Battle of the Sexes (2017; first-time watch) — When a professional tennis league starts offering male winners much bigger prizes than female winners, Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and a number of other women leave and form their own league. Seeing this as an opportunity to get publicity for himself and feed his gambling addiction, the 55-year-old former professional player Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) challenges King to a match with the intention of proving that men are superior to women. It’s a fine movie, but it’s very predictable, and the tennis scenes are just not that exciting. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/10/02/battle-of-the-sexes/.
Tank Girl (1995; first-time watch) — It’s a post-apocalyptic world where water is very scarce. The Water And Power Company is a giant corporation, helmed by a cartoonish dick played by Malcolm McDowell, that wants to control all of an underground oasis. They’ve got the majority of it, but a small patch is still out of their reach. Rebecca (Lori Petty) lives there and isn’t giving it up, but they come in with force and take her hostage. She meets up with Jet (Naomi Watts), a mechanic who’s also being held prisoner, and together they plot to escape and get revenge. This movie is unbearably awful, almost as if every scene were designed to be the most annoying thing ever created.
XTRO (1982; rewatch) — A man returns after disappearing three years ago. He had been abducted by aliens, and he’s not the same as he was before. He is himself an alien, and he begins converting his family members and those around him. It’s a very British movie and a very weird one. It drags somewhat toward the end but is otherwise pretty decent.
American Movie (1999; first-time watch) — Mark Borchardt is an aspiring filmmaker with a vision of how he wants his film to turn out and the drive to see it through. He’s currently finishing a half-hour short film called Coven that he hopes will make enough money to help him make his next movie, Northwestern. With the help of his friends and relatives, he hopes to make his dream a reality. While Mark has a highly abrasive personality and level of recklessness that I’m sure would be unbearable in real life, and while his best friend Mike is burned out and uninspired, their story makes for some tremendous entertainment.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964; first-time watch) — Guy falls in love with Geneviève but has to go off to war. The night before he leaves, they sleep together, and Geneviève gets pregnant. She and her mother are poor, so she has to decide whether to wait for Guy to return or to marry a rich man who’s there now. It’s a musical, but instead of the occasional song, every word of dialogue is sung in a very unenergetic way to a repetitive, uninspired melody. The movie is such a disappointment across the board that even the font used for the subtitles is annoying.
The Mountain Between Us (2017; first-time watch) — Alex (Kate Winslet) and Ben (Idris Elba) are stuck in an Idaho airport because of the weather. They both have important places to be, so they charter a plane from Walter (Beau Bridges) to fly to another airport. Then they fly into weather, Walter has a stroke, and the plane goes down somewhere in the mountains. They’re stuck in a frozen wasteland without much food or chance of rescue. It’s a pretty decent movie until it goes on for too long and goes out with a crappy ending. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/10/10/the-mountain-between-us/.
Church of the Damned (1985; first-time watch) — An experienced detective and his new partner try to solve a series of murders being committed by a satanic cult called the “Brothorhood [sic] of Darkness”. A shot-on-video horror movie made by twin fifteen-year-old boys, it’s a fun enough movie with some effects that may not be extremely realistic but are nonetheless ambitious and impressive in their own right.
Feeders (1996; first-time watch) — A couple of friends passing through a small town find themselves in the middle of an attack by aliens in flying saucers. Made by the same young filmmakers as Church of the Damned, this movie may have better quality video, but it is far more boring.
The Florida Project (2017; first-time watch) — Bobby (Willem Dafoe) is the manager of a crappy, low-cost Florida hotel near Disney World. He has to walk a fine line between often unpleasant guests and the hard-to-please owner. Halley (Bria Vinaite) lives at the hotel with her daughter Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) make a living by scamming tourists, and both are in severe need of adult supervision. It’s a wonderful film with terrific acting and strong emotional impact. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/10/10/the-florida-project/.
Thirst Street (2017; first-time watch) — Gina (Lindsay Burdge) is a flight attendant who’s just lost her husband. While on a layover in Paris, her colleagues try to cheer her up by taking her out for a night of cabaret where she meets Jérôme (Damien Bonnard), who becomes the new love of her life. The only problem is that he doesn’t feel the same way about her. It’s a well-made film that’s occasionally uncomfortable to watch and occasionally features surreal narration by Anjelica Huston.
