Films I Saw is a self explanatory monthly column dedicated to cataloging each and every film I saw within that month. Each film will be given a grade and a mini review.
Aug. 1— As the Gods Will (2014)
Japanese high schoolers are forced to participate in a series of games that are as bizarre as they are deadly. Imagine a word in which Takashi Miike (Audition, 13 Assassins, Visitor Q) directed The Hunger Games whilst high off of peyote and that’s this film. But the thing is, you don’t have to pretend, it’s real. I have no idea whether or not he dabbled in peyote but the rest is true. This is his Battle Royale but with more crazy and more blood. And while it doesn’t always work, the sheer volume of insanity on display is far too great to ignore.
Aug. 2— Valley Girl (1983)
A girl from the valley meets a punk from the city and against all odds, they fall in love. But can their love survive peer pressure or will their affair be over as fast as it started? No actor on Earth does love sick better than Nic Cage. He doesn’t do that many romantic comedies but when he does, he always knocks them out of the park. His eyes can convey melancholy and longing and pure happiness, sometimes all at once. He’s like a puppy dog you can’t help but love. And speaking of can’t help but love, what the fuck happened to Deborah Foreman? Based on just this and My Chauffeur, she should’ve been a star but for whatever reason, she just disappeared. Which is a shame. Oh and the soundtrack is fucking great.
Aug. 3— Crawl (2019)
While struggling to save her father during a hurricane, a young woman finds herself trapped underneath a flooding house that’s become over run with alligators and must use all of her considerable courage and strength to overcome the perfect apex predator. If you were to make a Venn diagram with good movies on the left and bad movies on the right, Crawl is one of those films you’d find smack dab in the middle. There’s not a single element of this film I’d consider bad per say but there’s also nothing noteworthy about it either. The best thing you can say about it, is that it’s competent.
Aug. 4— A Record of Sweet Murder (2014)
A mentally unstable serial killer invites a journalist and a cameraman to an abandoned apartment for an exclusive interview and things get predictably bloody and horrible from there. Shot almost entirely in one take, A Record of Sweet Murder is a twisty turvy found footage film that rewards the patient. I guarantee some will be turned off by the ending but I also guarantee no one watching it will guess where it ends up. It’s a truly original horror film that doesn’t entirely work but gets a shit ton of points for trying.
Aug. 5— Apollo 11 (2019)
A story about the Apollo 11 mission isn’t anything new, nor are stories about Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. We know these men and we’ve seen their story a hundred times but this doc offers some new insights into the men, as well as unearthed footage never before seen. Eliminating all artifice and trying to be as objective as possible, the film has no narration, no cutaway interviews, and no recreations. Just original material synced with some music and the occasional diagram. Which makes for a pulse pounding adventure that looks so stunning, it’s almost unbelievable that it happened 50 years ago. This is more than a doc, it is historical preservation as art.
Aug. 6— Capturing the Friedmans (2003)
A middle-class American family is torn apart when the father and son are accused of sexually abusing numerous children. Since the director approached the subject as unbiased as possible (although it’s clear which side he’s on), the film forces us to sift through the ambiguous evidence and determine for ourselves the question of their guilt or innocence, which isn’t as easy as one would assume. The evidence teeters between the flimsy and the downright impossible but it is evident the family has some major skeletons in their closest. I think this film does an amazing job of providing two different experiences based on whether you think the Friedmans were the victims of a witch hunt or are heinous monsters. You’ll either be infuriated by the miscarriage of justice or will be cheering for their downfall but either way, you’ll be compelled.
Aug. 7— When We Were Kings (1996)
A documentary of the 1974 heavyweight championship bout in Zaire, “The Rumble in the Jungle,” between champion George Foreman and underdog challenger Muhammad Ali. They say anyone with the right director, can become an actor. Maybe not a good one but in the right role, anyone could be good. And then there are some that are naturally gifted, who have acting in their bones that only need training to become better but movie stars they say, that’s something you either have or you don’t. There’s no amount of schooling that can teach you how to become a movie star. And I’m not talking about famous actors who’s names and faces take up most of the poster. I’m talking capital M capital S movie stars who’s natural persona could fill auditoriums.
Burt Reynolds had it. John Wayne had it. And you better fucking believe Muhammad Ali had it. The man was entertaining in a way few men have ever been before or since. His charisma was electric, his ego was unbelievable but his skill was unparalleled. He said he was the best and he backed it up. This documentary does an amazing job of capturing one of the all time greats in his prime as well as touching on the African American experience in the 70s.
