Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961; rewatch) — Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) is a professional mooch, living on the generosity of wealthy men and (possibly naively) as a go-between for an imprisoned mob boss and his lawyer. Her new neighbor, Paul Varjak (George Peppard), is a writer who’s not writing anymore now that a married woman is paying him for the pleasure of his company. They become fast friends but insist they’re happy with their separate lifestyles.
The Handmaid’s Tale (1990; first-time watch) — In a future in which 99% of women are infertile, the remaining 1% are forced into becoming surrogate mothers for the rich and powerful. Kate (Natasha Richardson) is assigned to a military commander (Robert Duvall) and his wife (Faye Dunaway), who have tried and failed with others, with unpleasant outcomes for those handmaids. Kate must hope she conceives, while also getting caught up in a resistance movement.
The Warriors (1979; rewatch) — Cyrus is the leader of one of New York’s gangs. He calls a meeting of gangs to discuss a truce between the gangs, but he’s killed, and The Warriors are framed for it. Now they’re wanted by all the other gangs, and also by the police, and they need to make it back to their home turf on Coney Island before they get killed. It’s a dark, rough film that hasn’t aged well in all aspects, but it’s still fun on its own, and even more so with the assistance of local movie-mocking comedy troupe Master Pancake Theater.
Forbidden Planet (1956; rewatch) — A crew of space travelers (led by Commander Adams, played by Leslie Nielsen) arrive on the planet Altair 4 to look for a missing spaceship and crew. They find only one of the crew, Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), still alive, along with his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis), and a high-tech robot that he’s created. The rest of the crew was killed by a mysterious force, but Dr. Morbius and his daughter seem immune. But now that new space travelers have arrived, the attacks are resuming. It’s a science fiction classic that may be a little corny at times but is still a thoroughly entertaining film.
The Colossus of New York (1958; first-time watch) — Dr. Jeremy Spensser (played by Ross Martin) is a brilliant scientist with the potential to end many of the problems associated with the world’s booming population. But when he’s killed in an accident before he can reach his full potential, his brain surgeon father (Otto Kruger) and mechanical wizard brother (John Baragrey) work together to salvage his brain and encase it in a robotic body. It’s an interesting premise, but the plot is highly illogical, and the audio is unpleasantly harsh.
The Devil’s Candy (2015; rewatch) — Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vince) hears voices that tell him to do bad things. He tries to drown them out by playing his guitar really loudly, but that just makes people mad, so he always ends up succumbing to the voices and killing people. He took off for a while after he killed his parents, and in the meantime, the Hellman family (Jesse, Astrid, and their daughter Zooey, played by Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby, and Kiara Glasco, respectively) bought the now-vacant house. Then Ray comes back. This is a surprisingly strong film with wonderful cinematography, great acting (especially from the young Kiara Glasco), and a metal soundtrack that suits the film even if you’re not into metal.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990; rewatch) — After Mr. Wing dies, Gizmo wanders out of the shop and is immediately captured by a man who turns out to be a genetic researcher in a skyscraper that is a virtual city unto itself in downtown New York. A skyscraper in which Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) also happens to work as an architect and Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates) as a tour guide. Gizmo’s song leads Billy to him, but before Billy can get him home to safety, a convoluted set of circumstances leads to a new outbreak of Gremlins, this time with all kinds of new superpowers. Fortunately, the Futtermans (Dick Miller and Jackie Joseph) are visiting Billy and Kate and are on hand to help out. It’s much dumber and less dark than the original, but much funnier and jam-packed with visual and audio gags, deep references, and stars. It may not be as good as its predecessor, but it’s every bit as entertaining.
1984 (1984; rewatch) — An adaptation of George Orwell’s farce turned instruction manual for big government. Winston Smith (John Hurt) makes a living editing news articles to reflect what the government wants people to believe rather than what really happened. He meets and falls in love with Julia (Suzanna Hamilton), but they have to keep their romance a secret because the government wants to abolish sex for pleasure as part of their desire to keep tight control over the people. It’s good but probably doesn’t make as much sense as it should for people who haven’t read the book.
Blade (1998; rewatch) — Blade (Wesley Snipes) is a special kind of vampire. His mom was bitten when he was in the womb, and he inherited the vampire strength and healing capabilities, but also the human ability to handle sunlight and silver. He still has a taste for blood but suppresses that with a special serum that his friend Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) makes for him. And together, they fight the bad vampires, especially Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), who wants to stop coexisting with humans and turn them into food slaves. Deacon has a plan to resurrect a super-vampire god, and he thinks that Blade’s blood is the key. It’s fun enough but too long and the CGI is pretty awful at times.
Whose Streets (2017; first-time watch) — This documentary provides a look at the civil unrest that happened in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 after white police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man. The film features footage captured by people on the ground during the events, and I was hoping for something like a Citizenfour, in which we were able to watch history unfold (although this would obviously have a much different feel based on the subject matter). Unfortunately, what we got is overly long and poorly laid out. It uses a mostly verite style, with no commentary from the filmmakers, so we’re mainly following a number of activists, and sometimes for activities that have nothing to do with the film’s subject.
It’s easy to understand why people were upset by the shooting, by the overwhelming and largely unjustified police response to the protests, and by the decision that it wasn’t even worth holding a trial to see if Wilson was guilty of any wrongdoing. It’s easy to understand that the resulting fear and outrage may have caused people to act in irrational ways. But the film, lacking in any kind of commentary except the events that it chooses to present to us, focuses too much on people who acted in ways that were completely unproductive and nonsensical (like a group of people stopping traffic on major roadways). Its subjects often provide information that seems suspicious without any kind of fact checking. Perhaps a more experienced group of filmmakers might have been able to craft the content into a more effective and sensible report and call to action.