Psycho (1960; rewatch) — Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and Sam Loomis (John Gavin) are in a long-distance relationship. Marion wants to get married, but Sam wants to wait until he can afford to live somewhere other than in the back of the hardware store where he works. Marion works at a real estate office and sees her chance when an oil baron buys a house with cash, and her boss asks her to take it to the bank. Instead, she absconds with it and heads off to see Sam. But when it starts pouring, she decides to stop for the night at a small hotel run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who lives with his mother in a house next to the hotel. Norman likes Marion, but his mother doesn’t like that he likes her and decides to do something about it. One of the greatest movies of all time made by one of the greatest directors of all time.
Frozen Scream (1980; first-time watch) — A couple of doctors are experimenting with immortality by killing people, freezing them, and bringing them back as zombies. It’s a barely coherent movie that depends heavily on narration to explain what’s going on, and that narration is often clumsily inserted over dialogue that isn’t the most interesting thing you’ve ever heard. The acting is bad and lacks energy, and the production values are pretty low. Nevertheless, it can be pretty entertaining, and often because of the very faults that make it not a great movie by most traditional measures.
Mr. Vampire III (1987; first-time watch) — A man who has made friends with ghosts uses them to scam people by having the ghosts haunt houses and then charging the owners to get rid of them. But when he’s caught in the scam and trying to leave town, he encounters a real supernatural scenario and must help to defeat them. This kung-fu film from Hong Kong is very funny and very creative but doesn’t really have all that much to do with vampires.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017; first-time watch) — K (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant who works for the police hunting down and destroying older replicant models that aren’t so good at following instructions. All replicants are artificially created, but he finds evidence that one might have been born. This revelation could trigger a war between humans and replicants, and K’s boss (Robin Wright) tells him to investigate and make the child, and all references to it, disappear. The first half is adequate, but the second half less so. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/10/13/blade-runner-2049/.
Three Ages (1923; first-time watch) — Buster Keaton plays the same basic character in three periods in history: the days of cave men, during the Roman empire, and in the 1920s. He’s a man that women seem to like, but other men really don’t like that women like him, and they try to use force to keep him away. It’s very funny in typical Keaton form and includes some impressive stunts.
Lisa and the Devil (1973; first-time watch) — Lisa (Elke Sommer) gets lost in an unfamiliar city and hitches a ride with a couple whose car breaks down, and they’re forced to spend the night at a nearby mansion. She keeps encountering a mysterious man (a lollipop-obsessed Telly Savalas) who always seems to be around one or more life-size dolls. As time goes by, she starts to realize that the dolls look like real people she’s also met. It’s a Mario Bava film that looks great and has vivid colors and some great ideas, but it does have some pacing issues toward the end.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017; first-time watch) — Bill Marston (Luke Evans) is a professor of psychology. He and his wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), who can’t get a degree from Harvard because she’s a woman, are doing research leading to the creation of a lie detector and the DISC theory of human behavior. They need an assistant, so they get Olive (Bella Heathcote), one of his students, to help them out, and their relationship becomes complicated. This ultimately leads to the unlikely and unconventional origin of the Wonder Woman comic, and Marston’s need to defend it against puritanical, book-burning opponents. Based on a true story, it’s a fairly entertaining and well-made film that goes into some pretty unexpected territory,
The General (1926; rewatch) — Civil war has broken out. Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton) is a train engineer who wants to enlist in the confederate army, but they think he’s more valuable in his current job. And when union soldiers steal a train and plan to use it against the south, Johnnie chases after them in a desperate attempt to stop them. It’s a silent masterpiece of physical comedy and a true must-watch film.
