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Films So Far - 2021
Here's a brief summary of the films I've seen so far this year. Those marked with a " * " were seen in an actual cinema and not online.
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, 1992
Absolutely stunning ensemble thriller-drama. The ultimate in cut-throat, dog-eat-dog, capitalist savagery. No other film comes close, no other script is as quotable, no other actors have gathered the stones to try this stunt again. Coffee is for closers only. ...You think I'm fuckin' with you? As long as Mamet stays away from trying to write women, he is amazing. This and "American Buffalo" are my two favourite of his works.
BASKET CASE, 1982
Uneven, but mostly-entertaining, monster-thriller-comedy. It's pretty clear that the surgery sequence was staged by people who had absolutely no medical knowledge but plenty of -gusto-. The conjoined-twin-telepathy sequence leading up to the climax of the film was surprisingly creative (although I admit I watched the last quarter of the film at 1.5x speed). Throw in some lively stop-animation of the monster, and although it's not quite a winner you have yourself a memorable film.
CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA, 1961
Absolute garbage. Terrible camera work, for one - though there were some actual underwater scenes. The saving grace was the monster costume... Until now, I never knew where that creature design came from, though I'd seemingly noticed it everywhere in '50s pulp nostalgia. Pass this one up and you won't regret it. Ugh.
BLOOD RAGE, 1987
Another gawdawful melange of parodies of mental illness, dreadful scripting full of wretched jokes, and Louise Lasser. The best thing about this film was the score, with the creative effects being a close second (including a pretty great scene where a woman's body was sliced in half). Generally speaking: stay far away.
KINGDOM OF SHADOWS - THE BIRTH OF HORROR CINEMA, 2008
A documentary and footage archive piece collecting and analyzing footage from classic silent and early sound horror films from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Connection is drawn between the word "monster" and how it was originally a device used to show how human passions, driven to excess, are a crime against God. Lots of footage and excellent commentary of the German expressionist films of the period, as well as the tremendous influence of Edgar Allen Poe's writings. I am now on the lookout for the 1920's horror film "Vampyr."
IN DEFENSE OF FOOD, 2015
I watched this documentary about food itself one day while painting my bird houses. Journalist Michael Pollan suggests a set of guidelines for putting food into one's body: "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants." "Eat Food" because the marketplace (particularly in the US) is loaded with highly-processed Edible Foodlike Substances. "Not Too Much," because the size of one's plate, cup, bowl, or glass largely dictates portion size. "Mostly Plants," because research has provided plenty of evidence that it is easy to eat too much meat in the typical Western Diet.
KUNG FU ZOMBIE, 1981
The final fight between the vampire and the kung-fu hero is epic and stylish: leagues beyond the expectations set by the first 80 minutes of the film. Beyond that, it's forgettable.
THE HITCH-HIKER, 1953
Two buddies hoping to go on a bender in Vegas are instead sidetracked by a hitchhiker they pick up along the way. He's a stone-cold killer with a bad eye set on fleeing to Mexico. This is kind of a mix of a thriller and a buddy film. The two guys stick together and eventually stick it out. The Mexican cops do their job really well: following clues linked to the bad oil leak in their car, keeping news of the manhunt off the radio, etc. This one is well-done.
UN FLIC (French: "A Cop"), 1972
Fantastic and thrilling cops-n-robbers film directed by Jean-Pierre Melville. There was a wordless scene between the three members of a love triangle (the cop, a gangster, and a gun moll/accomplice) that absolutely wowed me and completely won me over. I'm typing this up in the middle of the film, and I haven't seen the helicopter scene yet. Features a Melville staple - Alain Delon - as well as Richard Crenna, who later went on to play Colonel Trautman in the "Rambo" films. And Wow... The real-time 20-minute train heist via helicopter is a must-see.
LE DOULOS (French: "The Finger Man"), 1962
I suppose it wasn't entirely fair to follow-up Jean-Pierre Melville's last movie with one of his first, from ten years earlier. It's typical "No Honor Among Thieves/Crime Doesn't Pay" fare from 1962, what with all the crooks double-crossing each other, wiping-off their fingerprints from everything. Very primitive and unremarkable compared to other Melville works I've seen. The scene with the cops shaking-down the main thug in the middle of the film was a snooze. Only watch if you're a "Melville completionist."
NOVA SCIENCE NOW: HOW SMART ARE ANIMALS?, 2011
A 2011 episode of Nova, with host Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson. This particular episode featured research about non-human animals and how they communicate and learn. Featured were experiments and observations with border collies (a type of dog I think is super cute), dolphins, cuttlefish and octopuses, and finally Alex the parrot. Alex's 30 years of life were spent learning hundreds of words and how to communicate with humans, with the help of researcher Irene Pepperberg.
ALICE, SWEET ALICE (AKA "Communion," "Holy Terror"), 1977
Apparently a cult-classic slasher-thriller. The second half is a lot stronger than the first. The set-up is occupied with the sibling rivalry (between two little girls, as well as the girls' mother and aunt), and the murderer is revealed way too soon. Meanwhile, by the time the second half comes along the copious layers of religious symbolism, the quicker pace, as well as the excellent camera work (some even on 16mm) come to the fore and raise the quality considerably.