Aug. 8— David Bowie: The Last Five Years (2017)
The Last Five Years explores David Bowie’s final two albums The Next Day and Blackstar and his Broadway musical Lazarus, while also detailing bits and pieces of his previous works that weren’t included in the director’s last doc David Bowie: Five Years. The cynical could easily call this a thinly veiled advert for Blackstar and while they wouldn’t be completely wrong, it offers a bit more substance than that. Not much mind you but enough to be more than just a regular ol’ “making of”.
Aug. 9— Body Count (1986)
An Italian ripoff of Friday the 13th, which was, itself, a ripoff of an Italian horror film, Body Count is a surprisingly tame slasher from the director of Cannibal Holocaust and House on the Edge of the Park. It’s not original nor is it particularly good but it does have a ton of nudity, a ton of kills and a kickass score from Claudio Simonetti. Which honestly, is all a horror film needs really.
Aug. 10— Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)
A group of teens must solve the mystery of a haunted book that writes scary stories that eventually come true before their story is written and they suffer a terrible fate. Much like the 2017 IT, since it’s a horror film made for kids, I don’t think it’s fair to judge this film as an adult but to imagine what I would’ve thought about it as a kid and 12 year old me would’ve fucking loved this film. I would’ve dug the shit out of the monster effects, would’ve thought the comedic relief character was hilarious and definitely been scared to death by the Jangly Man. As an adult, I can see the flaws but even still, I was entertained. Which I guess means I have the taste of a child.
Aug. 11— Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (2015)
A found footage or mockumentary type film that chronicles the perverse obsession a Romanian director has with a Anne Hathaway and the shocking extremes he’ll go to convince the actress to star in his upcoming film. It’s a decent thriller that has some pretty good performances and a handful of truly suspenseful scenes but they’re unfortunately few and far between.
Aug. 12— Blue Vengeance (1989)
Tormented by the brutal murder of his partner and harassed by his fellow officers because they think he’s responsible, an ex-cop is all alone on the road to revenge when the man who’s actually responsible for killing his partner escapes from a sanatorium. Ridiculously cheesy and hilariously inept, Blue Vengeance is a no-budget cop thriller that feels like a Larry Cohen script someone fished out of the trash back in the 70’s, that never got updated or rewritten. It’s not terrible enough to mock or crazy enough to be remembered but it does end with a bicycle joust between the hero and the killer that’s so random, it damn near makes the film worth it. Almost.
Aug. 13— Eight Men Out (1988)
Fed up with getting underpaid, eight members of the Chicago White Sox accept bribes to deliberately lose the World Series in 1919. One of the biggest scandals in the history of sports is given the big budget biopic treatment which fans of baseball will love and those who are knowledgeable of history will find fascinating but unfortunately, I am neither. The performances are all great as is Sayles’ direction but, and I don’t know if this is just me or a problem with the screenplay, It felt like I was always at arms length while watching it. I never fully understood why the ballplayers decided to take the bribe, who it was who was bribing them, why they were bribing them or what the ultimate goal was. If you are not already familiar with the story beforehand, you’re unlikely to understand it after seeing this film.
Aug. 14— The Video Diary of Ricardo Lopez (2000)
A documentary chronicling the last days of Ricardo Lopez, a mentally unstable social outcast who, in 1996 mailed a bomb to Icelandic singer Björk and then committed suicide on camera. It’s a harrowing look inside the mind of a truly insane individual who loses his grip with reality in real time. Every five or so minutes, he gets crazier and crazier until he’s escalated to the point where he’s created and mailed a bomb to Björk, shaved his head Travis Bickle style, covers his face in red and black paint and then puts a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. All while Björk plays in the background. It’s chilling stuff.
Aug. 15— Annihilator (1986)
A made for TV movie that was supposed be the pilot for a show that never got picked up, Annihilator is about a group of humanoid killer robots that stalk a newspaperman who has knowledge of their existence. Clearly taking inspiration from The Incredible Hulk and The Terminator (a man traveling from town to town, trying to unravel a mystery while trying to stay two steps ahead of those who are hunting him), the movie isn’t great but I could see a faint glimpses of what it could’ve been if it was turned into a show.
Aug. 16— Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dalí (1970)
This is technically a documentary about Salvador Dalí but much like everything associated with the artist, the truth isn’t that simple. It is a documentary in that it is documenting Dalí but those looking for insights into his art or life or anything even close to resembling something useful in terms of facts, will be wasting their time. This is a film about Dalí, which means it’s Dalí talking about how great Dalí is for about an hour all while painting or playing a piano that’s affixed with cat heads on the top that meow in different pitches when you hit certain notes or doing other equally bizarre shit. It’s a film that’s almost as crazy as the artist himself, which means it’s a must watch for fans and a hard pass for everyone else.