Burden (2016; first-time watch) — Chris Burden made a name for himself as a performance artist in the 1970s through some rather extreme works. He’s perhaps best known for having someone shoot him in the arm, which didn’t go exactly as planned. For a postgraduate thesis, he spent five days living in a tiny locker. And, of course, there’s the time that he had himself nailed to the back of a Volkswagen.
This documentary focuses on the life of the recently deceased artist. It explains how he went on to make other performance art pieces that were even more pretentious, made less sense to the intended audience, and often frustrated everyone except for (or even including) himself. It also details some of his later work, after he’d largely given up performance art and creating things that could be perhaps more easily enjoyed by ordinary people. Through interviews and archival footage, it tries (and not always successfully) to describe his mindset and motivation and what those around him saw in his work. The video quality isn’t always great, but the content certainly isn’t boring, even if you’re one of those people who doesn’t always “get” his type of art.
Antiporno (2016; first-time watch) — In the latest film by Sion Sono (Exte: Hair Extensions, Love Exposure, Cold Fish, Tokyo Tribe, Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, Love and Peace), we meet Kyôko, who seems to be some kind of famous artist. She’s got a busy day planned, with interviews and photo shoots, and she’s high on getting to abuse her assistant, who’s willing to do seemingly anything to please her.
But then, what seems like a minimal narrative becomes something completely different. It would be spoilerish to try to explain any more, and I’m not entirely sure that I fully understand everything that happens in it, but it’s short, funny, and surprisingly entertaining for a movie that so often teeters on the edge of boredom. There are things about the movie that don’t work, and the ever-evolving nature of the film makes it hard to nail down, but it’s worth checking out, especially if you’ve liked any of Sono’s previous films.
Hello/Goodbye (narrative short; 2016; first-time watch) — A man cares for his ailing grandmother by taking her on walks, by sitting with her in the park, and by going with her to get tea. A woman cares for her ailing grandmother by taking her on walks, by sitting with her in the park, and by going with her to get tea. Their paths cross and they exchange glances, but they’re always too busy with their respective grandmothers to do any more than that. It’s a simple, bittersweet short film that works well and makes a good pairing with the attached feature, Lost in Paris.
Lost in Paris (2016; first-time watch) — Fiona is a Canadian woman who receives a letter from her elderly aunt Martha, who lives in Paris. She’s not doing so well, and they want to put her in a home. Fiona heads off to Paris to try to meet her, only to get no response when she rings at her apartment. An unfortunate encounter with the Seine river leaves her with only the wet clothes on her back—no money, no passport, and no luggage.
It’s a surprisingly light and whimsical film given its somewhat dark subject matter. It feels like it’s going for a Wes Anderson sort of vibe, but fortunately, it fails at that because it’s not the worst thing ever made. Not all of the comedy works as well as I’d like, and the “Fiona and Martha are constantly missing each other” gags do get a bit tiresome, but it’s still an enjoyable film that’s worth checking out.
Menashe (2017; first-time watch) — Menashe (pronounced “men-osh-uh”) is a devout Hasidic Jew, who lives in a Hasidic community in New York City. His wife, Leah, died a year ago, leaving him alone to care for their son. Unfortunately, rabbinical law states that a boy should be raised by two parents, so Menashe is forced to let him live with Leah’s brother’s family. Menashe is lonely, has a crappy job, and doesn’t get any respect from just about anyone.
The film provides an interesting look at Hasidic culture and practices that are probably not familiar to most audiences. It’s often entertaining, but it’s also dark and depressing and feels like it’s really piling it on at times. It’s also a little obvious at times, and if you ask yourself in each scene, “how could this go wrong?”, you’ll probably end up being not too far off.
Lake Bodom (2016; first-time watch) — In 1960, four teens were killed while camping on the shore of Finland’s Lake Bodom. The murders were never solved but raised a lot of speculation and folk tales about what might have happened. Atte is particularly interested in the story, and he gets the bright idea to take his own camping trip out there to see what happens. So he convinces his friend Elias, and together they trick Ida and Nora into coming along. And then things start happening.
It’s a fairly standard horror movie that has decent enough production values and isn’t always as predictable as you might expect. Unfortunately, though, that unpredictability doesn’t last. It pursues storylines farther than it should, killing the suspense and weakening the film in the process. It’s adequate but could have been a lot better.
Kedi (2016; first-time watch) — Istanbul, Turkey is full of stray cats. You might even call it an infestation, except the idiots who live there encourage it by feeding, petting, and otherwise encouraging them to make themselves a public menace. This documentary is full of interviews with several of those people, and lots of footage of cats doing cat things.
This is a film without any substance at all. It’s an eighty-minute film with only about five minutes of unique content. And unfortunately, all the remaining fluff seems expertly crafted to make encourage asshole audience members (and there were many of them) to spend the whole time talking, fawning, and making utter nuisances of themselves. If you’re into cute cat videos, you might find it enjoyable. Otherwise, it’ll probably only fuel your dislike of humans.
Bitch (2017; first-time watch) — Jason Ritter plays a husband and father of four who spends all of his time at the office and none of it with his family. His wife (Marianna Palka) has been begging for a break, but he always puts his job first. Then it all becomes too much for her, and she snaps. She thinks she’s a dog, leaving her husband no choice but to take on some of the family responsibilities while trying to save face and his job. Also featuring Martin Starr as Ritter’s coworker and Jaime King as his sister-in-law.
This entire film feels like someone misheard the title to the Swedish film My Life as a Dog as “My Wife Is a Dog”, so they just decided to make that. It’s got one or two laughs, but otherwise, it’s highly predictable and not all that great. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the film is the work of the hair, makeup, wardrobe, and lighting departments for finding so many ways to conceal nudity on the naked woman turned dog.
