Wolf Warrior 2

I watch a lot of movies in the theater, but it’s a very rare occasion that I’m the only one at a screening. Even at the most obscure, most off-time, and most likely terrible movies, there is usually at least one other person in attendance. But the theater was empty when I went to see Wolf Warrior 2, and that’s an even bigger crime than there being non-empty screenings of Blade Runner 2049, It, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Leng Feng (Jing Wu, who also wrote and directed the film) was a member of the elite Wolf Warrior squadron of the Chinese army, but he was stripped of his rank and thrown in jail after killing a man who was taking way too much pleasure in evicting the family of a fallen comrade. And while he was locked up, Leng received word that his fiancée had been assassinated by mercenaries. Now, he travels the globe looking for the men who killed her, with an unusual bullet as his only clue.

One day, his travels bring him to Africa, where he’s visiting his godson. Civil war breaks out, and the rebels have captured strategic targets of particular interest to the Chinese, including a hospital with a doctor working on a cure for a deadly epidemic and a factory where his godson’s mother works. The rebels have hired ruthless mercenaries, led by a guy named Big Daddy (Frank Grillo), to do their dirty work. The U.S. Marines have already fled, and the Chinese military wants to go in, but the U.N. won’t permit it without incontrovertible evidence that Chinese citizens are being slaughtered. Their only hope is for one man to go in alone, and Leng is that man.

The script for this movie must have been written in Chinese because the English language cannot adequately describe how unbelievably ridiculous the movie is. It’s awful in just about every technical way that a movie can be. The CGI is bad, the acting is terrible, and the overacting is even worse. It’s dripping with anti-American propaganda, while absolutely gushing with pro-Chinese (and in that regard, the last scene of the film truly takes the cake). The mercenaries are almost like characters in a cartoon or video game, with one in particular (Bear, played by Oleg Prudius) being nothing short of the real-life version of Zangief from the Street Fighter series. And the hero, Leng, is like Rambo, John McClane, Martin Riggs from Lethal Weapon, and “Maverick” Pete Mitchell from Top Gun (complete with shirtless soccer scene) all rolled into one.

But despite all of these faults, and even because of some of them, Wolf Warrior 2 is pure joy to watch. It’s over two hours long, and while it’s not all action, there’s not a second of boredom to be found anywhere in the film. It opens with Leng single-handedly thwarting a pirate attack on a ship, and it accelerates from there. There’s nothing he can’t do, from catching a rocket fired at him, to making an instantaneous recovery from an incurable disease, to bouncing back from countless attacks that would have incapacitated a lesser man. If you’re not into action movies, or if you can’t enjoy movies that are just one glaringly obvious flaw after another, then this may not be the one for you. But if you can get into the world this film puts you in and just go with all the amazing insanity it throws at you, then Wolf Warrior 2 is one that you need to see.

Blade Runner 2049

There are several cuts of the original Blade Runner movie, but the theatrical release was just about two hours long, and I honestly find it kind of dull and not as great as most people seem to think. The new Blade Runner 2049 is almost an hour longer, and you feel it. It actually seems like two movies in one, with the second one being the weaker of the two and largely unnecessary.

The new film picks up several years after the end of the first. The original line of replicants are still outlawed, there are still some in hiding, and there are still blade runners that track them down and kill them. But there’s also a new line of replicants that’s much better at following instructions. K (Ryan Gosling) is one of those newer replicants, but he’s also a blade runner. All replicants are artificially created, but K uncovers evidence that suggests a female replicant had a baby. When he tells his boss (Robin Wright), she freaks out, convinced that if anyone finds out, it’ll create a war between humans and replicants. So she sends K out on a mission to find and destroy the replicant offspring for the sake of civilization.

This is the premise for the first half of the movie, and if it had ended with that storyline, then it would’ve been fine. Well, it still would’ve had substantial problems, but being way too long with a much less creative and interesting second half wouldn’t have been one of them. I do like how the movie’s future is extrapolated from our world as it existed in 1982, with references to things that existed then but not now, and ideas from the first movie that seem dumber in retrospect but are nevertheless still part of the movie world. The extended use of drones is a nice way of incorporating newer technology into the film, but the extended use of droning on the soundtrack is far less welcome, and Hans Zimmer really needs to learn a new trick or two. And maybe Gosling should also take a page from the same book because while he was very good in Drive, maybe it would be good if he played a different character from time to time.

But one of the biggest problems with the movie is the basic premise that it is somehow possible for replicants to have baby replicants that grow up to be adult replicants. If, like in the original story, replicants are androids comprised of a mix of organic and inorganic materials, then this doesn’t make even the slightest bit of sense because the inorganic components wouldn’t be reproduced and wouldn’t grow. But if we assume that replicants are purely organic creatures that have just been genetically engineered to be superior to humans in some ways (for example, in strength, tolerance to pain, and ability to heal), while also engineered to be slaves without free will, and that also somehow enter the world as fully-formed adults without ever being children, then that doesn’t make any sense either. I suppose that there could be a middle ground in which replicants have some inorganic material but that the offspring would be purely organic, but the movie doesn’t seem to pursue that possibility at all.

There are plenty of other things wrong with the movie. Jared Leto is in it, for one. It’s also got a holographic character that is done in a fairly illogical manner, and it steals a creepy sex scene idea from Her but make it creepier and more annoying. And I don’t even want to get into anything in the second half of the movie because it would be difficult to do so without spoiling things, and it’s just not good enough to warrant the effort.

Maybe if you’re a big enough fan of the original movie, you can overlook all of these problems and still come away enjoying it. Its high ratings on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes certainly seem to suggest that. But while I can appreciate the first Blade Runner, I just plain don’t find it all that enjoyable to watch, and the sequel doesn’t do much to change my opinion of the franchise.

The Florida Project

Florida Man is a kind of mythical creature that stems from the perception that Floridians seem to get into the weirdest predicaments and commit the dumbest crimes. It’s become an internet meme, and there’s no shortage of evidence to support its existence. And if you are someone who believes in the existence of Florida Man, then The Florida Project won’t do anything to dissuade you from that belief.

The film features Willem Dafoe as Bobby, the manager of a very low-cost hotel in Florida not too far from Disney World. He’s a good guy who’s dedicated to his job, and probably the film’s best argument against the Florida Man stereotype, but he has to deal with a lot of crap. Some of it comes from the hotel’s hard-to-please owner, but the lion’s share comes from the customers. A hotel that only costs $38 a night tends to attract a certain type of “Florida Man” clientele, and Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her daughter Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) definitely qualify. Moonee runs around unsupervised all day with her friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), scamming money from tourists, breaking into places they shouldn’t be, and getting into all kinds of trouble. But when Halley is supervising, things don’t go much differently. She’s much more a friend than a mom, and she’s the source of most of Moonee’s scamming skills. She’s been in trouble with the law in the past and really wants to avoid getting caught again, while also trying to scrape together enough money for the rent every week.

The Florida Project is a tremendous film that shines in just about every way. The performances are terrific across the board, and Dafoe sells a complicated role as ably as you’d expect from him, but Brooklyn Prince really comes through with something special that runs the gamut from pure delight in being an asshole to utter heartbreak and despair. The characters are all really well developed and seem very real, and here Dafoe’s Bobby is the shining example, where you start out with one perception of him and soon start to realize that it’s something very different, and yet the basis of your first impression is still valid and consistent with the more complete picture you have of him. It also helps that the story stays fresh by not always going where you expect, and by revealing information in a sneakily gradual manner so that things seem complete enough when you’re watching them unfold, but that take on new depth when additional details emerge.

