Films I Saw in December 2019

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.

Dec. 1—Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles (2019)

Luis Buñuel was a visionary. He helped create surrealism and had no problem using art to push buttons. He’s one of the most influential and important artists of all time. But he was also extremely problematic. His film Las Hurdes (Land Without Bread), is a pivotal work that’s been declared by many, as an essential documentary. It’s a scathing satire of the naïve ethnographic documentaries of the time that also happens to include multiple scenes of animal death and cruelty. It’s a rough watch, which makes it the perfect subject matter for a behind the scenes biopic.

Covering his early years after the controversial releases of Un Chien andalou and L’Age d’Or and the making of Land Without BreadBuñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles is an animated portrait of an artist that did things his way. He abuses animals, compromises his own values, dresses like a nun to upset the church and takes advantage of his friends but the meat of this story and why it almost works, is that it tries to examine why he acts the way that he does. It’s a fascinating story that would’ve worked far better in live action.

Grade: C

Dec. 2—Honey Boy (2019)

One part therapy session and one part exorcism of childhood demons, Honey Boy is an autobiographical account of actual cannibal Shia LaBeouf’s life. It jumps back and forth between “him” in a rehab center around the time of one of the “Transformers” movies and “him” as child actor living in a motel with his father around the time he’s making “Evens Stevens.” I’m using quotation marks because while it’s clearly about LaBeouf, the names have all been changed. I’m assuming for either legal or artistic reasons. The film is kind of a mess, with a couple of subplots being either undercooked, unnecessary or unsatisfying (FKA Twigs, while not bad, served no purpose) and an ending that just…ends, but it’s held together by two of the best performances of the year.

The scenes between LaBeouf (who’s playing his own father) and Noah Jupe (who’s playing the younger version of him) are amongst the best of the year. The film around them works for the most part but every time it cuts to the Hedges segment or has Jupe interact with anyone who isn’t LaBeouf, it just doesn’t work as well. It’s a film that isn’t perfect but is the perfect launch pad for some amazing future talent.

Grade: B+

Dec. 3—The Favourite (2018)

At first glance, The Favourite looks like any other period drama. It employs the same genre trappings as say a Barry Lyndon — immaculate set design, gorgeous costumes, beautiful cinematography and highbrow accents — but every so often, a idiosyncratic element will pop up to remind you that this isn’t your typical period drama. It is directed by the guy who made The Lobster and Killing of a Sacred Deer after all. Besides the fish eyed lenses and occasional modernized dancing, the story — centered on two women (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) trying to backstab and outwit each other as they try and manipulate the queen (Olivia Coleman) for their own personal gain — feels far more progressive than history would’ve allowed.

Bordering on a sub/dom relationship, the love triangle is as tantalising as it is complicated. Watching Stone’s wolf try and manipulate her way into the ornate henhouse is a delight, until it isn’t. The way in which she plays everyone around her and how secrets and sex are used as currency, is gratifying until you realize the two she’s ruining, who from the outset look like terrible people, might actually be in love. It’s a wicked black comedy only Yorgos could make.

Grade: A

Dec. 4—Toni Erdmann (2016)

There are certain films that after I watch them, my immediate thought is “man, I really wish I knew how to edit.” This, along with films like, Solaris, Heaven’s Gate and It Chapter 2 would all be great if they were much shorter. There’s absolutely no reason this film needs to be two and a half hours. Especially considering it’s the same joke over and over again. A practical joking father (Peter Simonischek) tries to reconnect with his hard working daughter (Sandra Hüller) by creating an outrageous alter ego and posing as her CEO’s life coach. She immediately knows its him but instead of calling him out, she lets the farce play out. And when he shows up again, she decides to push the game even further to see how far he’s willing to take it. It’s a solid set up that has enough material to make for a terrific 90 minute movie but it goes on and on and on. Well past its effectiveness. Jokes need to be short in order for them to work. Shakespeare didn’t say “long-windedness is the soul of wit” for a reason.

