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.
May. 1—Spellbound (2002)
Following eight teenagers on their quest to win the 1999 National Spelling Bee, Spellbound is both a fascinating human character study and a thrilling sports doc. While each competitor trains their ass off, I do hesitate calling a spelling bee a sport but for the sake of argument, I’m going to. A sport you can’t help but be compelled to take bets on the outcome. You know one of the eight teens is going to win, you just don’t know which one. Picking one you hope will win, reminds me of the excellent Hands on a Hardbody, the doc about a group of desperate Texans all competing to win a truck. They stand there with at least one hand on it till they’re the last man standing. That is also not a sport but it takes the same level of determination and is filled with the same level of oddball characters. It takes a particular type of person to learn the correct spelling and usage of words that no one on Earth will ever need to know and the same can be said about being able to train your body to stand in one spot for days at a time. I don’t know what compels people to do what they do but God bless em for doing shit like this.
May. 2—Cavalcade (1933)
The only reason people don’t complain about this film winning best picture like they do How Green Was my Valley, Crash or Shakespeare in Love is because they’ve never seen it. If they had, it would inspire as much confusion and befuddlement as the others. Probably more so because Cavalcade, unlike most other best picture winners, is not good. 1933 is the year King Kong, The Invisible Man and Duck Soup came out and any one of those classics would’ve made a better choice. Hell, there was a handful of Busby Berkeley movies released that year and even they would’ve been preferable over this. Taking place between 1899 until 1933, the film follows the tragic lives of a family that have the unfortunate bad luck to be tied to every major event of that time such as the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic and the Great War. Not a single member of the family is interesting; the events all happen off screen, so we don’t even have that to keep us engaged and it’s far too long. Skip it and watch King Kong instead.
May. 3—The Queen of Spades (1949)
An army officer, who was embarrassingly beaten at a recent card game, finds out that a local elderly countess struck a bargain with the devil in exchange for her soul for the ability to always win at cards. He decides to woo her niece in order to get close enough to her to learn her secret. If you’ve seen an episode of the Twilight Zone, you’ll be way ahead of the film and you’ll most likely be disappointed by the ending. It ends exactly how you think it will but with the last ten minutes removed. Spoilers for a film over seventy years old but the army officer accidentally kills the countess and her ghost tells him the secret to the cards under the condition that he marries her niece.
He gambles a shit ton of money on each subsequent hand and keeps running until the last card is revealed and he thought he had the ace that the ghost told him to pull but she tricked him and he actually pulls the queen of spades. Hence the title. He goes bankrupt and his life is over. Roll credits. But before the credits rolled, I fully expected the ghost to keep twisting the knife to the point where he kills himself. I wanted at least ten minutes of a haunted ghost movie but I didn’t get it. What I did get, was fine. It’s a beautiful looking film and if it was just a romance between the officer and the niece, it still would’ve been good but i was disappointed due to expectations.
May. 4—Waxworks (1924)
For unclear plot reasons, a poet is hired by the owner of a wax museum in a circus to write tales about Harun al Raschid, Ivan the Terrible and Jack the Ripper. The stories the poet is writing are visualized with himself in the lead role and the daughter of the owner of the waxwork as his lover. A triptych of fantastical stories, Waxworks operates on dream logic and looks like a German expressionist film, which makes it ahead of its time but that’s about all it has going for it. It’s undeniably gorgeous, which each story being lavishly shot and meticulously crafted. The sets and costumes are beyond reproach and the cast is made up of some of the greatest character actors of that era but it’s in service to nothing. The Harun al Raschid story goes on forever, the Ivan the Terrible is the best of the lot but still offers little beyond the lead actor’s performance and the Jack the Ripper, which should be the most interesting, lasts roughly ten minutes. I’m glad it wasn’t lost to the ravages of time but there’s also nothing to recommend here unless you’re a huge fan of style over substance.
May. 5—Steamboat Round the Bend (1935)
Will Rogers is a huge blind spot for me. I know the name and the face but I have no idea what he’s done. My mental image of him is that he’s either the singing cowboy who just entered town or that he’s the lovable drunk that ain’t never gonna leave. I literally have no idea what he did but my money is on westerns. I’m also not in a hurry to find out whether I’m right or wrong. Not because of this film, actually, quite the contrary. I found his performance and the film overall, to be delightful. He plays a Louisiana con man who must enter his steamboat into a winner-take-all race with a rival in order to find a witness to free his nephew who’s about to be hanged for murder.
