Films I Saw in April 2019

Films I Saw is a self explanatory monthly column dedicated to cataloging each and every film I saw within that month. Each film will be given a grade and a mini review. 


 

April 1 — In the Realms of the Unreal

Everyone who knew Henry Darger assumed his apartment would be filled with jars of old urine and discarded tuna cans after he died but when he eventually did, nobody could’ve guessed a man who was described as reclusive, a bit eccentric and oddly obsessed with the weather was actually working on a novel 5x bigger than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The novel The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glodeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Cased by the Child Slave Rebellion is 15,145-page manuscript along with hundreds of paintings and drawings.

The film documents Darger’s life as well as recounting the story he was working on his entire life. When it focuses on the magical Vivian Girls, it’s fascinating but gets a bit dull when it’s about Darger. Which I guess is the point but I would’ve just preferred a 30 minute animated short adapting his work. It’s really out there.

Grade: D


April 2 — The Magic Blade

Truth be told, I was drunk off my ass when I watched this, so I barely remember anything about it. There’s a magical MacGuffin, some kung fu, a scene involving battle chess and an ending that has more twists than that forgettable Travolta film Basic. That’s about it.

Vodquil kids, not even once.

Grade: D


April 3 — Munchausen

The story of Baron Munchausen has been retold many times over the years (most notably by Terry Gilliam) and for good reason. It’s the same basic set-up as Orlando (minus the sex changin’) but far more fantastical and action packed. He’s an immortal that gets into all sorts of adventures over the course of about 300 years, give or take a century.

While not as good as the aforementioned Gilliam version (or the 1962 version, which I’ll stop bringing up once everyone on Earth has seen it), the 1943 one is still very enjoyable. It hits all the same beats and is equally as gorgeous but it’s missing the magic the other two have.

Grade: C


April 4 — Love on a Leash

On a technical level, not a single thing about this film works. The sound cuts in and out at random, the acting is abysmal, the script is overly dramatic and yet at the same time, cartoonishly dumb, the actor they got to voice the dog doesn’t act or sound anything like the guy they got to play the human version of the dog and the editing is as bad as it gets. This is the definition of bad filmmaking.

But a film is more than just its technical merits. While the film is unwatchable by any metric, it still manages to provide an unbelievably entertaining experience from the first frame to the last. Its ineptness drew me in but its batshit insane story kept me engaged. A man gets turned into a dog by an unseen witch and the only way to break the curse is to get a woman to fall in love with him. There have been countless variations of this premise and while the story might be original, its execution certainly is.

I could spend more time talking about this film’s plot than Endgame and that is double the length. That’s how much crazy shit happens in this film. Literally every 3 minutes there’s a new storyline, each more nonsensical than the last.

If you’re a fan of the Room or the work of Neil Breen, I highly recommend Love on a Leash.

Grade: WTF


April 5 — Shazam!

Who would’ve thought that all DC had to do to right the ship, was to make a film that was fun and not grim dark? Reminiscent in tone to the Raimi Spider-Man films, Shazam! is a big ol’ goofy comedy that fully embraces the inherent silliness of comics. Notice I said comedy and not superhero film because even though it’s a film about a man in tights with super powers, the film is at its best when it focuses on the funny and not the Bang! Pow! fighty scenes. That’s not to say the fight scenes detract from the film, it’s just that they’re a far weaker element than the human element and humor. Much like how no one could’ve predicted that Iron Man—a character nobody knew before the film—would go on to create the MCU, Shazam, not Batman or Superman, might be the character to save the DCEU. All because he’s fun and not dour. Who would’ve thought that’s what fans want?

*Cough* Marvel *cough*.

Grade: B+


April 6 — On a Comet

Based on a Jules Verne story, On a Comet tells the story of a comet passing over Earth pulling a small part of Africa along with it. The main characters somehow end up on the comet but then they’re not but then they are again and there’s dinosaurs for some reason and pirates and I was drunk. But I have a feeling I still wouldn’t have understood it if I was sober.

It’s one of the few films I was happy ended with the ol’ it was all a dream…

Grade: C

 


April 7 — The Stolen Airship

Five youths accidentally steal an airship, which sets off a series of comical misadventures. There’s the nefarious spy who uses all sorts of gadgets (such as fake arms and realistic masks) to get what he wants, the government who wants the airship because it was supposedly made with non flammable gas (it wasn’t) and the pirate Nemo even shows up for a bit.