Grade: C

Dec. 5—Marriage Story (2019)

Marriage Story is the most entertaining film about divorce you’ll ever see. That isn’t to say it isn’t emotionally devastating (which it is) or extremely painful to watch (which it is) but compared to say, Scenes From a Marriage or A Separation or Amour, it’s practically a breezy feel good time. What separates this film from the aforementioned titles and all the other films about on the topic, is that at the end of the day, these characters still love each other. This isn’t a film about the slow disintegration of love or a bitter custody trial. It’s a sad character drama about two people who can’t be together anymore.

Even if you side with one character over the other, you’re not left feeling as though either was underdeveloped or underrepresented. Both characters are given equal screen time and are properly motivated and while the film does introduce a plot element to try and even the playing field, your sympathies never wane for that particular character nor are you more on the side of the other. It’s not a film about winners or losers or a good guy trying to win over a villain, like say Kramer vs Kramer. It’s a thoughtful and honest portrayal about what happens after a marriage ends when a child is involved. Both want what’s best for the boy but have two completely different ideas of what that is. Driver and Johansson have never been better and this is far and away the best work by writer/director Noah Baumbauch.

Grade: A+

Dec. 6—The Farewell (2019)

Originally told on a podcast, Lulu Wang’s autobiographical story works far better as a narrative feature. The story is so compelling that it would be great in any medium but film has something an essay or a podcast doesn’t, which is the visual component. Hearing or reading about a family that decides to hide a cancer diagnosis from their own grandmother, makes for a fascinating and enthralling experience but actually getting to see the family and their lovable grandmother, is more powerful than any author or talented voice actor could convey. In order for the story to have real dramatic weight, you need to see the toll the secrets are taking on everyone involved. You need to see the guilt everyone feels for the deception. You need to feel the ticking clock that makes every interaction almost unbearable and you need to see the grandmother, who’s completely oblivious to the whole thing. She’s the sweetest person in the world, which makes their lie, as complicated as it is, a truly unselfish act. Why ruin her happiness with a little bit of truth? The Farewell is a marvelous feel good movie that will pummel you with emotions, both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Grade: B+

Dec. 7—Call Me By Your Name (2017)

I don’t know what it says about me but the cinematic romances that have hit me the hardest are the ones about love affairs that aren’t meant to last. Not the doomed ones that end in tragedy but the flings that only last for a handful of days. Perhaps it’s the sadness of the what if or the what could’ve been or maybe they stay with me longer because they have a definitive conclusion unlike your typical happily ever after, which lets be honest, are usually unearned or bullshit anyways. There’s no way the couple at the end of An Officer and Gentleman or The Graduate are going to make it. The whisper at the end of Lost in Translation has stayed with me way longer than any other cliched romcom ending ever has.

I have no idea what Murray whispered into Johansson’s ear nor do I want to know. It’s a secret that belongs to them and nobody else. Call Me By Your Name is that whisper stretched out to full length. The romance between the sensitive teen Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and the confident grad student Oliver (Armie Hammer) is a secret hidden from everyone else, partially due to the intolerance at the time (it’s set in the 80’s) but mostly because it isn’t meant for anyone else. Their time together in that hot summer in Italy, will last with them forever, whether they ended up together or not.

Grade: A

Dec. 8—A Separation (2011)

It’s been proven time and time again, that it isn’t the quality of the story that separates a good storyteller from a bad one, but how they choose to tell it that does. This story could’ve been told a million different ways by a million different writers but it’s how Asghar Farhadi chose to tell it that makes all the difference in the world. A variation of this film’s plot can be found in a ton of Lifetime movies and dime store paperbacks, which proves that a master can turn what is essentially a standard potboiler thriller wrapped up in a marriage drama, into one of the best films ever made.

