These are the movies that I watched in a theater in January of 2017, in the order in which I saw them:
Geteven (aka Road to Revenge; 1993; first-time watch) — 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.
Collision Course (1998; rewatch) — Fujisaka Natsuo (Pat Morita) is a Japanese investigator who has been sent to Detroit to try to track down a criminal who has stolen a prototype of a new supercharger and wants to sell it to an American car manufacturer. Tony Costas (Jay Leno) is an American detective who puts himself on the case after his friend is murdered. They team up in the most boring and least funny way possible, save for one fun flying kick in the last five minutes. Also featuring Chris Sarandon, Tom Noonan, Ernie Hudson, and Randall “Tex” Cobb.
3-Way Split (1976; first-time watch) — An insolvent actor convinces a stuntman (Robert Vaughn) to help him steal an Incan statue worth millions of dollars. The movie itself is adequate but is primarily noteworthy for the horrendous dubbing of Vaughn’s dialogue. Most of it was recorded at the wrong speed so he sounds like a chipmunk, although some of it was recorded by someone else with a much deeper voice that makes for stark contrast.
Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1989; first-time watch) — The small town of Purgatory is inhabited by vampires, but they’re reformed vampires who rely on fake blood for nourishment, and who use giant hats and heavy sunblock to go about their daily business. But the blood plant has trouble ramping up to meet the demand, and there are some who prefer the old days of drinking real blood. It’s a fun take on vampire lore that features David Carradine, Bruce Campbell, Deborah Foreman, M. Emmet Walsh, John Ireland, and George “Buck” Flower.
The Night Stalker (1987; first-time watch) — An invincible chanting psychopath (Robert Z’Dar) is killing prostitutes and painting symbols on their body. J.J. Striker (Charles Napier) is a haggard detective who’s good at drinking, annoying, and disappointing, but he does have a good rapport with the ladies of the night. As the body count rises, so does Striker’s resolve to maybe cut back on the drinking and try to catch the killer. If you like Robert Vincent O’Neill’s Angel (and you should), then you’ll probably find this familiar and enjoyable.
Poor Pretty Eddie (1975; rewatch) — After some car trouble, a famous jazz singer (Leslie Uggams) on vacation finds herself stranded in a redneck resort run by a has-been (Shelley Winters). Eddie (Michael Christian) is a bartender with hopes of making it big as a country musician. At first, Eddie’s attention is annoying, but then it becomes more violent. Also featuring Slim Pickens, Dub Taylor, and Ted Cassidy. It’s a very dark film, but well worth watching, and the recent digital restoration is of very good quality.
The Master (2012; rewatch) — Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman in a very thinly-veiled caricature of L. Ron Hubbard) has created a new religion and is traveling to write and spread the word. Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is a troubled drunk former sailor who can’t hold a job after returning from World War II, and Dodd decides to take him under his wing and use him as a test case for the religion. It looks great, especially in 70mm, and has some very good acting, but don’t expect everything to make sense.
Certain Women (2016; first-time watch) — A Kelly Reichardt film featuring a set of three vignettes depicting the lives of women in various circumstances in and around Livingston, Montana. A lawyer (Laura Dern) must deal with a client who won’t accept that he can’t sue for an injury he sustained. A wife (Michelle Williams) tries to negotiate with a confused old man to get some sandstone blocks to use in building her new house. A recent law school graduate (Kristen Stewart) regrets taking a second job that requires an eight-hour round trip twice a week, but one of her students (Lily Gladstone) is always happy to see her. The stories have the barest of plots, but that leaves plenty of room for the acting and filmmaking to shine through. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/04/certain-women/.
Inferno (1980; first-time watch) — Dario Argento’s follow-up to Suspiria has a story that is downright cryptic. It’s got something to do with a book named The Three Mothers, a search for some keys, and people dying. But you don’t watch this movie because you understand what’s going on. You watch this movie because it looks pretty and it sounds pretty, and if you do that, then you won’t be disappointed.
Cameraperson (2016; first-time watch) — 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/.
The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001; rewatch) — Upon hearing that a major road is about to be built in a currently-remote area, a down-on-their-luck family decides to open an inn. But the road has yet to be built so customers are scarce, and those that do drop by have a tendency to wind up dead. Only the Japanese would think to approach this subject as a musical with frequent claymation interludes, and only Takashi Miike could pull it off this well.
Lion (2016; first-time watch) — As a small child, Saroo (adult version played by Dev Patel) found himself separated from his family in a set of circumstances that led to him ultimately being adopted by an Australian family (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). Years later, he becomes obsessed with searching for his home in an absolutely moronic way. This search turns him into a tremendous dick, and turns a movie that could have been predictably mediocre into one that was unpleasantly tedious. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/06/lion/.
