Magnificent Obsession (1954; first-time watch) — Millionaire playboy Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) is showing off his high-speed boat for a girl when he gets into an accident that nearly kills him. Fortunately, Dr. Phillips lives across the lake, and he has a resuscitator at his house that the police are able to take and use to save Merrick’s life. Unfortunately, the reason that Dr. Phillips has the resuscitator is that he’s also in need of it, and he dies as a result of an attack that he suffers when it’s being used on Merrick. When Merrick learns of this, he wants to help the widow, Helen Phillips (Jane Wyman), but his attempts are at first rejected, and later even have more dire consequences. So Merrick devotes his life to secretly helping Helen. The movie often feels cheesy and exaggerated, but it’s also thoroughly wonderful and highly effective at making you feel things.
The Host (2006; rewatch) — A careless order from an arrogant and stupid American soldier inadvertently leads to the creation of a monster that lives in Seoul’s Han River. Hyun-seo is captured by the monster and believed to be dead, but she’s able to use the last bit of juice in a dying cell phone to call her father Gang-du and tell him she’s still alive and in some kind of sewer somewhere. Amid mass panic, quarantine, and military hubris, Gang-du and his other deeply flawed family members search do their best to find her before it’s too late. It’s one of the monster movies (in fact, one of the best movies period, horror or otherwise) since Jaws.
Risk (2016; first-time watch) — A documentary that focuses on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a flawed and often unpleasant individual whose brusk personality and allegations of misdeeds may deter people from using the important online service that he provides. It’s from director Laura Poitras, but it’s a far cry from her previous film, Citizenfour. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/05/04/risk/.
Roar (1981; rewatch) — Hank (Noel Marshall) is a scientist studying big cats. He’s been away from his family (played by Marshall’s real-life family, including Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith, and John and Jerry Marshall) for a while, and now they’re coming to visit him. His work keeps him from getting to the airport on time to meet them when their plane lands, so they take a bus to Hank’s cabin and arrive while he’s out. Instead, they’re welcomed by a lot of lions, tigers, leopards, panthers, elephants, and all kinds of other creatures. It’s basically a feature-length animal attack with real humans in real danger from real animals, and just about everyone involved was seriously injured. There’s a whole lot of stupidity on screen, but it works because it’s utterly engrossing.
All That Heaven Allows (1955; rewatch) — Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) is a wealthy widow in a small town with a lot of gossip and a strong class system. Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson) is a gardener who takes life as it comes, isn’t concerned with money or status, and who doesn’t have much aspiration beyond starting a tree farm. When they fall in love, it becomes the talk of the town and Cary is shunned by her friends, acquaintances, and even her children (Kay Talbot and William Reynolds). The film is very much a soap opera with a very “tempest in a teacup” feel to it, but it’s the kind of thing that Douglas Sirk does so well.
By the Time It Gets Dark (2016; first-time watch) — An unbearable slog of a movie comprised of largely unrelated vignettes, many of which feature people engaged in mundane tasks where neither the activity nor the setting is particularly interesting. It’s intentionally cryptic, overly artsy, and devoid of any entertainment value.
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957; first-time watch) — Orphaned as a child with a considerable family fortune, Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is obsessed with studying and reversing death. With the help of his tutor-turned-assistant Paul Krempe (Robert Urquhart), Victor is able to restore life to a dead dog. Then he sets his sights on not only restoring life to a human but also constructing his own superhuman from the best parts. This Hammer film focuses much more on the doctor than his creation, but Christopher Lee’s portrayal of the creature is completely enthralling and not merely a derivative of Karloff’s monster from the Universal films.
Truck Turner (1974; rewatch) — Mac “Truck” Turner (Isaac Hayes) is a bounty hunter who’s got a reputation as a real badass, and for good reason: he does the jobs that no one else can do. He’s hired to track down Gator (Paul Harris), a pimp who has skipped out on his bail, and Gator ends up dead. Gator’s top woman (Nichelle Nichols) puts out a hit on Turner, and Blue (Yaphet Kotto) thinks that he’s up to the task. It’s a tight, gritty, and fun movie with a soundtrack by Hayes and appearances from Scatman Crothers and Dick Miller.