Small Crimes (2017; first-time watch) — Joe (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is a former cop who found himself in debt to the wrong people, which led to him doing things he shouldn’t have done. He’s just gotten out of prison and is living at home with his parents (Robert Forster and Jacki Weaver). He thinks he’s done with that life, but others feel differently. Also featuring Gary Cole, Molly Parker, Macon Blair, and Pat Healy.
It’s hard to describe the film in much more detail without giving too much away, and it’s really a joy to discover the film as it unfolds. It mostly works, although there are a couple of times when it relies a little too heavily on coincidence. It’s worth seeing in a theater if you get the chance, and I’m glad that I did because after its festival run, it’s likely to only be available on Netflix, and you shouldn’t give them your money because they give it to Adam Sandler so that he can keep making movies.
Death Metal (narrative short; 2016; rewatch) — Kirk Johnson plays a man who’s given a special Satanic guitar and a set of rules that he must follow. HIs careless playing quickly turns deadly. It’s a very fun short film from director Chris McInroy (Bad Guy #2), and it’s the only reason I sat through Slayer: Repentless Trilogy.
Slayer: Repentless Trilogy (2017; first-time watch) — This is simply the music videos for three Slayer songs: Repentless, You Against You, and Pride in Prejudice. I went in with zero interest in or knowledge of Slayer and went out seriously regretting my decision to sit through it. The videos are openly racist, full of Nazi imagery, slurs against Jews, and, as the title of the third video proclaims, pride in their hatred. It’s shocking and disappointing that the festival would include something this completely vile and without any shred of merit or redeeming value.
The Big Day on Planet M.E.A.T. (narrative short; 2017; first-time watch) — It’s the Mustache people versus the Chin army. The Mustaches are holding some of the Chins hostage, and the Chins have a power source that the Mustaches need. There’s a battle, a double-cross, and a dinosaur.
It’s a movie by kids produced from a script written by a ten-year-old. And it feels like it. I’m sure it’s quite the accomplishment given the ages of the people involved, and maybe I might have enjoyed/tolerated it more if I’d known any of the people involved, but it’s just not that good a movie to show to unsuspecting festival attendees.
My Life as a Zucchini (2016; first-time watch) — Zucchini’s dad is a womanizer who’s not around any more. His mom is a drunk who dies in an accident. So he’s hauled off to live in a group home with several other kids who haven’t had the best luck in their lives so far, either. There’s some bullying at first, but soon they become great friends who stick up for each other. Then Camille shows up, and it’s love at first sight for Zucchini.
This one surprised me. The claymation is done very well, and the story is surprisingly deep. It gets very dark at times, especially when dealing with some of the things the kids have been through, but then it can turn on a dime to become sweet and uplifting. It works on just about every level, its pacing is tight, and it might just leave you with some emotions.
Buster’s Mal Heart (2016; first-time watch) — Jonah (Rami Malek) worked as the nighttime concierge at a hotel, which was just about the only job he could get. He really wanted to be able to provide for his wife (Kate Lyn Sheil) and his daughter, with the hope of someday buying a house on their own property, but he just couldn’t get ahead in his dead-end job, and his body couldn’t adjust to the hours, so he wasn’t much more than a sleep-deprived zombie most of the time. Then some things happened, and he started living alone in the woods, living off the land when it was warm enough, and breaking into unoccupied vacation homes when it got too cold. And when he started calling into radio shows with his crackpot ideas about a wormhole, he picked up the nickname Buster.
I’d heard good things about this one from last year’s Fantastic Fest, and it mostly lived up to the hype. Its nonlinear structure can be a bit confusing at times, while at the same time making it much too easy to guess at least one of the film’s twists, but it’s still entertaining even when you’ve got a pretty good idea about what’s coming. Also featuring DJ Qualls and Lin Shaye.
Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016; first-time watch) — The title pretty much says it all. This is a documentary about film scores and some of the most prominent people who make them, including the likes of Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Quincy Jones, Randy Newman, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross, plus a lot of talk about the all-time greats like John Williams and Bernard Herrmann.
The documentary is interesting and informative, but it’s also too long and too repetitive. While it does feature interviews with some of the greats, the majority of them are with composers attached to much less impressive films, like those featuring tiny blue creatures who live in the forest or a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea (and those composers often seem the douchiest and most self-important of them). It’s also loaded with clips from movies and actors that I can’t stand, so I found myself looking away from the screen for a substantial portion of it.
Another Evil (2016; first-time watch) — Dan (Steve Zissis) is a renowned artist with a remote vacation home, where he occasionally stays with his wife (Jennifer Irwin) and son (Dax Flame). But it turns out that the cabin is haunted, so they hire Osgood (Mark Proksch), aka Os, to try to rid them of their unwanted guests. After a while, Os becomes just as unwanted as the ghosts.
It’s a mildly funny movie, leaning more toward the amusing than the hilarious, and often venturing into uncomfortable awkwardness. The scarier aspects of it actually work pretty well, although it works more in suspense than gore or effects, so it’s the kind of film that’s more effective because of what your mind turns it into than what’s actually shown on screen.
The Transfiguration (2016; first-time watch) — Milo lives with his older brother Lewis in a poor New York neighborhood. Their parents are dead (their father through sickness and their mother by suicide), so they’re left to fend for themselves, which leads to Milo often being bullied. Milo is obsessed with vampire movies and lore, and he really wants to become a vampire himself, but his attempts thus far haven’t been all that successful. Then he meets Sophie, a new girl who’s moved into his building to live with her abusive grandfather.
