Movies Watched Theatrically in December 2017

Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987; rewatch) — Tim (Ryan O’Neal) finds himself entangled in a complex web of love, sex, drugs, deceit, corruption, and murder. Also starring Isabella Rossellini, Lawrence Tierney, Penn Jillette, and especially Wings Hauser, it’s hard to describe but so easy (and so fun) to watch.

Die Hard (1988; rewatch) — While visiting his estranged family in L.A., New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) finds himself at his wife’s (Bonnie Bedelia) company Christmas party when it’s taken over by terrorists (led by Alan Rickman). Unable to expect much help from the LAPD (led by Paul Gleason and featuring Reginald VelJohnson as the lone voice of support), McClane has to face off against the terrorists himself in one of the greatest action movies (and greatest Christmas movies) of all time.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990; rewatch) — While waiting for his wife’s (Bonnie Bedelia) plane to arrive at the airport, John McClane (Bruce Willis) finds the airport taken over by terrorists (led by William Sadler). Unable to expect much help from the airport police (led by Dennis Franz), McClane has to face off against the terrorists himself in one of the most adequate action movies (and most adequate Christmas movies) of all time.

Red River (1948; rewatch) — With the help of his loyal ranch hands, Groot (Walter Brennan) and Matt (Montgomery Clift) and a bunch of other hired help, Tom Dunson (John Wayne) needs to get his massive herd of Texas cattle to market in Missouri. It’s over a thousand miles full of Indians, rustlers, and other dangers, and many of the guys are getting fed up with Dunson’s taskmaster attitude. It’s a terrific classic western that’s so much fun to watch.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968; rewatch) — When a harmonica-playing stranger (Charles Bronson) arrives in town, he’s expecting to meet Frank (Henry Fonda) but instead meets three of his men (including characters played by Woody Strode and Jack Elam). Meanwhile, Frank is murdering the McBain family and framing Cheyenne (Jason Robards) for it, just as Jill (Claudia Cardinale) arrives to be the new Mrs. McBain. It’s a deadly face-off of three great gunmen and one tough woman caught in the middle. It’s one of the greatest westerns of all time and totally earns its three-hour runtime.

The Man from Laramie (1955; first-time watch) — Will Lockhart (Jimmy Stewart) is a former army captain who now uses his mule team and wagons to make deliveries. When he makes a delivery to the small, remote town of Coronado, he finds himself constantly under duress from the Waggoman family and their top ranch-hand (Arthur Kennedy). He’s got to save his own skin, while also saving the town from the Waggomans and from the Apaches. Kind of in the vein of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stewart is a non-heroic hero who is very fun to watch against cartoonish bad guys.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017; first-time watch) — Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman) may not be too bright, but he’s extremely loyal to his friend Ed Johnson (Peter Fonda), who has just been elected senator. When Johnson is killed, Brown vows to catch whoever is responsible. Ignoring Mrs. Johnson’s (Kathy Baker) objections, and reluctantly picking up a young companion (Diego Josef) along the way, Lefty finds himself in a much bigger ordeal than he’d originally expected. It’s a solid modern western very much in the vein of True Grit that’s fun to watch even if it can’t hold a candle to the great classics.

Thelma (2017; first-time watch) — Thelma grew up with an overprotective, devoutly Christian family, but now she’s going away to college for the first time. But just as she’s getting her first tastes of freedom and temptation, and just when it looks like she might start making friends, she has a seizure. Then she has more of them. While doctors try to figure out why she’s having them, Thelma learns more about her past and her family. It’s a terrific film that captivates you right from the opening scene and easily holds your attention throughout.

Sudden Death (1995; rewatch) — Darren McCord (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is the fire marshall at a hockey arena where it’s the final game of the Stanley Cup. The Vice President (Raymond J. Barry) is attending, and so is Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe). Foss takes the Vice President hostage, holding him for a large ransom. All of the fans are oblivious to what’s going on, and Foss is able to keep the authorities at bay, so it’s up to McCord to save the day, while also worrying about his two children who just happen to be watching the game. It’s a very dumb but immensely fun version of Die Hard set in a hockey arena.

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974; first-time watch) — Godzilla appears and starts to destroy everything in his path. Except it’s not Godzilla; it’s a robot disguised to look like Godzilla, and it’s being controlled by aliens disguised to look like humans. The real Godzilla and the real humans must fight the fake Godzilla and the fake humans to save the world. It’s a decent movie, even if it does spend too much time on monsters fighting and not enough time on the plot.

Trancers (1984; rewatch) — Jack Death (Tim Thomerson) is a renegade cop from 300 years in the future. He travels back in time to 1985 to try to catch his nemesis Whistler (Michael Stefani) before he kills the ancestors of the members of the ruling council and prevents them from being born. Death teams up with a girl he just met (Helen Hunt) to try to track down and protect the ancestors before Whistler gets to them. It’s not a good movie, but it’s entertaining enough under the right circumstances.

Blade of the Immortal (2017; first-time watch) — After an epic battle in which he single-handedly took out a giant group of people, a samurai is endowed with blood worms by a witch. These worms can instantly heal wounds, effectively granting immortality to their host. After some time, the samurai finds his purpose: to help a girl take revenge against an evil and powerful gang that murdered her family. It’s kind of like the Baby Driver of samurai movies in that it’s got a fantastic opening, but is pretty lackluster after that. And this one is nearly half an hour longer than Baby Driver.

