and mayhem confined to one claustrophobic train.

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode XIV – Fury World

Ordered by my increasing opinion of them.

Walk Away:

Incidentally, I think the black rhino just went extinct this year.

Robin Williams (Hook), Edward Norton (Moonrise Kingdom), and Catherine Keener (The 40 Year Old Virgin) star in Danny DeVito’s Death to Smoochy (2002). How you could make a black comedy about the seedy underbelly of children’s entertainment so bafflingly unfunny is anyone’s guess. You would think the jokes would write themselves. I remember wanting to see this when it first came out, hearing it was terrible, then hearing it had a cult following and wasn’t that bad. I thought maybe it would be like Ben Stiller’s The Cable Guy, reviled for being so dark but discovering reports of its suckitude were greatly exaggerated upon my own personal viewing. Nope. This is a garish groaner that thinks it’s wackier than it really is. Stick with Matilda or War of the Roses.


Terry might be the most comically evil character in cinema history.

OK. OK. OK. The Karate Kid, Part III (1989) is in no way anything less than a ludicrous mess of nonsensical garbage piled upon a plate made of lunacy. It’s messages are contradictory. It’s thrills are awkward, comically contrived, and unearned. It’s lead actor (Ralph Macchio) is clearly coked out of his mind. It’s motivations are embarrassingly childish. Yet, all these truly ugly miscalculations make it humorous in the same way we enjoy Troll 2 and The Room.

Get it? It’s eating “Jaws”. It’s a metaphor. You know, symbolism? Darn it all, we are clever bastards. …On another note, how many sharks must they go through a day to feed this thing. Great whites can’t be cheap.

I wanted to like this one. Dinosaur movies are something of a rarity and I was excited to go back to the park. Alas, Jurassic World (2015) is a joyless, candy-painted shot of novacane. It looks colorful, but I felt nothing the whole film. The original Jurassic Park (1993) is a cherished classic, yes, and two of the in-between sequels are sort of okay to varying degrees, but this latest entry feels even more geared toward children and the Marvel superhero audiences. It isn’t the overuse of CGI, either. For me it lacked character, discovery, tension, or genuine thrills (you need character for thrills to register). The best, most highly rendered special-effects in the business can’t save a foundering script or a lack of charisma. Ironically, the film’s central satirical parable of the necessity of upping the ante to awaken jaded audiences produces the blandest entry in this ever diminishing franchise. It’s faster, hammier, cheesier, lazier, stupider, less challenging, and ultimately has trouble forcing the fun. The first Jurassic Park was a milestone of cinema at the time and it was unlike anything audiences had ever seen before. In Jurassic World‘s failed attempts to infuse steroids into the series, its creators have fashioned a movie that looks exactly like all the other sterile, terrible kiddie action movies of the last several years. Instead of being happy it’s less insulting than the Transformers movies, we should be asking for better movies. At least dinosaurs fight each other in it.

Guilty Pleasures:

“I Love Lucy”? Oh, so your parents were talented. I see, Desi, Jr.

Horror legends Vincent Price (House of Wax), Peter Cushing (The Curse of Frankenstein), Christopher Lee (The Wicker Man), and John Carradine (House of Dracula) star in the creaky comedy-horror B-flick The House of Long Shadows (1983). The actors’ ages are showing and you’re worried for their joints every time they lift a pewter goblet and, truth be told, the story is dopey and the script, for the most part, fails at being either comedic or horrific. However, if you’re a fan of the withering cinematic warlocks listed above, you’ll probably enjoy watching them effortlessly outshine both the silly script and Desi Arnaz, Jr.

I’m gonna hijack the Declaration of Independence.

Con Air (1997) is of historical significance if only because it may be the first film Nicolas Cage’s zaniness broke free of its previously Oscar-winning tethers. Donning the worst mullet, worst Southern accent, and worst back-story, Cage and a stuffed bunny board a prison plane full of psycho mutinying inmates (John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Dave Chappelle, Steve Buscemi, Danny Trejo, and others make up the airborne cast). It’s dumb, loud, and a mostly unintentionally hilarious blast in the spirit of Face/Off. It’s nonstop nuttiness in the guise of a serious action thriller. Also features John Cusack (1408) and Colm Meaney (Get Him to the Greek).

Interestinger and Interestinger:


Right after I heard the news of Christopher Lee’s passing I watched Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966). Hammer vixen, Barbara Shelley (Village of the Damned), co-stars in this loose biography of the bizarre Russian mystic who weaseled his way into the last Czarina’s good graces. It may not be the most memorable movie, but it’s got some good moments and Lee gives a fun performance as the titular hypnotizing wacko. Tom Baker (Dr. Who) is still my favorite Rasputin though.

God…all the plaid.

Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt) puts some gorgeous black and white photography to good use in Nebraska (2013). Bruce Dern (Silent Running) and Will Forte (SNL) star as an alcoholic, dementia-addled old man and his good-natured, long-suffering son respectively. Woody Grant (Dern) believes he’s won some prize and demands to go to Omaha to retrieve his cash (everyone else knows it’s all a scam). Reluctantly, his son David (Forte) agrees to take him—if only to ensure the stubborn patriarch’s safety. When Woody starts telling family and locals of his dubious earnings before he’s even collected the nonexistent dough, the small town drama begins…but not without some comical Midwestern moments. It’s pleasant, humorous, and ultimately a tender little film.

They’re just reading about the Rachel Dolezal thing.

This film is timely, intriguing, and—while somewhat high on its own cleverness—raises a lot of good points…if in a smug and sort of pretentious manner. Justin Simien and Adriana Serrano’s Dear White People (2014) is the closest thing we have to a Do the Right Thing for generation-blog. Black, white, and mixed race ivy league students verbally spar over racial privilege and politics. It’s wonderfully cast and hits its points efficiently and does a good job of leaving enough ambiguity for audiences to mull over. And it delivers its messages in a genuinely funny and entertaining way. For a movie dealing with so many hot button issues it’s a wonderfully watchable film.

Beyond Our Borders:

Me and my shadow…

Set in a weird Iranian town called Bad City, Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) is a sumptuously photographed off-beat vampire flick that feels like a slowly creeping dream. It’s dark, doleful, deliberately paced and, while it most assuredly won’t be for everyone, it’s a rich example of inventive horror that explores vampire tropes in ways that rival Let the Right One In or Only Lovers Left Alive. You’ll never look at the ghostly specter of a flowing black burka atop an aimless skateboard the same way again…if you’ve ever seen that before to begin with. Like a lot of offbeat neo-vampire fair, it’s a wry but sexy slow-burn.

Ever see Hogan’s Heroes?

La Grande Illusion (1937) is a classic jailbreak POW movie directed by Jean Renoir (La bête humaine). The story concerns French officers and soldiers being held captive by the Germans during World War I. What sets La Grande Illusion apart is its daringly human portrayal of the enemy. People are people and just happen to be French or German. For a classic war movie, it is almost refreshingly absent of nationalism. It’s rightfully ranked alongside The Great Escape, Stalag 17, and The Bridge On the River Kwai.

Finding Our Way Through the Shadows:

Yup. Looks like traffic court.

Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) adapted a story by Franz Kafka with Anthony Perkins (Psycho) in The Trial  (1962). Shot in Europe, the story unfolds like a subtle nightmare. A man is put on trial, but is never told the charges and he becomes entangled in the fuzzy dream logic of this world’s chaotic legal system. It feels like a trip down the rabbit hole and the cinematography and gritty interiors and landscapes add such strange beauty and texture to this peculiar project that was apparently, like many of Welles’ films, under-appreciated at the time of its release.

The mummy strikes!

Here’s a challenge readily embraced by director Delmer Daves: can you hide your protagonist’s face for the first half of your movie? Better yet, film most of it in POV. Somehow Dark Passage (1947), starring Humphrey Bogart (The Maltese Falcon) and Lauren Bacall (The Big Sleep), nails it and, rather than it coming off as a cheap gimmick, really utilizes the unfamiliar technique for solid narrative effect. It’s a classic mystery noir about a man who escaped from prison (convicted for the murder of his wife). While there are many brilliant scenes in the movie and clever camera angles, my favorite bits might be the conversation with the taxi driver and subsequent meeting with the plastic surgeon. The POV really pulls you into the story in a surprising and effective way.

Admittedly, I’ve only seen Bullitt on a plane, but I liked this better than Bullitt.

A quiet getaway driver played by Ryan O’Neal (Paper Moon) is trying to avoid being set up by an obsessed police detective (Bruce Dern). That’s really all you need to know for Walter Hill’s The Driver (1978). Not to be bogged down with too much dialogue or too complicated a plot, The Driver is all gorgeous 70s style and fantastic car chases. The film exudes coolness. Isabella Adjani (The Possession) also co-stars. Watch it. It’s great.

Really, a Tough Call:

That honestly can’t be good for the rabbit.

Fans of the Coen Bros.’ Fargo may be familiar with the oft reported case of a Japanese woman who, believing the film to be a true story, went searching for where Steve Buscemi buried the suitcase full of money in the snow. The Zellner Bros.’ Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014) is a fictionalized version of how that woman came to America in search of that money. Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim) gives a heart-breaking and deeply internalized performance as Kumiko, a sad misfit obsessed with treasure hunting. Her journey from the alienating officetels of Tokyo to the isolating snowdrifts of Minnesota is weird, awkwardly comical, and touchingly disconsolate. This movie comes highly recommended. It’s a quiet and vaguely surreal film that sits with you hours after watching it.

Maybe even more enjoyable than The Road Warrior.

Everyone saw it. Everyone loved it. And, truly, I get it. Mad scientist George Miller’s fourth installment of his Australian cult series, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), really is a masterpiece of dystopic action and brutal but balletic car carnage. There’s an adrenaline that doesn’t quit and a score that pulses aggressively forward and an explosion-filled chase crammed with Frankenstein vehicles that doesn’t let up. It’s got a lot typical Miller quirk and visual inventiveness. Tom Hardy (Bronson) and Charlize Theron (Prometheus) stoically lead the way through a stark, unforgiving desert, but it is Nicholas Hoult’s character, Nux, who gradually becomes the real emotional core of the film. Motorcycle grannies, bungee guitar mutants, muscle cars souped up with spikes and tank treads, and chainsaw-wielding gas-mask guys atop 50 foot pendulums swinging over erupting furnaces of vehicular devastation not your thing? You may not enjoy this, if that be the case. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the Mad Max series or a newcomer, this is gleeful, calculated, visceral mayhem. It ought to be a crime to be this bonkers and badass.

THE LAST FEW MOVIES I SAW: EPISODE XIII – Avengers 2 is in there somewhere, I wager.

I am unstoppable. As always, organized by my increasing enjoyment of them.


Shine on, you crazy monkey.