But as good as it is, The Florida Project may not be for everyone. There are times without much in the way of plot, and the ending is kind of abrupt at a point when you’re looking for more resolution. It can be a very rewarding film, but it doesn’t always do things the way you’re used to, and there were people at the screening I attended who weren’t sure what to make of the ending. But I think that the more you reflect on the movie, the more likely it is that you’ll be impressed at what it’s able to accomplish without a lot of budget but with a whole lot of heart and talent.

The Mountain Between Us

Having grown up in the midwest, I’ve got plenty of experience with cold weather, but I haven’t had that much exposure to mountainous terrain. Fortunately, I live in Texas now, and I don’t have to deal with either all that often, and I’m completely okay with that.

Alex (Kate Winslet) is getting married tomorrow. Ben (Idris Elba) is a neurosurgeon who has an important life-saving procedure in the morning. But neither of those things is happening in Idaho, which is where they are currently stuck in an airport with a storm blowing in. Not wanting to take “no” for an answer, Alex tracks down a pilot (Walter, played by Beau Bridges) who’s willing to fly them in his private plane to another airport that’s still open where they can catch flights that will get them to their respective destinations on time. Then Walter has a stroke while flying over the Rockies and the plane goes down. Walter doesn’t survive the crash, and Alex is pretty banged up, but Ben comes out mostly unscathed. They stay with the plane for a few days hoping for rescue, but once they realize that help isn’t coming, they set out on a likely hopeless trek through the snow-covered mountains.

It’s basically Forces of Nature (that crappy Sandra Bullock/Ben Affleck movie) meets The Grey (that very not-crappy Liam Neeson movie). Quality-wise, it falls somewhere in between. When it’s a wilderness survival/buddy road-trip movie, it’s not too bad. They both seem surprisingly well-equipped for their unexpected trek through the mountains, but I suppose you can attribute that to them having been in Idaho for some period of time and they could be good at over-packing. And it’s pretty convenient that Ben, a British doctor, would be so good at improvising shelters and starting fires and the like, and it seems like a real missed opportunity to have given those skills to Alex, a photojournalist who’s traveled the world and faced a variety of dangers, but at least things keep moving at a decent pace.

However, it’s when things get emotional that the movie starts to take a turn for the worse. It’s understandable that the two would form a bond going through this ordeal together, but it really goes off the rails at the end with an unnecessary (and unnecessarily cheesy) conclusion when there were several earlier points where the movie could’ve wrapped things up without spelling everything out for you and leaving things open for interpretation. And since this is what you’re left with when you walk out of the theater, your lasting impression is of disappointment.

Battle of the Sexes

When it comes to watching professional tennis, I find both men’s and women’s matches to be equally uninteresting. But in the early 1970s, the people in charge of the American professional league thought that men’s tennis was much more interesting than women’s. As such, they decided to offer male players much higher tournament prizes than female players. The women were not so happy about this. Led by top-ranked women’s player Billie Jean King (played by Emma Stone), several female players decided to leave the existing league and start a new one, managed by Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman). Many (including rival league president Jack Kramer, played by Bill Pullman) predict that it will flop, but the women find a sponsor and an audience and are making a go of it.

Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is a 55-year-old has-been pro with a gambling addiction and a flair for making a spectacle of himself. Spying an opportunity for self-promotion, he challenges King to a match with the intention of proving that men are just plain better than women. She initially rejects his offer, but the other top women’s player, Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), accepts the challenge and loses, and Billie Jean feels obligated to take the challenge and put Riggs back in his place. Meanwhile, King finds herself in the awkward position of falling for Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), much to the dismay of her husband Larry (Austin Stowell).

Battle of the Sexes is a serviceable biopic with good acting and a star-studded cast that also includes Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Natalie Morales, Fred Armisen, and others. The problem, though, is that the movie just isn’t very exciting, and this all comes down to predictability, runtime, and uninspired action. Although I’m not all that familiar with the original story, and I have to assume that they remained fairly faithful to it, the movie plays out pretty much exactly as you would expect. It takes two hours to do it, and it seems like it takes forever to get around to Billie Jean actually accepting the challenge. And when we finally get to the tennis, it’s not all that impressive or fast-paced. Maybe that’s because Carell and Stone aren’t actually world-class tennis players, but that’s probably something that could be solved with creative editing and other filmmaking magic. And maybe that’s just because tennis as a spectator sport is akin to watching free kicks in soccer, where it mostly comes down to whether you guess right as to where your opponent will send the ball.

The movie’s other big problem, and something that it didn’t make any attempt to address, is that the match is between a 55-year-old man who is no longer playing professionally and a 29-year-old woman who is considered at least one of the best female players in the world. The fact that it’s not a cakewalk for her to beat someone almost twice her age doesn’t do all that much to bolster the film’s premise, and the inevitable ending is pretty anticlimactic. Combine that with the unenthusiastic and unsatisfying conclusion to Billie Jean’s storyline with Marilyn, and the movie goes out with a whimper rather than the bang that you would expect and that the filmmakers probably hoped for.

Movies Watched Theatrically in September 2017

The Seduction of Mimí (1972; first-time watch) — Mimí tries to make an honest living in Sicily, but the mafia makes that difficult. After they have a disagreement over who he voted for in a “secret” election, Mimí decided he would be better off moving to Turin, but the mafia is there, too. He moves anyway, leaves his wife behind, and picks up a mistress who soon bears him a son. He tries to hide this from his wife, but he’s not quite so open-minded when he learns that she has also been fooling around. It’s perhaps a little too long, but it’s funny enough to forgive any slowness.

Patti Cake$ (2017; first-time watch) — Patti (Danielle Macdonald) lives with her alcoholic mom Barb (Bridget Everett) and ailing grandmother (Cathy Moriarty). They are broke, and her crappy job isn’t going to improve things. Patti dreams of becoming a rap singer, with her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). One day, they encounter a mysterious man (Mamoudou Athie) in the cemetery who can help make that happen. Unfortunately, it’s a terrible movie with terrible people who are happy throwing everything away on unrealistic goals, especially when they have so little talent.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977; rewatch) — Roy (Richard Dreyfuss) works for the power company. One night, while investigating an outage, he has a close encounter with a UFO. Other people are there, too, including Jillian (Melinda Dillon) and her toddler son Barry (Cary Guffey), who is soon abducted by the aliens. Roy and Jillian become obsessed with a weird shape, to the detriment of Roy’s family, while an international coalition (led by (François Truffaut with the help of translator Bob Balaban) also try to make sense of the alien visit while convincing the rest of the world it didn’t happen.

Fantasies (aka The Studio Murders; 1982; first-time watch) — Carla (Suzanne Pleshette) is the creator of a wildly popular late-night soap opera named Middleton, USA. Then one of the cast members is murdered. And a second. It seems like someone wants the show off the air. There are some crazy fans who can’t separate fiction from reality, but there are plenty of other suspects as well, from Carla’s ex-husband (Patrick O’Neil) to the head of the network (Robert Vaughn) to a disgruntled former cast member (John Gabriel). Detective Flynn (Barry Newman) has to solve the case before the killer strikes again. It’s a very fun and very meta made-for-TV movie featuring a lot of soap opera actors and other notable faces (also including Barry Corbin and Allyn An McLerie).

The Duellists (1977; first-time watch) — 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.

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988; rewatch) — Angela (Pamela Springsteen) has gotten out of the mental institution and is feeling much better now. She gets a new job as a counselor at Camp Rolling Hills, and things are going great. Except some of her campers seem intent on doing bad things like drinking, drugging, fornicating, exposing themselves, voyeuring, sassing, and bad attituding. So she has to correct them. It’s not as good as its predecessor, but it is very fun and is exactly what it wants to be.

