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.
June 1 — Encounter at Raven’s Gate (1988)
Soon after an ex-con gets a job working on his older brother’s isolated farm, bizarre things start happening. Dead birds start falling out of the sky, family pets start turning aggressive, strange apparitions begin to appear, and normal people suddenly go insane. Is it a bizarre set of coincidences or is there insidious extraterrestrial forces at work? Encounter at Raven’s Gate is a slow moving thriller that starts off like a fever dream and then builds to an action packed nightmare. If it moved just a little bit faster, this movie would be an underrated gem instead of an uneven thriller.
June 2 — The Mystery of the Third Planet (1981)
At the end of the 22nd century, an intergalactic animal and pie delivery service lead by two astronauts and a young girl go on a space expedition to find rare animals for Moscow Zoo. On the way, they get caught up in a conspiracy involving a talking bird. With a visual style somewhere between Yellow Submarine and Fantastic Planet, the Mystery of the Third Planet is a surreal gem of Russian animation.
June 3 — Hairspray (1988)
Tracy Turnblad wants nothing more than to be on the local TV dance program, “The Corny Collins Show” — and when her dream comes true, she’s met with unexpected popularity due to her lively moves (seriously, Ricki Lake could move) and natural charisma. But after witnessing firsthand the terrible state of race relations in 1960s Baltimore, Turnblad becomes an outspoken advocate for desegregation. John Waters‘ most accessible movie, Hairspray has more on its mind than the usual shock value the director is known for. Tackling topics such as institutional racism and class privilege but with Waters’ typical, albeit it watered down, brand of humor, Hairspray is fun, feel good movie with a message.
June 4 — Serial Mom (1994)
It’s crazy how prescient this film is in predicting America’s obsession with true crime. Serial Mom plays as a satire to the O.J. Simpson trial (and the madness it inspired) in retrospect but it was actually released before the trial. John Waters was way ahead of the curve. But more importantly, Kathleen Turner says pussy willow a lot and beats an old lady to death with a huge ass slab of ham. If that doesn’t sell you, I don’t want you to be sold.
June 5 — My Life as a Zucchini (2016)
After his mother’s death, Zucchini is sent to live at a foster home filled with other orphans his age. There, with the help of his newfound friends, Zucchini eventually learns to trust and love as he searches for a new family of his own. At only 70 minutes, It’s amazing how effectively this film depicts loss and loneliness without ever being overbearing, sweet and sincere without becoming overtly saccharine and hope and happiness without having a single formulaic cliche found in most animated films. I loved every second of this film and the only negative I can think of is that it ended.
June 6 — Always Be My Maybe (2019)
Romantic comedies cliches are the worst, which makes Always Be My Maybe that much more refreshing. The two leads have a natural chemistry and play off each other nicely, the dialogue is witty and feels naturalistic, the celebrity cameo is hilarious and while it doesn’t manage to avoid every cliche, the ones that make it in, are a lot more tolerable due to the sharp writing and likable leads. If you’re a fan of romantic comedies, this one is a must watch.
June 7 — Valentine (2001)
Remember the comedy Multiplicity? Where an overworked Michael Keaton clones himself in order to spend more time with his family but then the clone clones himself and then that clone gets a clone? Valentine is what would happen if the clone of I Know What You Did Last Summer, which itself is a clone of Scream, got a clone and it came out all retarded. When Denise Richards‘ acting doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, your movie is fundamentally broken.
June 8 — Slithis (1978)
A Z grade monster movie that moves so slow, you can practically hear Don Dohler yell at it to hurry the fuck up.
June 9 — They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson’s latest project, a commission from the Imperial War Museum to mark the centenary of the First World War’s conclusion, is archival footage from the Western Front but with color, dubbing and rendered in 3D. It has been attacked by many as an egotistical ruining of historic records for the sake of pointless technological “achievements.” Jackson, like Ted Turner before him, has a brand new set of crayons and is intent on coloring the old to make it more palatable for a newer generation and while I can see why some would take offense to Jackson’s endeavor, I think his objectors are missing the point. He’s not improving the past with fancy tools but bringing it alive through color. There’s a mental disconnect we have when looking at something in black in white. Our brains immediately register it as old. What Jackson does is remove the disconnect so that you can see these men as men, not just ghosts of the past. I think it’s the perfect marriage of technology and art coming together to bring history alive.
June 10 — Parents (1989)
Every generation is obsessed with the one that came before it, with the 80’s having an intense hard on for the 50’s. What makes Parents work so well, is that it takes 50’s nostalgia and flips it on its head. It takes the familiar suburban nuclear family and warps into a nightmarish Leave it to Beaver hellscape. Bob Balaban doesn’t get enough credit in crafting one of the best satirical black comedies of the 80’s. His direction is impeccable and that cast (most notably Randy Quaid) is dynamite.
