Hell’s Half Acre (1954; first-time watch) — Donna Williams (played by Evelyn Keyes) lost her husband Richard when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. But she never really accepted it, and nearly a dozen years later, she has reason to believe that he’s still alive, living in Hawaii under the name Chet Chester (Wendell Corey), and that he’s been arrested for murder. She goes to see him and finds herself caught in the middle between cops, criminals, and the man who might be her husband. Aside from some old-fashioned racism masquerading as comedy, it’s a terrific, tightly-paced Hawaiian noir film with a lot of surprises.
Blue Steel (1990; rewatch) — On her first day out of the police academy, Megan Turner (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) finds herself up against a grocery store robber with a big gun. When he turns the gun on her, she empties her revolver into him. As he’s flying through the plate-glass window, he drops his gun right in front of Eugene Hunt (Ron Silver), who stealthily picks it up, makes his escape, and decides to go on his own killing spree and severely screw with Megan. Although it’s got some good moments up front, it loses all of its good will with a story that depends on stupidity, coincidence, implausibility, impossibility, and bad writing.
Frailty (2001; rewatch) — Screened in memory of his recent passing, Bill Paxton plays a single father who tells his sons that God has given him a mission to kill demons masquerading as humans. The younger son, Adam (Jeremy Sumpter), is on board with this right from the start, but the elder, Fenton (Matt O’Leary), tries to stop him. All of this is wrapped in a story in which a grown Fenton (Matthew McConaughey) is trying to convince FBI agent Wesley Doyle (Powers Boothe) that his brother is a notorious serial killer. It’s a terrific, suspenseful film that shows Paxton’s directorial talent as well as his acting versatility.
Near Dark (1987; rewatch) — Screened in memory of his recent passing, Bill Paxton plays one of a group of vampires (also including characters played by Lance Henriksen, Jenny Wright, Jenette Goldstein, and Joshua Miller). Wright’s character, Mae, seduces Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) with the intention of feeding, but as sunrise looms, she bites him but doesn’t bleed him and thus turns him into a vampire. Caleb is forced to confront his new circumstance and the prospect of killing for food while his father (Tim Thomerson) and little sister (Marcie Leeds) go looking for him. An early and strong directorial effort from Kathryn Bigelow, it’s a very fun movie that’s more romantic action-comedy than horror, and Paxton’s performance is a highlight.
Logan (2017; first-time watch) — Hugh Jackman reprises his Wolverine character again, this time to chauffeur a little mutant girl to North Dakota, accompanied by a quickly-growing-senile Professor X (Patrick Stewart). There are people who want to stop them. It’s a movie with a lot of problems, that didn’t interest me in the slightest, and that I didn’t really even want to see in the first place. I only went because I was given tickets to see the movie on the opening night of a new Alamo Drafthouse theater.
A United Kingdom (2016; first-time watch) — David Oyelowo plays Seretse Khama, a black man who is heir to the throne of Botswana. Rosamund Pike plays Ruth Williams, the white British woman he meets, marries, and wants to take back to Botswana as his queen. This sparks an international incident that leaves Khama exiled and Botswana in danger of being swallowed up by another nation. Based on a true story, it’s a good movie that doesn’t always go where you expect, and Oyelowo and Pike give strong performances. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/03/04/a-united-kingdom/.
Table 19 (2017; first-time watch) — A bunch of unwanted wedding guests (including Anna Kendrick, Lisa Kudrow, and Craig Robinson) commiserate with each other at an undesirable table. It’s a lackluster dramatic comedy with only one adequate joke, and even that gets thoroughly run into the ground. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/03/04/table-19/.
Terms of Endearment (1983; rewatch) — An overprotective mother (Shirley MacLaine) loses a daughter (Debra Winger) as she moves off with her husband (Jeff Daniels), but gains a former astronaut and current playboy (Jack Nicholson) as a new neighbor. While Winger and Daniels struggle with raising a family and remaining faithful, MacLaine and Nicholson form a hate-love relationship. It’s a truly wonderful, touching film with terrific writing, acting, and directing.
