Hackers (1995; rewatch) — A group of teenage hackers (Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Matthew Lillard, Laurence Mason, and Jesse Bradford) find themselves classified as enemies of the state when an oil company’s director of computer security (Fisher Stevens) frames them for creating a virus that threatens to capsize a number of their tanker ships. It’s a ridiculous and terrible movie that also happens to be highly enjoyable when Lorraine Bracco isn’t talking.
Who Killed Captain Alex? (2010; rewatch) — I think that it’s about a face-off between a bunch of soldiers and the mafia in the slums of Uganda. It’s kind of hard to tell. But fortunately, you don’t have to understand the movie to fall in love with it. Made with a couple hundred dollars and unlimited passion, the dirt-cheap effects are amusing and the action (when there is action) is fun, but the real star of the film is its narrator, VJ Emmie, whose enthusiastic color commentary occasionally helps explain what’s going on, usually adds a tremendous amount of entertainment value, and sometimes is just him shouting “movie!”
I Am Not Your Negro (2016; first-time watch) — A powerful documentary/autobiography about race in America in the 1960s, and throughout the nation’s history, through the writing and speech of James Baldwin. Baldwin may be less known than his contemporaries like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, but seems even more eloquent, logical, calm, and compelling. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/02/02/i-am-not-your-negro/.
Tangerine (2015; rewatch) — Alexandra and Sin-Dee (Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) are transgender prostitutes and best friends. It’s Christmas Eve, and Sin-Dee has just gotten out after nearly a month in jail. Alexandra tells her that her boyfriend/pimp, Chester (James Ransone), has been cheating on her, and Sin-Dee is determined to track him down. It’s a phenomenal film, although it does take some time to get up to speed on everything that’s going on. It’s also notable for being shot entirely on a cell phone camera, and while it looks better than you might expect for being shot on a cell phone camera, that still doesn’t mean that it looks great when compared with other movies.
Ocean Waves (1993; first-time watch) — A short, obscure, made-for-TV movie by Studio Ghibli about a girl named Rikako, whose mother just dragged her from Tokyo to Kochi (about 500 miles away) after her parents’ divorce. Everyone at her new school is fascinated with her, but she quickly forms an interesting relationship with Taku. Which is to say that she treats him like dirt, but he keeps coming back for more. It’s kind of an interesting mess, but it’s definitely not on par with most of their feature films.
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982; rewatch) — Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) joins the Navy to become a pilot. He quickly makes friends with another cadet (David Keith) and enemies with his Drill Sergeant (Lou Gossett, Jr.), and he lands a local girl (Debra Winger) for what will probably be a short fling until he can move on. It was nominated for a lot of awards and won a few, but it’s a boring mess of a movie and Gere’s performance doesn’t do it any favors. Fortunately, Austin comedy troupe Master Pancake was on hand to mock the film as it played, which is the only reason the film was worth watching.
Dinosaur 13 (2014; first-time watch) — While walking around the Black Hills of South Dakota, amateur paleontologist Susan Hendrickson came upon a partially-exposed Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. It was the 13th such skeleton ever discovered, and this one was far more complete than the first twelve. With the help of brothers Peter and Neal Larson, they excavated the find and took it back to their small-town workshop/museum where they were to extract the bones from the surrounding dirt and rock and put it on display. But then the FBI and National Guard showed up to seize the dinosaur. It’s a fascinating documentary with far more drama than you’d expect, although I was mildly frustrated by the order in which some of the facts were presented.
Pariah (2011; rewatch) — Alike (pronounced uh-lee-kah, or Lee for short) is a brilliant but shy teenage budding poet. She’s also a lesbian, although she’s trying to hide it from her parents, and they’re doing their best to keep themselves in denial. It feels very genuine and features terrific performances, although those things also make it difficult to watch at times.
Rings (2017; first-time watch) — It’s back. A video that kills you seven days after you watch it unless you can get someone else to see it. This time, a professor (Johnny Galecki) tries to study it by setting up an elaborate pyramid scheme, but the plot is foiled when the video mutates and one girl (Matilda Lutz) gets new content that others don’t see, and she can’t copy it to pass it on to someone else. There’s really nothing good about the movie, but it’s not as terrible as it could have been. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/02/06/rings/.
Cathy’s Curse (1977; first-time watch) — A father, mad at his wife for leaving him and taking their son, gets into a fatal car accident with his daughter. Jump to many years later, and the son is now moving into his father’s house with a family of his own. His daughter finds his late aunt’s doll in the attic and becomes possessed by its spirit. Or at least I think that’s what happens. This movie does not make any sense, which does lead to a couple of pretty great moments, but it’s also got way too much downtime.
