UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java 4.0.6

We have just released the UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java version 4.0.6, available for download from the releases page of our GitHub repository, from the Files page of our SourceForge project, and from the Maven Central Repository. The most significant changes in this release include:

  • We fixed a number of issues in the way that the LDAP SDK handled characters whose UTF-8 representation requires more than two bytes (and therefore requires two Java chars to represent a single character). Issues related to these characters were found in code for matching rules, DNs and RDNs, and search filters.
  • We fixed an issue in the ldapsearch tool that could cause it to use an incorrect scope when constructing search requests from LDAP URLs that were read from a file.
  • We fixed a bug in schema handling that could arise if an object class definition did not explicitly specify an object class type (STRUCTURAL, AUXILIARY, or ABSTRACT). In some cases, the type could be incorrectly inherited from the superclass rather than assuming the default type of STRUCTURAL.
  • We updated the LDAPConnectionPool and LDAPThreadLocalConnectionPool classes to add new setServerSet and setBindRequest methods. These new methods make it possible to update an existing pool to change the logic that it uses for establishing and authenticating new connections.
  • We added a new LDAPRequest.setReferralConnector method that makes it possible to set a custom referral connector on a per-request basis. We also added a new RetainConnectExceptionReferralConnector class that makes it easier to obtain the exception (if any) that was caught on the last attempt to establish a connection for the purpose of following a referral.
  • Updated the in-memory directory server to better handle any java.lang.Errors that occur while interacting with a client connection. These kinds of errors should not happen under normal circumstances but may be generated by third-party code (for example, an InMemoryOperationInterceptor), and it is possible for the JVM to generate them in extraordinary circumstances like running out of memory. In such cases, the thread responsible for interacting with that client would exit without returning a response for the operation being processed and without closing the operation. The LDAP SDK will now attempt to return an error (if appropriate for the type of operation being processed) and close the connection.
  • Updated the manage-certificates tool to fix an incorrect interpretation of the path length element of a basic constraints extension.
  • Updated manage-certificates to add support for importing PEM-encoded RSA private keys that are not wrapped in a PKCS #8 envelope (that is, from a file whose header contains “BEGIN RSA PRIVATE KEY” instead of “BEGIN PRIVATE KEY”). Previously, it was only possible to import private keys using the PKCS #8 format.
  • Updated manage-certificates to add an --allow-sha-1-signature-for-issuer-certificates argument to the check-certificate-usability subcommand. If this argument is provided, then the tool will continue to call out issuer certificates whose signature is based on the now-considered-weak SHA-1 digest algorithm, but it will no longer cause the tool to exit with an error just because of that issue. This argument has no effect for certificates that use a signature based on the extremely weak MD5 digest, and it also does not have any effect if the certificate at the head of the chain (that is, the server certificate rather than the root certificate) has a SHA-1-based signature.
  • Added client-side support for a new “reload HTTP connection handler certificates” task that may be used in some Ping Identity server products to request that the server dynamically reload the certificate key and trust stores used by all HTTP connection handler instances that provide support for HTTPS.

CVE-2018-1000134 and the UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java

On Friday, March 16, 2018, CVE-2018-1000134 was published, describing a vulnerability in the UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java. The vulnerability has been fixed in LDAP SDK version 4.0.5, which is available for immediate download from the LDAP.com website, from the releases page of our GitHub repository, from the Files page of our SourceForge project, and from the Maven Central Repository.

This post will explain the issue in detail (see the release notes for information about other changes in LDAP SDK version 4.0.5). However, to quickly determine whether your application is vulnerable, you should check to see if all of the following conditions are true:

  • You are using the LDAP SDK in synchronous mode. Although this mode is recommended for applications that do not require asynchronous functionality, the LDAP SDK does not use this mode by default.
  • You use the LDAP SDK to perform simple bind operations for the purpose of authenticating users to a directory server. This is a very common use case for LDAP-enabled applications.
  • Your application does not attempt to verify whether the user actually provided a password. This is unfortunately all too common for LDAP-enabled applications.
  • The simple bind requests are sent to a directory server that does not follow the RFC 4513 section 5.1.2 recommendation to reject simple bind requests with a non-empty DN and an empty password. Although this recommendation is part of the revised LDAPv3 specification published in 2006, there are apparently some directory servers that still do not follow this recommendation by default.

If your application meets all of these criteria, then you should take action immediately to protect yourself. The simplest way to fix the vulnerability in your application is to update it to use the 4.0.5 release of the LDAP SDK. However, you should also ensure that your applications properly validate all user input, and it may also be a good idea to consider switching to a more modern directory server.

The Vulnerability in LDAPv3

The original LDAPv3 protocol specification was published as RFC 2251 in December 1997. LDAPv3 is a very impressive protocol in most regards, but perhaps the most glaring problem in the specification lies in the following paragraph in section 4.2.2:

If no authentication is to be performed, then the simple authentication option MUST be chosen, and the password be of zero length. (This is often done by LDAPv2 clients.) Typically the DN is also of zero length.

It’s that word “typically” in this last sentence that has been the source of a great many vulnerabilities in LDAP-enabled applications. Usually, when you want to perform an anonymous simple bind, you provide an empty string for both the DN and the password. However, according to the letter of the specification above, you don’t have to provide an empty DN. As long as the password is empty, the server will treat it as an anonymous simple bind.

In applications that use an LDAP simple bind to authenticate users, it’s a very common practice to provide two fields on the login form: one for the username (or email address or phone number or some other kind of identifier), and one for the password. The application first performs a search to see if they can map that username to exactly one user in the directory, and if so, then it performs a simple bind with the DN of that user’s entry and the provided password. As long as that the server returns a “success” response to the bind request, then the application considers the user authenticated and will grant them whatever access that user is supposed to have.

However, a problem can arise if the application just blindly takes whatever password was provided in the login form and plugs it into the simple bind request without actually checking to see whether the user provided any password at all. In such cases, if the user provided a valid username but an empty password, then the application will perform a simple bind request with a valid DN but no password. The directory server will interpret that as an anonymous simple bind and will return a success result, and the application will assume that the user is authenticated even though they didn’t actually provide any password at all.

This is such a big problem in LDAP-enabled applications that it was specifically addressed in the updated LDAPv3 specification published in June 2006. RFC 4513 section 5.1.2 states the following:

Unauthenticated Bind operations can have significant security issues (see Section 6.3.1). In particular, users intending to perform Name/Password authentication may inadvertently provide an empty password and thus cause poorly implemented clients to request Unauthenticated access. Clients SHOULD be implemented to require user selection of the Unauthenticated Authentication Mechanism by means other than user input of an empty password. Clients SHOULD disallow an empty password input to a Name/Password Authentication user interface. Additionally, Servers SHOULD by default fail Unauthenticated Bind requests with a resultCode of unwillingToPerform.

Further, section 6.3.1 of the same RFC states:

Operational experience shows that clients can (and frequently do) misuse the unauthenticated access mechanism of the simple Bind method (see Section 5.1.2). For example, a client program might make a decision to grant access to non-directory information on the basis of successfully completing a Bind operation. LDAP server implementations may return a success response to an unauthenticated Bind request. This may erroneously leave the client with the impression that the server has successfully authenticated the identity represented by the distinguished name when in reality, an anonymous authorization state has been established. Clients that use the results from a simple Bind operation to make authorization decisions should actively detect unauthenticated Bind requests (by verifying that the supplied password is not empty) and react appropriately.

In directory servers that follow the recommendation from RFC 4513 section 5.1.2, clients can perform an anonymous simple bind by providing an empty DN and an empty password, but an attempt to bind with a non-empty DN and an empty password will be rejected. This very good recommendation was made over ten years ago, and the code change needed to implement it is probably very simple. However, for some reason, there are directory server implementations out there that haven’t been updated to follow this recommendation, and therefore leave client applications open to this inadvertent vulnerability.

The Vulnerability in the UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java

Ever since its initial release, the UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java has attempted to protect against simple bind requests that include a non-empty DN with an empty password. The LDAPConnectionOptions class provides a setBindWithDNRequiresPassword(boolean) method that you can use to indicate whether the LDAP SDK will reject a simple bind request that has a non-empty DN with an empty password. If you don’t explicitly use this option, then the LDAP SDK will assume a default value of true. If you try to send a simple bind request that includes a non-empty DN and an empty password, then the LDAP SDK won’t actually send any request to the server but will instead throw an LDAPException with a result code of ResultCode.PARAM_ERROR and a message of “Simple bind operations are not allowed to contain a bind DN without a password.”

Or at least, that’s the intended behavior. And that is the behavior that you’ll get if you send the bind request in the asynchronous mode that the LDAP SDK uses by default. However, Stanis Shkel created GitHub issue #40 (“processSync in SimpleBindRequest allows empty password with set bindDN”), which points out that this check was skipped for connections operating in synchronous mode.

LDAP is an asynchronous protocol. With a few exceptions, it’s possible to have multiple operations in progress simultaneously over the same LDAP connection. To support that asynchronous capability, the LDAP SDK maintains an extra background thread that constantly read data from a connection and makes sure that any data sent from the server gets delivered to whichever thread is waiting for it. This is just fine most of the time, but it does come at the cost of increased resource consumption, and a small performance hit from handing off data from one thread to another. To minimize this impact for applications that don’t take advantage of the asynchronous capabilities that LDAP provides, we added a synchronous mode to the LDAP SDK way back in version 0.9.10 (released in July of 2009). In this mode, the same thread that sends a request to the server is the one that waits for and reads the response. This can provide better performance and lower resource consumption, but you have to explicitly enable it using the LDAPConnectionOptions.setUseSynchronousMode(boolean) method before establishing a connection.

In the course of implementing support for the synchronous mode for a simple bind request, we incorrectly put the check for synchronous mode before the check for an empty password. For a connection operating in synchronous mode, we branched off to another part of the code and skipped the check for an empty password. The fix for the problem was simple: move the check for an empty password above the check for synchronous mode, and it was committed about three and a half hours after the issue was reported, including a unit test to ensure that a simple bind request with a non-empty DN and an empty password is properly rejected when operating in synchronous mode (there was already a test to ensure the correct behavior in the default asynchronous mode).

Conditions Necessary for the Vulnerability

Although there was unquestionably a bug in the LDAP SDK that created the possibility for this bug, there are a number of factors that could have prevented an application from being susceptible to it. Only an application that meets all of the following conditions would have been vulnerable:

  • The application must have explicitly enabled the use of synchronous mode when creating an LDAP connection or connection pool. If the application was using the default asynchronous mode, it would not have been vulnerable.
  • The application must have created simple bind requests from untrusted and unverified user input. If the application did not create simple bind requests (for example, because it did not perform binds at all, or because it used SASL authentication instead of simple), then it would not have been vulnerable. Alternately, if the application validated the user input to ensure that it would not attempt to bind with an empty password, then it would not have been vulnerable.
  • The application must have sent the simple bind request to a server that does not follow the RFC 4513 recommendations. If the server is configured to reject simple bind requests that contain a non-empty DN with an empty password, then an application communicating with that server would not have been vulnerable.

While we strongly recommend updating to LDAP SDK version 4.0.5, which no longer has the bug described in CVE-2018-1000134, we also strongly recommend ensuring that applications properly validate all user input as additional mitigation against problems like this. And if you’re using a directory server that hasn’t been updated to apply a very simple update to avoid a problem that has been well known and clearly documented for well over a decade, then perhaps you should consider updating to a directory server that takes security and standards compliance more seriously.

Movies Watched Theatrically in January 2018

Molly’s Game (2017; first-time watch) — After her hopes of being an Olympic skier are dashed, Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) finds herself running regular high-stakes poker games with celebrities, the rich, and the powerful. And when she’s busted by the FBI, she convinces a top attorney (Idris Elba) to defend her. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, it feels like a lesser effort from him, with much less snappy dialogue than I would have expected, and many elements recycled from his earlier work. Adequate, but disappointing.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017; first-time watch) — This documentary tells the largely tragic story of a woman with the odds often stacked against her. As a promising and beautiful young actress, she had to overcome the stigma of appearing in films that were too racy for her time and a string of failed marriages, but she also was saddled with an image of a dumb beauty despite conceiving an idea that became a foundation of modern wireless network communication. While it has interesting content, the film does feel a little superficial and repetitive at times.

Downsizing (2017; first-time watch) — Scientists have come up with a way to shrink humans to a height of just a couple of inches. Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) have decided to do go through the procedure because it will allow them to live more extravagant lives, but Audrey backs out at the last minute after Paul has already downsized. She also puts him through a costly divorce, leaving him alone and broke. It’s an interesting premise, but then the film undergoes several major shifts that are increasingly dumb and boring.

Idiocracy (2006; rewatch) — Joe (Luke Wilson) and Rita (Maya Rudolph) are subjects in a human hibernation experiment that is expected to last a year, but they wake up 500 years later to a much different world. Civilization has declined so severely that they are now the most intelligent people in the world and humanity is on the brink of destruction. As a comedy, it’s very funny, but its prediction of a potential future feels like it’s turning out to be too close for comfort.

The Shape of Water (2017; first-time watch) — A secret government facility has captured an amphibious humanoid and is subjecting it to a lot of testing (performed by characters played by Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg) in the hopes that it will help unlock secrets to help the United States beat Russia in the space race. But a mute cleaning woman (Sally Hawkins) develops a special bond with the creature, and she enlists the help of her best friends (Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins) to hatch a plan to free it. It feels much less like a del Toro film than most of his other movies, which may be a contributing factor to me liking it a lot more than most of his other movies.

Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000; rewatch) — A graduate student hopes to become a professor, but his studies are hindered by a dog that won’t stop yapping somewhere in his apartment complex. He finds a dog and takes care of the problem, only to learn that it wasn’t the responsible animal and now he’s got the same problems plus a guilty conscience. From there, things go downhill in this very funny first film from Bong Joon-ho that features Bae Doo-na in one of her earliest roles.

Beggars of Life (1928; first-time watch) — Hoping to exchange work for breakfast, a hobo (Richard Arlen) walks into a house with an open door and discovers a dead man at the breakfast table. He then sees the man’s daughter (Louise Brooks) and learns that she killed him in self-defense while he was trying to get too familiar with her. The hobo takes pity on her and agrees to help her escape to Canada. In an attempt to avoid drawing attention to themselves, she disguises herself as a boy, but the ruse doesn’t hold up, and now she faces more of the same harassment from several other hobos. It’s great until the end, where it loses some momentum and leaves you walking out of the theater with a hint of disappointment.

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017; first-time watch) — Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) is in a funk because the world is full of assholes and she’s had a run of bad luck. To top it all off, her house has been robbed, and the police are clearly not interested in finding out who did it. With the help of Tony (Elijah Wood), a weird neighbor who’s into God and martial arts, she does her own investigating and soon finds herself just getting deeper into trouble. It’s much funnier than its title would suggest, and a great first directorial effort from Macon Blair.

The Other Side of Hope (2017; first-time watch) — A Syrian refugee arrives in Finland after stowing away on a ship and decides to seek political asylum. Meanwhile, a salesman decides to try his hand at running a restaurant. Their paths cross, and they find themselves facing significant obstacles. An anticipated film from Aki Kaurismäki, the acting is good, but the story is a little flat, and it takes too long for the storylines to meet.

Deadfall (1993; rewatch) — Joe (Michael Biehn) is a con man who just lost his father Mike (James Coburn) on a job gone wrong. He learns that his father had a twin brother Lou (also Coburn) and decides to seek him out. Lou is also a con man with a plan for a big score, and Joe wants in, much to the dismay of Lou’s right-hand man Eddie (Nicolas Cage). It’s a terrible movie, but Cage’s performance is so enthusiastic and unusual that it may be worth watching just for that (although you’d probably be better off just searching for a supercut video).