Chocolate (2008; rewatch) — When Yakuza boss Masashi is kicked out of Thailand, he leaves his pregnant girlfriend Zin behind. Their daughter, Zen, is autistic, but she’s got incredible reflexes and a real talent for fighting. This comes in really handy when Zin gets sick and they need to collect on debts to help pay for treatment. The only problem is that the people who owe those debts aren’t all that keen on paying, but fortunately Zen can be pretty convincing. From the director of Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior and The Protector, it’s a must-watch film if for no other reason than the insane stunts and tremendous fight scenes.
A Tale of Two Sisters (2003; rewatch) — A pair of sisters, Soo-mi and Soo-yeon, arrive home after some time away. It’s already hard enough adjusting to their father’s new wife, but it also seems like the house might be haunted. Written and directed by Kim Jee-woon, it’s not as brutal as I Saw the Devil or as funny as The Good, the Bad, the Weird, but it’s still a great film with a lot of tension.
Anatahan (1953; first-time watch) — A bunch of Japanese fishermen are stranded on a Pacific island during World War II. The island was already inhabited by a man and a woman, and the temptation of the lone woman plus the discovery of a way to make wine from coconuts makes for a lot of unrest. Despite being one of the last films directed by Josef von Sternberg, the English-language narration feels very out of place, and its pacing is horrendous.
Scream for Help (1984; rewatch) — Christina Ruth Cromwell (who has a real affinity for talking about people using their full names) thinks that her stepfather is trying to kill her mother. But nobody believes her, even when the accidents begin to pile up. But this movie doesn’t stick to the “is he or isn’t he” plot that you might expect. It takes so many unexpected turns, and it’s not what anyone would consider a classically good film, but it’s just so darn fun to watch that it defies the traditional good-or-bad classification. It’s like director Michael Winner (Death Wish, The Sentinel), writer Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play), composer John Paul Jones (of Led Zeppelin), and casting director Lynn Kressel (Bad Boys, Spider-Man) were trying their best to make a soap opera.
Beat the Devil (1953; rewatch) — A bunch of people (Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Edward Underdown, and Ivor Barnard) are en route to Africa. There’s hope of acquiring some Uranium-rich land so they can make a fortune, but they’re not all on board with this scheme. It’s a funny enough movie with a fair amount of snappy dialogue, but it’s not quite as amazing as you’d hope given the cast, director John Huston, and co-writer Truman Capote.
Kong: Skull Island (2017; first-time watch) — Bill Randa (played by John Goodman) believes that a newly-discovered island contains some legendary creatures, and he uses fear of losing out to Russia in order to convince a senator (Richard Jenkins) to get him a military escort from soldiers on their way home from Vietnam (led by Samuel L. Jackson). Randa also hires a tracker (Tom Hiddleston), and an anti-war photographer (Brie Larson) tags along. When they arrive, their helicopters are attacked by a giant ape. Fortunately, they come across a soldier (John C. Reilly) who’s been stranded there since World War II to help them on their one chance to get off the island. The movie feels like it was written for Godzilla rather than King Kong, but it’s adequate nonetheless. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/03/11/kong-skull-island/.
Beauty and the Beast (2017; first-time watch) — When a prince (played by Dan Stevens) scorns a witch, she casts a spell that turns him into a beast and some of his attendants into furniture and other assorted housewares. The spell will only be broken if he can get someone to fall in love with him before a rose loses all its petals. And then he meets Belle (Emma Watson) when her father (Kevin Kline) wanders onto the beast’s property and becomes his prisoner. It’s got promise, but the cinematography, CGI, auto-tune, and everything about Gaston (Luke Evans) make it nearly unbearable. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/03/17/beauty-and-the-beast-2017/.
