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.
Nov. 1—Come Play (2020)
Based on the short film of the same name, Come Play is a horror film aimed at younger viewers about an autistic boy who accidentally releases a tall gangly creature into existence through an app on his iPad. Since I moderately liked this film and thought it was good enough to not completely hate (I have a soft spot for horror films made for children), I’m going to be a tad kinder to it than it deserves.
There’s some legitimately well crafted spooks (one involves a laser measuring device and another utilizes a face filter app to great effect) and the monster is kinda cool looking but it’s far too derivative to recommend to anyone over the age of twelve. It’s a near carbon copy of The Babadook but stripped of the tension and ambiance that made that film great. It’s exactly what you’d think a Spielberg produced remake would look like. Which is all you need to know to decide whether or not it’s for you.
Nov. 2—Shallow Grave (1994)
There’s not enough films about friendships slowly turning to shit after the group finds a large sum of money. Perhaps that’s because Boyle nailed it for all time. When their newest flatmate dies of an overdose, three friends (Christopher Eccleston, Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox) decide to cover up the death after they discover a large sum of money in his room. Eventually, each roommate starts thinking about keeping all the money by scamming the others. A taut and twisty thriller, Shallow Grave keeps the viewer on edge by constantly shifting it’s perspective between the three leads. You never know quite what the other is planning because right when they start to formulate a plan to take the money, it switches to someone else. It’s brilliantly structured and expertly paced and that cast is on fire. Boyle came out the gate swinging.
Nov. 3—Silverado (1985)
The last great western till Unforgiven put the final nail in the genre almost a decade later, Lawrence Kasdan’s throwback to old-school cowboy flicks is pure, unadulterated fun. The plot is as simple as they come: four strangers cross paths on the way to the town of Silverado and when they get there, they soon realize they might have to team up in order to take on the evil Sheriff and his posse who’s taken over. It’s a standard boilerplate set up filled with western archetypes and tropes but much like he did with Star Wars, Kasdan knows how to play within genres without ruining the spirit of what makes them great.
He realizes that every genre comes with a checklist of clichés that don’t always have to be checked off but enough do for it to work. Silverado damn near checks them off and smiles as it does it. It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel but revels in what makes the wheel work in the first place. Namely a fun cast getting fun or interesting things to do. The four main leads (Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner) have amazing chemistry with one another and each bring something unique to the table. The bad guy played by Brian Dennehy is menacing without ever feeling over the top and there’s tons of fantastic character actors sprinkled throughout like John Cleese. I doubt anyone would rank this along the best westerns of all time but an argument could definitely be made for it being one of the most entertaining.
Nov. 4—Slap Shot (1977)
I miss when sports movies weren’t aspirational or inspiration. When they could be about horrible shit players that got by on pure grit. That didn’t have any rousing speeches or that one monumentally important 3rd act play that saves the day. I miss sports movies where the sport itself could take a backseat to character drama. I miss sports movies that have characters at all and not just a collection of archetypes. I miss movies like Slap Shot. A bone-crunching, foul-mouthed, and horribly dated sports comedy that’s nevertheless wildly entertaining, Slap Shot cares less about accuracy and common decency than having fun.
It doesn’t give a shit if it doesn’t portray the sport properly or if it offends anyone with its brash sense of humor. It’ll bust your lip, break your nose and smile while it does it. Or vice versa. It’s the kind of film that doesn’t care if you don’t like it or even actively hate it. Like the infamous Hanson brothers at the center of the film, Slap Shot is only good at one specific thing and that’s over the top mayhem. And depending on which side of the tornado of violence you’re standing on, it’s either incredibly entertaining or unbearably miserable. Fortunately for me, I’m the former.
Nov. 5—Borat Subsequent Movie Film (2020)
In the first Borat film, Sasha Baron Cohen held a mirror up to America and revealed that bigotry, racism and xenophobia are still very much a thing and we’re more prevalent than a lot of us were aware of. Fourteen years later, he’s back with another film but unfortunately the funny immigrant shtick doesn’t work anymore because there’s nothing left to reveal about anyone. Borat only works when the people he is interviewing think that he’s a foreigner and act accordingly. Some are hilariously befuddled, while others dig their own graves with shovels made out of racism or intolerance. It worked in the early 00s because the world was a much different place but now that there’s a Teflon clown in the White House who’s impossible to satirize, the character is powerless.