Shine on, you crazy monkey.

I imagine the helper monkey industry suffered a blow after this flick hit VCR’s across America. George Romero (yeah, THAT George Romero) directs this horror thriller about a quadriplegic law student whose monkey-nurse, Ella, links minds with him to exact a series of revenge killings in Monkey Shines (1988). It’s ridiculous, silly, and full of laughable monologues, but that’s kinda why I watched it. Stupid, but enjoyable because it is so nonsensical  and stupid. John Pankow and Stanley Tucci co-star.



I was truly disappointed. Dirty Work (1998) may star comic geniuses, Norm MacDonald and Artie Lange (and feature Don Rickles, Chevy Chase, Chris Farley, Jack Warden, and be directed by Bob Saget), but it has that lazy, squeaky clean Happy Madison stamp all over it. The movie wastes Norm and Artie’s talents with the obvious, by-the-numbers plot and yawn-inducing script. It has one or two entertaining scenes and some great line deliveries speckled throughout, but for a big Norm MacDonald fan this was a letdown. It does, however, boast the funniest prison rape scene.

Better, but still kinda meh:

"Henchman" doesn't sound as cute, I guess.

“Henchman” doesn’t sound as cute, I guess.

Gru is an evil genius who wants to prove his thievery prowess is not outdated by stealing the moon. He adopts three orphan girls who show him the value of family. He has an army of eraser-like minions for comic relief and added cuteness factor. Despicable Me (2010) is a likable enough little film with some nice design and cool gadgets, but it never quite wows.

Wokka. Wokka.

Wokka. Wokka.

For completion’s sake I watched Muppets Most Wanted (2014). It’s not exactly a bad movie, just maybe not a great Muppet movie. The stuff that works best is the stuff that’s a little more daring, unusual, and un-Muppety, while the Muppets themselves feel somewhat stale and lost in the wrong movie. I chuckled at a few gags, I enjoyed the gulag stuff, and I liked a few of the songs quite a bit, but I think these Muppets need to retire or be taken in a more interesting direction.


Get it?

Get it?

Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) directs this pitch black comedy about mental illness starring Ryan Reynolds. The Voices (2014) is not funny. Comedic mainly in premise and presentation, its content is downright disturbing. Jerry (Reynolds) talks to his dog and cat and they talk right back. Representing opposing sides of his chemically imbalanced brain, they confuse him to the point of serial murder. The voices themselves (also played by Reynolds) are well defined and interesting, the cinematography and effects are handled beautifully, and the supporting cast (Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, and Jacki Weaver) are fine, but for some reason I could never shake the uncomfortable meshing of horror with this strange sense of comedy. In Monsieur Verdoux it works because he’s not mentally ill, he’s just a greedy, murdering jerk. Maybe it’s brilliant and I’m just missing it, but for me this was a tragedy in comedy clothing.


Hiya, big boys. Ya miss me?

Bob Hope spews one-liners and Jane Russell is tough as nails in the cowboy comedy, The Paleface (1948). It’s not Bob Hope’s best and it bears a lot of the cringe-worthy Native American stereotypes common of this era of Hollywood. The whole time I kept wishing it was My Little Chickadee with W.C. Fields and Mae West (the married relationships in both movies are similar). It’s whatever. All in all, an inoffensive comedy romp…except for Native Americans.


Spoiler alert: we’re all full of alien ghosts.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015) is a documentary about the Church of Scientology. We see all the seedy inner workings, the lies, the scandals, the power struggles, the ruined lives. It’s something that would be truly interesting to someone who had no idea what the Church of Scientology was prior to viewing. The movie is a great primer and lesson in cult practices with genuinely fascinating central figures. My problem was that I was familiar with most of this stuff before I watched it so it never struck me as anything groundbreaking. Having visited their free museum in Hollywood and gotten a free street stress test (for laughs) already, I gotta say: they do a crap job of covering up being a pack of deranged wackos. Someone who needs this documentary to tell them that has clearly never discussed Scientology with a Scientologist before. It’s an important expose on stuff that should already be common knowledge.

Now with more tableaux vivants.

Now with more tableaux vivants!

A Field in England (2013) is a black-and-white minimalist psychedelic period drama set in an empty field near a 17th century battle. If that doesn’t get you, you probably won’t like this. A cruel alchemist enlists some deserters to dig up treasure for him. There is eating of magic mushrooms and violence. It’s slow and weird and has a lot of dick. It had some individual scenes I really enjoyed, but I never “got” what it was about. Maybe I need to watch it again.


Yep. Hulk smashes again.

Yep. Hulk smashes again.

Yeah, yeah. I saw Joss Whedon’s Marvel’s Avenger’s: Age of Ultron (2015). I’ll come clean, I still don’t entirely get the appeal of most of the Marvel superhero movies. I don’t think they’re all bad movies. They just all look like the same candy-colored cartoon violence buildings-exploding movies. I never feel the weight of the threat and I never really feel tension or suspense in any of them. Call Nolan’s Batmans overly dour and brooding, but at least I felt the tension and stakes. That said, the best bits for me were the smaller character moments (Thor’s face when Captain Planet almost moves the hammer) and some of the dialogue was punchy and fun. Most of the action blurs together, but I did enjoy Iron Man fighting the Hulk. Not having read the comics, I have no idea what the magic stone things are or what they do or what the flying robot guy with the cape was or what his powers are and a bunch of other stuff was lost on me, but I can’t say it was a poorly done movie. It was exactly what I thought it would be and exactly what the audience is looking for, I’m sure.

Argh, it's a  bug's life for me.

Argh, it’s a bug’s life for me.

If you thought A Bug’s Life was too talkie, check out Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants (2013). Based on a series of French short animations, this quirky comedy features adorable cartoon bugs against real life backgrounds. Wordless, and relying entirely upon humorously juxtaposed sound effects (flying beetles sound like car traffic), wide-eyed expressiveness, and cuteness factor, the film tells the story of a lost baby ladybug who helps a colony of ants protect its bounty of sugar cubes. It’s slight and simple, but cute and clever enough to sustain your attention. The chases and battles are pretty fun.

A Trip:

"No matter how smart or well-educated you are, you can be deceived."---James Randi

“No matter how smart or well-educated you are, you can be deceived.”—James Randi

I’m a fan of magician, skeptic, and chicanery-exposing James Randi. An Honest Liar (2014) is a documentary that covers portions of his fascinating life (mirroring much of the life-trajectory of Houdini) and his mission to reveal spiritualist con-artists for the charlatans they are. It’s a loving tribute to the old codger. Like Going Clear, it may not cover anything new for people already familiar with the man’s life work, but it was nice to see it all in one place.

Most reckless family project ever!

Most reckless family project ever!

In all honesty, Roar (1981) is not a good movie. Yet, I love it. Meant to be squirrelly family comedy with animal hijinks, the film actually plays like a taut, nail-biting thriller. Let’s back up. Tippi Hedren (The Birds) wanted to make a movie with lions. In order to realize her dream, she and her family raised hundreds of lions and big cats for several years. The story shows a family trapped in a house with these aforementioned hundreds of lions (and a few tigers, cheetahs, panthers, and a couple bull African elephants). Wacky, right? Except there’s no special effects or stunts. It’s just an actual family in constant peril and threat of being mauled by mobs of wild carnivores. It is one of the most insane movies I’ve ever seen. Much of the cast and crew (including Tippi’s children) sustained multiple injuries from animal attacks throughout the filming. This film is madness manifest.

Any movie that blows up a Coke machine can't be all bad.

Any movie that blows up a Coke machine can’t be all bad.

The Monkees’ surreal musical Head (1968), may not quite live up to the same high-spirited whimsical anarchy of The Beatles’ films (although, it might be better than Help!), but it’s got enough zany meta quirk powering its engines that it’s still a fun romp. The film is basically a series of mostly unrelated vignettes and episodes mocking television, war, advertising, and whatever else set to some great tunes from The Monkees. Bonus points for having the most bizarre use of Victor Mature ever.

Here at the institute, we're all about science.

Here at the institute, we’re all about science.

Panos Cosmatos concocts a truly weird and deliberately paced sci-fi horror about telepathy in Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010). Trapped for the purposes of study, a young woman is observed by a cold and mercurial scientist at the Arboria Institute. There isn’t much dialogue and not much is explained, yet the film is so visually striking and surreal that it has a weird appeal. The textures and atmosphere and colors and cinematography are so hypnotic that I could recommend it on aesthetics alone. The brokenness of the doctors is fascinating and the imagery sticks in the mind. Not for everybody, but certainly for some.

The Curious Sandwich:



I re-watched Mike Judge’s cult classic Office Space (1999). I loved it when I first saw it, but strangely it might have been even funnier on this second viewing. Maybe because I now have had experience working in an office and I too have become increasingly critical of the inanity of professional formalities. The movie is still hilarious and still a biting indictment of what adulthood is expected to be. Still Judge’s best film and still a breath of fresh air. The great cast includes Ron Livngston, Gary Cole, Diedrich Bader, Jennifer Aniston, John C. McGinley, and Stephen Root.

Already over "Gangs of New York."

Already over “Gangs of New York.”

Sergio Leone’s films seemed to get longer the older he got. Once Upon a Time in America (1984) feels like the 4 plus hours it is, but its atmosphere is so rich and its scenery so sumptuous that you don’t mind soaking in the beautifully realized details of an old New York City long gone. Robert De Niro and James Woods are Jewish gangsters growing up during the Prohibition. Told in flashback, we witness the friendships, betrayals, murders, and regrets of a lost era. While the movie is slow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen more beautiful cinematography or New York City look more detailed and gorgeous.

No animals were harmed or drugged in the making of this motion picture.

No animals were harmed or drugged in the making of this motion picture.

Dave Chappelle stars as a weed loving janitor who must raise money with his stoner roommates to get their buddy out of the slammer (he’s jailed for accidentally murdering a diabetic police horse via Funions and pizza). Their plan is to sell weed, but when Chappelle falls in love with a substance teetotaler he has to choose between the kush or the bush. Yes, Half Baked (1998) truly is a stoner classic that I had somehow never watched in its entirety. Thing is, it’s legitimately funny and Chappelle proves to be the perfect leading man for this story. Cast highlights include Steven Wright, Clarence Williams III, Jim Breur, Harland Williams, and a bevy of fun cameos (Tommy Chong, Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, Jon Stewart, Janeane Garofalo, etc.). Rachel True is hot, but playing a thankless role as the hot girl.

Yeah, I sandwiched Leone’s crime epic between two infantile comedies from our childhood.

Ever Stalwart:

Oh, I'm sure he makes it.

Oh, I’m sure he makes it.