I, Tonya (2017; first-time watch) — Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) is an ice skater and Olympic hopeful, but her white trash background is hurting her both in the scores from judges and in the beatings from her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). Purportedly unbeknownst to her, Jeff arranges for Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver), America’s leading female skater, to be clubbed in the knee in the hopes of keeping her out of the competition and ensuring Tonya a spot. It’s a frustrating movie that’s based on a true story but refuses to take a side in any particular version of the truth. Margot Robbie and especially Allison Janney (as Harding’s mother, LaVona) give good performances, but the movie as a whole is just mediocre.

Brimstone & Glory (2017; first-time watch) — Tultepec, Mexico is known for its fireworks. It has many fireworks factories, and they put on an impressive multi-day display during the annual San Juan de Dios festival. However, Mexico does not have the safety standards that America has, and it seems that the people of Tultepec are all complete morons because this documentary shows such ludicrous acts of stupidity as climbing a tower loaded with fireworks that have just been set off by a lightning strike and shooting off fireworks into crowds. While the film is often pretty to look at, it also demonstrates a level of stupid and careless that I just can’t get behind.

Memories of Murder (2003; rewatch) — A bunch of bumbling detectives in rural South Korea are joined by an investigator from Seoul to investigate a series of rapes and murders that seem to happen whenever it rains. Directed by Bong Joon-ho and starring Song Kang-ho, it’s a darkly terrific crime drama laced with the typical incompetent police comedy that so often frequents South Korean film.

Midnight Express (1978; first-time watch) — Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) is about to leave Turkey with his girlfriend Susan (Irene Miracle), but he gets busted at the airport with a couple of kilos of hashish strapped to his body. He’s given a harsh four-year sentence in a prison with other inmates that include John Hurt and Randy Quaid, and that is ruled by a torturous guard (Paul Smith). Hopeful that his father (Mike Kellin), lawyer, and the American ambassador will be able to reduce his sentence, Billy bides his time and tries to be an ideal inmate. But when the Turkish appeals court decides to increase the charge to trafficking and the sentence to life in prison, he decides that he needs to find his own way out. It’s a very dark film that I enjoyed a whole lot.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010; rewatch) — 22-year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is in a band with Stephen Stills (Mark Webber), Kim Pine (Alison Pill), and “Young” Neil Nordegraf (Johnny Simmons). He was brutally dumped over a year ago by his girlfriend Natalie “Envy” Adams (Brie Larson) and has just entered a new stage of his recovery by starting to date Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a 17-year-old Chinese Catholic schoolgirl. But then he falls in love with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), only to learn that if they are to date, he must fight and defeat her seven evil exes. Also featuring Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman, Anna Kendrick, and Aubrey Plaza, it is perhaps the best film representation of a graphic novel loaded with video game elements, not to mention an incredible movie with great comedy and an amazing soundtrack, and it remains one of my favorite movies.

The Post (2017; first-time watch) — When the New York Times runs a story exposing over a decade of presidents lying to the American people about Vietnam, the struggling Washington post rushes to get in on the action. Unfortunately, the Times has been sued for the government for printing information from classified documents, and Post owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) must balance her desire to pursue the story (including great pressure from editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, as well as reporters including those played by Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Carrie Coon, and Pat Healy) with the pressure of turning the paper into a publicly-traded company, including a very nervous legal team and set of investors. It ends where All the President’s Men begins, but it tells a very different story with a very different focus. It’s a good film loaded with stars (also including Bradley Whitford, Bruce Greenwood, Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Alison Brie, and Jesse Plemons), if a bit heavy-handed at times and clearly fishing for awards.

The Commuter (2018; first-time watch) — Michael (Liam Neeson) is approached by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) who tells him that she wants his help in finding someone who is supposed to be taking the commuter train that he’s been riding for years. If he helps, he’ll get a lot of money. If he doesn’t, his family will be murdered. It’s basically Cellular on a train, and it sucks. It depends heavily on making obviously stupid choices, and none of the “surprises” are actually surprising.

Proud Mary (2018; first-time watch) — Mary (Taraji P. Henson) is an assassin. A year ago, she took out a father but left the son Danny (Jahi Di’Allo Winston) alive, and she’s been secretly following and watching over him out of a sense of guilt. When Danny turns to a life of crime and is beaten up by his boss, Mary intervenes, takes out the boss, and takes Danny into her apartment. But Danny’s boss was one of the higher-ups in the local mafia and a competitor to Mary’s boss Benny (Danny Glover). Amid fears that a war will break out between the two rival organizations, Mary just wants out and to get Danny safe. It’s a story that we’ve seen before, but it’s usually entertaining enough and the action scenes are directed well. Unfortunately, the ending is very weak and Danny Glover continues his streak of terrible acting.

Paddington 2 (2017; first-time watch) — Paddington’s aunt is about to turn 100 years old, and Paddington wants to get her the perfect gift. She had always dreamed of coming to London but never got the chance, so when he stumbles across a one-of-a-kind pop-up book that shows off the city, he wants to get it for her. The only trouble is, it’s very expensive so he’ll have to work to earn the money to buy it. But just before he reaches his goal, the book is stolen, and Paddington is framed for the robbery. It’s almost hard to believe how great this movie is. It’s a totally enthralling plot loaded with jokes and intelligent references, and it’s expertly executed by an amazing cast that includes Sally Hawkins, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Brendan Gleeson, Hugh Bonneville, Peter Capaldi, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon, Jessica Hynes, Noah Taylor, Joanna Lumley, and others.

Darkest Hour (2017; first-time watch) — While Hitler continues to overtake Europe, Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) is ousted as Prime Minister of Great Britain, and Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) is in. Britain’s troops are in grave danger of being overtaken, and Churchill’s advisors are urging him to enter into peace talks with Germany, but he refuses to consider it despite their chances looking ever more bleak. It’s a well-acted film that provides a clearer depiction of the events and context than Dunkirk, even if the two movies have very different focuses, and the makeup job used to transform Oldman into Churchill is one of the most impressive of all time.

The Apple (1980; rewatch) — In the future, a giant music publisher called BIM rules the world. Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart) want to make it as musicians, but the head of BIM, Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal), has some pretty steep terms. Bibi agrees to them and becomes a star. Alphie rejects them and struggles. It’s a very clumsy and un-subtle religious allegory full of repetitive and suggestive music that is terrible and incomprehensible, but also pretty fascinating.

Days of Heaven (1978; first-time watch) — After he accidentally kills someone, Bill (Richard Gere) flees with his girlfriend Abbey (Brooke Adams) and his little sister Linda (Linda Manz) to become migrant workers. For some reason, Bill and Abbey decide to pretend to be brother and sister, and the farmer (Sam Shepard) takes a liking to Abbey. Seeing an opportunity to get rich, they decide to try to use that to their financial advantage. The film has about 20 minutes of content spread out over 94 minutes, making Days of Heaven boring as hell.

Princess Cyd (2017; first-time watch) — 16-year-old Cydney (Jessie Pinnick) and her dad have been fighting a lot lately, and he decides it might be a good idea for her to visit her aunt (his late wife’s sister) Miranda (Rebecca Spence). Miranda is a fairly well-known author without much experience taking care of a teenager, but they make a go of it. Meanwhile, Cyd meets Katie (Malic White), and it’s love at first sight. The film is so wonderfully, effortlessly charming, with terrific characters and an oddly subtle obviousness to it that allows it to make all of its points without feeling clumsy or heavy-handed.

There Will Be Blood (2007; rewatch) — Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an oil prospector whose relentless drive makes him a very wealthy baron, but at the expense of his personal relationships, including one with his adopted son, and a persistently bothersome evangelist (Paul Dano). It’s got good performances, and I suppose that it’s good, but it’s also terribly long, so it’s a good thing that this screening was cut down to 90 minutes, and that version was expertly mocked by Austin’s Master Pancake Theater comedy troupe.

Small Soldiers (1998; rewatch) — A small toy company is bought by a mega-corporation that includes a military research division. The toy designers (David Cross and Jay Mohr) are instructed to make army men who are supposed to fight aliens, but they use superpowered military chips that make the toys self-aware and go haywire. At first, young Alan (Gregory Smith) is the only one to notice, but soon his neighbor Christy (Kirsten Dunst) also becomes aware. By the time their parents (including Phil Hartman, Wendy Schaal, Kevin Dunn, and Ann Magnuson) learn the truth, they’re already in serious trouble. Directed by Joe Dante, it’s much like Gremlins in that it might appear to be for kids on the surface but is probably really more suitable for an older audience. And while it’s not nearly as good as Gremlins, Small Soldiers is still a well-made film that’s pretty fun to watch.

Coming Home (1978; first-time watch) — When her husband Bob (Bruce Dern) goes off to fight in Vietnam, Sally (Jane Fonda) decides to volunteer at a hospital on the military base. She runs into Luke (Jon Voight), who went to the same high school as she did, and who had been paralyzed in the war. Although Luke is initially very mad at the world, Sally manages to calm him down, and they become good friends, and then more. It’s not surprising that Hal Ashby can so expertly craft a film like this, with a clear message that doesn’t feel pushed down your throat, but it is surprising that he could pull off what feels like a pretty low-budget film and yet still include tons of iconic music from the time from giant groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Call Me by Your Name (2017; first-time watch) — Oliver (Armie Hammer) is an American graduate student who has gone to Italy to work for a professor (Michael Stuhlbarg). The professor has a 17-year-old son, Elio (Timothée Chalamet), who is initially intrigued, and then infatuated with, Oliver. While the movie is executed well, it’s also full of boredom and pretension, and it feels like everyone is trying to put on an air of sophisticated enlightenment that makes a lot of the content feel fake.

Phantom Thread (2017; first-time watch) — Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a renowned fashion designer who is very full of himself and largely hostile to pretty much everyone else. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) is his right-hand man who tries to keep everyone else in line, but she often gets fed up with him. When he tires of one assistant/model/lover, Cyril suggests that he go find another, and that’s when he comes across Alma (Vicky Krieps). They have a fling that leads to her becoming his new model/assistant/muse, and she’s determined to not allow him to cut her out. It’s a surprisingly non-boring film for a fashion-themed period piece, and the ending is really what sealed the deal for me.

The Last of the Mohicans (1992; first-time watch) — Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a white man who was adopted as an orphaned baby by a Mohican family and raised as a member of the tribe. It’s pre-revolution America, when the British are squaring off against the French and the colonists are being pressed into service. Somehow, Hawkeye and his Mohican father and brother find themselves trying to help a pair of British sisters make it through the fighting to their father in a fort. It’s hard to think of any good movie that focuses on America in the revolutionary/pre-revolutionary period, and this certainly isn’t one of them.

The Curse of the Crying Woman (1963; first-time watch) — A woman has inherited a house, but the only problem is that it, and the woods surrounding it, are haunted and deadly to anyone who enters. One of the haunters is a so-called crying woman, whose howls can be heard every night. It’s a short and simple Mexican horror film (dubbed into English by K. Gordon Murray), but surprisingly good.

The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy (1958; first-time watch) — Through the help of hypnosis, a doctor learns that his wife is the reincarnation of an Aztec princess, and she’s able to guide them to the tomb. That tomb is guarded by a mummy, who will relentlessly pursue any who attempt to disturb anything inside. A mad scientist wants to rob the grave, so he builds a robot to fight the mummy. It’s just over an hour long, with no hint of a robot for over 50 minutes (and much of the content repurposed from an earlier movie in the series), but the lack of quality is more than atoned for by its schlocky enjoyability.

Mom and Dad (2017; rewatch) — Kendall (Selma Blair) tries to be the perfect stay-at-home mom, but she’s frustrated by her husband Brent’s (Nicolas Cage) mid-life crisis, her teenage daughter Carly’s (Anne Winters) rebellion, and her young son Josh’s (Zackary Arthur) typical boyish curiosity and way of finding trouble. And then the world seems to be hit by some mysterious force in which parents get an uncontrollable urge to kill their own children (although not those of anyone else). Things get crazy, and Cage does what he does best in an insignificant but highly enjoyable horror comedy.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964; first-time watch) — Commander Kit Draper (Paul Mantee) and Colonel Dan McReady (Adam West) are orbiting Mars when their attempt to dodge an incoming meteor causes them to crash into the planet. Draper survives, along with his monkey, but McReady does not, and now Draper is forced to deal with a limited supply of food, water, and oxygen, and no ability to communicate back to Earth. It’s like The Martian fifty years before The Martian, with less science but a pretty entertaining storyline.

Mother (2009; rewatch) — Do-joon is an adult with the mental faculties of a young child. He’s always getting into trouble, and his mother is always having to bail him out. When police find evidence that puts Do-joon at a murder scene, they just want to close the case as quickly as possible, so it’s up to his mother to prove that he’s innocent. While not quite as good as Memories of Murder, it is nonetheless another very solid crime drama from master Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho.

To Have and Have Not (1944; first-time watch) — Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) is the captain of a fishing boat on the Caribbean island of Martinique, along with his drunken sidekick Eddie (Walter Brennan). The island is under French control, but there’s a resistance building, and Morgan is approached about using his boat to help transport key members of that resistance onto the island. He wants to stay out of it and entertain the very attractive new arrival Marie (Lauren Bacall), but circumstances beg to differ, and he finds himself being targeted by the police. It’s got a lot in common with Casablanca, not the least of which is that it’s an excellent film.

On the Beach at Night Alone (2017; first-time watch) — A former actress goes on vacation in Germany for a while, and then she returns home and meets up with some people. There’s really not much more to it than that, and it is a completely boring film with virtually no plot and even less talent on either side of the camera. It’s presented entirely in master shots with only the occasional clunky pan or zoom (which always seems to result in watching someone have a conversation with someone off screen). There’s not even a scene on the beach at night alone. It’s just pure garbage.

Blow-Up (1966; first-time watch) — Thomas (David Hemmings) is a photographer with a giant ego and little regard for others. While trying to covertly take pictures of a couple in a park, the woman (Vanessa Redgrave) asks him to stop and then is insistent on getting the film. He becomes intrigued with finding out what he might have captured and discovers something in his photos that becomes an obsession. It may take a while to get over Thomas’s grating personality, but it ultimately becomes a very good film on the level with other movies I’d rather not mention to avoid any potential spoilers.

Only the Young (2012; rewatch) — It’s a simple documentary that follows the lives of three Southern California teenagers: Garrison, Kevin, and Skye. It’s got a laid-back feel that seems to capture a lot of honest interaction, intercut with occasional sequences of confiding to the camera. I’d seen it once before and was a little put off by some of the obviously bad decisions on display, but it seems to have more to offer when revisiting it after a few years.

Sullivan’s Travels (1941; rewatch) — John Sullivan (Joel McCrea) is a director who wants to break out of comedy and do a drama about the hardships of the less fortunate. Believing that he can’t really make such a movie without experiencing that kind of life, he tries to forego his Hollywood luxury and spend some time as a hobo. Things don’t go as well as planned, but he does meet a girl (Veronica Lake) who has failed in her shot at becoming an actress and decides to accompany him. It’s a Preston Sturges film, so of course it’s amazing, but it does feel a little more clumsy in areas than some of his other A-plus comedies like The Lady Eve, The Palm Beach Story, and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981; rewatch) — Bubba (Larry Drake) is an adult with the mental faculties of a young child. Some of the townspeople, including mailman Otis Hazelrigg (Charles Durning), farmer Harless Hocker (Lane Smith), grain dealer Philby (Claude Earl Jones), and mechanic Skeeter (Robert F. Lyons), think that he’s a danger to the children, and when a girl (Tonya Crowe) gets hurt while playing with him, they jump at the chance to make sure he never hurts anyone ever again. And then they find they’re the ones who need protecting. It’s a classic made-for-TV horror movie with a fun cast, some impressive direction and camerawork, and just an overall good time.