You can’t pants someone who’s constantly naked and I think Cohen at a certain point realized that, which is why this film focuses far more on the plot instead of the pranks this time around. The scenes between him and his daughter are the best bits in the film. Played by newcomer Maria Bakalova who’s equally if not more fearless than he is. The shit she says and does in this is jaw dropping and she deserves every bit of acclaim she’s receiving. Her performance alone justifies this film’s existence and if they do ever make a third one, I think it would be smart to focus heavily on her instead of Borat because she’s now the more interesting character. Like most comedy sequels released years and years after the original, it’s a bit of a disappointment but there’s still enough good here to recommend.
Nov. 6—Never Too Young to Die (1986)
Living somewhere between parody and pastiche, Never Too Young to Die is a bonkers attempt at making a junior James Bond franchise that, depending on how high your threshold for camp is, either fails completely or nails the over the top quality of older Bond films. A gymnast and Vanity must team up to defeat a psychotic transvestite from taking over the world. If that’s not crazy enough for you, the gymnast is played by a baby faced John Stamos and the transvestite is played by a gloriously unhinged Gene Simmons. An underrated commodity of cheesy 80s action films, Simmons is almost always the best thing about anything he’s in.
That horrible Blade Runner rip-off starring Magnum P.I.? Simmons was the sole stand out. That weird pseudo sequel/reboot of a forgotten western TV show with Rutger Hauer? Simmons once again saves the movie. That uneven workplace comedy from the creator of Beavis and Butthead? Simmons’ cameo is one of the only memorable things about it.
He’s a solid actor that didn’t get enough work and based on his performance in this, definitely should’ve gotten the chance to play a legit Bond villain. He’s swinging for the fences in every scene he’s in and because of his willingness to go all the way, the film will live on forever. Stamos might as well be sleepwalking, Vanity couldn’t act in pain if you lit her on fire and the plot and action are both derivative. So it was up to Simmons to save the day and that he does. His performance alone is enough to recommend this film.
Nov. 7—The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
What separates good Oscar bait from bad Oscar bait? Is it the tone? The direction or acting? The dialogue or characters? No, the answer is nothing. It was a trick question. There is no such thing as good Oscar bait. If the film is Oscar bait, that means it wasn’t made for you. It was created to appease the faceless algorithm that determines what should and what shouldn’t be nominated. Sometimes they’re easy to manipulate and sometimes they’re not but odds are, if the film is a holocaust drama, a “based on a true story” biopic with a feel good ending or a film about the Queen, it will get a nom. And this is certainly a “based on a true story” biopic with a feel good ending. Aaron Sorkin’s retelling of the trial of the Chicago 7 hits all the right notes. It has a great cast, some great moments and some great writing but it all feels calculated and hollow. Having said that, I still enjoyed it for what it was but I doubt I’ll be returning to it any time soon.
Nov. 8—I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
Good movies are about two things at once. There’s what the film is about, which operates on the intellectual level and how the film makes you feel, which obviously works on the emotional level. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can find a movie that does both while also being ambiguous enough to keep you thinking and talking about it for days or maybe even weeks. And then there’s the work of Charlie Kaufman. Not only do his films work on multiple levels, they’re sometimes beyond ambitious. They’re obtuse to the nth degree. They’re like trying to solve an extreme jumbo word search where the words can be backwards or even misspelled and there is no answer key, just hints. If you’re on his wave length and are thinking like he is, I’m Thinking of Ending Things makes complete and total sense. It’s just hard to properly articulate the hows and the whys to anyone you’re trying to explain it.
The long and short of it is, odd occurrences keep happening to a young couple (Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons) who are on their way to meet the young man’s parents (Toni Collette, David Thewlis). The trip before feels like one weird monologue and while they’re there, it feels like Hereditary filtered through the prism of insanity. It’s not a horror film but it does deal with existential dread and the regrets that gnaw at you the older you get. It’s a fantasy conjured up by the dying that has taken on a form of it’s own. Ultimately the film is about killing the imagined life we all pretend we have in order to be free. On top of about a million other things.
Nov. 9—Cargo (2017)
Since zombie movies have pretty much exhausted every single type of plot imaginable, the good ones now smartly focus on the human element instead of some kind of allegory or social commentary. Although it does have a ticking clock gimmick (which I won’t reveal but if you’ve seen the short this film is based on, you can guess), Cargo cares more about the Father and his struggles than any selling point. It’s a simple film (the plot is literally go from point A to point B while trying to avoid zombies) that’s anchored by a fantastic Martin Freeman movie.