Wolf Warrior 2 (2017; first-time watch) — Leng Feng (Jing Wu) used to be a member of the elite Wolf Warrior squadron of the Chinese army, but he was stripped of his rank and locked up after killing a bad man who was terrorizing a family. And while he was in jail, some bad guys killed his fiancée, and now he wants revenge. He’s traveling the world trying to find out who’s responsible, and he finds himself in the middle of a civil war in Africa. He’s got to rescue a prestigious Chinese doctor and his godson’s mother, and he’s got to do it alone. It’s tough to describe how utterly ridiculous this movie is. It’s bad by just about every measure there is, except the measure of how utterly enjoyable it is. Full review at https://nawilson.com/2017/10/15/wolf-warrior-2/.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017; first-time watch) — After losing his job as a mechanic, Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn) goes to work as a delivery man for a drug dealer. Things go well until they don’t, and he’s sent to prison while also making powerful enemies on the outside. They kidnap his wife and promise to do bad things to him unless he takes out somebody on the inside. It’s much more a slow-burn film than the title would expect, but it comes through with some pretty brutal violence. It’s definitely not the role you for which Vaughn might be your first choice, but he’s quite good in it.
Happy Death Day (2017; first-time watch) — Tree (that’s actually the character’s name; played by Jessica Rothe) is a sorority girl ąnd a horrendous bitch. There are so many people who want to kill her, and someone is acting on it. It’s her birthday, and she keeps getting killed, but each time she wakes up in the dorm room of some guy (Israel Broussard) who took pity on her after she got blackout drunk the night before. It’s Groundhog Day as a slasher movie, not unlike Camp Slaughter. It’s also very bad, not unlike Camp Slaughter.
The Foreigner (2017; first-time watch) — Quan (Jackie Chan) is a Chinese immigrant living in London with his daughter. When she’s killed in an IRA bombing, Quan makes a real nuisance of himself by harassing the British police about the investigation to the point that it actually hampers the investigation. Relief only comes for the British police when Quan sees Irish politician Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) on television making a statement about the bombing. Hennessy has former ties to the IRA, so Quan will now start harassing him to give him the names of the bombers. Hennessy doesn’t know who did it, so he can’t help, so Quan decides to take matters into his own hands and screw with Hennessy’s attempts to track down the bombers by becoming a terrorist himself. It’s hard to feel any sympathy whatsoever for Quan, or for anyone else in the movie for that matter. There are no good guys; there are just different sets of bad guys with different goals. It doesn’t make for a very good movie, and the real kicker is that Quan is just in the way for the entire movie, and all the real advances in the storyline are in spite of him rather than because of him.
Better Watch Out (aka Safe Neighborhood; 2016; rewatch) — When Robert and Deandra (Patrick Warburton and Virginia Madsen) need to go out to a party, they hire Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) to babysit their twelve-year-old son Luke (Levi Miller). It should’ve been an easy job, with Ashley’s biggest problem being the need to fend off the affectionate pre-teen. But then the house comes under attack, and she must defend herself and Luke. It’s a fun, Christmas-themed home invasion thriller that holds up fairly well to a second viewing.
Night of the Demons (1988; rewatch) — Angela and Suzanne (Mimi Kinkade and Linnea Quigley) are hosting a Halloween party and have invited several friends. It’s at Hull House, an old abandoned funeral home. At first, it’s just disgusting, but then it gets scary when they start to realize that the house might be possessed and the spirits of demons may be out to get them. It’s got some pretty clumsy exposition, some not-all-that-clever dialogue, and some bad jokes, but it comes through in the end with some decent horror with good effects.
Another Woman (1988; first-time watch) — Marion (Gena Rowlands) has moved into a new apartment to seclude herself while writing a new book. But the apartment is next door to a psychiatrist, and she can hear the therapy sessions through a vent in her wall. She tries not to listen in, but she eventually succumbs, and it causes her to start thinking about her own life. It’s not the light comedy I expected from a Woody Allen film, but it’s a surprisingly good film.
A Simple Plan (1998; rewatch) — Hank, Jacob, and Lou (Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Brent Briscoe) come across a snow-covered plane crash and find a bag full of money inside it. Hank wants to report it to the police, but the others convince him that they should keep it. He relents, but only on the condition that they don’t touch the money until the plane crash is discovered when the snow thaws in the spring. But things don’t go as planned and the guys find themselves in one bind after another. It’s a solid crime thriller with good performances, but it does feel like it could be a little shorter.