William Wellman’s Wild Boys of the Road (1933) is a pre-Code Depression-era road drama about kids of laid off fathers who decide to become train-hopping hobos rather than be a financial burden on their families. It’s a simple, if somewhat optimistically unbelievable, premise but the journey they go on is fascinating, mired by troubles, and despite amputations, thuggery, and possible rape somehow still resiliently optimistic. It’s a very American film. It’s a side of humanity that is both harsh and rarely depicted in old Hollywood flicks (sans Charlie Chaplin movies). Gritty yet sweet, Wild Boys of the Road is a curious time capsule that any cinephile should investigate.

"What kind of clown are you?" "The crying on the inside, I guess."

“What kind of clown are you?”
“The crying on the inside, I guess.”

How had I never seen Bill Murray’s only directed movie? [Co-directed with Howard Franklin] Quick Change (1990) is a great comedy about the post bank heist anxieties of trying to navigate New York City to get to the airport on time. Bill Murray, Geena Davis, and Randy Quaid are bank robbers who have had enough of the daily grind and so decide to retire early. Jason Robards is the cop hot on their trail. It’s great suspense and great comedy. I was especially pleased to see Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci in supporting roles. Despite Quaid’s overly hammy performance, the movie manages to be a sweetly cynical crime caper.



Much like Half Baked, I had never sat down and watched John Carpenter’s They Live (1988) all the way through. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper stars as a drifter who stumbles upon a secret. When he dons the weird sunglasses he sees the world for what it is: an elaborate advertisement to force humans to blindly consume. Naturally, the conspiracy is all orchestrated by gross, lipless aliens. It’s got some great lines, ridiculous fights, wonderful social satire, and a grim dose of truth. It also has one of the best movie endings ever. EVER! Keith David co-stars.

The Wave Finally Peaks:

This car is ready for the rave.

This car is ready for the rave.

Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton star in Alex Cox’s darkly weird cult sci-fi comedy, Repo Man (1984). Otto (Estevez) is a punk who winds up repossessing cars with a bunch of lunatics who like to pop uppers and wax philosophic about the art of being a repo-man.  It’s a truly unique movie that is neither obvious nor exactly easy, but it is an unforgettable and quirky viewing experience.

Also you'll want to murder Richard Basehart too while watching this movie.

Also you’ll want to murder Richard Basehart too while watching this movie.

Federico Fellini directs the great Anthony Quinn in La Strada (1954), but the real star is Giulietta Masina. It’s the story of a poor, naive country girl who is sold to a nomadic strongman. Though she is optimistic and full of wide-eyed wonder and good humor, her sweet character and odd appearance earn her no respect in the eyes of her abusive master. It is a compelling drama set against the landscape of rural Italy.

Life is but a dream.

Life is but a dream.

Robert Altman made some pretty enigmatic movies in his time. As loopy as Brewster McCloud was, 3 Women (1977) might even be more odd…if less obviously so. Sissy Spacek is an awkward country waif who gets a job nursing the elderly. She immediately attaches herself to the awkward and vapid Shelley Duvall character. They develop a strange, uncomfortable bond and bizarre connection with a silent painter played by Janice Rule. After an accident their roles are turned upside down and the mystery of who these characters are only gets weirder. This movie is a quiet type of insanity and I really had no idea where it was going scene to scene. As baffling as much of it is, I kind of loved it. Weeks later, I’m still thinking about it.

"Keep driving."

“Keep driving.”

My favorite of the bunch is The Hitch-Hiker (1953) directed by Ida Lupino. It’s a simple set up. Two fishing buddies (Edmond O’Brien and Frank Lovejoy) on their way through Mexico pick up a hitchhiker who turns out to be sociopath and serial killer (William Talman). The rest of the film is a series of tense situations as the killer plays sick mind games with the two helpless men as they try to figure a way to communicate and outsmart their captor before he kills them both. It’s a fabulous vintage suspense thriller.

The Last Few Movies I saw: Episode XII – Screw the Oscars

Once again. Here we go. As always, in order of what I thought of them. I apologize in advance if my cinematic snobbery is more obvious this time around.

But I Hate It:


“The Great Dictator” reboot. Now with more dick jokes.

There was a lot of hoopla surrounding Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy, The Interview (2014). The hacking, the threats, the pulling-from-theaters, the backlash, the fervent speeches in the name of free expression, yet for all the political brouhaha, The Interview is ultimately just another infantile Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy. All the women are bimbos (entering each scene with our stoner protagonists muttering stuff like, “Bro, she’s so hot. I think I wanna bang her”). All the potential for smart satire sapped, squandered, missed entirely. All humor gleaned copiously from the shallow well of butt-stuff jokes. The special effects aren’t bad and there are maybe one or two lines that are funny on their own, but if you want to be entertained beyond a fifth grade level I’d look elsewhere. How Team America: World Police managed to be 100 times more ballsy, offensive, prescient, culturally significant, and funny is something I’m still processing. Somehow The Interview winds up being less mature in all the wrong ways and the comedy sadly suffers from that. Despite almost threatening World War III, this cinematic enema is truly a waste.


I’m gonna steal the Septuagint.

Overtly Christian films are notorious for being awkward, terrible, and, as a result, quite unintentionally hilarious. This is Left Behind (2014). Nicolas Cage staring in an action remake of a dopey Kirk Cameron direct-to-video movie based on a pulpy religious novel series ripped off from a 1970s Christian Twilight Zone type flick called Thief in the Night which was inspired by a surreal bit of modern dogma that gained popularity in the 20th century sounds like it couldn’t be boring, right? Alas, this one is so bland it doesn’t even function well as a so-bad-it’s-good movie, but there are a few scenes that are very inadvertently funny. Nearly every element of production smacks of incompetence yet the absurdity never reaches the sublime like in movies like Troll 2 or The Room. But, I’d sooner watch this with some friends than The Interview.



At least there’s enough squishy cuteness to keep you with it until the end.

Big Hero 6 (2014). Go on. Hate me. I liked the energetic animation, a lot of the humor, and the relationship built between Hiro and Baymax, but the plot itself I found rushed, predictable, and weightless while the villain was glaringly absent and the side characters were uninspired. Weirdly, the most uncooked element of this superhero origin story was the superhero part. It’s inoffensive and breezy and kids will like it, but I’ve come to expect a little more from family films. Let’s hope the sequel has a more engaging villain and plot. Not awful, just a yawner.


God, is it over yet?

I feel like all three Hobbit movies have some great costumes, special effects, environments, and at least one decent scene in each of them. Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) might be the most exhausting and watch-checking outing to Middle-Earth yet. No, I didn’t hate it. And it was a fun surprise to hear Billy Connolly’s voice (he plays the dwarf that rides the pig). I feel the same as I do about Stephen Sommers’ Van Helsing; if it were half as long it would be twice as good. There’s a lot of talent being put into these films, but the action is so planned and drawn out and the drama-y stuff is so hammy with nothing connecting us to the characters that it becomes a slog to get through. Regrettably, I don’t think I’ll be sad if I never watch these movies again.


How come there’s no Captain Canada? Or Captain Bangladesh? Does East Timor or Luxembourg have a Captain?

I’m not the biggest Marvel fan. Having said that, I actually really enjoyed a lot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). The car chases were excellent and a lot of the on-the-ground fists-punching-faces action was fantastic. I enjoyed the storyline of Captain America on the lam and Shield being infiltrated by Hydra. I liked the stuff with Nick Fury and Dr. Zola and Robert Redford. What killed some of the fun for me was the actual Winter Soldier part and the cartoony fight in the spaceships at the end. The last act looked like all the things that bore me with Marvel superhero movies. It all looks like the same suspenseless mayhem. HOWEVER, the first 2/3 of the movie were so fun and well done that I admit I liked the movie a lot more than I expected.

Higher Times:


The Munsters vs The Addams Family. Go!

This one is a re-watch. I remember borrowing this from the library a lot when I was a kid. File this under nostalgia. The Munsters’ Revenge (1981) is really only for fans of the 1960s sitcom. It’s little more than a really long episode and only works if you know the characters already. Poor Yvonne De Carlo is given nothing to do. The positives about this TV-movie is that it broadens their world a little more and gives us Sid Caesar doing accents as an eccentric villain. It also puts Marilyn Munster in a cavegirl bikini and features a new family member modeled after the Phantom of the Opera. If you enjoy the idea of Grandpa (Al Lewis) and Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) going on an adventure to clear their name (they’ve been framed by robots) and have a high threshold for haunted house puns then check it out.

“I’m Eddie Wilson.” *peels off mustache*

This was built up for me a lot by a good friend. Enjoying this charming dramatic misfire with some beers is recommended. Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives (1989) is a sequel about Eddie Wilson running away from his past as a rock legend. Having survived a car accident decades ago, he changes his identity and becomes a construction worker and grows a mustache. Nobody recognizes him, but soon Eddie (Michael Paré), under the alias Joe West, wants to make music again and forms a band, but there’s just no denying that sound. It’s low-budget, silly, melodramatic, but actually pretty fun and has some good tunes along the way.

The Joy Builds:

Moral of the story: almost every man you meet is a potential rapist.

Moral of the story: almost every man you meet is a rapist.

Troubled white girl is sad so she goes into nature to get in touch with herself and battle the demons of her past. Yes, Wild (2014), directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed, isn’t as bad is should be. The cinematography is great and the locations are impressive. Witherspoon and Laura Dern give solid performances. As the story unfolds we are treated to flashbacks that help us get to know her character and motivations a little better. So maybe her problems aren’t the worst, but they’re hers. A good 70% of what made me like the movie so much was the use of “El Condor Pasa” by Simon and Garfunkel.


“I’m Eddie Wilson too!” *puts mustache back on*

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005) is a fascinating documentary about a man and his battle with manic-depressive order and his artistic genius. The film examines his life, his music, and his problems with compassion and admiration. Daniel Johnston’s illness leads him to fixate of surreal themes and his own perfectionism. Listening to his work and how he recorded much of it, all while hearing from his friends and family, builds him into a kind of legend, making him an even more intriguing and tragic character.

Not quite my tempo, little drummer boy!

Not quite my tempo, little drummer boy!

J. K. Simmons is always a fun actor to watch and it was great to see him get the complicated lead character of Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (2014). Fletcher (Simmons) is a sociopathic slave-driver of a jazz conductor. His physical demands and cruel mind games are demented and unacceptable and he tests everything a young drummer named Andrew (Miles Teller) has in him. The film looks gorgeous and it is unapologetic. You will respect characters and then hate them and then wrestle with both feelings at once, trying to decide where the line should be drawn and whether the ending is happy or sad. The truth is, Fletcher has more interest in talent than individuals and even if his results are good, you may forever be concerned about his methods and the ethics of it all. It’s a surprising and strangely challenging little film.

We Climb Higher:


“Say ‘it might be a tumor’ one more time!”