The race only makes up the last third, the rest of the film is him dealing with and eventually growing fond of his son’s fiance. She doesn’t like him because he talked his son into turning himself in and he doesn’t like her because she’s loud and abrasive. They obviously become close by the film’s end and it’s actually rather sweet. The entire film is sweet. That’s actually why I’m not looking up Roger’s filmography. I want to be surprised when I put something on he shows up because based on just this one film, he’s already proven to be a delightful presence.
May. 6—Reversal of Fortune (1990)
Something terrible happened to Sunny von Bulow (Glenn Close) forty years ago, and nobody knows exactly what it was. She ended up in a coma. Her husband was convicted of attempted murder, but his conviction was overturned, and there is compelling suspicion that some of the evidence used against him was, as the kids say, sus. Everyone agrees that he almost definitely did something but no one knows what or why or how. Reversal of Fortune is a film about that terrible tragedy or is it attempted suicide or even a failed murder? Since real life never provided a satisfactory answer, the film doesn’t either but that’s the point. It gives you a bunch of maybes, what ifs and possiblies but no definitive answer. You have to decide whether or not Claus von Bulow did it and while that seems like a recipe for cinematic blue balls, the fact that Claus is played impeccably by Jeremy Irons will certainly keep you from caring. He’s so good in this, that you stop thinking about the case and you just want to sit and listen to him tell his side. Even if it’s a lie. Or especially because it’s a lie. You find his version of events so compelling, the truth becomes irreverent.
May. 7—Dark Star (1974)
If this was made by a bunch of ambitious college kids with a pocket full of change and a head full of ambition, I feel like it would be a beloved classic among fans of no budget, shot on video cinema. But since it was directed by John Carpenter and written by Dan O’Bannon, it’s impossible not to compare it to much better films. But removing those classics from the conversation and even the men behind it, taken on its own terms, Dark Star is a flawed albeit slightly entertaining slow burn of wackiness. Not a lot happens in it and even the stuff that does happen tends to drag on far too long but if you approach it with the right mindset and have a shit ton of patience, there’s some nuggets of enjoyment to be had.
The beach ball with creature from the black lagoon hands for feet as the alien is dumb fun and O’Bannon himself shows promise as an actor. I’m surprised he never popped up in another Carpenter film; he’s got the chops. As long as those characters are on the edge or long past it, he could’ve nailed it. There’s a couple of bits here and there that aren’t worth recapping but they are at least mentioning since this film is routinely dismissed. It’s not a great film but it works as a great debut of future talent.
May. 8—The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)
Two drag queens (Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving) and a transgender woman (Terrence Stamp) contract to perform a drag show at a resort in Alice Springs, a town in the remote Australian desert. As they head west from Sydney aboard their lavender bus, Priscilla, the three friends encounter all sorts of characters, some good and others not so much. Since they are drag performers in a small town, they obviously encounter incidents of homophobia but thankfully the director cares more about the feel good fantasy of the story and not the ugly realism of life. You get just enough to remind you that yes, assholes exist and life is extremely difficult for these performers but not too much that it detracts from the fun. The biggest threat the trio face are themselves. They bicker and bitch and snipe at each other constantly and while they do cross the line occasionally, it’s never in an intentionally malicious way. It’s mostly Pearce being a bitch and the other two having to deal with it. Their relationship is front and center and it’s by far the best thing about the film. It is the film. All three are exceptional and they play off each other magnificently. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is a feel good movie that actually makes you feel good.
May. 9—Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
A visual poem disguised as a plotless documentary that’s essentially a 90 minute montage depicting the beauty of nature being eroded by the busyness of mankind, Koyaanisqatsi is both the perfect example of the Kuleshov effect (how an image changes context in relation to what precedes and follows it) and the precursor to the next forty years of commercial making. There are only a handful of documentaries that are like this (two of which are part of an unofficial trilogy) but you’d go mad trying to catalog every commercial and music video that utilized techniques from this movie. Unless you’ve been blind your whole life and just recently got sight, there’s no way you haven’t seen something use a sped up montage of street traffic with cars zooming around and the lights from the their beams looking like slow motion lasers. If that’s all this film had, it would be more than enough but add in Phillp Glass’s awe inspiring score and you have a documentary that doesn’t just depict a slice of life, it is life condensed.