Aug. 17— Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012)
A divorced couple tries to maintain their friendship while they both pursue other people. The main reason I dislike romcoms is not because of the lovey dovey schmaltzy bullshit but because of the predictable formula. I know before I even watch the film that they’ll have a huge fight in the third act and that it’ll most likely end with the guy heading to the airport to stop the gal from leaving. They all hit the same fucking beats, which makes Celeste & Jesse Forever so refreshing. It starts with the couple broken up, which immediately throws a monkey wrench in the cliched three act structure. It’s a refreshing take on an old story anchored by two strong performances. This is the film Bridesmaids tried and failed to be.
Aug. 18— Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
A four sided love triangle (a love square?) involving an outcast (Eric Stoltz), a popular girl (Lea Thompson), her ex (Craig Sheffer) and a tomboy (Mary Stuart Masterson). The tomboy loves the outcast, the outcast is infatuated with the popular girl, she’s using the outcast to piss off her ex and the ex wants revenge. It’s a charming bit of fluff that gets by on the strength of it’s actors (namely Masterson) but it really feels like a film made from the odds and ends of better Hughes movies.
Aug. 19— Dolemite (1975)
Set up by a rival pimp and a couple of crooked cops, Dolemite is sentenced to 20 years for possessing stolen furs, drugs and guns that were planted in his car. Out of the blue, the warden decides to let him out in order to clear his name and get revenge. No less than two minutes later, he assaults a guard who’s giving him lip and kills a couple of hitmen sent to by his rival. Exactly ten minutes later, he goes back to his old life of pimping and clubbing and kinda sorta tries to get revenge. Oh and all of his “ladies” know karate, which becomes an important plot point in the 3rd act. Dolemite is the type of movie you’d see today made by an egotistical genius who had access to a camera and a couple of “actors” but unlike Wiseau or Boll or Nguyen, it works solely on the charisma of Rudy Ray Moore. You never laugh at him because he’s incompetent, you cheer for him because you can tell he knows he is but he just doesn’t give a fuck. He’s having a blast and you’re having a blast with him.
Aug. 20— Invader ZIM: Enter the Florpus (2019)
Returning to the small screen after a 17 year absence, Enter the Florpus is, I’m assuming, a backdoor pilot for a new Invader Zim cartoon. Walking the fine line between being faithful enough to the original, that it hits that nostalgic sweet spot and interesting enough to bring in new viewers who have no idea what it is, Enter the Florpus mostly succeeds in giving the fans what they want, without alienating too many people.
Aug. 21— Edge of the Axe (1988)
Edge of the Axe is one of those films that’s not much more than its plot synopsis. There’s a guy in a mask killing people with an axe. That’s about it. There are no interesting characters, the plot is paper thin, it has a molasses like pace and there’s nothing especially memorable about the kills. But I will say, the identity of the killer was a twist I didn’t see coming, so that’s something.
Aug. 22— Zoo (2005)
An anthology of five horror-ish(?) stories that aren’t scary nor particularly good. One’s about a guy who kills a chick and takes a picture a day of her decomposing body, another one is about a robot that kinda, sorta learns something about humanity? There’s one about a group of Japanese girls who were kidnapped and imprisoned in seven separate rooms for some reason and lastly, the two best of the bunch are about a set of twins, that ends in a diabolical switcheroo and a ghost story that has a legitimately clever twist. It’s not the worst horror anthology ever made but it’s far from the best.
Aug. 23— Ready or Not (2019)
A bride’s wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game. Outside of the performance from the lead actress, everything about this film is okay. The deaths aren’t memorable but they’re appropriately gory, the premise isn’t strong but I was never bored and while the humor was appreciated, it was severely hit or miss. It’s not a horror film you need to rush to go see nor is it one you need to buy when it drops on Blu-ray but it’s kinda perfect for those Netflix and chill days. As long as you have booze that is.
Aug. 24— Fantasy of Deer Warrior (1961)
A bizarre Taiwanese fantasy film about the peaceful lives of forest animals getting brutally disturbed by a pack of hungry wolves. Based on that plot description you’d assume it would be an animated movie or at the very least, be an Adventures of Milo & Otis type film but nope. All the animals are actors in costume. This film predates the furry craze by about 30 years. A tale of betrayal, jealousy and revenge, Fantasy of Deer Warrior is too weird to be a kid’s film and too childish to appeal to adults.