A married couple (played by Leila Hatami and Peyman Maadi) are contemplating getting a divorce due to the her insistence that they move to another country due to the sudden unsafeness of Iran and his reluctance which is born from the need to look after his father, who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s and needs constant supervision. Neither wants a divorce but neither wants to compromise their respective priorities either, so they’re stuck at a stale mate with their daughter in the middle. On top of that, an incident occurs involving a potential murder and a lie to prove one’s innocence that might sever the fragile ties keeping them all together. It’s brilliantly told custody battle/murder investigation that ranks among the best of foreign cinema.

Grade: A+

Dec. 9—The Hunt (2012)

Within 24 hours, the life of a teacher (Mads Mikkelson) gets upended when a child student of his lies about him inappropriately touching her. Soon the entire town has turned against him with all the other children admitting to the same abuse. It’s a frightening look at how fast a little white lie can turn into mass hysteria and how fast that can turn into a witch hunt, which is made all the more terrifying due to the fact that it’s loosely based on a true story. Marvelously acted and uncomfortably tense, The Hunt is a film you won’t soon forget.

Grade: B+

Dec. 10—Phantom Thread (2017)

The fact that this film was born out of a real life incident in which the director wondered why his wife gave him such a loving look while tending to him while he recovered from a sickness, should clue you into the fact that this is not your typical love story. Quietly subversive and unexpectedly provocative, Phantom Thread is Fifty Shades of Grey for the art-house crowd. It’s about the push and pull that comes with any relationship and what happens when the power dynamics get upended. But taken to the absolute extreme. If you thought a room full of whips and anal contacts were outrageous, wait till you see the omelet at the end of this film. That omelet is the key to unlocking the entire picture. It recontextualizes everything that came before it, adds another level of depth to the characters, gives the film its meaning and brings the film up one whole letter grade. Phoenix owns the title of the best ending of the decade but that omelet and the scenes that proceed it, are a strong second place.

Grade: B+

Dec. 11—Stan and Ollie (2018)

For those of you unfamiliar with the pair, Laurel and Hardy were, at one point, the most famous comedy duo in the world. They made a ton of films together and were huge inspirations for Abbott and Costello and many others. But by the 50s, their popularity was starting to wane, so in an attempt to reignite their film careers, they would embark on what would become their swan song – a grueling theatre tour of post-war Britain. Another casualty of the dreaded biopic curse, Stan and Ollie is a well intentioned and marvelously acted love letter that feels a bit hollow. Outside of the acting, which is again, far better than this film deserves, there’s nothing note worthy about it. Fans won’t learn anything new and newcomers aren’t given a reason to care. It’s a film your grandmother would love.

Grade: C

Dec. 12—One Crazy Summer (1986)

Savage Steve Holland was way ahead of the curve. He was making wacky meta parodies of 80s comedies at the height of the decade and the genre. Better Off Dead did reasonably well but One Crazy Summer was a complete failure. His brand of comedy was not appreciated by critics, audiences or the star of the film itself (Cusack said at the time, One Crazy Summer was the worst film he had ever made) but I think it might’ve done better if it was made later. Parodies work better with some distance and the film was released a bit too close to its target. It also happen to be a bit too wacky. I appreciate the film’s off beat humor and unique style but it was just a bit too much for my liking. I understand why it eventually became a cult hit and I’m glad it did but the film just never clicked with me.

Grade: D-

Dec. 13—The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

Robert Downey Jr had the comeback of the century about ten years ago, Matthew McConaughey had his McConaissance a little bit later than that, Michael Keaton is still enjoying the fruits of his career resurgence from a couple of years ago and this year it’s Shia’s turn. 2019 was the year of the LaBeef. He had two indie darlings release this year and while I like elements of Honey Boy more, I found this film, on the whole, more consistently entertaining. It’s a gentle film about an unlikely pair of outlaws.