SEX SLAVES: THE GLOBAL SEX TRADE AND ITS VICTIMS, 2005
A documentary about how women are tricked into being prostituted. In one example, eastern European women eventually end up in Istanbul via Odessa, a notorious smuggler port in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Canada has a "strippers VISA," (a law later repealed, fortunately) where women are brought into the country thinking they will work as domestic help or exotic dancers, then locked in apartments and hotels. In any major city, you'll find pimps who purchase and then use and re-sell women to other pimps, sometimes to be prostituted in another country. One segment follows a Moldovan man who impersonates a pimp in order to buy his own wife back. The man who sold her to Turkish pimps received a five-year suspended sentence for his act. Most men are savages when left to their own devices, end of story.
PROM NIGHT, 1980
One of the prototypical/archetypal slasher films. Features all the tropes: teens played by actors in their 20s or older; first-person view of the killer; drugs, sex (in a van), and jealousy; the titular high school Prom Night; a good, solid beheading (also in the same van) to kick off the climax. Also features Leslie Nielsen in a rare dramatic role (I also have the sneaking suspicion his death in the film was edited out, due to some dialogue peculiarities leading up to the final reveal). Jamie Lee Curtis was the only reason I wanted to watch this, honestly. This should be appreciated more as a part of history as opposed to consideration as a good film.
Horror-thriller that falls flat in several dimensions. I would have enjoyed the sluggish lead-up to the climax, had the script not been terrible (more to blame than the acting). The idea of a parasitic, flesh-sucking wealthy class preying on basic/low-class humans just wasn't executed well in this instance. The practical effects don't save it (though the death of the protagonist's arch enemy was a creative surprise). Ugh.
THE PSYCHIC, 1977 (AKA "The Seven Notes in Black")
I never thought I'd say this, but I think I like Lucio Fulci's thrillers and ghost stories -much- better than his zombie stuff. -The Beyond- was very good, but I think the script and pacing of this one is leagues better than the films for which I was first introduced to him. Frizzi's main theme is haunting and iconic, and the camera work is tremendously well-done. Just when I thought I predicted the ending - and I was right - I was still treated to a nice surprise. A film made the year I was born.
WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, 1979
The classic - "The call is coming from inside the house!!!" thriller. Carol Kane, who I recognize most as the witch from -The Princess Bride- plays the babysitter terrorized by a psychopathic killer. Lots of cool shots and a surprisingly-good performance by Tony Beckley as the killer (his last role before his death). In general, the performances are believable and understated. One of my favourite things about this film were the shots of the actors running through the streets, and the "uncredited extras" and their reactions. Colleen Dewhurst and Charles Durning also in the cast. This was quite well-done.
RING, 1998 (AKA "Ringu," "The Ring")
Well, it took me 20 years, but now I understand all the references to the long-haired ghoul crawling out of the well. I enjoyed the pacing and the various nods to Japanese folklore of curses, ghosts, and the spread of rumours turning out to be true. I'm sure there's a chapter or two in the various novels or manga about how Sadako's grandfather and the doctor both conspired to kill off Sadako and throw her down the well back in the day. Just sayin'. I'm likely going to skip a viewing of "Ju-on" because it's likely that when it comes to Japanese horror films of the era, I've seen it all.
DEAD OF NIGHT, 1945
A very impressive horror anthology piece, with an intriguing script that doubtless inspired all those "deja vu" and "Groundhog Day" type stories. Personally, I was taken aback a few times because of the combination of 40's kitsch, and authentic horror and creepiness (primarily in the stories about the possessed mirror and the ventriloquist). Definitely one meeting the criteria of classic cinema.
LIPS OF BLOOD, 1975
My second Jean Rollin film. It was slower and plodding in comparison to "Grapes of Death," and in my opinion this one doesn't hold up as well. To sum up: a man is haunted and charmed by a vampiress entombed by his family when he was a little boy, and returns to the ruins to free her (becoming her vampiric thrall in the process). An odd tale of mystery, obsession, and hidden evil. The notion that she was a vampire was underplayed with great effect until the moment she changed him to a vampire at the end. The close of the film was definitely satisfying, poetic, and again understated.
I needed a palate-cleanser from all the b-horror stuff I'd been seeing lately. This is a documentary about Marvin "Marv" Heemayer, a military veteran given a bad turn by a small-town Good 'ol Boys network. As a result, he cracks, resolving to destroy the businesses of all those who had wronged him. To sum it up, there were sonsabitches all round, and in 2004 this crazy motherfucker tried to stick it to 'em. So who was worse? The world may never know. Not a bad 90 minutes.
AMERICAN MYSTIC: ALTERNATIVE RELIGIONS, 2010
A cultural snapshot documentary, focusing on three individuals pursuing "uncommon" spiritual practices. They make public their own personal spiritual journeys and musings, and it's kind of tedious. Seems to me to be more of a cultural exploration and in some cases - like the Lakota man - a cultural rebirth and revitalization. I'm certainly not convinced that any of this creates or makes manifest certain desired phenomena. But it doesn't really make a difference anyway, and I don't think convincing me of anything was the purpose of this film.