Paper Moon (1973; rewatch) — Moses “Moze” Pray (Ryan O’Neal) is a con man who travels from town to town looking for suckers. He attends the funeral of a woman he once knew and gets roped into driving the deceased woman’s daughter, Addie (Tatum O’Neal), to some relatives the next state over. Along the way, Addie gets hooked on scamming people and proves that she’s not one to be bullied or underestimated. It’s an utterly charming film that just sucks you in and won’t relent any more than Addie will.

UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java 4.0.4

We have just released the UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java version 4.0.4, available for download from the LDAP.com website, from the releases page of our GitHub repository, from the Files page of our SourceForge project, and from the Maven Central Repository.

There are a few noteworthy changes included in this release. The release notes go into more detail, but the highlights of these changes include:

  • We updated the way that the LDAP SDK generates exception messages to make them more user-friendly. They are now less likely to include stack traces, and they are less likely to include repeated information (like LDAP SDK build information, and information duplicated from an exception’s cause).
  • We fixed an issue that could cause multiple application threads to block in the course of closing a connection pool.
  • We updated the way that the LDAP SDK sends LDAP messages so that it is more resilient to stalls in the TLS negotiation process.
  • We updated the LDAP SDK’s ServerSet implementations so that they can perform authentication and post-connect processing, which can make health checks against newly established connections more reliable.
  • We updated the GetEntryLDAPConnectionPoolHealthCheck class to provide support for invoking the health check after a pooled connection has been authenticated.
  • We fixed a bug in the GetEntryLDAPConnectionPoolHealthCheck class that could cause it to behave incorrectly when checking the validity of a connection after an LDAPException was caught.
  • We updated the Attribute.hasValue method to be more efficient for attributes with multiple values, and especially for attributes with a lot of values or with more complicated matching rules. This will also improve the Filter.matchesEntry method for equality filters that target similar types of attributes.
  • We updated the prompt trust manager to provide better output formatting, and to provide additional warnings about conditions that may make a server certificate chain less trustworthy.
  • We updated the LDAPConnectionOptions class to adjust the initial default connect timeout and operation response timeout, and the default operation response timeout can now be set differently for each type of operation. Most of the default values for options in the LDAPConnectionOptions class can now be set via system properties.

My Favorite First-Time Watches of 2017

2017 represented a bit of a shift for me in terms of movies watched. My overall watching declined by quite a bit over previous years, and I didn’t even see a thousand movies total in the year (although I did spend quite a bit of time watching classic television and ended up seeing over a thousand TV episodes). I ended up with only 947 movies total for the year (589 in theater and 358 outside of a theater), with 609 of those being movies I’d never seen before. 338 of those first-time watches were in a theater, with 186 of them being new releases and 152 of them repertory screenings.

It feels appropriate to look back over the year and try to come up with a list of my favorite first-time watches. I think that I’d have to classify the following as my top ten new release favorites for the year (in alphabetical order; I don’t want to try ranking them):

  • 20th Century Women
  • Brigsby Bear
  • Command and Control
  • The Florida Project
  • Gilbert
  • Hidden Figures
  • Hounds of Love
  • My Life as a Zucchini
  • Thelma
  • The Transfiguration

And my eleven (I just can’t cut it down to ten) favorite first-time-watch repertory screenings would be:

  • American Movie (1999)
  • Geteven (aka Get Even aka Road to Revenge; 1993)
  • Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
  • Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998)
  • Mafioso (1962)
  • Magnificent Obsession (1954)
  • The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)
  • Shoes (1916)
  • Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)
  • Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness (1986)
  • The Uncanny (1977)

But in actuality, there are a lot more than these twenty-one movies that deserve to be seen, so here’s an alphabetical list of the first-time watches that are among the best or most fun new discoveries for the year, along with a brief description of each of them. Note that some of them are festival films that may not have actually been released yet so you might need to keep an eye out for them.

20th Century Women (2016) — Dorothea (Annette Bening) is a single mother who rents a couple of rooms to Abbie (Greta Gerwig) and William (Billy Crudup), and she enlists their help in raising her son without a father. It’s an excellent film that is a pure joy to watch. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/21/20th-century-women/.

78/52 (2017) — Psycho is one of the greatest films of all time, horror or otherwise, and the shower scene is its centerpiece. This documentary focuses on that one scene, both in the context of Psycho itself, as well as its impact on and influence over other films. It’s got everything you’d expect to see in a documentary of that one scene, from a breakdown of the shots to Bernard Herrmann’s score to what exactly is and isn’t shown, but it’s also full of interviews with film lovers putting it into both historical and personal context. It’s clearly a labor of love and a must-see movie for anyone who loves Psycho, Hitchcock, or film in general.

American Movie (1999) — Mark Borchardt is an aspiring filmmaker with a vision of how he wants his film to turn out and the drive to see it through. He’s currently finishing a half-hour short film called Coven that he hopes will make enough money to help him make his next movie, Northwestern. With the help of his friends and relatives, he hopes to make his dream a reality. While Mark has a highly abrasive personality and level of recklessness that I’m sure would be unbearable in real life, and while his best friend Mike is burned out and uninspired, their story makes for some tremendous entertainment.

Armored Car Robbery (1590) — Purvis (William Talman) has a plan to rob an armored car near the end of its run when it’s full of cash. It’s a great plan, and he’s very careful, but he has to use an inexperienced crew to pull it off. And that inexperience turns out to be deadly when things start to go wrong. It’s an incredible 67-minute film with no fat and a great story.

The Battle of Algiers (1966) — A film that depicts the Algerian struggle for independence against the French government, and the tactics that the French used in an attempt to quell that resistance. It’s a tremendous, powerful film that only suffers from not providing enough context for modern audiences who may not be as familiar with the Algerian rebellion as audiences at the time the film was released.

The Beguiled (2017) — During the Civil War, a student at a Virginia all-girls school happens upon a Union soldier (Colin Farrell) who has been shot in the leg. She helps him make his way to the school, where her teachers (Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst) clean and stitch up the wound. After some discussion, the women decide that the best thing to do is to give him time to heal before they hand him over to be taken prisoner by the Confederate army. But that’s not exactly what happened. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/06/30/the-beguiled-2017/.

Brief Encounter (1945) — A loyal but bored British housewife finds herself falling in love with an out-of-town doctor whose weekly travel schedule just happens to align with hers. Despite their best efforts to the contrary, they fall in love and make their lives complicated. It’s stiff and proper but darned if it isn’t also really good.

Brigsby Bear (2017) — James (Kyle Mooney) has lived all his life alone with his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) in a survival shelter, afraid to go out into the world without a protective mask. His main source of entertainment is the television show Brigsby Bear, and he’s obsessed with it. Then he finds that his entire life has been a lie. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/08/11/brigsby-bear/.

Buster’s Mal Heart (2016) — Jonah (Rami Malek) worked as the nighttime concierge at a hotel, which was just about the only job he could get. He really wanted to be able to provide for his wife (Kate Lyn Sheil) and his daughter, with the hope of someday buying a house on their own property, but he just couldn’t get ahead in his dead-end job, and his body couldn’t adjust to the hours, so he wasn’t much more than a sleep-deprived zombie most of the time. Then some things happened, and he started living alone in the woods, living off the land when it was warm enough, and breaking into unoccupied vacation homes when it got too cold. And when he started calling into radio shows with his crackpot ideas about a wormhole, he picked up the nickname Buster.

I’d heard good things about this one from last year’s Fantastic Fest, and it mostly lived up to the hype. Its nonlinear structure can be a bit confusing at times, while at the same time making it much too easy to guess at least one of the film’s twists, but it’s still entertaining even when you’ve got a pretty good idea about what’s coming. Also featuring DJ Qualls and Lin Shaye.

Cameraperson (2016) — A fascinating compilation of footage shot by long-time documentary cinematographer Kirsten Johnson. The clips tend toward dark, heavy subjects like rape, torture, and genocide, so it’s certainly not an uplifting film, but it is an incredibly powerful and human look behind the scenes of documentary filmmaking. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/05/cameraperson/.

Carpinteros (aka Woodpeckers; 2017) — Julián is a new inmate in a Dominican men’s prison that is located next to a women’s prison. The men and women can communicate with each other through a kind of sign language that they’ve invented called “woodpeckering” or “pecker-talk”. Julián befriends Manaury, who has been sent to another area of the prison where he can no longer see the women’s prison and can therefore no longer communicate with his beloved Yanelly, so he enlists Julián’s help to act as an intermediary. Before long, Julián and Yanelly fall in love and Manaury isn’t happy about it. It’s an amazing film in its own right but is made all the more impressive by the fact that it was done in a real, working prison in which most of the supporting characters (including some with speaking roles) are actual inmates.

Cinderella Liberty (1973) — John (James Caan) is a sailor who’s on temporary leave because the Navy lost his records. Maggie (Marsha Mason) is a hooker who’s struggling to support herself and her mixed-race son. It’s got the wonderful, dark feel of a 70s desperation film, but it also can’t help but remind you of The Last Detail (which also came out the same year). Throw in Eli Wallach, Burt Young, Bruno Kirby, and a little bit of Dabney Coleman, and you’ve really got something.

Cold Hell (2017) — Özge is a taxi driver who can take care of herself. One night after getting home from a shift, she sees a killer in the act through her window. Except she can’t make out his face, and now he knows where she lives. What follows is an intense thriller with no downtime in which each hunts the other and Özge just can’t catch a break. The premise has been done before, but rarely this well.

Columbus (2017) — Casey (Haley Lu Richardson) is a self-taught architecture enthusiast who has chosen to stay in the relatively small city of Columbus, Indiana with her mom rather than pursue goals elsewhere like all of her friends. Jin (John Cho) is the son of a famous architect who was slated to give a talk in Columbus before collapsing and falling into a coma. They become friends and, often begrudgingly, help each other work through their issues. It’s a pretty minimal film with slow pacing, but surprisingly good. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/09/01/columbus/.

Command and Control (2016) — A harrowing documentary about the little-known September 1980 incident that nearly led to an atomic bomb detonation in a missile silo in Damascus, Arkansas. It includes archival footage interspersed with training video content, reenactments, and interviews with many of the people involved. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/13/command-and-control/.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) — Bubba (Larry Drake) is a mentally challenged man who acts like a child and whose best friend, Marylee (Tonya Crowe) is a little girl. Otis, Harless, Skeeter, and Philby (Charles Durning, Lane Smith, Robert F. Lyons, and Claude Earl Jones, respectively) are convinced that he’s going to do something bad to her. They kill him and get off by claiming self defense. But then they start to die. This is a surprisingly good TV slasher with a strong cast (also including Jocelyn Brando and Alice Nunn) and terrific cinematography, sound design, and direction.

Death Warrior (1984) — Murat (Turkish superstar Cüneyt Arkin) is a police officer with advanced martial arts skills. He’s on vacation, but that ends early when an evil ninja unleashes his well-trained clan of killers on the world, kidnapping a high-ranking officer. His boss just wants to pay the ransom and hope the bad guys will go away, but Murat knows the only way to win is to take them down. It’s a very short video (only 65 minutes) from the director and star of The Man Who Saves the World (aka Turkish Star Wars), but Death Warrior somehow manages to outshine it with virtually non-stop insanity and horrible subtitles.

Der Fan (aka The Fan aka Trance; 1982) — Simone (Désirée Nosbusch) is obsessed with German pop singer R (Bodo Steiger). She’s written him several letters and has all but ruined her academic life by frequently skipping school to wait for the mailman in hopes of a reply, and by a complete lack of concentration when she does make it to class. When it becomes clear that her parents won’t continue to put up with her behavior, she runs away and actually gets the chance to meet him. But things don’t go in quite the way she had envisioned. It’s a good movie that is fairly predictable until the end, where it goes off the rails in a pretty enjoyable way.

Divorce Italian Style (1961) — Ferdinando (Marcello Mastroianni) is married to Rosalia (Daniela Rocca). It’s not a happy marriage, and he really wants to get with his 16-year-old cousin, Angela (Stefania Sandrelli). But this is Italy, and divorce is illegal. Ferdinando decides that his only way out is to kill Rosalia, but he doesn’t want to go to jail for too long. To get the lightest sentence possible, he’ll have to catch her cheating on him, which means that he’ll have to find a way to make her cheat on him. It’s both ridiculous and hilarious, and it’s an intelligent comedy with jokes that run the gamut from highbrow to lowbrow. And speaking of brows, Rosalia only has one, and it goes well with her mustache.

The Duellists (1977) — Feraud (Harvey Keitel) is an officer in Napoleon’s army, and he loves swordfighting. But when he picks a fight with the mayor’s nephew, fellow officer d’Hubert (Keith Carradine) is sent to arrest him. Feraud doesn’t like this, so he picks a fight with d’Hubert. Feraud loses this fight, but doesn’t take it well and continues to challenge d’Hubert at every opportunity over the course of their lives. It’s the kind of film that should be mind-numbingly boring, and yet it’s somehow captivating, even through its Frenchiest and most periody scenes.

Fists of the White Lotus (aka The Clan of the White Lotus; 1980) — After the members of the White Lotus Clan destroy the Shaolin Temple and kill its master, two of the remaining Shaolin students, brothers in law, kill the head of the White Lotus Clan. So the White Lotus retaliates, killing one of the Shaolin students, leaving the other to seek further revenge while caring for his widowed pregnant sister. But his attempts at revenge keep failing because his technique can’t touch that of the White Lotus master. It’s an incredible film that pulls of the rare feat of having multiple endings without feeling like it goes on too long.

The Fog of War (2003) — Errol Morris interviews Robert McNamara about his experiences as Secretary of Defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. It’s mostly a simple talking head documentary often showing McNamara in close-up, and mostly responding to questions and prompts that are withheld from the audience, but it is engaging and fascinating and offers great insight into the state of the world around the time of the Vietnam War.

Geteven (aka Get Even aka Road to Revenge; 1993) — Normad (William Smith), Huck Finney (Wings Hauser), and Rick Bode (writer/director/producer/singer/songwriter John De Hart) are police officers. But when Normad frames Huck and Rick for selling drugs, he’s promoted to judge, and they’re kicked off the force and get jobs as limo drivers. Normad is also the leader of a satanic cult in which Rick’s former girlfriend (Pamela Jean Bryant) was a member until she freaked out and returned to Rick when they sacrificed a human baby. Now Normad and his fellow cult members are after her, while Rick and Huck still hold a grudge against Normad for his past and ongoing shenanigans. No one would ever call this a good movie in the classical sense, but it is far more entertaining than the vast majority of classically good movies.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) — Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) loves birds and samurai stuff. When he was younger, a mobster named Louie (John Tormey) helped him out, and Ghost Dog felt indebted to him. Since then, he’s become a master assassin. Now, another mobster has been messing around with Louise (Tricia Vessey), the daughter of the big boss, Ray (Henry Silva). Ray tells Louie to take out the thug, and Ghost Dog handles it. But since the guy was also a mobster, they couldn’t let his murder go unpunished, and now Ghost Dog has become the scapegoat. It’s surprisingly good for a rap-infused modern samurai tale, but then again it’s directed by Jim Jarmusch, so maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise after all.