One is a troubled fisherman (LaBeouf) and the other is a young man with autism (Zack Gottsagen) who escaped from an assisted care living facility. Since neither man can go back home for various reasons, they, along with the caretaker in charge of finding the young man (Dakota Johnson) decide to help him pursue his dream of wrestling. It’s a road trip movie that’s reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine in that both films are about a group of social outcasts on a journey to help one of their own achieve their dreams and while it’s not as good as that, it’s filled with just as much charm and warmth.

Grade: B+

Dec. 14—Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987)

After years of being inundated with Garbage Day memes and tales of its legendary incompetence, I finally saw the infamous Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 and I have to say, honestly, it did not live up to its reputation. For a film comprised of 40-50% recycled material, it isn’t as unwatchable as one would think. It’s basically a highlight reel of the first film, which means it took the best parts without any of the filler. The scenes make absolutely no sense within the context of this film but they’re still entertaining. Or rather, they’re not outrageously bad and/or boring. And that’s the key. It’s never boring. It may be a haphazard production that makes no sense and has some questionable acting but it’s never boring. Which is more than most films can say.

Grade: D+

Dec. 15—Mirai (2018)

This film feels in many ways, like a Japanese Inside Out. Both films deal with children who are going through a whirlwind of emotions — Inside Out is about the emotional baggage that comes with adolescence and Mirai is about a toddler who doesn’t know how to deal with the sudden deluge of feelings he gets when he suddenly becomes a brother — and how dealing with those emotions will shape who those children will eventually become. Inside Out had literal emotions help a little girl figure her shit out and this has family members from different timelines help a little boy overcome his problems. He meets his great grandfather, his mother when she was his age, his sister from the future and his dog who is, inexplicably a human. It’s an anime, shit can never not be weird. It’s an adorable fantasy about family histories and how they help shape us into the people we will eventually become.

Grade: A

Dec. 16—The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

The Last Man in San Francisco is a film about friendship. It’s a film about gentrification. It’s film who’s plot is literally “home is where the heart is” but more importantly, it’s a film about the little lies we tell ourselves everyday in order to achieve some semblance of happiness and how those lies will eventually become our truths if we believe in them hard enough. It’s a film that has a lot to say and while it says those things with style and visual panache, I never really felt invested or cared about what its message was. I can tell that both the leads and the director will go on to bigger and better things due to the strength of their performances and direction, I’m far more interested in their future endeavors than I am with their debut.

Grade: C+

Dec. 17—Monos (2019)

Many critics have referred to Monos as “Apocalypse Now but with children” and while that’s certainly accurate, it would be a bit more accurate to describe it as “Apocalypse Now remade with children directed by Werner Herzog”. Isolated from civilization and their own organization, a group of teen soldiers who’ve been tasked with guarding an American hostage and a cow, slowly begin to turn on each other due to shifting allegiances. The film has the same surreal quality as Coppola’s classic but has more of an edge to it. The things these children are asked to do in this is borderline unethical. The actors are all constantly fighting without stunt doubles, they’re shooting in a rainforest (and since this isn’t a Hollywood production, you know the conditions were garbage) and there’s a scene where two characters get swept away by some violent rapids that I have no idea how they managed to pull off. The film feels intense because you can tell the shoot was intense. It’s a hypnotic Lord of the Flies-esque trip into adolescent madness.

Grade: B

Dec. 18—I Lost My Body (2019)

Never has the phrase “it’s about the journey, not the destination” been as thoroughly tested as it is in this film. I Lost My Body tells the story of a young man (Dev Patel) who is trying to win the affections of a young woman while working as an apprentice for her uncle. The story cuts between their budding romance and his severed hand who’s getting intro all sorts of misadventures on his way back to his body. It’s a very unique framing device who’s central mystery kept me engaged. How did he lose his hand and how the hell did it end up in a dissection lab across town? But unfortunately the answer to that question, along with the outcome of their relationship, is wholly unsatisfying. There are few things more disappointing than a mystery with no payoff or a romance without a resolution and this film does both. It does get a lot of points for its likable characters, top notch animation and originality but it really needed a great ending to work and it just doesn’t have one.