Nov. 10—The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)
There’s multiple ways to interpret Peter Greenaway’s magnum opus. Some see it as a political allegory, others a religious parable and the less astute, a simple tale of revenge but no matter what you get out of it, it’s impossible to not walk away with a films worth of images burned into your subconscious. As grand as an opera and as exquisitely composed as a five course meal, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is a visual assault on the senses. Everything about it, from the cinematography to the set design to the composition of shots, is designed to stick with you. Much like how a great meal is made to hit all five of your taste buds, this film was made to hit all five senses. You can almost smell the ducks hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen. You can almost taste the suckling pig on the spot. You can almost feel the dirty back alleys and dingey lots. And you definitely hear and see a whole helluva lot.
On top of the stylistic excess, the film pushes violence and sex to the extreme. The Thief (Michael Gambon, who really should be credited as The Gangster) does some horribly nasty and violent things throughout and The Wife (Helen Mirren) has many a steamy sex scene with her Lover (Alan Howard). Greenaway isn’t titillating or trying to repulse for mere shock value. He approached it all as a singular piece. The colorful sets bleed into the eye popping wardrobe which bleed into the beautifully composed shots which bleed into the bombastic sex and violence. If everything bled into everything else, why wouldn’t there be actual blood to go along with it. At the intersection of style and substance, this is among the few films that stand snack dab in the middle of both.
Nov. 11—What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael (2018)
To say Pauline Kael was a controversial critic would be an understatement. Horror fans might still hold Ebert in contempt for his constant bashing of ’80s slashers and Armand White might’ve caused such an uproar over his notoriously contrarian beliefs that he was actually kicked off of Rotten Tomatoes (he was the only critic to give Toy Story 3 a negative review and Transformers: Dark of the Moon a positive one) but neither hold a candle to Kael’s legendary hot takes. She was fired over her horribly negative review of The Sound of Music (to which she received a record amount of complaints) and actually got death threats over her opinion that Shoah, the 9 and a 1/2 hour documentary about the holocaust, might not actually be good.
She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and while I hardly ever agreed with her, I respect and admire the balls it takes to go against the grain. Especially as a woman in the 1960s. This documentary does a good job of highlighting her many accomplishments and acts as a warm love letter from the directors and actors who’s career actually flourished because of her. If you knew who she was beforehand and had read most of her reviews, I doubt there will be anything new here for you to learn but if you only have a passing familiarity with her and want to know more about the history of film criticism, I say check it out.
Nov. 12—Crimson Tide (1995)
The only iteration of Mutiny on the Bounty that I like, Crimson Tide takes what works about that story (the inherent drama of a mutiny at sea) and ditches everything else. Namely the boring chit chat and unclear character motivations. I never understood why Captain Bligh was suddenly vilified by his crew or what he did to justify leaving his ass at sea. Now, it has been a considerable amount of time since I’ve read the book or seen either adaptation but my memory (which is hazy on a good day) of both paint Bligh as a tough asshole but not necessarily evil. Something involving an island of beautiful natives and perhaps the whipping of a subordinate.
Again, hazy memory but this film makes both sides right, which makes for a far more compelling story. Gene Hackman is the captain of a submarine who gets the command to launch a nuke and Denzel Washington is the second in command who refuses to comply because if the command is wrong, they just entered WW3. It’s a fantastic premise with a ton of meat for both actors to chew on. Hollywood needs to make more films about submarines. The location perfectly lends itself to tension, claustrophobia and suspense. Crimson Tide never feels claustrophobic but it nails the other two effortlessly. If it wasn’t for Das Boot, this might be the best film about subs ever made.
Nov. 13—The Wolf House (2020)
Colonia Dignidad was a compound in Chile that for decades housed a cult led by Paul Schafer, a German who fled his country to escape charges of pedophilia. The colony was the site of a range of atrocities that included child sexual abuse, the torture and disappearing of political prisoners, and the physical and mental abuse of its members. The place also had ties to Nazi war criminals and the rise of Pinochet. Knowing that bit of history isn’t essential to understanding and enjoying this film but it does add some context. Since the film is heavily stylized and focuses more on visuals than plot, all that does is add another layer of heaviness to the film.
