Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Director Report Card: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (1997)


3. Alien: Resurrection

”Alien 3” seemed to provide a final conclusion to that series. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, the series’ hero from the beginning, was dead. Fans who wanted more xenomorph-bashing and space marines had an entire expanded universe of comics, books, and video games to fall back on. The third one didn’t even do that well at the box office. Despite these issues, 20th Century Fox demanded a new entry in the series. A script from up-and-coming screenwriter Joss Whedon got the producers excited. Quickly afterwards, Sigourney Weaver came on-board, Ripley being resurrected. The film spiraled through multiple directors, like Danny Boyle, Peter Jackson and Bryan Singer. Eventually, French surrealist Jean-Pierre Jeunet got the gig. Considering his experience with odd sci-fi, Jeunet probably seemed like a good choice. Fans that rejected “Alien 3” mostly liked “Alien: Resurrection.” Not me. I’ve always disliked the movie, considering it the colossally dumb low-point in the long-running series.

Two hundred years after Ripley threw herself into molten lead, Earth has been abandoned as a desolate wasteland. Man now exists among the stars. In this future, the military has cloned Ripley and with her, the Queen Alien. The anti-social clone awakens on a strange ship. Once again, man underestimates the xenomorph threat. They get free and run amok. Ripley-8 must team up with a motley crew of space crooks if she wants to survive. A terrifying new secret awaits her.

Last time I saw “Alien: Resurrection,” I had a viscerally negative reaction to the film. Re-watching it as a wiser man, my reaction is less visceral but no less negative. The fourth “Alien” film has many flaws that extend from one source: It is dumb. The movie brings back Ripley in a dumb way, cloning her from two hundred year old DNA. The script completely misunderstands how cloning works. Despite not being part of her genetics, the alien queen fetus is somehow cloned with Ripley. The movie never justifies why Ripley had to be in the movie in the first place. The cloning subplot climaxes with a massively silly sequence, where Ripley-8 stumbles upon the previous seven failed clones, grotesque hybrids of human and xenomorph DNA. It’s really silly and melodramatic.

The movie’s dumbness extends to the film’s evil corporate masters. After two hundred years, the Weyland-Yutani company is gone. (An especially stupid line of dialogue cut from the theatrical version explains that they were bought by Walmart.) Despite all that time passing, the evil corporation’s single-minded motivation has not changed. The military wants to develop the xenomorphs into weapons. Really, after all this time, would they still be at this? By now, haven’t the aliens been proven to be an uncontrollable asset? Is whatever weapons that could be developed from the aliens really worth the trouble? Aside from the silliness of their plan, the military is really bad at managing the penis-headed rape demons. They escape easily, thanks to an obvious oversight, and the people on the ship are hilariously inept at containing the threat. If anyone was paying attention, none of this would have happened.

If I don’t sound enough like a bitching fanboy already, let me point out something incredibly petty about “Alien: Resurrection” that offends me. The movie needlessly junks up the classic xenomorph design. Their heads are stumpier and shorter. More bumps and ridges are superficially added to their bodies. The tail is needlessly given a paddle-like extension. The legs receive extra joints, making the aliens resemble the raptors from “Jurassic Park.” All these changes do is make one of the most original creature designs in all of horror history resembles other, less interesting monsters. The movie doesn’t even get the xenomorphs' personality correct. One scene has a vindictive alien freezing a human with some ice gas. This shows a sadistic side the coldly cunning aliens have never displayed before or since. “Alien: Resurrection” frequently sacrifices logic for this cool-for-cool-sakes style of thinking.

Say what you will about “Alien 3” but at least it gave Ripley a proper send-off. Despite this, the Fox executives believed that she was the heart of the “Alien” series. Defying all logic, Ripley had to come back to life. The solution of cloning her is lazy. Making her half-alien, dumb as that idea is, showed some potential. The resulting character, known as Ripley-8, is not that interesting. Ripley’s humanity is striped away. Instead, she only has vague memories of her previous life. (This is another example of how cloning doesn’t work.) The character is beastly, more alien then human. Her personality is rough and animistic. She has a streak of generic bad ass in her that isn’t natural or involving. Her psychic connection with the aliens is poorly explained but the only thing about her that adds any color. She is simultaneously repulsed by and sympathetic towards the aliens. Instead of playing with this, the movie mostly has her as a tough warrior. Weaver’s performance lacks any of the raw vulnerability or human will to survive shown in the last three films.

Most of the film’s supporting cast is made up of mercenaries. The characters are very broadly written and borderline cartoonish. Befitting a Joss Whedon script, they fling the occasional zinger. In short: The characters are dumb and add little to the movie. At least the movie fills their ranks with memorable character actors. Jeunet regulars Dominique Pinon and Ron Perlman are present. Pinon plays the invalid Vriess, who has a cool shotgun hidden in his wheelchair. Mostly, he cracks weird jokes and hinders the other characters’ journey. Perlman is funny, even if his character is mostly pointless. Gravel-voiced Michael Wincott plays their leader. Just based on Wincott’s slithery style, the character doesn’t seem trust-worthy. These guys have more distinct personalities then Gary Dourdan’s Christie and Kim Flower’s Sabra. I can’t remember much about either of them, aside from Christie’s obsession with guns and Sabra’s physical appeal.

That collection of characters would be enough for most films. For some reason, “Alien: Resurrection” continues to expand its cast as the movie goes on. Early on, we meet General Perez, played by the hirsute and shifty eyed Dan Hedaya. Perez has a ridiculous death scene. Dr. Wren, played by a boring J. E. Freman, tags along with the crew of mercs for a while. An obviously evil solider named Distephano, played by Raymond Cruz, appears for half the movie. His presence is not especially important and what he’ll do next is very easy to guess. Also added to the cast is Purvis, played by Leland Orser, a human chosen to incubate some aliens. Purvis is whiny and annoying, needlessly padding out the already too-large cast. The only member of the supporting cast that’s interesting is Brad Dourif as Dr. Gediman. Dourif brings the expected amount of greasy craziness to the part. After being captured by the xenomorphs, he goes totally nuts. During the end, he delivers a sweaty, ridiculous monologue in the exact same voice Dourif uses when voicing Chucky. It’s as dumb as anything else in the movie but at least Dourif is entertaining.

The writers and producers of “Alien: Resurrection” probably had the following thought: This is an “Alien” movie. So somebody has to be a robot. Winona Ryder plays Call, the android. The movie reveals this truth dramatically, even though it’s easy to guess. Ryder does okay in the part, bringing some much-needed charm and humanity to this mindless movie. More interesting is the bound that forms between Ripley and Call. The two share a few scenes together which expands on both of their personalities, the only character beats in the film that is successful. Though some have read a homoerotic subtext into their relationship, I see it differently. Call is another surrogate for Ripley’s long-dead daughter, following in Newt’s footsteps. Maybe if the movie had focused on this relationship more, and how it causes Ripley-8 to become more human, this film might have had more of a heart.

Along with androids and evil corporations, every “Alien” movie also has to add something to the creatures’ life cycle. Thus, the film introduces the Newborn, a hybrid between xenomorph and human DNA. How this creature comes to exist is dumb. Somehow, because of the share genes with Ripley, the Queen Alien develops a uterus. It gives birth to a live child. How or why this happened isn’t important. The result is the albino Newborn, a big new threat the movie can throw in at the end. As a design, the hybrid is bizarre enough to be interesting. There’s nothing especially Giger-esque about it. Yet I like the human-like eyes in its hollow sockets. The hybrid has a born-in bond with Ripley which, again, makes no sense. However, this ridiculous plot twist provides something no other “Alien” movie has: A sympathetic monster. The Newborn is a killer and a monster, possessed of the same brutal cunning as the rest of its species. Something about it is very human though. As it’s ridiculous and needlessly violent death occurs, Ripley and the audience starts to feel sorry for the beast. The creature’s existence is entirely nonsensical but at least it looks interesting and adds something to the film.

If “Alien: Resurrection” resembles any of the previous films, it’s “Aliens.” Like that sequel, it attempts to fuse the series’ action and horror attributes. In that way, it fails utterly. “Resurrection” is never scary. As an action movie, it’s strictly functions on a lizard brain level. There are dumb gags, like pop-out guns attached to wrists or someone duel-wielding on a ladder. Ripley climbs up through Michael Wincott’s dead body. Aliens are shotgunned and blasted in various colorful ways, spraying their acid blood all over the place. Some of these moments are especially mindless, like a grenade bounced into an escape pod or a chest-burster busting through someone’s head. Like many things about the film, the action scenes exist on the plain of comic book-y extremeness. They are dumb, of course, but occasionally entertaining.

How does “Alien: Resurrection” hold up as a Jean-Piere Jeunet movie? Most of Jeunet’s artistic sensibilities are buried under a thick layer of Hollywood stupidity. Occasionally, some of his trademark style shines through. The production design has a similar look to “City of Lost Children,” even if the film lacks that movie’s surreal power. Most importantly, occasionally Jeunet sneaks a memorable visual through. A xenomorph bumps its head against some glass. A body is bent in half through a hole in the floor. Blood splatters on the inside of a window. The camera zooms into a mouth, to show the chest-burster wiggling inside. My favorite is when Ripley is abducted by the xenomorphs. She rests on a floor of writhing matter, a sight Giger might've approved of. The aliens carry her to the Queen’s lair, cradling her like an infant. That’s poetic and interesting. The movie needed more of that visual energy.

In conclusion, I still dislike “Alien: Resurrection.” The script is full of so many holes. The movie lacks any sense of internal logic. The character are broad. The empty-headed and hollow-hearted story is puffed up with silly action scenes. Mostly, there’s little thematic connection to any of the previous “Alien” films. The fourth entry in the series plays like bad fan fiction. I don’t really blame Jean-Piere Jeunet, who surely suffered under harsh studio control. I partially blame Joss Whedon, as the bad script still carries many of his trademarks. Mostly, this dumb movie is the product of a dead franchise being extended pass its logical end point. “Alien: Resurrection” is an undead film, a zombie movie, and as brainless as that description implies. [Grade: D]

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Director Report Card: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (1995)


2. The City of Lost Children 
La cité des enfants perdus
Co-directed with Marc Caro

“Delicatessen” attracted enough of an audience around the world that Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro were able to move forward with the project they originally wanted to make in the first place. When “The City of Lost Children” came out, it was hailed as a masterpiece in some circles. While clearly indebted to other works – such as German expressionism, European sci-fi comics, and the films of Terry Gilliam – Jeunet's instant cult classic would become a clear influence on future video games, anime, and music videos. Despite the cult following and stylistic impact Jeunet and Caro's movie would have, “The City of Lost Children” isn't discussed very often today. Even with its slight retreat from the minds of weirdo cinema fans, the film remains as impressive today as it was in 1995.

