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.
July 1 — The Calamari Wrestler (2004)
I need you to close your eyes and picture the end of Rocky II. No, not rematch they have behind close doors, the last fight where Rocky triumphantly beats Apollo. It’s an amazing fight ending with one of the great “fuck yeah!” moments ever captured on film. Now pretend right after that happens, a giant calamari jumps into the ring and beats the shit out of Rocky and declares himself the champ. The film then follows both “boxers” (Japanese wrestlers in The Calamari Wrestler) as they both train for the rematch. Lesser movies would stop there but there’s one more fight at the half way point involving a lightning fast prawn who challenges the calamari wrestler for a chance at the belt. The film is half Rocky II and half Rocky III but with fish monsters. Oh and there’s also a love story and a sub plot involving the ghost of an old wrestler. The Calamari Wrestler is a film that exists and I’ve seen it.
July 2 — Jack the Giant Killer (1962)
A giant killing farm hand is tasked by the king to save his daughter from the treacherous warlock Pendragon. Jack the Giant Killer is like if Disney hired Sid and Marty Krofft and Ray Harryhausen to make a fantasy film to rival The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad but ran out of money half way through production. It’s cheesy, it’s low budget but it’s sincere in its attempts to entertain you.
July 3 — Midsommar (2019)
*This review contains spoilers*
This film frustrates me something fierce. On one hand, you have an impeccably shot film that looks absolutely gorgeous and that has great performances and a unique setting but on the other hand, the premise just doesn’t work. The director said that the film is one type of film for one character and a completely different film for everyone else. It’s supposed to be a horror film for everyone you know will eventually die and a fairy tale for the lead and while I can see that, the film itself doesn’t earn that. The horror portion of the film is never scary and I don’t buy the fairy tale bit at all. I’m supposed to believe that she’s slowly falling under the spell of the village and their customs but no one on Earth would even consider moving there. It’s a goddamn hellscape of annoying villagers and pube pies. I know he wanted to do his take on The Wicker Man and while I find the endeavor admirable, it’s a pail imitation that brings very little to the table. But that table sure is purdy though.
You can read more about it here.
July 4 — Breaking In (1989)
A seasoned solo burglar takes a young protege under his wing to show him the ropes and to keep him company. Never funny enough to be an outright comedy nor dramatic enough to be considered a drama, Breaking In is more akin to a hangout movie with non-existent stakes that doesn’t reinvent the wheel or offer any surprises but coasts on pure charm. The duo (played by Burt Reynolds and Casey Siemaszko) have a palpable chemistry with each other and their partnership is essentially the movie. Not much happens plot wise; it’s pretty much a character study that, depending on how much you like these actors, is either highly entertaining or incredibly boring.
July 5 — Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
The older I get, the less I relate to Hughes’ teen comedies. I still enjoy the Breakfast Club for what it is but I could take or leave the rest. Obvious problematic issues aside, I just don’t like the way he writes teenagers. They felt relatable when I was their age but now that I’m older, it feels like he has nothing but disdain and contempt for High Schoolers and it just rubs me wrong. What I gravitate to now though, is his “adult” comedies” or rather, the comedies that focus on adults, rather than teens. I’m a huge fan of National Lampoon’s Vacation and I dig Uncle Buck and The Great Outdoors but his best film is Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Hughes doesn’t get enough credit when it comes to hitting emotional beats that feel earned.
He never manipulates the audience or creates false drama to elicit an emotion, he just let’s the characters behave accordingly and because the writing is so sharp and the performances are so rich, whatever scene it is works like an assassin hitting your heart. PT&A is the perfect example of this. The famous train scene towards the end would’ve been cliche in anyone else’s hands but because Hughes wrote it, it’s a powerfully emotional coda to a rollercoaster of hilarious disasters. It’s arguably the single best moment in any of his films inside of the best film he ever made. His teen comedies might be more iconic but none of them have the heart this film has. Or Steve Martin. None of the other films have Steve Martin and that’s reason alone for why they’re not the best.
July 6 — Avenging Force (1986)
Technically a sequel to Invasion U.S.A., Avenging Force sees the return of Matt Hunter (this time played by Michael Dudikoff) on a one man mission to take down some racist politicians. There’s some elements of The Most Dangerous Game and the Purge thrown in and the main bad guy is totally Trump, so Cannon was finally ahead of the curve for once. Avenging Force is the best action movie from Cannon not starring Charles or Chuck.
You can read more about it here.