Without it, the wolf is just a wolf and the house is just a house and that works. That’s a fairy tale. If Jan Švankmajer, Yorgos lanthimos and The Quay Brothers had a baby, that baby would be The Wolf House. That’s the type of dark fantasy this film operates under. But with that context, that wolf is now a cult and that house is a prison. It never beats you over the head with its metaphors. You either know what it is or you don’t and again, either way works. I didn’t know beforehand and I just thought it was about mental illness and learning to live with the wolf trying to break in, instead of keeping him at bay and I still loved it. It’s a beautiful, surreal onion with each layer being more thought provoking than the last.
Nov. 14—Grizzly (1976)
If the saying “good artists borrow and great artists steal” is true, than William Girdler is among the greatest artists of the 20th century. The man was a notorious rip off artist, so much so, that his film Abby (which is still one of the only films to be pulled from theaters for being a blatant knock off of another film. In this case The Exorcist) is still impossible to see. Most of his films weren’t blatant forgeries but he clearly had no problem stealing another film’s plot wholesale. Case in point: Grizzly aka Jaws with a bear. It’s the exact same movie down to the character types and the film’s structure.
Three guys go into the woods to hunt a giant man-eating grizzly. It’s ridiculously shameless but since Girdler was as much a showman as he was a thief, his films were never less than entertaining. He knew how to get your ass into the seat and he knew how to keep you there. By having outrageous moments every ten to fifteen minutes and creating characters you like just enough to keep from getting bored in the interim. Grizzly sure as hell doesn’t have a Hooper or a Brody or a Quint but it does have a bear knocking the head off of a horse, ripping the arms off of a child and has a couple likeable enough leads which for an exploitation film, is more than enough.
Nov. 15—Doom Asylum (1988)
An obscure Z grade slasher that refers to itself as a “horror comedy”, Doom Asylum is known only to the die hard horror fanatics and fans of cinematic torture and I’d argue neither one remembers it fondly. It’s the kind of film you only think of when someone else mentions it. And odds are, they’re only mentioning it because they’re trying to list every bad slasher of the 80s. The only reason I don’t hate this film, is due to the kills, which are legit great and the killer doesn’t look half bad. But everything else is painful.
Like I mentioned before, this is allegedly a horror comedy (the killer has one liners, every character says some stupid ass pun before they die and there’s other bits of “slapstick comedy” strewn about) but it is neither funny nor scary. It has maybe 40 minutes of good ol’ slasher entertainment buried under clips of other movies and a bunch of other filler. Don’t let the fancy Blu-ray cover fool you, this is a stinker.
Nov. 16—The Undertaker (1988)
Poor Joe Spinell. He started the decade making one of the most notoriously violent films ever made and ended it with a very loose rip-off of his own film. If Frank Zito from Maniac worked at a mortuary and was slightly less deranged and a helluva more drunk, you’d essentially have this film. That’s basically the plot in a nutshell: crazy guy who kills people works at a mortuary and the teacher of his missing nephew starts to suspect he had something to do with his disappearance. It’s a shampoo commercial of tits and killings. The undertaker stalks a victim, we see her naked (they’re almost always taking a shower before they get slaughtered) and then he kills her. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. That’s all there is to this movie and I don’t begrudge anyone who considers that enough to press play.
Nov. 17—Female Trouble (1974)
This is John Waters’ favorite film he made with Divine and I can see why. Multiple Maniacs made them underground legends, Pink Flamingos made them cult sensations but Female Trouble proved they were more than just smut peddlers, they were legit artists. Make no mistake, Waters and his merry band of perverts were still as shocking as ever, but it feels that this movie was his first attempt at grafting his trademark sleaze onto an actual story. It’s thirty years in the life of Dawn Davenport (Divine), from rebellious teen, to eventual serial killer. Her tale is a tragic downward spiral that all begins when she didn’t get cha-cha heels for Christmas. Shockingly progressive and hilariously un-PC, Female Trouble pushes the boundaries of good taste while simultaneously telling an entertaining story that also showcases Divine’s acting abilities. He’s legitimately funny here and Waters’ direction is leagues better than his previous two films. This might not be their most iconic collaboration but this is where the magic crystallized.