The Belko Experiment (2016; first-time watch) — People working in Belko’s office in Bogotá, Colombia find themselves locked inside the building and at the whim of unknown overseers. A lot of them are going to die, but which ones and how many of them depend on whether they follow instructions and kill each other, or they ignore them and face death as punishment. It could’ve been fun, but instead it’s just plain awful. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/03/18/the-belko-experiment/.
Raw (2016; first-time watch) — When a strict vegetarian goes to veterinary school, she is immediately subjected to intense hazing, along with the rest of the new students. During that hazing, she’s forced to eat raw rabbit kidneys, and it’s as repulsive as she expected. But then she breaks out in a rash, and she starts getting weird cravings. It’s not so much a horror movie as it is a disgusting drama, but it’s about as much fun as a movie this gross can be. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/03/19/raw/.
They Call Me Jeeg Robot (2015; rewatch) — A low-level criminal finds himself with super strength after coming into contact with toxic waste. Although he initially uses it for personal gain, when he finds himself taking care of an acquaintance’s mentally-deficient, anime-robot-obsessed daughter, he starts thinking of others. It could lose about 20 minutes (especially a scene in which the hero commits a highly uncomfortable and pretty unforgivable act, and the clumsy Hollywood ripoff final scene), but it’s a reasonably entertaining film.
Run Lola Run (1998; rewatch) — Manni is in trouble. He lost 100,000 Deutschmarks obtained from less-than-legal activity, and he’s meeting the people who expect that money in 20 minutes. His girlfriend, Lola (played by Franka Potente), is determined to get the money, get to him, and save his life. It’s tight, intense, funny, and innovative. Always a joy to watch.
The Fly (1986; rewatch) — Seth Brundle (played by Jeff Goldblum) is a scientist who has invented teleportation and managed to keep it a secret, up until the time he told a reporter (Geena Davis). But when he was testing his ability to teleport himself, a fly got into the chamber with him, and the teleporter became a gene splicer. It’s as fantastic as it is disgusting, and it works on many different levels. Cronenberg and Goldblum are both in top form.
Reservoir Dogs (1992; rewatch) — Joe Cabot (played by Lawrence Tierney) and his son “Nice Guy” Eddie (Chris Penn) plan a jewel store heist with a number of top criminals (including Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino, and Edward Bunker). But it went bad, not all of them made it out alive, and now they suspect that one of them is an undercover cop. It’s Tarantino’s first feature film, and it’s definitely rough around the edges, but it’s well written and very bloody.
Friday Foster (1975; rewatch) — Pam Grier plays the eponymous photographer who captures an attack on a wealthy, elusive black man. As a result, she finds herself trying to stay alive while she and her boss (played by Yaphet Kotto) try to make sense of everything that’s going on. It’s a gritty blaxploitation film with plenty of action and a star-studded cast that includes Carl Weathers, Eartha Kitt, Scatman Crothers, Ted Lange, Godfrey Cambridge, and Jim Backus.
The African Queen (1951; rewatch) — Rose Sayer (played by Katharine Hepburn) is serving with her missionary brother Samuel (Robert Morley) to bring Christianity to African heathens. Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) works for a mining company and spends a lot of his time going up and down the river on his steam-powered vessel, the African Queen. Then World War I breaks out, the Germans start taking over Africa, and Samuel dies. Charlie takes Rose aboard his boat in the hopes of hiding out until the war ends, but she convinces him to turn it into an attack on a German stronghold. A legendary pair of actors turn a good story into a great film.
Life (2017; first-time watch) — An unmanned spacecraft returning from Mars is retrieved by the scientists on board the International Space Station (including characters played by Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya). It has soil samples that a rover identified as having potential signs of past life, and upon taking a closer look, they discover not only signs of past life, but of current life in a dormant state. What starts out as a single-celled creature starts growing very quickly. It’s curious, resilient, and dangerous. And then it gets loose. It’s got a little too much in common with Alien, and I really wish it had taken a different direction toward the end, but it’s still a pretty engaging sci-fi horror. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/03/24/life/.