July 7 — Hollywood Man (1976)
Desperate to finish his movie, Rafe Stoker (William Smith), a Z grade director of action schlock, makes a deal with a mob connected investor to get financing but unbeknownst to Stoker, the investor goes behind his back and hires a biker gang to disrupt the shoot in order to collect the collateral. One half biker gang picture and the other half a candid look at the day to day minutia of making a movie, Hollywood Man gets points for doing something different but no points for the execution. When the film is about the making of a movie, it’s interesting but when it’s about the biker gang, it’s a tedious slog.
July 8 — Dead of Night (1945)
After arriving at a country farmhouse for a job prospect, an architect suddenly realizes he’s once again stuck in a horrific recurring nightmare that ends in the death of one of the house’s inhabitants. A psychiatrist who happened to already be there, has all the guests tell bizarre tales in order to prove him wrong, assuage his fears or convince himself he isn’t right. One of, if not the first horror anthology, Dead of Night is extremely British in that it’s far more classy than it is scary but it does have an outstanding ending that leads into a great twist.
July 9 — The Swimmer (1968)
I put this film off for years thinking it was going to be pretentious or boring or uninteresting because how can a film about a guy who wants to swim in every pool on the way back to his house from his friend’s house, possibly sustain 90 minutes? The Swimmer is the perfect example of never judging a book by its cover or alternatively, never assume a film is going to suck because the plot sounds dumb. The film is a surreal journey through one man’s life from the past to the present and more importantly, from the top of the social ladder to the bottom, which leads him from blissful naivety to a painful realization.
Each pool he goes to is a metaphoric step back in time, with each person he encounters filling out a little bit more of his backstory. Over the course of the film, we find out that he’s been gone fire an indeterminate amount of time but we don’t know for how long or why, we find out that his daughters aren’t the little girls he’s imagined but terrible pre-adults that might also be dead and we know he used to be a big shot womanizer but now he’s penniless and everyone hates him but we don’t know why. Did he do something to lose the money or does everyone hate him because he’s lost his status? There’s a reason it’s amassed a cult following over the years: it’s a brilliant puzzle box that rewards those who put in the effort to crack it.
July 10 — Daigoro vs Goliath (1972)
An inventor and his family try to raise funds to feed a giant monster named Daigoro so that he doesn’t shrink. Meanwhile, a meteor lands into the sea bringing with it another giant monster named Goliath. Will Daigoro be able to stop Goliath? Straddling the line between goofy kid’s fare and unwatchable trash, Daigoro vs Goliath has *just* enough charm to keep it afloat.
July 11 — Living in Oblivion (1995)
Divided into three acts, each representing a different scene to shoot and each with their own specific problems, Living in Oblivion is the most realistic portrayal of filmmaking outside of documentaries. It’s hyper stylized and a bit fantastical but the drama happening behind the scenes (and more importantly, in front of the camera) is painfully relatable to anyone who’s ever tried making a movie. Too honest to be a satire and too funny to be a horror film aimed at filmmakers, Living in Oblivion is an inside joke you don’t have to be a part of to find entertaining. It’s the single best film about filmmaking and is one of the only films to come out of the 90’s independent scene that didn’t age terribly.
July 12 — City of Hope (1991)
A multilinear anthology that juggles about fifteen different stories, City of Hope is like a series of shorts strung together by a loose thread each dealing with an injustice in some way. The characters overlap occasionally, with some being major players in another characters stories and some being little more than a cameo. Although the film becomes at times a game of “spot the actor”, it never leans into its cameo centric cast. Each character, each actor, each segment, is important in weaving a tapestry of greed and corruption and ultimately hope. At first glance, the title seems facetious, with the ending being a dark punchline to the entire affair but much like Joe Morton’s character’s arc, you have to have hope in this world. The film doesn’t offer any solutions to the city’s woes nor does it show you the outcome of some of the film’s triumphant moments because that’s not what the film is about. It’s not about happy endings or winning the battles, it’s about we do after we’ve lost. Do we still go on even though the fight is impossible to win? And what would compel someone to fight the unwinnable fights? Hope.
July 13 — Twilight of the Cockroaches (1987)
A colony of cockroaches lives peacefully in a messy bachelor’s apartment until the day his new girlfriend moves in and decides that they have got to go. Living somewhere between a more dour Joe’s Apartment and a slightly more optimistic Plague Dogs, Twilight of the Cockroaches tries its damnedest to humanize cockroaches by giving them all personalities and even tries to emotionally manipulate you into caring about them when the black flag slaughter begins and why the attempt is admirable, it just doesn’t work. I don’t care about cockroaches, I’m not sad when they die and I don’t give a shit about their lives. If it was about any other animal or insect, this would be a soul crushing horror movie but since it’s about the one thing on planet Earth everyone hates, it’s impossible to care.