In the waters outside a strange city, a mad scientist named Krank lives on an abandoned oil platform. He orders his minions – a collection of clones, a dwarf wife, a brain in a jar – to retrieve lost children from the city. After capturing them, he attempts to steal the youngsters' dreams, as the scientist is unable to dream himself. Among the stolen children is Denree, the adopted little brother of One, a circus strongman. In order to rescue Denree, One will team up with Miette, a young girl who picks pockets for a cruel pair of conjoined twins. Together, they form a unique bond, seeking to rescue all of the lost children.

In order to make a film about dreams, Jeunet and Caro have crafted an intoxicatingly surreal motion picture. “City of Lost Children” sets out its intention in the opening scene. The camera pans over snowy fields outside a window and children's toys on a shelf, leading up to an infant child's encounter with Santa Claus. Yet then more Santas fill the room. One drinks alcohol, the other cradles the child threateningly. To end the scene, a reindeer shits on the floor. We hard cut to Krank's screaming face, bawling like a frightened child. Throughout the film, Krank longs for the simplicity and sweetness of children's dreams. He finds this more and more difficult to attain. Much the same way we're all nostalgically hungry for the seemingly simpler days of our youth. Within the same film, we see children kidnapped, abused, and manipulated by cruel adults. Which suggests that the pureness of childhood, that Krank and many others search for, never existed in the first place.

Visually, “The City of Lost Children” builds upon “Delicatessen's” aesthetic in a very clear way. It's easy to imagine the apartment building from Jeunet's previous film existing in this film's titular city. Both are characterized by an amber, rusted brown color palette. (Though Jeunet and Caro punctuate “City” with burst of neon green.) Everything appears old, rusted, leftovers from the turn of the century. This is most evident in the underwater diving suit used in one key scene. Yet this is clearly a science fiction setting, a surreal world different from own, with technology unavailable in our present. “City of Lost Children” is more fable then hard sci-fi but the director still creates a story outside of time, both retro and futuristic.

That retro atmosphere is most clearly present in the role sideshow performers play in the story. Mr. One is an old-style strongman, introduced breaking chains just by flexing his muscles. One of the villains in the film – one of many adults attempting to abuse children – is the Octopus. Conjoined twins, they are cast offs from a circus. An associate of their's is also from the circus, who commands a collection of uniquely talented fleas with his organ grinder. Not to mention the dwarfs and clown-like clones that also factor into the plot. By purposely recalling turn-of-the-century circus culture, “The City of Lost Children” successfully cements a tone that is both grotesque and whimsical.

Another element that intentionally recalls older stories is the clan of pick-pocket kids, employed by a selfish adult. Combined with the sooty, decay city setting, the film gains a purposely Dickensian mood. At the center of this story is Miette, played by Judith Vittet. Vittet summons an astonishingly strength to play the young girl. Despite only being a child, the character is jaded and cynical. At story's beginning, she's certain that no one can be trusted. That everyone is just waiting to rip you off. Through this journey to rescue the kidnapped children, she rediscovers her own sense of innocence. Vittet never hits a false note, playing the part as honestly and fully formed as possible.

There's many things to like about “The City of Lost Children” but the relationship between the two main characters may be my favorite . Ron Perlman plays One, the strongman. Perlman, you'll notice, is not a French actor. He had to learn his lines phonetically. Despite the language barrier, he delivers a nuanced, emotional performance. Though he towers over everyone else, Perlman's One isn't much more then a child himself. He frequently talks in the third person, speaking in short, simplistic sentences. So One is a child in a man's body, while Miette is a child with an adult's mind. Together, they compliment one another. This bond is best displayed when the two hold each other under a blanket, to keep warm through the night. Any potentially creepy subtext is dismissed by a deft approach, making sure the audience understands that both characters are innocents. By the end, they've formed a family of their own.

This idea of arrested development extends to the story's villains. Krank, though a mad scientist who kidnaps babies, is prone to child-like outburst of emotions. His temper tantrums – after a dream becomes a nightmare or a Santa themed dress-up session goes wrong – are petulant and whining. His collection of clones – Dominique Pinon playing seven different roles – all have a child-like mentality. In order to avoid trouble, one of the clones makes up a rambling anecdote, like a kid trying to worm his way out of trouble. The brain in the jar is a frequently ignored superego while the dwarf is an overly naturing mother figure, all complacence in the kidnapping of the kids. These are bad people yet Jeunet's baths them in sympathetic neurosis and absurdist humor, making them interesting and likable.

Just like his debut, “The City of Lost Children” is a film of boundless imagination. Among the other grotesques and innocence are other bizarre characters. Such as a cult of “cyclops,” men who willingly pluck out one eye and replace it with a cybernetic visor. Maybe the most impressive of all the film's sets is the Cyclops' lair, a huge underground complex where men sit in cascading rows, up against the wall. (Cult movie fans may notice Francois Hadji-Lazaro – Gnaghi from “Cemetery Man” - among the Cyclops.) The Cyclops are undone by another unique character. Jean-Claude Dreyfus returns from “Delicatessen.” Marcello the organ grinder, a pathetic alcoholic who loves his fleas, is the polar opposite of the beastly butcher Dreyfus played previously. Marcello's flea deliver tiny viles of green liquid, a drug that drives its victims into a murderous rage. Again, Marcello is sympathetic, a man forced by fate to do wicked things.

In “Delicatessen,” Jeunet and Caro frequently stringed together impressive sequences, engineering ludicrous series of events to connect divergent plot points. “City” only features one such scene but it's memorable. A flea bounces from a series of animal hosts – a pair of humping dogs, a skittering sewer rat – setting off a series of events that begin with a car striking a fire hydrant, includes a collection of topless strippers fleeing a building, and concludes with a boat colliding with a dock. Animals remain chaotic neutral agents of nature throughout the film. A bird appears at the last minute to neatly wrap up any dangling plot points.

Yet not all of the film's impressive scenes are so manic. Others are more melancholy. A fog of green mists floats through the city, instilling a series of strange memories in several strangers before finding the correct hosts. The film's various themes, of confused memories and longing for lost childhood, collide in the final act. The conclusion has the hero and the villain fighting inside a dream, characters aging in opposite directions while the room around them shifts strangely. It's an almost inscrutable conclusion, a powerfully surreal piece of filmmaking, a dream/nightmare that must be approached intuitively to be understood.

Providing the music for the film is Angelo Badalamenti. Considering Badalamenti is most famous for his collaborations with David Lynch, it made sense for him to score a similarly surreal film like this. Badalamenti's music is a gorgeous mixture of sweeping strings, plucking harps, and mournful woodwind with droning organs representing the circus-esque villains. Badalamenti also composes the vocal theme song, “Who Will Take My Dreams Away?,” sang by Marianne Faithfull. Faithfull sings of friendship and evil being defeated but also notes the end of life and how irreplaceable lost loved ones are. It's an enchanting collection of music, perfectly suited to the film.

“The City of Lost Children” would go on to become a landmark steampunk film, though it features none of the billowing smokestacks or mechanical top hats you associate with that genre. You can see its fingerprints on future films and video games. (Including, interestingly enough, a PlayStation game directly adapted from the film.) This is befitting such a fiercely original, enchanting motion picture. The film successfully juggles several tones – funny, whimsical, unnerving – while making an interesting point about nostalgia and adulthood. It's also visually arresting the entire time. Though a convoluted script prevents it from being a masterpiece, it's still a deeply impressive film, easily on the director's best. [Grade: A-]

Monday, January 16, 2017

Director Report Card: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (1991)


For a while, it seemed like Jean-Pierre Jeunet was going to be the next great French director. He started his career with two visually arresting cult classics. After a mostly failed attempt at Hollywood franchise film making, he would rebound with his most critically successful, internationally beloved film. Yet, in the last decade, Jenuet's work has tapered off, with many of his recent films slipping into obscurity and failing to break through with English-speaking audiences. While it's easy to criticize his movies as overly quirky or self-involved, there's no doubt Jean-Pierre Jeunet presents visions of worlds that aren't quite like anybody else's.


1. Delicatessen 
Co-directed with Marc Caro

After making a few short films together, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and his partner in crime, Marc Caro, decided to try their luck with a feature film. Initially, they had planned to make an ambitious, surreal science fiction fable named “The City of Lost Children.” However, as first time filmmakers, they couldn't allocate the necessary budget for that story. Instead, the two cooked up a smaller but no less absurd story. Called “Delicatessen,” the film would win several awards on the festival circuit and develop a following all over the world.

The apartment complex is above a butcher shop. Due to some sort of global collapse, the shop never receives shipments of meat. And yet, from time to time, Clapet the butcher serves up chops to the tenants above. Louison, a former circus clown who has fallen on hard times, arrives at the apartment, hoping to move into a recently vacated room. He immediately develops a rapport with Julie, the shy girl upstairs who happens to be Clapet's daughter. She's reluctant to reveal the truth to Louison. That the meat in her father's shop is from the unlikely boarders, that the entire apartment complex willingly participates in cannibalism. And Louison is on the menu next.

The first thing you'll notice about “Delicatessen” is its setting. The first shot of the film shows a crumbling building, silhouetted against brown fog, in a city that is falling apart. Clearly, some sort of disaster has befallen the world. Food is scarce. Seeds and shoes are used as currency. Riots are spoken of in the city. Despite obviously being set in a near or post-apocalyptic world, “Delicatessen” doesn't clearly take place in the future. The characters wear clothing that recalls the 1950s. The televisions and record players we see are older models. There's an evident age to the cars and rooms, the beds and furniture. In presentation, “Delicatessen” is set in both the distant future and the near past, taking place in an absurdist netherworld.