Runaway (1984; rewatch) —A police officer (Tom Selleck) in charge of neutralizing robots gone haywire finds himself up against an evil robotics genius (Gene Simmons) making robots go haywire. Also featuring Kirstie Alley, Joey Cramer, G.W. Bailey, and Cynthia Rhodes, it’s a dumb but thoroughly entertaining cautionary tale with a great climax.

The Double O Kid (1992; first-time watch) — Lance (Corey Haim) is a kid detective who finds himself teaming up with unsuspecting teen Melinda (Nicole Eggert) against a gang of bad guys (including Wallace Shawn). Also featuring Brigitte Nielsen, John Rhys-Davies, and Karen Black, it’s worth seeing once to marvel at its badness.

Cell (2016; first-time watch) — The world has experienced a zombie apocalypse triggered by nefarious cell phone signals. John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson are among the lucky few who escaped the wave of infections, and now Cusack is trying to get home to see if his wife and kid are okay. It’s an adaptation of a Stephen King book that mostly escaped notice, and the world is better off that way.

Elves (1989; rewatch) — A Nazi plot to take over the world leads to an evil elf chasing after a girl and her friends, mostly trapped in a department store. Only a down-on-his-luck Santa (Dan Haggerty) has the chance to save them, but he doesn’t do such a great job. It’s slow paced and nonsensical, but that’s not to say that it’s unwatchable.

Purple Noon (1960; first-time watch) — This original French adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, later remade as The Talented Mr. Ripley, features Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) as a mooch who befriends and then kills the well-to-do Philippe Greenleaf, and then tries to impersonate him in an attempt to live a life of luxury and make a play for Philippe’s girlfriend. It’s a strong film, even if it sometimes feels a bit convenient or contrived.

The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean (1966; first-time watch) — Norma Jean is a sweet, innocent, and vulnerable young woman who gets these “feelings” from time to time. Her most recent one is that she and her friend should get a giant inflatable dome where her friend, along with a mysterious band that just shows up, can perform music for crowds that will also just show up. But despite their performance, she becomes the star of the show, and the leader of the band tries to push her beyond her limits for his own benefit. It’s weird and sweet and sad and ultimately pretty good.

Deep Red (1975; rewatch) — A musician sees a woman’s murderer running away from the scene of the crime and becomes obsessed with trying to track them down. As he gets closer, he finds himself in increasing danger, and people around him start to suffer as a result. It’s an Argento film in the same vein as Suspiria, but more conventional and more approachable.

Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972; first-time watch) — Santa Claus finds himself stranded on a Florida beach with his sleigh stuck in the sand and no reindeer to pull him out. The local kids try to help, but nothing seems to work. And while they’re trying to figure out what to do, Santa tells the kids the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, so we just temporarily switch to a different movie before coming back to find the titular Ice Cream Bunny driving a fire truck and coming to save the day. It’s utterly incompetent and makes no sense, and yet it wouldn’t necessarily be out of place as a regular Christmas tradition.

The Disaster Artist (2017; first-time watch) — Greg (Dave Franco) is an aspiring actor. He meets Tommy (James Franco) in an acting class and is immediately entranced by Tommy’s fearlessness and talentlessness. Before long, Tommy has written a movie and wants Greg to co-star in it with them. It’s a semi-factual account of the creation of the cult classic “so bad it’s good” film The Room based on Greg Sestero’s book of the same name. There are certainly inconsistencies between the book and the movie, but the movie is entertaining enough to overlook some flaws, and somehow even James Franco (who also directed) doesn’t ruin the movie.

Babes in Toyland (1934; first-time watch) — Laurel and Hardy star as a couple of screw-ups in a fairytale land where the rich, evil Barnaby is trying to force Little Bo Peep to marry him instead of her true love, Tom Tom, the piper’s son. It’s a crazy movie full of the unexpected, and that sense is only magnified when you consider its age.

The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971; first-time watch) — A documentary about the life and death of Fred Hampton, one of the leaders of the Black Panther movement in Chicago. When Hampton is killed in a shootout with the police, the account given in the police report doesn’t seem to align with the evidence left at the scene. The film doesn’t exactly paint Hampton in a light of innocence and purity, but it does show that police corruption is nothing new.

The Thin Man (1934; rewatch) — When a woman is murdered, her employer—a scientist who has just gone missing—is the prime suspect. His daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan) convinces a constantly drinking former detective (William Powell) to investigate and learn the truth. And the detective’s wife (Myrna Loy) appoints herself to be his assistant. It’s a terrific and hilarious crime comedy that’s so much better than any modern attempts at something similar.

The Apartment (1960; rewatch) — C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) works for an insurance firm, where he’s quite popular with some of the executives because he frequently lends them the use of his apartment for some alone time with their mistresses. He’s also infatuated with Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), one of the building’s elevator operators, but she’s already involved with J. D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), one of the company’s top executives. It’s a wonderful comedy/drama that feels very racy for 1960 and is the perfect way to ring in a new year.

UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java 4.0.3

Shortly after publishing the 4.0.2 release of the LDAP SDK, we found a bug in the way that we generated and validated signatures for X.509 certificates and PKCS #10 certificate signing requests. So we have just released the 4.0.3 version of the LDAP SDK with just the fix for that bug. As usual, you can get it on, from GitHub, from SourceForge, or from the Maven Central Repository.

UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java 4.0.2

Happy 20th birthday, LDAPv3! The core LDAPv3 specifications, RFCs 2251 through 2256, were released on December 4, 1997. To celebrate, we’re releasing the UnboundID LDAP SDK for Java version 4.0.2. It is available now for download from the website, from our GitHub repository, from the SourceForge project, or from the Maven Central Repository.

The most significant changes included in this release are:

  • Added a new manage-certificates tool that can be used to interact with JKS and PKCS #12 keystores, generate certificates and certificate signing requests, sign certificates, and perform a number of other certificate-related features. It’s like keytool, but it offers additional functionality, and it’s a lot more user-friendly. The LDAP SDK also provides classes for generating and parsing certificates and certificate signing requests programmatically.
  • Added a new variant of the Entry.diff method that can be used to perform a byte-for-byte comparison of attribute values instead of using the associated attribute syntax. This can help identify changes that result in logically equivalent values, like changing the value of a case-insensitive attribute in a way that only affects capitalization.
  • Added a new PasswordReader.readPasswordChars method that can be used to read a password into a character array. Previously, it was only possible to read a password as a byte array.
  • Added a new LDAPConnection.closeWithoutUnbind method that can be used to close a connection without first sending an LDAP unbind request. While this isn’t usually recommended, it can be useful in cases where the connection is known to be invalid, and especially if there is the potential for sending the unbind request to cause the connection to block.
  • Improved support for validating object identifiers (OIDs). The LDAP SDK now offers a strict validation mode that requires the OID to be comprised of at least two components, that requires the first component to be between zero and two, and that requires the second component to be between zero and thirty-nine if the first component is zero or one. There is also a new OIDArgumentValueValidator class that can be used when requesting command-line arguments whose values are expected to be numeric OIDs.
  • Fixed a bug that could cause the LDAP SDK to leak a connection if it was configured with an SSLSocketVerifier and that verifier rejected the connection for some reason.
  • Fixed a bug that could cause the LDAP SDK to block for twice as long as it should in the event that a failure occurred while trying to send a simple bind request on a connection operating in synchronous mode and the attempt to send the request blocks.
  • Added support for new ASN.1 element types, including bit string, object identifier, generalized time, UTC time, UTF-8 string, IA5 string, printable string, and numeric string. Also added support for a new integer type that is backed by a BigInteger and can support values of any magnitude.
  • Added convenience methods that make it easier to determine the type class and primitive/constructed state of an ASN.1 element.
  • Added support for a new uniqueness request control that can be included in add, modify, and modify DN requests sent to the Ping Identity Directory Server. This control requests that the server identify attribute value conflicts that might arise as a result of the changes performed by the associated operation. The ldapmodify tool has also been updated to support this control.
  • Updated the searchrate tool to make it possible to set the search size limit, time limit, dereference policy, and typesOnly flag.
  • Updated the in-memory directory server to support the UnboundID/Ping-proprietary ignore NO-USER-MODIFICATION request control.
  • Updated the UnboundID/Ping-proprietary password policy state extended operation to make it possible to determine whether the target user has a static password.
  • Updated the argument parser to make it possible to hide subcommand names and argument identifiers so that they can be used but will not appear in generated usage information.
  • Improved the quality of LDAP request debug messages.
  • Updated the set of LDAP-related specifications to include updated versions of existing specifications, and to add a number of certificate-related specifications.

Movies Watched Theatrically in November 2017

The Thing (1982; rewatch) — The inhabitants of an Antarctic research site are surprised by the arrival of a dog, and then much more surprised when it turns out to be an alien creature that they just call a “thing”. It is capable of taking over and perfectly replicating other creatures, and it seems intent on taking over everyone in the research site and probably the world. Starring Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Donald Moffat, and others, it’s an absolute horror classic, and for good reason.

Freaked (1993; rewatch) — Ricky (Alex Winter) is an actor who sells out to become the spokesman for a pesticide manufacturer. He accidentally gets exposed to the pesticide and turns into a half-man, half-beast. But he’s not alone, because he’s also being held captive at a freak show, run by Randy Quaid and featuring other oddities played by Mr. T, Bobcat Goldthwait, Derek McGrath, John Hawkes, and others. It’s very dumb but pretty funny.

Wonder Women (1973; rewatch) — Dr. Tsu (Nancy Kwan) has perfected the art of transplanting anything from one person to another. She’s using her ability to give rich old people immortality by transplanting their brains into virile young bodies. The disappearances have raised the suspicion of an insurance company who’s on the hook for paying large policies, so they hire a tough guy (Ross Hagen) to find out what’s really going on. It’s an adequate film with occasional fun and a good chase scene.

Boogie Nights (1997; rewatch) — Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) is a prolific director of adult films, most of which star Amber Waves (Julianne Moore). He’s just discovered a new, well-endowed talent (Eddie Adams aka Dirk Diggler, played by Mark Wahlberg) who’s set to thrust him into an even greater level of success. Featuring a supporting cast that includes Heather Graham, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán, William H. Macy, Ricky Jay, and Philip Baker Hall, it’s a well-acted, well-directed, and otherwise great film.