Stargate (1994; first-time watch) — Dr. Jackson (played by James Spader) has been studying Egyptian history and language. He’s brought in on a secret discovery to help the government decipher a large ring. It turns out that the ring is a kind of teleportation device, and Dr. Jackson joins a group of military explorers led by Colonel O’Neil (Kurt Russell). They’re transported to what seems to be ancient Egypt but with seemingly no way to get back and constant threat from Ra, the sun god. It’s a dull movie on its own, but fortunately, Master Pancake was on hand, along with Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu (“The Mads” from Mystery Science Theater 3000), to mock the film.
Outlaws (1986; first-time watch) — In the 1880s, four outlaws (played by Richard Roundtree, Charles Napier, William Lucking, and Patrick Houser) have just stolen a bunch of gold coins. They’ve been cornered by the sheriff (Rod Taylor), but it’s a dark and stormy night, and a lightning strike teleports them into the 1980s. It’s actually the pilot episode for a TV series that lasted half a season, but the agonizing pacing and the repetitive nature makes it hard to fathom watching any of the other eleven episodes. But Master Pancake, Frank Conniff, and Trace Beaulieu made it an entertaining experience.
Wilson (2017; first-time watch) — Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is the kind of annoying asshole who hates people who want to be left alone. As a result, people hate him, and he’s alone most of the time. He decides to track down his ex-wife Pippi (Laura Dern), who left him when she was pregnant. He learns that she didn’t have an abortion after all, but had the baby and gave it up for adoption. So he decides to track his daughter down and try to form a relationship with her. It tries to be funny and sincere, but it spends so much of its time being aggressively unpleasant that it’s hard to connect with the film. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/03/25/wilson/.
Song to Song (2017; first-time watch) — A rich douchebag music producer (Michael Fassbender) is obsessed with showing off, having women, being miserable, and making others miserable. Those others include characters played by Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara, who fall in and out of love with each other, and Natalie Portman, who marries him for money so her mom isn’t homeless. There’s virtually no plot, no dialogue over a whisper, no energy, only the most clichéd settings in Austin, and extreme abuse of fisheye lenses. There’s nothing worth seeing here. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/03/26/song-to-song/.
Sudden Death (1995; rewatch) — It’s Die Hard in a hockey rink. Terrorists (led by Powers Boothe) storm a hockey game, rigging the arena to explode, replacing the personnel with their own assassins, and holding a number of hostages, including the Vice President (Raymond J. Barry). Jean-Claude Van Damme is a fire marshall at the arena and is the only one there who’s discovered the plot and is the only one that can save the day. It’s got some insane action, particularly a long fight in a gourmet kitchen with a terrorist dressed up as the home team’s mascot. It’s a very fun watch on its own, but seeing it given the Master Pancake treatment (aided by Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu) takes it to a whole new level.
T2: Trainspotting (2017; first-time watch) — It’s twenty years after the first film, and Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) has returned to Edinburgh to try to make things right after he stole money from his friends. He doesn’t get the kind of welcome he’d hoped for, but Spud, Sick Boy, and Begbie (Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle, respectively) have been living their lives and are caught up in their own dramas. I went into this one with low expectations but found it surprisingly okay. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/03/26/t2-trainspotting/.
Lady Battle Cop (1990; first-time watch) — Japan’s second-best female tennis player is caught up in a laboratory explosion and presumed dead. An American cartel is to blame, and they’re trying to take over all of Japan, with the help of a muscular, oiled-up psychic who’s capable of picking up and crushing things with his mind. It looks like nothing can stop the cartel until, but then tennis player re-emerges, this time wearing a robotic suit. It’s obviously a RoboCop ripoff, but with a female robot (complete with earring and high heels), and with a couple of pretty enjoyable songs (perhaps more as a result of bad translation than on their own merits).