Gifted (2017) — Mary Adler (played by McKenna Grace) is a mathematical genius, just like her mother, Diane, was before she committed suicide. So Mary now lives with her uncle Frank (Chris Evans), who occasionally gets a little help raising her with his landlord Roberta (Octavia Spencer). Frank wants Mary to be well-rounded, so he sends her to public school where her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) quickly recognizes her abilities and inadvertently sets off a chain of events that leads to a bitter custody battle between Frank and his mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan). It sounds like it should be Oscar bait, but the incredible performances elevate the somewhat ordinary story into something pretty special. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/04/14/gifted/.

Gilbert (2017) — Gilbert Gottfried is a comedian with an abrasive voice and who frequently has an equally abrasive act. He’s vulgar and insensitive and doesn’t consider anything out of bounds. But at home, he’s different. He’s got a sweet, loving wife and two cute kids. He’s got two sisters that he visits on an almost daily basis when he’s not traveling. And to call him frugal would be an understatement. This totally engrossing documentary shows him at home and on the road, and it’s mostly hilarious in appropriate and inappropriate ways, but it’s also very personal and touching. It’s the kind of film that few people might want, but everyone will love.

The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920) — A rabbi creates a large man out of clay and brings it to life with a magic amulet. He hopes to use the golem to protect the Jewish people from the oppressive rulers. He has some success, but he also doesn’t have as much control over the golem as he would like. It’s like a German expressionist precursor to Frankenstein, and it’s not quite as amazing as the later James Whale film, but it’s still an impressive under-seen work.

Hell’s Half Acre (1954) — Donna Williams (played by Evelyn Keyes) lost her husband Richard when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. But she never really accepted it, and nearly a dozen years later, she has reason to believe that he’s still alive, living in Hawaii under the name Chet Chester (played by Wendell Corey), and that he’s been arrested for murder. She goes to see him and finds herself caught in the middle between cops, criminals, and the man who might be her husband. Aside from some old-fashioned racism masquerading as comedy, it’s a terrific, tightly-paced Hawaiian noir film with a lot of surprises.

Hidden Figures (2016) — An inspirational dramatization of the true stories of three African-American women (Katharine Goble-Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, played by Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monáe, and Octavia Spencer, respectively) who were critical to the success of NASA in the 1960s and beyond, in spite of their color and their gender. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/08/hidden-figures/.

High Sierra (1941) — Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart) has just gotten out of jail, and he’s called to California for a heist. He’s going to help rob the safe of a posh resort hotel during its busy season. He’s paired up with a couple of inexperienced accomplices, and one of them brings Marie (Ida Lupino) for companionship while they plan. She’s immediately smitten with Roy, but he’s got feelings for a young girl, Velma (played by Joan Leslie; her grandfather was played by Henry Travers) that he met on the drive out. It’s a very good film with an ending that’s probably the best they could do given the restrictions of the Hollywood production code, and several scenes were stolen by Bogart’s own dog in the role of Pard.

Hitchcock/Truffaut (2015) — In the 1960s, budding French New Wave director François Truffaut was granted an extensive interview with master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, who was nearing the end of his career. The result of that interview was published as a book that became an essential reference for filmmakers and movie enthusiasts, and that book spawned a documentary in which a number of modern directors (David Fincher, Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, James Gray, Richard Linklater, Peter Bogdanovich, Olivier Assayas, Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and unfortunately Wes Anderson) discuss the book and more generally the effect and influence that Hitchcock’s films had on their lives as film fans and their careers as filmmakers.

Hounds of Love (2016) — Vicki is a high school student who has just been kidnapped by John and Evelyn. They intend to use her for their own sexual gratification, then kill her and hide the body, like they’ve done before. It’s a highly uncomfortable movie, with a lot of intensity and some great cinematography. It’s not always easy to watch but is definitely worth seeing. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/05/14/hounds-of-love/.

I Am Not Your Negro (2016) — A powerful documentary/autobiography about race in America in the 1960s, and throughout the nation’s history, through the writing and speech of James Baldwin. Baldwin may be less known than his contemporaries like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, but seems even more eloquent, logical, calm, and compelling. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/02/02/i-am-not-your-negro/.

Il Boom (aka The Boom; 1963) — Giovanni Alberti is in debt. He’s surrounded by wealthy people and wants to seem like he’s one of them, but he spends more than he makes and now a loan is coming due with no way for him to repay it. Then the wife of a very rich friend makes him an interesting offer that could mean the end to his financial trouble. From director The Bicycle Thief director Vittorio De Sica and Mafioso star Alberto Sordi, it’s a light, fun film that for some reason is only just now getting a release in the United States.

Jezebel (1938) — Julie (Bette Davis) is in love with Preston (Henry Fonda), but she keeps pushing him away. He’s a successful banker, and on one trip to New York, he comes back with a new wife (Margaret Lindsay). Now Julie is extremely jealous and spiteful, and it doesn’t help things that looming war and raging yellow fever have both inflicted 1850s Louisiana. In the hands of lesser actors, this probably would have been just another boring period film, but Davis, Fonda, and director William Wyler transform it into something special.

Kansas City Confidential (1952) — A former police chief (Preston Foster) resents being forced out of his job, and he puts together a plan to rob an armored car, get himself rich, and get rid of some nasty criminals (played by Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, and Neville Brand) in the process. He’s careful to wear a mask when he meets each of them, and they all wear masks whenever they’re together, so only he knows their identities, and they don’t know each other. The job goes off without a hitch, and they manage to frame an ex-con who’s now a delivery driver (John Payne) for a flower shop. The police eventually have to let him go for lack of evidence but still think that he did it, so it’s up to the driver to find the real culprits so that he can save himself. It’s a highly original and very clever story that keeps you on your toes even though you’re in on everything that’s happening.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) — Steven (Colin Farrell), a cardiac surgeon, befriends Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of a man who died on his operating table a couple of years ago. Martin starts demanding more of Steven’s time, and tries to make himself part of the family, including Steven’s wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and children Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Sujlic). When Steven starts to push back against Martin, and to avoid advances from Martin’s mother (Alicia Silverstone), Martin starts to become less friendly. It’s a really good film that doesn’t try to offer any explanation for the things that are happening, but sucks you in nonetheless.

Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998) — After Kirikou crawls out of his mother and into the world, he learns that his village is under siege by an evil sorceress. She’s taken nearly all of their men, stolen all their gold, and dried up their water supply. Tiny Kirikou decides that he needs to do something about it. It’s an incredible animated film based on an African folk tale that crams so much comedy, creativity, and charm into a very tight 74 minutes. It’s a crime that it’s such a little-known film.

Last Flag Flying (2017) — Shortly after losing his wife to cancer, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) learns that his son was killed during a military tour in Iraq. Larry seeks out his old Vietnam War pals, Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) to accompany him on the trip to retrieve his son’s body and see that he’s given a proper burial. It’s a terrific film with amazing genuine performances that finds the perfect balance of grief and humor so that it’s serious when it needs to be but isn’t a complete downer.

Lisa (1989) — Lisa (Staci Keanan) doesn’t have any family other than her mother Katherine (Cheryl Ladd), who has always been overprotective and doesn’t want Lisa to start dating until she’s sixteen. But Lisa is fourteen, and she doesn’t like that idea, especially since her best friend Wendy (Tanya Fenmore) is already dating. One day, she happens to meet an attractive man (D.W. Moffett) on the street. She finds out who she is and starts having seductive phone conversations with him, without him knowing who she is. The only problem is that Lisa doesn’t know that he’s the serial killer who has been terrorizing the neighborhood.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976) — Rynn (Jodie Foster) lives with her father in a small town. Or that’s what she wants people to think. Her father died several months ago, and she’s trying to live on her own without drawing too much attention to herself. She’s doing a pretty good job of it until her landlord’s perverted son (Martin Sheen) decides that he has to have her, and until she befriends a boy magician (Scott Jacoby) who wants to help make her troubles disappear.

Lost in Paris (2016) — Fiona is a Canadian woman who receives a letter from her elderly aunt Martha, who lives in Paris. She’s not doing so well, and they want to put her in a home. Fiona heads off to Paris to try to meet her, only to get no response when she rings at her apartment. An unfortunate encounter with the Seine river leaves her with only the wet clothes on her back—no money, no passport, and no luggage.

It’s a surprisingly light and whimsical film given its somewhat dark subject matter. It feels like it’s going for a Wes Anderson sort of vibe, but fortunately, it fails at that because it’s not the worst thing ever made. Not all of the comedy works as well as I’d like, and the “Fiona and Martha are constantly missing each other” gags do get a bit tiresome, but it’s still an enjoyable film that’s worth checking out.

Mafioso (1962) — Antonio “Nino” Badalamenti lives in Milan, but he’s taking his wife and children on vacation to visit his relatives in his Sicilian homeland. He instantly feels right at home, but his wife is very much a fish out of water, in a very funny Ellen Griswold sort of way. His boss in Milan asked Nino to deliver a package to Don Vincenzo, a very powerful and respected man (with obvious ties to the mafia) in Sicily. Nino soon finds himself faced with an offer he can’t refuse. Hilarious at the beginning, serious at the end, and terrific throughout.

Magnificent Obsession (1954) — Millionaire playboy Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) is showing off his high-speed boat for a girl when he gets into an accident that nearly kills him. Fortunately, Dr. Phillips lives across the lake, and he has a resuscitator at his house that the police are able to take and use to save Merrick’s life. Unfortunately, the reason that Dr. Phillips has the resuscitator is that he’s also in need of it, and he dies as a result of an attack that he suffers when it’s being used on Merrick. When Merrick learns of this, he wants to help the widow, Helen Phillips (Jane Wyman), but his attempts are at first rejected, and later even have more dire consequences. So Merrick devotes his life to secretly helping Helen. The movie often feels cheesy and exaggerated, but it’s also thoroughly wonderful and highly effective at making you feel things.

Mayhem (2017) — Derek Cho is a lawyer who’s doing a very good job at moving up the ladder at his firm, especially after his instrumental work in helping a big client beat a murder rap. But office politics are very serious business, and the people at the top don’t have any qualms about stepping on the people beneath them. When one of his superiors screws up, Derek finds himself the scapegoat, and he’s fired without much hesitation. But before he can be kicked out, the building is quarantined as a result of a viral infection that puts emotional reactions on overdrive. The building is overrun with fighting and violence, and, in the midst of that, Derek is determined to make his way to the top floor so he can help the executives see the error of their ways. Along the way, he’s accompanied by an angry woman who also feels that she’s been mistreated by the firm, but since he’s been her main point of contact with the company, her ire is directed as strongly at him as it is for anything else.

This is what The Belko Experiment should have been. Mayhem is a highly violent film in an office building, but it’s not as predictable or as stupid as Belko. It’s very funny, full of action, and loaded with gore, but not so stupid that it becomes hard to swallow. This is one I look forward to revisiting, and I hope I get the chance to do so in the near future.

Mom and Dad (2017) — Something is causing parents to attack and try to kill their children. It only applies to their own children; they’re indifferent to, or perhaps even protective of, other people’s children as long as they don’t get in the way. Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair just happen to be the parents of two of those kids, and they succumb to those urges. It’s an immensely fun movie overall, but Nicolas Cage going full-on Nicolas Cage at many points throughout the film really gives it that additional push of awesomeness.

My Life as a Zucchini (2016) — Zucchini’s dad is a womanizer who’s not around any more. His mom is a drunk who dies in an accident. So he’s hauled off to live in a group home with several other kids who haven’t had the best luck in their lives so far, either. There’s some bullying at first, but soon they become great friends who stick up for each other. Then Camille shows up, and it’s love at first sight for Zucchini.

This one surprised me. The claymation is done very well, and the story is surprisingly deep. It gets very dark at times, especially when dealing with some of the things the kids have been through, but then it can turn on a dime to become sweet and uplifting. It works on just about every level, its pacing is tight, and it might just leave you with some emotions.

Not of This Earth (1988) — An alien (Arthur Roberts) comes to Earth in search of blood. He goes to Dr. Rochelle (Ace Mask) for a transfusion and ends up hiring his nurse (Traci Lords) to administer the daily treatments. As strange things happen, the humans around the alien start to get suspicious. It’s a very dumb movie made on a very tight schedule that’s loaded with unnecessary nudity and cheesy effects, but it is thoroughly entertaining and right up my alley.

Notes on Blindness (2016) — When John Hull found himself going blind in the early 1980s, he began to capture his feelings and experiences on audio cassettes. The filmmakers hired actors to portray John, his wife Marilyn, and their children, with most of the dialogue taken from John’s tapes and lip-synced by the actors. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/23/notes-on-blindness/.

Offside (2006) — Controversial Iranian director Jafar Panahi provides us with this simple but very powerful film that focuses on a handful of girls caught trying to sneak into a soccer game. Women aren’t allowed in the stadium, purportedly because they might hear men swear, but really for no good reason. Through a series of interactions between the girls and the soldiers ordered to guard them, Panahi questions this practice to such an extent that it (in conjunction with other films he’d made in the past) got him banned from making films by the Iranian government. Fortunately, that didn’t stop him, and he’s continued to make films, like Taxi, that are every bit as good and continue to question the Iranian status quo.

Open Secret (1948) — A small town is plagued by a secret society intent on eliminating, or at least heavily oppressing, the Jewish population. A newlywed couple gets mixed up in this as they come to visit a friend only to find that he has been kidnapped. The more they investigate, the darker things get. A tight 68 minutes, it was very bold and timely for its release in 1948, and it still feels that way today.

The Peanut Butter Solution (1985) — When a fire breaks out in an abandoned house and kills a couple of homeless people, a young kid named Michael is intent on looking into that house. He sees something so scary that his hair falls out and he’s stricken with embarrassment. But the spirit of one of the deceased appears to him and gives him the recipe for a concoction that should allow him to regrow his hair. But he doesn’t follow the recipe exactly and ends up with hair that just won’t stop growing. It just gets weirder from there and turns into one of the greatest things to have ever come out of Canada.

Raiders of the Sacred Stone (aka Shalimar; 1978) — An old master thief (Rex Harrison) has brought four other top thieves (one of whom is a mute John Saxon who only communicates through sign language) to tell them that he has stolen a giant ruby, and to invite them to try to claim the title of world’s greatest thief by stealing it from him. They’ll have to defeat his advanced security system and outwit his army of devoted guards to do it. It’s a Bollywood attempt at making a movie suitable for American audiences, featuring American actors and a 90-minute cut with no musical numbers, but it was a flop because it’s a terrible movie. But it’s also terribly entertaining because of the ridiculous situations and characters, the defense measures, and the plans the thieves hatch to try to get around them.

Radius (2017) — A man wakes up next to a crashed vehicle with a head injury and no memory of who he is. His driver’s license gives him his name (Liam) and address, and he starts to make his way from the remote crash site back to civilization. But he soon learns that all people and animals around him die if he gets too close. Except for another woman, who claims she was also in the crash and also has amnesia but no ID to tell her who she is. For some reason, her presence suppresses whatever force causes everyone to die. The police work out that Liam is somehow connected to the deaths of many people he came in contact with before working out what was going on, so Liam and Jane Doe must work together to figure out who they are, what happened, and what to do about it before the police catch up to them and separate them. It’s a really well-done film with a kind of sci-fi that’s right up my alley.