House on Haunted Hill (1959; rewatch) — A wealthy man (Vincent Price) offers a group of people $10,000 each if they can survive the night in a haunted house. There have already been several murders in the house, and he’s hoping that the trend will continue. It’s a William Castle classic, and while this 16mm screening lacked the “emergo” gimmick of its original theatrical release (in which things would happen in the theater that correspond to things happening on screen), but it’s still a fun watch with just the movie.
The Last Man on Earth (1964; rewatch) — Dr. Morgan (Vincent Price) is the last man on earth, but he’s not completely alone. He’s the sole survivor of a worldwide plague that killed most people but turned others into vampires. They only come out at night, so he does all of his hunting and gathering during the day and then holes up at night to wait out the inevitable assault from the (fortunately weak and stupid) creatures. It spends too much time in a flashback that depicts how things got to be this way, but it is nonetheless the best adaptation of the story that has been filmed a few other times.
Snatched (2017; first-time watch) — After being dumped by her boyfriend, Emily (Amy Schumer) drags her mom Linda (Goldie Hawn) on a trip to Ecuador. They’re kidnapped and spend the rest of the film trying to escape, and trying to pad the runtime out to 90 minutes. Hilarity does not ensue. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/05/13/snatched/.
Stop Making Sense (1984; rewatch) — Jonathan Demme presents this concert performance by David Byrne and the Talking Heads. It feels like it may be too long by a song or two, but that’s probably because I’m not really very familiar with the Talking Heads beyond their best-known songs (like Psycho Killer, Burning Down the House, Once in a Lifetime, and Take Me to the River, which are all included), and I’m sure their real fans feel differently. But even when I didn’t recognize the songs, it’s still a highly energetic concert with a lot going on. Byrne, in particular, goes non-stop, except for a one-song break near the end where the Tom Tom Club (basically Talking Heads minus Byrne) does their most well-known hit, Genius of Love.
Something Wild (1986; rewatch) — Charlie (Jeff Daniels) draws Lulu’s (Melanie Griffith) attention when she sees him skip out on his bill at a diner. She offers to give him a lift to his job but ends up taking him a few states away to her high school reunion. He’s having a good time, despite a trip full of bad choices, until an old acquaintance shows up. It’s a fun film full of music, cameo appearances, and a breakout performance by Ray Liotta. A Jonathan Demme memorial screening.
Ghost (1990; rewatch) — Sam (Patrick Swayze) is killed while being mugged by a stranger, but his ghost remains on earth because he has unfinished business. His girlfriend Molly (Demi Moore) is in danger from the murderer, but the only human Sam can interact with is the fake psychic Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg). It’s a fairly crappy film that doesn’t deserve the awards and nominations that it received, but very much deserves the mocking that Master Pancake Theater delivered.
Hounds of Love (2016; first-time watch) — Vicki is a high school student who has just been kidnapped by John and Evelyn. They intend to use her for their own sexual gratification, then kill her and hide the body, like they’ve done before. It’s a highly uncomfortable movie, with a lot of intensity and some great cinematography. It’s not always easy to watch but is definitely worth seeing. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/05/14/hounds-of-love/.
Clue (1985; rewatch) — A number of strangers are invited to a dinner party under mysterious circumstances. Each of them is being blackmailed, and the person blackmailing them has also been invited. He hopes to convince them to kill whoever organized the event, but he ends up dead in a moment of confusion, and then others die. Locked inside the house, the guests fear for their lives and have no idea who the killer is. It’s a hilarious comedy that holds up extremely well, and each member of the all-star cast is at the top of their game.
Contamination (1980; first-time watch) — An abandoned ship is found to be full of mysterious green eggs. When they get near a heat source, those eggs “hatch” and spray their contents all over everything. If anyone gets sprayed on, then their insides will burst, and they, too, will spray their contents all over everything. It turns out that there’s a plot to use these eggs to do a lot of damage, and a government agent, a local police officer, and a former astronaut team up to try to solve the case and save the world. It’s an Alien ripoff with some fun moments, especially at the beginning and the end, but it can be a bit slow in the middle.