The Lonely Guy (1984; rewatch) — Larry (Steve Martin) was a successful greeting card writer with a great girlfriend. Until he found out she was cheating on him and she kicked him out. Then he became a lonely guy, with the help of fellow lonely guy Warren (Charles Grodin). He tries everything to meet women and keeps running into one (Judith Ivey) who seems to be pretty great, but circumstances keep getting in the way. It’s very funny and has some great cameos, so it’s kind of puzzling that it’s not more well known.

Marjorie Prime (2017; first-time watch) — Marjorie (Lois Smith) is an elderly woman with a failing memory. To keep her company, her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins) have gotten an artificially intelligent holographic representation of her late husband Walter, but it’s the Walter that she remembers (played by Jon Hamm) rather than the way he was when he died. It’s a very staged film with absolutely no energy and not much of a plot. Disappointing. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/09/11/marjorie-prime/.

Love and Anarchy (1973; first-time watch) — Tunin (Giancarlo Giannini) has been recruited by a bunch of anarchists to kill Benito Mussolini. He’s been paired with Salomè (Mariangela Melato), who works in a brothel and will help him make sure that everything is in place. But in the intervening couple of days, Tunin falls for Tripolina (Lina Polito), another one of the prostitutes. It’s more drama than comedy, but it’s got several moments of levity to break up the tension.

Lady Terminator (1989; rewatch) — An anthropologist becomes possessed by the spirit of a sea queen who died 100 years ago and vowed to get revenge against the descendant of the man who killed her. Fortunately, a couple of off-duty police officers were in the club where that descendant is singing, and they find themselves tasked with trying to protect her. It’s an Indonesian rip-off of The Terminator that is thoroughly entertaining for its action, its dubbing, and its occasional use of the wonderfully mulletted Adam Stardust who steals all of his scenes.

Alphaville (1965; rewatch) — A spy named Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) masquerades as reporter Ivan Johnson in an attempt to infiltrate a city named Alphaville on some other planet. Alphaville is run by a computer named Alpha 60 controlled by a scientist named Leonard Nosferatu von Braun (Howard Vernon). Caution wants to get to von Braun, and upon arriving, he meets and falls for Natacha von Braun (Anna Karina), the scientist’s daughter. What follows is a dense and obscure sci-fi film that has a lot of interesting moments but is still hard to fully discern even after multiple watches.

It (2017; first-time watch) — An evil clown named Pennywise is kidnapping the children of Derry, Maine. None of the adults seem to pay much attention to this, but a group of kids notice and band together to try to fight the evil. It’s neither good nor scary, despite its apparently high opinion of itself. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/09/11/it-2017/.

My Blue Heaven (1990; rewatch) — A low-level mobster named Vinnie Antonelli (Steve Martin) is placed in the witness protection program under the care of Barney Coopersmith (Rick Moranis). Vinnie is supposed to testify against higher-ups in exchange for his immunity and protection, but he can’t suppress his criminal urges and frequently finds himself under arrest for all manner of offenses. Coopersmith keeps bailing him out, much to the chagrin of district attorney Hannah Stubbs (Joan Cusack), and yet there’s something charming and charismatic about him that makes it easy to like him while simultaneously hating his guts. It’s a very funny movie with a notable cast that also includes William Hickey, Carol Kane, Deborah Rush, Daniel Stern, Ed Lauter, and Colleen Camp.

Future War (1997; first-time watch) — An alien race of cyborgs has captured and enslaved a number of humans, and they have captured dinosaurs to use to keep the slaves in line. One of those slaves (played by Daniel Bernhardt, who looks like Jean-Claude Van Damme meets Chris Evans meets Tim Daly) escapes and makes his way to Earth. One of the cyborgs (Robert Z’Dar) chases after him with a number of dinosaurs to track him down. The slave meets up with a number of humans, including a former prostitute/current nun-in-training who must band together to fight the dinosaurs and the cyborg. It’s AVP: Alien vs. Predator but with dinosaurs versus humans, but much, much cheaper and much, much more entertaining.

Roxanne (1987; rewatch) — C.D. Bales (Steve Martin) is a small-town fire chief with a big nose, which is a subject of great frustration for him and amusement for many other people. Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) has just moved to the town for the summer and C.D. is instantly attracted to her but can’t believe she would be interested in a guy with his appearance. Instead, he is coerced into helping a hunky young firefighter (Rick Rossovich) win her affections in a very funny adaptation of the Cyrano de Bergerac story that’s at its best when it’s not focusing so much on the Cyrano de Bergerac story.

Home Again (2017; first-time watch) — Fate and alcohol bring Alice (Reese Witherspoon), the 40-year-old mother of two recently separated from her husband Austen (Michael Sheen), into contact with three young filmmakers, Harry, George, and Teddy (Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, and Nat Wolff). Throw Alice’s mom Lillian (Candice Bergen) into the mix, and the young filmmakers end up moving into her guest house. As you might expect, this leads to a lot of ups and downs in what starts out as a sweet film but turns into something fairly mediocre.

[REC] 2 (aka [REC]²; 2009; rewatch) — An apartment building has been sealed off because of a zombie outbreak inside. Soldiers accompany a doctor into the building only to find that it’s not just a run-of-the-mill zombie outbreak. Whereas its excellent predecessor maintained a lot of tension through atmospheric means (plus a great story and great acting), the excellent sequel features a lot of intense action. It’s still found footage, although this film has to resort to coincidence and contrived circumstances for some of that footage, but it’s so good that it’s easy to overlook those problems.

Suspiria (1977; rewatch) — Suzy (Jessica Harper) is an American dancer who’s been invited to attend a German school. But weird things start happening as soon as she arrives. Another dancer who had just left the school is found dead. Suzy finds herself very weak and collapses on the dance floor. The building becomes infested with worms. She’s not sure what’s going on, but she is sure that she doesn’t feel safe. It’s a very atmospheric film, and while I usually prefer film over digital presentations, seeing the brand new, clean 4K restoration of Suspiria with its incredible soundtrack is a step up from seeing it on the faded and scratched print I’d seen a couple of times in the past.

Batman (1989; rewatch) — Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) is secretly a superhero named Batman who helps clean up Gotham City when the police can’t or won’t. Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) is the number two guy of a crime syndicate run by Carl Grissom (Jack Palance), but he ascends to the top after Grissom’s failed attempt to wipe him out disfigures him with a permanent smile and turns him into The Joker. Batman pursues The Joker while he is being pursued by a reporter (Robert Wuhl) and Wayne is pursued by a photographer (Kim Basinger). It’s a good take on the comic story back from when Tim Burton used to make good movies.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979; rewatch) — Earth is threatened by an advanced alien presence, and the USS Enterprise is sent to intercept it. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) takes control of the Enterprise from former captain Decker (Stephen Collins), picks up Bones (DeForest Kelley) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and sets off on a tremendously boring mission that was only made tolerable by the removal of a substantial amount of content that didn’t advance the plot and by Master Pancake Theater mocking what’s left of the movie.

Murder, He Says (1945; rewatch) — Pete Marshall (Fred MacMurray) is a poll-taker who’s looking for a colleague that has gone missing. He comes across Fleagles, a family of hillbillies, and soon learns that they killed his predecessor and intend to do the same to him. But they believe that he knows where one of their relatives has stashed a bunch of stolen money, so they need to get that out of him before they do him in. Also starring Marjorie Main, Helen Walker, Porter Hall, and Peter Whitney, it’s one of MacMurray’s funniest films and far too little known even among film enthusiasts.