Fruitvale Station (2013; rewatch) — Based on a true story, this film follows Oscar Grant III (played by Michael B. Jordan) in the events leading up to his death at the hands of a California transit police officer. Grant is a flawed man—he’s got a criminal record, he sells weed from time to time, he’s cheated on his girlfriend/baby mama, and he’s recently been fired for chronic lateness—but he’s trying to get his life together and do what’s right. It’s an intense film that deserves to be seen despite how hard it is to watch.
Hidden Figures (2016; first-time watch) — 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/.
Inherent Vice (2014; rewatch) — Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private investigator and a dirty hippie. His ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston) shows up one night and tells him that her current boyfriend has gone missing. As Doc investigates, he finds an interconnected web of cases involving drug smuggling, prostitution, neo-nazis, and police corruption. The extensive supporting cast includes Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Martin Short, Jena Malone, Maya Rudolph, and Eric Roberts.
Wayne’s World (1992; rewatch) — Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) host a weekly public access show with a cult following. Slimy ad executive Benjamin Oliver (Rob Lowe) convinces an arcade magnate (Brian Doyle-Murray) to sponsor their show, and convinces Wayne and Garth to go along with it. Benjamin uses the opportunity to take everything he can from Wayne and Garth, including Wayne’s new girlfriend (Tia Carrere). Co-starring Lara Flynn Boyle, Kurt Fuller, Colleen Camp, Ed O’Neill, and Chris Farley.
The Day It Came to Earth (1977; first-time watch) — When a meteorite lands in an Arkansas pond, a creature emerges and starts killing people. Students find the meteorite while swimming, and draw the attention of the creature onto themselves, their professor (played by George Gobel), the police, and everyone else they come into contact with. A fun 1970s film made to feel like an innocent 1950s beach monster movie. It features an early acting performance by Rita Wilson, but Gobel plays the straight-laced professor better than any other human could have.
One Man Force (1989; first-time watch) — A giant, ill-tempered cop (John Matuszak) gets even more irritable when his partner (Sam Jones) is killed and his boss (Ronny Cox) insists that he must stick to legal methods of law enforcement. While taking a not-so-voluntary break from police work, he’s hired as a private investigator to look into the kidnapping of a pop singer (Stacey Q), and discovers the people who kidnapped her may also be behind the death of his partner. Also featuring Charles Napier, a somewhat dull plot, a bunch of nonsensical catch phrases, and a finale that makes it all worthwhile.
The Blob (1988; rewatch) — A cheerleader (Shawnee Smith) and a juvenile delinquent (Kevin Dillon) are an unlikely team in the battle to save their town from an amorphous creature that consumes everything in its path. A remake that outshines the original, holds up well, and just plain thrills from start to finish.
Samurai Cop (1991; rewatch) — L.A. cop Joe “The Samurai” Marshall (played by Matt Hannon aka Matthew Karedas) is a lover and a fighter. His partner Frank Washington (Mark Frazer) flashes more looks than Derek Zoolander. Together, they’re trying to take down a Yakuza gang who call themselves the Katana. The Katana are technically led by some Japanese guy named Fujiyama, but the gang’s real workhorse is a giant-faced white guy named Yamashita (the incomparable Robert Z’Dar), whose fighting and womanizing skills are on par with Marshall’s. Men are killed, women are bedded, logic is abandoned, the English language is mutilated, and audiences are enraptured.
Command and Control (2016; first-time watch) — 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/.
Live by Night (2016; first-time watch) — Joe Coughlin (played by writer/director Ben Affleck) is a career criminal who lives in gangster-controlled Boston. But that doesn’t stop him from fooling around with a gangster boss’s girlfriend (Sienna Miller), which doesn’t go well for either of them. Joe ends up joining a rival gang to seek revenge, and the audience may end up falling asleep. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/14/live-by-night/.
Pulp Fiction (1994; rewatch) — A masterful presentation of a few nonlinear stories centered around the rarely-seen mob boss Marsellus Wallace (played by Ving Rhames), Henchmen Jules Winfield and Vincent Vega (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta) have one heck of a day while trying to recover some of Marsellus’ property. Boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) becomes Marsellus’ enemy when he accepts a payoff to take a dive but doesn’t follow through. And Vincent entertains Marsellus’ wife Mia (Uma Thurman) for an evening, at Marsellus’ request, only to have more excitement than expected.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016; rewatch) — A father-son coroner team (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch) are tasked with finding the cause of death for an unidentified woman. They start finding weird things almost immediately. And then things take a more scary turn. It holds up well to a second viewing, even when you know what’s going to happen, and even though many of the jump scares are telegraphed in advance.