July 14 — Evel Knievel (1971)
A biography of the famed motorcycle daredevil, Evel Knievel is a not entirely truthful retelling of the major events leading up to a big jump. Beginning the theme Milius would continue for the rest of his career, which is the old icarus parable of the man who flew too close to the sun. The film is about a man who transcended legendary status and became a god and eventually started thinking of himself as such and was because of that, doomed for failure. But unlike Conan or Kurtz or the surfers from Big Wednesday, Evel rightfully earned his ego. The man was larger than life but behind the bravado and the flashy suits and everything else associated with the image, was a man willing to lay his life on the line to entertain. He called himself “The Last Gladiator” for a reason, every week he’d get into the arena and fight for his life but unlike other gladiators, his opponent wasn’t another gladiator but the grim reaper himself. And every week, he’d kick his fucking ass. With a fantastic script from Milius and an outstanding lead performance from George Hamilton, Evel Knievel is a movie almost as cool as the man himself, which is reason alone to recommend it.
July 15 — Death House (2017)
If you were to take every prom night dumpster baby that’s ever been aborted and threw them into a machine that somehow converts fetus’s into celluloid, you’d still end up with a better film than this. I have seen footage of war atrocities that were less offensive and snuff films that were better produced and acted. There’s not a single redeeming element in this film. Every second is somehow worse than the one before it until you pray to god to either make you blind or strike you dead. Death House is among the worst films I’ve ever seen and that’s saying a lot.
You can read more about it here.
July 16 — One False Move (1992)
After they become wanted by the law after a series of brutal drug hits and police slayings, a trio of criminals traveling from Los Angeles to Houston, decide to hide out in Arkansas until the heat dies down. Two detectives from the LAPD, who are already on the case, contact the town’s sheriff, to alert him of the fugitives’ presence in the area. Eager to help and ready for action, the sheriff teams up with the detectives on, what will eventually become, a mission of carnage that will leave many casualties in its wake. Constantly unfolding like a great mystery yarn and expertly ratcheting up the tension like a suspenseful drama, One False Move is neo noir at its finest. The acting is exceptional, the direction is on point and the script is like a Russian nesting doll of awesome, with each doll offering up a smaller but equally as important piece of gold. This should’ve done for Carl Franklin, what Fargo did for the Coen Brothers. Its every bit its equal in terms of quality and if I’m being honest, Although Fargo is a better constructed movie, the twists and turns of One False Move make it a superior movie in my opinion.
July 17 — The Redeemer: Son of Satan! (1978)
You would think a film that mixes the Omen with Slaughter High but with no money, would be an incomprehensible mess but against all odds, it somehow manages to be even worse than you could imagine. Redeemer is about six terrible people lured to their old high school under the pretense of a ten year reunion, but little do they know that that school will be their prison….and their eventual coffin! Everything not involving the two thumbed priest (don’t ask) and the creepy son of the devil is pretty entertaining. You can tell it was made for no money and was shot in less than a week but the killers performance elevates it above garbage. T.G. Finkbinder is giving the movie way more than it deserves and he single handedly makes it worth a watch.
July 18 — Unmasked Part 25 (1989)
A rare horror parody from Britain, Unmasked Part 25 (or Hands of Death as its alternately known, which is important to know to understand the ending), is an ultra violent rom com about a disfigured Jason Voorhees like serial killer (who you find out is a character from a movie series. it gets a bit convoluted) who falls in love with a blind girl and decides to give up killing. Will love conquer all or will he go back to his murderous ways? It has the feel of a James Gunn era Troma film, with its over the top splatter effects and subversive story, but like all Troma films, it’s missing that thing that elevates it above ok.
July 19 — The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013)
A ten-year-old scientist secretly leaves his family’s ranch in Montana where he lives with his cowboy father and scientist mother, escapes home, and travels across the country aboard a freight train to receive an award at the Smithsonian Institute. An amiable kid’s film who’s whimsy and idiosyncratic charm outweigh its clunky third act. It’s basically Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Hugo, in that the 3D is spectacular and the universe is inoffensive but it’s bogged down by too many shifts in tone.