May. 10—Modern Girls (1986)
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the most 80s movie of all time: Modern Girls. There’s so much of that decade French pressed into this movie, you’d accuse a parody of over doing it if it had just half of this film’s set design, costumes and soundtrack. As a time capsule, Modern Girls is a masterpiece. Future generations or aliens trying to study our history will get everything they need to know about the 80s from this film. But if you’re not watching this for archaeological reasons, there’s very little you haven’t seen before. It’s a one crazy night story where two girls (played by Cynthia Gibb and Daphne Zuniga) use a guy for his car (Clayton Rohner) to go to a club but need to stick with for various reasons. They need to find their friend (Virginia Madsen), one wants to find a Rockstar she met and then lost at the club and probably about another five or so other side quests I’m forgetting about. It’s a harmless romp with some likable enough characters that you’ll completely forget about fifteen minutes after you watch it.
May. 11—Communion (1989)
Based on the alleged real life abduction of Whitley Strieber, Communion is an alien film that benefits greatly from the presence of Christopher Walken. I can see the film Strieber wanted to make (I’ve never read the book this film is based on but I highly doubt it was this strange) but Walken changes the tone so dramatically, the film is fixed to accommodate his performance. There are some genuinely creepy moments involving aliens slowly peering around armoires and the first abduction is rather effective but the longer the film goes on, the more Walken starts to channel Walken until it’s a straight up impression of an impression. Walken is an amazing actor but like Nic Cage and Jeff Goldblum, he’s a walking meme. Everything he does can be imitated, so to see him do an impression of himself, is fucking wild. But it works. His performance sets the tone and somehow, it actually lives up to his insane acting choice. The last abduction scene might be the craziest thing he’s ever been a part of. It has to be seen to be believed.
May. 12—Girlfriends (1978)
While watching this, a thought kept popping up in my mind “this would be an amazing TV show” until it dawned on me, it already is one. There’s no way this wasn’t a major influence on Lena Dunham’s Girls. The character dynamics are basically the same (minus two girls), the laissez-faire attitude to sex is the same and it also has that same ambling energy where shit kinda happens when it happens. It never builds to a huge emotional outburst between characters or a huge revelation. It takes you by the hand and slowly guides you through its world. A world you can tell has inspired everything from the aforementioned Girls to Frances Ha to any number of mumble core Indies. This has its fingerprints on so many things, it’s crazy.
May. 13—Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021)
Moving away from the overly convoluted plots of the past 8 films was the smartest thing Spiral could do. And I have to say, I didn’t hate the premise this time around. Instead of targeting people who have wasted their lives (or whatever contrived bullshit the other ones were about), this Jigsaw copycat is going after corrupt cops. Like I said, I don’t hate that premise and I think a good filmmaker could really do something with it but this is Saw. The only good filmmaker attached to one of these things, left the series behind twenty years ago. Any discussion of topical events such as police brutality or whatnot is tossed aside in favor of unfunny Chris Rock shtick, Chris Rock trying to look tough or morose and scene after scene of Chris Rock trying to act. He is distractingly bad in this. This is a series that has the third most famous Wahlberg and Chester Bennington from Linkin Park and he’s still far and away the worst actor in the franchise. It doesn’t help that he’s also in every scene in the movie. The movie was probably never going to be good but with Rock in the lead, it guaranteed it was going to be one of the worst
May. 14—Prick Up Your Ears (1987)
Prick Up Your Ears (the title of which is a British slang joke you’ll get the punchline to once you rearrange the letters of ears) is a biographical tragicomedy with Gary Oldman and Alfred Molina as famed playwright Joe Orton and his lover Kenneth Halliwell, whose jealousy and thwarted ambition led to tragedy. Intercut throughout is a subplot involving the biographer of their story played by Wallace Shawn who is getting the story from Vanessa Redgrave. Oldman and Molina are good enough (obviously) to carry the movies themselves but I think the director realized there really wasn’t that much story to their story. They were together, one of them got jealous of the other and then killed him. There’s really not much more to it than that, so he decided to just include the most important bits of their life and the easiest way to do that is by periodically cutting to someone else who’s being told the story. It’s the Princess Bride trick — remove all the boring walking bits by having an unrelated character not want them either. It works but it also leaves you with shades of characters and not actual people. You get just enough to understand who Orton and Halliwell are but not enough to completely understand why they do what they do. But when the performances are this good, it doesn’t really matter.
