Sunday, January 08, 2017

BEST AND WORST OF 2016

2016 was a terrible year for world events. On that much we can probably agree. For me, it was definitely a stinkbomb for the ages personally, professionally and politically. What's worse is that there weren't a ton of good movies to take my mind off the crapfest going on outside the cineplex. The first four months of the year were predictably blah, until a fun Linklater movie landed around Tax Day to cheer me up. After that comes one of the worst summer movie seasons on record, the only films saving it from utter ruin coming out of left field at the end of August: a low-budget western and a home invasion horror movie. Once fall fell, the interesting, "challenging" movies finally started to drop...almost too many. By the end of August, I'd seen roughly 50 Year 2016 release movies. By the end of December, a whopping 130 movies (a record, even for me).

One positive to point out: It was an uncommonly good year for horror. Lots of innovation going on in that most maligned of genres. The Witch, Hush, Don't Breathe, The Love Witch, The Wailing, Train to Busan, The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Eyes of My Mother. It's almost as if 2016 was steeling us for the most horrific film of all...a 2017 Trump presidency.

Don't get me started. Let's save the ranting for all things film-related. Once again this year, my Best/Worst of 2016 was written with Twitter compatibility in mind, the brief write-ups retrofitted for 140 characters. In other words, you may once again have to do a little recreational Googling to know what the hell I'm talking about. But, hey, at least the accompanying pics from 2014 have returned to provide you with a little eye candy...

THE BEST



10) AMERICAN HONEY: What youth & freedom feel like circa 2016. Too many Top 40 sing-a-longs but, hey, least it's not just 3 hours of texting.



9) CHRISTINE: Good film, devastating Rebecca Hall performance. The "Yes, but…" group therapy scene was the most gut-wrenching thing I saw all year.



8) EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! Sublime hang-out flick & most "accidentally gay" as per John Waters. Someone give Linklater's ass a double victory tap.



7) ZERO DAYS: Yes, the Russians are hacking us, but this terrifyingly timely doc suggests we've jammed a Stuxnet worm up their bum already.



6) HELL OR HIGH WATER: Modern day western with great acting & a welcome anti-bank grudge. Doesn't reinvent the wheel, but still a darn good yarn.



5) THE HANDMAIDEN: Chan-wook knocks it outta the Park with a sexy, twisty con artist tale. The gaze is strong in this one, male or female.



4) ELLE: Pitch black comedy of a very specific woman's very uncommon response to very brutal assault. Only Huppert & Verhoeven could pull it off.



3) TONI ERDMANN: The best alt-Father's Day movie you ever want to see. Pair with Hallmark card, petit fours, nude office party, false teeth.



2) MOONLIGHT: Jenkins avoids soapbox "issues" movie trap with highly personal, precise vision. #OscarsSoWhite? Not this year. #OscarsSoMoonlight.



1) OJ: MADE IN AMERICA: An 8 hour ESPN doc is my #1?! Somebody slap me w/ an ill-fitting leather glove. But, hey, that was 2016 for you…more cray than OJ.

HONORABLE MENTIONS



A BIGGER SPLASH: Another luscious Guadagnino flick to make me pissed I'm not Italian or idle rich. Can't wait for his Suspiria riff.



GREEN ROOM: Brutally efficient backwoods punk thriller. Dead Kennedys jam as movie. Director Saulnier keeps getting more interesting.



THE NEON DEMON: God (&I) finally forgive Nic Refn. Excessive, sure, but style over substance is the theme. A treat for ears/edible eyeballs. Yum!



NOCTURNAL ANIMALS: I'll watch Amy Adams read the phone book for 2 hours. Especially if it's a noir phone book w/ dirty Texas cop Michael Shannon.



RAMS: Underseen gem about Icelandic sheepherder brothers with serious sibling rivalry issues. It's on Netflix: Put it in your queue. Or your ewe.

THE WORST



10) SAUSAGE PARTY: What if Don Rickles directed a Pixar movie? Race/religion jokes as stale as expired cold cuts. Food orgy needed more mustard.



9) LIGHTS OUT: Horror flick about on/off switches. Lights on, it's a Lifetime movie. Lights off, it's a Lifetime movie w/ dumb jump scares. Click!



8) THE ACCOUNTANT: Rain Man + hitman + taxman = crap, man. "On the spectrum" Affleck beating his shins with a stick is sadder than any Sad Affleck meme.



7) KNIGHT OF CUPS: I'll follow Malick's ponderous VO & Steadicam thru endless fields of wheat. West of the 5 Freeway, the pretense loses me.