July 20 — Space is the Place (1974)
Space is the Place is an afro-futuristic science fiction space opera about an extraterrestrial band (played by Sun Ra and his Solar Myth Arkestra) who returns to Earth after several years in space in order to battle the devil over the souls of inner-city youths. Proclaiming himself “the alter-destiny”, Ra is galactic messiah who is trying to change the hearts and minds of the downtrodden and is recruiting the worthy to join him in space. It’s a wacky film that tackles some serious themes such as white corporate America and the Black Panther party. It doesn’t always work but Ra’s heart was in the right place and it definitely gets points for originality.
July 21 — Cruising (1980)
A police detective goes undercover in the underground S&M gay subculture of New York City to catch a serial killer who is preying on gay men. Way ahead of the curve, the film predates the AIDS epidemic by a couple of years, which is crazy considering the film perfectly works as a metaphor for AIDS and the terror it struck in an entire community. While the film never goes super natural, the killings do sort of have an It Follows type feeling to them, where it feels as though the killer could be passed along from victim to victim. Based on the infamous controversy, you’d assume this film was nothing but a non-stop wiener parade made solely to one day inspire ridiculous gifs but there’s far more to this movie than just the seedy sex scenes. It’s a straight up horror film that explored a world most had never seen and got unjustly crucified because it. Cruising is ripe for rediscovery and is in desperate need of a reappraisal because it’s fantastic.
July 22 — The Flying Luna Clipper (1987)
An animated film made entirely on the MSX (an obscure Japanese video game console), The Flying Luna Clipper is a trippy cartoon about about an airplane that flies a bunch of anthropomorphic fruit and one snowman around the world so they can fulfill their dreams. It stops at various exotic locations where we’re subject to bizarre as hell “dream” sequences featuring, among other things: a clip of a live action baby falling on its ass, a turtle swimming for no discernable reason and computer generated tiki gods chanting gibberish. None of it adds to much but if you’re a fan of weird animation, it’s a fascinating curio.
July 23 — Split Second (1991)
Split Second is like if Venom and Predator met up in Waterworld, had a threesome with an occult detective story, which resulted in a stillborn police drama cum action farce. It’s incoherent, poorly shot, tonally inconsistent and a bit boring but Rutger is fun and the flooded London is a unique setting. It’s one of those movies that would be better if it was worse.
July 24 — Police Story 2 (1988)
A stunt spectacular bogged down with unnecessary melodrama and about a dozen scenes involving someone telling Chan’s character to stop being a super cop even though he’s trying to stop a mad bomber from blowing up the city, while also dealing with harassment from the crime family he helped put away in the first one. It’s a good thirty minutes too long but the action set pieces (especially the last twenty minutes) make up for its shortcomings.
July 25— Police Story 3: Super Cop (1992)
Less cinematic than the previous two and with a more comedic tone, Super Cop feels like a movie directed by a hyper active kid who blows past the talky bits because he’s so eager to show you all the fun action stuff. Which isn’t a negative if all you want is action but it feels like a bit of a tonal departure of the last two. The addition of Michelle Yeoh goes a long way in fixing any problems the film might have though. She and Chan play off each other well and her action scenes (including the crazy ass motorcycle stunt) are the highlight of the film.
July 26— Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
*This review contains spoilers*
It was immediately apparent with his first film, that Tarantino was a voracious cinephile who would not only reference everything from old movies, to forgotten TV shows, to obscure actors but did so lovingly. He wasn’t just throwing in pop culture references to be hip, clever or timely, he did so because he legitimately loves Hollywood and everything associated with it. Or rather, he loves his version of Hollywood. Tarantino looks at old Hollywood much like a child does, in that he sees how everyone is connected through a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon like chain of links. A child naturally assumes that every celebrity knows and is friends with every other celebrity just because they’re both famous and while we all know that’s completely false, back in the day, it was a bit more complicated. One of the best elements of his latest film, is the way in which Tarantino connects everyone through pop culture. Unlike today where everyone is inundated with a constant barrage of something new (like shows and songs and internet “stories”), people back then all shared the same experiences. Cliff Booth may never meet Charles Manson but odds are, they watch the same TV shows and Steve McQueen may never cross paths with Roman Polanski but if they turn on the radio, they’re going to be listening to the same music and I think it’s this connectivity that Tarantino mourns the most in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.