Of course, the nonchalant acceptance of cannibalism is clearly the biggest sign that something bad has happened in this world. Jean-Claude Dreyfus plays the butcher as a blustering beast, massive in frame and influence. The villainous butcher is a monster of a man, exerting his fanatical control over the entire apartment complex. Aside from his willingness to murder, he bullies the families that rent his rooms. His clear control over the entire complex is brilliantly illustrated in one of the film's most memorable sequences. As the butcher fucks his mistress, their bed springs squeal. The noise spreads throughout the entire apartment. Every action in each room – painting a ceiling, knitting a sweater, playing a cello – falls into the same rhythm. And when the butcher has his noisy orgasm, everyone else in the house similarly looses their composure.

There are many reasons to like this movie but what I find most charming is the love story at its center. Dominique Pinon, in his first of many appearances in Jenut's features, plays Louison the clown. Marie-Laure Dougnac, also reappearing from Jeunet's short films, plays Julie. Pinon brings a child-like innocence to the part, apparent when he performs a magic trick with bubbles for the kids. She, meanwhile, is blind as a bat without her glasses. That last fact is hilariously shown in a sequence when she attempts to serve him tea without her glasses, resulting in some good-natured slapstick. Their whimsy compliments each other. This is most apparent when they perform an enchanting duet. She plays her cello. He plays a bent over saw. Pinon and Dougnac share a clear chemistry yet maintain the characters' innocence. It's darling how sweet Dougnac is, late in the film, when the two characters strip down to their underwear together.

Louison being a former clown presents many opportunities for Jeunet's trademark visual playfulness. One delightful moment has Lousion dancing with an artificial third long, an amusingly choreographed scene. He carries a knife he calls an Australian, a “Krull” style blade that flies through the air and returns to its owner. We learn, through dreams and flashbacks and posters, that the other half of Louison's act was a chimp named Livingstone. In one of the many brilliant ways Jeunet mixes the whimsical and the melancholy, we learn that Livingstone was torn apart by a hungry crowd, desperate for any sort of meat. Julie believes Livingstone to be human at first. Even after discovering that he was an ape, she doesn't sacrifice the sadness she feels over his passing.

“Delicatessen” isn't just about the butcher, his daughter, and the clown that catches. As in many films set in apartments, the other tenants emerge as memorable characters. A family lives in one room. The father is an inventor, whose gadget include a rat summoning whistle and a device that detects bullshit. His two sons like to snatch woman's underwear off their clothesline. The elderly grandmother has a habit of wandering off. They tie tin cans to her ankles so she's easy to find. In the basement lives a pair of toy makers, two men living together in an ambiguous relationship. They scrutinizes their creations, little boxes that make animal sounds, discarding most of the prototypes they create.

These are interesting sketches and I appreciate the peeks we get into their lives. Yet they are not my favorite tenants inside Clapet's building. That honor befalls to two characters. The first of which is an old man who lives in a water logged room, accompanied by a horde of frogs. He eats the snails that crawl around his room, tossing their empty shells into a massive pile. Even more amusing is Silvie Laguna as Aurore. A wife to an unimposing man, she's quite ill. She hears voices, whispered from the pipes, saying nasty things about her. In order to rid herself of the nagging voice, she sets up complex suicide rituals. Each time, the mechanism is more elaborate. Each time, it falls apart brilliantly. This speaks to the morbid but clownish humor running through “Delicatessen,” which Jeunet revels in with childish glee.

It's not just the film's costumes, sets, and visual design that is interesting. Even from his first film, Jenuet displays an inventive directorial style. The opening scene shows the previous boarder attempting to escape the butcher by disguising himself as a pile of trash, a brilliantly composed sequence cutting from inside the trash can to the men carrying the bin around. Later, Julet has a vivid nightmare. In frenzied close-ups, we see Louison threatened by his pet chimp. This leads to a scene of him strung up like a pig, shot in halting, stretching dutch angles. Jeunet is also found of sticking his camera in unexpected places. He peers into pipes, following it down into the water below, or looks from out of static-filled televisions. The film's impish sense of humor begins in its script and extends into its shooting.

You can call “Delicatessen” a science fiction film, due to its otherworldly setting. You can certainly call it a comedy, due to its puckish sense of humor. Even with the focus on eating people, you can't quite call it a horror movie. Yet the act of cannibalism is one rift with deeper meaning. The renters of the apartment complex often complain about how the rich always get the first slices of meat. The butcher's victims are frequently unemployed vagabonds. So there's definitely something here about how the rich eat the poor, literally and figuratively. “Delicatessen” doesn't quite commit to this metaphor because it's not that kind of movie. Any serious social commentary would undermine the absurdity Jeunet and Caro are going for.

Notice I said “serious” social commentary. The silly kind is still on the table. The butcher and the militant postman that sometimes visits rant about the Troglodytes, a group of militant vegetarians that live in the sewers. The group is built up to be dangerous rebels, serious about their cause. This intentionally contrasts with how the Trogs actually act. When we meet them later in the film, they're a bunch of buffoons. While climbing through the interior of the apartment, one Trog pauses to admire a woman's behind. Later, they snatch the same woman when they were suppose to grab Louison. Instead of admitting the obvious, the group stands around arguing about the specifics of the language. In the world of “Delicatessen,” it seems any attempts at political organizing quickly degrades into buffoonery.

Like a brilliant performed trapeze act, a finely tuned if deeply silly sense of balance characterizes most of “Delicatessen.” Until the final scene. As Louison flees from the murderous butcher, it sets a series of events in order that undoes Clapet's tyrannical control of the apartment. Water – a disrupting but cleansing element – sweeps through the building, causing the rooms to crumble apart. Frogs bounce down stairs, guns explode before being fired, and cleavers fly through the air. The villain's strict order is undone, Louison's clownish chaos taking over and freeing the entire building. From this emerges the film's most vital political message: That humor and hope are the greatest weapons against tyrants.

Upon coming to America, “Delicatessen” would immediately develop a reputation as a cult movie. It's combination of vivid visual style, morbid story, and absurd humor would make it a favorite among the specific crowd that enjoys those things. Rewatching the movie, it's surprising how fresh it still feels. From the beginning, Jean-Pierre Jeunet knew exactly what kind of movies he wanted to make, creating worlds that weren't exactly like anything else out there. He would build on “Delicatessen's” lovable style throughout most every feature he made next. [Grade: B+]

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Catching Up with the Bangers n' Mash Show


You've probably noticed that Film Thoughts hasn't been updated very much here in January 2017. I have a reason for this. I'm sure you know that the last four months of the year - in-between the Halloween Horrorfest Blog-a-thon, the Christmas movie marathon, and my year-end rush to catch up with everything in the year I haven't seen yet - are a very busy year for me. I guessed that, combined with 2016 being a shit year for me, left me very burned out. I had big plans for this month but they just haven't happened yet.

I'm hoping to change that this week by beginning a new Director Report Card project tomorrow. Until then, hey, how about I post the last three Bangers n' Mash episodes that I haven't gotten around to posting?

Back in October, JD and I crossed one hundred episodes which would normally be a big deal. However, we lost episode 99 following my laptop crashing. (My laptop starting to die was another stressful thing that happened last year.) Since we planned on premiering episode 100 around Halloween, JD and I decided to skip ahead. But I ended up missing that release date, kind of negating the whole point. More episodes were recorded but some mounting insanity put the show on a temporary hiatus for about two months. This was not planned. During this off-period, JD and I even considered just ending the show. Eventually, we decided to go on for a little while longer. I don't know.

Anyway, here's the episode.

The original episode 99 with JD and I is lost forever, probably. My co-host wasn't interested in re-recording. While we considered just trashing it altogether, I decided to re-record the episode with Marcus Jones, of Crushed Celluloid and the Jean-Pod Van Damme. (Which I have appeared on, it must be said.) The topic? Horror films revolving around rednecks and hillbillies. I call it the Savage South.




The one hundredth episode is devoted the Chucky franchise. We picked this topic for our landmark episode because the original Child's Play movie freaked out so much as a kid.




After that, we returned to classic horror with an episode devoted to sci-fi/monster movies from the fifties, usually featuring radiation or aliens as a plot point. Give it a listen.



Hopefully, 2017 will be a more consistent year for the Bangers n' Mash Show. Until then, I'll be writing more. Hopefully. Can't make any promises.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 Film Preview


Optimism can be a dangerous thing. I know 2016 being a shitty experience is an internet meme by this point but, if any year earned that reputation, it was the one that just ended. There's absolutely no reason to expect 2017 to be better. Myself and many others have been joking about how lucky we'll be to make it to 2018. But joking in that way that suggests we're actually terrified about what will happen.

Despite these massive reservations, one can't help but hope the next twelve months are better then the twelve we just lived through. A lot sure can change in a year and there's always that chance things could change for the better. Thus is the definition of optimism.

While many things are uncertain, it's easy to be optimistic about movies. A lot of good ones came out last year and, hey, it looks like a lot of good ones are coming out this year! I always think a lot on what films I'm most anticipating in an upcoming year. How exciting a film is in general and to me personally is just the beginning. So, for my entertainment and your's, I present the top ten most anticipated films of 2017, plus a bunch others.


The Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2017:



1. Okja

Bong Joon-ho returning to the world of socially relevant science-fiction is already a big deal. “The Host” and “Snowpiercer” were both pretty great movies. With “Okja,” Joon-ho looks to take target at massive corporations.

That's cool but what's really exciting about “Okja” is that it's a monster movie. The film follows a young girl and her massive monster best friend, fleeing the multi-national company pursuing them. What kid wouldn't want a giant monster as a best friend? In addition to that firecracker premise, Bong has assembled a fine cast for this film. Tilda Swinton returns from “Snowpiercer,” with Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, and Choi Woo-shik appearing in the film. Together, that's what it takes to top my list. (Interestingly, this is one of two films that will premiere on Netflix to make my list this year.)