The story is a bit messy but all the elements are there for a really awesome remake. Tim Burton is about due for another stop motion movie. Just saying.

Grade: C+


April 8 — Sita Sings the Blues

Sita Sings the Blues is an animated reenactment of the epic Indian tale of Ramayana set to the 1920s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw. After her breakup, Nina Paley finds comfort in Indian mythology and begins to develop a sort of kinship with Sita, a woman, according to the story, unjustly murdered by her God husband for being “tainted”. It’s a wholly unique take on religion by filtering it through an animated musical narrated by three unreliable, often bickering deities that serve as a sort of guide through the complexities of the story.

It’s weird but very charming.

Grade: C+


April 9 — The Boy With the Green Hair

A film that should be a simple albeit fantastical premise (a boy’s hair suddenly turns green for no apparent reason) becomes an extremely bizarre allegory for accepting those who are different but then shifts into a slight propaganda message about war orphans. I have no idea what this film wants to be but I was never bored by it.

Go support war orphans, I guess.

Grade: C+


April 10 — Strings

Strings is a fantasy adventure about a young prince setting off to avenge his slain father told entirely with marionette puppets. It’s ambitious as hell and I am definitely in awe at what director Anders Rønnow Klarlund accomplished but I just wish he used it to tell a more interesting story. Much like Hardcore Henry or the Cell, Strings is nothing but amazing visuals in service to nothing.

Grade: D


April 11 — Aquaman

There might not be a property with higher highs and lower lows than DC. For every Dark Knight and Superman 2, there’s a Suicide Squad or a Catwoman. At this point, seeing one of their films is about a 50-50 gamble. It’s either lucky 7’s or snake eyes. There’s almost no in between.

Aquaman is the equivalent of winning a good chunk of change at a casino, immediately losing it all but then leaving with what you went in with. As long as you kept getting the complementary drinks, you technically didn’t lose anything.

Grade: C+


April 12 — Pet Sematary

You know those bowls of fake fruit companies use to make a whatever table their selling look more appealing? Other than being a tangible thing you can touch and look at, they serve no purpose other than to confuse people into believing they’re the real thing? That’s this movie. At first glance, it’s a movie. It’s got a pretty solid cast of actors and its got a nice shine to it but on closer inspection, it’s fool’s gold. It’s a cardboard cutout. There’s nothing to it.

It’s boring as hell, it’s not scary in the least and not a single interesting thing happens the entire runtime. Sometimes dead is better.

I know a million critics have already made the same joke but fuck it.

Grade: D-

 


April 13 — Puncture

I will watch anything Chris Evans is in. Even mediocre John Grisham, Erin Brockovich-esque, law dramas. The film’s heart is in the right place but unlike the drug addicted main character, it never manages to hit a vein.

Grade: C-


April 14 — The Addiction

A philosophy student gets bit by a vampire and then annoyingly pontificates while draining people of their blood. Lili Taylor is amazing as the lead but I found the film almost insufferable. And to all those Christopher Walken fans who’ll watch anything he’s in, although he’s second billed, he has maybe five minutes of screen time.

Grade: C

 


April 15 — Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades

The Lone Wolf and Cub movies aren’t dissimilar from say the James Bond series or the Zatoichi films in that you have to have a slightly different set of parameters in which to grade them. The plots are almost besides the point and honestly, they all start to bleed together by the end. You know the duo will walk into town, meet someone with a problem and then solve said problem with bloody violence. Since the series has no conclusion, you could watch them out of order or skip a couple and you’d be completely fine.

Again, like the James Bond and Zatoichi films, if you like one of these films, odds are, you’ll like the entire series. They’re meat and potatoes, no filler action flicks.

(I’m going to copy and paste this for each entry because like I said, they’ve all bled together and I honestly can’t remember which one is which.)

Grade: B+

 


April16 — Tag

Forgive me for indulging in idle speculation but I feel as though this film was born out of a series of insane dreams the director had, which was then pieced together by a third party who really didn’t understand a single goddamn thing he heard. Taken individually, Tag has some of the most original set pieces put to film but as a whole, the film feels extremely messy.

Grade: C


April 17 — Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart in Peril

The Lone Wolf and Cub movies aren’t dissimilar from say the James Bond series or the Zatoichi films in that you have to have a slightly different set of parameters in which to grade them. The plots are almost besides the point and honestly, they all start to bleed together by the end. You know the duo will walk into town, meet someone with a problem and then solve said problem with bloody violence. Since the series has no conclusion, you could watch them out of order or skip a couple and you’d be completely fine.