June 11 — Return of the Living Dead III (1993)
While not being a beat-for-beat adaptation like some movies *cough* Warm Bodies *cough* Return of the Living Dead III is totally just Romeo and Juliet but with zombies. Which is an awesome premise but unfortunately Brian Yuzna has no idea how to bring it together. Some great special effects, interesting concepts and a hot as hell lead aren’t enough to overcome its lackluster script and poor direction.
June 12 — The Zero Boys (1986)
A weird mix of backwards survivalist horror ala Deliverance and Rituals mixed with a slasher film with echoes of torture porn way before Hostel, the Zero Boys doesn’t keep all of its balls in the air but it gets points for the attempt.
June 13 — The Hills Run Red (2009)
A group of horror fans go searching for a film that mysteriously vanished years ago but quickly realize that the demented killer from the movie is not only real but thrilled to meet fans who will die for his art. The set up is solid but it doesn’t do anything 8MM or Cigarette Burns didn’t already do but better. The design of the killer is cool but his backstory is ridiculous. The twists come fast and loose and not a single one of them makes any sense and the entire thing falls apart in the third act. For slasher completionists only.
June 14 — Lord of Illusions (1995)
Private investigator Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) stumbles into a mystery involving a fanatic cult who are preparing for the resurrection of their leader Nix, a powerful magician who was killed thirteen years earlier. You would think for a Clive Barker movie, this would be a bit more well known. Everyone knows Candyman and Hellraiser and Nightbreed and Midnight Meat Train eventually became cult hits but Lord of Illusions still languishes in semi obscurity. While the film isn’t perfect (Bakula is miscast and some of the VFX are terrible), there’s still a ton to recommend. The setting is unique, the supporting cast is all terrific and Daniel Von Bargen gives an all-time great performance as Nix, the man born to murder the world.
June 15 — Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
Creature from the Black Lagoon but with multiple creatures and way more rape. There’s not much more to it than that. If you can look past the excessive amounts of monster on lady rape (nothing explicit is shown but it’s definitely there) it has a pretty fun third act.
June 16 — The People Under the Stairs (1991)
Two thieves break into the creepy old home of a couple of deranged slum landlords and soon discover a disturbing scenario underneath the stairs. Bouncing back and forth between blunt satire, cartoon slapstick, teen horror and perverse violence, the People Under the Stairs is Wes Craven‘s most political film, his funniest film and craziest film all in one uneven package.
June 17 — Mondo Cane 2 (1963)
Made up of deleted scenes from the original Mondo Cane, Mondo Cane 2, much like the first one, is a shockumentary consisting of a collection of mostly real archive footage displaying bizarre rites, cruel behavior and bestial violence. Nowhere near as graphic as the first movie or even the future imitators such as the Faces of Death series, Mondo Cane 2 is still an interesting time capsule of a bygone era.
June 18 — Dragonslayer (1981)
Using Star Wars as it’s blueprint (MacNicol is Luke Skywalker in all but name, Ralph Richardson is basically Obi-Wan Kenobi and I guess the dragon is the deathstar?), Dragonslayer may not get points for its boilerplate Joseph Campbell characterization or its run of the mill fantasy storyline but what it lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in amazing special effects (Phil Tippet FTW) and a plot that expertly subverts your expectations. It’s a bit plodding and the third act isn’t as exciting as the one-on-one fight in the cave but overall, it’s a damn fine fantasy film that holds up.
June 19 — Hired to Kill (1990)
A tough as nails mercenary is tasked with going undercover disguised as a flamboyant fashion designer with seven female assassins pretending to be fashion models on a mission to assassinate a foreign dictator. Brian Thompson is the mercenary and he’s fine. The sexy lady hitmen are fine. Oliver Reed is drunk and the action ain’t bad. It’s the best thing Nico Mastorakis ever made but it really could’ve used that Andy Sidaris magic.
June 20 — Make Mine Music (1946)
Part of the six films released during the Second World War, when much of Disney’s staff was either drafted into the army or were recruited by the government to make propaganda shorts, Mike Mine Music is a budget Fantasia made up of odds and ends. A collection of musical vignettes that range from pretty good (Casey at the Bat, Peter and the Wolf, the Martins and the Coys) to mostly forgettable (Blue Bayou, Without You, Two Silhouettes, After You’ve Gone), with the real standout being The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met. Like the other films Disney released at the time, it’s a real mixed bag with very little to recommend.
June 21 — Toy Story 4 (2019)
A very good film and a worthy follow up to an excellent conclusion but it’s not without its flaws. The addition of Forky, while very funny, creates a whole can of logistical worms the film doesn’t even attempt to address, the film breaks preestablished rules quite often, the Buzz Lightyear subplot felt tacked on and it lacks the emotional core of previous films. Having said that, it’s still the funniest film in the franchise and has an ending that actually has me excited for future installments. It’s a bit of a downgrade compared to the others but there ain’t nothing wrong with a silver medal.
June 22 — Child’s Play (2019)
A film guaranteed to polarize due to the fact that it’s completely different in almost every conceivable way than the original, which will lead to the inevitable criticism “then why not just call it something else?”, and the fact that it’s not as good as the first but markedly better than most of the sequels. The kills are appropriately gory, the humor lands for the most part and introduces a lot of ideas that could be really fun in future installments. If you can mentally separate it from the rest of the franchise and judge as just a killer doll movie, I guarantee you’ll like it more than half of the franchise.