2. The Masterpiece

In 2016, I exposed myself to “The Room” and quickly became a convert to the peculiar cult of Tommy Wiseau's brain-melting accidental art film. To watch “The Room” is to have a thousand questions blossom in your mind. Wiseau's motion picture is such an enigmatic experience that even an entire book written about its production, “The Disaster Artist” from Wiseau's co-star Greg Sestero, raises just as many questions as its answers. In other words, the making of “The Room” is ripe for a movie adaptation itself.

I have my concerns. “The Masterpiece” - a likely ironic but ultimately fitting title – is being directed by James Franco, whose previous directorial credits have been divisive. While I enjoy Franco and frequent on-screen buddy Seth Rogan's previous flicks, I'm curious if their touch will be the right one for this story. Having said that, Franco himself is pitch perfect casting to play Wiseau. Also among the cast is Alison Brie, Hannibal Buress, Jacki Weaver, and about a dozen celebrity cameos including Wiseau and Sestero themselves.



3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II

I am a fan of the Marvel machine. Some feel their films are too uniform. Maybe. I'd argue that they make some of the most consistently satisfying blockbusters around. Even those that poo-poo that comic company's cinematic success tend to agree that “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a massively entertaining film, hilarious, with an immediately lovable cast of characters, cool sci-fi visuals, and a groovy soundtrack. Even when making a multi-million dollar blockbuster, James Gunn maintained his quirky sense of humor and deft mixture of tone.

It was an enormous hit so, of course, they are making a sequel. No shit I'm excited to see Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Peter Quill, and all their other friends and enemies. Just getting to play again in the weirdest corner of the MCU is exciting. The latest teaser trailer is fantastic and “Vol. II” looks to introduce other far-out Marvel characters, like Mantis and Clea



4. Baby Driver

Edgar Wright is one of my favorite filmmakers working today, as all of his previous features have been varying degrees of great. “Baby Driver” is his most mysterious project yet. Coming together  after the “Ant-Man” fallout, we still don't know very much about the film. It's about a youthful getaway driver involved in a botched bank robbery. Wright has described the film as practically being a musical, relying heavily on an eclectic soundtrack. Considering Wright's films have always featured lots of awesome music, the director fully embracing his musical leanings is likely to lead to some awesome stuff. If nothing else, Wright's track record is impeachable.

Also, am I the only person who feels compelled to sing this title as “Baaby Driveeeer?!



5. We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Number five is one of the biggest question marks on this year's top ten. Another Netflix premiere, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is being directed by Stacie Passion. A relatively unknown, Passion's previous credits include two episodes of “Transparent” and a little seen feature named “Concussion.” That's not the reason I'm pumped for this one.

First off, it's an adaptation of my favorite Shirley Jackson novel, a wonderful tale dripping in gothic atmosphere and familial dysfunction that should lend itself to film fantastically. Secondly, the film adaptation has assembled a fantastic cast. Taissa Farmiga and Alexandra Daddario, a cult actress in the making and the goth siren of the moment, star. Crispin Glover is perfectly cast as Uncle Julian with Sebastian Stan appearing as the enticing Charles Blackwood. Passion is an unknown factor but she would have to work to screw this up.



6. Aftermath / Why We’re Killing Gunther

Arnold Schwarzenegger, the reigning icon of eighties action cinema, has yet to re-establish himself following his stint as governor of California. It's not been for a lack of trying. If anything, Arnold's most recent output has been highly interesting, playing with his aging image. He has two projects coming 2017 and both are exciting. The first of which is “Aftermath,” previously called the more interesting “478,” a fact-based drama/thriller about a bereaved father blaming an air traffic controller for the death of his wife and child, holding him captive. This seems to continue Arnold's continuing development as a serious leading man, following in the footsteps of films like “Sabotage” and “Maggie” that actively engaged with his age.

His second 2017 release hearkens back more to his eighties heyday. “Why We're Killing Gunther” casts Arnold as the greatest assassin in the world. Gunther is so good that a league of other hitmen, frustrated by his success, align to off the master killer. The premise is fun and the supporting cast, including Cobie Smulders and Hannah Simone, is pretty good. Both project's directors – actor turned director Taran Killam making his filmmaking debut with “Gunther,” Elliot Lester of forgotten films like “Blitz” and “Nightinggale” on “Aftermath” - restrain my hopes a little, admittedly.




7. The Shape of Water

In the early 2000s, monster movie visionary and attuned understander of the eccentric Guillermo del Toro was briefly attached to a remake of “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” del Toro said his vision for the film would've played up the romantic subtext of the original, focusing more on the relationship between the monster and the girl. Like seemingly every attempt to remake that classic, del Toro's version would eventually fall apart long before going in front of the cameras.

A decade and a half later, del Toro has seemingly found a way to return to some of this material. Set during the Cold War era, recalling “The Devil's Backbone” and “Pan's Labyrinth,” “The Shape of Water” is a dark/fantasy romance between a female janitor at a government facility and the amphibious male creature they're experimenting on. Doug Jones, of course, will play the creature. Sally Hawkins, a wonderful actress whose has been better served by smaller films, plays the janitor. The loaded supporting cast includes Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, and Richard Jenkins. Sounds awesome!



8. Based on a True Story

Some of Roman Polanski's best films revolve around obsession, insanity, and dysfunctional sexuality. See such classics as “Repulsion,” “Cul-de-Sac,” “Bitter Moon,” and “Death and the Maiden” for proof of that. He's returning to this territory with “Based on a True Story.”

The plot concerns a writer's-blocked author – always a sweet spot for me – who has a face-to-face encounter with her obsessive stalker. And who is playing that stalker? Eva Green, who plays crazy and enticing extremely well. That's enough for me to want to watch this one right now. Emmauelle Seigner, Polanski's latest girlfriend, plays the troubled author while Olivier Assayas adapts his own novel for the screenplay.



9. Wonder Woman

Warner Brothers' attempt to launch their own DC Comics cinematic universe has been, let's say, rough so far. There's no need for me to regurgitate the (mostly deserved) critical bashing that befell “Batman V. Superman” and “Suicide Squad.” The studio has gone into serious course correction mode, doing everything they can to convince people that their upcoming massive team-up movie, “Justice League,” won't be a dour, ponderous, sloppily plotted murder-fest. I hope that movie is good but I can't hold too much faith in Zack Snyder's version of these characters at the moment.

But what of the long anticipated feature film about Wonder Woman, the most famous female superhero of them all? That teaser trailer was pretty great. Gal Gadot was one of the few bright spots in “Dawn of Justice,” though it's still undetermined if she can carry a feature. The talent lined-up for the film – director Patty Jenkins getting her second chance at a superhero movie, Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen among the supporting cast – certainly suggest this could actually be good. The period setting is a cool idea and, hell, Etta Candy is even in the movie. Yet, considering their past failures, it's hard to get too enthusiastic about what WB/DC is doing. Hopefully this will turn the tide back in the studio's favor.



10. Pottersville

“Pottersville” wins the prize for my favorite premise of all of next year's upcoming films. The film stars Michael Shannon – gee, I must like this guy – who accidentally spurns Bigfoot-mania after a drunken rampage in a gorilla suit, granting considerable media attention to his small town.

A goofball riff on our cultural obsession with cryptozoology would probably be enough for me but “Pottersville” packs its cast full of other, wonderful performers. Thomas Lennon plays a monster-hunting reality host, which sounds hilarious. Ron Perlman is in the movie, hopefully as a real Bigfoot. Also appearing are Christina Hendricks, Ian McShane and Judy Greer.  I know jack-all about director Seth Henrikson, who only has a short and a documentary to his name, but I'm willing to roll the dice on this one.


Other Upcoming Films of Note:


Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049
Two Ridley Scott films are receiving sequels this year, of varying degrees of anticipation depending on your point of view. The first of which is “Alien: Covenant,” from Scott himself. I initially overrated “Prometheus” because I still believe that individual scenes in that film are great, even if its script is a mess. For “Covenant,” a more direct prequel to “Alien” has been promised. The teaser poster and trailer do not play coy with the xenomorphs. I'm enough of a nerd of the franchise that a new “Alien” film is a big deal, even if “Prometheus” was divisive and Scott's attachment is far from a guarantee of consistent quality.

The second sequel is “Blade Runner 2049,” which is probably the more exciting project for most fans. Listen, I like “Blade Runner.” Dennis Villen is a talented filmmaker. Ryan Gosling is a natural heir to Harrison Ford's title. However, considering how beloved the original is, what a nerd culture touchstone it's become, I can't picture this sequel being anything other then a massive disappoint. Even if it does turn out pretty good.

Cars 3 and Coco
Pixar looks to be getting morbid this year. The trailer for “Cars 3,” always considered the most disposable of Pixar's franchises, suggests the kiddy series may be moving into a darker territory. Perhaps aging with its audience the way “Toy Story” did? Pixar's second feature is “Coco,” a film set in the world of Dia de los Muertos. We still don't know much about that one, though I reason it'll be more memorable then “The Book of Life.” And is it unreasonable to hope that a film about the afterlife, even a relatively colorful one, be mildly spooky? We shall see.

Death Wish
A “Death Wish” remake has been kicked around for years, with names like Sylvester Stallone and Joe Carnahan being kicked around at separate times. I am a fan of those stupid, offensive movies. However, in a post-George Zimmerman world, I really question if a “Death Wish” remake is in good taste. Perhaps if it was made as an indictment of vigilantism and stand your ground laws – much like Brian Garfield's original book – it could work. Unfortunately, the remake is being directed by Eli Roth, a filmmaker whose political statements seem closer to trolling then thought out philosophies. Bruce Willis is playing Paul Kersey, suggesting the film will likely be a forgettable vehicle for a long past his prime action star who can rarely be called upon to give a shit anymore.



Downsizing
Alexander Payne has made some wonderful films. “Downsizing” promises to return Payne to his satirical roots, the same tone responsible for his previous classics like “Election” and “Citizen Ruth.” He's lined up an impressive cast, including Christoph Waltz, Neil Patrick Harris, and *gasps* Udo Kier! My problem lies in the premise. “Downsizing” sounds like a satirical spin on “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” in which Matt Damon seeks to improve his life by shrinking smaller. Which is, I don't know if you agree, a terrible premise, the kind of high concept buffoonery you expect more from latter day Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy then Alexander Payne. I'll be happy to be proved wrong.