Barracuda (2017; first-time watch) — Merle (Allison Tolman) is the daughter of a fairly famous folk singer who died a few years ago. One day, she’s surprised by a woman (Sinaloa, played by Sophie Reid) on her doorstep claiming that they share the same father. Merle hopes that this will be a one-time meeting, but her fiance Raul (Luis Bordonada) is more hospitable and invites Sinaloa to stay with them. It’s a dark film that calls itself a thriller, but there’s really nothing thrilling about it.
Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928; first-time watch) — Haggard, longtime captain William “Steamboat Bill” Canfield (Ernest Torrence) and his foppish, recent-college-graduate son William Jr. (Buster Keaton) are trying to keep their business afloat after wealthy businessman J.J. King (Tom McGuire) decides he wants to get into steamboating and buys a bigger and better boat for himself. Meanwhile, Bill Jr. and King’s daughter Kitty (Marion Byron) know each other from school and are sweet on each other, but their fathers don’t want them to have anything to do with each other. It’s mostly a very funny Romeo and Juliet-type story, but then it really changes gears and amps up the physical comedy in the finale with some truly impressive stunts. While not as well known as The General, it’s every bit as good.
Spider Baby (1967; rewatch) — The Merrye family has a rare genetic disorder that prevents them from fully developing mentally, and even to start regressing once they reach a certain point. Teenagers have the mental faculties of children, and the adults are more like toddlers. They rely on their caretaker (Lon Chaney, Jr.), but a distant relative is claiming ownership of their family home and threatening their way of life. The children, including one who likes to play spider, react violently. It’s a fun, dark, and quick film that holds up really well to a rewatch.
The Brood (1979; rewatch) — Nola (Samantha Eggar) is in therapy under the care of Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed). She’s not allowed to see her husband Frank (Art Hindle), but she is allowed occasional visits from her daughter Candy (Cindy Hinds). After one such visit, Frank notices bruises and scratches on Cindy’s back and tries to block her visits with Nola, but Nola doesn’t like that and reacts in a very Cronenbergy way.
Syetan (aka Devil aka Turkish Exorcist; 1974; first-time watch) — A little girl begins exhibiting strange behavior. Doctors can’t explain it, and the mother comes to believe that she’s been possessed by a demon. She eventually convinces a psychiatrist and a priest to perform an exorcism to help save the daughter. It’s a blatant Turkish ripoff of The Exorcist that remains pretty true to the original story, albeit with less talent and a much smaller budget. It’s decent enough, but would probably be greatly improved by editing to make it a tighter film.
College (1927; rewatch) — Ronald (Buster Keaton) graduated at the top of his high school class, but the girl he loves (Mary, played by Anne Cornwall) is put off by his obsession with academics and scorn of sports. So when he goes to college, he tries a number of sports, including baseball and several track and field events, but finds that he’s not a good match for any of them. He’s ruining his academic record while also failing to win over the girl of his dreams. It’s another funny physical comedy from Keaton, but it’s not quite up there with The General or Steamboat Bill Jr. as one of the best of the best.
Stephen King’s It (1990; rewatch) — Thirty years ago, a bunch of children thwarted an attack by a murderous clown. Now he’s back, and he’s back to his old tricks. The kids made a pact to reunite if this should happen, and they’re true to their word. Featuring Harry Anderson, Tim Reid, John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Jonathan Brandis, Seth Green, Emily Perkins, Tim Curry, and Olivia Hussey, this TV miniseries is substantially better than the recent big-screen installment of the film but is still not exactly a masterpiece.
Geostorm (2017; first-time watch) — When Earth’s climate change gets out of control, an international group of scientists comes up with a plan to save the planet and the people on it. They’ll circle the globe with a satellite network that will monitor things on earth and take action if necessary to keep things in check. But it seems like it’s being sabotaged and the man who built it (Gerard Butler) must figure out what’s going on before it sets off a worldwide storm system that will kill everyone. It is a terrible sci-fi disaster movie that is terribly fun to watch if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing.