The Martian (2015; rewatch) — A sudden, powerful dust storm forces a group of Mars explorers to make an emergency evacuation. But during that storm, a communications satellite was destroyed and hit Mark Watney (Matt Damon), sending him flying. Assuming he was dead, the others had no choice but to take off without him, but he wasn’t dead, and now he’s alone on Mars with a shelter and provisions intended to support the crew for a month. He’s got no way to communicate with anyone, and even if he could, there’s no chance of a rescue for hundreds of days. It’s a great sci-fi comedy, and University of Texas astrophysicist Dr. Rachael Livermore was on hand to discuss how accurate the science was.
The God of Cookery (1996; rewatch) — Stephen Chow (played by Stephen Chow) is the God of Cookery, a well-known and revered chef. But he’s actually a fraud, and when someone exposes him as such, he decides to become a true chef and legitimately reclaim the title that he previously held. It’s a very goofy comedy, like many Stephen Chow films, and it’s also very good, like many Stephen Chow films.
Alien: Covenant (2017; first-time watch) — The crew of a spaceship transporting passengers to colonize a new planet is unexpectedly awoken by a neutrino blast and finds themselves near a previously unknown planet that seems to be broadcasting some kind of signal. They go to investigate and have a bad experience, just like you will if you see this awful movie. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/05/19/alien-covenant/.
High Sierra (1941; first-time watch) — Roy Earle (Humphrey Bogart) has just gotten out of jail, and he’s called to California for a heist. He’s going to help rob the safe of a posh resort hotel during its busy season. He’s paired up with a couple of inexperienced accomplices, and one of them brings Marie (Ida Lupino) for companionship while they plan. She’s immediately smitten with Roy, but he’s got feelings for a young girl, Velma (played by Joan Leslie; her grandfather was played by Henry Travers) that he met on the drive out. It’s a very good film with an ending that’s probably the best they could do given the restrictions of the Hollywood production code, and several scenes were stolen by Bogart’s own dog in the role of Pard.
The Killers (1946; first-time watch) — Swede (Burt Lancaster) is a retired fighter who is assassinated by a couple of killers. Jim (Edmund O’Brien) is an insurance investigator who is looking into the circumstances behind the murder and finds himself onto something much bigger. It’s kind of a Double Indemnity meets Citizen Kane, although it’s not quite on par with either of those films. Lancaster and Ava Gardner are billed as its stars, but they’re really not in it all that much, and O’Brien does most of the heavy lifting, along with a police detective played by Sam Levene.
The Asphalt Jungle (1950; rewatch) — A criminal mastermind (Sam Jaffe) has just been released from prison, and he has an idea for a jewel heist that he’s been holding onto since before he went in. He’s sure it’ll still work, but he needs a bit of money (Louis Calhern) and muscle (Sterling Hayden) to help pull it off. They pull off the job, but things don’t go exactly as planned, and then there’s a double cross. It’s a very good film, and one of Marilyn Monroe’s earliest appearances.
Criss Cross (1949; first-time watch) — Steve (Burt Lancaster) works for an armored car company. He’s got an idea to pull off a robbery, but he needs help. He gets it from Silm (Dan Duryea), who just happens to be dating Anna (Yvonne De Carlo), Steve’s ex-wife. There’s animosity between them, which leads to plotting against each other. It’s got the same writer, director, and lead actor as The Killers, and they’re about equally good.
Armored Car Robbery (1590; first-time watch) — Purvis (William Talman) has a plan to rob an armored car near the end of its run when it’s full of cash. It’s a great plan, and he’s very careful, but he has to use an inexperienced crew to pull it off. And that inexperience turns out to be deadly when things start to go wrong. It’s an incredible 67-minute film with no fat and a great story.
Kansas City Confidential (1952; first-time watch) — A former police chief (Preston Foster) resents being forced out of his job, and he puts together a plan to rob an armored car, get himself rich, and get rid of some nasty criminals (played by Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, and Neville Brand) in the process. He’s careful to wear a mask when he meets each of them, and they all wear masks whenever they’re together, so only he knows their identities, and they don’t know each other. The job goes off without a hitch, and they manage to frame an ex-con who’s now a delivery driver (John Payne) for a flower shop. The police eventually have to let him go for lack of evidence but still think that he did it, so it’s up to the driver to find the real culprits so that he can save himself. It’s a highly original and very clever story that keeps you on your toes even though you’re in on everything that’s happening.
