Films I Saw in May 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.


May 1 — Fool’s Fire (1992)

A crippled dwarf (Michael Anderson) is forced to become jester to a tyrannical king, but when the king abuses and imprisons a beautiful dwarf with whom the jester is in love with, the jester plots a terrible revenge. Based on the story “Hop-Frog” by Edgar Allen Poe and directed by Julie Taymor, Fool’s Fire is a televised play that, much like the director’s stage work, is unique in that all the characters except the titular Hop-Frog are either elaborate puppets or masks. The uncanny valley of the puppets is unsettling but nevertheless completely mesmerizing.

Grade: C+


May  2 — Demon Within (1985)

Take the film Ghoulies (1994), slash the budget in half, and set it in Japan and that’s Demon Within. A hilariously cheap monster movie with an adorable rubber demon puppet killing and/or impregnating everyone it comes in contact with. It’s not a good movie, but it is an entertaining one. With the right amount of booze.

Grade: D+


May 3 — Hesher (2010)

It feels like the screenwriters (for the purposes of this bit, let’s pretend one is wholesome, while the other is vulgar), played a game of Mad Libs and used that to piece together a script. One had questions that involved characters such as [blank] Calvin and Hobbs and [blank] Mary Poppins, while the other one filled in those blanks with profanities and pictures of dicks. It’s a heavy metal fantasy that’s sometimes guilty of the cliches it’s trying to subvert, but it’s worth watching for Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s performance alone.

Grade: B-



May  4 — The Wizard of Speed and Time (1988)

Based on a three-minute demo reel Mike Jittlov made in 1977 in an attempt to get a job at Disney Studios, the Wizard of Speed and Time is a wacky comedy loosely inspired by Jittlov’s real experiences as an independent stop motion director trying to make it in Hollywood. Similar in tone to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985), the film is a non-stop series of humorous misadventures that, although exaggerated for comedic effect, expose the predatory and ridiculous side of show business.

Grade: C


May 5 — Puss ‘N Boots Travels Around the World (1976)

In his next adventure after the 1969 Toei classic Puss ‘N Boots, Pero—the titular puss in boots—gets involved in a race around the world in order to win a bet. Based on the novel Around the World in 80 Days, PNBTATW is a gorgeously animated albeit slight kids film that isn’t on the same level as say a Miyazaki film but is still charming nonetheless.

Grade: C


May 6 — Robin Williams: Come Inside my Mind (2018)

Come Inside My Mind is n intimate look into the life and work of the legendary Robin Williams, a warts-and-all documentary that charts the highs and lows of one man’s incredible life. Featuring about 30% never before seen footage of Williams, as well as brand new interviews with his family and friends, this is essential viewing for every fan of the comedian.

Grade: B

 


May 7 — Boogie (2009)

Based on the comic Boogie, el aceitoso, Boogie centers on a hitman man who’s disregard for human life is matched only by his disdain for women. He’s a hardboiled anti-hero who’s tasked with assassinating a witness who’s going to testify against the mob but things get complicated when the witness turns out to be a hot woman. Acting as a parody of film noir, most notably Sin City (2005), Boogie is an ultra violent action comedy that’s entertaining enough but definitely outstays its welcome.

Grade: C


May 8 — The Humpbacked Horse (1975)

The Humpbacked Horse is animated movie about a boy, his ugly flying horse, and other assorted shit. Every month there’s about one or two movies I watch and then completely forget everything about them. This month, it’s The Humpbacked Horse.

Grade: D


May 9 — The Man with a Shotgun (1961)

Pale Rider by way of Seijun Suzuki, the film centers on a mysterious shotgun wielding wanderer who arrives in a remote mountain town, claiming to be a hunter. He quickly becomes embroiled in a web of trouble surrounding the town’s mill. While not as cool or as slick as his Yakuza flicks, the Man with the Shotgun is still a solid entry in Suzuki’s filmography.

Grade: B-


May 10 — The Great Buster (2018)

An insightful documentary about one of, if not the best comedians of the silent era. Filled with interviews from everyone from Carl Reiner, to James Karen, to Quentin Tarantino, to Johnny KnoxvillePeter Bogdanovich’s doc is a perfect primer for newcomers and has enough to entertain the die hard aficionados. If you saw this and liked it, I highly recommend the 1987 doc Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow.

Grade: B


May 11 — Dragged Across Concrete (2018)

With each film, S. Craig Zahler moves higher and higher on my list of favorite directors. He, like Tarantino before him, has fully embraced the gritty hard edged dramas of the late 60’s—early 70’s. When character and plot drove the story, not spectacular set pieces. Dragged Across Concrete is a film Hollywood stopped making decades ago. Although 48 hrs. (1982) was the first buddy cop comedy, it was also the last one to have any edge until now. This is an unpleasant film about unlikable people doing unsavory and illegal things for justifiable reasons, and I liked every minute of it.