Grade: B

Dec. 19—The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

The first Lego Movie had clever social commentary and was a non-stop joke machine. The Lego Batman spin-off ditched the cleverness, kept the jokes and added some fun references for comic book fans. It wasn’t as good but was far better than it had any right to be. The second Lego Movie also ditched the cleverness and the non-stop jokes for a bunch of songs, lazy pop culture references and a time travel plot that isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. Everything about it is over present and drawn out. There’s far too many live action scenes, far too many songs, far too many callbacks to the first and far too many unnecessary action scenes. It’s a shell of wasted potential.

Grade: C

Dec. 20—Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Man, do I feel bad for Jake Gyllenhaal. He was *this* close to being Spider-Man himself and now has to settle for being a D list villain in a mediocre Spider-Man movie. Granted, he is by far the best thing about Far From Home but he, along with Tom Holland, deserve so much more. There hasn’t been an MCU film in a long time that feels as disposable and pointless as this one does. Ant-man and the Wasp was utterly forgettable but it at least explained where Ant-man was during Infinity War. This does nothing. It doesn’t introduce a new character into the universe, it doesn’t do anything new or interesting with the characters it already has and it doesn’t do anything we haven’t already seen a million times by now. The film is also shot terribly. It looks more like one of those CW superhero shows than a 250 million dollar production. There’s a bit in the middle involving Mysterio’s illusions that was cool. That’s about it. Other than that, it’s just another soulless comic book film that offers nothing but mild entertainment. This series is in desperate need of a Raimi.

Grade: D+

Dec. 21—Land of the Dead (2005)

The dead have finally inherited the Earth and the last of the living survivors live in a walled off community run by a ruthless businessman. Made years after Romero’s last zombie picture, Land of the Dead feels like a perfect example of too little, too late. Maybe if it was released when he first tried to make it, it would’ve felt more timely or original but after the Dawn of the Dead remake (which ironically is the only reason this got the greenlight to begin with) it just feels old hat. Zombie movies with social commentary are no longer a novelty, they’re the norm. Zombie movies without fast running zombies aren’t nostalgic, they’re old fashioned. Zombie movies with stupid and/or unlikable characters don’t get a pass because the director created the cliches and tropes, it’s lazy. This film does nothing his previous films hadn’t already done and better.

Grade: F

Dec. 22—Eastern Condors (1987)

A group of Asian prisoners are sent to Vietnam to destroy a stash of American weapons left behind after the Vietnam War before the Vietcong discover its location. Sammo Hung’s ‘Nam-set war actioner is pretty much The Expendables before The Expendables. Consisting of a with a murderers’ row of martial arts talent, Eastern Condors is a men-on-a-mission movie that’s almost nothing but wall-to-wall action. The plot is derivative (it’s The Dirty Dozen mixed with Rambo 2), the acting is adequate and the direction is nothing to write home about but plenty of people get kicked in the face real good. It’s the type of film that knows exactly what it is: a fun action movie with great choreography and great stunts. No more, no less.

Grade: C

Dec. 23—The Art of Self-Defense (2019)

After being savagely attacked by a group of men, a timid young man decides to take up karate but after enlisting in the mysterious night classes, he soon discovers his sensei might be nefarious. If Adult Swim hired Yorgos Lanthimos to direct a remake of The Karate Kid, it would look a lot like The Art of Self-Defense. It has the exact type of hallmarks one would associate with a Lanthimos film (dry/cringey humor, purposefully wooden acting, deadpan delivery, sudden tonal shifts) but with a bit more social commentary. It’s a black comedy with a target — namely toxic masculinity — but the message never gets in the way of the humor. The performances are all stellar (Eisenberg really leans into his Eisenberg persona to great effect and Nivola plays the perfect douche) and the jokes, while a bit too wacky in some places, land for the most part. This is Fight Club for the indie crowd.