Mother! (2017; first-time watch) — Javier Bardem plays a lauded writer who hasn’t written anything in a while. Jennifer Lawrence plays his wife, who is spending all her time restoring his home after a fire and trying to encourage him. Then, an unexpected guest (Ed Harris) shows up, mistakenly believing the house to be a bed and breakfast, and Bardem offers to let him stay overnight, over Lawrence’s objections. Harris invites his wife (Michelle Pfieffer), and then their kids show up, and things quickly spiral out of Lawrence’s control while Bardem becomes suddenly productive and once again beloved by the people. After becoming increasingly ridiculous, the film ultimately reveals its true form as an immensely clunky, heavy-handed, and unpleasant allegory.

Starship Troopers (1997; rewatch) — Humans are at war with an alien race of bug-like creatures. A number of recent graduates from Buenos Aires (Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, and Neil Patrick Harris) enlist in the military and join forces with others (including Jake Busey, Patrick Muldoon, Clancy Brown, and Michael Ironside) to fight. It’s a thoroughly entertaining sci-fi film that’s dripping with propaganda.

Irma Vep (1996; first-time watch) — A French director wants to remake the silent classic Les Vampires and wants Maggie Cheung (playing herself) to star in it. But the French are assholes, the director is having a breakdown, Maggie doesn’t speak the language, and she’s got an unexpected admirer. It’s hectic, stylish, and pretty good overall, but seems a little disjoint with storylines that don’t always go somewhere.

Basket Case 2 (1990; first-time watch) — Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his formerly conjoined twin brother Belial find themselves living in a house with a number of other “freaks”, run by Ruth (Annie Ross) and her granddaughter Susan (Heather Rattray). But a tabloid journalist (Kathryn Meisle) is onto Duane and Belial and wants to get their story, and she’s as intent on getting it as the others are on making sure that she doesn’t. It’s pretty different from the first film, but still entertaining and more reminiscent of classic films like Freaks and contemporaries like Bad Taste and Freaked.

Infinity Baby (2017; first-time watch) — After a stem cell experiment gone wrong, a company is trying to offload around a thousand babies that never age. Neo (Nick Offerman), the head of the company, is stuck cleaning up lots of problems, including bumbling salespeople (Kevin Corrigan and Martin Starr) and a non-committal nephew (Kieran Culkin). It feels a bit rough at times, but it’s pretty funny. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/09/20/infinity-baby/.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988; rewatch) — Lawrence (Michael Caine) is a suave, high-class con artist who specializes in relieving wealthy women of significant amounts of money. Freddy (Steve Martin) is a clumsy, low-class con artist who keeps getting in Lawrence’s way. They repeatedly clash, then briefly team up before squaring off against each other in a competition to see who can take an American soap heiress (Glenne Headly) for $50,000. It’s consistently hilarious and unpredictable, and never skips a beat even when undertaking major shifts in tone.

Serial Mom (1994; rewatch) — Beverly (Kathleen Turner) is the perfect wife (to Sam Waterston), mother (to Matthew Lillard and Ricki Lake), and neighbor (to Mink Stole and Mary Jo Catlett). But she has a very strong sense of right and wrong, and she can’t tolerate people who are in the wrong. Like a teacher criticizing her son’s love of horror movies, a boy cheating on her daughter, or her son’s friend refusing to wear his seat belt. Those infractions must be punished and punished severely. It’s such a terrific and thoroughly entertaining movie that you could hardly guess that it was written and directed by John Waters since all of his other stuff is so unbearably awful.

American Assassin (2017; first-time watch) — Moments after Mitch (Dylan O’Brien) purposes to his girlfriend on a crowded beach, she is killed in a terrorist attack. He devotes the next year and a half of his life to plotting revenge against the terrorists, but he’s sloppy and attracts a lot of attention from government agencies. But rather than lock him up, they hire him for an elite secret team led by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). They need to go after Stan’s former protege (Taylor Kitsch), who is helping the Iranians obtain a nuclear weapon. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, and there’s nothing innovative, noteworthy, or particularly good about this version, but it’s not terrible if this is the kind of thing you want to see.

Thoroughbreds (aka Thoroughbred; 2017; first-time watch) — Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a rich girl who hates her stepfather and is trying not to let on that her life isn’t going as well as she would like. Amanda (Olivia Cooke) is a rich girl who is devoid of emotion, is charged with animal cruelty for the unconventional way she put her horse down, and makes no attempt to hide her problems from the world. They become unlikely friends and decide that they might need to take drastic action to deal with Lily’s dislike of her stepfather. Also featuring Anton Yelchin as a drug dealer whose criminal past is interfering with his future aspirations, it’s a fun dark comedy that is well acted. It progresses slowly but is never boring, and definitely doesn’t make the mistake of showing too much.

The Passenger (short film; 2017; first-time watch) — A former cosmonaut must deal with life back on Earth after an incident long ago. Things keep going wrong for him, and he drinks a lot. We’re stuck watching this guy mope for longer than necessary before the reveal, which is not nearly enough to make up for the tedium of what comes before it.

Salyut-7 (2017; first-time watch) — The titular Soviet space station has taken a hit and lost power and is spinning on all axes. Fortunately, it’s currently unmanned, but without power, it’s only a matter of time until it falls out of its orbit and crashes to Earth, possibly in an inhabited area. And to make matters worse, it looks like those pesky Americans are scrambling to launch a shuttle with a cargo bay conveniently just big enough to hold the small station. The Russians must get there first and fix the station to save Soviet pride, and if they can’t,  then they’ll need to shoot it down to prevent the Americans from getting their hands on it. Based on a true story, it’s quite entertaining but surprisingly melodramatic,  almost to the point of being ridiculous.

Two-Sentence Horror Stories: Singularity (short film; 2017; first-time watch) — A female-identifying transgendered person decides to continue modifying herself by implanting an antenna into her arm that gives her body access to the internet. She can’t consciously use it yet, but she’s definitely getting signals, and then she starts seeing things and suspects that her body might be communicating with others on her behalf. It’s an interesting idea encapsulated in a well-made film.

Vampire Clay (2017; first-time watch) — An art teacher at a small, rural Japanese school comes across a mysterious bag of clay. Her students start using it, and then weird things start happening. The clay begins to take them over. It’s an interesting premise that’s played for laughs at the beginning, and it works well then, despite some pretty crappy effects. But then it starts trying to explain things, and it loses its charm well before it finally comes to an end (then keeps going for a while longer as it tacks on additional unnecessary scenes).

Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse (2017; first-time watch) — Believing her to be a witch, people don’t regard Albrun all that well. She’s harassed whenever she goes out, and the one woman who talks to her doesn’t seem that nice after all. The plot is virtually nonexistent and the pacing glacial, so the film depends entirely on atmosphere, and that is created primarily through bleak imagery and a soundtrack comprised mostly of droning tones. If you saw The Witch and wish it weren’t so modern, cheerful, or action-packed, then Hagazussa may be the movie for you. It is not the movie for me.