Ghost in the Shell
Hollywood is still finding a way to turn a Japanese anime into a film that is both commercially successful and critically popular. “Ghost in the Shell” clearly doesn't have the mass appeal of something like “Dragon Ball” or “Speed Racer,” being darker, more violent, and more cerebral.  (Not to mention the whitewashing controversy, which it still hasn't overcome.) Honestly, the only reason I think a live action “Ghost in the Shell” got a green light is because a gun combat heavy, quasi-philosophical sci-fi action film starring Scarlett Johannson as a barely human protagonist is a proven formula at this point. There's no expectations for this to be great, considering director Rupert Sanders previously credits are less then inspiring. Having said that, the trailer does have some trippy visuals in it and I do enjoy watching ScarJo murder people, so I'll give it a chance at some point. (“Death Note” is another anime getting a live action adaptation in 2017, though Adam Wingard's latest has way less money floating on it.)

Ingrid Goes West
The only reason “Ingrid Goes West” didn't make my top ten is because I know nothing about director Matt Spicer, being unfamiliar with his previous shorts. Because I love the film's premise. The film stars Audrey Plaza as a mentally unstable young woman, obsessed with a social media star played by Elisabeth Olsen. Naturally, preconceived notions and fantasy collide when Plaza tracks down Olsen, in a foolish attempt to befriend her. It's the perfect concept for our Instagrammed, Twittered times, with those themes of obsession and fantasy especially appealing to me. Hopefully, the finished film will balance twisting insight into a sick mind with dark laughs as much as I hope it will.



It
As a culture, we reached peak creepy clown in 2016. The idea, having leaked into reality, is now stale. The creepy clown has burned out any edge, surprise, or unnerving quality it once had. After all, the whole point of the psycho clown is that something that appears innocent is actually malevolent. Evil is now the default mode for clowns, stripping the premise of all its punch.

So what hope does a remake of “It” have? Not too much, though Stephen King's door stopper of a  novel still has a number of fruitful ideas left unexplored on-screen. (Probably not the prepubescent sewer gang bang though...) The images we've seen of Pennywise suggests this “It” will be beholden to the Tim Curry starring TV version. Which is disappointing, as there's no way Bill Skarsgard's Pennywise can top Curry's iconic take on the sinister clown.

John Wick: Chapter 2
“John Wick” was basically ninety minutes of Keanu Reeves shooting motherfuckers in the face and it was awesome. The premise was simple – retired hitman taking revenge for his dead dog – but the execution presented a surprisingly rich world. A world we're sure to see more of in “John Wick: Chapter 2.” From the looks of it, the dog will live this time and might even get in on the ass-kicking. The original was such a clever surprise that I'm eager to see where a sequel might take us. “John Wick: Chapter 1's” directing duo split in two, with Chad Stahelski directing this one and David Leitch handling “The Coldest City,” an espionage flick starring Charlize Theron that also has some whoop-ass potential.

Kong: Skull Island
There's multiple reason I'm looking forward to “Kong: Skull Island.” First and fore most, I'm all in for a King Kong movie that doesn't follow the story's usual outline. This won't be a movie about people traveling to Skull Island, capturing Kong, taking him back to New York, the ape going on a rampage and tumbling from the top of the Empire State Building. “Skull Island,” instead, will focus on the island's dangers and Kong raising hell in his home land. The trailers have been seriously impressive, Kong himself looks great, the cast is solid, and I'm digging the war movie aesthetic this is going for. My only concern is the lack of dinosaur action thus far. It's not Kong unless he breaks a T-Rex's jaws, all right?



The Lego Batman Movie
The Batman movie we deserve and the one we need right now. A feature film devoted to Will Forte's hilarious take on the Dark Knight is really enough but there's other reasons to check out “The Lego Batman Movie.” The other voices drafted for this is great, including the pitch perfect Michael Cera as Robin and Rosario Dawson as Batgirl. If the trailers and merchandising is any indication, it'll be loaded with in-jokes and call backs to some of Batman's most obscure and bizarre enemies. You guys, Crazy Quilt is going to be a Batman movie. That's huge. The trailers have also been fucking hilarious, making this seem like a win-win situation.

Logan
I'm a causal fan of the “X-Men” series at best. At first, I figured there was no way Fox would make an R-rated Wolverine movie. Yet apparently that is actually happening, allowing Wolverine to gorily dismember his enemies and drop as many fucks as he wants. The post-apocalyptic setting, a loose adaptation of Mark Millar's bizarre “Old Man Logan” story arc that leaves out the incest Hulk brood, is pretty cool. Hopefully, this will allow the mostly misbegotten Wolverine solo franchise a chance to grow and improve. With this likely being Hugh Jackman's final go-around as the mutant hero, it'll be nice for him to go out on a high note. At the very least, I'm sure Hugh is looking forward to actually drinking water again.

Mercy
Ellen Page continues to test my fandom of her. Instead of making more awesome shit like “Super” or “Hard Candy,” she continues to produce films that have personal importance to her or some such shit. “Mercy” is easily the most Ellen Page-y movie Ellen Page could ever star in, about a lesbian love affair forming on death row, co-starring Page's real life BFF Kate Mara. Page also has a remake of “Flatliners” and a lame sounding zombie movie called “The Third Wave” coming out in 2017, neither of which raise my hopes very much.



Misfortune
I've been following Lucky McKee's career for quite some time and, usually, with great enthusiasm. “May” is, after all, one of my favorite films. However, I'll admit, McKee's most recent efforts have underwhelmed me. “All Cheerleaders Die” was disappointing and I even felt his “Tales of Halloween” segment could've been better. McKee is moving out of the horror genre with “Misfortune.” The film is described as a neo-noir story, inspired by “The Treasure of Siera Madre,” about a group of friends coming upon a bundle of stolen money and pursued by a white collar criminal it belongs to. John Cusack stars in the film, presumably as the bad guy. Cusack's involvement can't help but remind me of “The Bag Man,” one of many mediocre films he's appeared in recently. I'm hoping for the best but the premise and cast doesn't instill me with the greatest confidence.

The Mummy
Numerous sources have been happy to dismiss Universal's plan to reboot their classic monster movies into a Marvel style, interlocking cinematic universe. This overlooks that Universal did the crossover thing long before anyone else did, with “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man” leading to a whole series of rally films. I'll admit the studio's current strategy of slotting A-list talent – Tom Cruise in this one, Johnny Depp in “The Invisible Man,” Javier Bardem in “Frankenstein,” possibly the Rock in “The Wolfman” and Scarlett Johansson in “Creature from the Black Lagoon” - is a better idea then their previous try of casting relatively unknowns in the lead parts.

What concerns me more is Universal's plan to re-purpose these classic horror films as big budget blockbusters. The new “Mummy” will presumably prioritize effects-driven thrills over atmospheric scares. Casting Tom Cruise in the heroic lead and the globe trotting trailer really makes this look more like a “Mission: Impossible” film then a monster movie. The aforementioned trailer, when it has sound anyway, features some cool visuals but the verdict is far from out on this one. (I'll give Universal some credit for not saddling this film with a cheesy subtitle, like “Rise of the Monsters” or something like that.)

Power Rangers
Of all the cheesy things from my childhood that I love, “Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers” is a nostalgia property I have the most difficulty justifying. The appeal of giant robots fighting ludicrous monsters is evergreen but the baseline elements of the show were strictly for the kiddies. That lack of general quality actually makes the show a good basis for a cinematic reboot. It'll be easy to improve on the source material is what I'm saying.

Yet what I've seen of 2017's “Power Rangers” makes me wonder if screenwriter John Gatins and director Dean Israelite haven't strayed too far from the source material. Making the Rangers outcasts or juvenile delinquents? Sure. They are “teenagers with attitude,” after all. Making Rita Repulsa a sexy alien villainess? Okay, I can roll with that. The abstract designs of the Zords and Alpha-5? I actively dislike that. The trailer showing such an obvious debt to “Chronicle” and playing coy with the superheroic elements? This annoys me. At this point, I'm hoping what we've seen is better then it looks and that the overqualified supporting cast knocks it out of the park.



The Snowman
Tomas Alfredson fucking loves snow. “The Snowman” is another chilly thriller from the Swedish director,  starring Michael Fassbender as the detective investigating a young woman's disappearance. “Let the Right One In” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” were both quite good so that's enough to raise my interest in “The Snowman.” I'm willing to bet money on the likelihood of the film containing a shot of the main character melancholically looking at a snow covered field.

Spider-Man: Homecoming
With this being our third cinematic Spider-Man in three years, it's hard for me to muster much excitement for another Spider-Man movie. Yeah, Tom Holland made the most of his screen time in “Civil War,” largely walking away with the movie. Marvel themselves directing Spidey's cinematic future creates hope for a franchise faithful to the character's root, though we can't forget that Sony still has some influence here. (Considering Iron Man's extended role in the film, I sort of wish they had called it “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” instead.) The trailer shows plenty of humor and action, so I'm sure this will be an improvement over the troubled “Amazing Spider-Man” series. But I'm keeping my excitement on the down-low until then.

Thor: Ragnarok
Of Marvel's Avengers, Thor seems to be the least liked. I've enjoyed both of the films so far but, no doubt, they have the least exciting stories of Marvel's adventures. Enter Taika Waititi, the eccentric genius behind modern cult classics like “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Search for the Wilderpeople.” If that sizzle reel Waititi showed at Comic-Con is any indication, “Ragnarok” will boost the already funny “Thor” series' humor to higher levels. Bringing in characters like Hela, Valkyrie, Skurge the Executioner, Grandmaster, and the Hulk certainly raises my expectations.



Under the Silver Lake and How to Talk to Girls at Parties
You'll have to excuse my confusion. It turns out John Cameron Mitchell and David Robert Mitchell are not the same people. The first Mitchell is best known for making “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” This year, he has “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” coming out, an off-beat, sci-fi tinged Neil Gaiman adaptation starring Elle Fanning.

The other Mitchell, who previously made the excellent “It Follows,” has “Under the Silver Lake” lined up for 2017. This movie is an L.A.-set crime thriller starring Andrew Garfield that we still know little about. I'm looking forward to both movies so the odds of me continuing to confuse the two Mitchells throughout the year is very high.