Grade: B

Dec. 24—Border (2018)

Literally every synonym of the word strange will pop into your head at least once while watching Border. It’s mysterious, it’s weird, it’s abnormal and its most definitely surreal. And while each and every one of those words (and all the variations of the word I didn’t list, because there are many) perfectly describes this film, I feel like beguiling might be the most apt. Because beguiling is the only one that describes a trap. This film will charm you into thinking it’s about a lonely troll working for the TSA who finally falls in love but it’s far more than that. The film is weird from frame one but not in an unpleasant way. It’s unlike anything else out there and because of that, you’re curious to see what will happen next. It lures you in and gets you invested, so that when it suddenly turns and gets disturbing, you feel like a fox caught in a trap. It’s a crazy dark modern fantasy that lives on its own plane of existence. There’s absolutely nothing else like it, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your tastes.

Grade: C+

Dec. 25—Death Warmed Up (1984)

Newly released from an asylum, a young man hunts down the scientist who brainwashed him into killing his own parents. Dead Alive is what happens when someone with immense skill decides to make a Sam Raimi inspired horror film and Death Warmed Up is what happens when someone with no skill or money decides to ape the style of Peter Jackson. Death Warmed Up is a New Zealand made zombie flick that has no budget, no talent in front of or behind the camera and no personality. About the only thing this film has is plot, which is normally a good thing (I mean, a movie’s gotta have a plot), but this film isn’t normal. It doesn’t have a plot, it has several, each more absurd as than the last. There’s mutants, zombies, psychopaths, an evil scientist and tons of bladder effects. This film was just good enough to keep my attention but not good enough for me to recommend it.

Grade: D+

Dec. 26—The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Disney’s last “package film” for almost 30 years, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, instead of featuring a collection of shorts, features just two stories. The Wind in the Willows and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Originally The Wind in the Willows was intended to be a stand-alone feature but like every film the studio released at the time, World War II happened and every project got sidelined in favor of government mandated propaganda. Once the war ended, the project once again got the greenlight but by then, Walt’s enthusiasm in the project was near dead. So they cut the story down to the bare essentials, added the Sleepy Hollow short and banged out another cartoon to hit their quota. Having said all that, it is far better than the other “packaged films” they released in the 40s.

Outside of the Disneyland ride and a couple of appearances by the Headless Horseman in Halloween themed events, it’s shocking how little Disney has done with either property. Especially Mr. Toad, who has an entire series of books to pull from. Mr. Toad could’ve easily been as iconic as Winnie the Pooh if they gave him a Saturday morning cartoon or something but they just let both properties lie dormant, which is odd to me. Gimme more of that crazy ass toad, goddamn it.

Grade: C

Dec. 27—Uncut Gems (2019)

Nobody does panic attack inducing tension better than the Safdie Brothers. According to Hitchcock, the difference between suspense and shock is letting the audience know beforehand that there’s a bomb in the room instead of just exploding it. If you have a scene that involves two people chatting in a diner for a couple minutes and then it just suddenly explodes, you got a shocking scene that lasts five seconds but if you take that same scene and pan down to reveal that there’s a bomb under their table, you got nail-biting suspense that lasts the entire scene. The Safdie Brothers films are nothing but bombs under tables. But the way they reveal bombs isn’t by panning down but by having their leads make increasingly terrible decisions throughout.

Uncut Gems starts with a ticking clock of dread and then escalates from there. It isn’t a slow build up of tension. The main character (Adam Sandler in a career best performance) is fucked from the first frame and his situation somehow only gets worse from there. It’s like watching a crack head tie his own noose as quickly as possible. It’s unbearable and frankly, sometimes too hard to watch. This film is mote frenetic and anxiety inducing than Climax and that’s a cinematic acid trip. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo may have used the tagline first but this is the feel bad film of the decade.