Letterkenny (selected TV show episodes) — A hilarious Canadian TV show about a farmer named Wayne (show creator Jared Keeso), his sister Katy (Michelle Mylett), and his best friend Daryl (aka Dairy, played by Nathan Dales). They live in Letterkenny, Ontario, where jocks play hockey, and the skids do drugs and breakdance in goth attire. We watched a selection of six episodes from the first two seasons:

  • S1E1 — Wayne is bummed after the end of a long-term relationship. Dairy suggests that he go to a church group to meet girls, while Katy suggests Tindr, which is confused with Grindr.
  • S1E2 — Wayne must repeatedly defend his title as the best fighter in Letterkenny while he and Katy plan a “soft” birthday party for Dairy.
  • S1E6 — Wayne discovers marijuana growing on his property and has trouble getting rid of it. Meanwhile, the skids incur the wrath of a lady meth dealer for everyone in town.
  • S2E1 — Dairy convinces Wayne be should be president of the agricultural society, Katy starts dating the head skid Stewart, and a couple of hockey jocks move up and find they’re out of their league.
  • S2E3 — Katy hires a matchmaker for Wayne, and he goes on a series of dates. Stewart gives Katy the silent treatment but she doesn’t notice, and the skids kick Stewart out of their group.
  • S2E6 — Wayne tries to find a stud to impregnate Katy’s dog Stormy, but she keeps attacking all comers. Stewart deals with having been kicked out of the skids, and the hockey jocks find they’re not having as much fun as they used to.

Anna and the Apocalypse (2017; first-time watch) — It’s Christmas in Scotland, and high school senior Anna (Ella Hunt) and her friends are dealing with all the usual drama, including a theater teacher with a god complex. They frequently deal with it by breaking out into singing and dancing, which is good because they’re putting on a Christmas program at school. But this year is a little more tense than usual because there’s also a zombie outbreak, and the singing and dancing are accompanied by running and fighting and decapitation. It’s a highly entertaining film, especially when it’s in full-on, high-energy mode with creative kills, clever songs, and unexpected turns. It does seem to lose a bit of steam heading into the end of the second act, and they missed a huge opportunity to have singing and dancing zombies, but it’s still a must-watch movie for anyone who thinks that a Christmas zombie musical might be a must-watch movie.

Rabbit (2017; first-time watch) — Maude and Cleo are identical twins (both played by Adelaide Clemens). Cleo goes missing and is presumed dead, but Maude keeps having visions of her location and captors. She convinces Cleo’s fiancé and a friend to accompany her on a trip to find her, and they eventually end up at a trailer park where they find a couple who claims to have seen her. Then things go in a different direction. It’s a fascinating film that seems to go off on a tangent for a while before reinventing itself into a different kind of movie, and I like the second more than the first.

The End of Decay (short film; 2017; rewatch) — A man confined to a wheelchair has decided to use himself as a guinea pig for a procedure he hopes will allow him to walk again. The treatment is successful but has side effects. It’s a well-made short with some good effects, although it does seem like there’s a little too much unnatural exposition used to let the audience in on what’s going on.

Applecart (2017; first-time watch) — Casey (Brea Grant) has planned a family trip to a mountain cabin in the hope that it will do some good for her ailing husband James (AJ Bowen). But shortly after they arrive, they find a woman (Barbara Crampton) lying in the snow in need of resuscitation. They don’t know who she is, but we do thanks to a political advertisement on TV: she’s running for president. And also thanks to television programming in the form of a true crime program, we’re also clued into some bad things that are about to go down at the cabin. It’s a good concept for a modern kind of Rashomon story with multiple perspectives, and the show within the movie is particularly enjoyable as it’s dripping with satire, although I probably would have liked the movie more if they had relied less on the supernatural.

Nothing a Little Soap and Water Can’t Fix (short film; 2017; first-time watch) — A supercut of movie bath scenes, especially in horror movies. Related scenes from all aspects of bath-taking are interspersed, from turning the water on to undressing to getting in to soaking, and then to pleasure and pain. It’s fun to be reminded of many of these films, and it’s an entertaining if insignificant work.

78/52 (2017; first-time watch) — 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.

Your Date Is Here (short film; 2017; first-time watch) — A mother and daughter sit down to play a game, and it’s an old game the daughter found in the closet that looks like it’s from the 1950s. It’s got a telephone that you can use to talk to potential dates, and they start getting weird, creepy calls. It’s a light, fun short with a good ending.

Haunters: The Art of the Scare (2017; first-time watch) — Some haunted houses are more extreme than others. Most of them just have people walking through a maze with monsters jumping out at them, but others have more aggressive treatment where people are restrained, waterboarded, shocked, and otherwise tortured. Most of them have a safe word, but at least one doesn’t. This documentary focuses on those extreme haunts, the people who make them, and the people who go through them. It starts off very funny and highly energetic but then becomes increasingly problematic as the lines between fright, assault, and torture get blurred. They seem to attract people with questionable intentions, and there is a glaring lack of discussion on whether or how some of this is even legal, while at least one of them (the one with no safe word, whose proprietor is in it primarily for the videos of terrified people) must repeatedly close down and try his luck elsewhere.

Super Dark Times (2017; first-time watch) — 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.

V.I.P. (2017; first-time watch) — There’s a serial killer on the loose in South Korea and elsewhere, and the police are after him. The only problem is that his father is a higher-up from North Korea, and his son is believed to have information about North Korean/Chinese bank accounts, so the Americans (led by Peter Stormare) really want to get their hands on him. Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung (perhaps best known for writing the incredible I Saw the Devil), this film is much more procedural than revenge-driven but is still well worth watching.

The Drop-In (short film; 2017; first-time watch) — A hairdresser is cleaning up her shop after closing for the day when a woman arrives, asking if she could still get in. The hairdresser relents but soon realizes that the woman isn’t really there for a haircut. Her past has caught up with her. In the span of only a few minutes, the film undergoes multiple transformations into different stories, and while I’m not sure I love where it ends up, it’s definitely an interesting journey to get there.

Jailbreak (2017; first-time watch) — The police arrest Playboy, believing him to be the head of a criminal organization, only to learn that he’s just a stooge. But he agrees to make a deal with them and reveal the identity of the woman who’s really in charge in exchange for protection. So the cops take him to prison to put him in solitary confinement until he can testify and the gang can be taken down. But the real head lady doesn’t care for that and uses her connections inside the prison to orchestrate a riot to get to Playboy. The handful of police officers who had been escorting him are trapped inside the prison and must use their martial arts skills, especially the Cambodian bokator fighting style, to first get to Playboy, and then to get themselves to safety. It’s like a Cambodian version of The Raid, and while it’s not as skillfully made, while the attempts at comedy fall pretty flat, and while the fighting isn’t as creative or intense, it still offers a good time and at least a couple of cheer-inducing moments.

Brad’s Status (2017; first-time watch) — Brad (Ben Stiller) runs a non-profit. His wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) works for the government. His son Troy (Austin Abrams) is a high school senior with great grades and a real talent for music. They’re making ends meet, even with the prospect of Troy going to an ivy-league school in the fall, but Brad is in a funk because his friends (Michael Sheen, Luke Wilson, Jermaine Clement, and Mike White) are all much more financially successful than he is, so he’s moping around while he and his son go on a college tour. It’s a privilege pity party in a slog of a movie that takes way too long to get to the obvious conclusion.

Stumped (2017; first-time watch) — Will Lautzenheiser was a filmmaker until he developed an infection that very quickly overtook his arms and legs, forcing doctors to amputate them. He’d been coming to terms with living without arms and legs, with a great deal of help from his partner, Angel Gonzalez, when he learned that he was a good candidate for an experimental arm transplant surgery. This touching, funny, and inspirational documentary shares his story through the time around the procedure.

Gerald’s Game (2017; first-time watch) — Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) and Jessie (Carla Gugino) plan a vacation in a remote cabin to work on their marital problems. But Gerald is an asshole and perhaps a little clueless, so he brings out the handcuffs and chains her arms to the bedposts, leaving her splayed and helpless. She’s not into this, and they argue for a bit before he agrees to free her. Except he has a heart attack and dies before that happens, so she’s stuck there, waiting for a rescue that’s probably not coming, for some unlikely idea that might allow her to save herself, or for death. I’m not sure that the epilogue is necessary, as takes a pretty hard left turn from what precedes it, but it’s otherwise a dark, creepy, icky, and otherwise pretty doggone good adaptation of a Stephen King novel many thought to be unfilmable.