Okja (2017; first-time watch) — After taking over The Mirando Corporation from her evil father, Lucy (Tilda Swinton) is faced with the uphill battle of cleaning up its image. She announces a competition in which a number of giant pigs will be raised in different parts of the world to find the best super pig. A young girl named Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) is raising one named Okja, along with her father. Their pig wins the competition, but when she learns that it’s going to be taken away from her, she decides that she must stop it. It’s a very good movie that starts off light and fun but has an abruptly morose ending.

Halloween (1978; rewatch) — Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is chasing an escaped mental patient named Michael Myers (played by Tony Moran) back to his hometown on Halloween night. Meanwhile, good girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is babysitting while friends Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P.J. Soles) are each exploring a more adult kind of fun. But Michael Myers is coming for them, and he’s really hard to stop. It’s a terrific film that would be great enough on its own, but it’s also responsible for so many other great (and not-so-great) horror movies.

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017; first-time watch) — The bad moms (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn) are back, and it’s Christmas. Now they’re each being haunted by visits from their own bad moms (Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, and Susan Sarandon). It’s like a very crappy version of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation made by filmmakers who aren’t funny and don’t particularly seem to care about doing a good job.

Black Sunday (1960; first-time watch) — A woman (Barbara Steele) who was put to death a couple hundred years ago after being convicted of being a vampire and being a witch. When a man accidentally breaks the cross on her tomb and spills some of his blood on it, her spirit is awoken and wants to find a body to possess. By a fantastic stroke of luck, the current princess (also played by Steele) looks exactly like the witch. Like most films by Mario Bava, it can be a bit slow at times, but it’s certainly worth watching.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962; rewatch) — Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) is a young, idealistic lawyer who travels to a small town to set up a law practice. On the way, he’s robbed and severely beaten by a gang led by Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin). The town’s marshall (Andy Devine) is a lazy coward who isn’t going to do anything about it, and the only man who can stand up to Valance is Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), but he doesn’t have much respect for Ransom and doesn’t seem to want to help. Meanwhile, Tom’s girl Hallie (Vera Miles) begins to fall for Ransom. It’s a very good film, although it feels like it spoils itself a bit in the way by telling most of the story through flashbacks.

The Peanut Butter Solution (1985; first-time watch) — When a fire breaks out in an abandoned house and kills a couple of homeless people, a young kid named Michael is intent on looking into that house. He sees something so scary that his hair falls out and he’s stricken with embarrassment. But the spirit of one of the deceased appears to him and gives him the recipe for a concoction that should allow him to regrow his hair. But he doesn’t follow the recipe exactly and ends up with hair that just won’t stop growing. It just gets weirder from there and turns into one of the greatest things to have ever come out of Canada.

Daddy’s Home 2 (2017; first-time watch) — Brad and Dusty (Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg) have stopped fighting over Sara (Linda Cardellini) and are now the best of friends. But then their dads (John Lithgow and Mel Gibson) come visit for Christmas, and things get tense again. It’s markedly better than its predecessor but still falls far short of being a good movie.

Thriller (aka They Call Her One Eye; 1973; first-time watch) — Frigga (Christina Lindberg) is a mute girl who is kidnapped and forced into heroin addiction and prostitution. She can’t leave her pimp because he’s her drug supplier and she’s told she won’t last more than a couple of days without a fix. But she spends her spare time mastering marksmanship, martial arts, and high-speed driving, all in preparation for her chance at revenge. It’s no Ms .45, but it provides a pretty badass female vengeance movie with a different perspective than you’ve seen other movies of this type.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974; rewatch) — A man (Richard Widmark) is murdered just before the train he’s riding gets stuck in a snowdrift. There just happens to be a world-class detective (Albert Finney) on board, and a representative of the railroad (Martin Balsam) asks him to try to solve the crime before help arrives to get the train going again. There are a lot of suspects, but everyone seems to have an alibi. It may not be Sidney Lumet’s greatest directorial effort, but with a star-studded cast that also includes Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, and Michael York, it’s a very solid adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel of the same name.

Sunset Boulevard (1950; rewatch) — Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a once-successful screenwriter who is now struggling to pay the bills. While avoiding debt collectors trying to repossess his car, he takes shelter in what he assumes to be an abandoned house but is actually the home of former film star Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and her servant Max (Erich von Stroheim). Desmond enlists Joe’s help to fix up the screenplay to a film that she hopes will bring her back into stardom, and soon Joe finds himself something of a kept man. It’s an absolutely terrific film, completely deserving of his reputation as one of the all-time great classics.

The Art of Dying (1991; first-time watch) — Jack (Wings Hauser) is a cop who doesn’t like to play by the rules. He’s on the hunt for a snuff filmmaker who’s killing girls who hope to break into acting. It’s like a much lesser and much weirder version of Peeping Tom, but it’s still kind of fascinating in its own way, mostly thanks to Hauser’s unpredictability and signature style.

Peeping Tom (1960; rewatch) — Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) works for a film studio as a camera operator, and makes extra money on the side by taking pictures of girls in sexy scenarios. But his real passion is instilling fear in women and capturing their reactions, and their deaths, on film. He befriends a woman (Anna Massey) who lives in his apartment building and desperately tries not to get caught and not to succumb to the urge to kill her. It’s a very creepy film that is a very significant departure from the kind of movie that director Michael Powell had been known for up to this point.