This film reminds me a lot of Park Chan-wook’s Thirst in that it’s primarily a drama, and although vampirism is a key part of the film, it’s actually pretty incidental to the plot most of the time. The way that Milo is treated by others, and his relationship with Sophie, have almost nothing to do with vampires and would have been just as at home in a film that didn’t use the V word at all. But the way that it does incorporate that subject into its plot works really well and makes it all the more meaningful when it is necessary.
Feeding Time (narrative short; 2016; first-time watch) — New parents Dale and Vicki want to go out for the night, so they hire a sitter, Sasha, who comes highly recommended. She’s a typical high school kid, concerned with her boyfriend and the upcoming homecoming dance, but that’s not going to get in the way of her duties. So when she hears a noise upstairs, she goes to investigate and gets more than she bargains for.
It’s a very simple film with some rather crappy effects, but I like it a lot, and there are a couple of good reveals toward the end that gave it an extra bump just when you thought it was over. And it works well when paired with the feature film Sequence Break because Graham Skipper, who wrote and directed the feature, plays dad Dale in the short.
Sequence Break (2016; first-time watch) — Osgood (aka Oz, played by Chase Williamson) is a whiz at restoring and fixing old arcade games. Not only does it provide him with a job that he loves, but it also introduced him to his nerdy, game-loving girlfriend, Tess (Fabianne Therese). Then one day Oz finds a mysterious circuit board for a game that becomes a life-changing experience.
This movie is very much The Bishop of Battle (a segment in the Nightmares horror anthology) crossed with eXistenZ. I like both of those things a lot, and that probably has something to do with why I liked Sequence Break so much. It doesn’t seem like it knows how to end, so it does go a bit too far into the Cronenbergy end of the spectrum before copping out with a kind of “mega-happy ending” a la Wayne’s World, but by that point I’d already been won over by everything prior that the end didn’t diminish my enjoyment all that much.
The Night Watchmen (2017; first-time watch) — A couple of blundering delivery men accidentally drop a coffin off at a Baltimore newspaper office instead of the next-door medical laboratory. Inside that coffin was a clown, who had recently died on a trip to Romania. But the clown isn’t dead because Romania is where vampires come from, and this vampire clown also seems to have contracted a severe case of zombie. Now the office is under attack, and four night watchmen, along with a hot girl who works for the newspaper, have to try to survive the night.
Boy is this movie awful. It seems like it’s trying so hard to be funny, but it soon becomes obvious just how lazy those attempts are because the “comedy” consists only of the most obvious, lowbrow, and effortless things. Things like the zombie vampire clowns farting whenever they get killed or giving each of the watchmen some quirk (like the black guy who can’t quite seem to say “black things” without screwing them up). The comedy is almost as bad as the horrible fake teeth everyone is using, and maybe even worse when it’s coming from James Remar, who really should have known better. It’s like one of those awful spoof movies, but I really don’t think that’s what it was trying to be. At any rate, there’s no reason to see it, and it offers no redeeming value of any kind.
Dead Man’s Carnival: A Conversation with Pinkerton Xyloma (documentary short; 2016; first-time watch) — The traveling Dead Man’s Carnival is a kind of modern vaudeville event featuring music, dance and gymnastics, burlesque, comedy and other kinds of acts. Pinkerton Xyloma is the face of the carnival, emceeing the shows and often participating in them in various capacities. I wouldn’t call it bad, but it is sometimes marginally unpleasant, and sometimes awkward visuals or an uneven sound mix. I’d probably not like the carnival, but the film is okay.
A Father’s Dream (documentary short; 2017; first-time watch) — David Finck makes violins. His father had dreamed of becoming a violin maker but never followed through. So when his daughters Ledah and Willa both took the instrument up when they were young, David decided to investigate what it would take to make one from scratch, and it actually turned out really good. It’s a good story, told well and without any extraneous content.
Ten Meter Tower (documentary short; 2016; first-time watch) — A ten-meter high dive (about 33 feet) is rigged with microphones, and a camera is trained on the platform and kept rolling while regular people realize just how high it is. There’s a lot of hesitation, people psyching themselves up, some jumping, some falling, and some chickening out. It’s simple, funny, and relatable, but one jump, in particular, goes on too long and makes it lose some of its charm.
Write to Kill (documentary short; 2015; first-time watch) — Shortly after the school shootings in Columbine, Colorado, Gina Tron caused a similar scare in Barre, Vermont. She was tired of getting bullied, so she wrote a threatening note, which was taken much more seriously than she intended, to the point that they even had armed guards at their prom. It’s a combination of archival footage and interviews, but some of that footage may have been captured a while ago since it certainly doesn’t seem like the interviews feature a woman in her mid-to-late thirties. Unfortunately, the documentary is so low key that it fails to capture the excitement that certainly would have accompanied the actual event.
The Dundee Project (documentary short; 2017; first-time watch) — A small town in Wisconsin hosts a “UFO Daze” festival, where all the local kooks get together to talk about the UFOs that they’ve all encountered (or hope to encounter). Not surprisingly, many of these people have strong opinions on other matters, like chemtrails as evidence of government weather modification experiments. The video quality is pretty crappy, which does get in the way a bit when we’re looking at the night sky, but that’s nothing compared with the corny, overly-dramatic, thickly accented narration that accompanies the footage.
Troll: A Southern Tale (documentary short; 2016; first-time watch) — A Mississippi hipster artist (who I’m sure would take offense at being called a hipster) takes pleasure in goading people and making them uncomfortable. And that extends to the audience of this documentary since we’re subjected to multiple selections of his musical compositions and meaningless droning.
This Is Yates (documentary short; 2014; first-time watch) — I honestly have no idea what this one is about. It seems to be a collection of disparate home movie footage, perhaps all gathered around the area of Fayetteville, North Carolina. There’s a lot of white trash, stupid people doing stupid things, and some just completely incomprehensible (like what may be watering a tree in a cemetery, but I really can’t be sure because of the terrible image quality).