Gilbert (2017; first-time watch) — 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.

Girl at the Door (short film; 2017; first-time watch) — Hye-ri and her little brother spend most nights cowering in fear in her room. Their dad becomes violent and aggressive, presumably from drinking. Unfortunately, their mom isn’t as lucky when it comes to evading his abuse. Hye-ri decides that she needs to learn wrestling techniques so she can put a stop to his reign of terror. It’s a good South Korean short, and it pairs very well with Mom and Dad.

Mom and Dad (2017; first-time watch) — 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.

King Cohen (2017; first-time watch) — Larry Cohen is a legendary writer, director, and producer of low-budget independent exploitation films, from blaxploitation movies like Bone, Black Caesar, and Hell Up in Harlem to horror movies like The Stuff, It’s Alive, and Maniac Cop. This documentary chronicles his body of work through interviews with Cohen, those he’s worked with (including Fred Williamson, Yaphet Kotto, Robert Forster, Rick Baker, and Michael Moriarty), and those he’s influenced (like JJ Abrams, Martin Scorsese, and John Landis). It’s a very straightforward film that’s exactly what you’d expect it to be, and it’s good.

My Friend Dahmer (2017; first-time watch) — Before he was a serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer was a high school student. He was an awkward kid who liked collecting roadkill and dissolving it down to the skeleton in acid, and who would occasionally pretend to be spastic. This latter activity drew the attention of a group of boys who thought it was funny and formed the Jeffrey Dahmer fan club as a means of goading him into doing it more. As school progressed, Dahmer became increasingly affected by violent urges. It’s a well-made film, but it meanders a bit and is ultimately nothing special.

The Accomplice (short film; 2017; first-time watch) — A man comes home from a business trip to find his answering machine full of messages from a friend orchestrating a bank robbery and involving him in it. It’s simple, quick, and funny.

Under the Tree (2017; first-time watch) — Agnes and Atli are in a martial slump. When she catches him watching a video in which he’s having sex with another woman, she throws him out, and he goes to stay with his parents. And by the way, his parents in an escalating with their neighbors over his parents’ tree and the neighbors’ dog. It’s a very dark film, and while it is frequently infused with a dry gallows humor, there are still many serious scenes, and it’s hard to call it a comedy.

Catherine (short film; 2017; first-time watch) — When her old, worn-out teddy bear finally falls apart, it’s replaced by a fish, which Catherine quickly loves to death. The same with the bird and the dog. Everything she loves dies. It’s simple but fun.

Radius (2017; first-time watch) — 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.

Ron Goossens: Low-Budget Stuntman (2017; first-time watch) — Ron Goossens is a drunk. He achieved a few minutes of fame when he was captured on video doing something stupid, and he’s given a job offer as a stuntman as a result. Meanwhile, his wife is fed up with him and his selfish, inebriated lifestyle. She won’t take him back until he proves that he learns how to treat a woman, which he must demonstrate by wooing the hot leading lady of all of The Netherlands’ most successful films. It’s a terrible movie that is completely pointless and shockingly unfunny.

3 Foot Ball & Souls (2017; first-time watch) — Four members of an internet chat room decide to commit suicide together. One of them acquires a giant firework ball that they’ll use to blow themselves up, and they all meet at a remote shed. But when they see that one of them is a schoolgirl, they try to convince her to back out. Undeterred, she presses the button, only to have things reset to a few minutes before the blast so they have to go through everything again. And again, and again. It’s quite funny at first, then turns serious. The ending could be a lot less sappy, but it’s pretty good overall.

Anyab (aka Fangs; 1981; first-time watch) — While driving in the middle of nowhere on a rainy night, a couple gets a flat tire with no spare. They make their way to the nearest house to use the phone only to discover that it doesn’t work and they must spend the night. And it’s a house with vampires and people who break out into song. If it weren’t clear from the bare premise that this Egyptian movie is a knock-off of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, you could probably guess when one of the main characters puts on a Rocky Horror T-shirt, although even then you could be forgiven for overlooking that since the movie also has musical cues from The Munsters, The Pink Panther, Jaws, and James Bond movies, and also Batman-style exclamations in fight scenes. The movie may not make much sense, and the subtitles are laughably terrible, but it’s still far better than the original version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The Square (2017; first-time watch) — 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.

Revenge (2017; first-time watch) — Richard, Stan, and Dimitri are rich white guys who have planned a desert hunting trip together. Richard came early and brought his girlfriend Jennifer, expecting her to be gone before the other guys get there, but they’re early, too. One thing leads to another, and Jennifer gets raped. Richard tries to buy her off, but that doesn’t go over well, and there’s an altercation in which she’s left for dead. She isn’t, though, and she’s mad. This is a very fun movie, but there isn’t anything about it that is even slightly believable. Starting with the aforementioned altercation, just about everything done to advance the plot depends on something that is utterly implausible or downright impossible. You really have to suspend your disbelief if you want to enjoy this one to the fullest.

Cold Hell (2017; first-time watch) — 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.

The Prince of Nothingwood (2017; first-time watch) — Salim Shaheen is an Afghani filmmaker who has made over a hundred movies with virtually no resources, so he calls his “studio” Nothingwood (not unlike the no-budget Ugandan Wakaliwood studio). This documentary follows Shaheen and his crew as they work on several movies at the same time, traveling across Afghanistan as needed. I’d hoped the doc would be awesome, but it seems like the movies Nothingwood makes are far more subdued than those by Wakaliwood, and the doc itself suffers from a serious lack of energy. It’s not bad, but it is underwhelming.

All You Can Eat Buddha (2017; first-time watch) — Mike is a big guy who has come by himself to a tropical resort of unspecified nationality. He doesn’t do much but sit around, look at the water, and eat, but he draws a lot of attention nonetheless. Especially when he’s eating. He’s diabetic but has stopped taking his medication and may have gone there to die, but he is nonetheless willing to help others. There is done good cinematography, but there’s very little plot and not much else to hold your interest, so its 84-minute runtime feels pretty long.

Before We Vanish (2017; first-time watch) — Aliens are preparing to invade the earth. They can already take over human bodies, and they have learned our languages (or at least Japanese), but they’re having problems really understanding certain human concepts. They can’t grasp them using words alone, so they need a human to visualize the concept, and then the aliens will take that directly from their brain, leaving that human without any understanding of the concept. Once all the important concepts have been captured, the real invasion can begin. It’s an interesting concept, but the movie is too long and it’s got a dumb cliché of an ending.

Dan Dream (2017; first-time watch) — Thorkil (Casper Christensen) wants to build the world’s first electric car. He teams up with a battery expert (Frank Hvam) and a couple of other guys to start his own company, promising to have the car on the road in no more than a year. But everything goes wrong, including all of the movie’s attempts at comedy. It is shockingly unfunny, usually either going for the obvious joke or opting for something racist, and doesn’t even bother trying to pay off all of its setups. I might have expected more from the writers behind Klown, but then again they’re also the writers behind Klown Forever.