The Devil’s Backbone (2001; rewatch) — During the Spanish Civil War, a young boy named Carlos finds himself left at an orphanage. It’s a haunted orphanage, plagued by the spirit of a boy named Santi who died there several years ago. While under constant threat from the war outside, and from a less-than-honorable staff member, Carlos is intent on learning the truth about Santi.

Lady Bird (2017; first-time watch) — Christine (Saoirse Ronan) has given herself a new name: Lady Bird. She’s a high school senior who constantly fights with her mom (Laurie Metcalf) to the point that she is desperate to go away to college on the other side of the country. She doesn’t have the best grades, and she’s not all that popular, and money is extremely tight when her father (Tracy Letts) loses his job, but she is determined to get away. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, it’s a surprisingly good film, and certainly much better than the ones Gerwig normally appears in.

The Funhouse (1981; rewatch) — A carnival is in town, and a group of kids go to have fun. They decide to hide out and spend the night in one of the rides, but then they witness a murder and are discovered. It’s a pretty lackluster film from Tobe Hooper with a few promising leads that never go anywhere.

California Typewriter (2016; first-time watch) — This documentary features a number of typewriter enthusiasts (including Tom Hanks, Sam Shepard, and John Mayer) and a look at the people in and around one of the last remaining stores to sell and repair typewriters. It’s a reasonably entertaining film, even if it does little to inspire others to become typewriter enthusiasts.

Doppelganger (1993; rewatch) — Holly (Drew Barrymore) comes from a haunted family. Her brother has already been locked up in an asylum for murder, and there’s also reason to suspect that she’s killed, too. She finds Patrick (George Newbern), who has a room for rent and decides to stay with him while she works things out. But she seems to have two completely different personalities, and we soon find that there’s someone who looks and sounds exactly like her and is intent on getting her out of the picture. It’s a dull movie with a dumb ending and a lot of un-subtle references that I’m sure it thinks are very clever.

A Christmas Tale (2006; first-time watch) — Junon (Catherine Deneuve) is the matriarch of a family of a bunch of awful people. It’s Christmas, and they’ve all gotten together to be awful en masse. She’s got cancer and needs a bone marrow transplant from someone, and there are two possible matches: a grandson who’s not all there, and a son who is constantly terrible. If it were shorter, it would be a bad movie, but at two and a half hours, it’s excruciating.

Trouble in Paradise (1932; first-time watch) — A con artist (Herbert Marshall) and a pickpocket (Miriam Hopkins) fall in love and join forces to rob a wealthy businesswoman (Kay Francis). But suspicions about who they really are begin to mount, and their job becomes more difficult. Also featuring Charles Ruggles, it’s a very solid romance caper film that’s short and to the point.

The People Under the Stairs (1991; rewatch) — When his family is about to be evicted from their apartment, a young kid is approached b a thief (Ving Rhames) about a way that they can prevent it. The creepy couple who own the apartment building have a valuable coin collection stashed away. They decide to steal it, only to learn that the couple already has plenty of prisoners in their old mansion and would rather kill than enslave. It’s a reasonably fun movie from Wes Craven, even if it depends too heavily on jump scares.

The Challenge (2016; first-time watch) — There are a lot of people in Qatar who have much more money than they know what to do with. This documentary provides a look, without comment or narration, at the lives of many of these sheiks and their unusual lifestyles that seem to be a mix of lavish and primitive. Many of them are into falconry, and they like to take their SUVs out into the desert to fly their birds and drive like maniacs. It’s a pretty short film at only 69 minutes, but I wouldn’t want it to last any longer.

Yes, Madam! (1985; first-time watch) — A trio of criminals get mixed up in a murder when they steal a dead man’s passport. It’s an international incident, and a local cop (Michelle Yeoh) is teamed up with an agent from Scotland Yard (Cynthia Rothrock) to investigate. It’s a very typical Hong Kong action movie with bumbling criminals, but it’s elevated by the ass-kicking female duo, even if it could use a lot more ass-kicking scenes.

Death Wish (1974; rewatch) — After an attack leaves his wife dead and daughter distraught, Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) decides to clean up the city by taking out a bunch of criminals. The police want to catch him, but the public likes his brand of vigilante justice. Featuring Jeff Goldblum as one of the attackers, it’s a violent movie, but a good one that inspired a wave of vigilante cinema.

Ishtar (1987; rewatch) — A pair of terrible songwriters (Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty) can’t find much luck in America, so they decide to take their agent’s offer to play at a hotel in Morocco. They soon find themselves mixed up with the CIA, communists, and freedom fighters (including Isabelle Adjani). It’s not a masterpiece by any stretch, but it’s fun enough, and its reputation as a terrible movie is pretty undeserved.

Open Secret (1948; first-time watch) — A small town is plagued by a secret society intent on eliminating, or at least heavily oppressing, the Jewish population. A newlywed couple gets mixed up in this as they come to visit a friend only to find that he has been kidnapped. The more they investigate, the darker things get. A tight 68 minutes, it was very bold and timely for its release in 1948, and it still feels that way today.