6) SUICIDE SQUAD: Remember when David Ayer was interesting? (Training Day, Harsh Times, End of Watch). This movie completely forgets.



5) WAR DOGS: Tired Scorsese wannabe with soundtrack courtesy of a Midtown sports bar jukebox. Think I know where Jonah got that laugh tho!



4) INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE: Polar opposite of Arrival's smart, humanistic sci-fi. Happy 4th, America. This is the movie/prez you elected.



3) BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE: The most high-profile entry in Affleck's 2016 triple-fail. Snyder & DC are most to blame though.



2) THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: Most tedious remake cash-in of the year. By the numbers action & Sarsgaard as villain is 110% non-threatening.



1) SWISS ARMY MAN: Charlie Kaufman but after 6 bowls of chili & traumatic brain injury. For weirdness done right, see The Lobster instead.

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS



BLAIR WITCH: "Hey, what if we reboot Blair Witch?" "OK, how do we make it relevant for 2016?" "I don't know…" (long pause) "DRONES!!!!!!"



DOG EAT DOG: Schrader screws the pooch again, despite having Cage, Dafoe & solid Eddie Bunker source material. Bad dog! Woof!



THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN: Airport novel makes glorious leap to forgettable in-flight movie. Skip the plane, skip the Train, have a drink in the station.



KEANU: More meme than movie (enough w/ the cat in a headwrap already!) Hadn't seen any Key & Peele. Probably won't see much more now. Sorry.



YOGA HOSERS: At this point, I watch Kevin Smith joints solely to fill slots on my Worst List. Dude's dependable like that, eh?

SUPERLATIVES

Best Civil War Mumblecore: MEN GO TO BATTLE.

Best Hollywood Popcorn Movie Made in South Korea: THE WAILING.

Best Anthropomorphic Avian Performance: Steven Seagull in THE SHALLOWS.

Best Satanic Goat Performance: Black Phillip in THE WITCH.

Best "Huppardieu": The Isabelle Huppert/Gerard Depardieu dream team reunion in otherwise so-so VALLEY OF LOVE.

Best Herzog Doc: INTO THE INFERNO. Runner Up: LO AND BEHOLD. Werner does lava flows better than data streams.

Best Movie You Wish You Saw With Your Goth College Girlfriend: THE LOVE WITCH.

Greasiest Movie of the Year: THE GREASY STRANGLER. Runner-Up: THE FOUNDER (Michael Keaton McDonald's biopic no one saw, including me)

Most White Powder Blown Up Someone's Nose in South America Since Dennis Hopper Died: EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT

Most Overrated: BLANDCHESTER BY THE SEA, BLAH BLAH LAND, MIDNIGHT NOT-SO-SPECIAL, ROGUE YAWN: A STAR BORES STORY

Obligatory One Word Biopic Rankings: JACKIE > BARRY > SULLY > LOVING > SNOWDEN

Obligatory Frankfurter Related Rankings: WEINER doc > WIENER-DOG > SAUSAGE PARTY

"Please, For the Love of Yahweh, Apostatize Already!" Award: Andrew Garfield as Jesuit priest in fine but infuriatingly repetitive SILENCE.

Movie You're Most Surprised Appears Nowhere on My List But Here: HAIL, CAESAR! A fun if lesser Coens effort. Clooney Curse Strikes Again!

Most Anticipated Films of 2017: T2: TRAINSPOTTING, THE BEGUILED (Sofia Coppola), LOGAN LUCKY (Soderbergh), THE DEUCE (technically TV but…)

Happy 2017, everyone!


Monday, January 02, 2017

HOLIDAY HORRORS

Christmas may or may not have come early this year. Hard to say with these pagan holidays. But one thing I can tell you with certainty is that my annual Best/Worst list will most definitely be late.

Don't thank me, thank Marty and Jim. I've seen every other 2016 movie I need or want to see by now, except for year-end stragglers Silence and Paterson. Since these two films only received limited NY/LA releases pre-January 1st and I'm in neither city at the moment, I'll just have to wait like every other flyover state schmo. Leave it to two of my favorite NYC-centric filmmakers to pull the ultimate East Coast-West Coast holiday cock block.

Hopefully, I will have seen both by the time the Golden Globes roll around, the weekend after at the latest. In the meantime, here are some quick takes on films I DID catch over the holidays (with handy Xmas tree star ratings). As you will quickly gather, I kinda went on a Killer Santa Claus spree...

CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980) - Lewis Jackson πŸŽ„πŸŽ„


This is the first movie (I'm aware of) to truly capitalize on the homicidal Kris Kringle angle. I'm sure you've heard the tune "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus." But have you heard the one that goes "I Caught Santa Pearl-Diving Mommy"? If you have, then you know it's a recipe for instant childhood trauma, a lifetime of Freudian intrigue. Young Harry grows up to be an unrepentant voyeur but also one who likes to peep while wearing the infamous red and white suit. Pretty soon, he's added a switchblade to the mix and is making fast business of his Naughty List. Though not the most outrageous killer Santa offering out there, Christmas Evil (aka Better Watch Out) does boast one cringe-inducing eye gouge by nutcracker and a nifty sleigh-ride-by-way-of-white-creep-van ending. Check out the heavy metal-infused trailer here. If you're Santa himself, check it twice. 

DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (1984) - 
Edmund Purdom πŸŽ„πŸŽ„1/2


This holiday entry from across the Pond flips the script on the usual killer St. Nick agenda. Instead of a deranged Santa taking out victims, the perp this time is a disgruntled London reporter knocking off men and women during the holidays who happen to be dressed in Santa suits. Could someone hire this chap to cover next year's NYC SantaCon perhaps? It's not much of a Christmas surprise when we later learn the guy has some serious Yuletide triggers stemming from catching Mommy and Daddy playing Secret Santa when he was a tot. Regardless, the peepshow murder scene is a doozy and, dare I say, nearly DePalma-worthy. Plus, the singing cameo by Caroline Munro of Starcrash fame is a very welcome gift. Take a peek here at some of what's under Xmas's tree.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984) - 
Charles Sellier πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„1/2


Christmas Evil may have gotten there first, but SNDN Part 1 definitely got there grindhouse best. So many creative kills to behold! Death by axe, bow and arrow, strangulation by Christmas lights, decapitation while sledding, Linnea Quigley from Return of the Living Dead disemboweled atop a mounted deer head. This sick Santa's list of wrongs just goes on and on. As if these scenes weren't gift enough for '80s slasher fans, it's also a goldmine for nostalgia collectors. The toy store where demented Billy Chapman works is stocked to the rafters with original edition Star Wars, Matchbox and Smurf playsets. Better than that, there's a Krull board game!!!


The inciting childhood holiday trauma here is the most gruesome one yet. Young Billy doesn't just catch Mommy kissing Claus (i.e., Daddy in a red suit). He witnesses a drunken Father Xmas carjack his family's station wagon and brutalize both his mother and father on the side of the road. Naturally, Billy grows up to have a great big seasonal chip on his shoulder. Luckily, he's got a baby brother to share some of the psychic burden, as we find out in the inevitable sequel...

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987) -
Lee Harry πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„


SNDN Part 2 is notorious for being one of the most egregious sequel "cheats" in movie history. The first half of the movie (a full 40 minutes) is just footage from the first movie repurposed as an extended sanitarium flashback through the eyes of Billy's little bro, Ricky. It seems as if the producers gave us a great big lump of borrowed coal in our stockings...until Ricky starts to tell his own tale. "Garbage Day!!" Bring on the internet memes. Though Ricky only has a scant 40 minutes to wreak havoc on that most sacred of holidays, boy, does he make the best of them. Nun murders, umbrella slayings, electrocution by jumper cable. The subsequent "memeification" of his misdeeds is due in no small part to the actor who plays Ricky (Eric Freeman), a great big Christmas ham of a man who really commits full-throttle to an acting style that could be politely termed Total Wiseau. Whoever said sequels (even sequel "cheats") had to suck never meet Ricky Caldwell. He's got a present for you!

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: 
BETTER WATCH OUT! (1989) - Monte Hellman πŸŽ„πŸŽ„



I hadn't planned on going any further down the road of diminishing returns with the SNDN franchise...until I saw that, to my surprise, one of my old favorite '70s directors Monte Hellman (Two Lane Blacktop, The Shooting, Ride the Whirlwind) directed the third entry. If you've seen any of the aforementioned films, you won't be surprised to learn that Part 3 is SLOOOOWER than the other two. It's also less outrageous. Unfortunately Eric Freeman was pulled from the roster, and now Ricky is a semi-lobotomized Frankenstein played by a different actor. What's left of his brain sloshes around in a fish bowl atop his head. Needless to say, when he escapes the nuthouse and goes on a rampage it's a lot less energetic. The protagonist this time is a blind girl with ESP who can tap psychically into Ricky's murderous memories/impulses. But the highlight is another actress...a young Laura Harring from Mulholland Drive in her first screen role. Also, her first bathtub scene.