Salon Mexico (1949) — Mercedes Gómez works at a dance hall, entertaining men and doing whatever she can (legally and otherwise) to earn enough money to help put her younger sister Beatriz through boarding school. After winning a dance contest, her gangster partner Paco refused to give her any of the winnings, so she stole it from him while he slept. This upset Paco very much, but it also drew the attention of local police officer Lupe, who learned why she took the money and felt tremendous respect for the sacrifices she was willing to make for her sister. It’s a wonderful film that is as tragic as it is engaging.

Saturn 3 (1980) — Adam and Alex (Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett) are the only two people on Saturn 3, a space station intended to produce food to help sustain Earth’s population. They’re not producing as much as they could, so they’re sent help in the way of Benson (Harvey Keitel) and his robot Hector. Hector has a human brain that was raised in a laboratory that was a blank slate until Benson started teaching it by connecting it to his brain. But Benson isn’t exactly mentally stable, so the robot isn’t either. It’s a thoroughly entertaining film that only suffers because it keeps going after a great ending to have two more endings that are progressively weaker.

Sequence Break (2016) — Osgood (aka Oz, played by Chase Williamson) is a whiz at restoring and fixing old arcade games. Not only does it provide him with a job that he loves, but it also introduced him to his nerdy, game-loving girlfriend, Tess (Fabianne Therese). Then one day Oz finds a mysterious circuit board for a game that becomes a life-changing experience.

This movie is very much The Bishop of Battle (a segment in the Nightmares horror anthology) crossed with eXistenZ. I like both of those things a lot, and that probably has something to do with why I liked Sequence Break so much. It doesn’t seem like it knows how to end, so it does go a bit too far into the Cronenbergy end of the spectrum before copping out with a kind of “mega happy ending” a la Wayne’s World, but by that point I’d already been won over by everything prior that the end didn’t diminish my enjoyment all that much.

Shoes (1916) — An utterly devastating film with a dead-simple plot: a young woman (played by Mary MacLaren) must work to support her deadbeat father, her mother, and her three sisters, and doesn’t have the money to buy the new shoes that she desperately needs. It manages to overcome so many obstacles to become something more engrossing than just about any other film I’ve encountered. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/02/20/shoes-1916/.

Small Crimes (2017) — Joe (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a former cop who found himself in debt to the wrong people, which led to him doing things he shouldn’t have done. He’s just gotten out of prison and is living at home with his parents (Robert Forster and Jacki Weaver). He thinks he’s done with that life, but others feel differently. Also featuring Gary Cole, Molly Parker, Macon Blair, and Pat Healy.

It’s hard to describe the film in much more detail without giving too much away, and it’s really a joy to discover the film as it unfolds. It mostly works, although there are a couple of times when it relies a little too heavily on coincidence. It’s worth seeing in a theater if you get the chance, and I’m glad that I did because after its festival run, it’s likely to only be available on Netflix, and you shouldn’t give them your money because they give it to Adam Sandler so that he can keep making movies.

The Square (2017) — Christian (Claes Bang) is the head curator at a large museum in Stockholm. They’re getting a new exhibit called “The Square”, which is simply a square on the ground whose perimeter is framed in lights. It’s supposed to represent a “be nice to each other” zone, and they’re having trouble figuring out how to market it. Meanwhile, he’s also confronted with other problems, like having his wallet and phone stolen, having a one-night stand with a reporter (Elisabeth Moss) who doesn’t think it was a one-night stand, coordinating a performance art installation featuring a man acting like an animal, and being a part-time father to his two daughters. It’s the latest comedy by Ruben Östlund, and it’s both funnier and more effective than Force Majeure.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928) — Haggard, longtime captain William “Steamboat Bill” Canfield (Ernest Torrence) and his foppish, recent-college-graduate son William Jr. (Buster Keaton) are trying to keep their business afloat after wealthy businessman J.J. King (Tom McGuire) decides he wants to get into steamboating and buys a bigger and better boat for himself. Meanwhile, Bill Jr. and King’s daughter Kitty (Marion Byron) know each other from school and are sweet on each other, but their fathers don’t want them to have anything to do with each other. It’s mostly a very funny Romeo and Juliet-type story, but then it really changes gears and amps up the physical comedy in the finale with some truly impressive stunts. While not as well known as The General, it’s every bit as good.

The Sugarland Express (1974) — Lou Jean (Goldie Hawn) and her husband Clovis (William Atherton) both have criminal records, and Clovis is currently finishing up the tail end of his sentence in a minimum security facility. Lou Jean has lost custody of her baby, so she helps break Clovis out so that they can go take their baby back. They’re soon stopped by a police officer (Michael Sacks), but they take him hostage and lead a swarm of police and onlookers on a low-speed chase across the state. It’s Spielberg’s first theatrical film, and it’s like he foresaw the infamous OJ Simpson car chase, or maybe it’s a little of Smokey and the Bandit meets The Legend of Billie Jean. At any rate, it’s mostly a very lighthearted film but effortlessly becomes serious when the need arises.

Super Dark Times (2017) — Zach and Josh are best friends. They’re hanging out with acquaintances Charlie and Daryl when it comes out that Zach’s older brother, who’s joined the Marines and moved away, has a sword in his old room. The boys get the sword and go outside to engage in some ill-advised horseplay, which ends in Daryl getting accidentally stabbed and killed. The other three hide the body and make a pact to keep it a secret. But they still have to deal with the knowledge of what happened. Each of them does that poorly in his own way. It is indeed a dark time, but one well worth seeing for the performances and the conclusion.

The Sword and the Claw (aka Lionman aka Kiliç Aslan; 1975) — King Solomon is killed in a coup, but his very pregnant wife escapes for long enough to give birth to a son. She dies in childbirth, and the boy is raised by lions. When he’s grown, he has super strength and a deadly grip, and he gets involved in the fight to recover the throne. On one hand, it’s a typical Turkish film, with really low production values, the best kind of awful dubbing, and a soundtrack lifted from Spartacus. But on the other, it takes some legitimately interesting turns and does much more than the bare minimum with its plot. It may not be great art, but it’s highly entertaining.

Tampopo (1985) — A woman who owns a small ramen restaurant gets a truck driver to help her improve her food. Their quest to create the perfect broth, noodles, pork, and other components is frequently interrupted with a number of food-related tangents. It’s very funny and thoroughly enjoyable.

Teenage Gang Debs (1966) — Terry (Diane Conti) is a very assertive and very manipulative girl who’s just moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn. She’s fallen in with a local gang, the Rebels, and she goes right after the president, Johnny (John Batis), ousting his current girl. But she soon decides that she doesn’t like him, so she goes to Nino (Joey Naudic) and convinces him to drop his girl and take out Johnny so he can become the new president. At that point, it’s pretty obvious who’s really calling the shots, and it’s pretty obvious how the movie is going to end. But even with the predictable plot and the excessive amount of padding required to reach even a 75-minute runtime, it’s a highly enjoyable movie. Much of that is actually due to the padding, which includes a lot of 60s dancing, especially a karate dance to a song called “The Black Belt” that enumerates the levels needed to reach martial arts mastery.

Tender Mercies (1983) — Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) used to be a famous singer/songwriter, married to famous singer Dixie (Betty Buckley). Then his drinking got out of control, and he lost his wife and his musical career. It took several more years for him to hit rock bottom, but when that finally happened, it was at a tiny, rural Texas hotel owned by Rosa Lee (Tess Harper). She took pity on Mac and hired him to help out around the hotel. He began to get his life back together, began to explore his musical options, and began to explore the possibility of life with Rosa Lee. It’s a simple film, but everything about it works, and it doesn’t always go where you’d expect.

Thelma (2017) — Thelma grew up with an overprotective, devoutly Christian family, but now she’s going away to college for the first time. But just as she’s getting her first tastes of freedom and temptation, and just when it looks like she might start making friends, she has a seizure. Then she has more of them. While doctors try to figure out why she’s having them, Thelma learns more about her past and her family. It’s a terrific film that captivates you right from the opening scene and easily holds your attention throughout.

There’s Always Tomorrow (1956) — A married man is tempted when an old flame re-enters his life, to the great dismay of his children. It’s a Douglas Sirk film starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, and that’s really all you need to know.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) — Frustrated with the police department’s lack of results in solving her daughter’s murder, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) rents three billboards calling out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) in the hopes that it will rile them up into something that might lead to a break in the case. But it makes a lot of people mad, including officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), and they seek retaliation. What follows is an intricate, unexpected, and exceptional drama from writer/director Martin McDonagh.

The Transfiguration (2016) — Milo lives with his older brother Lewis in a poor New York neighborhood. Their parents are dead (their father through sickness and their mother by suicide), so they’re left to fend for themselves, which leads to Milo often being bullied. Milo is obsessed with vampire movies and lore, and he really wants to become a vampire himself, but his attempts thus far haven’t been all that successful. Then he meets Sophie, a new girl who’s moved into his building to live with her abusive grandfather.

This film reminds me a lot of Park Chan-wook’s Thirst in that it’s primarily a drama, and although vampirism is a key part of the film, it’s actually pretty incidental to the plot most of the time. The way that Milo is treated by others, and his relationship with Sophie, have almost nothing to do with vampires and would have been just as at home in a film that didn’t use the V word at all. But the way that it does incorporate that subject into its plot works really well and makes it all the more meaningful when it is necessary.

Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness (1986) — Mike Strauber had a bad experience playing “truth or dare” as a kid that led to him being committed to an asylum for a while. But he’s much better now. Or at least he was until he caught his wife cheating on him with his best friend. Now he’s lost a lot of sanity, and a lot of people have to die. This film provides nonstop exhilaration resulting from its unpredictability, enthusiasm, effects, and theme song.

The Uncanny (1977) — An author (Peter Cushing) has written a book warning of the dangers of cats and is trying to sell it to a publisher (Ray Milland), and tells three cautionary tales. A wealthy old woman is killed just after changing her will, and her horde of cats make sure the guilty parties don’t get away. A recently orphaned little girl (Katrina Holden Bronson, daughter of Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland) turns to witchcraft after her jealous cousin tries to get her aunt and uncle to take her cat away. An actor (Donald Pleasence) kills his wife in an on-set “accident” and immediately convinces the producer (John Vernon) to re-cast his girlfriend (Samantha Eggar), but didn’t count on his wife’s cat seeking revenge. It’s very over the top and makes for the best kind of bad movie.

Ugetsu (1953) — Genjurô makes pottery. He’s gotten a taste of wealth and has become very greedy for more. His friend Tôbei is intent on becoming a samurai and is very happy to help Genjurô with his pottery and earn money on the side to help buy weapons and armor. Both become successful, but at the expense of their families. It’s a beautiful film, and it’s hard to describe in more detail without spoiling anything.

Violent Saturday (1955) — Three men (Stephen McNally, Lee Marvin, and J. Carrol Naish) plan to rob a bank in a small mining town and make their escape to a nearby Amish farm (run by Ernest Borgnine), where they can hide out and switch vehicles. They find themselves in the midst of a great deal of drama, including competition between the mining company boss (Richard Egan) and his second in command (Victor Mature), between the bank manager (Tommy Noonan) and a nurse (Virginia Leith), and a prim librarian (Sylvia Sidney) in financial difficulty. It’s an intricate soap-opera-esque melodrama meant to compete with the excellent films of Douglas Sirk, and it does an admirable job of it.

Who Killed Teddy Bear? (1965) — Norah (Juliet Prowse) is a pretty young woman who works at a dance club. She’s started getting threatening and harassing phone calls. She doesn’t know the identity of the caller, but we do. It’s Lawrence (Sal Mineo), who also works at the dance club and has taken to watching her through her apartment window and following her around. And to make matters worse, Norah keeps encountering unwanted creepiness from the people she goes to for help, including a cop (Jan Murray) who specializes in sex crimes and her boss (Elaine Stritch). It’s a very dark movie with a lot of artful sleaze that goes in unexpected directions.

Wind River (2017) — Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is a fish and wildlife agent who comes across the body of his late daughter’s best friend. Because the body is on a Native American reservation, the FBI is called in, and they send Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) to investigate. She’s clearly passionate about the case but also clearly out of her league, so she enlists Cory’s help in trying to figure out what happened. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/08/02/wind-river/.

Wings (1927) — Jack and David (Charles Rogers and Richard Arlen) are friends from the same small town who go to war. They’re also in a love quadrangle in which Mary (Clara Bow) loves Jack, Jack loves Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston), and Sylvia and David love each other. Both Jack and David become successful pilots, but they’re fated to fight over Sylvia. It’s a beautifully shot film with some hand-colored effects for even more impressive visuals, and the wonderful story is full of heroism and tragedy.

Wolf Warrior 2 (2017) — Leng Feng (Jing Wu) used to be a member of the elite Wolf Warrior squadron of the Chinese army, but he was stripped of his rank and locked up after killing a bad man who was terrorizing a family. And while he was in jail, some bad guys killed his fiancée, and now he wants revenge. He’s traveling the world trying to find out who’s responsible, and he finds himself in the middle of a civil war in Africa. He’s got to rescue a prestigious Chinese doctor and his godson’s mother, and he’s got to do it alone. It’s tough to describe how utterly ridiculous this movie is. It’s bad by just about every measure there is, except the measure of how utterly enjoyable it is. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/10/15/wolf-warrior-2/.

Your Name (2016) — Mitsuha and Taki have never met and don’t live anywhere near each other, but each keeps waking up in the other’s body. They devise a way to communicate with each other indirectly but attempts to speak to each other or meet in person keep falling apart. It’s a little confusing initially, but once you’ve gotten your bearings, it’s a very funny and highly-captivating movie. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/04/14/your-name/.

Movies Watched Theatrically in December 2017

Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987; rewatch) — Tim (Ryan O’Neal) finds himself entangled in a complex web of love, sex, drugs, deceit, corruption, and murder. Also starring Isabella Rossellini, Lawrence Tierney, Penn Jillette, and especially Wings Hauser, it’s hard to describe but so easy (and so fun) to watch.

Die Hard (1988; rewatch) — While visiting his estranged family in L.A., New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) finds himself at his wife’s (Bonnie Bedelia) company Christmas party when it’s taken over by terrorists (led by Alan Rickman). Unable to expect much help from the LAPD (led by Paul Gleason and featuring Reginald VelJohnson as the lone voice of support), McClane has to face off against the terrorists himself in one of the greatest action movies (and greatest Christmas movies) of all time.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990; rewatch) — While waiting for his wife’s (Bonnie Bedelia) plane to arrive at the airport, John McClane (Bruce Willis) finds the airport taken over by terrorists (led by William Sadler). Unable to expect much help from the airport police (led by Dennis Franz), McClane has to face off against the terrorists himself in one of the most adequate action movies (and most adequate Christmas movies) of all time.

Red River (1948; rewatch) — With the help of his loyal ranch hands, Groot (Walter Brennan) and Matt (Montgomery Clift) and a bunch of other hired help, Tom Dunson (John Wayne) needs to get his massive herd of Texas cattle to market in Missouri. It’s over a thousand miles full of Indians, rustlers, and other dangers, and many of the guys are getting fed up with Dunson’s taskmaster attitude. It’s a terrific classic western that’s so much fun to watch.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968; rewatch) — When a harmonica-playing stranger (Charles Bronson) arrives in town, he’s expecting to meet Frank (Henry Fonda) but instead meets three of his men (including characters played by Woody Strode and Jack Elam). Meanwhile, Frank is murdering the McBain family and framing Cheyenne (Jason Robards) for it, just as Jill (Claudia Cardinale) arrives to be the new Mrs. McBain. It’s a deadly face-off of three great gunmen and one tough woman caught in the middle. It’s one of the greatest westerns of all time and totally earns its three-hour runtime.