Coco (2017; first-time watch) — Miguel is a young Mexican boy in a family of music-hating shoemakers. His great-great grandfather walked out on his great-great grandmother to share his music with the world, and she never forgave him, and she made sure that her family didn’t either. But Miguel loves music and wants to pursue it despite their objections. But on the Day of the Dead, he finds himself somehow transported to the land of the deceased, and his only hope is to track down his great-great grandfather. The story is a little predictable, but it still manages to toy with your emotions and the presentation is very fresh.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017; first-time watch) — Frustrated with the police department’s lack of results in solving her daughter’s murder, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) rents three billboards calling out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) in the hopes that it will rile them up into something that might lead to a break in the case. But it makes a lot of people mad, including officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), and they seek retaliation. What follows is an intricate, unexpected, and exceptional drama from writer/director Martin McDonagh.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017; first-time watch) — Roman J. Israel is a lawyer with an incredible memory, a lot of ideals, and no social skills. He’s spent decades working behind the scenes for a trial lawyer, but when his partner has a heart attack, he learns that the firm is in debt and can’t continue. Roman has been living on a miniscule salary and can’t afford to be out of work, so he’s forced into working for George Pierce (Colin Farrell), who has agreed to take over the open cases. Pierce is a powerhouse attorney who cares much more about rushing the high-paying clients through as quickly as possible than he does about taking care of people or doing what’s right. After getting beaten down long enough, Roman succumbs to the temptation of making some money for himself, and that’s where things go bad for both him and the movie.

Legacy of Satan (1974; first-time watch) — As far as I can tell, this is supposed to be a horror movie about a blood-drinking cult, but the plot is pretty indiscernible. Maybe that’s because it was originally created as an adult film, but then it had all of the adult content cut out, leaving 68 minutes of the most boring and least sexy content you can imagine.

I Come in Peace (aka Dark Angel; 1990; rewatch) — Jack Caine (Dolph Lundgren) is a cop who doesn’t always do things by the book. When a sting operation goes bad, and his partner ends up dead, Caine is paired up with FBI Agent Smith (Brian Benben), who always does things by the book. But the book gets thrown out the window when we find that a pair of aliens are trashing the city while one harvests humans to create a potent drug while the other tries to bust him. With bit parts for Sam Anderson and Michael J. Pollard, it’s a dumb movie that is a lot of fun to watch.

Strangers on a Train (1951; rewatch) — Professional tennis player Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is recognized on a train ride by Bruno Antony (Robert Walker), who insists on stealing all of Guy’s attention. Bruno describes a plan that he has to commit two perfect murders, by having two people who don’t know each other to kill someone for the other. He talks about killing Guy’s pain-in-the-ass wife (Kasey Rogers) so that he’ll be free to marry his true love (Ruth Roman), and in return, Guy would kill Bruno’s overbearing father. Guy listens politely but doesn’t think anything of it until his wife ends up dead and now Bruno insists that Guy do his part. It’s one of Hitchcock’s best friends, and it’s based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, so it’s something that simply must be seen.

Movies Watched Theatrically in October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Wolf Warrior 2

I watch a lot of movies in the theater, but it’s a very rare occasion that I’m the only one at a screening. Even at the most obscure, most off-time, and most likely terrible movies, there is usually at least one other person in attendance. But the theater was empty when I went to see Wolf Warrior 2, and that’s an even bigger crime than there being non-empty screenings of Blade Runner 2049, It, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Leng Feng (Jing Wu, who also wrote and directed the film) was a member of the elite Wolf Warrior squadron of the Chinese army, but he was stripped of his rank and thrown in jail after killing a man who was taking way too much pleasure in evicting the family of a fallen comrade. And while he was locked up, Leng received word that his fiancée had been assassinated by mercenaries. Now, he travels the globe looking for the men who killed her, with an unusual bullet as his only clue.

One day, his travels bring him to Africa, where he’s visiting his godson. Civil war breaks out, and the rebels have captured strategic targets of particular interest to the Chinese, including a hospital with a doctor working on a cure for a deadly epidemic and a factory where his godson’s mother works. The rebels have hired ruthless mercenaries, led by a guy named Big Daddy (Frank Grillo), to do their dirty work. The U.S. Marines have already fled, and the Chinese military wants to go in, but the U.N. won’t permit it without incontrovertible evidence that Chinese citizens are being slaughtered. Their only hope is for one man to go in alone, and Leng is that man.

The script for this movie must have been written in Chinese because the English language cannot adequately describe how unbelievably ridiculous the movie is. It’s awful in just about every technical way that a movie can be. The CGI is bad, the acting is terrible, and the overacting is even worse. It’s dripping with anti-American propaganda, while absolutely gushing with pro-Chinese (and in that regard, the last scene of the film truly takes the cake). The mercenaries are almost like characters in a cartoon or video game, with one in particular (Bear, played by Oleg Prudius) being nothing short of the real-life version of Zangief from the Street Fighter series. And the hero, Leng, is like Rambo, John McClane, Martin Riggs from Lethal Weapon, and “Maverick” Pete Mitchell from Top Gun (complete with shirtless soccer scene) all rolled into one.