Nov. 18—The Comic (1985)
Sometimes the hardest job of a critic or film reviewer or whatever label you want to classify me as, is trying to figure out the why behind certain movies. As in why was this made? What about this story compelled anyone involved in its production to want to tell it. The only way to describe this movie is through horribly inadequate fractions. You take 10% of A Clockwork Orange’s dystopian future setting, mix it with 15% of Joker’s crazy man turned comic plot and add in 75% turn of the century alleys and a healthy dose of smoke machines and you have a vague picture in your head of what this movie is. And I guarantee you, whatever you’re picturing is considerably better than this movie. Fed up with constantly getting rejected by comedy clubs, a stand-up comic murders a competitor for a job and in an unlikely twist, proves far more popular.
After becoming a bit of a local celebrity, gets mixed up with a stripper who then adds a mild complication to his life. It’s ridiculous how many opportunities this film decides to drive right by. The film begins with the murder of a comic by a fellow comedian which you would think would create a subplot involving someone trying to nail him for the murder but nope. There’s a stripper with a drug addiction who you would think would be his undoing but not really. You’d think that since he killed once, he’d have to kill more people to cover his tracks or getting higher in the business but no sir, doesn’t happen. So little actually happens in this movie, that at a certain point, you can’t help but wonder why. Why was this made? I truly didn’t know but I’m so glad it does.
Nov. 19—Extraction (2020)
If Man on Fire was directed by one of the guys who made John Wick, it would be Extraction. Both films have similar protagonists, both have similar plots and they both almost end the exact same way. The only difference between the two is that this film gets to the action immediately, whereas the other takes its time. Washington feels like a restrained John Wick in that, where Hemsworth in this feels like Wick the bodyguard. He has to escort a kid with a target on his back from point A to point B without either one of them dying and since there’s about three hundred heavily armed guys in between those two points, it’s not going to be easy. Filled with near non-stop action and excitement, Extraction is the type of movie that knows what it is, knows what you want and delivers more than you were hoping for.
Nov. 20—Witchboard (1986)
Younger generations will never understand why horror fans of my age range or older watched so much trash. It’s not because we like it or actively seek it out but because we have a higher tolerance for shit. We judge things slightly different than people who have instant access to anything they want to see. If we wanted to watch a movie, we had to rent it and regardless of its quality, we were going to finish it because we were invested, damn it! If it had the minimum amount of tits and gore, we’d consider it money well spent. Witchboard is one of those movies. It’s not a film anyone would rent twice but it’s just good enough that you wouldn’t return it asking for a refund. Essentially Ouija: The Movie, the film is about a woman (the gorgeous Tawny Kitaen and her even more gorgeous hair) slowly getting possessed by a Ouija board and two fellas trying to save her. It’s slow, has a small kill count and there’s only like 8 seconds of nudity but the last fifteen minutes aren’t terrible and it moves along at a nice pace. It’s considerably better than Ghoulies and EVERYONE rented that, so.
Nov. 21—Night Killer (1990)
I don’t even know where to begin with this crazy fucking movie. Do I start with the fact that it was directed by Claudio Fragasso, director of the notoriously awful Troll 2? Or how about the fact that this is sold in Italy as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 even though the film has neither a chainsaw or a massacre and isn’t set in Texas? I guess I should start with the plot because it’s the wildest thing about it. Immediately after being brutally tortured and raped for hours by a serial killer, a woman is kidnapped by a completely different scumbag who proceeds to mentally and emotionally fuck with her for some unknown reason.
Since the woman went into shock after her ordeal, she can’t remember what the killer looks like; a fact that the scumbag may or may not know. Is he the serial killer who kidnapped her before and is trying to get her to remember so that he can finish the job or is he someone else playing an even more insidious game? Night Killer is what a crazy person thinks a horror movie is. There’s nudity but it’s always off putting. There’s kills but they’re all the same (the killer wears a Freddy Kruger type claw hand which can somehow punch through a woman’s stomach). And there’s not a scare anywhere to be found even on accident. It’s not as entertainingly bad as Troll 2 but it easily outdoes that film in pure WTFuckery.
Nov. 22—Leptirica (1973)
Leptirica (or The She-Butterfly as it’s also known) is Serbia’s first horror film and that’s the most note worthy thing about it. There’s a reason even die hard horror fans have never heard of this. It’s mind numbingly boring, which is almost impressive considering it’s barely an hour. In order to impress the father of the woman he intends on marrying, a young man decides to hunt down and eliminate the fabled She Butterfly that’s been attacking local farmers and the like. Now, that sounds like a great premise and would be perfect for a short folklore horror story but there’s one problem: I made up the connective tissue that binds the two stories together.