I had never actually watched John Milius’ epic, Conan the Barbarian (1982), all the way through before. As a kid I recall catching snippets on TV…and sometimes confusing it with Beastmaster (apologies). This is one brawny movie. James Earl Jones plays a hypnotic villain with snake-like powers, Sandahl Bergman is sexy and badass, and Arnold Schwarzenegger himself (while struggling with the language) definitely looks the part and rounds this fantasy epic out perfectly. Conan is probably one of the best sword and sorcery flicks out there and it still holds up as an entertaining action adventure today. It also boasts a fantastic score by Basil Poledouris (The Hunt for Red October).


You can get it if you really want.

If “El Condor Pasa” influenced my fondness of Wild, then the reggae pulse of Jimmy Cliff in Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come (1972) definitely had a hand in how I interpret this amateur Jamaican crime drama. It’s a simple story of a guy who wants to make music but becomes a drug peddler on the run from the law. The patois might be difficult to understand, but it adds authenticity and the some of the songs may be overused, but they’re great so who cares? Although quite rough around the edges, The Harder They Come is what it is.

Alan Partridge in the studio


I like Steve Coogan and watching Alan Partidge: Alpha Papa (2013) inspired me to start consuming the Alan Partridge TV series. The film does a great job of delivering clever lines and keeping it broad enough for new audiences. Selfish social nitwit and radio host, Alan (Coogan), gets his friend Pat (Colm Meaney) fired to save his own job, but when Pat loses it and holds the whole studio hostage it’s up to Alan to save everyone’s life…as long as he doesn’t have to apologize or lose ratings. I laughed out loud quite a bit.

The Air is Thinning. The Sherpas are Dying:


Say what you will about Roman Polanski. He’s no Bill Cosby.

Ewan McGregor is hired to replace a recently deceased ghost writer for a former prime minister (Pierce Brosnan) in Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer (2010). As the ex-politician is becoming embroiled in a growing international scandal, more secrets are uncovered and the mysteriousness surrounding the previous ghost writer’s death is revealed it seems that our hero is in grave peril. Like a lot of Polanski films, the more you know the more danger you put yourself in. It is a taut, atmospheric, suspenseful, and enigmatic thriller that creeps up on you and pulls you in. Co-starring Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrell, Tom Wilkinson, Jim Belushi, and Eli Wallach.

You’re not getting out of this movie, kid. Not without seeing a lot more of your parents completely naked.

So, I’ll be honest. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s fever dreams committed to celluloid are not for everyone. Having seen all of his films from El Topo to Santa Sangre, I was ecstatic to see that the 85 year old Chilean surrealist auteur was returning to the director’s chair after a 23 year hiatus. The Dance of Reality (2014) appears to be Jodorowsky’s most personal work. It is a weird, episodic, dreamlike autobiography of his childhood and a fascinating examination of his own father. It is a compassionate, mesmerizing, and uncomfortable work—like most of his canon. He may be old, but he hasn’t lost any of his madness or his fixation with amputees.


I know it’s a sound stage, but I want to go to India in part because of this movie.

I re-watched another favorite from my childhood. Zoltan Korda’s Jungle Book (1942) stars Sabu (The Thief of Bagdad) as Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves. The film is a fine collection of wildlife photography, detailed matte paintings, and questionable snake puppets. If you have a fondness for older films, I’d say watch this one soon. Sabu is as charming as always and Joseph Calleia gives a great performance as the fearful and sinister town leader (and defeated but wiser storyteller that bookends the film), Buldeo. It’s a polished but intimate spectacle. You can tell the Kordas really cared about making quality films.



Michael Keaton plays a washed up superhero actor trying to salvage his artistic integrity by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway play based on Raymond Carver in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman (2014). The drum score does not let up and the camera never seems to cut away and we begin to wonder if our protagonist is having a psychotic breakdown as voices and hallucinations from his past haunt him more and more. The performances are all wonderful (Keaton, Emma Stone, and Ed Norton especially) and the style is mesmerizing and builds the tension in a very unique way.  The incredible cinematography was handled by the great Emmanuel Lubezki (Tree of Life).

The Mighty Peak:


Life is so lame.

Even if you don’t fully appreciate Jim Jarmusch’s specific style or sense of humor, you may still appreciate the detailed atmosphere and fine performances in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are immortal hipsters, or vampires, to be precise. They’ve lived countless years and have become completely detached from the human (or ‘zombie’) world. Rather than highlight the blood sucking antics of sexy demons of the night, the story focuses around how one couple spends eternity and the minutiae of dealing with pesky problems and the logistics of relocating following more serious crises. Mia Wasikowska co-stars as an obnoxious vampire party girl whose immaturity the lovers have waning patience for and John Hurt plays a vampiric Christopher Marlowe. It’s altogether sumptuous, sexy, and slow-burning. Whether your driving around the battered streets of Detroit or stalking the alleys of Tangiers, be on the lookout. There be vampires. One of the most refreshing vampire flicks since Let the Right One In.


“I bet I could have saved ‘Zardoz.’ Boorman should have asked me.”

John Boorman may have made one of the artiest man-movies with Point Blank (1967). Ultimate screen badass, Lee Marvin, is Walker, a man out for revenge and money. That’s all you really need going in. For a revenge action thriller the movie is quite stylish and ethereal, unfolding like a weird dream. As I watched it I was reminded of Seijin Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samourai (which came out in 1966 and 1967 respectively). I don’t know what it is, but some movies just feel sexy. Co-starring Keenan Wynn, Michael Strong, Angie Dickinson, and Carroll O’Connor.

“Wooooo. It’s a ghost cup.”

And my favorite of this bunch is a comedic mockumentary about vampires from New Zealand called What We Do in the Shadows (2014). A documentary film crew is given permission to follow around a group of vampire flatmates (played by Jermaine Clement, Taika Waititi, Jonathan Brugh, Ben Fransham, and newly deceased, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer). The movie is a delight from start to finish with wonderful characters and clever jabs at classic vampire tropes and all of the mundane problems those tropes entail. It’s a brilliant horror-comedy that I look forward to watching again. (For Flight of the Concords fans, in addition to Jermaine Clement, Rhys Darby plays the leader of a pack of well-mannered werewolves.)

Agree? Disagree? What did you see?

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode X – So we meet again.

Once again I give you a list of the last few movies I watched ordered by my increasing opinion of them. Ones that didn’t impress me so much are at the top and further down you scroll the more I loved them. Weirdly, for this time, even the movies I didn’t really like I still found interesting. Basically, there’s nothing on this list I wouldn’t recommend. I’m not sorry any of these movies were made.



“The Church of Batman the Redeemer needs you.”

Those who know me know I love me some Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), but since the dawn of the aughts I haven’t been wild about any of his cinematic fever dreams. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was the most interesting recent outing of his, but even that felt troubled and jerky. Christoph Waltz stars in the low-budget sci-fi, The Zero Theorem (2013). There are a lot of ideas going on and most of them are good ideas; the meaning of life, the loneliness of existence, the persistent search for understanding, the desperate desire for connection and control, the alienation of a technological society, etc. Some of the imagery and background gags were enjoyable too. Gilliam’s got some tricks up his sleeve, but why does this film feel like an unfinished student play at times? A lot of it feels stagey and the comedy feels a little out of place. I like some of the surreal turns, but I sort of wish this was a darker movie with less awkward comedy and less bright colors. I wanted to feel the heaviness and emptiness that I believe it was trying to convey. I’d call this movie “leftovers from Twelve Monkeys and Brazil”, but those would have had more balls and personality.


Movie to movie you can never tell how elfen and pretty she will be or how grotesque and haglike she will be. I sort of love Tilda Swinton.

Snowpiercer, aka Seolgungnyeolcha (2013) seems to have gotten a lot of high praise from critics and I’m somewhat baffled as to why. It is a vaguely smarter dumb action movie than the average dumb action movie. It’s quirky humor/bloody violence combo rings profoundly of either tone deafness or an awkward cultural translation. Korean filmmaker, Joon-ho Bong (The Host), is no slouch behind the camera, but the mostly non-Korean cast seems lost or weirdly out of place. Tilda Swinton is fun as a sniveling, Coke bottle-eyed cartoon character villainess, but ultimately the film’s stifling depression and dourness outweighs its more fun and imaginative strokes. The satire feels stale and obtusely obvious and the dialogue probably could have withstood a few more once-overs. Maybe if it had been a wholly Korean movie with a more consistent tone it would have been great. Who knows?  It needed more Kang-ho Song. Less Chris Evans.


And two black swans?

Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain) has not directed a movie yet that is not worth seeing. That said, Noah (2014) ranks rather low on my Aronofsky totem pole. It’s a far more consistently joyless experience than Snowpiercer, but I suppose that’s to be expected in a story about God killing everyone. The mythic quality is what worked best about it. I guess I just wanted less mopey-ness in a biblical epic. Aronofsky’s take on the Nephilim—turning them into creaking rock monsters—was interesting but, dare I say it, abrupt and overused. The last act had me yawning and checking my watch. This is a movie with a lot of interesting ideas and is artfully made and it actually feels closer to a biblical legend than anything I’ve seen before (yes, including The Ten Commandments), but it just wasn’t my cup of tea and maybe I can’t exactly put my finger on exactly why. Did it want to retell a famous religious epic? Did it want be a character study of a man’s quest to please his maker? Did it just want to get an environmentalist message out there? Perhaps all in one? I wish this movie was as fun for me to watch and dissect as was the absurd religious controversy surrounding it. Chalk it up to my artless personal taste, but watch it anyway.

Let there be fun:


“The skeleton ran out of shampoo in the shower…the human torch was denied a bank loan.”

If you liked Anchorman, then you’ll probably enjoy Anchorman 2 (2013). It’s more of the same and still pretty funny. While the zany spark of madness that was “What is this movie?!” in Anchorman is gone, this sequel manages one or two worthy qualities. Kristen Wiig is hilarious as Brick Tamland’s equally infantile love interest and the plot surrounding the sensationalization of 24 hour news is on point with the real travesty of the state of modern media. It may not be as fresh, sharp, and guffaw-inducing, but you get what you pay for.


“Remember that episode of “Little House on the Prairie” where Laura gets a pet raccoon and then it gets rabies and then Michael Landon has to kill it and they all cry and then it turns out that it was a different raccoon that had rabies and then the pet raccoon comes back and they all cry again? That episode friggin’ kills me.” *click-click*

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was fast, exciting, fun, and not nearly as clever as it thinks it is. Was it one of the best Marvel movies to come around? Yes, but I haven’t exactly been a huge fan of the Marvel superhero movies. Not being familiar with the comics, however, this was an enjoyable and consistently entertaining space adventure with some welcome humor (and there could have been more…let’s see if this baby gets the Hellboy 2 treatment in the sequel), some likable characters (big surprise that Drax was more than a bloodthirsty oaf—he turned out to be very interesting), and a healthy dose of classic rock surging through its central nervous system. I liked it. I’m glad it was so successful. I hope director James Gunn is allowed to take even more risks in the sequel.