But despite all of these faults, and even because of some of them, Wolf Warrior 2 is pure joy to watch. It’s over two hours long, and while it’s not all action, there’s not a second of boredom to be found anywhere in the film. It opens with Leng single-handedly thwarting a pirate attack on a ship, and it accelerates from there. There’s nothing he can’t do, from catching a rocket fired at him, to making an instantaneous recovery from an incurable disease, to bouncing back from countless attacks that would have incapacitated a lesser man. If you’re not into action movies, or if you can’t enjoy movies that are just one glaringly obvious flaw after another, then this may not be the one for you. But if you can get into the world this film puts you in and just go with all the amazing insanity it throws at you, then Wolf Warrior 2 is one that you need to see.

Blade Runner 2049

There are several cuts of the original Blade Runner movie, but the theatrical release was just about two hours long, and I honestly find it kind of dull and not as great as most people seem to think. The new Blade Runner 2049 is almost an hour longer, and you feel it. It actually seems like two movies in one, with the second one being the weaker of the two and largely unnecessary.

The new film picks up several years after the end of the first. The original line of replicants are still outlawed, there are still some in hiding, and there are still blade runners that track them down and kill them. But there’s also a new line of replicants that’s much better at following instructions. K (Ryan Gosling) is one of those newer replicants, but he’s also a blade runner. All replicants are artificially created, but K uncovers evidence that suggests a female replicant had a baby. When he tells his boss (Robin Wright), she freaks out, convinced that if anyone finds out, it’ll create a war between humans and replicants. So she sends K out on a mission to find and destroy the replicant offspring for the sake of civilization.

This is the premise for the first half of the movie, and if it had ended with that storyline, then it would’ve been fine. Well, it still would’ve had substantial problems, but being way too long with a much less creative and interesting second half wouldn’t have been one of them. I do like how the movie’s future is extrapolated from our world as it existed in 1982, with references to things that existed then but not now, and ideas from the first movie that seem dumber in retrospect but are nevertheless still part of the movie world. The extended use of drones is a nice way of incorporating newer technology into the film, but the extended use of droning on the soundtrack is far less welcome, and Hans Zimmer really needs to learn a new trick or two. And maybe Gosling should also take a page from the same book because while he was very good in Drive, maybe it would be good if he played a different character from time to time.

But one of the biggest problems with the movie is the basic premise that it is somehow possible for replicants to have baby replicants that grow up to be adult replicants. If, like in the original story, replicants are androids comprised of a mix of organic and inorganic materials, then this doesn’t make even the slightest bit of sense because the inorganic components wouldn’t be reproduced and wouldn’t grow. But if we assume that replicants are purely organic creatures that have just been genetically engineered to be superior to humans in some ways (for example, in strength, tolerance to pain, and ability to heal), while also engineered to be slaves without free will, and that also somehow enter the world as fully-formed adults without ever being children, then that doesn’t make any sense either. I suppose that there could be a middle ground in which replicants have some inorganic material but that the offspring would be purely organic, but the movie doesn’t seem to pursue that possibility at all.

There are plenty of other things wrong with the movie. Jared Leto is in it, for one. It’s also got a holographic character that is done in a fairly illogical manner, and it steals a creepy sex scene idea from Her but make it creepier and more annoying. And I don’t even want to get into anything in the second half of the movie because it would be difficult to do so without spoiling things, and it’s just not good enough to warrant the effort.

Maybe if you’re a big enough fan of the original movie, you can overlook all of these problems and still come away enjoying it. Its high ratings on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes certainly seem to suggest that. But while I can appreciate the first Blade Runner, I just plain don’t find it all that enjoyable to watch, and the sequel doesn’t do much to change my opinion of the franchise.

The Florida Project

Florida Man is a kind of mythical creature that stems from the perception that Floridians seem to get into the weirdest predicaments and commit the dumbest crimes. It’s become an internet meme, and there’s no shortage of evidence to support its existence. And if you are someone who believes in the existence of Florida Man, then The Florida Project won’t do anything to dissuade you from that belief.

The film features Willem Dafoe as Bobby, the manager of a very low-cost hotel in Florida not too far from Disney World. He’s a good guy who’s dedicated to his job, and probably the film’s best argument against the Florida Man stereotype, but he has to deal with a lot of crap. Some of it comes from the hotel’s hard-to-please owner, but the lion’s share comes from the customers. A hotel that only costs $38 a night tends to attract a certain type of “Florida Man” clientele, and Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her daughter Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) definitely qualify. Moonee runs around unsupervised all day with her friends Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and Jancey (Valeria Cotto), scamming money from tourists, breaking into places they shouldn’t be, and getting into all kinds of trouble. But when Halley is supervising, things don’t go much differently. She’s much more a friend than a mom, and she’s the source of most of Moonee’s scamming skills. She’s been in trouble with the law in the past and really wants to avoid getting caught again, while also trying to scrape together enough money for the rent every week.

The Florida Project is a tremendous film that shines in just about every way. The performances are terrific across the board, and Dafoe sells a complicated role as ably as you’d expect from him, but Brooklyn Prince really comes through with something special that runs the gamut from pure delight in being an asshole to utter heartbreak and despair. The characters are all really well developed and seem very real, and here Dafoe’s Bobby is the shining example, where you start out with one perception of him and soon start to realize that it’s something very different, and yet the basis of your first impression is still valid and consistent with the more complete picture you have of him. It also helps that the story stays fresh by not always going where you expect, and by revealing information in a sneakily gradual manner so that things seem complete enough when you’re watching them unfold, but that take on new depth when additional details emerge.