Suspiria
People have been talking about remaking “Suspiria,” Dario Argento's most iconic shocker, for years now. Such a mission has always struck me as a dog's errand, as any remake is destined to be unfavorably compared to the iconic original. Emulate Argento's colorful direction too faithfully and you'll be criticized for copying too closely. Stray too far from Argento's film and you'll be criticized for abandoning the spirit of the original. It's a no-win scenario.

Nevertheless, they keep trying. At least they're getting an Italian to remake it, as Luca Guadagnino of “I Am Love” is behind the camera. Guadagnino has pulled together an A-list cast for the remake, including such notable names as Dakota Johnson, Chloe Moretz, Mia Goth, Tilda Swinton, and the original's Jessica Harper. It's even keeping the seventies setting. So maybe 2017's “Suspiria” will be good but I don't envy anyone with the job of topping Dario Argento.

T2 Trainspotting
When was the last time Danny Boyle was interesting? The rebellious young filmmaker of “Trainspotting” and “Shallow Grave” has long since shifted his focus to Oscar bait like “Steve Jobs” and “127 Hours.” So the director sequelizing the film that made his name is less elating then it perhaps should be. Boyle apparently intends on ejecting most of the material from Irvine Welsh's sequel novel, “Porno,” which seems like an odd decision. I am looking forward to seeing the cast and characters again but I'll be surprised if Boyle can recapture that youthful energy with “T2.”

Yet more movies I want to see but don't feel like writing about:

Annihilation, The Beguiled, Brawl in Cell Block 99, Dunkirk, Get Out, God Particle, Hostiles, It Comes at Night, Kill 'em All, Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter, The Little Hours, The Lovers, Mom and Dad, Mute, My Friend Dahmer, Salty, Star Wars: Episode VIII, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, War for the Planet of the Apes., When We First Met, Wonderstruck, and Kathryn Bigelow and Paul Thomas Anderson's untitled new projects.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Zack Clopton's 2016 Film Retrospective

“I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. I just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.  Grab them by...

ZACK CLOPTON'S 2016 FILM RETROSPECTIVE!!!

2016 was a massive dumpster fire, personally and publicly. In America, it was a year characterized by a shit show of an election, which concluded with America electing a racist, sociopathic, clearly unqualified bag of orange dog shit president. Abroad, there was war and terror and global misalignment. A staggering number of creative, beloved people died and I'm counting my grandmother in that number. I was suffering from emotional burnout for at least seven, probably more, months out of the year.

I feel like Film Thoughts suffered from my bad mood. Looking at the numbers, I still posted more this year then in any prior year. Assuming you count my Harry Potter retrospective in November, I completed eight Report Cards, my best number since Film Thoughts' inception, in addition to several month long events. I launched a new feature in April, called No Encores. However, I personally feel like I let you guys down, as I didn't keep up with my other features throughout the year. At this point, all I can do is promise to do better in 2017.

I know we're all eager to move on but I have to look back one more time. At the movies, you see. For, as huge of a shit burger as this previous year was, the cinema still remain fairly strong. A number of films surprised me with how much I loved them. Even the disappointments usually held up to a baseline quality. It wasn't a great year for blockbusters but I dug up plenty of indie flicks to love.

In keeping with 2016 sucking, my yearly average of total new releases watched was the lowest it's been in two years. I topped out with 80. This is hugely disappointing for me but, I suppose, that's still a lot of hours wasted. Below is THE LIST, ranking every new release I saw in 2016 from most favorite to most hated. I worked hard on this so read it, goddamn it.










FOUR STARS:

1. Darling
A triumph of tone and a display for Lauren Ashley Carter. Her unforgettable eyes convey astonishing emotion. Her unraveling makes an ideal center of “Darling’s” storm. The black-and-white photography puts you in an exaggerated dream world. The editing is broken glass harsh, the sound design stark. The deliberate ambiguity immerses the viewer in this unsettling world.

2. Trash Fire
Richard Bates Jr. returns to his favorite subjects: Dysfunctional families, deviant sexuality, physical deformity. Add a dollop of religious repression and you've got a damn work of genius. The script walks a fine line, keeping the characters' caustic without making them unlikable. The cast is uniformly excellent while the story takes some genuinely shocking turns. See it!

3. Swiss Army Man
For all its bizarre humor – much of which is hilariously absurd and agreeably scatological – the film eventually reveals itself as a fable about the value of life, the power of friendship, and the difference between who we really are and what we want to be. Add two disarmingly charming lead performances and a brilliantly creative, homemade outlook to make a future cult classic.

4. The Handmaiden
Each perspective change takes you deeper into the film's world, the twisting tale constantly re-contextualizing its own events. Themes of class division and complicated thoughts on erotica serve a story ultimately about two bad-ass women besting those that oppress them. Brilliantly fluid direction and an impish sense of humor tie together a great cinematic experience.

5. The Neon Demon
Refn makes his point about modeling. Fanning's virtuous heroine absorbs its vile philosophies. This surface obsessed industry will consume those it desires. But it's an awfully pretty movie, often abandoning narrative for searing visuals. Within the symmetrical world, grotesque violence is introduced. This contrast with the attractive surface, showing ugliness lurking beneath beauty.

6. Green Room
A blood soaked punk rock thrill ride. Even the early scenes have a jittery unease, before the situation constantly escalates. The violence is brutal but blunt, the gore shocking the audience. Anton Yelchin panics well, Imogeen Poots is dryly sarcastic, and Patrick Stewart calmly orders executions. Through the unrelenting intensity, Saulnier sneaks in moments of humor or pathos.

7. The Nice Guys
Shane Black makes the most of the seventies setting, rolling together the environmental movement, porno chic, and, hilariously, anxieties about Richard Nixon and killer bees. The dialogue is highly quotable and hilarious, delivered by two great actors at the top of their games. Watching the plot unfold is so much fun, the film finding new ways to surprise and entertain us.

8. Kubo and the Two Strings
Laika pushes its house style to new levels, creating a visually immersive masterpiece. The film overflows with creative ideas, from dancing paper and giant eyeballs to leaf boats and monster skeletons. Beginning as a fantasy rich legend, it evolves into a fable about how we tell stories to keep our loved ones alive. It also, surprisingly, features some of the best action scenes of the year.

9. Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Ricky Baker is one of the break-out characters of the year, the center of this absolutely charming road trip movie. The film successfully switches genres – low-key comedy to backwoods adventure to chase picture – while staying hilarious throughout, finding new ways to make the viewer laugh. A consistently funny cast finalizes what is sure to be a future cult classic.

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Absolutely the most fun I had in a movie theater all year. The superior sequel ditches the lame stuff from the first one, keeps what was good, and features amusingly over-the-top action.
Most importantly, it finally brings long awaited elements from the cartoon – Bebop and Rocksteady, the Technodrome, motherfucking Krang! - to the big screen.










THREE AND A HALF STARS:

11. Deadpool
Say what you will about the Deadpool character but this movie perfectly captures him. This is the part Ryan Reynolds was born to play. The action scenes are creative while the script benefits from a tighter focus. The film is packed start-to-finish with hilarious lines and scenarios. That chaotic humor characterizes the entire film, a hugely entertaining experience.

12. Elle
Michele is a very complicated character, as is the movie around her. She doesn't respond to her assault as a passive victim but rather a fully formed person, complex and thoughtful. Paul Verhoven directs the attack scenes with the brutality you'd expect of him, contrasting with the grace with which he makes the rest of the film.

13. The Monster
Extremely intense creature feature, putting two vulnerable characters into an increasingly bad situation. The pitch black direction helps up the suspense. The beast is primarily brought to life through practical effects, making it a visceral threat. The two lead performances root the viewer emotionally, making this as much a story about parenthood as a claustrophobic monster movie.

14. Zootopia
“Zootopia” has lots of laughs, great lead characters, some thrills, a few surprises, great animation, and a timely moral about the ways prejudice pushes us apart.. It's a buddy cop movie of sorts, the strong-willed bunny and the conman fox learning to love one another, with a surprisingly involving mystery. The titular city is an impressive creation.

15. Wiener-Dog
Themes about death, choice, and belonging wind through all four segments. Solondz’ script alternates between cruel and his impish sense of humor. Such as a hilarious intermission. The deeply ironic humor stands side-by-side with probing questions about the futility of existence. Yet his empathy for the suffering of damaged humans – and innocent dogs – grounds the stories.

16. Moana
An almost archetypal story of a princess rebelling against tradition, that leans a little too hard on Chosen One cliches, but is a lot of fun, beautifully animated, wonderfully performed, with some great songs. Maui is a lovable creation, hiding his insecurities behind a boisterous personality. Jemaine Clement as a glam rock crab monster is the clear highlight of the movie for me.

17. Star Trek Beyond
Returns “Trek” to its pulpy adventure roots. Focuses on characters and makes the smart decision to pair off most of the pivotal cast members, including Scotty with Sofia Boutella's exciting Jaylah. The villain's motivation is a bit contrived. The action direction is shaky at first but eventually makes way for some of the best ship battles in the franchise's history.

18. Emelie
Disturbing thriller that heads in increasingly creepy directions. The viewer is forced to watch, seasick, as another unnerving event happens. Sarah Bolger plays an eerily plausible sociopath while Joshua Rush is endearingly tough. The script packs the runtime full of memorable struggles and sickening reveals. This clever streak runs out before the end but I still enjoyed this one a lot.

19. I Am Not a Serial Killer
The less you know about this moody YA adaptation, the better. There's a big shock about a half-hour in that totally caught me off-guard. Max Records is a fascinatingly conflicted protagonist while Christopher Lloyd is both surprisingly scary and deeply sympathetic as the villain. The tension builds nicely throughout the film, to a low-key ending that still feels earned.

20. The Bronze
Hope Ann Greggory may be my favorite new character of the year. A foul-mouth, obnoxious, woman-child, the film clearly outlines the root of her anti-social antics, making the audience relate to her plight. Her vulgar dialogue is highly quotable and her bad behavior is frequently amusing. The addition of a great supporting cast and an unforgettable sex scene seals the deal.