On the Waterfront (1954; rewatch) — Terry Malloy (played by Marlon Brando) is a boxer who never quite made it, and now works as a longshoreman whose fate is controlled by the mafia-connected union bosses under the control of Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). Terry’s older brother Charley (Rod Steiger) is also fairly high up in the union, and he uses Terry to unwittingly lure a troublemaking friend, Joey, to a fatal encounter. While wrestling with his guilt for his role in the murder, and the deeply-ingrained “no one ever talks to the police” societal code, he falls for Joey’s sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint). It’s a highly-lauded classic, and for good reason.
Patriots Day (2016; first-time watch) — Boston Police work with the FBI to track down those responsible for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Although many of the action scenes are good, the pacing is abysmal and the film glorifies despicable actions taken by the authorities in their pursuit of justice at all costs. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/17/patriots-day/.
Reality Bites (1994; rewatch) — Four recent college graduates (Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Janeane Garofalo, and Steve Zahn) find that their ideals don’t seem to be as compatible with life in the “real world” as they would like. Jobs are hard to get and easy to lose. One-night stands are easy (although AIDS is scary), but love is hard. The movie holds up well and has a heck of a soundtrack.
Maniac Cop (1988; rewatch) — New York City is being terrorized by a killer. But this time it’s a cop (played by Robert Z’Dar). Officer Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell, who has a lot in common with Z’Dar when it comes to size and facial features) is the prime suspect, but Detective McCrae (Tom Atkins) isn’t buying it, despite the insistence of his captain (William Smith) and commissioner (Richard Roundtree) and keeps digging. It’s a fun movie with some good kills, decent creativity, and played surprisingly straight.
Fear (1996; rewatch) — Sixteen-year-old Nicole (Reese Witherspoon) has been daddy’s little girl all her life. But she’s being tempted away from that life, first by her slutty, rebellious best friend (Alyssa Milano), and then by a mysterious suitor named David (Mark Wahlberg). She definitely does not have daddy’s approval to date David, and bad blood boils up all around. It’s one of those enjoyably bad guilty-pleasure movies that would feel right at home on the Lifetime network.
20th Century Women (2016; first-time watch) — 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/.
The Founder (2016; first-time watch) — Michael Keaton plays Ray Kroc, a former salesman who falls in love with a unique restaurant called McDonald’s, run by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch). Kroc convinces them to let him franchise their idea, and what follows is both a wild success and an utter disaster. It’s a reasonably entertaining movie, but seems harmed by pushing an agenda at the expense of fairness and accuracy. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/21/the-founder/.
Selma (2014; rewatch) — David Oyelowo portrays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the events leading up to the historic 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, as a form of protest against African Americans being consistently denied the ability to register to vote. It’s a tremendous film, made all the more powerful and moving by the fact that the screening happened to fall on a day where political marches were occurring across the country.
Split (2016; first-time watch) — Casey, Claire, and Marcia (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula, respectively) have been abducted and locked in a small room by a man (James McAvoy) they soon find has multiple personalities. It’s actually pretty good until they Shyamalan it all up at the ending. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/22/split/.
Middle of Nowhere (2012; first-time watch) — Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) is a very devoted wife. She and her husband (Omari Hardwick) talk most days on the phone, and every weekend she takes the bus two hours each way to the prison where he’s serving an eight-year sentence. With good behavior, he could get out in five years, but as that time approaches, things start to get complicated. Although the film is a bit slow at times, it features excellent performances across the board and wonderful direction by Ava DuVernay.
Notes on Blindness (2016; first-time watch) — 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/.
Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness (1986; first-time watch) — 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.
Clueless (1995; rewatch) — Cher and Dionne (Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash) are best friends and some of the most popular students in their very affluent high school. They’re mostly focused on themselves, but when her older stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd) convinces Cher to try to make a difference in the world, they decide to take a new student (Brittany Murphy) under their wing to help her fit in. It’s like a much tamer 90s take on Valley Girl.
Arrival (2016; rewatch) — When a dozen UFOs park themselves across the earth, the military calls upon language professor Dr. Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) to help communicate with the aliens, and upon physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to see what knowledge can be gleaned from them. It’s a very good film (much in the vein of Contact meets Interstellar), but it would be even better if it had stuck more closely to Story of Your Life, the short story on which the movie is based.
Mark of the Witch (1970; first-time watch) — A college student researching the occult stumbles upon a book of spells. She and a group of friends accidentally summon a witch that had been executed over three hundred years ago, and the witch seeks revenge on those who turned against her. Although it’s a bit slow in a couple of places, it takes some unexpected turns and there’s a lot to like about this movie.