Actor Martinez (2017; first-time watch) — Arthur Martinez is a computer technician by day and actor by night. He’s hired a pair of filmmakers to make a movie with him as the lead, and they’re having trouble casting his female costar. It’s purportedly real, and I think that it probably is, at least for the most part, but it’s just bad enough to be some kind of performance art piece or maybe a practical joke on the audience. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/03/27/actor-martinez/.
La belle et la bête (aka Beauty and the Beast; 1946; rewatch) — When Belle’s father’s ships were lost at sea, her family lost their fortune. While on a trip to see what he can do about it, her father comes across a remote castle. He plucks a rose for Belle, and the castle’s inhabitant, a beast, takes him hostage. He agrees to release him so he can say goodbye to his family, but Belle decides to take his place. She’ll live with the beast as his prisoner while he tries to win her heart. Jean Cocteau manages to pull off the fantastical elements of the story with practical effects and 1940s technology, and the film’s focus on tragedy and longing makes for a more powerful story than more modern attempts.
The Legend of Billie Jean (1985; rewatch) — Billie Jean Davy (Helen Slater) and her brother Binx (Christian Slater; no relation to Helen) are close. Their family is definitely not rich, but when their father died, they were able to use some of the insurance money to get a nice motor scooter for Binx. When some rich bully kids steal and trash the scooter, they go to the police, but Officer Ringwald (Peter Coyote) doesn’t take them seriously, so they go looking for restitution on their own. The situation escalates quickly, and soon Billie Jean and Binx, along with their friends Putter and Ophelia (Yeardley Smith and Martha Gehman), are fugitives from the law, and living legends to the local youth. It’s very heavy-handed with all of its Joan of Arc references, but that’s easy to forgive with its energetic soundtrack and big dumb fun story.
Empire of the Sun (1987; first-time watch) — When the Japanese stormed Shanghai during World War II, a British family was caught up in it, and a young boy (Christian Bale) was separated from his parents. Although he was initially able to get by on his own, he eventually ended up in a prison camp, befriended by characters played by John Malkovich and Joe Pantoliano, although only to the extent that he was able to help them. It’s a good movie, and Bale’s performance is certainly a highlight, but it’s not so great that it justifies its 153-minute runtime.
Castle of Blood (1964; first-time watch) — While visiting London, Edgar Allan Poe (played by Silvano Tranquilli) is tracked down by a reporter, George (played by Alan Foster), looking for an interview. Poe is listening to a story about a haunted castle, and its owner, Lord Blackwood (Raul H. Newman), bets the reporter that he can’t survive a night there because no one ever has. George takes the bet and soon learns that the dead have come back to life. Also starring Barbara Steele as one of the spirits inhabiting the castle, it’s an entertaining film that moves slowly but deliberately.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965; rewatch) — Three women (Varla, Rosie, and Billie, played by Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams) are racing cars in the desert when Tommy and Linda (Ray Barlow and Sue Bernard) come upon them. Things get out of hand, and Tommy ends up dead and Linda a hostage. While the girls are trying to figure out what to do, they come upon a remote house in the desert owned by a demented, pervy man in a wheelchair (Stuart Lancaster) who supposedly has a big stash of money hidden somewhere on his property. He lives with his two sons, one of whom is a hulking simpleton (Dennis Busch), and the other (Paul Trinka) a seemingly normal guy. Tensions run high as the girls try to figure out how to get out of their predicament. The women are tough, the old man is evil, and the movie is very fun and surprisingly tame for the amount of uproar it caused when it was released.
Ghost in the Shell (2017; first-time watch) — In a near future where it’s commonplace for people to receive cybernetic upgrades, Major Mara Killian (Scarlett Johansson) becomes the first person to have her brain implanted in an entirely robotic body. Now she’s a super soldier trying to solve a crime in which a murderous hacker seems to be targeting people from the robotics company that made her. It’s a terrible remake of the innovative 1995 anime film that looks awful (like some kind of ADHD Blade Runner ripoff), a really dumb idea of what the future will be, and a big helping of racial insensitivity. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/03/31/ghost-in-the-shell-2017/.