The Lawnmower Man (1992; rewatch) — Jeff Fahey does a full-retard version of Rain Man, but with lawnmowers instead of math. He turns into Carrie, but with lawnmowers, after Pierce Brosnan gives him some drugs and virtual reality. It’s more coherent than I remembered, but still just as awful. Maybe even more awful.
John Wick 2 (2017; first-time watch) — John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is trying to go back into retirement, but he’s pulled out again when Santino, a former acquaintance, insists on cashing in a favor. Santino wants John to kill his sister so that he can have her seat at the head of the New York mafia. It may not be quite as good as the first, but it’s fun nonetheless. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/02/10/john-wick-chapter-2/.
The Lego Batman Movie (2017; first-time watch) — Bruce Wayne/Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) likes his solitude. Or at least that’s what he tells himself. But when Gotham is threatened by a horde of villains, he may not be able to handle it all alone. It doesn’t have much connection to The Lego Movie, and it’s surprisingly predictable in both plot and humor, but it still manages to land a lot of laughs even when you see them coming. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/02/11/the-lego-batman-movie/.
Mendenki (Sing; 2016; Hungary; 25 minutes; first-time watch) — Zsófi has just transferred to a new school, and she’s excited to join the choir. She’s even more excited when she learns that the choir will be performing in an upcoming competition, and the winning group gets to travel to Sweden. Then Zsófi learns how committed her teacher is to winning the competition. It’s got a fairly predictable outcome, but it’s executed well.
Silent Nights (2016; Demark; 30 minutes; first-time watch) — Kwame traveled to Denmark in the hopes of earning enough money to support his wife and three children back in Ghana, but so far he’s not doing so well. Racism is pretty rampant, and there are more people in need than resources to help them. But then he meets Inger, a volunteer at the local Salvation Army and they strike up a friendship. And then a relationship. This is another film where you can see everything coming from a mile away, but the performances are strong.
Timecode (2016; Spain; 15 minutes; first-time watch) — Luna works as a security guard in a parking garage. One day, her boss calls and says that someone is claiming their car was damaged while in the garage. She reviews the camera footage and discovers that it was her co-worker, Diego. He’d accidentally kicked out the tail light in a fit of dancing while he was making his rounds. Luna covers for him and then leaves him a note telling him to check a particular piece of security footage. What follows is pure entertainment, without any real aspiration to be anything more than that, and I smiled all the way through it.
Ennemis Intérieurs (Enemies Within; 2016; France; 27 minutes; first-time watch) — An Algerian man has applied for French citizenship. When he was born, Algeria was part of France, and he’s actually lived in France all of his life, but he’d never bothered trying to become a citizen until now. But tensions are high between the French and Algerians since the rebellion, and his interview quickly turns into an interrogation. It’s the most serious of the live-action shorts and perhaps also the least predictable. If it had been edited a little tighter, or if it found a way to provide a little more context to audiences not entirely familiar with the French-Algerian tension of the 1990s, it probably would’ve been the best of the shorts.
La Femme et le TGV (The Woman and the TGV aka The Railroad Lady; 2016; Switzerland; 28 minutes; first-time watch) — Elise (played by Jane Birkin) lives alone, her husband dead and her son grown up and moved away. She owns a bakery, but her heart isn’t in it. The only thing she really seems to care about is the TGV, a bullet train that races past her house every morning and evening. And every morning and evening, she’s hanging out her window to greet it, Swiss flag in hand. One day, she finds a note in her yard. It’s from the train’s conductor, telling her that her welcomes are among the best parts of his day. Before long, they’re pen pals, with her sending him letters and packages through the mail, and him tossing his out the window as he speeds by. Based on a true story, this is another one without a whole lot of depth, and perhaps an unnecessary extra storyline, but that is nonetheless fun to watch.
Borrowed Time (2016; USA; 7 minutes; first-time watch) — A man reflects on a childhood accident that took the life of his father. There’s really nothing more to the plot than that, but it looks really good (although the characters seemed overly cartoonish for the subject matter) and has an emotional bite to it.
Pearl (2016; USA; 6 minutes; first-time watch) — A girl reflects on her lifelong relationship with her car, and more so with the events connected with it. Her road trips with her musician father. Her road trips with her own band. It’s an interesting choice to show it right after the thematically-similar Borrowed Time, but it more than holds its own. It’s apparently available as a virtual reality experience, but I only saw it as a traditional 2D theatrical presentation.