There’s a young man in love with a young woman and he wants to marry her and the father says no and there’s a killer ghoul attacking the town that he and a group of local jackasses go after. There is nothing linking these two completely unrelated stories together and it’s not like they’re both given equal screen time. It’s about 15% love story, 15% hunting the monster, 5% monster attacking people and 65% of the young man and the local jackasses talking about nothing. If the film had at least two more monster scenes, gave the love story the screen time it deserves and prioritized the hunting of the She Butterfly, this could’ve been an underseen gem instead of a mildly interesting foreign curio.
Nov. 23—Mister Frost (1990)
It’s maddening watching this film consistently stumble over itself when the better story is right fucking there when it chooses to focus on everything other than the obvious gold. After two years of absolute silence, a notorious serial killer finally starts talking but only to his newly appointed psychiatrist. That’s the film. A psychological cat and mouse game between a man who thinks he’s the Devil and the doctor who’s going to challenge that belief or vice versa. Is Mister Frost actually the Devil and will he win the soul of the doctor or will the doctor convince this psycho he’s just a fucking loony? It’s not the most original set up in the world but when the titular Frost is played by Jeff Goldblum, that’s your fucking movie.
Every time he opens his mouth, the film is on fire but unfortunately the film wants to keep him silent for parts of it and even worse, spend time on characters no one gives a fuck about. This could’ve been a one location, two character play with Goldblum monologuing non-stop about the nature of good and evil and other such trite bullshit and I would’ve been happy as a clam. That’s how good he is in this but alas, we got a film that spends less than half it’s runtime with the character the film is named after and more time on characters who are effected by his evil. Goddamn it movie, you had one job.
Nov. 24—Hit List (1989)
William Lustig doesn’t get enough credit as a fun genre director. His name only ever comes up when discussing Maniac and even then, only in relation to the fact that he directed it in the first time. People only ever talk about how controversial it is or how unpleasant it is or how great Joe Spinell was but never the direction. Nor do they ever mention his entertaining action flicks like Vigilante, The Expert or his Maniac Cop trilogy. And they certainly don’t talk about the underseen Hit List. To keep witnesses and former associates from squealing, a mob boss on trial (Rip Torn) sends out a massive kill order on everyone who could potentially send him away but when a hitman (Lance Henriksen) accidentally kidnaps the wrong kid after a address mix up, the father (Jan Michael Vincent) goes on a one man rampage against the entire mafia.
I always found it odd that James Cameron originally wanted Henriksen to play the Terminator when he looks like a 130 pound skeleton but after watching this movie, I get it. He’s a badass in this and his role will go down as an all-time great underrated villain performance. He’s constantly hopping and flipping and doing all sorts of wild shit. The last action set piece involves him moving all over a moving car, like an insane snake with knives for hands. The rest of the movie around him is good as well (Jan Michael Vincent is good enough and Rip Torn is having the time of his life chewing every bit of scenery) with the stand outs being Henriksen (obviously) and the stunts. There’s a lot of fun in this folks.
Nov. 25—Effects (1979)
A no budget regional horror film made with a handful of Romero’s regulars (Joe Pilato, Tom Savini, John Harrison aka the “screwdriver zombie”), Effects is about a couple of crew members of a company shooting a horror film who start to suspect that the “killings” in the movie are real, and that they are actually making a “snuff” film. Movies like Mute Witness and 8MM have used similar premises to great effect but this film really doesn’t do anything with that set up. By the time Pilato realizes that the production might not be on the up and up, the film is just about to start its third act. Up to that point, very little happens. Savini is a dick, the director is an asshole, the women are annoying bitches and everyone else besides Pilato are forgettable. As are the things they do. I compare this film to a little girl’s training bra: it’s nothing but padding and is only useful to a small group of people for a small amount of time.
Nov. 26—Uncle Peckerhead (2020)
One of the first things they teach you in any writing class, is to understand the difference between premise and plot. It’s very simple to tell the two apart, one is what the story is and the other is what the story is about. Or, it would be if every story had both. Uncle Peckerhead is an example of a premise in search of a plot. Three punks find out that their newly acquired roadie is a cannibalistic monster. It’s a fun premise but what’s the film actually about? Sadly, nothing. The story begins and ends at that elevator pitch.