He’s obviously enamored with the alternate history of actors (which he himself helped shape with the casting of Clooney in From Dusk till Dawn, Travolta in Pulp Fiction and Grier in Jackie Brown among others) which clearly informs the Rick Dalton character but also the alternate history of history, which you can see in both the endings of this and Inglourious Basterds. And just like in that film, OUATIH rewrites history so that movies themselves are responsible for conquering heinous monsters. Hitler died at a movie theater and the Manson Family got beat to death because they decided to attack the wrong movie star. Which again, connects his fake Hollywood with the real Hollywood. He’s rewriting history to not only give Sharon Tate and the other victims a happy ending and to strip away the power of Manson and his family by erasing their deeds from history but to expand his fake universe by giving Rick and Cliff the fame they so desperately deserve. When the credits start to role, Tarantino wants you to think about the future of these characters but he also wants you to be sad that this Hollywood, both real and fake, is dead. It’s simultaneously hopeful and melancholic; a love letter to a bygone era and a last hoorah before the lights turn off and the doors get shut forever. This is the culmination of Tarantino’s entire career and although it’s his penultimate film, I wouldn’t be sad if he decided to retire with this one. He said everything he needed to say with this film.
July 27— Divine Trash (1998)
Divine Trash is a biography about the life and times of Baltimore film maker and midnight movie pioneer, John Waters. It’s an in-depth look at the making of Pink Flamingos and its impact on cinema and is in part, a loving tribute to Water’s frequent collaborator Divine. Intercut with a 1972 interview of Waters are clips from his first films and interviews with his parents, his brother, Divine’s mom, actors and crew, other directors, and last but not least Maryland’s last censor, who’s still disgusted at the thought of Waters’s pictures nearly 20 years later. If you’re a fan of the director or his work, It’s an essential watch.
July 28— Charley Bowers Short Film Collection (1917-1940)
Beginning as an animator in 1915, Bowers soon turned to mixing live-action with stop motion animation, producing some of the most unique comedies of the silent age. Forgoing the typical pratfall and sight gags found in the work of his contemporaries, Bowers films opt for a more cartoonish approach. Which isn’t to say Chaplin and Keaton didn’t, but neither one of them (or any other director outside of Méliès for that matter) lean into the surrealism or the fantastical as hard as Bowers. No other comedian would create an entire short about a metal eating dodo bird or include a gag involving a basket of eggs being warmed up by the engine of a car for the eggs to then hatch into mini cars. It’s absurd but that’s what sets him apart and makes him so special. He’s unlike any other creator at the time, with his limitless imagination and technical skill being beyond reproach. Which makes his obscurity that much more heartbreaking. Forgotten about for decades, only about half of Charley Bowers films still exist, some of which are incomplete or damaged but the ones that are still out there (Egged On and There It Is being the best of the bunch) are invaluable gems that are ripe for rediscovery.
July 29— Riding Bean (1989)
A pair of hired mercenaries, consisting of a superhuman courier and his female partner, are framed for the kidnapping of a millionaire’s daughter and now must outrun and outgun the police in their quest for revenge. Originally planned as a pilot for a series, the film didn’t do well enough to kickstart a show but the main characters would eventually pop up in the creator’s next venture Gunsmith Cats. Riding Bean is a brisk action film with tons of violence and lots of car chases that does enough to entertain but doesn’t do much to stand out from the crowd.
July 30— The Squeeze (1977)
An alcoholic London ex-cop (Stacey Keach) is forced to team up with the husband of his ex-wife when she and her daughter are kidnapped by a brutal gangster. Much like its lead character, the film stumbles and fumbles its way from one scene to the next, with very little holding the entire thing together. The main problem with the film is that it never knows what it wants to be from scene to scene. Sometimes the main character’s alcoholism is played straight, other times it’s played for laughs. There’s a comedic sidekick and a recurring gag with him waking in on Keach trying to smash but then there’s an unpleasant scene involving the kidnapped ex-wife being forced to strip for her captors. The performances are all great but the film as a whole is forgettable.
July 31— Final Score (1986)
After his son was murdered and wife was brutally gang-raped and then murdered (you would think that would be a given but this is an Indonesian film and that rape scene does go on for an obscene amount of time, so this film clearly doesn’t play by the rules), Richard Brown (Christopher Mitchum), a decorated Vietnam War veteran, makes a hit list of the ones responsible and proceeds to go on a kill crazy rampage of revenge. The film might have a paper thin plot, adorably bad dubbing, terrible acting, a romantic subplot that’s completely superfluous and ridiculously small budget but it has a shit ton of action and a shit ton of explosions and honestly, if you have that, you really don’t need to deliver on anything else.