Retribution (1987; first-time watch) — George (Dennis Lipscomb) tries to commit suicide by jumping off a building, but he survives. After some physical and psychological rehabilitation, he’s released to go home, but he has horrible nightmares about killing people, and when he wakes up, he finds those people are now dead in the way that he dreamt. Featuring Hoyt Axton in a small role as a detective, it’s a pretty entertaining movie that doesn’t always go where you expect.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982; rewatch) — Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is a doctor at a hospital where a man’s face is pulled apart by someone who then commits suicide by setting himself on fire. He becomes intrigued by the case, as does the victim’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin). Their investigation takes them to a small town with a factory making the year’s most popular Halloween accessory: glow-in-the-dark masks with a pervasive advertising campaign and a promise of a big giveaway on Halloween night. Although the film is maligned because it’s the one Halloween movie that doesn’t feature Michael Myers, it’s actually really good, and it stands the test of time and holds up well to multiple viewings.
Last Flag Flying (2017; first-time watch) — Shortly after losing his wife to cancer, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell) learns that his son was killed during a military tour in Iraq. Larry seeks out his old Vietnam War pals, Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) to accompany him on the trip to retrieve his son’s body and see that he’s given a proper burial. It’s a terrific film with amazing genuine performances. It finds the perfect balance of grief and humor so that it’s serious when it needs to be but isn’t a complete downer.
They Live (1988; rewatch) — A couple of construction workers (Roddy Piper and Keith David) learn that Earth is secretly ruled by an alien race who control people with subliminal messages, and it gets them in a lot of trouble. It’s not a subtle movie, and it seems like Piper has a lot of ad libs that aren’t as clever as he thinks they are, but it’s also a John Carpenter movie, and it’s great.
Murder Party (2007; rewatch) — Chris (Chris Sharp) gets an invitation to something called a murder party, and he decides to go. It turns out that it’s a project put together by a group of artists, and he’s the one who’s going to be murdered. It’s writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s first feature and features Macon Blair in an early film role, and while it’s not as impressive as either Blue Ruin or Green Room, it was made on a shoestring budget and is nonetheless highly entertaining and gets more impressive as the story unfolds.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017; first-time watch) — Steven (Colin Farrell), a cardiac surgeon, befriends Martin (Barry Keoghan), the son of a man who died on his operating table a couple of years ago. Martin starts demanding more of Steven’s time and tries to make himself part of the family, including Steven’s wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and children Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Sujlic). When Steven starts to push back against Martin, and to avoid advances from Martin’s mother (Alicia Silverstone), Martin starts to become less friendly. It’s a really good film that doesn’t try to offer any explanation for the things that are happening but sucks you in nonetheless.
Suburbicon (2017; first-time watch) — The lives of the Lodge family (with members played by Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Noah Jupe) are severely disrupted when their house is invaded by a couple of men who drug them and leave the mother dead. As the incident is investigated by the police and an insurance agency, strange things start to emerge. The main story line is adequate, even if it sloppily relies a little too heavily on deus ex machina, but it’s weirdly interspersed with a second storyline about a black family being made to feel unwelcome when they move into a formerly all-white neighborhood, and all of that footage feels very out of place.
The Monster Squad (1987; rewatch) — When monsters invade a small town, kids are the only ones who take notice and act to fend them off. It’s pretty clearly a knockoff of The Goonies but with monsters, and while it’s a lesser film, it’s got some good ideas, and it’s still pretty fun to watch.
The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920; first-time watch) — A rabbi creates a large man out of clay and brings it to life with a magic amulet. He hopes to use the golem to protect the Jewish people from the oppressive rulers. He has some success, but he also doesn’t have as much control over the golem as he would like. It’s like a German expressionist precursor to Frankenstein, and it’s not quite as amazing as the later James Whale film, but it’s still an impressive under-seen work.
Frankenstein (1931; rewatch) — Doctor Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) has found the secret to creating life, and he demonstrates that by constructing a creature (Boris Karloff) from parts taken from a number of people. However, the creature escapes and begins inadvertently terrorizing the townspeople and interfering with Henry’s ability to marry his beloved Elizabeth (Mae Clarke). It’s a masterpiece of horror packed into 70 minutes, a feat that director James Whale repeated with its sequel, Bride of Frankenstein.