May. 15—New York, New York (1977)
Knowing Scorsese was battling a horrible cocaine addiction while making this, makes all the sense in the world. Honestly, outside of him losing a bet, it’s the only thing that would explain this film’s existence. I’m assuming this made some coin at the box office otherwise I’m perplexed as to how this isn’t mentioned in the same breath as One From the Heart. It’s an overindulgent, over long vanity piece with nary a single redeeming element. Strip away the musical numbers of La La Land, make Ryan Gosling the single most unlikable character ever and add another 90 minutes to the runtime and you have this New York New York. Poor Liza Minnelli. She’s the one shining gemstone in this coal mine but try as she might, there’s not a single thing she could do to save this. Actually, I take it back. There is one good thing about this movie and that’s the theme song. A song that proved so popular, it became the official state song of New York. That’s right, this movie isn’t named after that famous song, the song originated here. Which goes to show, even in his worst film, Scorsese still manages to produce gold. The man can’t ever lose.
May. 16—Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988)
Even if this was unwatchable, it’s the kind of movie that you just can’t tear down. It would feel mean to pick on a movie like Elvira: Mistress of the Dark because it’s accomplishing everything it set out to do. It’s not doing any of those things particularly well but can you honestly be mad at it for failing? It’s a movie about a horror movie TV host that goes to a small town to claim an inheritance so that she can go to Vegas to be a showgirl starring a horror movie TV host that used to be a Vegas showgirl. Add in some supernatural monsters in the third act and a shit ton of big boob jokes and that’s literally the movie. If you enjoy Elvira’s shtick and have a high tolerance for mediocrity, you can do far worse. Seriously. The sequel is considerably worse than this.
May. 17—The Limey (1999)
Any story can be made interesting with proper editing and style. The Limey is a revenge story that follows Terrence Stamp on a quest to find out who is responsible for his daughter’s death. There’s no investigation needed because the film isn’t a mystery. He knows who it is almost immediately, it’s just a matter of getting to his target. Before he finds him (the him being Peter Fonda) and pulls the trigger, he’ll interrogate lackeys, duck hitmen out to get him, hang out with his American contact (played by Luis Guzman) and a friend of his daughter’s (Lesley Ann Warren). There’s not much going on but the experimental editing by director Steven Soderbergh feels like a constant surge of electricity being periodically pumped into the film’s veins. It’s not crazy like 21 Grams but it does have a similar no fucks given approach to time. But even you don’t give a shit about style, it still has Terrence Stamp shooting people. That should be enough to glue your ass to your seat.
May. 18—Gremloids (1984)
Gremloids (also known as Hyperspace) is a no budget Star Wars spoof starring Paula Poundstone, Chris Elliott and a bunch of no name actors. After getting his coordinates wrong, Lord Buckethead (a character who became infamous a couple years ago when someone dressed as him tried to make it in British politics) accidentally lands on Earth and mistakenly thinks a local mechanic (Poundstone) is a Space Princess and kidnaps her for her space plans. A random guy (Alan Marx) gets mixed up in the whole affair and decides to save her for the hell of it. I previously mentioned how people would think more highly of Dark Star if Carpenter and O’Bannon were not involved because it’s impossible to judge for what it is because you’re comparing it to shit they’ll eventually go on to make.
I don’t think that would be a problem with Gremloids. I think anyone would look at this and see the talent and passion behind it and would look past its obvious budget constraints and technical deficiencies. This isn’t a great movie but greatness is overrated. There’s a reason fans want the Tapert cut of the Evil Dead. Flaws and human error make things unique and distinctive. Gremloids is great because it’s not great. It has the same ramshackle energy and undeniable charm of kids putting a show on in the barn.
May. 19—Mortal Kombat (2021)
Not including the spin-offs or what have you, the Mortal Kombat video game series is eleven games deep. It’s been going strong for thirty something years now with no signs of stopping. And that’s due mostly to the appeal of its trademark brutal fights and fatalities. Gamers love themselves some blood and guts and the series has provided that in spades. To properly bring the series to the big screen, a film would need to focus on that first and worry about the rest later and that’s exactly what the 2021 film does. If you’re not already a fan of the games and need more than gratuitous violence to entertain you, this isn’t the movie for you. It’s damn near a fan film in its reverence to the source material. There’s about a million little nods and Easter eggs for the fans to pick up and while they do change some lore things here and there, the spirit remains the same. There’s no tournament, which for some is a major problem but as the first film in a planned trilogy, it makes sense to build to it instead of coming up with reasons why there’s three tournaments back to back to back. The film isn’t perfect (the dialogue is sometimes painful, the acting is not the best and the CGI is a bit dodgy) but as video game movies go, this might as well be Citizen Kane.