Again, like the James Bond and Zatoichi films, if you like one of these films, odds are, you’ll like the entire series. They’re meat and potatoes, no filler action flicks.

Grade: B


April 18 — Triple Frontier

Fun fact about this movie: it was in development for so long, almost every major A list star was attached to it at one point or another. Tom Hanks and Johnny Depp signed on to co-star but then left, as did Denzel Washington and Sean Penn. Then it was rewritten and DiCaprio was set to star but then he left. Will Smith and Mahershala Ali came a board but they too left and then finally, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum were the last ones to finally join and then leave the project before Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac made the film.

Which begs the question, what the fuck was the film before the rewrite that attracted so many talented actors to it? Because the film as it is now, is not much more than a watered down version of the Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Triple Frontier is fine, it’s watchable but it’s very hard to give a shit once you know it almost starred Hanks and Depp as government assassins. I would pay anything to see that gonzo ass version of this movie.

Grade: C


April 19 — Lone Wolf and the Cub: Baby Cart in the Land of Demons

The Lone Wolf and Cub movies aren’t dissimilar from say the James Bond series or the Zatoichi films in that you have to have a slightly different set of parameters in which to grade them. The plots are almost besides the point and honestly, they all start to bleed together by the end. You know the duo will walk into town, meet someone with a problem and then solve said problem with bloody violence. Since the series has no conclusion, you could watch them out of order or skip a couple and you’d be completely fine.

Again, like the James Bond and Zatoichi films, if you like one of these films, odds are, you’ll like the entire series. They’re meat and potatoes, no filler action flicks.

Grade: B


April 20 — Little Fugitive

Massively important, Little Fugitive is one of the biggest influences on the French New Wave. Which doesn’t surprise me in the least, considering it’s boring as hell. It’s almost nothing but a kid fucking around Coney Island for an hour and a half. He rides some rides, eats some ice cream and collects discarded bottles for coins. That’s about it.

Francois Truffault, this one’s all yours buddy.

Grade: C


April 21 — Lone Wolf and Cub: White Heaven in Hell

The Lone Wolf and Cub movies aren’t dissimilar from say the James Bond series or the Zatoichi films in that you have to have a slightly different set of parameters in which to grade them. The plots are almost besides the point and honestly, they all start to bleed together by the end. You know the duo will walk into town, meet someone with a problem and then solve said problem with bloody violence. Since the series has no conclusion, you could watch them out of order or skip a couple and you’d be completely fine.

Again, like the James Bond and Zatoichi films, if you like one of these films, odds are, you’ll like the entire series. They’re meat and potatoes, no filler action flicks.

Grade: B


April 22 — Spartacus

It’s amazing this film works at all, considering it was a film Kubrick didn’t really give a fuck about, had an extremely troubled production that lasted forever and had Charles Laughton acting like a diva bitch to everyone. But in spite of the myriad of problems it suffered, it’s still one of the best sword and sandal epics ever. My only quibble would be, outside of the iconic “I am Spartacus” moment, there is no memorable action scene. Ben-Hur had the amazing chariot race and the Ten Commandments (not a sword and sandal film but still an epic of the time) had the parting of the Red Seas but Spartacus doesn’t really have that showstopper moment. There’s the fight in the gladiator pit and the battle at the end but neither are super memorable. Which is weird considering Kubrick is a director who’s films have nothing but iconic moments but it just goes to show you, even when he half assess it, he still produces an epic.

Grade: B


April 23 — Flying Phantom Ship

Part ghost story, part kaijū action movie, part coming-of-age tragedy, part Scooby-Doo mystery, Flying Phantom Ship is an amalgamation of almost every genre. Which is all the more impressive considering its only 60 minutes long. It may not always make sense but it’s never dull. Oh and the design of the ghost pirate is rad as shit.

Grade: C+


April 24 — Allegro Non Troppo

More surreal than satirical, Allegro Non Troppo is a bizarre send up of Disney’s Fantasia. The live action bits, which feel like an out-of-control Marx Brothers skit weirdly taking aim at animated musicals, is far more entertaining than the animated bits. It’s not bad but if this is their attempt to attack Disney, they showed up with a water gun instead of a pistol.

Grade: D


April 25 — Escape Room

“It’s like Saw but for millennials.”