ELVES (1989) - Jeffrey Mandel πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„


Sure, you've seen Will Ferrell in Elf a zillion times. But have you seen its plural late '80s precursor Elves? You know, the one with Grizzly Adams (Dan Haggerty) as an ex-cop turned shopping mall Santa who stumbles onto a fiendish Neo-Nazi plot to raise a Fourth Reich through the bodies of half-human/half-elf hybrids? Oy! Siring a master race has never been so complicated! This direct-to-VHS holiday treat is just as batshit entertaining as it sounds. It also features one of the better foul-mouthed kid brother performances of all time. Sample the spiked egg nog here.

GAME OVER (1989) - RenΓ© Manzor πŸŽ„πŸŽ„πŸŽ„


Let's face it, Christmas is really a kiddie holiday, so there should be at least children's movie on the docket. Given my distaste for most things Disney, the closest I came was this resourceful child in peril action-horror thriller also known by the cumbersome title 3615 code PΓ¨re NoΓ«l. Imagine a French Home Alone directed by Luc Besson or Jean-Pierre Jeunet wherein Macaulay Culkin's Kevin is also Macaulay Culkin's Richie Rich. He has a serious Rambo fetish, lives in a mansion decked with booby traps and all the latest computerized security systems late '80s money can buy. He has a ailing diabetic grandfather to protect and a 50-room house to defend. His attacker is much stealthier than knuckleheads Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. It's a vagrant lunatic Santa Claus out to steal his cookies. Though uncommonly dark for a kid's flick, Game Over is a fun holiday ride, featuring a ton of energetic camerawork and a nifty Bonnie Tyler end credit song. Forget Home Alone-- this one came first and came smarter. A perfect gift for the precocious, genius child who has everything in your family.

NEW YEAR'S EVIL (1980) - Emmet Alston πŸŽ„1/2


My Holiday Horrors marathon began with some Christmas Evil. Only appropriate that it come to a end with that of the New Year's variety. Unfortunately, the grindhouse champagne here is rather flat. The setup has promise: A madman has made a NYE resolution to murder a different person in each of the four U.S. time zones as the clock strikes 12 across the country. His reluctant accomplice is an NYE countdown call-in talk show host played by Roz Kelly (Pinky Tuscadero on Happy Days). Think Dick Clark but in a slinky red vinyl skirt. The Eastern and Central Standard Time murders are pretty diverting-- a psychiatric nurse goes on an ill-advised blind date and Louisa Moritz from Cuckoo's Nest and Under the Rainbow gets choked to death with a plastic marijuana bag. By the time we hit Mountain and Pacific Standard Time, the premise has already worn thin. There's a small twist as to the killer's true identity and an overreaching "son of" stinger ending to set up a sequel that, thankfully, never materialized.

Happy 2017, folks. Hopefully, your NYE was more invigorating than mine. We're stuck with a Twitter-obsessed narcissist d-bag in elected office and, with any luck, the new year  holds something more in store for us all than abject horror or nuclear annihilation. At the very least, we should get some new Twin Peaks out of the whole deal.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

THE GORE, THE MERRIER

In honor of October, the Halloweeniest month, I made a blood oath to watch one old horror movie per night before bedtime and tweet quick 140 character GIF reviews the next day. The original mandate was "the gorier the better," though not all of the selections ended up being splatter fests. Below are the gruesome results. The butcher knife rating system is as follows: πŸ”ͺ to  πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ (i.e., the more knives, the better the film).

1) BLOOD FEAST (1963) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ Godfather of Gore H.G. Lewis' 1st "stab." Red paint & Piggly Wiggly meat aisle scraps. No tongue!


2) 2,000 MANIACS! (1964) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ What the U.S. becomes if Trump wins: a deadly Confederate speed trap w/ Yankee-in-a-barrell contests.


3) COLOR ME BLOOD RED (1965) πŸ”ͺ Tortured artist subs paint for blood, goes on half-assed  hydrocycle murder spree. Color Me Zzz.



4) A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ If you can't join the beatniks, beat 'em by knifing cats inside walls & bludgeoning Bert Convy.


5) SPIDER BABY (1968) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ Someone tell Tim Burton to do a remake of THESE peculiar children & cast Eva Green as Adult Virginia.



6) IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH (1970) πŸ”ͺ ½ Hybrid giallo with too much plot, too much Freud, too many vultures, not enough blood.


7) NIGHT OF 1,000 CATS (1972) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ ½ Hugo Stiglitz picks up women in a helicopter, feeds them to hungry horde of cats, occasionally tosses one.