Piper (2016; USA; 6 minutes; rewatch) — A baby seabird is pushed out of the nest by its mother so that it can learn to fend for itself. There are some initial scares with the tide, but before long the chick starts to learn the ropes. This is the film with the highest production values (it originally played before Finding Dory) and the least significance, but it’s good for what it is.
Blind Vaysha (2016; Canada; 8 minutes; first-time watch) — Vaysha was born with a curious vision impairment: her left eye can only see the past, and her right eye can only see the future. She has no ability to see what’s happening right now, and apparently very little ability to handle living with her view of the world. It’s an interesting concept, but the film doesn’t do much with it and feels much longer than it actually is. The crude, highly-stylized animation also didn’t do much for me.
Pear Cider and Cigarettes (2016; UK/Canada; 35 minutes; first-time watch) — Rob and Techno are good friends, despite being very different. Rob has always been a responsible, productive member of society, while Techno has been reckless and irreverent. Upon learning that Techno has died, Rob reflects on their experiences together. This is clearly a very personal story for the filmmaker, but that does not at all translate into a film that is engaging to an audience who already knows the outcome. It’s way too long and poorly paced, and Techno is a highly unsympathetic character that it’s difficult to connect with or care about.
Asteria (2016; France; 5 minutes) — A couple of astronauts land on an unknown planet, only to find that they’re not the first to arrive. Some small alien creatures got there first and have already planted their flag, but they’re smaller and appear to be weaker, so the astronauts plan to just take it from them. It’s completely insignificant but reasonably entertaining.
The Head Vanishes (2016; France/Canada; 10 minutes; first-time watch) — An elderly woman’s head has become separated from her body, but she’s coping with it. It’s a metaphor that deals with a touching subject, but it feels a little too clumsy and on the nose to truly achieve its intended goal.
Once Upon a Line (2016; USA; 8 minutes; first-time watch) — A man is content to live a pretty uneventful life, represented by minimal black pencil outlines on a white background. Then he meets and falls for a woman who’s all in pink, and he can’t see things the same way anymore. Maybe I would’ve enjoyed this more if Anomalisa hadn’t vastly outclassed it in every conceivable way, but I’m really not sure that’s true.
Sembene! (2015; first-time watch) — Until the 1960s, African countries were claimed as colonies of other countries, and Africans were prohibited from making their own films. When Senegal gained its independence, Ousmane Sembene was one of the first African filmmakers to emerge, and to start creating films about Africans for Africans. It’s an enlightening documentary about one of the most important figures in African cinema and the African freedom movement, albeit also a flawed man.
Black Girl (1966; first-time watch) — A young woman from Dakar, Senegal is hired as a governess for a French family and is excited to see Paris. But she soon learns that she’s to be more a maid than a governess, and that she’s always on call, so she never gets to go out, and that she’s not going to get the respect she thinks she deserved. This is Ousmane Sembene’s first feature film, and quite possibly the first feature film from a sub-Saharan African director. It’s an important film, and an interesting look at how Africans perceive themselves, which may also explain why I had trouble perceiving it in the same way as its intended audience.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920; first-time watch) — One of the earliest versions of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson stories, this one features John Barrymore as the titular duo. It’s got some truly great images, including a representation of a spider that is impressive and creepy, and this screening was made extra-special by a live score composed and performed by the Austin-based Invincible Czars.
Vertigo (1958; rewatch) — Jimmy Stewart plays John Ferguson, a detective who’s recently decided to retire after discovering that he has a paralyzing fear of heights at one of the worst possible times. But he’s convinced to take one more case by a college buddy who’s afraid that his wife Madeline (Kim Novak) is going crazy and potentially suicidal. This is one of Hitchcock’s most lauded films, and rightly so because it is a masterpiece of cinematography and direction (all the more evident when watching the film from a gorgeous 70mm print), but I just can’t accept that the “Master of Suspense” would choose to eliminate any possibility of suspense in the final third of the movie by immediately spoiling a major plot point as soon as it happens. Also, John’s best friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) is so much hotter and more desirable than Kim Novak’s Madeline.
The Battle of Algiers (1966; first-time watch) — A film that depicts the Algerian struggle for independence from the French government, and the tactics that the French used in an attempt to quell that resistance. It’s a tremendous, powerful film that only suffers from not providing enough context for modern audiences who may not be as familiar with the Algerian rebellion as audiences at the time the film was released.
Punch-Drunk Love (2002; rewatch) — Barry (Adam Sandler in what is probably the least Adam Sandlery role) is lonely and emotional. And just it’s looking like he might have a chance of finding someone, and also scoring a tremendous deal on air travel, he finds himself being conned by the people who run a phone sex line. Director Paul Thomas Anderson seems to be channeling Michel Gondry with frenetic sound, motion, and whimsy, and he pulls it off well, even while keeping Sandler in check.