Put that quote on the DVD case. And then chuck the DVD into the river.

The characters are unlikable, the dialogue is ridiculous, the puzzles are either retarded baby easy or impossible to solve, the ending is forehead slappingly stupid and it doesn’t do a single fun or original thing. It’s a colossal waste of time.

Grade: F


April 26 — Avengers Endgame

It’s hard to talk about Endgame because the entire film, from frame one, is technically a spoiler. The trailers did an amazing job of creating hype without actually showing you anything. So I’ll only talk about it in the vaguest way possible. I liked it but much like Civil War, it’s a film that has a shit ton of great moments but has a story that’s extremely wobbly. Certain things could’ve been easily fixed and others you just have to accept in order to enjoy it and I get that but if this film nailed it’s premise and was air tight, I think it would’ve been better than Infinity War. It’s still an amazing experience that, in spite of its problems, gives closure to a decade long, 22 film series. The MCU is pretty much over as far as I’m concerned and I’m fine with that. It’s been a hell of a ride.

Grade: B+


April 27 — Phantom Boy

Although Hollywood produces at least a dozen superhero films a year, there are very few that aren’t based on a comic; with The Incredibles and Unbreakable being the two biggest examples. While Phantom Boy is no where near as good as those films, it should be a bit more well known.

At a hospital in New York, a police officer meets a boy who has the ability to get out of his body and pass through walls like a ghost. Together they team up with a journalist named Mary, to capture a villain who looks like a Picasso painting who’s terrorizing the city.

It’s original, does enough original things with the genre to feel fresh and has a ton of heart. Much like the underrated Sleight, Phantom Boy is definitely a hidden gem and a nice diversion from the Marvel machine.

Grade: C+

 


April 28 — Battle Royale High School

Back before you could find anything on the internet, the only way to see the really crazy shit when you where younger, was by way of the neighborhood Dermot. Every neighborhood has a Dermot. That kid that’s a little bit older than all the other kids and usually dresses in camo and is perpetually up to no good. Nothing serious, just the occasional dumpster fire or throwing firecrackers at dogs to get em riled up. They brag about their karate skills and if you hang out with one long enough, they’ll eventually slow you shit you’re probably way too young to see.

Battle Royale High School is that movie.

It makes absolutely no sense but it’s filled with almost non-stop action, bloody gore and there’s even the occasional titty. It did very little for me but if I saw this at eleven or twelve with a Dermot, it probably would’ve been my favorite movie for about a month.

Grade: C


April 29 — Alabama’s Ghost

There’s a reason certain B movie directors have a fanbase and others don’t. Directors like Ed Wood or Andy Sidaris or Albert Pyun never let their limitations get in the way of their vision. Their problem wasn’t a lack of funds but an over abundance of ideas with no idea how to get them all on screen. Their films aren’t remembered because of their low productions and technical flaws (there’s a million terrible films in the world), they’re remembered because of the ambition.

Frederic Hobbs is nothing if not ambitious.

Alabama’s Ghost should be a simple story about a janitor who finds a box of magic tricks belonging to a famous dead magician, who then gets his comeuppance because he uses it for greed instead of blah blah blah. It should be a simple morality play but Hobbs isn’t a simple director. Instead, it becomes an overly convoluted gang war between a group of Nazi vampires and a coven of voodoo practitioners with the main character—who’s also a wizard—stuck in the middle. There’s also a lot of funk music and a robot. Oh and a racist ghost.

Is Alabama’s Ghost a good movie? Who knows but I do know a good director couldn’t have made it more entertaining.

Grade: WTF

 


April 30 — Bloody New Year

One of the reasons streaming will never replace renting from a movie store like Blockbuster, is the nostalgic feeling of taking a chance on an unknown film due solely on the strength of its cover. Lower budgeted films had to sell you on the movie within a three second glance and some of them weren’t above lying to get your money. Whether it was depicting scantily clad super models that didn’t appear in the film or awesome monster designs that were bold faced lies, VHS and DVD covers had to get your ass in the seat by any means necessary.

The cover of Bloody New Year technically doesn’t lie to you. It is set during a New Year’s party and people die. But fuck is that cover far better than the movie it’s attached to. It’s essentially 80 minutes of annoying characters fucking around a haunted island and then 10 minutes of (slightly) cool stuff happening.

Skip it and watch House (1985) instead.

Grade: D-