May. 20—The Amityville Horror (1979)
There’s something about this film that insists that it’s a classic but in no way does it live up to that assumption. The Amityville Horror was a massively successful novel and the house that inspired it became one of the most famously haunted locations in America, so any movie based on that story would have a strong reputation as its backbone. A reputation based on a complete fabrication but since that lie spawned twenty odd movies (not including The Conjuring universe), it being complete horse shit is irrelevant. The reality is simple: The Lutz’s bought a piece of garbage real estate and with some outside help, decided to concoct a story about ghosts and phantom pigs that scared em off the property within a month.
No scary supernatural shit, just a highly successful grift. But that’s boring. People wanna believe in ghosts, so they do. That’s why the novel was a success and that’s why you’re misremembering this film’s quality. It rode the wave of hype like a pro skater but everyone had moved on by the time it crashed. The film is haunted by the ghost of the novel’s hype. Which is good for the movie but bad for the viewer. That hype ghost, along with the cast, will trick you into watching this but don’t let him possess your hands into pushing play and your eyes from watching. This isn’t terrible (as the later sequels will show) but there are far better legitimate classics from around this time that you can watch instead.
May. 21—Amityville II: The Possession (1982)
The first Amityville Horror tried to parlay its hype into legit cred but failed due to the film playing it too safe. The slow pace and ridiculous moments didn’t help but if there was an actual sense of danger, the pace and the more absurd moments would easily be forgiven. The first was released a couple years after Rosemary’s Baby and one year before The Shining, both films that have a palpable sense of dread and danger. Anything can happen, which keeps you on edge. Maybe it’s because we all know the Lutz’s moved out after a month, thus killing any and all suspense or maybe it’s because there’s simply no suspense at all but The Amityville Horror never inspires fear in the viewer. It needed to be far more terrifying to actually register or in the case of its sequel, far dirtier.
Amityville II: The Possession is a rotten melodrama or more accurately, the corpse of a soap opera strung up to dance like an obscene marionette. The premise is despicable (it’s actually a prequel showing what happened to the murdered family before the Lutz moved in), the father is repugnant (they hint at and even cut a scene showing him anally raping his wife) and the brother is possessed by a demon that makes him sleep with his own sister. It’s uncomfortable and gross and nasty but to the film’s credit, I never knew where it was going. It kept me watching to see what other horrible shit it was going to throw at me and while nothing tops incest demon (thank God), it does go in a couple of directions I didn’t predict. If you’re not scary, you might as well be insane.
May. 22—Amityville 3-D (1983)
From here on out, the only way to differentiate between the shitty sequels is by their gimmicks and/or by the That Guy actor they somehow tricked into starring in one of these fucking things. If we were using those two points (the cast and the gimmick) as a grading curve, this thing should score out the fucking roof. You have a stacked cast (Tony Roberts, Tess Harper, Robert Joy, Candy Clark, Lori Laughlin and Meg fucking Ryan), an Oscar winning director at the helm and the biggest gimmick of them all: 3D. You would think just pointing the camera at any combination of these actors would result in at least something interesting but you be wrong. If you hoped the 3D would produce maybe some unintentional comedy, you would be giving this film too much credit and if you thought an Oscar winning director was an impressive get for this series, you’re a fool. Richard Fleischer has undoubtedly produced some truly spectacular films but he’s also responsible for Red Sonja, Conan the Destroyer and The Jazz Singer. In all actuality, his filmography might be the scariest thing about this movie.
May. 23—Amityville: The Evil Escapes (1989)
Since the house blows up in the third one, this is when the gimmick really shifts into gear. Now, it’s “what haunted item from the house is it going to be this time?” I’m serious, the series going forward save for Curse, is all about haunted shit from the Amityville house. This one is about a haunted lamp that houses the soul of a widowers evil husband. That widower is played by Patty Duke and with keeping the That Guy actor train rolling, she’s joined by Fredric Lehne and Norman Lloyd. After her husband dies, she moves her and her children into her mother’s house. Weird shit starts happening, the grandma doesn’t believe it’s ghosts and 80 minutes of your patience will be tested until they realize the lamp is possessed. It’s not like the film kicks into gear once they find out mind you, it just finally does something. Since most of the direct-to-video sequels are all uniquely terrible, it’s hard to say which one is the worst but this is probably the most boring.