I wonder if they got any corporate sponsorship.

Chris Pratt was in another fun movie this year: The Lego Movie (2014). It’s colorful and clever. More colorful and clever than I was expecting. There were some genuinely smart and innovative gags and the story was fun and functional oo. Who knew a move based on a child’s building toy would have had so much life?

“Seriouser and seriouser,” said the White Rabbit:


“But vhy are ve all schpeaking English?”

One of the last films to feature Philip Seymour Hoffman is a spy thriller about German counter-terrorism based on a novel by John le Carré called A Most Wanted Man (2014). It is a pensive, decidedly un-glamorous story of the war on terror as seen through the eyes of Intelligence operatives. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy had more stylishness, but this is a welcome gritty edition to a genre that seems to have few admirers these days. When a Chechen refugee comes to Hamburg he has the eyes of several spy factions watching him. The central pull of the subdued drama deals with the emotions on the personal level of espionage and the backstabbing and calculated, sting-like setups. Director Anton Corbijn trusts the story, his talented cast, and grounded realistic approach to pull us in. Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, and the rest of the cast are good as well.


“It’s shite, m’boy.”

Martin McDonagh and John Michael McDonagh have allowed us to see Brendan Gleeson in some of his finest performances. They’ve also apparently made some sort of deal where they get to kill him a lot in their movies too. J. M. McDonagh’s Calvary (2014) is an enjoyable character study. Gleeson is a country priest in a small Irish village where everybody knows each other. The first scene has a hidden man behind the confessional tell the priest that he will kill him the following Sunday. The priest knows who it is, but doesn’t tell anyone. Instead we get a week long of soul-searching. There are many memorable scenes of poetic simplicity. Just watching these folks interact with each other would be entertaining enough, but the added suspense of the fatal secret the protagonist carries adds much tension and weight to this thoughtful, beautifully shot film.

Dawn of the Docs:


And God said let there be more crappy movies made in his name!

Extracting twisted pleasures from observing the destructive delusions and inevitable failures of others is why the Germans invented the word schadenfreude. An Audience of One (2007) is a documentary that follows the big Hollywood dreams of a strange pastor (only recently introduced to the movies) who pools his congregation’s money to make a Christian-themed Star Wars space adventure. Between the amateur casting, the lack of production coordination, the costly trips to Italy, and the electricity being cut from not paying their bills and illegally staying in the studios, this man’s poor obsessed vision is a woeful trainwreck of biblical proportions. By the end of the film you get the impression that Pastor Richard Gazowsky is insane and running his church’s money (and congregations faith and patience) into the ground. Thank god they got it all on film.


“You’re cute, but where is there a giant glass boot full of beer?”

Borut Strel aids his father, Martin Strel, an internationally championed distance swimmer from Slovenia, in this documentary by John Maringouin, Big River Man (2009). Strel is overweight, borderline alcoholic, and he has swum the Danube, the Mississippi, as well as the Yangtze, and, at age of 53, he set his sights on the Amazon. The film introduces our peculiar protagonist and then follows him on his preparations and eventual arduous tackling of the Brazilian behemoth. All 5,268 kilometers of it. We watch as the river takes its toll on him and his psychotic American navigator descends into madness and the doctors tell him to stop and his son looks on and watches. It’s like Herzog and Colonel Kurtz rolled into one (if that isn’t redundant). Strel’s stubbornness and charisma are ultimately what steer this film and they are mighty rudders indeed.


“If you’ve seen any of my movies then you’ve probably seen either me or random members of my immediate family completely naked and having sex with amputees.”

Three documentaries in a row?! Deal with it. As a film nerd, I have long been obsessed with the film that never was; Alejandro Jodorowsky (The Holy Mountain) had planned to adapt Frank Herbert’s Dune and he planned to use the talents of H.R. Giger, Pink Floyd, Jean Giraud, Dan O’Bannon, David Carradine, Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, Mick Jagger, Salvador Dalí, and more. Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013), directed by Frank Pavich, chronicles the obscure Chilean artist’s doomed project. Jodorowsky is one of the pioneers of the midnight/cult movie and one of the most personal and bafflingly bizarre filmmakers of all time. Watching him retell the tale of how his most ambitious project went kaput is both dazzling and heart-breaking. If this charming documentary is the closest we will ever get to seeing Jodorowsky’s vision of Dune then so be it.

A wonderful place:


The 1970s: when being an aimless, schlubby, unkempt, smartass slob meant you could be a movie star.

Robert Altman (M*A*S*H) is responsible for some of the great American movies and his contemporary retelling of Raymond Chandler’s mystery, The Long Good Bye (1973), is definitely worth a look. It’s a small movie with seemingly little frills. Set in 70s LA, Elliott Gould stars as detective Philip Marlowe, but honestly the mystery hardly matters. Great mystery stories, for me anyway, are more about the detective character and the atmosphere. Altman’s film has both atmosphere and character so little else matters. The dialogue crackles and the scenes unfold unpredictably.


…it’s French. Wearing a tuxedo and a rooster mask while holding a dead pigeon is like saying “hello” for them.

Georges Franju (The Blood of Beasts) directs this enchanting pulp mystery and homage to early 1900s Louis Feuillade serials, Judex (1963). A mysterious cloaked figure threatens the life of a corrupt banker and our story begins. The sumptuous photography and healthy smatterings of surreal delirium create a charming atmosphere full of intrigue, poisons, capes, disguises, blackmail, stage coaches, bird masks, magic, and murder. It’s pulpy fun with enough twists and turns to keep things going, but the look of the film is really what sold me. I’ve never seen Feuillade’s Judex from 1916, but having seen his entire Fantômas series I’d say this seems like a worthy tribute.


It’s like if “Cool World” was good and had a really good story and it was just good. Y’know?

Waltz with Bashir director, Ari Folman weaves a refreshingly weird tapestry of impeccable animation, surreal plot devices, and societal allegory with The Congress (2013). Robin Wright stars as herself. She’s an industry star who made it big with a few early hits, but has since become difficult, torn between work and personal life, and acting less and less (although she’s also in A Most Wanted Man). Her agent (Harvey Keitel) pushes her to sign a new contract that will give her entire identity to Miramount Studios. They scan her whole body and own her emotions, figure, expressions, voice, etc. and can keep her forever young to sell movies, products, whatever. Years into the future she will travel back to the studio to see what they’ve done to her soul. In a drug-induced cartoon hallucination we see the future: humans will eat and drink their favorite personalities in order to don their artifice…but it will all be a fictitious delusion, a sinister, apathetic distraction. This is easily the most intriguing and innovative film on this list and while it’s not my number one today, I can’t recommend this fever dream enough.

The bell chimes midnight:


“Don’t ever call me…doll.” Because the world needs more Space Jam references.

So yeah, apparently Tarantino did borrow copiously from Toshiya Fujita’s bloody revenge thriller, Lady Snowblood (1973). Meiko Kaji stars as the baby conceived and born for the sole purpose of avenging the rape of her mother and the murder of her mother’s husband and son. Broken up into chapters with such epic titles as “Crying Bamboo Dolls of the Netherworld”, this blood-soaked journey into unrepentant slashings is full of fantastic scenes of violence and murder. It’s pulpy, but beautifully shot and the main heroine proves a formidable force. If you liked the Lone Wolf and Cub series or the Kill Bills then watch this beast. I love the ending too.


Memento guy, Agent Smith, and the original General Zod together at last.

Stephen Elliott’s road comedy about two drag queens (Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce) and an aging transexual (Terence Stamp) leaving Sydney to cross the outback for a mysterious drag show is fabulous entertainment. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) has become a bit of a cult classic and it’s actually a lot of fun. Stamp absolutely steals the show as the Eeyore-esque Bernadette and the surreality of gaudy, bawdy cross-dressing colors shimmering in the Australian desert is great to look at. While episodic and some of its plot elements feel somewhat contrived, the movie is grounded in its characters and the real problems of prejudice they sometimes face. It’s funny, exciting, and it packs some emotional punch as well.


At least it gave Spaulding Gray something to talk about.

The Mission director, Roland Joffe, took on Khmer Rouge and foreign spillover into Cambodia from the Vietnam War as the subject of this next movie, The Killing Fields (1984). Sam Waterston and Haring S. Ngor star as journalists, Sydney Schanberg and Dith Pran. This is a truly harrowing story of survival—think All the President’s Men meets Hotel Rwanda. When the embassies evacuate and all foreign citizens are forced to leave, Dith Pran is left on his own and must withstand hellish ordeals including both physical torture and violence and psychological manipulation. This is one of those historical footnotes that gets glossed over in American textbooks and it is an important lesson. We should be confronted with these images and humanize the victims. The Killing Fields comes strongly recommended.


Yes. “Ramen” means “noodles.” When you say “ramen noodles”, you are really just saying “noodles noodles.” Stop it.

Yeah, I sandwiched the heavy political survivalist drama between two quirky, funny movies. What of it? My favorite film of late was Tampopo (1986). Like Bad Boy Bubby, I had been meaning to see this for awhile now and what a treat it turned out to be! Directed by Juzo Itami (A Taxing Woman), this adorably weird celebration of Japanese noodles was a breath of fresh air at the end of a hard day. A tough as nails truck driver and ramen enthusiast (Tsutomu Yamazaki) rides into town (along with his sidekick played by Ken Watanabe) on a stormy night. One fistfight at a noodle shop brings him into the life of demure shop owner, Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). The trucker agrees to help Tampopo make the best noodles in town and together they enlist the help of old masters and experts to get every detail absolutely perfect. Apart from the main storyline, there are several non sequitur subplots involving various characters and their humorous interactions with food. There’s a spaghetti-eating instructor, a gangster and his lover who love to incorporate edible elements into their intimate activities, a man returning from the dentist, and more. Most of these side-stories do little more than remind us that food is loved and experienced by all of us. Tampopo is a sumptuous medley of tasty bites to nosh and ponder.

Last Few Movies: Episode VII – Still Random

Look. Another list. Again, ranked in order.

Stop it:


Stay in that coma. If you wake up, you might realize how dumb and implausible all this is.

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa ineffectively rips off InceptionShutter Island, The Cell, and a bunch of forgettable recent horror movies for Real (2013). A man must go inside his wife’s subconscious to awaken her from a coma, but after about the third twist it’s hard to care (a good twist is supposed to clarify not wipe the slate clean rendering all previous scenes moot, or it’s supposed to surprise rather than be telegraphed 20 minutes in advance, OR it’s supposed to make sense instead of being ridiculous for the sake of surprise). The story is laughable, the acting is melodramatic and cheesy, and it’s way too long. There was some potential in the beginning and there’s a few decent jump scares but ultimately…just no. Points for having a dinosaur in the homestretch, but points taken back for it not making sense and being stupid.