8) AT MIDNIGHT I'LL TAKE YOUR SOUL (1964) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ Brazil's first horror movie & world's first taste of Coffin Joe, sadist in a top hat.


9) THIS NIGHT I'LL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE (1967) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ ½ Coffin Joe returns from the dead, seeks bride, enters Technicolor Hell.


10) EMBODIMENT OF EVIL (2008) πŸ”ͺ½ Coffin Joe gets out of jail 40 years later, tortures, sires child, dies. Goriest but worst of the trilogy.


11) BEYOND THE DOOR (1974) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ Exorcist rip-off with a few laughs, decent soundtrack & voiceover narration by the Devil himself!



12) EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC (1977) πŸ”ͺ Hypnosis, locusts, James Earl Jones in a bug costume. Zardoz this is not. Heresy? Maybe.



13) THE SENTINEL (1977) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ Brooklyn Heights brownstone infested with dead priests, devils, Goldblums & nosy pervs. Only $400/month? Where do I sign?


14) TOURIST TRAP (1979) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ½ Do you love Psycho but wish it had more homicidal mannequins? Happy birthday to Tanya Roberts (tomahawked below).


15) MOTEL HELL (1980) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ I'm guessing Vincent & Ida's secret garden of human heads is non-GMO verified. But the Wolfman Jack cameo surely is. (Note: One of these heads is Cliff Clavin from Cheers...just "a little known fact")


16) HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ Beware Silver Shamrock brand, the Samsung Galaxy 7 of Halloween masks. It has Stonehenge microchips!


17) SLEDGEHAMMER (1983) πŸ”ͺ½ 80s shot-on-video slasher w/ cheapo FX, many feathered hairstyles, goofy DIY charm. No, that's not Keith Hernandez.




18) AEROBICIDE aka KILLER WORKOUT (1986) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ ½ Tanning bed burn victim turns aerobics instructor/safety pin killer. Jane Fonda meets Freddy Krueger! This '80s slasher truly has the GIFs that keep on giving.






19) ANGUISH (1987) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ Zelda Rubinstein, Michael Lerner, squashed snails, extracted eyeballs. A horror movie about watching horror movies. Hypnotic.



20) BIRDS OF PREY aka BEAKS (1987) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ ½ Hitchcock's THE BIRDS but dumber, bloodier & w/ hang gliding scenes (fun!) THE BIRDS > BEAKS > BIRDEMIC.



21) THE VIDEO DEAD (1987) πŸ”ͺ Watched this solely for the Michael St. Michaels cameo (Young Greasy Strangler!). Not good, but still better than THE WALKING DEAD.


22) BLOOD DINER (1987) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ Vegan diner owning brothers harvest body parts for "blood buffet" to raise ancient goddess Sheetar from the grave. Not bad.


23) STAGE FRIGHT (1987) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ Owl's head killer stalks actors trapped inside theatre. Great shooting & soundtrack from Argento protΓ©gΓ© Soavi.




24) I, MADMAN (1989) πŸ”ͺ ½ Horror movie for people who love used book stores. But, for slasher movie fans, it's mostly a weak reprint.


25) DEATH SPA (1989) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ Some fun scenes, but no killer workout. To quote shredded gym rat below: "Aerobicide is Beta; Death Spa is just VHS."


26) NIGHTBREED: DIRECTOR'S CUT (1990) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ Surprise! It's the director of Dead Ringers! What? You weren't expecting a Canadian, were you?"


27) VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995) πŸ”ͺ Only John Carpenter movie I'd never seen. By his own admission, a contract gig. JC, I fall on my sword (broom) for thee.


28) MURDER PARTY (2007) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ Jeremy Saulnier's bloody good debut, great for Halloween viewing. Note: Don't eat the pumpkin bread. It has raisins.


29) THE WICKER MAN (2006) ½ Agent: "Wanna do a B-horror remake, Nic?" Cage: "I looove bee horror!" Agent: "Great, sign here with this EpiPen."


30) WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2013) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ ½ Great atmosphere, great Michael Parks but long wait for the gore & "human stew" parts. Cannibal Slowlocaust?


31) BRAINDEAD (1992) πŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺπŸ”ͺ ½ Goriest film all month & also the last. Happy Halloween & Birthday to Peter Jackson. Nobody slings goop like you do, mate.






If you've made it this far, congratulations, and I'm sorry. Check back around the end of the December for the yearly Best/Worst List. After 31 movies in 31 days, I think it's safe to say I'm blogged out until then.