Violent Saturday (1955; first-time watch) — Three men (Stephen McNally, Lee Marvin, and J. Carrol Naish) plan to rob a bank in a small mining town and make their escape to a nearby Amish farm (run by Ernest Borgnine), where they can hide out and switch vehicles. They find themselves in the midst of a great deal of drama, including competition between the mining company boss (Richard Egan) and his second in command (Victor Mature), between the bank manager (Tommy Noonan) and a nurse (Virginia Leith), and a prim librarian (Sylvia Sidney) in financial difficulty. It’s an intricate soap-opera-esque melodrama meant to compete with the excellent films of Douglas Sirk, and it does an admirable job of it.
The Killing (1956; rewatch) — A group of men (including Sterling Hayden, Jay C. Flippen, Ted de Corsia, Joe Sawyer, and Elisha Cook, Jr.) plot to rob the cash-laden counting room at a horseracing track, with the help of distractions caused by a sharpshooter (Timothy Carey) and a chess-loving wrestler (Kola Kwariani). The heist goes off almost perfectly, but things get complicated when the wife of one of the conspirators gets involved. It’s an early film by Stanley Kubrick, and it’s just as much a masterpiece as many of his later works.
Rififi (1955; rewatch) — A couple of Frenchmen and a couple of Italians band together to rob a jewelry store with an unbeatable, state-of-the-art alarm system and while operating under a tight schedule. The robbers are skilled, and they’ve spent a lot of time planning, but they’ve got some rivals who’d love to take them down. It’s the French answer to The Asphalt Jungle, and it probably surpasses its American inspiration.
Cash on Demand (1961; rewatch) — Harry (Peter Cushing) is the manager at a small-town British bank. His branch gets an unexpected Christmastime visit from Colonel Hepburn (André Morell), who claims to be from the bank’s insurance company and wants to check up on their security procedures. But behind closed doors, he reveals to Harry that he’s actually a bank robber and that he’s holding Harry’s wife and child hostage. If Harry is to ever see his family again, he must help Hepburn to clean out the vault without anyone else being any the wiser. It’s a Christmas-themed noir from Hammer Films, and it’s terrific.
The Tarnished Angels (1957; first-time watch) — Roger (Robert Stack) was an ace pilot during the war, and since then has been making the rounds doing stunt flying and competing in dangerous races at low altitudes on tight courses around large pylons. He’s got a top-notch mechanic named Jiggs (Jack Carson), a son named Jack (Christopher Olsen), and a wife named LaVerne (Dorothy Malone), in descending order of importance to him. While competing in New Orleans, a newspaper reporter (Rock Hudson) smells a story and starts hanging around with them, and becomes increasingly concerned about what he finds.
Pulp Fiction (1994; rewatch) — Marsellus (Ving Rhames) is a mob boss. Mia (Uma Thurman) is his wife. Jules and Vincent (Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta) are his muscle. The Wolf (Harvey Keitel) cleans up his messes. Butch (Bruce Willis) is an aging boxer that he’s paying to take a dive. All of these stories are intertwined, but also have their own subplots with other stars, like Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer, Frank Whaley and Phil LaMarr, Eric Stoltz and Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, and Quentin Tarantino. It’s a masterpiece of cinema that draws a lot of inspiration from a lot of sources to tell a nonlinear story that seems to get better each time you watch it.
Tender Mercies (1983; first-time watch) — Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) used to be a famous singer/songwriter, married to famous singer Dixie (Betty Buckley). Then his drinking got out of control, and he lost his wife and his musical career. It took several more years for him to hit rock bottom, but when that finally happened, it was at a tiny, rural Texas hotel owned by Rosa Lee (Tess Harper). She took pity on Mac and hired him to help out around the hotel. He began to get his life back together, began to explore his musical options, and began to explore the possibility of life with Rosa Lee. It’s a simple film, but everything about it works, and it doesn’t always go where you’d expect.