I Know Who Killed Me (2007; first-time watch) — Aubrey is the kind of good girl that would be any parent’s dream: kind, creative, talented, and chaste. She’s abducted by a serial killer but manages to escape. Her body is found lying on the side of the road, missing an arm and a leg. She’s taken to the hospital and reunited with her parents, but there’s one problem: she claims that she isn’t Aubrey, but rather an orphaned stripper named Dakota. The movie is an utter failure in just about every way (although it really tries to be artsy in the way of a Lynch, Cronenberg, De Palma, or Kieslowski film), and yet it occasionally manages to be fairly entertaining in its terribleness.
Julieta (2016; first-time watch) — A character study in which the titular character recalls the events of her life that led up to her being estranged from her daughter. It’s a dull and aimless film that’s an uncharacteristic miss from director Pedro Almodóvar. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/28/julieta/.
Bangkok Dangerous (2008; rewatch) — Nicolas Cage plays Joe, an assassin for hire who likes to stay anonymous and detached. He’s hired to do four jobs in Bangkok, where his anonymity and detachedness, will be challenged. It’s not awful, but it’s also not worth watching.
Joe (2013; rewatch) — Nicolas Cage plays Joe, a mostly-good man with a short temper and a strong aversion to most police officers. Tye Sheridan plays Gary, a kid with an incredibly strong worth ethic who just wants to support his family because his drunken monster of a father won’t. Joe gives Gary a job helping to clear a woodland so they can plant new trees, but Gary’s father and Joe’s personal demons and past enemies get in the way. An excellent film with terrific performances.
Bringing Out the Dead (1999; rewatch) — Nicolas Cage plays Frank, a paramedic who likes helping people but is haunted by a past failure. He’s having a particularly tough time when he responds to a call for a heart attack patient and meets Mary (Patricia Arquette). It’s a very good movie with an impressive cast that also includes John Goodman, Ving Rhames, and Tom Sizemore, but it’s overlong in the way that many Scorsese films seem to be.
Army of One (2016; rewatch) — Nicolas Cage plays Gary Faulkner, a guy who doctors claim is sane, but who doesn’t act that way. One day, God (Russell Brand) speaks to him and tells him to go to Afghanistan to find and capture Osama Bin Laden. Based on a true story, except for the part where Nicolas Cage doesn’t look or sound like the real Gary (who seems to look and sound pretty normal), but instead chooses to speak in a horrendously fake and unbelievably annoying voice (much like the one he used in Deadfall), and to go with the “Brent Spiner from Independence Day” look. It’s even worse and more unbearable than it sounds.
Lord of War (2005; rewatch) — Nicolas Cage plays Yuri, a Ukrainian-born New Yorker who becomes an international arms dealer with his horrible cook turned drug addict brother Vitaly (Jared Leto), who courts and marries Ava (Bridget Moynahan) with a lot of help from lies and deceptions, and who tries to stay ahead of government agents (including Ethan Hawke) and competitors (including Ian Holm). The majority of the film is pure boredom, but the opening sequence, in which we get an incompetently-executed PoV shot from just behind and above a bullet, is so terrible that its lack of entertainment value is much less noticeable.
Natural Born Killers (1994; rewatch) — It’s love at first sight for Mickey and Mallory (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis), then it’s love on the run when they kill Mallory’s parents (Rodney Dangerfield and Edie McClurg), and a whole lot more people. Plotwise, it’s not much more than an ultraviolent Badlands, but stylewise, it’s incomprehensible chaos. It’s like they were trying to learn the editing software by choosing a different effect at random for each shot, except that doesn’t adequately explain the indiscriminate camera tilts and haphazard background music.
Bullet Ballet (1998; first-time watch) — After his girlfriend commits suicide by shooting herself, Goda (writer/director Shin’ya Tsukamoto, best known for his Tetsuo series) becomes obsessed with getting a gun for himself. But guns aren’t so easy to come by in Japan. After a failed attempt to make one, he gets himself mixed up with criminals. It’s occasionally slow and sometimes cryptic, but ultimately enjoyable, with a kind of Jim Jarmusch meets Takashi Miike feel to it.
28 Days Later… (2002; rewatch) — Rage-infected primates escape from a research lab and create a pandemic that brings about the end of civilization. Nearly all humans have been killed, have killed themselves, or have contracted the disease. Jim (Cillian Murphy) had been in the hospital when it all went down and slept through a lot of it, but now he’s awoken into a much different world. He’s not entirely alone, though, and soon teams up with a woman (Naomie Harris) and father-daughter team (Brendan Gleeson and Megan Burns) to try to make it to a military outpost and the promise of help. It’s a violent, fast-paced, and very well-made film that focuses as much on the monsters who are still human as it does on the ones who’ve been turned.