It almost looks like it’s going to do something interesting with that set up on account of the fact that he can control his murderous impulses and that 75% of the band seem pretty cool with the fact that he kills people but the film really doesn’t go anywhere.
There’s no tension because there’s no escalation or actual threat, there’s no scares because his attacks are always provoked and there’s really no build up to anything. They’re cool with him until they’re not and then they’re afraid of him and then the film sort of runs out of steam and ends. This would’ve worked far better as a 20 minute short.
Nov. 27—Home For The Holidays (1995)
For most Americans, seeing their relatives on the holidays is an honest to God nightmare. Some of us left the nest for a reason but since we’re all unfortunately shackled to them by blood, we’re obligated to see them a handful of times a year. That’s why there’s so many comedies made about that time of year. Watching other people suffer through the same ordeal is damn near cathartic. We can point at them and say, “well at least my family isn’t that bad!” Family reunions/get togethers can be brutal. The best films that deal with that have to perform a high wire act in order to successfully balance between the awkwardness that comes when someone says the wrong thing and the confrontation that inevitably follows suit shortly after with the joy of seeing the handful of relatives you actually do like and catching up after time apart.
Home For the Holidays does too good a job at the former and forgets to focus enough on the latter. Every second Holly Hunter spends with her horrible family, I wanted to jump off of a cliff. Her parents are loving but obnoxious, her sister is a bitch, her brother in law is a dick and her aunt is a loon. The only family member worth a damn (and the only good thing about the movie), is her gay brother played by Robert Downey Jr. He’s loud, abrasive and annoying as hell but he gets her. He might be a handful but when she talks, he truly listens. A movie about him and his actual family spending Thanksgiving together looked like it could’ve been delightful but I, like him, am stuck in a movie that doesn’t want me to have fun. It’s a cynical, mean spirited look at families that, while accurate, is a tad too much to fully enjoy.
Nov. 28—Waitress (2007)
Sweeter than pie and twice as adorable, Waitress is the film Juno would be if Juno never won the Oscar. Jenna (Kerri Russell) is a pregnant, unhappily married waitress in the deep south who’s only joy in life is baking pie. When a newcomer arrives in town (Nathan Fillion), the two fall into an unlikely relationship as a last attempt at happiness for both of them. A bittersweet tale of being stuck in a life you never wanted, the film is never weighed down by the harsh reality of Jenna’s situation and somehow feels uplifting in spite of her life and circumstances. Although she’s in a horribly abusive relationship with her husband (Jeremy Sisto), her perseverance and strong will, as well as her support system (Cheryl Hines, Adrian Shelley), keep the film from ever becoming hard to watch. It never becomes a battered woman soap opera but instead a realistic portrayal of small town americana and one woman’s journey to get the fuck out of it. By any means necessary. It’s hilarious, it’s poignant and heartbreakingly honest. And damn did those pies look good.
Nov. 29—Open 24 Hours (2007)
Newly released from prison and in desperate need of employment, Mary (Vanessa Grasse) decides to work at a 24 hour gas station and all seems well until her past trauma starts bleeding into her life to such a degree, that the line between reality and fantasy become indistinguishable. Suffering from extreme PTSD and audio and visual hallucinations due to her ex being a notorious serial killer who made her watch his killings, Mary starts hearing and seeing him everywhere she goes. Is she going crazy or is he back and looking for revenge? A solid directorial debut, Open 24 Hours is a brutal and slightly nihilistic slasher that assaults the viewer with carnage and visceral action. It’s not as violent as say Haute Tension (a film this film openly homages) but once the blood starts following, it doesn’t stop. A great watch for gorehounds but all others, beware.
Nov. 30—The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (2018)
A dialogue heavy, one location drama, The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is 12 Angry Men if the jurors themselves were all on trial. To prevent further bloodshed from copycat shootings, an ex-cop (James Badge Dale) comes out of retirement to interrogate his old militia buddies to find out which one of them shot up a police funeral. If police procedures ain’t your bag, stay far away from this film because it’s nothing but a series of interrogations. A puzzle built on lies and facts that don’t add up, the film forces you to pay attention in order to piece it all together. It’s a smartly written, claustrophobic thriller with a great twist.
What did you watch this month?