Grade: B


May 12 — The Sweet Hereafter (1997)

A lawyer visits a small town to defend the families of a tragic bus crash but soon discovers that poking around in the past can have dire consequences. Frequently cited as one of the best films of the 90’s, The Sweet Hereafter is probably the most overrated film of that decade. The performances are great (especially Ian Holm) but outside of that, I don’t see what got critics all hot and bothered. I didn’t care about a single character, I wasn’t invested in the story, and, frankly, I was bored throughout. Unless you’re a big Holm fan, skip it.

Grade: C


May 13 — The Butterfly Murders (1979)

A journalist and a master assassin team up to solve a murder mystery at a peculiar castle. While there, they come across poisonous butterflies and a black-leather-clad killer. An odd combination of wuxia and giallo, the Butterfly Murders doesn’t entirely work, but it definitely gets points for originality.

Grade: D


May 14 — The Ghost Galleon (1974)

The third entry in Ossorio‘s Blind Dead series, the Ghost Galleon is about a group of people getting preyed upon by undead Satan-worshiping Knights Templar on a 16th century galleon. If that sounds even remotely interesting to you, then I apologize for overselling it, because what it really is, is ten minutes of someone walking around, seeing ghost zombies, running away from said ghost zombies and then eventually getting caught by those same ghost zombies. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Grade: F


May 15 — Night Shadows (1984)

Biological zombies with vaginal like cuts on their hands that ooze acid terrorize the deranged pimp from Vice Squad (Wings Hauser) and the cowboy you kind of remember from the Wild Bunch (Bo Hopkins) in this slightly enjoyable no-budget horror film. Go in with no expectations and the right amount of booze and you’ll probably have a good time with it.

Grade: C+


May 16 — Beyond the Rising Moon (1988)

I have a unique grading scale when it comes to certain movies. While others grade purely on how much they were entertained, I adjust my scales to accommodate budget. Bigger budgeted film aren’t scrutinized more because they have more money but since I watch a lot of independent films, I grade on a scale, I.E., ambition. Beyond the Rising Moon is a no budget sci-fi movie that is laughable compared to even the modestly budgeted films of the genre but although it was made with literal pennies, it really punches above its weight. The models are as good as anything you’d see in a Toho monster flick and the action isn’t terribly directed. The film’s reach far exceeds its grasp but you gotta give points for trying.

Grade: C

 


May 17 — Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

The mountain of obstacles this movie had to overcome to work were so innumerable, the fact that it only makes it about half way is still an amazing accomplishment. It’s not only based on a video game, which automatically doomed it from the start, but it was the first live action movie to adapt the most beloved property in existence. In terms of sheer numbers, Pokemon is the most popular and successful thing in the history of entertainment, so bringing that world to life was a huge undertaking. And for the most part, the film succeeds. It’s got an ok mystery plot, a whole bunch of pokemon action, and Deadpool voicing Pikachu. It’s not as successful as say, an Iron Man (2008), but as video game adaptations go, it’s probably the best.

Grade: C


May 18 — John Wick: Chapter 3–Parabellum (2019)

Few people could’ve predicted a film about a hitman getting revenge on the people who killed his dog would spawn one of the most action packed franchises in history, but here we are. I know the action is what brings the asses to the seats, but, personally, I’m far more interested in the comic book-esque mythology the series has slowly piecemealed out with each film. This film reveals a little bit more about the High Table and how they operate as well as glimpse into Wick’s past, but I’d like a bit more of the minutia of the inner workings of this world. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d actually prefer if they scaled back the action. Much like The Raid 2, there might be too much action. Which is a weird criticism considering its an action movie but since each set piece is designed to one–up the last, they start to lose their impact after awhile. But having said that, it’s still a blast.

Grade: B


May 19 — Something Wild (1986)

Remember that amazing first trailer for Wes Craven‘s Red Eye (2005)? It starts off as a typical romantic comedy with the cliched meet cute but then pulls the rug out from under you. It’s a highly effective bait and switch that might’ve played better if they didn’t reveal that it was a thriller in the trailer. While not going full blown horror, Something Wild does something slightly similar. It starts off as a screwball comedy and then takes a hard right turn into hard edged drama. That tonal shift may put off some, but I found it highly effective. It turned what could’ve easily been a trite love story into something far more interesting and memorable.

Grade: B


May 20 — Chan is Missing (1982)

Selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1995, Chan is Missing is one of the most important independent films ever made. Two cab drivers search all over San Francisco for the mysterious Chan, who disappeared with 4000 dollars of their money. The film’s plot is just window dressing. It’s only purpose is to string together a series of humorous vignettes that illuminate the many problems experienced by Chinese-Americans trying to assimilate into contemporary American society. Considering America is the most diverse country on Earth, you would think films like this would be commonplace, not an outlier, but much like the film’s namesake, representation in film still seems to be elusive.

Grade: B


May 21 — Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Being a Godzilla fan is not unlike being a fan of cheesy horror films: you have to sludge through a lot of boring yakety yak in order to get to the goods. Fans will forgive a lot as long as there’s an entertaining third act, which thankfully, Destroy All Monsters has and then some. Featuring a record breaking (at the time) eleven monsters, this is an all-out battle royale that takes a bit to get started, but once it does, it’s fun as shit.