My Bloody Valentine (1981; rewatch) — In answer to the popularity of the American movie Friday the 13th, the Canadians made a slasher set on Saturday the 14th. February 14th, to be specific. Valentine’s Day. Except the mining town of Valentine Bluffs hasn’t observed the holiday in twenty years. Not since Harry Warden went on a killing spree and put a lot of human hearts in heart-shaped boxes. But he’s been safely locked up for a couple of decades and the townspeople foolishly think it’s safe to start celebrating again. It’s a fun movie with some great deaths, but it’s unfortunate that we don’t actually get to see some of the best kills.
The Witch Who Came from the Sea (1976; rewatch) — Molly is a good aunt, with fond memories of her father that she wants to convey to her nephews. Except she doesn’t actually have good memories of her father. She has bad repressed memories of her father, and she takes it out on all the hunky men that she meets. It’s a very dark movie, and it’s definitely not for everyone, but it has a tremendous amount of charm for the people who do like it.
The Great Wall (2017; first-time watch) — Matt Damon plays an Irishman who’s really good with a bow and arrow. He’s leading a group of people into China in hopes of finding black powder, but they instead encounter monsters. Telepathic, greed-fueled, horrendous-CGI dog monsters. It is dumb, dumb, dumb, but it’s not boring. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/02/17/the-great-wall/.
A Cure for Wellness (2016; first-time watch) — A big company wants to merge with another big company, but their CEO has gone to some Swiss sanitarium and doesn’t want to come back. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) has been sent to retrieve him, but that’s going to prove difficult. It’s boring, obvious, and way too long. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/02/18/a-cure-for-wellness/.
Point Break (1991; rewatch) — Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is an eager new FBI agent whose first case (under the tutelage of Gary Busey’s Pappas) is trying to capture a gang of bank robbers in presidential masks. The only lead they have is that they’re probably surfers, so Johnny needs to learn to surf to see if he can find any leads. He soon falls in with local surf god Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and his entourage. This screening was mocked by Master Pancake.
The Darktown Revue (1931; 18 minutes; first-time watch) — A short film produced by black filmmakers for black audiences, it primarily features a choir singing several songs, but has a brief interlude with two comedians doing a bit about a haunted house, and ends with a black preacher in blackface feigning a sermon but really just reciting the alphabet. The preaching is mildly amusing and the haunted house story is funny, but the singing probably wouldn’t be all that great even if the audio quality had been decent.
Hot Biskits (1931; 10 minutes; first-time watch) — A short film produced by black filmmakers for black audiences, it features a wager between two men playing miniature golf. One of them intends to use magnets to cheat, but his accomplice is easily distracted. It’s interesting to see a cartoonish plot done in live action, but it’s fairly forgettable.
The Bronze Buckaroo (1931; first-time watch) — A feature produced by black filmmakers for black audiences, it’s a very uninspired western about a bunch of cowboys looking to come to the aid of a friend who’s been captured by bad guys. There are a handful of fun moments, especially scenes involving ventriloquism and poker, but it’s a super-low-budget film with few original ideas that really drags even with a runtime of just under an hour.
Iced (1988; rewatch) — A skiing trip turns tragic when one member of the group storms off after an argument and loses control while on the slopes. Several years later, the remaining skiers reunite, and then start to die off. There may not be a lot of big action in the first hour of the movie, but there are still plenty of amazing little details that sustain the film until the killing starts.
Toni Erdmann (2016; rewatch) — A German woman finds her job, a consultant to a Romanian oil company, challenging and frustrating. It’s not helped at all when her father shows up unannounced and interjects himself into everything. It’s highly uncomfortable and full of cringe-inducing comedy, but that’s part of its charm, and its three-hour runtime doesn’t feel at all like three hours, although it does seem like it could’ve cut out the last 10–15 minutes for an even better film.
Shoes (1916; first-time watch) — An utterly devastating film with a dead-simple plot: a young woman (played by Mary MacLaren) must work to support her deadbeat father, her mother, and her three sisters, and doesn’t have the money to buy the new shoes that she desperately needs. It manages to overcome so many obstacles to become something more engrossing than just about any other film I’ve encountered. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/02/20/shoes-1916/.
A Clockwork Orange (1971; rewatch) — Alex (Malcolm McDowell) is the self-appointed leader of a gang of British thugs who love drinking spiked milk, ultra-violence, and other forms of debauchery. But when he’s ousted by his peers and captured by the police, he receives an experimental treatment that promises to cure him of all his evil tendencies. It’s a beautiful film filled to the brim with Ludwig van and disturbing content.