The Man from Laramie (1955; first-time watch) — Will Lockhart (Jimmy Stewart) is a former army captain who now uses his mule team and wagons to make deliveries. When he makes a delivery to the small, remote town of Coronado, he finds himself constantly under duress from the Waggoman family and their top ranch-hand (Arthur Kennedy). He’s got to save his own skin, while also saving the town from the Waggomans and from the Apaches. Kind of in the vein of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stewart is a non-heroic hero who is very fun to watch against cartoonish bad guys.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017; first-time watch) — Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman) may not be too bright, but he’s extremely loyal to his friend Ed Johnson (Peter Fonda), who has just been elected senator. When Johnson is killed, Brown vows to catch whoever is responsible. Ignoring Mrs. Johnson’s (Kathy Baker) objections, and reluctantly picking up a young companion (Diego Josef) along the way, Lefty finds himself in a much bigger ordeal than he’d originally expected. It’s a solid modern western very much in the vein of True Grit that’s fun to watch even if it can’t hold a candle to the great classics.

Thelma (2017; first-time watch) — Thelma grew up with an overprotective, devoutly Christian family, but now she’s going away to college for the first time. But just as she’s getting her first tastes of freedom and temptation, and just when it looks like she might start making friends, she has a seizure. Then she has more of them. While doctors try to figure out why she’s having them, Thelma learns more about her past and her family. It’s a terrific film that captivates you right from the opening scene and easily holds your attention throughout.

Sudden Death (1995; rewatch) — Darren McCord (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is the fire marshall at a hockey arena where it’s the final game of the Stanley Cup. The Vice President (Raymond J. Barry) is attending, and so is Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe). Foss takes the Vice President hostage, holding him for a large ransom. All of the fans are oblivious to what’s going on, and Foss is able to keep the authorities at bay, so it’s up to McCord to save the day, while also worrying about his two children who just happen to be watching the game. It’s a very dumb but immensely fun version of Die Hard set in a hockey arena.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974; first-time watch) — Godzilla appears and starts to destroy everything in his path. Except it’s not Godzilla; it’s a robot disguised to look like Godzilla, and it’s being controlled by aliens disguised to look like humans. The real Godzilla and the real humans must fight the fake Godzilla and the fake humans to save the world. It’s a decent movie, even if it does spend too much time on monsters fighting and not enough time on the plot.

Trancers (1984; rewatch) — Jack Death (Tim Thomerson) is a renegade cop from 300 years in the future. He travels back in time to 1985 to try to catch his nemesis Whistler (Michael Stefani) before he kills the ancestors of the members of the ruling council and prevents them from being born. Death teams up with a girl he just met (Helen Hunt) to try to track down and protect the ancestors before Whistler gets to them. It’s not a good movie, but it’s entertaining enough under the right circumstances.

Blade of the Immortal (2017; first-time watch) — After an epic battle in which he single-handedly took out a giant group of people, a samurai is endowed with blood worms by a witch. These worms can instantly heal wounds, effectively granting immortality to their host. After some time, the samurai finds his purpose: to help a girl take revenge against an evil and powerful gang that murdered her family. It’s kind of like the Baby Driver of samurai movies in that it’s got a fantastic opening, but is pretty lackluster after that. And this one is nearly half an hour longer than Baby Driver.

Runaway (1984; rewatch) —A police officer (Tom Selleck) in charge of neutralizing robots gone haywire finds himself up against an evil robotics genius (Gene Simmons) making robots go haywire. Also featuring Kirstie Alley, Joey Cramer, G.W. Bailey, and Cynthia Rhodes, it’s a dumb but thoroughly entertaining cautionary tale with a great climax.

The Double O Kid (1992; first-time watch) — Lance (Corey Haim) is a kid detective who finds himself teaming up with unsuspecting teen Melinda (Nicole Eggert) against a gang of bad guys (including Wallace Shawn). Also featuring Brigitte Nielsen, John Rhys-Davies, and Karen Black, it’s worth seeing once to marvel at its badness.

Cell (2016; first-time watch) — The world has experienced a zombie apocalypse triggered by nefarious cell phone signals. John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson are among the lucky few who escaped the wave of infections, and now Cusack is trying to get home to see if his wife and kid are okay. It’s an adaptation of a Stephen King book that mostly escaped notice, and the world is better off that way.

Elves (1989; rewatch) — A Nazi plot to take over the world leads to an evil elf chasing after a girl and her friends, mostly trapped in a department store. Only a down-on-his-luck Santa (Dan Haggerty) has the chance to save them, but he doesn’t do such a great job. It’s slow paced and nonsensical, but that’s not to say that it’s unwatchable.

Purple Noon (1960; first-time watch) — This original French adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, later remade as The Talented Mr. Ripley, features Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) as a mooch who befriends and then kills the well-to-do Philippe Greenleaf, and then tries to impersonate him in an attempt to live a life of luxury and make a play for Philippe’s girlfriend. It’s a strong film, even if it sometimes feels a bit convenient or contrived.

The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean (1966; first-time watch) — Norma Jean is a sweet, innocent, and vulnerable young woman who gets these “feelings” from time to time. Her most recent one is that she and her friend should get a giant inflatable dome where her friend, along with a mysterious band that just shows up, can perform music for crowds that will also just show up. But despite their performance, she becomes the star of the show, and the leader of the band tries to push her beyond her limits for his own benefit. It’s weird and sweet and sad and ultimately pretty good.

Deep Red (1975; rewatch) — A musician sees a woman’s murderer running away from the scene of the crime and becomes obsessed with trying to track them down. As he gets closer, he finds himself in increasing danger, and people around him start to suffer as a result. It’s an Argento film in the same vein as Suspiria, but more conventional and more approachable.

Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972; first-time watch) — Santa Claus finds himself stranded on a Florida beach with his sleigh stuck in the sand and no reindeer to pull him out. The local kids try to help, but nothing seems to work. And while they’re trying to figure out what to do, Santa tells the kids the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, so we just temporarily switch to a different movie before coming back to find the titular Ice Cream Bunny driving a fire truck and coming to save the day. It’s utterly incompetent and makes no sense, and yet it wouldn’t necessarily be out of place as a regular Christmas tradition.

The Disaster Artist (2017; first-time watch) — Greg (Dave Franco) is an aspiring actor. He meets Tommy (James Franco) in an acting class and is immediately entranced by Tommy’s fearlessness and talentlessness. Before long, Tommy has written a movie and wants Greg to co-star in it with them. It’s a semi-factual account of the creation of the cult classic “so bad it’s good” film The Room based on Greg Sestero’s book of the same name. There are certainly inconsistencies between the book and the movie, but the movie is entertaining enough to overlook some flaws, and somehow even James Franco (who also directed) doesn’t ruin the movie.

Babes in Toyland (1934; first-time watch) — Laurel and Hardy star as a couple of screw-ups in a fairytale land where the rich, evil Barnaby is trying to force Little Bo Peep to marry him instead of her true love, Tom Tom, the piper’s son. It’s a crazy movie full of the unexpected, and that sense is only magnified when you consider its age.

The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971; first-time watch) — A documentary about the life and death of Fred Hampton, one of the leaders of the Black Panther movement in Chicago. When Hampton is killed in a shootout with the police, the account given in the police report doesn’t seem to align with the evidence left at the scene. The film doesn’t exactly paint Hampton in a light of innocence and purity, but it does show that police corruption is nothing new.

The Thin Man (1934; rewatch) — When a woman is murdered, her employer—a scientist who has just gone missing—is the prime suspect. His daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan) convinces a constantly drinking former detective (William Powell) to investigate and learn the truth. And the detective’s wife (Myrna Loy) appoints herself to be his assistant. It’s a terrific and hilarious crime comedy that’s so much better than any modern attempts at something similar.

The Apartment (1960; rewatch) — C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) works for an insurance firm, where he’s quite popular with some of the executives because he frequently lends them the use of his apartment for some alone time with their mistresses. He’s also infatuated with Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), one of the building’s elevator operators, but she’s already involved with J. D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), one of the company’s top executives. It’s a wonderful comedy/drama that feels very racy for 1960 and is the perfect way to ring in a new year.

UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java 4.0.3

Shortly after publishing the 4.0.2 release of the LDAP SDK, we found a bug in the way that we generated and validated signatures for X.509 certificates and PKCS #10 certificate signing requests. So we have just released the 4.0.3 version of the LDAP SDK with just the fix for that bug. As usual, you can get it on LDAP.com, from GitHub, from SourceForge, or from the Maven Central Repository.

UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java 4.0.2

Happy 20th birthday, LDAPv3! The core LDAPv3 specifications, RFCs 2251 through 2256, were released on December 4, 1997. To celebrate, we’re releasing the UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java version 4.0.2. It is available now for download from the LDAP.com website, from our GitHub repository, from the SourceForge project, or from the Maven Central Repository.

The most significant changes included in this release are:

  • Added a new manage-certificates tool that can be used to interact with JKS and PKCS #12 keystores, generate certificates and certificate signing requests, sign certificates, and perform a number of other certificate-related features. It’s like keytool, but it offers additional functionality, and it’s a lot more user-friendly. The LDAP SDK also provides classes for generating and parsing certificates and certificate signing requests programmatically.
  • Added a new variant of the Entry.diff method that can be used to perform a byte-for-byte comparison of attribute values instead of using the associated attribute syntax. This can help identify changes that result in logically equivalent values, like changing the value of a case-insensitive attribute in a way that only affects capitalization.
  • Added a new PasswordReader.readPasswordChars method that can be used to read a password into a character array. Previously, it was only possible to read a password as a byte array.
  • Added a new LDAPConnection.closeWithoutUnbind method that can be used to close a connection without first sending an LDAP unbind request. While this isn’t usually recommended, it can be useful in cases where the connection is known to be invalid, and especially if there is the potential for sending the unbind request to cause the connection to block.
  • Improved support for validating object identifiers (OIDs). The LDAP SDK now offers a strict validation mode that requires the OID to be comprised of at least two components, that requires the first component to be between zero and two, and that requires the second component to be between zero and thirty-nine if the first component is zero or one. There is also a new OIDArgumentValueValidator class that can be used when requesting command-line arguments whose values are expected to be numeric OIDs.
  • Fixed a bug that could cause the LDAP SDK to leak a connection if it was configured with an SSLSocketVerifier and that verifier rejected the connection for some reason.
  • Fixed a bug that could cause the LDAP SDK to block for twice as long as it should in the event that a failure occurred while trying to send a simple bind request on a connection operating in synchronous mode and the attempt to send the request blocks.
  • Added support for new ASN.1 element types, including bit string, object identifier, generalized time, UTC time, UTF-8 string, IA5 string, printable string, and numeric string. Also added support for a new integer type that is backed by a BigInteger and can support values of any magnitude.
  • Added convenience methods that make it easier to determine the type class and primitive/constructed state of an ASN.1 element.
  • Added support for a new uniqueness request control that can be included in add, modify, and modify DN requests sent to the Ping Identity Directory Server. This control requests that the server identify attribute value conflicts that might arise as a result of the changes performed by the associated operation. The ldapmodify tool has also been updated to support this control.
  • Updated the searchrate tool to make it possible to set the search size limit, time limit, dereference policy, and typesOnly flag.
  • Updated the in-memory directory server to support the UnboundID/Ping-proprietary ignore NO-USER-MODIFICATION request control.
  • Updated the UnboundID/Ping-proprietary password policy state extended operation to make it possible to determine whether the target user has a static password.
  • Updated the argument parser to make it possible to hide subcommand names and argument identifiers so that they can be used but will not appear in generated usage information.
  • Improved the quality of LDAP request debug messages.
  • Updated the set of LDAP-related specifications to include updated versions of existing specifications, and to add a number of certificate-related specifications.

Movies Watched Theatrically in November 2017

The Thing (1982; rewatch) — The inhabitants of an Antarctic research site are surprised by the arrival of a dog, and then much more surprised when it turns out to be an alien creature that they just call a “thing”. It is capable of taking over and perfectly replicating other creatures, and it seems intent on taking over everyone in the research site and probably the world. Starring Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Donald Moffat, and others, it’s an absolute horror classic, and for good reason.

Freaked (1993; rewatch) — Ricky (Alex Winter) is an actor who sells out to become the spokesman for a pesticide manufacturer. He accidentally gets exposed to the pesticide and turns into a half-man, half-beast. But he’s not alone, because he’s also being held captive at a freak show, run by Randy Quaid and featuring other oddities played by Mr. T, Bobcat Goldthwait, Derek McGrath, John Hawkes, and others. It’s very dumb but pretty funny.

Wonder Women (1973; rewatch) — Dr. Tsu (Nancy Kwan) has perfected the art of transplanting anything from one person to another. She’s using her ability to give rich old people immortality by transplanting their brains into virile young bodies. The disappearances have raised the suspicion of an insurance company who’s on the hook for paying large policies, so they hire a tough guy (Ross Hagen) to find out what’s really going on. It’s an adequate film with occasional fun and a good chase scene.

Boogie Nights (1997; rewatch) — Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) is a prolific director of adult films, most of which star Amber Waves (Julianne Moore). He’s just discovered a new, well-endowed talent (Eddie Adams aka Dirk Diggler, played by Mark Wahlberg) who’s set to thrust him into an even greater level of success. Featuring a supporting cast that includes Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán, William H. Macy, Ricky Jay, and Philip Baker Hall, it’s a well-acted, well-directed, and otherwise great film.

Okja (2017; first-time watch) — After taking over The Mirando Corporation from her evil father, Lucy (Tilda Swinton) is faced with the uphill battle of cleaning up its image. She announces a competition in which a number of giant pigs will be raised in different parts of the world to find the best super pig. A young girl named Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) is raising one named Okja, along with her father. Their pig wins the competition, but when she learns that it’s going to be taken away from her, she decides that she must stop it. It’s a very good movie that starts off light and fun but has an abruptly morose ending.

Halloween (1978; rewatch) — Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is chasing an escaped mental patient named Michael Myers (played by Tony Moran) back to his hometown on Halloween night. Meanwhile, good girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is babysitting while friends Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P.J. Soles) are each exploring a more adult kind of fun. But Michael Myers is coming for them, and he’s really hard to stop. It’s a terrific film that would be great enough on its own, but it’s also responsible for so many other great (and not-so-great) horror movies.

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017; first-time watch) — The bad moms (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn) are back, and it’s Christmas. Now they’re each being haunted by visits from their own bad moms (Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, and Susan Sarandon). It’s like a very crappy version of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation made by filmmakers who aren’t funny and don’t particularly seem to care about doing a good job.

Black Sunday (1960; first-time watch) — A woman (Barbara Steele) who was put to death a couple hundred years ago after being convicted of being a vampire and being a witch. When a man accidentally breaks the cross on her tomb and spills some of his blood on it, her spirit is awoken and wants to find a body to possess. By a fantastic stroke of luck, the current princess (also played by Steele) looks exactly like the witch. Like most films by Mario Bava, it can be a bit slow at times, but it’s certainly worth watching.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962; rewatch) — Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) is a young, idealistic lawyer who travels to a small town to set up a law practice. On the way, he’s robbed and severely beaten by a gang led by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). The town’s marshall (Andy Devine) is a lazy coward who isn’t going to do anything about it, and the only man who can stand up to Valance is Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), but he doesn’t have much respect for Ransom and doesn’t seem to want to help. Meanwhile, Tom’s girl Hallie (Vera Miles) begins to fall for Ransom. It’s a very good film, although it feels like it spoils itself a bit in the way by telling most of the story through flashbacks.