21. Finding Dory
Seeing these characters again is delightful and the film is packed full of belly laughs. The new additions are equally lovable, especially the neurotic septopus. For an animated comedy, this is really tightly plotted with some satisfyingly big action set pieces. Because this is Pixar, there's also an equal amount of touching emotion.

22. Doctor Strange
Oh sure, the Marvel formula is present. The protagonist is a humbled asshole. The villain is forgettable, even with a talented actor in the role. Sequel hooks are overdone. Who cares? The cast is great, especially the perfect Cumberbatch and Swinson. The trippy visuals are a joy and the conclusion puts an interesting spin on the traditional showdown between good and evil.

23. Shin Godzilla
The strangest Godzilla movie yet, as much a satire about bureaucratic oversight as a giant monster movie. The pacing is odd, cutting between long talky sequences and scenes of massive destruction. Godzilla’s appearance is grotesque, staggeringly strong. Hideki Anno's direction is characterized by a documentary like urgency. A fascinating, powerful, at times frustrating film.

24. They Look Like People
Horror indie that puts the viewer into the brain of a schizophrenic, crafting foreboding voices and an enveloping, unnerving paranoia. When the explicit horror sequences appear, they're suitably disturbing. The funny lead performances cause the audience to become invested in the story. The “Is it or isn't it?” ending builds in intensity and leads to a surprisingly concrete ending.

25. Tower
By combining interviews with survivors and reenactments, this documentary helps the viewer understand what living through the Charles Whitman shooting must be like. The re-telling playing out in nearly real time contributes to this intense feeling. The animated approach adds a surreal layer, emphasizing how awful this event felt as it was happening.

26. X-Men: Apocalypse
Maybe the most comic book-y comic book movie yet made. It has the massive stakes and massive cast of a major crossover event. Despite the apocalypse promised in its title, the film maintains a free-wheeling sense of fun, constantly topping its previous huge set pieces.










THREE STARS:

27. Under the Shadow
Iranian horror flick that does the jump scare right, by building up a suitable atmosphere of dread and never revealing too much. It's not just the shadow the main character lives under but the tension of being in a war zone and stifling religious repression. This gives the monster at the center greater meaning, which is further supported by clever effects and good performances.

28. Hangman
Found footage horror flicks may be played out but this one is genuinely spooky. It directly comments on surveillance state concerns that most films just hint at. The acting from the observed family is effectively naturalistic. The killer is incredibly creepy, displaying some very disturbing behavior. The directors cook up some very unnerving scenarios.

29. 10 Cloverfield Lane
By deconstructing the “cozy apocalypse” genre, the viewer and characters question if they can trust Howard, before it’s reveal how unsafe he is. Winstead shows a real steel and on-her-feet ingenuity. Goodman is simultaneously avuncular, unstable, and sympathetic. Tension builds throughout, through board games and bunker doors, before an ending that catches you off-guard.

30. De Palma
Nearly two hours of Brian De Palma talking about his life, career, and his movies. And it's awesome. The director frankly discusses his successes, his failures, his influences, his divisive reputation among critics, his run-ins with censors, and some surprising insight into his personal life. Through it out, De Palma emerges as a self-aware, funny, down-to-earth kind of guy.

31. Pete’s Dragon
A real tearjerker, that approaches its story with a calm, understanding eye. The result is a story about growth and love,  Refreshingly, there's no real villains in the story, only people too wrapped up in their own bias. Most importantly, Elliot is a super lovable dragon and a beautifully convincing special effect.

32. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusader
Adam and Burt sound a little tired but this captures the spirit of the TV show well. The in-jokes – cameos from multiple Catwomen, call-outs to future iterations of Batman – are hilarious. The plot is the right kind of ridiculous, allowing for cameos from multiple villains and giving Adam West a chance to ham it up even more. Not all the jokes hit but, overall, this is really fun.

33. Siren
Expansion of the best segment from “V/H/S” has some interesting ideas, like the Satanic nightclub and memory-sucking leeches. The visual effects of the siren's song or a sequence without sound are inventive. Mostly, I liked how the film made its monster sympathetic without compromising her monstrous nature.  Could've done without that epilogue though...

34. Holy Hell
Fascinating documentary about a cult made by former cult members. The film runs you through the experience: The infatuation with a spiritual leader. The joy of communal living. The slow realization that this man is a liar. The exit following sexual abuse allegations. The people who were there tell the tale, drawing the audience into a very strange, ultimately traumatic experience.

35. The Witch
A fantastic overall tone of dread and fear is generated. The director has an amazing grasp of tension. Several individual sequences, involving unfortunate babies or crows, are terrifying. The ending raises some tantalizing questions. However, I'm not sure it holds together as a whole. This one will require a second viewing. Black Phillip was awesome though.

36. The Corpse of Anna Fritz
Grisly Brazilian thriller that, by killing off its most reasonable character first, leaves the audience in a morally uncertain area. Who do you root for? The unrepentant rapist or the slightly remorseful rapist? A number of tense scenarios follow, the title character nearly escaping her captives several time. The shock ending features a blunt but totally appropriate action. 

37. Sausage Party
Consistently produces chuckles and is occasionally hysterical. The film primarily has three jokes up its sleeve: An unending vulgar streak, which is sometimes amusing; absurd pop culture parody, which is often hilarious; and a crass satire of religion and cultural stereotypes, which is hit or miss. It’s uneven but worth it for the musical number, the orgy, and the Meat Loaf cameo.

38. Antibirth
Effectively captures the constantly stoned or drunk headspace of its characters. The increasingly nasty body horror is nicely gross, even if the more surreal attempts at horror don't quite succeed. The work of the lead actresses, especially a gleefully profane Natasha Lyonne and Meg Tilly, bring a lot of humor the proceedings. The plot is nonsense though the ending is enjoyably nuts.

39. Southbound
Each new segment in this horror anthology is better then the one before it. The grisly, hospital set black comedy is my favorite, along with the “girl band versus sitcom Satanists” story and concluding home invasion sequence. Patrick Horvath's “Jailbreak” has its moments but lacks a clear direction. The opening tale has some solid effects but not too much else going for it.

40. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
A “Star Wars” movie that emphasizes the war, tackling some complex themes while still delivering on blockbuster expectations. Lovable supporting characters like a wheezy Forest Whitaker, a warrior monk, or a sarcastic droid are more interesting then the flat protagonists.
It also clears up a long standing plot hole in the original.

41. Edge of Winter
Conceptually, this is great. The conflict between the redneck father and the sensitive son discusses the ways masculinity has changed. Joel Kinnaman is sympathetic but still dangerous as the unhinged father. All of this makes it a bummer that the script is so predictable, that the story escalates in such obvious ways. But, hey, a third of a good movie is still something notable.
 
42. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Yes, some fantastic beasts are on display. Sequences devoted to the interior of a magical suitcase, a horny rhino monster, or a size-shifting feathered serpent are the film's best. They're certainly more interesting then the generic evil wizard or the CGI destruction storm. Eddie Redmanye’s acting is as obnoxiously showy as ever but a lovable supporting cast makes up for a lot.

43. Tallulah
Uneven dramedy anchored by some great performances. Ellen Page is funny and melancholic, while Allison Janney provides reasonable banter. Watching the titular character enter bad situations and try to lie her way out begins as humorous but quickly becomes desperately sad. The film is powerful if a little scattershot, which the overly vague ending is a symptom of.

44. The Shallows
Preposterous thriller that features a psycho shark, an easily predictable character arc about survival, melodramatic direction, and a ridiculous climax. This isn’t a problem as the film quickly hooks the viewer. The shark makes an awesome adversary. The attacks are viscerally composed. Throw in an animal sidekick named Steven Seagull and you’ve got a pleasantly thrilling flick.

45. Captain America: Civil War
There's a dozen major characters. Several are prominent newcomers, such as a pitch-perfect Spider-Man, a contrivted Black Panther, and a super lame take on Baron Zemo. Not to mention the Accords subplot, which is mostly besides the point. The ending is too clever for tits own good. Yes, the cast remains awesome and the action scenes, especially that airport fight, are cool.

46. Nina Forever
This one runs with the metaphor of an undying relationship in a more sophisticated way then previous “zombie girlfriend” movies. The cruelness and grisliness of the dead girl is played up, as is how kinky a zombie will make your sex life. The meaning wanders off before the end but a handful of powerful scenes, clarifying the theme of grief, tie the movie together.

47. Elvis & Nixon
Interestingly, neither the main actors go out of their way to mimic the historical duo. Instead, Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey are allowed to weird it up as two of America's most surreal figures. The movie doesn't have much else going for it – the script is a wisp, the supporting characters are shadows – but two lovable performers having fun is sometimes all you need.

48. The Night Stalker
Can't quite shake its TV movie roots and the protagonist's kinky sex subplot is unnecessary. As a doorway into Richard Ramirez' mind, it's interesting and bolstered by an excellent Lou Diamond Phillips performance. (And a surprisingly sincere portrayal of Satanism.) The film eventually circles around to a powerful point about the power of influence in our lives.

49. Blair Witch
Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett grasps the scariest thing about the original – getting lost in the woods – and add lots more temporal displacement, gnarly gore, a fantastically claustrophobic sequence, and more likable characters. The film eventually overdoes the stick people and shows too much in its last act but this is a fine Hollywood boo show and a worthy sequel.

50. Ghostbusters
Takes a while to find its comedic rhythm. Wiig and McCarthy are fine but the supporting players shine. Kate McKinnon has a comedic energy all her own. Leslie Jones strikes me as the break-out talent. Chris Hemsworth plays an exceedingly eccentric simpleton. The ghosts look amazing. Slimer gets a girlfriend. Paul Feig’s direction is ill suited to an effects driven film.

51. Into the Forest
Survivalist drama that focuses on small but vivid character interaction and an acute sense of isolated atmosphere. Rachel Leigh Cook and Ellen Page's performances are thoughtful. The very slow pace hinders the film, making the bigger dramatic moments seem almost random. The final act reveals this as a feminist allegory, about escaping a crumbling, sexist society.