Grade: C+


May 22 — Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)

I don’t get Italian horror. I’ve seen countless giallos and they’re all confusing and/or boring. And that pretty much applies to everything else the country produces that doesn’t fit within the giallo sub genre. Don’t Torture a Duckling is a slow as molasses murder mystery that isn’t scary, has almost no blood, and lacks the crazy ass third act most other Italian horror films have. For completionists only.

Grade: D


May 23 — The Hunter (1980)

Although based on a true story, the Hunter feels like a terrible Dirty Harry script Clint Eastwood read, turned down, and then fired the writer for having written. It’s boring, tonally inconsistent, unfunny, and worst of all, wastes Steve McQueen. This was his last film, and the man deserved better.

Grade: D-


May 24 — Housekeeping (1987)

When I look at the filmography of director Bill Forsyth, I’m reminded of the tragically short career of Elaine May. They were wholly original, idiosyncratic voices in comedy that were destined for greatness, but, unfortunately, both made a critical and commercial bomb that got them blacklisted from Hollywood forever. For May, it was the infamous Ishtar (1987) and for Forsyth, it was the critically reviled Being Human (1994). Neither is great by any means but the hate they received is nowhere near justified nor were they bad enough to kill their careers, but that’s Hollywood. Here today, gone tomorrow. But six years before it all came to an end, Forsyth released a charming little film about two sisters who end up living with their peculiar aunt after their mother’s suicide. It’s a warm film that has one of the best performances of the decade. Christine Lahti as Aunt Sylvia is a free spirit like Annie Hall but far less awkward. It’s a fantastic performance in an underseen film but that’s pretty much par for the course for Forsyth.

Grade: B


May 25 — Thunder 2 (1987)

The first Thunder, as entertaining as it was, was nothing more than a First Blood (1982) rip off. It literally traces that films plot, beat for beat, but done on a much smaller budget. It would stand to reason that a sequel to Thunder would do the same for Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) but wouldn’t you know it, cheaply made Italian knock offs don’t follow anyone’s idea of logic. Thunder 2 is somehow more of a clone of First Blood than the first, and that film was literally a carbon copy. It’s inexplicable as it is entertaining.

Grade: C


May 26 — OSS 117: Is Unleashed (1963)

The best parodies are the ones that aren’t just a collection of lazy references but are a comedic counter balance to a serious movie. Young Frankenstein (1974) and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) still work as comedies regardless of whether or not you’ve seen what they’re riffing on, but once you do, the jokes become 100× funnier. The same goes for the underseen OSS 117 comedies. I had seen both when they came out (OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2007) and OSS 117: Lost in Rio (2009)] and thought they were both hilarious but now having seen one of the original OSS 117 films, I get it. Created as a response to the popularity of James Bond, the OSS 117 series was a hit in its native France, but it barely made a dent in America. Which, due to the entry I saw, is slightly undeserved because it’s pretty entertaining. If you like old school Bond, OSS 117: Is Unleashed is a stripped down version of those films.

Grade: C


May 27 — Joe (1970)

Two men, Bill, a wealthy conservative (Dennis Patrick), and Joe, a far-right factory worker (Peter Boyle), form a dangerous bond after Joe figures out that Bill accidentally murders his daughter’s drug dealer boyfriend. With standout performances from the two leads and a plot that’s still relevant almost fifty years later, Joe is a fantastic political drama that feels more dread inducing than preachy.

Grade: B


May 28 — The Mutilator (1984)

A slasher film so painfully on the nose with its exposition, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a parody. Five college kids go to a friend’s fathers house to hang out (code for drinking and sex) and are picked off one by one by the deranged axe wielding pater familias. Outside of the decent gore effects, there’s really nothing here to recommend. Great tagline though.

Grade: D


May 29 — The Man With Two Brains (1982)

The pairing of Carl Reiner and Steve Martin is the closest anyone has come to recreating the non-stop joke machine that was the Marx Brothers. They made four movies together: The Jerk (1979), Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982), The Man with Two Brains (1983), and All of Me (1984). It was a short partnership, but it produced nothing but comedy gold. Their third movie, The Man with Two Brains, is about a brain surgeon (Steve Martin) who is caught in a love triangle between his diabolical wife (Kathleen Turner) and a brain in a jar. It’s a hysterical mad cap comedy that never stops throwing jokes at you, and while they may not all land, the ones that do, hit hard.

Grade: B


May 30 — The Perfection (2019)

There seems to be a trend that if social media becomes obsessed with a Netflix movie or show, it never lives up to the hype. Now, The Perfection isn’t the disaster Bird Box was but it’s nowhere near as over the top gruesome as its reputation suggests. If you are going to see it, I suggest going in cold because the film’s fun is built around its shocking revelations. It doesn’t always work, but it throws so many schlocky twists at you, that you’ll never be bored.

Grade: C+


May 31 — Blood Salvage (1990)

A bible thumping salvage man kidnaps people off of the highway in order to sell their organs on the black market. But he bites off a bit more than he can chew when he kidnaps a crippled beauty queen who doesn’t take no shit. If Rob Zombie and Tobe Hooper collaborated on a Troma film, the end result would be Blood Salvage.

Grade: D+