June 23 — The Boneyard (1991)
When I watch a movie, I want the same thrill a sports fan gets when he sees a homerun or a touchdown, which doesn’t necessarily mean I’m looking for a great movie every time, it just means I’m not interested in bunts or field goals. There’s nothing more uninteresting than the safe play. Babe Ruth is statistically going to strike out more than he’s going to knock it out of the park but he’s also going to swing the bat as hard as he can every time. I can overlook a lot of a film’s flaws as long as I see the director at least attempting to swing the bat. The Boneyard is not a good movie. It’s slow. It’s plodding. A lot of it doesn’t make any sense but the film has a giant Phyllis Diller monster and a mutated poodle and that’s enough for me.
June 24 — Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)
When it comes to slashers, there’s an unwritten rule that states “if you’re not going to be scary or funny, you better have a high bodycount and lots of tits” and while the first film aimed for the former, Sleepaway Camp II definitely falls in the latter category. It’s not scary enough to be considered a horror film or funny enough to be labeled a comedy but it’s got a ton of kills and lots of gratuitous nudity. Which makes it a perfect drinking movie.
June 25 — Mystery Team (2009)
Long before he was Lando Calrissian, Simba or Childish Gambino, Donald Glover was in an Internet sketch comedy group called Derrick Comedy along with comedians Dominic Dierkes and DC Pierson. After a successful stint cranking out YouTube videos, the group created a movie together; the criminally underseen and eventual cult hit Mystery Team. The film is about a group of former Encyclopedia Brown-style child-detectives who get caught in a dangerous murder mystery. Picture the wholesome Hardy Boys having to investigate a strip club when they haven’t even kissed a girl or witnessing multiple murders when the hardest case they’ve cracked up until now was “who stole Mrs. Haverschmidts pie?” and you can get a good idea of the comedy. It’s pretty good for what it is.
June 26 — Toxic Crusaders: the Movie (1997)
Remember when R rated movies would get cartoons? Conan the Barbarian, Rambo, Police Academy, Robocop and Starship Troopers all had animated shows aimed at kids but the craziest one, by far, is the Toxic Avenger getting its own cartoon. There’s not a single thing Troma has released that’s even remotely suitable for children and that includes the ultra violent Toxic Avenger but not only did it get a cartoon, it got a toy-line as well. Both of which I owned and watched as a kid but if this movie is any indication of the shows quality, its proof that kids will watch any cartoon, regardless of their quality. The animation is abysmal, the jokes are god awful and the writing is atrocious. It’s coincidental that Toxic Avenger lives in a landfill because that’s where he and his films belong – in the trash.
June 27 — Giuseppe Makes a Movie (2014)
Adam Rifkin (the Dark Backward, the Last Movie Star) documents Giuseppe Andrews‘s (Independence Day, Detroit Rock City) attempt to make a movie in under two days. Giuseppe Makes a Movie is a wildly surreal look into the world of its titular character, a world populated with people that wouldn’t look out of place in a Harmony Korine or John Waters film. Alcoholics and drug addicts, crazy as hell senior citizens, trailer park residents and gutter bums. These are the people Giuseppe has brought together to make his movie and each are as fascinating as the last. Whether the film he’s making (Garbanzo Gas) is good or not is besides the point. What matters is the fact that Giuseppe has given these outcasts something to do with their lives. A purpose. It’s a touching ode to the strange and an amazing document on do-it-yourself film-making.
Jun 28 — Don’t Panic (1988)
Either Mexico received a completely different version of the film a Nightmare on Elm Street than the rest of the world or director Rubén Galindo Jr completely misunderstood the plot of that film because although Don’t Panic follows the basic outline of the Craven classic, something must have gotten lost in translation. There’s still the alcoholic mother but instead of being the catalyst for everything wrong due to her burning someone alive, she’s just a scapegoat due to her drinking. Ghosts still torment the main character but instead of being the work of a wise cracking dream demon, he just has visions for some reason. The knife glove is now replaced with a dagger and the hero (a 32 year old “teenager”) runs around in dinosaur pajamas for most of the film. Of all the Sharp Hand Joe knock offs, this might be the craziest. And that’s saying a lot.
Jun 29 — My Science Project (1985)
A rather forgettable entry of the sci-fi adventure genre of the 1980s, My Science Project is about four friends who must destroy a time altering alien orb before the past, present and future collide. The humor doesn’t land, every character is a one note stereotype and there’s way too much set up for far too little pay off. It’s from the director of Theodore Rex. That’s all I have to say.
Jun 30 — Uncle Goddamn (2004)
Released in the middle of the Jackass and Bum Fights crazes, Uncle Goddamn is collection of home videos made by a family of hillbillies who had made a name for themselves in the underground video circuit by torturing each other. It’s as unpleasant as it sounds.