Project X (documentary short; 2017; first-time watch) — Rami Malek and Michelle Williams read from leaked NSA documents, like a handbook for undercover international travel and a report on domestic surveillance. Directors Laura Poitras (best known for Citizenfour) and Henrik Moltke have what should be an interesting and important documentary, but unfortunately, the visuals are a little dull (mostly footage of cityscapes and driving around), and the background music is so loud that it occasionally almost drowns out the narration.
Ape Sodom (narrative short; 2017; first-time watch) — A douchey Danny McBride-type guy (who’s totally certain that he’s the greatest person who has ever lived, but is very much not that) hires a homeless man to be his slave. It’s dull at times, but that’s preferable to the unpleasantness that accompanies other scenes (and especially one involving a somewhat exotic sexual act).
Conquistadorks (narrative short; 2017; first-time watch) — An animated story that imagines the voyage that Hernán Cortés took to the New World and his encounter with the Aztecs upon his arrival. I’m willing to bet that there are plenty of historical inaccuracies, but it’s very funny and tightly paced.
Doll Power (narrative short; 2017; first-time watch) — Tessa is given a genie doll by Barbara Eden. But even more interesting than the doll’s provenance is its magical abilities. It gives Tessa the power to blink in the style of a certain television genie and make things happen simply by wishing for them. It’s a fun, sweet film that’s clearly a family effort and is a joy to watch.
Here Lies Joe (narrative short; 2016; first-time watch) — Joe is a new attendee at the local suicide anonymous meeting, where he meets other people with suicidal tendencies, like the woman who tried to overdose on multivitamins. And like Z, who’s definitely going to kill herself, just as soon as she’s able to make the perfect suicide note. Soon, Joe and Z are hanging out together and sharing their neuroses with each other. It’s a very well done film, but it does go in the expected direction, and it feels like it could be a bit shorter.
Killed in Action (narrative short; 2017; first-time watch) — Rick and Don served together in World War II. Rick came back but Don didn’t, and now Rick feels that it’s his duty to visit Don’s widow Alice to tell her what happened. It’s a solid film that doesn’t go where you’d expect, which is refreshing.
Sure-Fire (narrative short; 2017; first-time watch) — Benny Boon is a con man with a lot of schemes in play, but they’re just not paying off. He owes a lot of money to a guy who really wants that debt paid, so Benny hatches a new plan. He sees that former actress Kitty Kinkaid is looking to make a comeback, and he’s sure that he can sell her a script that would be perfect for that. But he can’t write, so he places an ad for a screenwriter and gets a lot of interesting applicants. It’s a surprisingly fun film, although the premise (and especially how Benny will be able to profit from it) isn’t fully revealed until the end.
The Man from Death (narrative short; 2016; rewatch) — Stryder has a magical list that can tell the future. He and his companion Sergio keep getting themselves into trouble in the old west, but the list always seems to get them out of it. It’s a reasonably fun movie, but it’s too stylized in a way that that quickly starts to get annoying.
The Lure (2015; first-time watch) — Silver and Golden are sisters. They’re also mermaids. A nightclub owner finds them and wants to put them in a show where they sing and strip. And that’s just fine with them since they’re very good singers and have no problems with nudity. They also seem happy enough making the transformation between human and mermaid in public. But Silver has decided that she wants to become human, and that may put both of them in jeopardy.
This is definitely the best Polish mermaid musical that I’ve seen, although it seems to reinvent itself a couple of times over its relatively short runtime, which leads to it feeling somewhat uneven. It starts off very lighthearted and highly musical, but over time becomes much more serious and much less straightforward.
Dayveon (2017; first-time watch) — Dayveon is a thirteen-year-old boy who recently lost his brother to gang violence. And now he finds himself being initiated into that same gang. At first, it’s just companionship, but it soon progresses into him participating in the gang’s activities, much to the chagrin of his sister’s boyfriend who is trying to serve as Dayveon’s adult male role model.
It’s hard to believe that this movie is only 75 minutes since it feels much longer than that. Some of that may be because it’s often very hard to understand the dialogue, full of slang and mumbling. But it also feels like there are entire scenes with no purpose whatsoever. There are definitely moments in which it’s very effective, but there are too many that aren’t for my taste.
Mayhem (2017; first-time watch) — Derek Cho is a lawyer who’s doing a very good job at moving up the ladder at his firm, especially after his instrumental work in helping a big client beat a murder rap. But office politics are very serious business, and the people at the top don’t have any qualms about stepping on the people beneath them. When one of his superiors screws up, Derek finds himself the scapegoat, and he’s fired without much hesitation. But before he can be kicked out, the building is quarantined as a result of a viral infection that puts emotional reactions on overdrive. The building is overrun with fighting and violence, and, in the midst of that, Derek is determined to make his way to the top floor so he can help the executives see the error of their ways. Along the way, he’s accompanied by an angry woman who also feels that she’s been mistreated by the firm, but since he’s been her main point of contact with the company, her ire is directed as strongly at him as it is for anything else.
This is what The Belko Experiment should have been. Mayhem is a highly violent film in an office building, but it’s not as predictable or as stupid as Belko. It’s very funny, full of action, and loaded with gore, but not so stupid that it becomes hard to swallow. This is one I look forward to revisiting, and I hope I get the chance to do so in the near future.
Gravity (2013; rewatch) — While working on the Hubble Space Telescope, astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are caught in a storm of space debris that destroys both the telescope and the space shuttle that took them there. Now they’re stranded in space, running out of air and jetpack fuel. It’s a tense, tight thriller with good effects, and this screening was followed by a presentation from astrophysicist Dr. Rachael Livermore discussing how accurate the film’s science was.