An interesting quote from one of the film subjects: "We are, in many ways, limited only by our courage." Sure, there's truth to that.
*THE BLUE DAHLIA, 1946
Now that the cinema is open again, I'll be visiting it more often and reporting on the films I've seen there. This is one of the first.
It's a post-war (as in, WWII) murder-thriller. Veronica Lake wowed me with a dual-role knockout. Alan Ladd was an ace. The weirdo with the plate in his head was a bit much. It was cool to see a plot as sophisticated as this one make it to the screen in the '40s.
*CAPE FEAR, 1962
One of the strongest thrillers I've seen yet! Robert Mitchum's creepy-creeper vibe is magnetic and makes the second half much better than the first. The scene between him and Polly Bergen in the houseboat was a thrill, and I assume a tad risque for the typical early '60s audience. He also stole all of Gregory Peck's thunder with the, "Oh, you done fucked-up now," phone call scene, and I had a laugh when Peck's tactic didn't work as he had intended. Personally, I'm a bit tired of seeing the plot advancing thanks to a police chief deciding it's okay to help a citizen plot someone else's murder, but it fits in with the USA's zeitgeist of, "We'll do the evil thing in order to defeat an even greater evil, just this once."
*FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, 1982
Quintessential '80s film I've seen many times, about a California coast town and its kids that are growing up too fast. Surprisingly heavy for a teen flick that doesn't feature axe murderers. In fact, it would have been an afterschool special were it not for the abortion sub-plot and Forrest Whitaker saying, "Don't fuck with it." Nowadays I'm old enough to feel like a creep for kinda sorta crushing on Phoebe Cates thanks to the unforgettable pool scene. Plus, I'll never hear Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby" the same ever again.
*LA PISCINE (French: The Swimming Pool), 1969
"A tale of two shit-birds." A Pinter-esque summer romance for the older set that takes an ugly turn in the last third. I wanted to see this one because Alain Delon played someone who was -not- a cop or a gangster. I'm glad I did. He's still a murderer in this one though, and I was pleased to see that he didn't get the girl in the end. In fact, Romy Schneider (Delon's girlfriend in this picture) stole the show for me: beyond being gorgeous, her character's journey was believable and sophisticated, and her will was made of iron. She was excellent. I've thoroughly enjoyed every film in which I've seen Delon, and this is no exception. I also like watching women who don't exaggeratedly sway their hips in an attempt to "be sexy." Schneider is a knockout in this regard.
The classic. I watched it on 4th July, as it was meant to be. Richard Dreyfuss "hams it up, jams it up" at points. However Roy Scheider and of course Robert Shaw as the immortal Quint save this film and make it worthwhile. I'm convinced that - in order to have this film rated PG in addition to films like "Raiders of the Lost Ark" - Steven Speilberg must have sucked so, so much cock. That's showbiz, folks.
*THE KILLERS, 1964
Ronald Reagan's last role, appropriately enough as a mob boss. Lee Marvin is a total badass, bleeding out on a Beverly Hills lawn just as the cops show up, covered with thousands of his ill-gotten dollars. And I finally saw a film with John Cassavetes and was compelled to research him afterward. This is based on a Hemingway short story, though it features several 1960s car racing segments, which were entrancing. Post-"greasers" and nascent Rockabilly vibes here. A total ass-kicker that I'd like to see again.
This film is billed as a "tragicomedy," but I scarcely found anything funny about it. Maybe absurd, certainly surprising, but hardly amusing. It was just too real, unspectacular, cruel, and plebeian at times. The film also uses several non-trained actors in principal roles. The animals in the coin-op carnival machines are the starkest metaphor for human existence. Whaddya expect from Werner Herzog, though? Lingering thoughts of this film made the rest of the weekend pretty rough, honestly.
*THE NAKED CITY, 1946
Wow... Another fantastic and sophisticated genre piece that helps me understand the roots of cinema. All those cop shows like CSI and whatever they are owe their souls and success to this murder procedural drama. I never rooted for the cops as much as I did when I became endeared to that tiny, Irish lieutenant.
*REAR WINDOW, 1954
Hitchcock's admirable suspense piece featuring James Stewart performing best when he doesn't say a word. Grace Kelly is gorgeous and daring. Thelma Ritter, as Stella the nurse, is a genius. Raymond Burr is the killer. It's pretty great all-around, including the gargantuan studio set made to look like a residential NYC courtyard. Not my favourite of his films, but still excellent.
*DO THE RIGHT THING, 1989
I saw myself in this film a lot, unfortunately. This was hard to watch. It's also hard to believe that so little has changed in the 30 years since this film was made. Spike Lee's character Mookie was 50% a shit heel, as was John Turturro's character, but otherwise I cared about nearly everyone in this film. The stalemated romance between Sal and Jade was a heart-breaker and definitely sharing the center of the film's message. Love and hate make messes of everything. Exceptionally well done.
That's 32 so far. More to come in the second half of the year.