The Sword and the Claw (aka Lionman aka Kiliç Aslan; 1975; first-time watch) — King Solomon is killed in a coup, but his very pregnant wife escapes for long enough to give birth to a son. She dies in childbirth, and the boy is raised by lions. When he’s grown, he has super strength and a deadly grip, and he gets involved in the fight to recover the throne. On the one hand, it’s a typical Turkish film, with really low production values, the best kind of awful dubbing, and a soundtrack lifted from Spartacus. But on the other, it takes some legitimately interesting turns and does much more than the bare minimum with its plot. It may not be great art, but it’s highly entertaining.
Baby Driver (2017; first-time watch) — Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a getaway driver, and he’s really good at it. He’s working for Doc (Kevin Spacey) as a way to repay him for stealing his car. Baby has almost got the debt paid off, but Doc isn’t so keen on him leaving. It’s an action film pumped full of music that has an amazing opening sequence, but then never seems to achieve anything close to that level of excitement again. It feels like it’s going to be an expertly choreographed dance action movie, but then they abandon the dancing. It should’ve been good, and its opening shows what might have been, but it ends up being no better than just okay. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/05/26/baby-driver/.
Divorce Italian Style (1961; first-time watch) — Ferdinando (Marcello Mastroianni) is married to Rosalia (Daniela Rocca). It’s not a happy marriage, and he really wants to get with his 16-year-old cousin, Angela (Stefania Sandrelli). But this is Italy, and divorce is illegal. Ferdinando decides that his only way out is to kill Rosalia, but he doesn’t want to go to jail for too long. To get the lightest sentence possible, he’ll have to catch her cheating on him, which means that he’ll have to find a way to make her cheat on him. It’s both ridiculous and hilarious, and it’s an intelligent comedy with jokes that run the gamut from highbrow to lowbrow. And speaking of brows, Rosalia only has one, and it goes well with her mustache.
Teenage Gang Debs (1966; first-time watch) — Terry (Diane Conti) is a very assertive and very manipulative girl who’s just moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn. She’s fallen in with a local gang, the Rebels, and she goes right after the president, Johnny (John Batis), ousting his current girl. But she soon decides that she doesn’t like him, so she goes to Nino (Joey Naudic) and convinces him to drop his girl and take out Johnny so he can become the new president. At that point, it’s pretty obvious who’s really calling the shots, and it’s pretty obvious how the movie is going to end. But even with the predictable plot and the excessive amount of padding required to reach even a 75-minute runtime, it’s a highly enjoyable movie. Much of that is actually due to the padding, which includes a lot of 60s dancing, especially a karate dance to song called “The Black Belt” that enumerates the levels needed to reach martial arts mastery.
Rio Bravo (1959; rewatch) — Joe Burdette (Claude Akins) shot and killed an unarmed man. Sherrif John Chance (John Wayne) was there, took him into custody, and is waiting for the marshall to arrive so that Joe can face judgment. But Joe’s older brother Nathan (John Russell) is a wealthy man who is willing to pay anything to make sure that doesn’t happen, so Chance and his deputies (played by Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, and Walter Brennan) have a real challenge on their hands. It’s a masterful Howard Hawks western that’s both funny and tense, and there’s no wonder why it’s one of the best westerns of all time.
A Hero Never Dies (1998; rewatch) — Mr. Fong and Mr. Yam are the heads of warring gangs, which means that their top men (Jack and Martin) are also at war. But Fong and Yam don’t care about their underlings beyond how they affect their own image, and after they become partners, Jack, Martin, and the rest are all left with their lives ruined and wanting revenge. It’s a typically great Johnnie To film with a lot of bullets and a strong sense of honor and duty.
Bomb City (2017; first-time watch) — In 1999, Amarillo, Texas had jocks and punks, and they often didn’t get along. Eventually, this came to a head, and an altercation ensued that would change the lives of several people involved. It’s part narrative and part courtroom drama, based on a true story, and provides a clever way of revealing information in a nonlinear form that doesn’t spoil the outcome if you’re not already familiar with the story. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/05/29/bomb-city/.