The Peanut Butter Solution (1985; first-time watch) — When a fire breaks out in an abandoned house and kills a couple of homeless people, a young kid named Michael is intent on looking into that house. He sees something so scary that his hair falls out and he’s stricken with embarrassment. But the spirit of one of the deceased appears to him and gives him the recipe for a concoction that should allow him to regrow his hair. But he doesn’t follow the recipe exactly and ends up with hair that just won’t stop growing. It just gets weirder from there and turns into one of the greatest things to have ever come out of Canada.

Daddy’s Home 2 (2017; first-time watch) — Brad and Dusty (Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) have stopped fighting over Sara (Linda Cardellini) and are now the best of friends. But then their dads (John Lithgow and Mel Gibson) come visit for Christmas, and things get tense again. It’s markedly better than its predecessor but still falls far short of being a good movie.

Thriller (aka They Call Her One Eye; 1973; first-time watch) — Frigga (Christina Lindberg) is a mute girl who is kidnapped and forced into heroin addiction and prostitution. She can’t leave her pimp because he’s her drug supplier and she’s told she won’t last more than a couple of days without a fix. But she spends her spare time mastering marksmanship, martial arts, and high-speed driving, all in preparation for her chance at revenge. It’s no Ms .45, but it provides a pretty badass female vengeance movie with a different perspective than you’ve seen other movies of this type.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974; rewatch) — A man (Richard Widmark) is murdered just before the train he’s riding gets stuck in a snowdrift. There just happens to be a world-class detective (Albert Finney) on board, and a representative of the railroad (Martin Balsam) asks him to try to solve the crime before help arrives to get the train going again. There are a lot of suspects, but everyone seems to have an alibi. It may not be Sidney Lumet’s greatest directorial effort, but with a star-studded cast that also includes Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, and Michael York, it’s a very solid adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel of the same name.

Sunset Boulevard (1950; rewatch) — Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a once-successful screenwriter who is now struggling to pay the bills. While avoiding debt collectors trying to repossess his car, he takes shelter in what he assumes to be an abandoned house but is actually the home of former film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her servant Max (Erich von Stroheim). Desmond enlists Joe’s help to fix up the screenplay to a film that she hopes will bring her back into stardom, and soon Joe finds himself something of a kept man. It’s an absolutely terrific film, completely deserving of his reputation as one of the all-time great classics.

The Art of Dying (1991; first-time watch) — Jack (Wings Hauser) is a cop who doesn’t like to play by the rules. He’s on the hunt for a snuff filmmaker who’s killing girls who hope to break into acting. It’s like a much lesser and much weirder version of Peeping Tom, but it’s still kind of fascinating in its own way, mostly thanks to Hauser’s unpredictability and signature style.

Peeping Tom (1960; rewatch) — Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) works for a film studio as a camera operator, and makes extra money on the side by taking pictures of girls in sexy scenarios. But his real passion is instilling fear in women and capturing their reactions, and their deaths, on film. He befriends a woman (Anna Massey) who lives in his apartment building and desperately tries not to get caught and not to succumb to the urge to kill her. It’s a very creepy film that is a very significant departure from the kind of movie that director Michael Powell had been known for up to this point.

The Devil’s Backbone (2001; rewatch) — During the Spanish Civil War, a young boy named Carlos finds himself left at an orphanage. It’s a haunted orphanage, plagued by the spirit of a boy named Santi who died there several years ago. While under constant threat from the war outside, and from a less-than-honorable staff member, Carlos is intent on learning the truth about Santi.

Lady Bird (2017; first-time watch) — Christine (Saoirse Ronan) has given herself a new name: Lady Bird. She’s a high school senior who constantly fights with her mom (Laurie Metcalf) to the point that she is desperate to go away to college on the other side of the country. She doesn’t have the best grades, and she’s not all that popular, and money is extremely tight when her father (Tracy Letts) loses his job, but she is determined to get away. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, it’s a surprisingly good film, and certainly much better than the ones Gerwig normally appears in.

The Funhouse (1981; rewatch) — A carnival is in town, and a group of kids go to have fun. They decide to hide out and spend the night in one of the rides, but then they witness a murder and are discovered. It’s a pretty lackluster film from Tobe Hooper with a few promising leads that never go anywhere.

California Typewriter (2016; first-time watch) — This documentary features a number of typewriter enthusiasts (including Tom Hanks, Sam Shepard, and John Mayer) and a look at the people in and around one of the last remaining stores to sell and repair typewriters. It’s a reasonably entertaining film, even if it does little to inspire others to become typewriter enthusiasts.

Doppelganger (1993; rewatch) — Holly (Drew Barrymore) comes from a haunted family. Her brother has already been locked up in an asylum for murder, and there’s also reason to suspect that she’s killed, too. She finds Patrick (George Newbern), who has a room for rent and decides to stay with him while she works things out. But she seems to have two completely different personalities, and we soon find that there’s someone who looks and sounds exactly like her and is intent on getting her out of the picture. It’s a dull movie with a dumb ending and a lot of un-subtle references that I’m sure it thinks are very clever.

A Christmas Tale (2006; first-time watch) — Junon (Catherine Deneuve) is the matriarch of a family of a bunch of awful people. It’s Christmas, and they’ve all gotten together to be awful en masse. She’s got cancer and needs a bone marrow transplant from someone, and there are two possible matches: a grandson who’s not all there, and a son who is constantly terrible. If it were shorter, it would be a bad movie, but at two and a half hours, it’s excruciating.

Trouble in Paradise (1932; first-time watch) — A con artist (Herbert Marshall) and a pickpocket (Miriam Hopkins) fall in love and join forces to rob a wealthy businesswoman (Kay Francis). But suspicions about who they really are begin to mount, and their job becomes more difficult. Also featuring Charles Ruggles, it’s a very solid romance caper film that’s short and to the point.

The People Under the Stairs (1991; rewatch) — When his family is about to be evicted from their apartment, a young kid is approached b a thief (Ving Rhames) about a way that they can prevent it. The creepy couple who own the apartment building have a valuable coin collection stashed away. They decide to steal it, only to learn that the couple already has plenty of prisoners in their old mansion and would rather kill than enslave. It’s a reasonably fun movie from Wes Craven, even if it depends too heavily on jump scares.

The Challenge (2016; first-time watch) — There are a lot of people in Qatar who have much more money than they know what to do with. This documentary provides a look, without comment or narration, at the lives of many of these sheiks and their unusual lifestyles that seem to be a mix of lavish and primitive. Many of them are into falconry, and they like to take their SUVs out into the desert to fly their birds and drive like maniacs. It’s a pretty short film at only 69 minutes, but I wouldn’t want it to last any longer.

Yes, Madam! (1985; first-time watch) — A trio of criminals get mixed up in a murder when they steal a dead man’s passport. It’s an international incident, and a local cop (Michelle Yeoh) is teamed up with an agent from Scotland Yard (Cynthia Rothrock) to investigate. It’s a very typical Hong Kong action movie with bumbling criminals, but it’s elevated by the ass-kicking female duo, even if it could use a lot more ass-kicking scenes.

Death Wish (1974; rewatch) — After an attack leaves his wife dead and daughter distraught, Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) decides to clean up the city by taking out a bunch of criminals. The police want to catch him, but the public likes his brand of vigilante justice. Featuring Jeff Goldblum as one of the attackers, it’s a violent movie, but a good one that inspired a wave of vigilante cinema.

Ishtar (1987; rewatch) — A pair of terrible songwriters (Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty) can’t find much luck in America, so they decide to take their agent’s offer to play at a hotel in Morocco. They soon find themselves mixed up with the CIA, communists, and freedom fighters (including Isabelle Adjani). It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch, but it’s fun enough, and its reputation as a terrible movie is pretty undeserved.

Open Secret (1948; first-time watch) — A small town is plagued by a secret society intent on eliminating, or at least heavily oppressing, the Jewish population. A newlywed couple gets mixed up in this as they come to visit a friend only to find that he has been kidnapped. The more they investigate, the darker things get. A tight 68 minutes, it was very bold and timely for its release in 1948, and it still feels that way today.

Coco (2017; first-time watch) — Miguel is a young Mexican boy in a family of music-hating shoemakers. His great-great grandfather walked out on his great-great grandmother to share his music with the world, and she never forgave him, and she made sure that her family didn’t either. But Miguel loves music and wants to pursue it despite their objections. But on the Day of the Dead, he finds himself somehow transported to the land of the deceased, and his only hope is to track down his great-great grandfather. The story is a little predictable, but it still manages to toy with your emotions and the presentation is very fresh.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017; first-time watch) — Frustrated with the police department’s lack of results in solving her daughter’s murder, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) rents three billboards calling out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) in the hopes that it will rile them up into something that might lead to a break in the case. But it makes a lot of people mad, including officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), and they seek retaliation. What follows is an intricate, unexpected, and exceptional drama from writer/director Martin McDonagh.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017; first-time watch) — Roman J. Israel is a lawyer with an incredible memory, a lot of ideals, and no social skills. He’s spent decades working behind the scenes for a trial lawyer, but when his partner has a heart attack, he learns that the firm is in debt and can’t continue. Roman has been living on a miniscule salary and can’t afford to be out of work, so he’s forced into working for George Pierce (Colin Farrell), who has agreed to take over the open cases. Pierce is a powerhouse attorney who cares much more about rushing the high-paying clients through as quickly as possible than he does about taking care of people or doing what’s right. After getting beaten down long enough, Roman succumbs to the temptation of making some money for himself, and that’s where things go bad for both him and the movie.

Legacy of Satan (1974; first-time watch) — As far as I can tell, this is supposed to be a horror movie about a blood-drinking cult, but the plot is pretty indiscernible. Maybe that’s because it was originally created as an adult film, but then it had all of the adult content cut out, leaving 68 minutes of the most boring and least sexy content you can imagine.

I Come in Peace (aka Dark Angel; 1990; rewatch) — Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) is a cop who doesn’t always do things by the book. When a sting operation goes bad, and his partner ends up dead, Caine is paired up with FBI Agent Smith (Brian Benben), who always does things by the book. But the book gets thrown out the window when we find that a pair of aliens are trashing the city while one harvests humans to create a potent drug while the other tries to bust him. With bit parts for Sam Anderson and Michael J. Pollard, it’s a dumb movie that is a lot of fun to watch.

Strangers on a Train (1951; rewatch) — Professional tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is recognized on a train ride by Bruno Antony (Robert Walker), who insists on stealing all of Guy’s attention. Bruno describes a plan that he has to commit two perfect murders, by having two people who don’t know each other to kill someone for the other. He talks about killing Guy’s pain-in-the-ass wife (Kasey Rogers) so that he’ll be free to marry his true love (Ruth Roman), and in return, Guy would kill Bruno’s overbearing father. Guy listens politely but doesn’t think anything of it until his wife ends up dead and now Bruno insists that Guy do his part. It’s one of Hitchcock’s best friends, and it’s based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, so it’s something that simply must be seen.

Movies Watched Theatrically in October 2017

Battle of the Sexes (2017; first-time watch) — When a professional tennis league starts offering male winners much bigger prizes than female winners, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and a number of other women leave and form their own league. Seeing this as an opportunity to get publicity for himself and feed his gambling addiction, the 55-year-old former professional player Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) challenges King to a match with the intention of proving that men are superior to women. It’s a fine movie, but it’s very predictable, and the tennis scenes are just not that exciting. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/10/02/battle-of-the-sexes/.

Tank Girl (1995; first-time watch) — It’s a post-apocalyptic world where water is very scarce. The Water And Power Company is a giant corporation, helmed by a cartoonish dick played by Malcolm McDowell, that wants to control all of an underground oasis. They’ve got the majority of it, but a small patch is still out of their reach. Rebecca (Lori Petty) lives there and isn’t giving it up, but they come in with force and take her hostage. She meets up with Jet (Naomi Watts), a mechanic who’s also being held prisoner, and together they plot to escape and get revenge. This movie is unbearably awful, almost as if every scene were designed to be the most annoying thing ever created.

XTRO (1982; rewatch) — A man returns after disappearing three years ago. He had been abducted by aliens, and he’s not the same as he was before. He is himself an alien, and he begins converting his family members and those around him. It’s a very British movie and a very weird one. It drags somewhat toward the end but is otherwise pretty decent.

American Movie (1999; first-time watch) — Mark Borchardt is an aspiring filmmaker with a vision of how he wants his film to turn out and the drive to see it through. He’s currently finishing a half-hour short film called Coven that he hopes will make enough money to help him make his next movie, Northwestern. With the help of his friends and relatives, he hopes to make his dream a reality. While Mark has a highly abrasive personality and level of recklessness that I’m sure would be unbearable in real life, and while his best friend Mike is burned out and uninspired, their story makes for some tremendous entertainment.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964; first-time watch) — Guy falls in love with Geneviève but has to go off to war. The night before he leaves, they sleep together, and Geneviève gets pregnant. She and her mother are poor, so she has to decide whether to wait for Guy to return or to marry a rich man who’s there now. It’s a musical, but instead of the occasional song, every word of dialogue is sung in a very unenergetic way to a repetitive, uninspired melody. The movie is such a disappointment across the board that even the font used for the subtitles is annoying.

The Mountain Between Us (2017; first-time watch) — Alex (Kate Winslet) and Ben (Idris Elba) are stuck in an Idaho airport because of the weather. They both have important places to be, so they charter a plane from Walter (Beau Bridges) to fly to another airport. Then they fly into weather, Walter has a stroke, and the plane goes down somewhere in the mountains. They’re stuck in a frozen wasteland without much food or chance of rescue. It’s a pretty decent movie until it goes on for too long and goes out with a crappy ending. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/10/10/the-mountain-between-us/.

Church of the Damned (1985; first-time watch) — An experienced detective and his new partner try to solve a series of murders being committed by a satanic cult called the “Brothorhood [sic] of Darkness”. A shot-on-video horror movie made by twin fifteen-year-old boys, it’s a fun enough movie with some effects that may not be extremely realistic but are nonetheless ambitious and impressive in their own right.

Feeders (1996; first-time watch) — A couple of friends passing through a small town find themselves in the middle of an attack by aliens in flying saucers. Made by the same young filmmakers as Church of the Damned, this movie may have better quality video, but it is far more boring.

The Florida Project (2017; first-time watch) — Bobby (Willem Dafoe) is the manager of a crappy, low-cost Florida hotel near Disney World. He has to walk a fine line between often unpleasant guests and the hard-to-please owner. Halley (Bria Vinaite) lives at the hotel with her daughter Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) make a living by scamming tourists, and both are in severe need of adult supervision. It’s a wonderful film with terrific acting and strong emotional impact. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/10/10/the-florida-project/.

Thirst Street (2017; first-time watch) — Gina (Lindsay Burdge) is a flight attendant who’s just lost her husband. While on a layover in Paris, her colleagues try to cheer her up by taking her out for a night of cabaret where she meets Jérôme (Damien Bonnard), who becomes the new love of her life. The only problem is that he doesn’t feel the same way about her. It’s a well-made film that’s occasionally uncomfortable to watch and occasionally features surreal narration by Anjelica Huston.