Do you feel that? That is sound of my powerfully sexy baritone voice vibrating your chair.

Do you feel that? That is sound of my powerfully sexy baritone voice vibrating your chair.

I like blaxploitation movies and I was excited to see one that was inspired by The Exorcist. Carroll Speed is the title character in Abby (1974). I wish this was more fun (especially for having such a fun censorship history fraught with lawsuits). I really enjoyed the beginning and I actually liked the exorcism finale, maybe because those had the most interesting insights into who or what the demon really was and had more William Marshall (Blacula himself). Sadly the big, long middle stretch is very boring and predictable.

Stay gold, Ponyboy!

Stay gold, Ponyboy!

Why do I find bromance melodramas written by women so cloying and irritating? People say I’m crazy, but I hated reading The Outsiders in middle school. Green Street Hooligans (2005) is the story of Elijah Wood trying to be tough enough to hang with idiot British football hooligans. It’s predictable, overly sentimental, manipulative, and unintentionally funny when it’s not supposed to be. The film seems to be reaching to both glorify and criticize the zeal of these uneducated youths. It celebrates their passion and loyalty while at the same time condemning their irresponsibility and their misplaced priorities. The biggest thing that bothered me was just how dumb and unlikable all the characters were. Yes, many real people are that dumb and annoying, but watching real people would be more interesting. It’s an interesting sub-culture that I’d like to see as a documentary.

Meh and/or misguided:



Mansome (2012) is Morgan Spurlock’s examination on male vanity. It features interviews with funny celebrities and weird real life characters with strong opinions. Sadly the movie never formulates a question and never nears any form of conclusion. There are some isolated segments that are fun and telling, but it never comes together to say anything or even try to say anything new.

See that over there? That's an imaginative funny yet life-affirming movie with Ben Stiller in it. I call it a snow leopard.

See that over there? That’s an imaginative funny yet life-affirming movie with Ben Stiller in it. I call it a snow leopard.

I’m a fan of James Thurber and a fan of Danny Kaye and a fan of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. This made Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) a particularly banal and toothless slog that tries its damndest to be life-affirming. I loved the cinematography, earthy locations, music choices, and I like Kristen Wiig. Beyond that it’s an empty affair that dashes from country to country with no specific destination in mind. If the comedy was funnier or the flights of fancy more imaginative I could have easily overlooked the tired, simple story and boring archetypal characters.

They came the sales. They stayed because they formed a cult to counter their fears of inter-dimensional beings.

They came for the sales. They stayed because they formed a cult to counter their fears of inter-dimensional beings.

Some people kept recommending this one to me and I’ll be honest, The Mist (2007) isn’t half bad…or actually it’s exactly half bad. Director Frank Darabont, no stranger to adapting Stephen King, tackles the intriguing premise and microcosmic study of mob mentality and the origins and dangers of religion fairly well. Marcia Gay Harden is good as the uber-deluded conservative Christian nutjob and I liked Toby Jones as the steadfast store clerk. Some of the monsters are cool and it’s well-paced, but it feels too heavy-handed at times and the ending, while shocking and bleak, feels like standard Twilight Zone conclusion. It’s worth a look. Just don’t hope for too much.

Movie tropes but with less understanding.

Movie tropes but with less understanding.

Abdullajon, or Dedicated to Steven Spielberg (1991) is an Uzbek re-imagining of E.T. A strange boy with no penis crash lands and is adopted by a clumsy middle-aged farmer. There’s never any suspense as they explain everything that will happen in the next scene before it happens. It’s never really warm or funny—perhaps through translation. The characters aren’t terribly developed and the situations rely heavily on magic-boy gimmicks (that they keep repeating). There’s a random twist that isn’t really explained and is sort of resolved inexplicably without much happenstance. Most of the second half of the film seems preoccupied with the fact that the alien boy can make hoes (the gardening tool, now) float. The town enjoys riding hoes to the market until the major confiscates them. The only real reason to watch this kind of slow and uneventful movie is for the silly special effects (which are few and far between) and just the odd mundanity that the film treats its subject.

The air grows thinner:

The cartoons you love and took you 10 seconds to understand, now stretched to TV special length.

The cartoons you love and took you 10 seconds to understand, now stretched to TV special length.

Gary Larson is the reason I wanted to learn how to read when I was little. He is also one of the reasons I started cartooning. The TV animated special Tales from the Far Side (1994) is a pleasant treat. If you like The Far Side then odds are you’ll enjoy this at some level. The problem is it’s not terribly great or groundbreaking. If the entire 30 minute run-time was as fast and funny as the first 30 seconds then I’d love this. Sadly it tries to stretch the single-panel gags out for way too long. Larson’s cartoons do not take long to set up. What made the beginning unique was the kooky, surreal farm music and the long panning shots across a cartoon canvas with animated hijinks continually appearing. What made the opening inventive was when it showed us clues and as the camera kept panning we got the payoff. It’s good, but not as great as the source material deserves or the intro promises. The sequel which came out in 1997 is thrice as good and plays more as “Cartoon Faces of Death” they kill so many people. Could Gary Larson be the brains behind the Final Destination series?

Han shot first.

Han shot first.

The American Astronaut (2001) is a very low budget and arty independent science-fiction musical comedy directed by Cory McAbee. There’s a lot to really respect in this humble little project: the clever way to portray space travel with no money, the noir lighting and Maddin-esque minimal yet surreal sets, and then the concept of the villain (“He’s a birthday boy.”). Why I don’t rate this higher is just because I wanted more out of it. Eraserhead spoiled a lot of us and we demand more from this sort of aesthetic. There’s one or two pretty good songs and a couple memorable scenes and stylish images, but I found it a little too slow.

The apocalypse better be more consistently funny than this.

The apocalypse better be more consistently funny than this.

I laughed really hard at the trailer and the concept for Seth Rogan’s This is the End (2013). And the movie itself actually has those scenes that I laughed at in the trailer. Unfortunately it doesn’t have much more…except for some confused theology. I loved Craig Robinson. But then I always love Craig Robinson.

A rare moment without special effects.

A rare moment without special effects.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) is long. Once again the title character is smothered by cartoon action violence, amazing sets, dour monologues about magic and quests, impressive special effects, meandering plot devices, and more. It’s a watchable mess, but don’t expect to feel anything during or afterwards. Like the previous Hobbit movie, there are one or two really good scenes, and those are the quiet scenes where we learn about the characters.

Base camp:

Every matador needs a gimmick.

Every matador needs a gimmick.

Peter Sellers dons brown-face to play a cocksure novice matador/troubadour before hoodwinking the sexy Britt Ekland and succumbing to blue-face at her vengeful hands in The Bobo (1967). It’s not really a funny movie, but you grow fond of the character. It’s not really a happy movie, but we accept that life doesn’t always work out. It’s not really a fast-paced movie, but what can you do? It’s a lesser Sellers and not essential, but you could do worse.

Thank god I got rid of the Clooney guy. He's was grating on me.

Thank god I got rid of that Clooney guy. He’s was grating on me.

Gravity (2013) was an incredible and amazingly immersive visceral experience and survival story that utilized state-of-the-art technology and fantastic cinematography to convey a rather simplistic story that will be easy to ignore on a TV screen. Director Alfonso Cuarón knows what he’s doing and for people who want to know what it feels like to be crying Sandra Bullock in space without pants, it must be seen in 3D IMAX. How hard will you fight for your life? Watching two characters deal with that question is powerful enough to ignore some of the awkward dialogue.

I miss cel animation.

I miss cel animation.

I actually hadn’t seen this all the way through before. Lilo and Stitch (2002) is beautifully drawn, funny, and sensitive. The relationship between Lilo and her sister is excellently portrayed with sensitivity and nuance. The alien stuff is fun too. I was surprised by the quietness and cleverness of this movie and that it never felt the need to ingratiate me, it’s cute but it earns that cuteness by being so real…despite have alien stuff.

He slimed me.

Don’t that beat all.

We may never know what blazes Andrzej Zulawski Possession (1981) really is or how it happened, but we have it so shut up and enjoy. Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani are freakishly over the top in this story of a disintegrating relationship that turns into a psychological horror with perplexing and slimy aesthetics reminiscent of Lynch and Cronenberg. This movie is the definition of irrationality and madness. I can’t spoil it, but it’s nonstop crazy.

Girl, we couldn’t get much higher:

You ain't never had a friend like me.

You ain’t never had a friend like me.

Sometimes some great music and a splash of color goes a long way. A classic Indian tale gets the animation treatment with The World of Goopi and Bagha (2013). When two abysmal musician misfits get blessed by some forest demons they will use their new powers to make peace and marry princesses and have adventures. It’s simple, but a lot of fun.

Need a movie for date night???

Need a movie for date night???

A selfish and immature Charles Grodin tries to woo a manipulative and immature Cybill Shepherd on his honeymoon in Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid (1972). This may be the darkest love story ever committed to celluloid. It’s bleak, ugly, frustrating, awkward, pessimistic, and extremely accurate. This movie should be analyzed in high school health classes. And it’s funny too!

Moral of the movie: don't leave fruit out during a wind storm.

Moral of the movie: don’t leave fruit out during a wind storm.

The Blessed Bukhara (1991) is a lyrical, enigmatic, episodic, nonlinear snapshot of a city and its inhabitants. This long movie from Tajikistan will not be for everybody. It’s a hard movie, steeped in politics and culture and obscure but containing mesmerizing imagery. Several scenes still stay with me—like so many fascinating films from this region. Director Bako Sadykov makes bold choices that could have been pulled from Parajanov or Tarkovsky. I wish it was better preserved!

Where is the Cornetto wrapper?

Where is the Cornetto wrapper?

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost team up with director Edgar Wright again for the comedy science-fiction horror homage, The World’s End (2013). It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s inventive, it’s violent, and it’s an authentic look at male relationships. Hot Fuzz, I think, still beats it in my book, followed by Shaun of the Dead, but this movie is still a lot of fun and reminds us why we love these guys. I actually kind of wish they’d make the movie they start in the final three minutes.

Nerd out on what's written on the white board. You know you want to.

Nerd out on what’s written on the white board. You know you want to.

Suckers for genre-deconstructions look no further than Cabin in the Woods (2012). I may hate teen splatterfests, but I like movies like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. I like clever ideas that are smarter than their genre’s limitations. This one takes your typical slasher setup and goes all out meta on us while adding in a bonus layer of fantasy and then a brand new type of horror. Well cast, brilliantly written and paced, and featuring some truly inventive horror turns and twists, Cabin in the Woods offers thrills with a wink and a brain geared for comedy.