May. 24—The Amityville Curse (1990)
Since it’s the only film post 3D to take place at the house (kinda, sorta), The Amityville Curse feels like the odd man out. That’s how ridiculous this bullshit is, that a sequel in a franchise about a haunted house goes back to said haunted house (even though it was thoroughly demolished in a previous film but let’s ignore that) and it feels weird. The rest of these stupid ass movies got the memo: haunted items or GTFO. But Curse wanted to pave its own way, I guess. It still continues the trend of having a couple That Guy actors (Kim Coates and Cassandra Gava) and a plot so forgettable, I have to Google what it’s about just to talk about it. A group of peoples (friends? Colleagues?) buy the Amityville house to renovate it, not knowing about its terrible past. You would think a house that’s had a whole family slaughtered in it and two other families battling ghosts and demons within its walls would make it the most famous location of all time but the real estate agent decided to leave that bit out, I guess. That’s a phrase your going to see a lot in these reviews “I guess.” That happened, I guess. I guess I must’ve missed the scene that explained why this is happening now. My life belongs to these shitty fucking Amityville movies now and the only escape is death, I guess.
May. 25—Amityville: It’s About Time (1992)
A haunted clock. Megan Ward and Stephen Macht. I’m getting the haunted item and the That Guys out the way immediately because there’s no reason to keep you in suspense. The film certainly doesn’t. Again, that doesn’t imply that it hits the ground running, I mean that literally. There’s no suspense. The haunted clock starts fucking with the family and weird shit starts happening. Much like The Evil Escapes, it’s a build up to the third act but unlike that film, this one actually does something interesting. Not content to keep the haunted item gimmick going, it has the only legit gimmick outside of 3D: time travel. The clock manipulates time and your spatial awareness, so that you’re never quite sure where you are in the house at any given time. That’s how devoid these films are of anything resembling entertainment, that five minutes of something almost interesting is enough for it not to be terrible by comparison.
May. 26—Amityville: A New Generation (1993)
If there was an Amityville bingo, this would mark the most amount of squares on the score sheet. It has a haunted item (mirror), it has a gimmick (the reflection in the mirror is evil and makes you do things), it has a cast of That Guy actors (David Naughton, Terry O’Quinn, Richard Roundtree and Lin Shaye) and it tries to tie into the mythology of the original killings (the lead is the son of the man who killed the family before the Lutz’s moved in). The only thing its missing is the house itself and it would hit bingo. Now, just because it works as a great drinking game, doesn’t mean it’s a good movie.
It gets a half a point for everything it attempted to do well and a negative point for everything it does bad. Which tips the scales so unevenly, the negative side’s chain broke. It trying to tie into the original film is certainly a take but that only makes sense if it’s pulling a Halloween (2018) and pretending no other sequel exists. Because if they did, the lead of the second film (the one that got possessed and killed everyone) would’ve been like seven when he got the lead of this film’s mom pregnant. The continuity makes about as much sense as making a franchise out of the Amityville Horror but without the house and yet here we are.
May. 27—Amityville: Dollhouse (1996)
You would think the seventh film in the franchise would easily be the worst since it doesn’t have any That Guy actors in it (unless you count the main villain from Halloweentown and Eric’s sister in That 70’s Show as That Guy material) and the haunted item doesn’t tie into the Amityville house but Dollhouse proves the series never needed that shit to begin with. Since you have to grade these films on a curve, the ones that actually do something are automatically at the top of the ranking. By that metric, this is easily the third best because it has the most amount of things in it. A New Generation probably has the highest kill count but other than that, this has the most stuff. The plot moves faster, there’s a good amount of nudity, there’s a lot of practical effects and there’s even goblin looking monsters. After eating dog food for five films straight, this hunk of deep fried spam was a treat.