Aug. 25— The Departure (2017)
A former punk rocker-turned-Buddhist priest helps suicidal men and women through his wise and compassionate counsel but the years of taking on the responsibility of saving other people has adversely affected his health as well as his personal life. Put at a crossroads between a life of healing that may cost him everything or a life lived for himself, the monk must make the ultimate choice. Philosophical and life affirming, The Departure is a profound documentary about the human spirit and how important one person can be to complete strangers. It’s the closest a film has come to providing me a spiritual journey.
Aug. 26— Hail County This Morning, This Evening (2018)
A mosaic comprised of snippets of the Black community in Hale County, Alabama. This film frustrates me because on a technical level, it’s fantastic. It’s well shot, well curated and is fascinating in short bursts but since it lacks narrative cohesion, my attention starts to drift every eight or so minutes. There’s no through line, so it’s very hard for me to care about what I’m seeing because there’s nothing for me to latch onto. Documentaries like this are like being on a ship without a captain—you can either sit back and enjoy where the ocean takes you or you can be annoyed at all the cool shit you would be seeing if there was someone guiding you along. I choose the latter.
Aug. 27— Black Mountain Side (2014)
After a group of archaeologists uncover a strange structure buried in the snow, bizarre occurrences start happening. Is it cabin fever, mass hysteria, an ancient virus that’s laid dormant for over a millennia or something supernatural? Whatever they’ve unleashed is a powerful force they may never comprehend…if they survive. Black Mountain Side is a low budget homage to The Thing that would’ve been far better as a short. The film does an admirable job of trying to maintain dread throughout but there’s just not enough plot to justify its runtime. Fans of The Thing or films like it should give it a chance but lower your expectations.
Aug. 28— Creep (2004)
Trapped in a London subway station, a woman is pursued by a mutated attacker through the labyrinthine tunnels beneath the city’s streets. A dull, listless thriller that tries to substitute gore for a plot and doesn’t even do that well. Sean Harris, who plays the subway dwelling cannibal, is giving it his all, which is 80% more effort than this film deserves.
Aug. 29— The Big Picture (1989)
A film school grad thought his career was made after his award winning short film made him the talk of the town, but soon realizes getting into Hollywood isn’t as easy as it seems. Not as sardonic and biting as The Player or realistic and funny as Living in Oblivion, The Big Picture is a bland comedy that’s bogged down by surreal cutaways and an uninteresting script. Selling your soul to get what you want is a trope that’s been around forever and this film doesn’t even try to do anything new or original with it. Martin Short and J.T. Walsh are great but since they’re just in supporting roles, they’re unfortunately not in it long enough to save it.
Aug. 30— Feast (2005)
A group of bar dwellers must band together to stave off a pack of monsters/aliens who are outside the bar and are hungry. This Project Greenlight funded creature feature somehow manages to fuck up every slam dunk it’s been awarded. The script, while not the most original thing in the world, has some clever touches and is legitimately funny in bits but is undone by the horrible direction. It’s amazing that this film, which was produced by Affleck, Damon and Craven and that made it to theaters, looks this bad. It’s sub SyFy levels of trash. It also somehow wastes a pretty decent cast of genre actors. This film can’t do anything right.
Aug. 31— Say Anything… (1989)
An underachiever and a valedictorian fall in love a couple of weeks before she goes off to college. I’m not a fan of Cameron Crowe. I think his films are overly saccharine, extremely melodramatic and fake. He’s clearly a talented writer but there seems to be a disconnect between his words and his vision. Maybe it’s test audiences that demand that there be a cute kid in every movie he makes or maybe it’s the producer’s idea to have everyone talk in clearly scripted monologues. I don’t know but I do believe he’s a talented writer, which makes it all the more frustrating when he adds so much unnecessary fluff to entertain the easily amused. He’s not unlike Hughes in that way. Both great writers that, when they direct their own material, feel as though they need to talk down to the audience. That they have to hold their hand but the difference being, that Hughes never lost his talent, while Crowe started off strong but got progressively worse with each picture. Because if he continued producing films as good as Say Anything…. into the 90’s and 00’s, he easily would’ve become the new Hughes.
In addition to being good enough to compare to the best of Hughes’ work, it’s a film that made me re-evaluate Crowe’s career. I had originally written him off as a one hit wonder that somehow got lucky but now having seen this, it’s clear to me that it wasn’t luck. He used to have talent. A shit ton of it in fact because I really fucking liked this film. The performances were all spectacular, the characters all felt real (which is rare in a teen comedy), the drama was believable and Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) might be the most likable character in cinema history. I instantly fell in love with him and since he loved Diane (Ione Skye), I loved Diane. Their relationship, their romance is the only one I’ve ever seen in a romcom where I actively rooted for them to be together and hoped they stayed together after the credits roll. Goddamn it Crowe. What the fuck happened to you man? Your ass used to be beautiful.