But as good as it is, The Florida Project may not be for everyone. There are times without much in the way of plot, and the ending is kind of abrupt at a point when you’re looking for more resolution. It can be a very rewarding film, but it doesn’t always do things the way you’re used to, and there were people at the screening I attended who weren’t sure what to make of the ending. But I think that the more you reflect on the movie, the more likely it is that you’ll be impressed at what it’s able to accomplish without a lot of budget but with a whole lot of heart and talent.

The Mountain Between Us

Having grown up in the midwest, I’ve got plenty of experience with cold weather, but I haven’t had that much exposure to mountainous terrain. Fortunately, I live in Texas now, and I don’t have to deal with either all that often, and I’m completely okay with that.

Alex (Kate Winslet) is getting married tomorrow. Ben (Idris Elba) is a neurosurgeon who has an important life-saving procedure in the morning. But neither of those things is happening in Idaho, which is where they are currently stuck in an airport with a storm blowing in. Not wanting to take “no” for an answer, Alex tracks down a pilot (Walter, played by Beau Bridges) who’s willing to fly them in his private plane to another airport that’s still open where they can catch flights that will get them to their respective destinations on time. Then Walter has a stroke while flying over the Rockies and the plane goes down. Walter doesn’t survive the crash, and Alex is pretty banged up, but Ben comes out mostly unscathed. They stay with the plane for a few days hoping for rescue, but once they realize that help isn’t coming, they set out on a likely hopeless trek through the snow-covered mountains.

It’s basically Forces of Nature (that crappy Sandra Bullock/Ben Affleck movie) meets The Grey (that very not-crappy Liam Neeson movie). Quality-wise, it falls somewhere in between. When it’s a wilderness survival/buddy road-trip movie, it’s not too bad. They both seem surprisingly well-equipped for their unexpected trek through the mountains, but I suppose you can attribute that to them having been in Idaho for some period of time and they could be good at over-packing. And it’s pretty convenient that Ben, a British doctor, would be so good at improvising shelters and starting fires and the like, and it seems like a real missed opportunity to have given those skills to Alex, a photojournalist who’s traveled the world and faced a variety of dangers, but at least things keep moving at a decent pace.

However, it’s when things get emotional that the movie starts to take a turn for the worse. It’s understandable that the two would form a bond going through this ordeal together, but it really goes off the rails at the end with an unnecessary (and unnecessarily cheesy) conclusion when there were several earlier points where the movie could’ve wrapped things up without spelling everything out for you and leaving things open for interpretation. And since this is what you’re left with when you walk out of the theater, your lasting impression is of disappointment.

Battle of the Sexes

When it comes to watching professional tennis, I find both men’s and women’s matches to be equally uninteresting. But in the early 1970s, the people in charge of the American professional league thought that men’s tennis was much more interesting than women’s. As such, they decided to offer male players much higher tournament prizes than female players. The women were not so happy about this. Led by top-ranked women’s player Billie Jean King (played by Emma Stone), several female players decided to leave the existing league and start a new one, managed by Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman). Many (including rival league president Jack Kramer, played by Bill Pullman) predict that it will flop, but the women find a sponsor and an audience and are making a go of it.

Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) is a 55-year-old has-been pro with a gambling addiction and a flair for making a spectacle of himself. Spying an opportunity for self-promotion, he challenges King to a match with the intention of proving that men are just plain better than women. She initially rejects his offer, but the other top women’s player, Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), accepts the challenge and loses, and Billie Jean feels obligated to take the challenge and put Riggs back in his place. Meanwhile, King finds herself in the awkward position of falling for Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough), much to the dismay of her husband Larry (Austin Stowell).

Battle of the Sexes is a serviceable biopic with good acting and a star-studded cast that also includes Alan Cumming, Elisabeth Shue, Natalie Morales, Fred Armisen, and others. The problem, though, is that the movie just isn’t very exciting, and this all comes down to predictability, runtime, and uninspired action. Although I’m not all that familiar with the original story, and I have to assume that they remained fairly faithful to it, the movie plays out pretty much exactly as you would expect. It takes two hours to do it, and it seems like it takes forever to get around to Billie Jean actually accepting the challenge. And when we finally get to the tennis, it’s not all that impressive or fast-paced. Maybe that’s because Carell and Stone aren’t actually world-class tennis players, but that’s probably something that could be solved with creative editing and other filmmaking magic. And maybe that’s just because tennis as a spectator sport is akin to watching free kicks in soccer, where it mostly comes down to whether you guess right as to where your opponent will send the ball.

The movie’s other big problem, and something that it didn’t make any attempt to address, is that the match is between a 55-year-old man who is no longer playing professionally and a 29-year-old woman who is considered at least one of the best female players in the world. The fact that it’s not a cakewalk for her to beat someone almost twice her age doesn’t do all that much to bolster the film’s premise, and the inevitable ending is pretty anticlimactic. Combine that with the unenthusiastic and unsatisfying conclusion to Billie Jean’s storyline with Marilyn, and the movie goes out with a whimper rather than the bang that you would expect and that the filmmakers probably hoped for.