Brain Damage (1988; rewatch) — Brian (Rick Herbst) finds himself in a symbiotic relationship with a big blue worm, not too dissimilar from the ones depicted in Night of the Creeps and Slither. And like the worms in those films, this one wants brains. But this one gives back, in the form of a euphoria and trip-inducing blue liquid injected directly into his brain. It also talks with a Dean Martin-ish voice. Directed by Frank Henenlotter, it’s got a very similar feel to Basket Case, but with a bigger budget and better production values.
Cyborg (1989; rewatch) — In a post-apocalyptic world ruined by plague, a cyborg named Pearl (played by Dayle Haddon) has knowledge of the cure and needs to get it into the hands of the scientists who can make it a reality. But she is kidnapped by a bunch of pirates led by a guy named Fender (Vincent Klyn) who want control of the cure. Gibson (Jean-Claude Van Damme) doesn’t care at all about the cure for the plague, but he’s got his own vendetta against Fender, so maybe he’ll save the world anyway. It’s a very dumb movie with a lot of dead spots and a pretty meager plot, but director Albert Pyun claims it was taken out of his hands and we can blame JCVD for what it became. I suppose I believe that to an extent because it’s not as awesome as many other Pyun films.
Casablanca (1942; rewatch) — Casablanca, under the jurisdiction of unoccupied France, is full of people who are hoping to make their way to America and out of the increasingly Nazi-controlled Europe. Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart) operates a bar and not-so-secret casino, but he’s got a past and it’s in his best interest to stay as politically neutral and accommodating to the local authorities (primarily represented by Captain Louis Renault, played by Claude Rains) as possible. But one day, part of that past walks into his bar in the form of Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman). It’s an absolutely tremendous film that’s chock full of memorable lines and a wonderful, timeless story. It deserves all of the praise that’s heaped upon it.
Get Out (2017; first-time watch) — Chris (played by Daniel Kaluuya) is going home with Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her parents (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener). He’s black and she’s white, and her parents don’t know that he’s black, so he’s very nervous about the racial tensions that might erupt. He should’ve been more nervous about her mom’s penchant for hypnotism. This movie is little more than a fairly dull, predictable, and not-entirely-thought-out mashup of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets The Stepford Wives. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/02/25/get-out/.
Tampopo (1985; first-time watch) — A woman who owns a small ramen restaurant gets a truck driver to help her improve her food. Their quest to create the perfect broth, noodles, pork, and other components is frequently interrupted with a number of food-related tangents. It’s very funny and thoroughly enjoyable.
Hidden Figures (2016; rewatch) — The true story of the black women who were critical to NASA’s success. With special focus on mathematical phenomenon Katherine Goble-Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), engineering wizard Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and supervisor-turned-computer-programmer Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer). Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/01/08/hidden-figures/.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966; rewatch) — George (Richard Burton) is a history professor at the college where his wife Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) is the daughter of the president. They’ve just gotten home late from a party in honor of the new math—no, biology—professor Nick (a baby-faced George Segal, at least at the beginning of the movie) when Martha tells George that Nick and his wife Honey (Sandy Dennis) are coming over. What follows is an alcohol-fueled bout of hatred in service of some of the pitchest-black comedy ever captured, and some of the cruelest viciousness ever captured.
The Dumb Girl of Portici (1916; first-time watch) — From the same director in the same year as the unbelievably incredible Shoes comes this unbearable slog about a peasant girl who falls in love with a nobleman and creates an international incident. That sounds like it should be interesting, but it’s so over-long and plot-thin that all potential is lost. It’s meant to show off Anna Pavlova’s ballet skills, but her dancing, and some big fight scenes, really suffer from the 4:3 aspect ratio, the haphazardly-tinted black and white, and the boring use of wide shots with no camera movement. And it’s even worse when the digital restoration is from poor-quality sources, so everything is scratchy, faded, blown out, or otherwise less than ideal. Combine that with the egregious overacting, and you’ve got a real stinker.
City of the Living Dead (aka Gates of Hell; 1980; rewatch) — During a seance, a psychic sees a vision about a town called Dunwich in which a priest’s suicide has opened the gates of hell. She teams up with a reporter (Christopher George) and set out in search of this town so they can try to prevent a zombie apocalypse. Lucio Fulci delivers again as the king of the Italian zombie movie with a decent story with a fair amount of originality (even if it could be a little better paced), some good effects, and interesting kills.