Psycho (1960; rewatch) — Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Sam Loomis (John Gavin) are in a long-distance relationship. Marion wants to get married, but Sam wants to wait until he can afford to live somewhere other than in the back of the hardware store where he works. Marion works at a real estate office and sees her chance when an oil baron buys a house with cash, and her boss asks her to take it to the bank. Instead, she absconds with it and heads off to see Sam. But when it starts pouring, she decides to stop for the night at a small hotel run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who lives with his mother in a house next to the hotel. Norman likes Marion, but his mother doesn’t like that he likes her and decides to do something about it. One of the greatest movies of all time made by one of the greatest directors of all time.

Frozen Scream (1980; first-time watch) — A couple of doctors are experimenting with immortality by killing people, freezing them, and bringing them back as zombies. It’s a barely coherent movie that depends heavily on narration to explain what’s going on, and that narration is often clumsily inserted over dialogue that isn’t the most interesting thing you’ve ever heard. The acting is bad and lacks energy, and the production values are pretty low. Nevertheless, it can be pretty entertaining, and often because of the very faults that make it not a great movie by most traditional measures.

Mr. Vampire III (1987; first-time watch) — A man who has made friends with ghosts uses them to scam people by having the ghosts haunt houses and then charging the owners to get rid of them. But when he’s caught in the scam and trying to leave town, he encounters a real supernatural scenario and must help to defeat them. This kung-fu film from Hong Kong is very funny and very creative but doesn’t really have all that much to do with vampires.

Blade Runner 2049 (2017; first-time watch) — K (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant who works for the police hunting down and destroying older replicant models that aren’t so good at following instructions. All replicants are artificially created, but he finds evidence that one might have been born. This revelation could trigger a war between humans and replicants, and K’s boss (Robin Wright) tells him to investigate and make the child, and all references to it, disappear. The first half is adequate, but the second half less so. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/10/13/blade-runner-2049/.

Three Ages (1923; first-time watch) — Buster Keaton plays the same basic character in three periods in history: the days of cave men, during the Roman empire, and in the 1920s. He’s a man that women seem to like, but other men really don’t like that women like him, and they try to use force to keep him away. It’s very funny in typical Keaton form and includes some impressive stunts.

Lisa and the Devil (1973; first-time watch) — Lisa (Elke Sommer) gets lost in an unfamiliar city and hitches a ride with a couple whose car breaks down, and they’re forced to spend the night at a nearby mansion. She keeps encountering a mysterious man (a lollipop-obsessed Telly Savalas) who always seems to be around one or more life-size dolls. As time goes by, she starts to realize that the dolls look like real people she’s also met. It’s a Mario Bava film that looks great and has vivid colors and some great ideas, but it does have some pacing issues toward the end.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017; first-time watch) — Bill Marston (Luke Evans) is a professor of psychology. He and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), who can’t get a degree from Harvard because she’s a woman, are doing research leading to the creation of a lie detector and the DISC theory of human behavior. They need an assistant, so they get Olive (Bella Heathcote), one of his students, to help them out, and their relationship becomes complicated. This ultimately leads to the unlikely and unconventional origin of the Wonder Woman comic, and Marston’s need to defend it against puritanical, book-burning opponents. Based on a true story, it’s a fairly entertaining and well-made film that goes into some pretty unexpected territory,

The General (1926; rewatch) — Civil war has broken out. Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton) is a train engineer who wants to enlist in the confederate army, but they think he’s more valuable in his current job. And when union soldiers steal a train and plan to use it against the south, Johnnie chases after them in a desperate attempt to stop them. It’s a silent masterpiece of physical comedy and a true must-watch film.

Wolf Warrior 2 (2017; first-time watch) — Leng Feng (Jing Wu) used to be a member of the elite Wolf Warrior squadron of the Chinese army, but he was stripped of his rank and locked up after killing a bad man who was terrorizing a family. And while he was in jail, some bad guys killed his fiancée, and now he wants revenge. He’s traveling the world trying to find out who’s responsible, and he finds himself in the middle of a civil war in Africa. He’s got to rescue a prestigious Chinese doctor and his godson’s mother, and he’s got to do it alone. It’s tough to describe how utterly ridiculous this movie is. It’s bad by just about every measure there is, except the measure of how utterly enjoyable it is. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/10/15/wolf-warrior-2/.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017; first-time watch) — After losing his job as a mechanic, Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn) goes to work as a delivery man for a drug dealer. Things go well until they don’t, and he’s sent to prison while also making powerful enemies on the outside. They kidnap his wife and promise to do bad things to him unless he takes out somebody on the inside. It’s much more a slow-burn film than the title would expect, but it comes through with some pretty brutal violence. It’s definitely not the role you for which Vaughn might be your first choice, but he’s quite good in it.

Happy Death Day (2017; first-time watch) — Tree (that’s actually the character’s name; played by Jessica Rothe) is a sorority girl ąnd a horrendous bitch. There are so many people who want to kill her, and someone is acting on it. It’s her birthday, and she keeps getting killed, but each time she wakes up in the dorm room of some guy (Israel Broussard) who took pity on her after she got blackout drunk the night before. It’s Groundhog Day as a slasher movie, not unlike Camp Slaughter. It’s also very bad, not unlike Camp Slaughter.

The Foreigner (2017; first-time watch) — Quan (Jackie Chan) is a Chinese immigrant living in London with his daughter. When she’s killed in an IRA bombing, Quan makes a real nuisance of himself by harassing the British police about the investigation to the point that it actually hampers the investigation. Relief only comes for the British police when Quan sees Irish politician Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) on television making a statement about the bombing. Hennessy has former ties to the IRA, so Quan will now start harassing him to give him the names of the bombers. Hennessy doesn’t know who did it, so he can’t help, so Quan decides to take matters into his own hands and screw with Hennessy’s attempts to track down the bombers by becoming a terrorist himself. It’s hard to feel any sympathy whatsoever for Quan, or for anyone else in the movie for that matter. There are no good guys; there are just different sets of bad guys with different goals. It doesn’t make for a very good movie, and the real kicker is that Quan is just in the way for the entire movie, and all the real advances in the storyline are in spite of him rather than because of him.

Better Watch Out (aka Safe Neighborhood; 2016; rewatch) — When Robert and Deandra (Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen) need to go out to a party, they hire Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) to babysit their twelve-year-old son Luke (Levi Miller). It should’ve been an easy job, with Ashley’s biggest problem being the need to fend off the affectionate pre-teen. But then the house comes under attack, and she must defend herself and Luke. It’s a fun, Christmas-themed home invasion thriller that holds up fairly well to a second viewing.

Night of the Demons (1988; rewatch) — Angela and Suzanne (Mimi Kinkade and Linnea Quigley) are hosting a Halloween party and have invited several friends. It’s at Hull House, an old abandoned funeral home. At first, it’s just disgusting, but then it gets scary when they start to realize that the house might be possessed and the spirits of demons may be out to get them. It’s got some pretty clumsy exposition, some not-all-that-clever dialogue, and some bad jokes, but it comes through in the end with some decent horror with good effects.

Another Woman (1988; first-time watch) — Marion (Gena Rowlands) has moved into a new apartment to seclude herself while writing a new book. But the apartment is next door to a psychiatrist, and she can hear the therapy sessions through a vent in her wall. She tries not to listen in, but she eventually succumbs, and it causes her to start thinking about her own life. It’s not the light comedy I expected from a Woody Allen film, but it’s a surprisingly good film.

A Simple Plan (1998; rewatch) — Hank, Jacob, and Lou (Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Brent Briscoe) come across a snow-covered plane crash and find a bag full of money inside it. Hank wants to report it to the police, but the others convince him that they should keep it. He relents, but only on the condition that they don’t touch the money until the plane crash is discovered when the snow thaws in the spring. But things don’t go as planned and the guys find themselves in one bind after another. It’s a solid crime thriller with good performances, but it does feel like it could be a little shorter.

Barracuda (2017; first-time watch) — Merle (Allison Tolman) is the daughter of a fairly famous folk singer who died a few years ago. One day, she’s surprised by a woman (Sinaloa, played by Sophie Reid) on her doorstep claiming that they share the same father. Merle hopes that this will be a one-time meeting, but her fiance Raul (Luis Bordonada) is more hospitable and invites Sinaloa to stay with them. It’s a dark film that calls itself a thriller, but there’s really nothing thrilling about it.

Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928; first-time watch) — Haggard, longtime captain William “Steamboat Bill” Canfield (Ernest Torrence) and his foppish, recent-college-graduate son William Jr. (Buster Keaton) are trying to keep their business afloat after wealthy businessman J.J. King (Tom McGuire) decides he wants to get into steamboating and buys a bigger and better boat for himself. Meanwhile, Bill Jr. and King’s daughter Kitty (Marion Byron) know each other from school and are sweet on each other, but their fathers don’t want them to have anything to do with each other. It’s mostly a very funny Romeo and Juliet-type story, but then it really changes gears and amps up the physical comedy in the finale with some truly impressive stunts. While not as well known as The General, it’s every bit as good.

Spider Baby (1967; rewatch) — The Merrye family has a rare genetic disorder that prevents them from fully developing mentally, and even to start regressing once they reach a certain point. Teenagers have the mental faculties of children, and the adults are more like toddlers. They rely on their caretaker (Lon Chaney, Jr.), but a distant relative is claiming ownership of their family home and threatening their way of life. The children, including one who likes to play spider, react violently. It’s a fun, dark, and quick film that holds up really well to a rewatch.

The Brood (1979; rewatch) — Nola (Samantha Eggar) is in therapy under the care of Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed). She’s not allowed to see her husband Frank (Art Hindle), but she is allowed occasional visits from her daughter Candy (Cindy Hinds). After one such visit, Frank notices bruises and scratches on Cindy’s back and tries to block her visits with Nola, but Nola doesn’t like that and reacts in a very Cronenbergy way.

Syetan (aka Devil aka Turkish Exorcist; 1974; first-time watch) — A little girl begins exhibiting strange behavior. Doctors can’t explain it, and the mother comes to believe that she’s been possessed by a demon. She eventually convinces a psychiatrist and a priest to perform an exorcism to help save the daughter. It’s a blatant Turkish ripoff of The Exorcist that remains pretty true to the original story, albeit with less talent and a much smaller budget. It’s decent enough, but would probably be greatly improved by editing to make it a tighter film.

College (1927; rewatch) — Ronald (Buster Keaton) graduated at the top of his high school class, but the girl he loves (Mary, played by Anne Cornwall) is put off by his obsession with academics and scorn of sports. So when he goes to college, he tries a number of sports, including baseball and several track and field events, but finds that he’s not a good match for any of them. He’s ruining his academic record while also failing to win over the girl of his dreams. It’s another funny physical comedy from Keaton, but it’s not quite up there with The General or Steamboat Bill Jr. as one of the best of the best.

Stephen King’s It (1990; rewatch) — Thirty years ago, a bunch of children thwarted an attack by a murderous clown. Now he’s back, and he’s back to his old tricks. The kids made a pact to reunite if this should happen, and they’re true to their word. Featuring Harry Anderson, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Jonathan Brandis, Seth Green, Emily Perkins, Tim Curry, and Olivia Hussey, this TV miniseries is substantially better than the recent big-screen installment of the film but is still not exactly a masterpiece.

Geostorm (2017; first-time watch) — When Earth’s climate change gets out of control, an international group of scientists comes up with a plan to save the planet and the people on it. They’ll circle the globe with a satellite network that will monitor things on earth and take action if necessary to keep things in check. But it seems like it’s being sabotaged and the man who built it (Gerard Butler) must figure out what’s going on before it sets off a worldwide storm system that will kill everyone. It is a terrible sci-fi disaster movie that is terribly fun to watch if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing.

Retribution (1987; first-time watch) — George (Dennis Lipscomb) tries to commit suicide by jumping off a building, but he survives. After some physical and psychological rehabilitation, he’s released to go home, but he has horrible nightmares about killing people, and when he wakes up, he finds those people are now dead in the way that he dreamt. Featuring Hoyt Axton in a small role as a detective, it’s a pretty entertaining movie that doesn’t always go where you expect.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982; rewatch) — Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is a doctor at a hospital where a man’s face is pulled apart by someone who then commits suicide by setting himself on fire. He becomes intrigued by the case, as does the victim’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin). Their investigation takes them to a small town with a factory making the year’s most popular Halloween accessory: glow-in-the-dark masks with a pervasive advertising campaign and a promise of a big giveaway on Halloween night. Although the film is maligned because it’s the one Halloween movie that doesn’t feature Michael Myers, it’s actually really good, and it stands the test of time and holds up well to multiple viewings.

Last Flag Flying (2017; first-time watch) — Shortly after losing his wife to cancer, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) learns that his son was killed during a military tour in Iraq. Larry seeks out his old Vietnam War pals, Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) to accompany him on the trip to retrieve his son’s body and see that he’s given a proper burial. It’s a terrific film with amazing genuine performances. It finds the perfect balance of grief and humor so that it’s serious when it needs to be but isn’t a complete downer.

They Live (1988; rewatch) — A couple of construction workers (Roddy Piper and Keith David) learn that Earth is secretly ruled by an alien race who control people with subliminal messages, and it gets them in a lot of trouble. It’s not a subtle movie, and it seems like Piper has a lot of ad libs that aren’t as clever as he thinks they are, but it’s also a John Carpenter movie, and it’s great.

Murder Party (2007; rewatch) — Chris (Chris Sharp) gets an invitation to something called a murder party, and he decides to go. It turns out that it’s a project put together by a group of artists, and he’s the one who’s going to be murdered. It’s writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s first feature and features Macon Blair in an early film role, and while it’s not as impressive as either Blue Ruin or Green Room, it was made on a shoestring budget and is nonetheless highly entertaining and gets more impressive as the story unfolds.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017; first-time watch) — Steven (Colin Farrell), a cardiac surgeon, befriends Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of a man who died on his operating table a couple of years ago. Martin starts demanding more of Steven’s time and tries to make himself part of the family, including Steven’s wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and children Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Sujlic). When Steven starts to push back against Martin, and to avoid advances from Martin’s mother (Alicia Silverstone), Martin starts to become less friendly. It’s a really good film that doesn’t try to offer any explanation for the things that are happening but sucks you in nonetheless.

Suburbicon (2017; first-time watch) — The lives of the Lodge family (with members played by Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Noah Jupe) are severely disrupted when their house is invaded by a couple of men who drug them and leave the mother dead. As the incident is investigated by the police and an insurance agency, strange things start to emerge. The main story line is adequate, even if it sloppily relies a little too heavily on deus ex machina, but it’s weirdly interspersed with a second storyline about a black family being made to feel unwelcome when they move into a formerly all-white neighborhood, and all of that footage feels very out of place.

The Monster Squad (1987; rewatch) — When monsters invade a small town, kids are the only ones who take notice and act to fend them off. It’s pretty clearly a knockoff of The Goonies but with monsters, and while it’s a lesser film, it’s got some good ideas, and it’s still pretty fun to watch.

The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920; first-time watch) — A rabbi creates a large man out of clay and brings it to life with a magic amulet. He hopes to use the golem to protect the Jewish people from the oppressive rulers. He has some success, but he also doesn’t have as much control over the golem as he would like. It’s like a German expressionist precursor to Frankenstein, and it’s not quite as amazing as the later James Whale film, but it’s still an impressive under-seen work.

Frankenstein (1931; rewatch) — Doctor Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has found the secret to creating life, and he demonstrates that by constructing a creature (Boris Karloff) from parts taken from a number of people. However, the creature escapes and begins inadvertently terrorizing the townspeople and interfering with Henry’s ability to marry his beloved Elizabeth (Mae Clarke). It’s a masterpiece of horror packed into 70 minutes, a feat that director James Whale repeated with its sequel, Bride of Frankenstein.