Poltergeist (1982; rewatch) — The Freeling house is haunted. First, little Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) hears voices in the TV static. Then mother Diane (JoBeth Williams) discovers a mysterious energy that can move objects. Then while the family is distracted by Robbie (Oliver Robins) being pulled into a tree during a storm, Carol Anne goes missing. It’s a terrific story with some good effects (and some pretty cheesy ones, too), that also features Craig T. Nelson, Zelda Rubinstein, James Karen, and Michael McManus, and seeing it projected from a 70mm print made this screening all the more special.
Drive, He Said (1971; first-time watch) — Hector (William Tepper) is a college basketball player with strong prospects for going pro, but he’s increasingly apathetic and belligerent. He’s more interested in having sex (with his girlfriend Olive, played by Karen Black, and with others) and getting high than committing to his future and listening to his coach (Bruce Dern). Meanwhile, his friend Gabriel (Michael Margotta) is terrified of being drafted. It’s poorly paced and poorly shot, so it’s not a particularly great film, but it is noteworthy for being Jack Nicholson’s directorial debut.
Boarding Gate (2007; first-time watch) — Sandra (Asia Argento) used to do sexual favors for Miles (Michael Madsen), a businessman who employed her for his own services and for trying to extract information from customers and competitors. But when their relationship goes south, Sandra gets out of town, but her problems follow her. The film has interesting moments, but they’re interspersed between long stretches of unenthusiastic dialogue.
Your Name (2016; first-time watch) — Mitsuha and Taki have never met and don’t live anywhere near each other, but each keeps waking up in the other’s body. They devise a way to communicate with each other indirectly but attempts to speak to each other or meet in person keep falling apart. It’s a little confusing initially, but once you’ve gotten your bearings, it’s a very funny and highly captivating movie. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/04/14/your-name/.
Gifted (2017; first-time watch) — Mary Adler (played by McKenna Grace) is a mathematical genius, just like her mother, Diane, was before she committed suicide. So Mary now lives with her uncle Frank (Chris Evans), who occasionally gets a little help raising her with his landlord Roberta (Octavia Spencer). Frank wants Mary to be well-rounded, so he sends her to public school where her teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) quickly recognizes her abilities and inadvertently sets off a chain of events that leads to a bitter custody battle between Frank and his mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan). It sounds like it should be Oscar bait, but the incredible performances elevate the somewhat ordinary story into something pretty special. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/04/14/gifted/.
Colossal (2016; first-time watch) — Gloria (Anne Hathaway) loses her job and her boyfriend, so she goes back to live in her hometown for a while. She’s got a drinking problem, and it really doesn’t get any better when she runs into her old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who runs a bar and loves drinking every night until dawn. Then one day, a monster appears and attacks Seoul for a not-completely-unrelated reason. It’s a fun premise, but the characters are so intensely unlikeable, the editing is annoying, and the ending is simultaneously obvious and illogical. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/04/15/colossal/.
The Ten Commandments (1956; rewatch) — Charlton Heston plays Moses, whose mother set him afloat as an infant to avoid an Egyptian slaughter of all Israelite babies. He was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as an Egyptian, virtually a brother to the true prince, Rameses (Yul Brynner). But the Egyptians were hard on the Israelites, and when Moses learned of his heritage, he gave up his elevated position to join his people and to help orchestrate their freedom. It’s a tremendous film when seen in its 220-minute entirety, but this screening was slashed to 97 minutes for mocking by Master Pancake, and it lost a lot in the translation but gained a tremendous amount of comedy.
Saturn 3 (1980; first-time watch) — Adam and Alex (Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett) are the only two people on Saturn 3, a space station intended to produce food to help sustain Earth’s population. They’re not producing as much as they could, so they’re sent help in the way of Benson (Harvey Keitel) and his robot Hector. Hector has a human brain that was raised in a laboratory that was a blank slate until Benson started teaching it by connecting it to his brain. But Benson isn’t exactly mentally stable, so the robot isn’t either. It’s a thoroughly entertaining film that only suffers because it keeps going after a great ending to have two more endings that are progressively weaker.
Android (1982; first-time watch) — Dr. Daniel (Klaus Kinski) and his android assistant Max 404 (Don Keith Opper, although Max is credited as “himself” at the end of the film) are the only ones working on a space station. But they receive an emergency visit from three travelers having problems with their ship. Except that it’s not their ship. They were prisoners who took over the ship and killed the crew. The ship got damaged in the process, and they need to repair it so they can continue their escape, and they’re willing to take out any human or android who gets in their way. It’s an entertaining film with a surprisingly low-key performance from Kinski and a twist ending that is as predictable as it is nonsensical.
Offside (2006; first-time watch) — Controversial Iranian director Jafar Panahi provides us with this simple but very powerful film that focuses on a handful of girls caught trying to sneak into a soccer game. Women aren’t allowed in the stadium, purportedly because they might hear men swear, but really for no good reason. Through a series of interactions between the girls and the soldiers ordered to guard them, Panahi questions this practice to such an extent that it (in conjunction with other films he’d made in the past) got him banned from making films by the Iranian government. Fortunately, that didn’t stop him, and he’s continued to make films, like Taxi, that are every bit as good and continue to question the Iranian status quo.
The Last Picture Show (1971; rewatch) — In a small Texas town, there’s not much to do. Teens (including characters played by Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, and Randy Quaid) are obsessed with sex. That’s not all that different from some of the adults (especially characters played by Cloris Leachman and Ellen Burstyn), and there are even occasional cross-generational hook-ups. Some of them think they have a future and a way out of the town, while others are resigned to the fact that they’re not going anywhere. With other notable actors like Ben Johnson, Eileen Brennan, and Clu Gulager, it’s a bleak but moving film full of amazing performances.
Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977; rewatch) — In the original film, Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) is killed while trying to exorcise a demon from Regan (Linda Blair). In the second film, Father Lamont (Richard Burton) is tasked by the church to investigate the death. Regan attends regular therapy sessions with Dr. Tuskin (Louise Fletcher), and she suggests that Regan undergo a form of hypnosis that allows another person to share her memories. This allows Father Lamont to learn more about the demon that still lurks inside Regan, and of a mysterious man (Kokumo, played by James Earl Jones), who knows the secret to resisting it. It’s a very different film from its predecessor, and it’s rarely successful in what it’s trying to accomplish.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994; rewatch) — Andy (Tim Robbins) is a former banker who’s been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife and her lover. He didn’t do it, but nobody believes him. Not even his best friend, Red (Morgan Freeman). His financial expertise makes him useful to the warden (Bob Gunton) and other prison staff, and it does get him special privileges, but they’re always careful to ensure that he knows his place. It’s a tremendous film with incredible performances, and it stays good on multiple viewings.
Necropolis (1987; first-time watch) — A Satan-worshipping witch is killed in the 1600s but comes back in the present day to continue her evil, opposed by a modern priest. It’s a premise that’s been done before, but not quite like this. It’s not traditionally good, but it is energetic and entertaining when the action is on.
A Safe Place (1971; first-time watch) — Susan (Tuesday Weld) is a cute, flighty blonde who can’t take anything seriously or maintain focus. Fred (Phil Proctor) is attentive and wants a relationship, but doesn’t seem to interest her at all. She likes Mitch (Jack Nicholson) more but isn’t willing to commit to him, and he doesn’t like having to share. Orson Welles is a magician who can make a silver ball levitate and make birds appear, but can’t make anything disappear. There’s basically no plot, no character development, and nothing of interest.
Freddy Got Fingered (2001; first-time watch) — Gord (Tom Green) is a 28-year-old aspiring animator who still lives at home. His mom (Julie Hagerty) is supportive, but his dad (Rip Torn) considers him a total embarrassment. There’s not much more to the plot than that, and there’s nothing at all worthwhile in the movie. It seems like it wants to be a gross-out comedy, but it mostly loses interest in the gross stuff pretty early on, and never achieves anything close to actual comedy. It relies heavily on recycling running gags and making obvious jokes, and not at all on actually being funny or interesting.
Free Fire (2016; first-time watch) — An arms deal goes wrong in this single-location snoozefest with minimal plot and no character development. It probably would’ve made a fine short, but there’s nothing in it to justify its feature length runtime. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/04/20/free-fire/.
The Lost City of Z (2016; first-time watch) — Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is a British soldier who feels like he needs to make up for his father’s reputation, so he takes on a dangerous mission to chart a river in the Bolivian jungle. No white man had ever returned from such a mission, but Fawcett and his compatriots (Henry Costin and Arthur Manley, played by Robert Pattinson and Edward Ashley) become the first, and become British heroes in the process. On that trip, Fawcett learns that the natives might not be the savage idiots that everyone seems to think they are, and becomes obsessed with finding a hidden civilization that would span the rest of his life. The film is poorly paced, seeming to focus on the boring, inconsequential elements, and gloss over the parts with the potential to be interesting. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/04/23/the-lost-city-of-z/.
Titanic (1997; rewatch) — Rose (Kate Winslet) is a prissy wealthy girl traveling to America with her betrothed, Cal (Billy Zane). Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) is streetwise and penniless, having won his ticket in a card game. But they’re on the same boat, and their love blooms even as their lives are threatened by an encounter with an iceberg. It’s normally an overindulgent slog of a movie riddled with awful CGI, but fortunately, Master Pancake Theater cut out a couple of hours and mocked what was left, so a good time was had by all.
Westworld (1973; rewatch) — Richard Benjamin and James Brolin are vacationing at a futuristic resort where guests get to live out their fantasies in the old west. It’s staffed by robots who are more than willing to get into gunfights with the guests. The robots are programmed to never harm the guests, but they start malfunctioning and people start dying. Robotic Yul Brynner, in particular, seems to have it out for Benjamin and Brolin. It definitely feels like a 1970s movie in its pacing and technology, but it’s reasonably fun to watch.
Runaway (1984; rewatch) — Tom Selleck is a police officer who specializes in going after rogue robots. His boss (G. W. Bailey) assigns him a new partner (Cynthia Rhodes), just as an evil genius (Gene Simmons) gets his hands on a big batch of chips that make robots go crazy. Also featuring Kirstie Alley and Joey Cramer, some might call it a bad movie, but it’s pure joy to watch, especially with an audience, and especially on a flawless 35mm print.
Things (1989; rewatch) — Don (Barry J. Gillis) goes to visit his brother Doug (Doug Bunston) in his remote cabin. He brings a friend, Fred (Bruce Roach), and when they arrive, they find the cabin apparently empty. But it’s not because soon they’re attacked by big ant-like creatures with mouths full of nasty, spiky teeth. IMDb says they’re the offspring that result from experimental medical treatments that Doug and his wife Susan had been taking to conceive, and I suppose I can buy that, although that’s not necessarily obvious from the movie itself. Which is odd, because the movie generally goes into excruciating detail whenever it depicts something. It may not be a good movie by most standards, but it is inexplicably engrossing, particularly when seen in a full theater.
Unforgettable (2017; first-time watch) — Tessa (Katherine Heigl) tried her best to not let David (Geoff Stults) get away from her, but she failed. So instead, she’ll try her best to screw with his new girlfriend Julia (Rosario Dawson), who hasn’t always had the best luck with relationships. It feels a lot like a trashy Lifetime movie, and if you like that sort of thing, then you could do worse than this one. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/04/24/unforgettable/.