Wheelman (2017; first-time watch) — It’s been less than a year since he (Frank Grillo) got out of jail, where he incurred considerable debts paying for protection. Since he was an amateur racer before going in, he took jobs as a getaway driver to help pay that debt. But on this job, he finds himself having been set up in the middle of a gang war. The film starts off very much like Locke in that it basically all takes place inside the car and all dialogue comes in the form of phone conversations, but that fades as the film progresses. And it’s clearly a take on films like The Driver/Drive/Getaway, and while the movie is short and the action is good, it all feels just a little too easy. There aren’t any run-ins with the police, and everything is resolved a little too neatly and conveniently at the end. Still, it makes for a good bit of entertainment if you’re into this kind of thing.

Wizard (2017; first-time watch) — Lefa has a gift for gardening, and he’s been accepted to a prestigious South African university where he will study botany. With the help of his albino best friend Papi, Lefa exercises his skills by growing a strong, aromatic strain of marijuana he calls Wizard. It’s popular in their ghetto, but they want to try their luck selling it on a larger scale. The plot is unveiled in an interesting anthology-like style in which a trio of narrators tell stories to the audience, complete with some entertaining false starts. Aside from some unnecessary lingering on a party scene near the end of the film, its 79 minutes pass quickly, and it’s complemented by impressive cinematography and an engaging soundtrack.

Bad Genius (2017; first-time watch) — Lynn is a highly intelligent student who has earned straight As for her entire educational career. She’s been given the opportunity to enter a better school where she soon makes a friend, Grace, who is struggling to pass one of her classes, so Lynn helps her out by slipping her the answers to a test. This works well, and soon Grace and her entrepreneurial boyfriend Pat convince Lynn to expand the cheating ring to a much larger scale. The movie starts off great, with good pacing and a lot of humor, but really falls apart in the end with excessive melodrama and unsatisfying conclusion.

Gemini (2027; first-time watch) — Heather (Zoë Kravitz) is a well-known actress and Jill (Lola Kirke) is her assistant and one of her best friends. After a late night of partying, Jill is drunk and in no condition to drive home, so she sleeps over at Heather’s house. Jill leaves early in the morning for a meeting, and when she gets back, she finds Heather dead and all the evidence points to Jill. She’s got to try to figure out what happened before detective Ahn (John Cho) feels like he has enough to arrest her. It’s a serviceable whodunit with lots of potential suspects with motives, but the ending will probably be highly divisive between people who think it’s clever and those who think it’s a cop-out. At any rate, it’s certainly not an outstanding film.

Two-Sentence Horror Stories: Snap (short film; 2017; first-time watch) — A well-known blogger is a pariah after prone believe he goaded someone into suicide. Then bad things start happening to him. There’s not much to hold your attention in this one, and almost nothing of interest near the beginning. It’s a slog even as a short film.

Vidar the Vampire (2017; first-time watch) — Vidar meets Jesus and learns that he’s a vampire. Then Vidar gets converted and finds that it’s not what he had expected. Life as a vampire kind of sucks. But a movie about life as a Christian vampire can be pretty funny and irreverent, especially when it’s only 82 minutes long.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017; first-time watch) — A rejected Kingsmen agent (Edward Holcroft) has teamed up with a drug queenpin (Julianne Moore) in a plot to first take out the Kingsmen and then get the drug trade legalized. The first part was mostly successful, with only agents Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and Merlin (Mark Strong) surviving, forcing them to seek out and join up with a similar American organization. And the second part is also in motion, with the world’s drug supply poisoned so that all drug users will be chemically held hostage until drugs are made legal. It’s an uninspired movie with terrible CGI and a lot of stupid plot points.

American Made (2017; first-time watch) — Barry (Tom Cruise) is a talented commercial airline pilot who frequently flies international routes. He’s busted for smuggling Cuban cigars, but the CIA (lead agent played by Domhnall Gleeson) decided to put his abilities to get things done in South America to do things that they can’t legally do directly, including giving guns to the Contras and buying information from Noriega. And since he’s there, Barry decides to supplement his income by smuggling cocaine back into the U.S. Based on a true story, it’s both educational and surprisingly entertaining.

Stronger (2017; first-time watch) — Trying to win back his ex-girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany), Jeff (Jake Gyllenhaal) is cheering her on as she nears the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Then, a couple of bombs detonate, and Jeff is caught in the blast. He survives but loses both legs. People brand Jeff a hero, which really bothers him because he didn’t do anything but get caught in the blast. Further, Erin feels obligated to get back together with him as he begins the process of rehabilitation. Based on a true story, it’s too pandering and jingoistic, and it’s also an unnecessary film, but it is well acted and well made, and the amputation effects are surprisingly good.

The Sensitives (2017; first-time watch) — This is a verite-style documentary about people who have developed adverse reactions to commonplace chemicals or electrical fields. It focuses primarily on three sets of people: a man whose self-centeredness about his condition is alienating him from his family, a mother and her twin sons who essentially live in a bubble, and a woman who has become an advocate for awareness about her condition. While it provides intimate access into their lives, there’s disappointingly little content about the medical aspects of the condition and whether it is legitimately physiological or entirely psychological.

Carpinteros (aka Woodpeckers; 2017; first-time watch) — 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.

A Crude Fantastic Fest 2017 Film Ranking

I got to see 35 movies at Fantastic Fest 2017, and it was a very strong year of film programming. There were only a few films that I actively disliked, and some of those come with asterisks. I wanted to provide a rough ranking of the movies but thought that it might be hard to create a definitive ranking that shows exactly where each movie should go. So instead, I’ll just break the movies up into four groups: great, good, fair, and bad. Within each group, the films will be listed alphabetically by name. Those rankings are as follows:

The Great Films

  • 78/52 — A documentary about the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
  • Cold Hell — A taxi driver witnesses a murder and now the killer’s after her.
  • Gilbert — A documentary about comedian Gilbert Gottfried.
  • Letterkenny — A Canadian TV show about farmers versus hockey players, drug users, Christians, and more.
  • Mom and Dad — Parents have an uncontrollable urge to kill their children.
  • Radius — People die if they get too close to an amnesiac man unless an amnesiac woman is also nearby.
  • The Square — A museum curator must find a way to market a new exhibit.
  • Super Dark Times — Kids playing with a sword turns deadly and really bums them out.

The Good Films

  • 3 Foot Ball & Souls — Four people trying to commit suicide must repeatedly experience the attempts.
  • Anna and the Apocalypse — A musical featuring a Christmastime zombie outbreak.
  • Applecart — A family getaway is interrupted by an uninvited guest.
  • Before We Vanish — Aliens are stealing ideas from humans in preparation for an invasion.
  • Gemini — When an actress is killed, her personal assistant is the prime suspect.
  • Gerald’s Game — A woman is left helplessly chained to a bed after her husband has a heart attack.
  • Jailbreak — Police need to protect an important witness during a prison riot.
  • King Cohen — A documentary about prolific filmmaker Larry Cohen.
  • The Prince of Nothingwood — A documentary about prolific filmmaker Salim Shaheen.
  • Rabbit — A woman sees visions of her identical twin’s captors and looks to rescue her.
  • Revenge — A woman seeks revenge after she’s treated poorly and left for dead.
  • Salyut-7 — A Soviet space station needs rescuing after it’s hit by space debris.
  • Thoroughbreds — A girl brings a friend in on a plot to murder her father.
  • Under the Tree — Neighbors feud over a tree and a couple feuds over a sex tape.
  • V.I.P. — A serial killer is on the loose, and South Korean police are trying to nail him.
  • Vidar the Vampire — Jesus is a vampire, and he turns Vidar into a vampire as well.
  • Wheelman — A getaway driver finds himself in the middle of a gang war.
  • Wizard — A couple of small-time South African drug dealers want to step up to the big time.