52. Hardcore Henry
As a series of high impact action scenes, this is initially and periodically thrilling, though eventually exhausting. The humor helps, especially a campy performance from Sharlto Copley. The unimportant plot is either satirizing video game cliches – including the misogyny – or playing them straight, depending on how much credit you're willing to give the filmmakers.

53. Sun Choke
Compellingly strange story about obsession, madness, and new age medicine. I wish the film exclusively focused on the bizarre relationship between Barbara Crampton as the abusive nurse and Sarah Hagan as the ill girl. Their scenes prove more compelling then _'s descent into abstract, overly vague craziness. There are still some effectively squirmy sequences of horror though.

54. I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
Director Osgood Perkins creates a foreboding tone, making the film a compelling exercise in mood. Ruth Wilson's lead performance is fittingly twitchy. The voice over provides an appropriately novel-like feel, the film clearly getting at the interaction between reality and fiction. But I have no clue what the fuck any of it means and the pace is far too mellow.

55. The Blackout Experiments
Documentary about an extreme “horror attraction” that is more like a cross between elaborate performance art and a BDSM session. The interviews with “survivors” attempt to unravel the power of catharsis over trauma, even if you're mostly left wondering why anyone would subject themselves to simulated torture. The peaks into the Blackout experience are bracing though.

56. Justice League vs. Teen Titans
Watching the dynamics among the Titans is the most entertaining thing about this one, which is overall pretty forgettable. The script cheats, as you'd expect, to get to that titular fight but, like most of the action here, it's fun while it lasts. As hard as the story tries, it can't overcome Damian Wayne's inherent dickishness. That sequel hook is pretty inciting though.










TWO AND A HALF STARS:

57. Camino
Sticking Zoe Bell in a survival thriller was a smart idea, even if her transformation from victim to bad ass strains credibility. When focused on the violent, prolonged confrontations, the film meets its goals. However, the script eventually falls into a repetitive pattern, the musical score is distracting, and the artier touches seem disconnected from the rest of the film.

58. The Eyes of My Mother
Gorgeous black-and-white photography props up an intermittently interesting psychological horror narrative. While the stark sound design sometimes produces chills, the distant approach ultimately alienates the viewer. The glimpses we get into the deranged protagonist's mind are fascinating, as is the gnarly gore, but the shrug of a conclusion leads to a weak ending.

59. Lights Out
Expanding a short into a feature is tricky. The short’s visual gimmick is grafted it to a populist ghost story narrative. Sandberg stretches his techniques to their breaking point. It also struggles to build a mythology out of nothing. Diana's shadowy behavior is clearly a metaphor for mental illness. Any comment the film might have about how depression is decidedly shallow.

60. Suicide Squad
The narrative problems are serious. the pacing is all over the place, the visuals are ugly, and the soundtrack is intrusive.. Joker and Harley's relation playing out as a straight-up romance is hopelessly fucked up. Cast is decent, the action is solid, I laughed and had some fun. At the very least, it's better then “Batman v. Superman.”

61. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Filters a number of popular ideas through Tim Burton’s sensibilities, drowning them in gothic atmosphere and quirky humor. Yet all the spooky touches, like stop motion skeletons, couldn’t disguise the stock parts script. Asa Butterfield is a snore. Eva Green displays a rakish smile but disappears midway through. Most of the peculiar children are just gimmicks.

62. Midnight Special
Beginning this chase story in the middle was a smart way to draw the audience in. Sadly, and despite the very talented cast, the characters prove too thin to be compelling. As the script shifts its focus from the cult to the boy's increasingly vague abilities, the audience's interest starts to drift. Some exciting visuals draw you back by the end, yet “Midnight Special” remains uneven.

63. The Jungle Book
Unlike previous live action adaptations of Disney cartoons, this does something different. The film features many of the flaws common in blockbusters – a “chosen one” story arc, over-reliance on CGI, distracting handheld direction, a sequel ready open-ending – but inspired casting choices, like Christopher Walken as King Louie and Bill Murray as Baloo, makes this worth seeing.

64. Phantasm: Ravager
Despite attempts to re-center the franchise around the fear of death, this is ultimately disappointing. Dangling plot points are awkwardly wrapped up. The mythology is briefly built upon but another sequel hook is in place of a definitive ending. Watching Reggie screw around and fight monsters will always be fun. But “Ravager” can’t stand up against fan expectations.

65. Last Girl Standing
I was with this horror indie, which discusses PTSD through a slasher film metaphor, up until its final twenty minutes. Before then, I appreciated the performances and the patient pacing, even if the attempts at horror movie shocks are undercooked. That twist cheapens the meaning of everything that came before and is mildly insulting to survivors.










TWO STARS:

66. Hush
The brilliant premise – a deaf/mute woman stalked by a Michael Myers-like killer – is quickly reduced to a gimmick, only being utilized in a few scenes. Director Mike Flannigan spoils this by having the killer reveal his face and talk. Which makes this a mildly compelling thriller about two strong personalities fighting. The performances are fine but the story quickly gets repetitive.

67. The Conjuring 2
Another handsomely produced James Wan ghost fest. He ramps the jump scares, loud noises, and spooky kids way the fuck up, This means genuine scares, sudden Crooked Man appearances aside, are rarely found. Aside from the Warren  rhapsodizing and Catholic propaganda, it's also way too long. The atmosphere is okay but this is passable horror fare, at best.

68. Carnage Park
An extended act in homage that starts strong but eventually becomes directionless. The gore is impressive but, once the bank robbers get capped, this becomes an endless chase flick. While I enjoy Ashley Bell's performance, far too much of the film is devoted to her wandering the desert. The climax takes place in total darkness, leaving the viewer shrugging.

69. The Mind’s Eye
Low budget riff on “Scanners” that compensates for its lack of scope with an abundance of cheap gore. I appreciate the colorful direction and synth-driven score. The cast is loaded full of talented performers but the characters are thin and the lead actor is a bore. The script has few ideas, beginning as a chase story before becoming a series of repetitive fight scenes.

70. Regression
If you're familiar with the facts surrounding the Satanic Ritual Abuse hysteria, you can guess this one's twist ending. The repeated nightmare sequences are mildly effective but quickly loose their punch. The performances are hammy, even from usually reliable actors. All together, this is the text book definition of an underachieving, pseudo-intellectual thriller.

71. Don’t Breathe
The script uses the impoverished setting as dour window dressing on a standard genre story. The teen antiheroes’ behavior is excused and the blind man is one-dimensional, Stephen Lang giving an odd performance. Alvarez can set up a decent jump scare, involving a tenacious Rottweiler or cracking glass, but that’s all this surprisingly vapid jump scare machine has going for it.

72. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice
Essentially, the film has its two heroes acting foolishly in order to make that titular fight happen.
Superman is self-loathing, Batman is a sociopath. Wonder Woman is cool but she's barely in it. Lex Luthor is obviously insane. Zack Snyder made this so it's dour, ponderous, sloppily plotted, misses the point of its source material, and is more concerned with cool visuals then reason.

73. The Invitation
I have no problem with slow burn horror but this takes forever to get to the point. The cast is too large, making it impossible to care about the characters or the theme of moving past loss. You can't get involved with the slowly bubbling tension for the same reason. The attack scenes, when they finally come, are satisfying but get capped off with a huge “fuck you” of an ending.

74. 31
A distillation of Rob Zombie’s style. He piles on the profane dialogue, white trash grotesquery, inane shock tactics, and in-your-face crassness. This is a bummer, as the film does feature a decent cast, including a disturbing Richard Brake performance. Add some obnoxious shaky-cam direction and a needlessly nihilistic ending to get a lame, deeply unpleasant viewing experience.

75. Nine Lives
Well, I laughed exactly once. Which was one more laugh then I was expecting. Yes, this is exactly as dire as you'd expect. It's mostly unfunny CGI cat antics with a bored sounding Kevin Spacey reading puns over them. The “selfish businessman learns to appreciate his family” is as cliched as can be and takes an off-puttingly morbid turn in the last act.










ONE AND A HALF STARS:

76. Cell
“Cell” presents its zombies in a ridiculous manner. They seize, gyrate, and release bizarre audio feedback sounds. How the zombies act shift from scene to scene. The climax borders on incoherent. It squanders more-or-less all the potential its premise has and doesn’t give a talented cast nearly enough to do. Instead, the movie quickly collapses into goofiness and clichés.

77. Holidays
One of the few anthologies were every single segment is a stinker. Like too many indie horror films of this type, several of the shorts are weird for weird's sake. Most of them, like Kevin Smith's pathetic Halloween segment, have little to do with their chosen holidays. The few that come close to being decent – Father's Day, Christmas – blow it with underwhelming endings.

ONE STAR:

78. Aimy in a Cage
Meet Aimy, the year's most annoying new character. She spends the entire movie screaming her head off and being as obnoxious as possible. The rest of the movie is as in-your-face with its excessive weirdness and abrasive writing. Yeah, the set design and music are kind of interesting but that in no ways justifies the headache you'll get. The shit I watch for Crispin Glover, I swear...

79. Yoga Hosers
Whoever introduced Kevin Smith to pot needs a kick in the balls. The script combines a bunch of haphazard bullshit: Phone-obsessed protagonists who talk in obnoxious teen lingo, tired Canada jokes, incredibly annoying villains, random Satanists, painfully unfunny celebrity impersonations, yoga fighting, mean-spirited critic bashing, and an utterly nonsensical last act.

HALF A STAR:

80. The Greasy Strangler
Sets out to be the most aesthetically unpleasant film ever and largely succeeds. All the disgusting antics – grotesque nudity, close-ups of bodily byproducts – are in service only of obnoxious cringe comedy. The constant repetition of dialogue and intentionally wooden acting is as nearly stomach turning. But congratulations to the filmmakers for meeting in their simpering goal.

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Well, it's over now. Both the year and this retrospective, I mean. I know these lists are very long and, as always, I graciously thank anyone who has read through the entire thing.  Words can't begin to describe how thankful I am for everyone who reads what I write or listens to what I say on my podcasts. Thank you all so much for being one of the things about 2016 that didn't blow utter chunks.

As has become the tradition by now, come back tomorrow for a list of the films I'm most anticipating in 2017. See you on the other side, dear readers.