Crocodile Fury (1988; first-time watch) — An Asian village is plagued by crocodile attacks. But these aren’t any ordinary crocodiles. An evil man has trapped the spirits of innocent people in them (as evidenced by their occasional ability to turn human), and their nature is to attack. It’s up to a sorceress and her magical hopping vampire assistants to try to figure out how to defeat the crocodiles. It’s a rare ninja-less Godfrey Ho film (albeit under the pseudonym of Thomas Tang) that’s often amazing, but it could nonetheless benefit from some editing to tighten things up.
Imitation of Life (1959; first-time watch) — Lora (Lana Turner) is a widowed aspiring actress who has just moved to New York with her daughter young daughter, Susie. Annie (Juanita Moore) is a widowed black woman who finds herself homeless with her young daughter, Sarah Jane. Circumstance puts them together, and Annie becomes Lora’s servant and primary caretaker for their children while Lora’s star begins to rise. Lora and Susie treat Annie very well, and better even than her own daughter, who is light-skinned and wants desperately to pass for white. There’s very little in the movie that is a surprise to the viewer, and yet Sirk pulls it off so masterfully that it’s still totally effective when it happens.
Escape from New York (1981; rewatch) — New York City has been turned into a prison. The President (Donald Pleasence) is on his way to an international summit when his plane is hijacked and crashed into New York so that he can be used as a bargaining chip to help the prisoners (including Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, and Adrienne Barbeau) escape. He’s carrying time-sensitive information that is vital to the survival of the world, and the powers that be (including Tom Atkins and Lee Van Cleef) decide to send in war hero turned bank robber Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to rescue the President. It’s a classic action film that remains fun to watch even while it’s riddled with logic flaws.
The Sugarland Express (1974; first-time watch) — Lou Jean (Goldie Hawn) and her husband Clovis (William Atherton) both have criminal records, and Clovis is currently finishing up the tail end of his sentence in a minimum security facility. Lou Jean has lost custody of her baby, so she helps break Clovis out so that they can go take their baby back. They’re soon stopped by a police officer (Michael Sacks), but they take him hostage and lead a swarm of police and onlookers on a low-speed chase across the state. It’s Spielberg’s first theatrical film, and it’s like he foresaw the infamous OJ Simpson car chase, or maybe it’s a little of Smokey and the Bandit meets The Legend of Billie Jean. At any rate, it’s mostly a very lighthearted film, but it effortlessly becomes serious when the need arises.
Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland (1989; rewatch) — Herman (Michael Pollard) and Lilly (Sandra Dorsey) have started up a new camp, Camp New Horizons, on the site of the old Sleepaway Camp. They’re trying an experiment where they’ll mix kids affluent and underprivileged kids together. Somehow, Angela found out who one of the campers was in advance, killed her, and took her place. And now she’s going to embark on yet another killing spree. It’s a good premise and a significant step up from Unhappy Campers (the second film of the series), but it’s not the most believable film, and it can’t hold a candle to the original Sleepaway Camp.
Cutter’s Way (1981; rewatch) — While driving home one night, Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) had car trouble and found himself broken down in an alley. Before he can get out, another car shows up, and its driver dumps something in the trash and moves on. It’s a dead body, and Bone soon realizes that the driver who dumped the body was local oil baron J.J. Cord (Stephen Elliott). Bone’s constantly drunk and highly annoying injured war veteran friend Alex Cutter (John Heard) tries to help come up with a plan to take down Cord. It’s a dark film about troubled people, but it’s a very good film.
Showgirls (1995; rewatch) — Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley) has just arrived in Las Vegas to make it as a dancer. She starts as a stripper, but her roommate Molly (Gina Ravera) works as a seamstress for a big hotel’s burlesque show and introduces Nomi to Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon), the star of the show. She gets Nomi an audition to dance in the show, and her star begins to rise. Also featuring Kyle MacLachlan, Glenn Plummer, Robert Davi, this movie features some truly horrible writing, acting, and dancing, along with some very unsexy sex, but it can be undeniably fun to watch.