May. 28—The Escape Artist (1982)
It’s hard to not judge this for what it isn’t as opposed to what it is. It’s about a young amateur escape artist/slight of hand magician (Griffin O’Neal) who teams up with the shady son (Raul Julia) of a corrupt mayor (Desi Arnaz) to help pull his ass out of the fire. Julia stole his father’s wallet, O’Neal stole the wallet from him and both are fucked if they can’t return it without getting caught. Now, that premise sounds fun and could’ve been great if it turned out it was a con game perpetrated by O’Neal. The film clearly states he wants to be a stage magician. He steals a snazzy tuxedo for his act and he talks a cute little waitress into being his assistant. The only thing missing would be the financial means to fund his plan.
So it would make sense for him to team up with a man actively trying to kill him in order to steal his ill gotten gains but that’s not what happens. In fact, I have no idea why he decides to get in bed with Julia. His motivations are unclear and it doesn’t ruin the movie but it does keep it from being the minor classic it could be. It’s so frustratingly close to being great but like that incredibly great and tense scene where the lead is handcuffed to a weight in a water tank and almost drowns, it can’t seem to get free from the problems it’s shackled to.
May. 29—A Quiet Place II (2021)
While I admire and appreciate what the first one did, I think it had so many logical problems, it was impossible for me to not nitpick it to death. This one also has one or two moments that made me grind my teeth into dust (both involve the boy/son) but for the most part, I dug what it was doing more. And what it’s doing is ripping of the aesthetic and some of the set pieces from the game The Last of Us. I haven’t heard Krasinski mention it directly but I don’t give a rat’s ass what he says to the contrary — there’s no fucking way the beginning of this film wasn’t inspired by that game. He even has Cillian Murphy team up with the daughter later in the movie to mirror Joel and Ellie’s rocky relationship. And the thing is, I’m not complaining. Those two working together should’ve been the whole film because every time it cuts back to either the mom or the unbearable son, the film loses momentum. Not enough to take me out of the film (Krasinski wisely decides to jump back forth in a way that makes whatever those two are doing, exciting due to the elevated tension of what’s happening to Murphy and the daughter) but I hope we get less of them in the inevitable sequel.
May. 30—Darkest Hour (2017)
Historical biopics about political figures are only as good as their lead performances. Darkest Hour is a build up to Winston Churchill’s famous Dunkirk speech and while it works as a great double bill to Nolan’s film, that moment and everything building up to it isn’t particularly interesting. Everyone in his cabinet wants him to enter into peace talks with Germany and he knows that would mean certain doom for England. So he fights against it for 2+ hours until he convinces everyone that fighting back is not only essential, but critical. But you know that going into this movie. Unless you’re completely ignorant of history, there’s nothing this film could show you that you don’t already know. So the only thing it can offer is its portrayal of Churchill and that’s where this film shines. There’s been a million and one actors who have played him over the years but Oldman might be the best one yet. He has the mannerisms down pat and the voice is perfect. It’s the reason to see it and it’s more than enough.
May. 31—A Face in the Crowd (1957)
It’s incredible that a film released 65 years ago can be as relevant today as it was then. But I guess, when it comes to cult of personalities and the all consuming corruptive power of fame, things don’t really change. What’s actually sad, is the fact that the film is becoming less true everyday. Recent events have conclusively proven this film’s ending false; scandals don’t ruin careers as long as you keep talking. It doesn’t matter what you say, as long as it sounds like you’re saying something, your fan base or audience or cult (whatever you want to call it) will stay with you. But as timely as it is, this film wasn’t made today or even yesterday. It was made a long ass time ago, so I’m going to approach it as a mirror reflecting the society of the time and not a crystal ball predicting the future. And as a mirror, it works far better.
A Face in the Crowd is about a perpetually drunk and raucous hayseed named Lonesome Rhodes, who goes from a backwards hillbilly guitar picker to a local media rabble-rouser to TV superstar and political king-maker. The film charts his rise to stardom and eventual fall from grace. His homespun redneck wisdom slowly goes from benevolent to malevolent, the more fame and power he gets. It’s a great character study that’s only half as good as the performance that brings it to life.
Finding out that this was Andy Griffith’s first performance blew my mind. He’s superstar level good here. This is one of the all time best film debuts and one of the earliest Oscar snubs. If he was anymore electric in this film, he’d be able to power an entire city block through sheer force of will alone. It’s a tremendous performance and deserves more recognition but so does Patricia Neal who emotionally anchors the film. She’s the one who discovers Rhodes and is also the one that suffers the most by his behavior. It’s a great dynamic, in a great story in an even better film.
What movies did you watch last month?