I'm just a sweet transvestite from...oh, crap. Wrong movie.

I’m just a sweet transvestite from…oh, crap. Wrong movie.

People might hate me for rating Shock Treatment (1981) so highly and I will be the first to admit that Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien’s pseudo-sequel collaboration pales in comparison to the joyous cult flick, Rocky Horror Picture Show. That being said, as big a mess, this is a bumpy ride that really enjoyed. It’s got some good visuals, an interestingly prophetic plot, and some fantastic songs that match Rocky Horror. It’s zany, uneven, and actually a lot of fun. Barry Humphries and Charles Gray are highlights of the cast. “Duel Duet” is one of the best songs in the movie.

The peak:


The horrific true story of Solomon Northrup is brought to life in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (2013). Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a powerful performance—all the more potent because he has to convey so much with saying so little. He is pushed so far and you see what humans will do for their own survival and what some will and won’t sacrifice. It’s a stifling, frustrating, maddening story about a dark chapter in American history. If I have one criticism it is Brad Pitt’s distracting cameo in the third act. Also, is it just me or is Paul Giamatti playing the same role he had in Burton’s Planet of the Apes? I did like seeing Alfre Woodard and Benedict Cumberbatch. . . and Michael Fassbender gives a nasty performance. 12 Years a Slave is an important history lesson that must never be forgotten. If Django Unchained is the revenge-filled catharsis we wanted for American slavery, this movie is the bitter pill that reminds us that our pasts are far from pristine.

Still..."Barry Lyndon" has more and better duels.

Still…”Barry Lyndon” has more and better duels.

Powell & Pressburger’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) is a colorful,  decades-spanning saga of Clive Candy (Roger Livesey), a career soldier in the British army. The title itself is somewhat misleading. It’s a gorgeous looking movie, with a very subtle satirical edge that affectionately criticizes old school British militarism and outdated WWI era sentiments. The first act easily has some of my favorite bits (travel, duels, and new friends), but the whole movie treats Candy as a sympathetic human being. I’m sure it was quite bold in 1943, but even as a far quainter story today it’s still worth a look.

Cute and terrible and funny and diabolical and cunning and ignorant and helpless and dependable and so much else.

Cute and terrible and funny and diabolical and cunning and ignorant and helpless and dependable and so much else.

Another Elaine May movie. A New Leaf (1971) is a weird and pessimistic romance between a spoiled, woman-hating egotist (Walter Matthau) who has to get married or lose everything and a gawky, oblivious bookworm (Elaine May). Matthau is a perfect murderous jerk, but he manages to endear himself to the audience nonetheless. May is clumsy and annoying, but she too manages to be quite lovable. It’s actually a very clever movie that, like The Heartbreak Kid, says more about the real dynamics between men and women than most serious movies. A New Leaf has a more cartoony sense of comedy, and it serves the story well. The setups and payoffs are all good and, despite its macabre premise (he wants to kill her a la Monsieur Verdoux), it’s actually really sweet.

The Incomplete Masterpieces You Didn’t See…and maybe never will

Imagine if Stanley Kubrik had been able to make his Napoleon movie!

If one were to compile an unabridged list of unfinished movies I don’t know how long it would be…but it would be long. Films are tough work and sometimes they hit snags. They run out of money, are plagued with deaths or injuries, or sometimes they’re just abandoned. There’s a lot of history we’re missing as a result of these missing works of art. Sometimes movies are salvaged from tragedy—think Bruce Lee dying before completing Game of Death or worse, Peter Sellers dying without completing any new footage for Trail of the Pink Panther. Richard Pryor’s Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales and the infamous The Day the Clown Cried (in which Jerry Lewis played a depressed clown in a WWII concentration camp) are lost and will remain incomplete forever.

What follows are just a few movies that could have been. Let the totally arbitrary countdown begin.

don quixote

1. Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) always has problems when he’s making movies. A fellow Monty Python alum said of him in an interview that, “[Gilliam] only works when he is in opposition.” Gilliam is one of my favorite directors because he takes bold, strange chances and because even his movies that I don’t care for are still unmistakably personal and visually sumptuous. There are several movies Gilliam was supposed to have directed over the years but perhaps the most infamous and the one that was closest to being realized was The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. It was meant to be a retelling of Don Quixote but with an added time travel element and classic Gilliam surrealism. Poor Gilliam has been trying to get this thing made for ages. The chronicling of one attempt to make the film with Johnny Depp can be seen in the documentary Lost in La Mancha (2002). You can see all the footage that was shot, but the movie was quite far from being complete. The production was no match for floods, injuries, and military planes flying overhead. Gilliam keeps trying to make it, but the cast keeps changing. Don Quixote was switched from Jean Rochefort to Robert Duvall (Network) for a restart that never happened. I hope the film one day will get finished and then we can all see it. I was personally hoping Michael Palin (Life of Brian) might play Quixote actually.


2. The French Alfred Hitchcock, as he is occasionally known, had an unfinished work as well. Henri-Georges Clouzot (Le Diaboliques, The Wages of Fear) was supposed to make Inferno in 1964. The footage that was completed is enchanting and hypnotic and combines both color and black and white photography. Production was stunted by illness, weather, pressure from local authorities, and finally halted when Clouzot suffered a heart attack. Although the movie was never finished you can still see what was done in a 2009 semi-documentary by Serge Bromberg. Once again, we were robbed of another pretty cool looking flick from a master of thrills and suspense.

thief cobbler

3. Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler I have already written about, but it definitely makes the list. Williams worked on this gem for over 25 years. We have a few versions floating around now. There’s the one that was completed—but not by Williams—and released by the studio but with added songs, voiceovers, and the added animation sequences are definitely NOT on the same level as Williams’. Then there’s a few “re-cobbled” editions which can be found online. They combines pencil tests and sketched stills to fill in the missing pieces and appropriately remove the studio’s additional material. Even unfinished The Thief and the Cobbler is an incredibly enjoyable movie and a mesmerizing achievement for animation.

silver globe

4. This next one might just be the greatest science fiction film never made. Directed by Polish filmmaker, Andrzej Zulawski, On the Silver Globe had production shut down by the government in 1977. Communism was tough on art. It was finally released in 1988, but in its incomplete form. For the portions of the movie that were not done Zulawski just seems to have taken a camera and ran around the Polish subway system while narrating all the action and dialogue verbatim from the script. Confusing? Why yes, but no more than the rest of the film. It starts out as an erratic POV movie about stranded astronauts and the birth of a new race and then the philosophy and craziness takes off. You will see things and hear things that I daresay have never been duplicated in any other film that I’ve seen. On the Silver Globe is a dense and wildly ambitious movie that can be difficult to follow, but you gotta stick with it because even if you don’t know where it took you, you will certainly experience unfinished greatness.

lost horizon

5. Frank Capra (It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life, You Can’t Take it With You) is known for making wonderfully American and somewhat squishy movies with great casts and even greater morals. He’s an American institution and his movies are culturally iconic. So why had I never heard of Lost Horizons (1937)? It’s an epic fantasy action adventure story about the discovery of the legendary utopic city of Shangri-La. It was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and it starred Ronald Colman (Prisoner of Zenda), Edward Everett Horton (Arsenic and Old Lace), and Thomas Mitchell (Gone With the Wind) among others. Okay, technically it’s not unfinished exactly. It is missing footage and the DVD today includes the audio and some stills from the missing scenes and some sequences that were previously cut are very damaged. It’s mostly complete, only missing a few bits here and there. When I first saw it I said, “Frank Capra directed this?” It was so different from all his other movies and it was incredible. See this movie. My only complaints with this film are that it does get a little slow in the middle and it comes so close to having a startlingly elegant and enigmatic finale but foregoes it in favor of a simple and happy closed knot. Oh, well. It’s still awesome. If the first ten minutes don’t suck you in, you’re an idiot.

ivan terrible

6. Sergei Eisentein (Battleship Potemkin, Alexander Nevsky) got away with the first two installments of his remarkable epic biographic film Ivan the Terrible (1944, 1958). Had Communist censorship not hindered the progress on the second film (paranoid Joseph Stalin kind of put it together that the movie was also a criticism of his rule) and had Eisenstein not died before he could conclude the third film we might have had another fantastic movie trilogy. It’s a historical masterpiece and the first two films are well worth looking at. Just a shame to be left wanting more.


7. In the late 1930s producer Merian C. Cooper (King Kong, She) and special effects pioneer Willis O’Brien (The Lost World, King Kong, Mighty Joe Young) wanted to make a movie called War Eagles. Willis O’Brien left so many wild ideas unfilmed and maybe this one isn’t the most missed by the majority of people, but screw it. It sounds awesome. The plot was to concern Vikings who ride giant eagles and fight dinosaurs in New York City. This might be the greatest loss to cinema ever.

The Last Few Movies I Saw: Episode V – Some Good’ns in Here

Once more. The last few movies I’ve seen by order what I thought of them. Had I seen a few of these earlier my Best of 2012 list would have been different. Ah well.

It sucks:

Gettin' too old for this s***.

“Gettin’ too old for this s***.”

Saw Expendables 2 (2012). It sucks. It stars Sly, Statham, Ahnold, the Dolf, the black guy from those awesome Old Spice commercials, JCVD, Mr. Willis, Lone Wolf McQuade, Jet, also some woman. While it is one of the worst film’s I’ve seen all year I must confess it is more watchable than any of the Transformers movies.

Meh and/or Misguided

"No, you see it's offensive to be with special needs because we're really just making fun of the preconceive stereotypes people have about special needs."

“No, you see it’s not offensive to people with special needs because we’re really just making fun of the preconceived stereotypes people have about special needs.”

Bias alert. I’m not a big fan of Ben Stiller or the Farrelly Brothers. They’re not all bad, but most of the time they’re just not my thing. There’s Something About Mary (1998) was considered a crowning achievement for both of them in many ways, hailed as a modern comedy classic. One or two somewhat funny scenes aside, this was disappointing. I liked Dumb and Dumber better. Perhaps it was just built up too much and I missed it when it was new. Keith David as Mary’s stepdad in the beginning was the funniest part of the whole movie.

"Darn. Miss. The man at the store assured me this was the best tiger blood.""The target's over here, dude."

“Darn. Miss. The man at the store assured me this was the best tiger blood.”
“The target’s over here, dude.”