Grade: A

Dec. 28—Burning (2018)

There have been many attempts at trying to craft a film who’s plot makes you question everything you see. Filmmakers will usually rely on twist heavy endings and/or surreal imagery to make the audience unsure of what they’re seeing. Burning doesn’t need to resort to such tricks to be effective. It seduces you with charm and then traps you with uncertainty. Jongsu (Yoo Ah In) is out on a job when he runs into Hae-mi (Jeon Jong Seo), a girl who he used to know and who he’s always had a crush on. She asks if he’d look after her cat while she’s away on a trip to Africa. On her return she introduces Jongsu to an enigmatic young man named Ben (Steven Yeun), who she met during her trip. One day, when Haemi isn’t around, Ben tells Jongsu that he’s a serial killer. Is the mysterious Ben really a serial killer or is he just fucking with Jongsu to get him out of the picture? Providing more questions than answers, Burning is a suspenseful mystery that lingers in the mind long after the credits have rolled.

Grade: A

Dec. 29—Searching For Sugar Man (2013)

If the story of Rodriguez was a narrative feature, it would be reverse engineered to tell the story of an unassuming elderly construction worker who, along with his family, is shocked to find out that he’s a musical legend half way around the world. The story lends itself to either a prestigious Oscar bait drama or a wacky feel good comedy due to the outrageousness of its premise. You’d see the “based on a true story” label and balk at its ridiculous schmaltz and unbelievable plot but unless these fictitious films I just made up went crazy in their retelling of the events, everything about them would be true.

For 25 years, Rodriguez was the voice of an entire generation of South Africans, reaching the same level of fame as Bob Dylan or Elvis Presley, even though his albums are impossible to find in America. He made two albums in the late 60s/early 70s that nobody gave a shit about and then immediately disappeared from the music scene. This film documents the journey of two fans of his music who spend years trying to uncover who he is and what happened to him. It’s a delightful mystery that shines a much needed light on a true talent that never should’ve been forgotten. My only quibble with it is the fact that they never address why he quit the music business. The film is far more concerned with the who and the where of the story rather than the why, which is fine but I just wanted a bit more resolution. Other than that, it’s an incredibly entertaining doc with such great songs, they might become your new musical obsession.

Grade: B

Dec. 30—Wolf Children (2012)

Wolf Children raises an interesting conundrum I never thought of before, which is “if werewolves were real, how would one raise some werewolf children without getting caught?” Every werewolf movie deals with someone either turning into or fighting a lycanthrope and this is the first one I know of that shows the difficulties of raising one. If all this film had going for it was its premise, it would still be great but it’s far more than that. It starts off as a typical love story, then transitions into a startlingly accurate representation of motherhood and then becomes a teenage drama. The film is a heartwarming tale about a mother trying her best and the difficulties of adolescence. It’s one of the best portraits of a family I’ve seen. It just happens to be a family of cute ass werewolves.

Grade: B+

Dec. 31—Housebound (2014)

Remember that 80’s song ‘Somebody’s Watching Me?’ It was a cheesy as hell one hit wonder by Berry Gordy’s son about a guy getting increasingly paranoid that some one in his house was, you guessed it, watching him. If it wasn’t for the chorus, which was sung by Michael Jackson, it would’ve faded from obscurity almost immediately. There’s a lot of haunted house films that are exactly like Rockwell’s song. They’re terribly written and have almost no talent in front of and/or behind the camera but have that great chorus that you remember. Some don’t even have that.

Housebound is among the few that’s nothing but the chorus. It’s a horror comedy that manages to be funny without defusing any of its scares. It’s wildly unpredictable, throwing one curve ball at you after another until it stops pitching and starts wailing on you with the bat. If fellow kiwi Taika Waititi can get an MCU film based on his horror comedy, the director of this should be handed the keys to Marvel. That’s how good this film is.

Grade: B+

What did you watch in December 2019?

Author: Sailor Monsoon

I stab.