The Fair Films

  • All You Can Eat Buddha — A man goes to a tropical resort to eat and die.
  • Anyab — An Egyptian ripoff of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
  • Bad Genius — A group of friends creates a service to help students cheat on exams.
  • My Friend Dahmer — A dramatization of Jeffrey Dahmer as a high school student.
  • Vampire Clay — Mysterious modeling clay attacks the artists trying to sculpt with it.

The Bad Films

  • Dan Dream — A group of Danish underdogs try to build the world’s first electric car.
  • Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse — A woman accused of being a witch tries to raise her daughter.
  • Haunters: The Art of the Scare — A documentary about extreme haunts that try to terrify and torture their guests.
  • Ron Goossens: Low-Budget Stuntman — A man’s wife will leave him unless he can seduce a famous actress.

Fantastic Fest 2017 Day 8

Wizard

Lefa has a gift for gardening, and he’s been accepted to a prestigious South African university where he will study botany. With the help of his albino best friend Papi, Lefa exercises his skills by growing a strong, aromatic strain of marijuana he calls Wizard. It’s popular in their ghetto, but they want to try their luck selling it on a larger scale. The plot is unveiled in an interesting anthology-like style in which a trio of narrators tell stories to the audience, complete with some entertaining false starts. Aside from some unnecessary lingering on a party scene near the end of the film, its 79 minutes pass quickly, and it’s complemented by impressive cinematography and an engaging soundtrack.

 

Bad Genius

Lynn is a highly intelligent student who has earned straight As for her entire educational career. She’s been given the opportunity to enter a better school where she soon makes a friend, Grace, who is struggling to pass one of her classes, so Lynn helps her out by slipping her the answers to a test. This works well, and soon Grace and her entrepreneurial boyfriend Pat convince Lynn to expand the cheating ring to a much larger scale. The movie starts off great, with good pacing and a lot of humor, but really falls apart in the end with excessive melodrama and an unsatisfying conclusion.

 

Gemini

Heather (Zoë Kravitz) is a well-known actress and Jill (Lola Kirke) is her assistant and one of her best friends. After a late night of partying, Jill is drunk and in no condition to drive home, so she sleeps over at Heather’s house. Jill leaves early in the morning for a meeting, and when she gets back, she finds Heather dead and all the evidence points to Jill. She’s got to try to figure out what happened before detective Ahn (John Cho) feels like he has enough to arrest her. It’s a serviceable whodunit with lots of potential suspects with motives, but the ending will probably be highly divisive between people who think it’s clever and those who think it’s a cop-out. At any rate, it’s certainly not an outstanding film.

 

Two-Sentence Horror Stories: Snap (short film)

A well-known blogger is a pariah after prone believe he goaded someone into suicide. Then bad things start happening to him. There’s not much to hold your attention in this one, and almost nothing of interest near the beginning. It’s a slog even as a short film.

Vidar the Vampire

Vidar meets Jesus and learns that he’s a vampire. Then Vidar gets converted and finds that it’s not what he had expected. Life as a vampire kind of sucks. But a movie about life as a Christian vampire can be pretty funny and irreverent, especially when it’s only 82 minutes long.

Fantastic Fest 2017 Day 7

The Prince of Nothingwood

Salim Shaheen is an Afghani filmmaker who has made over a hundred movies with virtually no resources, so he calls his “studio” Nothingwood (not unlike the no-budget Ugandan Wakaliwood studio). This documentary follows Shaheen and his crew as they work on several movies at the same time, traveling across Afghanistan as needed. I’d hoped the doc would be awesome, but it seems like the movies Nothingwood makes are far more subdued than those by Wakaliwood, and the doc itself suffers from a serious lack of energy. It’s not bad, but it is underwhelming.

 

All You Can Eat Buddha

Mike is a big guy who has come by himself to a tropical resort of unspecified nationality. He doesn’t do much but sit around, look at the water, and eat, but he draws a lot of attention nonetheless. Especially when he’s eating. He’s diabetic but has stopped taking his medication and may have gone there to die, but he is nonetheless willing to help others. There cinematography is good, but there’s very little plot and not much else to hold your interest, so its 84-minute runtime feels pretty long.

 

Before We Vanish

Aliens are preparing to invade the earth. They can already take over human bodies, and they have learned our languages (or at least Japanese), but they’re having problems really understanding certain human concepts. They can’t grasp them using words alone, so they need a human to visualize the concept, and then the aliens will take that directly from their brain, leaving that human without any understanding of the concept. Once all the important concepts have been captured, the real invasion can begin. It’s an interesting concept, but the movie is too long, and it’s got a dumb cliché of an ending.

 

Dan Dream

Thorkil (Casper Christensen) wants to build the world’s first electric car. He teams up with a battery expert (Frank Hvam) and a couple of other guys to start his own company, promising to have the car on the road in no more than a year. But everything goes wrong, including all of the movie’s attempts at comedy. It is shockingly unfunny, usually either going for the obvious joke or opting for something racist and doesn’t even bother trying to pay off all of its setups. I might have expected more from the writers behind Klown, but then again they’re also the writers behind Klown Forever.

Wheelman

It’s been less than a year since the unnamed protagonist (played by Frank Grillo) got out of jail, where he incurred considerable debts paying for protection. Since he was an amateur racer before going in, he took jobs as a getaway driver to help pay that debt. But on this job, he finds himself having been set up in the middle of a gang war. The film starts off very much like Locke in that it basically all takes place inside the car and all dialogue comes in the form of phone conversations, but that fades as the film progresses. And it’s clearly a take on films like The Driver/Drive/Getaway, and while the movie is short and the action is good, it all feels just a little too easy. There aren’t any run-ins with the police, and everything is resolved a little too neatly and conveniently at the end. Still, it makes for a good bit of entertainment if you’re into this kind of thing.

Fantastic Fest 2017 Day 6

3 Foot Ball & Souls

Four members of an internet chat room decide to commit suicide together. One of them acquires a giant firework ball that they’ll use to blow themselves up, and they all meet at a remote shed. But when they see that one of them is a schoolgirl, they try to convince her to back out. Undeterred, she presses the button, only to have things reset to a few minutes before the blast so they have to go through everything again. And again, and again. It’s quite funny at first, then turns serious. The ending could be a lot less sappy, but it’s pretty good overall.

 

Anyab (aka Fangs; repertory film from 1981)

While driving in the middle of nowhere on a rainy night, a couple gets a flat tire with no spare. They make their way to the nearest house to use the phone only to discover that it doesn’t work and they must spend the night. And it’s a house with vampires and people who break out into song. If it weren’t clear from the bare premise that this Egyptian movie is a knock-off of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, you could probably guess when one of the main characters puts on a Rocky Horror T-shirt. Although even then you could be forgiven for overlooking that since the movie also has musical cues from The Munsters, The Pink Panther, Jaws, and James Bond movies, and also Batman-style exclamations in fight scenes. The movie may not make much sense, and the subtitles are laughably terrible, but it’s still far better than the original version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

 

The Square

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.

 

Revenge

Richard, Stan, and Dimitri are rich white guys who have planned a desert hunting trip together. Richard came early and brought his girlfriend Jennifer, expecting her to be gone before the other guys get there, but they’re early, too. One thing leads to another, and Jennifer gets raped. Richard tries to buy her off, but that doesn’t go over well, and there’s an altercation in which she’s left for dead. She isn’t, though, and she’s mad. This is a very fun movie, but there isn’t anything about it that is even slightly believable. Starting with the aforementioned altercation, just about everything done to advance the plot depends on something that is utterly implausible or downright impossible. You really have to suspend your disbelief if you want to enjoy this one to the fullest.

Cold Hell

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.