The King of Marvin Gardens (1972; rewatch) — Jason (Bruce Dern) works for the mob in a very minor capacity, but he’s got grand ideas about a Hawaiian resort that he’s sure he can make work if only boss Lewis (Scatman Crothers) will loan him some money. Jason calls in his smooth-talking brother David (Jack Nicholson) to try to help convince them to give him the money. But Jason’s financial aspirations are about as fruitless as his lady-friend Sally (Ellen Burstyn) is in her attempt to make her grown stepdaughter Jessica (Julia Anne Robinson) a beauty queen. It’s a slow-burn downer of a film, but it’s a good one, and Dern and Nicholson are as terrific as usual.
Magnum Force (1973; rewatch) — “Dirty” Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is a homicide detective who gets results, but in a way that often causes a lot of headaches for his boss, Lieutenant Briggs (Hal Holbrook). He’s got his hands full with a new partner (Felton Perry), a depressed and suicidal colleague (Mitchell Ryan), and some very gung-ho rookies (David Soul, Tim Matheson, and Robert Urich). And then a vigilante starts taking out some big-name criminals who always seem to evade the long arm of the law. It’s a reasonably predictable storyline, but it’s done really well, and a great follow-up to Dirty Harry.
Abby (1974; rewatch) — Dr. Garnet Williams (William Marshall) is a minister and a professor. While studying African gods in Nigeria, he accidentally releases a demon, which promptly possesses his daughter in law, Abby (Carol Speed). Her husband, Emmett (also a minister, played by Terry Carter), and her police officer brother Cass (Austin Stoker) try to help, but they’re not as experienced with this sort of thing as Garnet is. It’s a little slow at times, particularly leading up to the climax, but it works a lot of the time. Although this film was nearly sued out of existence by Warner Brothers because of its superficial similarity to The Exorcist, a new 16mm print was recently discovered by the American Genre Film Archive, who created a 2K scan to help preserve this important piece of early blaxploitation cinema.
The Graduate (1967; rewatch) — Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) has just graduated from college and is full of a combination of malaise and uncertainty about his future. But Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), the wife of his father’s business partner (Murray Hamilton), makes it clear that she’s available for his sexual gratification. It’s got terrific performances (particularly from Hoffman, repeatedly impressive cinematography, and Simon & Garfunkel score that is simultaneously notable and doesn’t always seem to fit.
Wolfguy (aka Enraged Lycanthrope; 1975; first-time watch) — Wolfguy (Sonny Chiba) is the only surviving member of a group of werewolves. On the 15th day of every lunar cycle, he becomes invincible. On every day of the lunar cycle, he has enemies who want to take him out. It’s sometimes cryptic, sometimes funny, and generally entertaining, but it’s also frustrating because every time there’s potential for an epic battle (for example, when he takes on a room full of ninjas, when he takes on a man with powers equal to his own, when he takes on a tiger lady, and when he takes on the masterminds behind the whole thing), it ends with a deus-ex-machina-induced fizzle rather than a bang.
Sleight (2016; first-time watch) — After his parents died, Bo (Jacob Latimore) is left to care for his sister. He’s a talented magician and is able to earn a meager income performing for audiences on the street, but he finds that he has to supplement his income by selling drugs. Then his supplier Angelo (Dulé Hill) starts to bring him in deeper than he’d like to go and things get dangerous. The acting is very good and parts of the story are strong, but as the movie progresses, it unfortunately transitions into something completely different and substantially weaker than what it should have been. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/04/28/sleight/.
How To Be a Latin Lover (2017; first-time watch) — Maximo (Eugenio Derbez) finds himself on the street with nothing after devoting the last 25 years of his life to mooching off a wealthy elderly woman. In his desire to continue exploiting rich older women, he stoops to helping his nephew get a girlfriend so that Maximo can get close to her grandmother (Raquel Welch). There’s nothing even remotely funny or creative in this film, despite a cast that has several people who have been funny at least sometime in the past. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/04/28/how-to-be-a-latin-lover/.
The Circle (2017; first-time watch) — The Circle is a giant technology company that has just released a revolutionary new mini camera that can be placed anywhere, can capture great-looking footage that is live-streamed via satellite and can read all kinds of sensory data. Mae (Emma Watson) has just started working for The Circle when her life is saved by people watching these cameras, and she quickly becomes one of the most recognizable faces of the company (along with characters played by Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt). She helps them push their agenda of total transparency of all information, but with unfortunate results for her friends and family. It’s a very poorly done and very heavy-handed cautionary tale, seemingly by people with very little subtlety or technical prowess. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/04/30/the-circle/.
The Terminator (1984; rewatch) — In the future, machines become sentient and threaten to wipe out all humans. But one man, John Connor, inspires people to fight and teaches them how to defeat the machines. Knowing that they’ve lost the battle in their own time, the machines decide to send a terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) back in time to kill John Connor’s mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton) before she can even conceive a son. So the humans send Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to protect Sarah and stop the terminator. It’s an inspired, entertaining, and creative film from back when James Cameron still made good movies.
Class of 1999 (1990; first-time watch) — The area surrounding a Seattle high school has been so overcome with gangs that the police no longer go near it, and the law no longer applies. The school’s new principal (Malcolm McDowell) makes a deal with the albino head of a robotics company (Stacy Keach) to program three military surplus robots (Pam Grier, Patrick Kilpatrick, and John P. Ryan) to teach students and enforce discipline. But things don’t go as smoothly as intended. This movie is an attempt at pure entertainment with no other significance, and it accomplishes that goal reasonably well.