Roman Coppola (CQ) is sort of like a more Jared Hess-y wannabe Wes Anderson. A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III (2013) has a snazzy retro style, but it never deserves its smugness. The cast is good (Charlie Sheen, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Katheryn Winnick, and Patricia Arquette) but the story is just so empty. A graphic designer’s girlfriend breaks up with him and he has some surreal daydreams. This needed more than a few rewrites. There are some ideas you could tell might resemble clever ideas had they kept at it.def

"An audience might not like any of these weak, overwrought stories alone so we'll just have 30 at once."

“An audience might not like any of these weak, overwrought stories alone so we’ll just have 30 at once.”

Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and the Wachowski Brothers (V for Vendeta) helm the admirably ambitious film Cloud Atlas (2012) is a fractured fairytale of reincarnation and interconnectedness of all individuals throughout history. I’ll admit the snappy editing almost had me fooled it was a good movie until about halfway through. The simplistic message told in “the Inception effect” (obfuscation to create the illusion of depth) not only manages to rip-off The Soylent GreenBlade RunnerOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and more, but additionally puts the actors through multiple segments wherein they must where embarrassingly awkward ethnic makeup. A friend said the white actors in “yellow-face” look like Christian Slater. Gripes aside, it does manage to be entertaining if rather weightless—despite its pretentions to the contrary.

Some fun at last:


“Hey, a piano in the snow. Should we sing or something?”

Help! (1965) is another anarchic Richard Lester (The Bed-Sitting Room) film starring The Beatles. I was really expecting more. While it does have some clever lines and a few zany sight gags I couldn’t help but compare it to A Hard Day’s Night which was wittier and sharper and Yellow Submarine which was way more surreal and joyous. The biggest problems are the silly plot isn’t quite silly enough, the Beatles themselves seem bored, and there aren’t nearly enough Beatles songs. Watchable, but I just know two other Beatles movies that are great. It also features Leo McKern as an insane Egyptian priest.



The Frisco Kid (1979) is a comedy western about a Polish rabbi trying to cross the United States. It stars Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford and is directed by Robert Aldrich (The Dirty Dozen). This is an incredibly mixed bag that I kind of wish would be remade with a more consistent tone and a more competent eye for comedy. So much of it just doesn’t work, but the fun premise and Gene Wilder’s performance redeemed it for me.

"Here we go."

“Here we go.”

I was hoping for something like In Bruges. While John Michael McDonagh’s film, The Guard (2011), isn’t near as clever, it is pretty darn entertaining. Brendan Gleeson is a casually racist but sinfully lovable Irish cop who winds up helping Don Cheadle, an anal FBI agent looking for drug dealers. It’s not a heavy movie. It’s just a fun, fast talking police buddy movie with some satisfying violence. It doesn’t want to be In the Heat of the Night. The dialogue crackles with smugness and wit. Mark Strong and Liam Cunningham costar as some very enjoyable baddies. If you like your comedy dry and Irish, check this movie out.

Things become interesting:

"Don't ask me what it means."

“Don’t ask me what it means.”

In Raoul Ruiz’s Hypothesis of the Stolen Paintings (1979) two narrators work to uncover a mystery. This dreamlike film employs ethereal tableaux-vivants (reminiscent of The Mill and the Cross) to look deeper into the art world as the narrators restage all of the paintings with real people to search for clues and possible connections in the series of paintings. Bizarre, slow, and interesting.

"Why don't people wear sailor pants anymore?"

“Why don’t people wear sailor pants anymore?”

Harry Kümel’s (Daughters of Darkness) strange horror film Malpertuis: The Legend of Doom House (1971) needs patience more than it needs explanation. Virtually every synopsis, no matter how brief, ruined the twist at the end. It is slow and very weird, but the cinematography and the imagery are never boring. Just know it’s a haunted house movie and let the questions keep building until the final act. Orson Welles and Jean-Pierre Cassel have supporting roles.

"You see under closer and more distorted scrutiny it's even more racist than you thought."

“You see under closer and more distorted scrutiny it’s even more racist than you thought.”

So I found the makeup in Cloud Atlas comical and possibly racist. How in the blazes do I let The Mask of Doctor Fu Manchu (1932) off the hook? Well, I guess I don’t exactly. The campy horror film with Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy in absurd Asian makeup is exactly as ridiculous as it wants to be. It’s a silly movie with admitted xenophobic undertones, but I like it as a cultural oddity. During that time it was not uncommon for big name actors to where ethnic makeup and rely on insensitive stereotypes. Does that make it right? No. But we can observe these films with a different lens today. But really it’s the torture devices and pulpy situations that make this a great watch.

"It's meta."

“It’s meta.”

Albert Brooks presents one of the more creative depictions of the Afterlife in Defending Your Life (1991). When a simple man (Brooks) dies and discovers you must go on trial to prove you possess courage in order to pass to the next level of existence. If the court finds you afraid then you are sent back to earth in another body. Rip Torn is his attorney, who pours through the files to prove his client’s bravery, but it isn’t until he meets Meryl Streep, another recently deceased person, that he realizes there are things worth fighting for. Cute jabs at bureaucracy, Los Angeles, and reincarnation abound in this easy going comedy.

Even better:

"When people see this they'll realize how gay all my movies really were."

“When people see this they’ll realize how gay all my movies really were.”

Speaking of Karloff, Gods and Monsters (1998) is a quiet biopic about the last days of Frankenstein director, James Whale. The story deals with Whale’s illness, his memories of the Great War, his stubbornness as an artist, his homosexuality, and his possible relationship with a gardener played by Brendan Fraser. While Fraser might be an odd choice, he’s not bad and it is Sir Ian McKellan’s Oscar-nominated performance as James Whale that makes this simple movie what it is. It’s a sad but witty affair.

wreck it ralph

“Have some candy!”

So Disney has been having trouble competing with its own Pixar movies. Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph (2012) might just be on par with some of the competition. It’s pretty to look at, boasts some clever visuals, lots of humor, and some heart with a simple message. It’s a spectacle, but an adorable and action-filled one. Alan Tudyk and Jack McBrayer’s voices were the humorous highlights for me. Paranorman was the best animated feature this year, however.

"Gonna punch some wolves."

“Gonna punch some wolves.”

Would you believe Liam Neesan does more than punch wolves in The Grey (2011)? Joe Carnahan’s movie was woefully mismarketed. It’s a far more subtle, tragic, and existential story than the misleading trailers would have you to believe. It’s kind of like a much better version of The Edge.

Greatness beckons:

"Well, these are just filthy. Do you have more?"

“Well, these are just filthy. Do you have more?”

With Barbet Schroeder’s (Barfly) documentary Koko, a Talking Gorilla (1978) the title says it all. The film explores the rift between humans and animals. Koko, the famous gorilla who was taught sign language, allows to get closer to animals than perhaps thought possible. Communication is a tough barrier, but Koko’s handlers work tirelessly to overcome this barrier. The film ends posing a series legal dilemmas regarding Koko’s total lack of rights despite her apparent intelligence.

mishima 2

“Do you ever feel disconnected from the things in this world?”

Paul Schrader (probably most famous for writing Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) made a bold move with Mishima – A Life in Four Chapters (1985). It’s a beautifully surreal and intentionally episodic biopic about an obscure (to the west) writer and the whole film is in Japanese. It’s beautiful and strange and deals with the enigmatic Yukio Mishima’s sexuality, his obsessions, his written work, and the final bizarre moments of his life.

"I have conquered science! Why haven't I conquered gloves?"

“I have conquered science! Why haven’t I conquered gloves?”

Peter Lorre made a huge impact as the child murderer in Fritz Lang’s M, but his first big American movie, Mad Love (1935), might be even more deranged because it is more stylized and ludicrous. Karl Freund’s (The Mummy) movie is a sick Grand Guignol tale of the macabre. Lorre is a perverted mad scientist who transplants a knife throwing murderer’s hands onto the wrists of a famous pianist (Colin Clive) in order to get his fiance (Frances Drake). It’s a different point of view on the silent classic The Hands of Orlac.

"Politics was always a big petty mess."

“Politics was always a big petty mess.”

Advise and Consent (1962) is a fantastic political drama with a rocking allstar cast and an eerily still significant storyline that resonates today. Directed by Otto Preminger (Anatomy of a Murder) was controversial in its day, and while it might seem tamer today it is no less chilling and frustrating. The killer cast features Henry Fonda, Walter Pigeon, Paul Ford, Burgess Meredith, Peter Lawford, Don Murray, Lew Ayres, and (in his last role) Charles Laughton. This movie is the anti-Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In a good way.

Always left me smiling and satisfied:

"And the award for most awesome film of the year goes to..."

“And the award for most awesome film of the year goes to…”

I mentioned earlier my mild disappointment that The Guard was not as great as In Bruges. Well, In Bruges director, Martin McDonagh, brings an intelligent Irish wit to Seven Psychopaths (2012). It’s equal parts violent killer movie, road movie and buddy comedy, and meta analysis of the mechanisms of writing for a genre and cliches. The cast is brilliant (Sam Rockwell, Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Woody Harrelson, Tom Waits, and others) and like In Bruges and Six Shooter it deftly balances loss and levity. One of my favorite movies of 2012.

"That's right, kid. Barney Fife was a great, big *****************."

“That’s right, kid. Barney Fife was a great, big *****************.”

Andy Griffith (The Andy Griffith Show) plays way against type in A Face in the Crowd (1957), an expert political satire directed by the great Elia Kazan (On the WaterfrontEast of Eden). Griffith is a folksy free spirit who speaks his mind and becomes a surprise media sensation. As he cackles and jokes over the airwaves his influence grows out of control and it turns out he’s actually a bit of a sociopath. This is an amazing movie.

"What, what?"

“What, what?”

There’s a special talent in making a film that is equally funny and tragic. Nicholas Hytner’s The Madness of King George (1994) is a tremendous movie with loads of wonderful performances and extravagant costumes. What do you do when the king takes leave of his senses? How do you get him back? How will the government stay intact? Nigel Hawthorne and Helen Mirren head the amazing cast. If you had a whole day to murder I’d suggest a triple feature of this, Amadeus, and Barry Lyndon.

"How about a nice spot of DIE!"

“How about a nice spot of DIE!”

My absolute favorite film of late is an obscure British wartime propaganda piece called Went the Day Well? (1942). A quaint English town in the country is being craftily infiltrated by Nazis posing as British soldiers. Additionally, the townsfolk have already tried to help them before they realize what’s afoot. When the truth is revealed, the violence begins and the villagers must band together and take back their town from the Nazis and save England. It’s like an awesome version of Red Dawn. The characters are smart and likable. The pacing is solid and action is satisfying. The threats are real and menacing. Think about this: in 1942 this was not only a real fear but a real possibility. This is a grade A vintage thriller. The movie was directed by Alberto Cavalcanti (who also directed the ventriloquist dummy sequence from the equally great Dead of Night) and features Leslie Banks (The Most Dangerous Game). I love this movie.

What did you see last? Anything good?