Missoula Dining Guide 2019

I’m generally grouchy about the dining scene in Missoula but there are a few gems. I mostly cook at home, save my money, and go nuts when I travel. In any case, here’s my advice:

The Best (go out of your way):

Biga Pizza

I’ve had multiple visitors from places with great pizza (like, um, NYC) who have texted me months later telling me they are still thinking about Biga Pizza. This is the one culinary experience in Missoula that is truly world class. It gets the basics right (excellent brick oven crust and high quality ingredients) and then adds lots of really amazing, thoughtful flavor combinations. Chef Bob Marshall thinks about texture when putting toppings together, which is something that even a lot of very good pizza chefs ignore. My winter favorites are the pie with sweet potato, bacon, maple-chipotle, and hazelnut and their signature classic: smoked Gouda, fennel sausage, Flathead cherry chutney. In the summer I like the margherita, the bacon and fennel marmalade, and the mushroom-arugula. Also, with the exception of the occasional vanilla-laced vinaigrette, their salad game is on point. I almost always order the special salad, and it’s almost always stellar. One small negative comment is that lately I don’t think Marshall has been developing the weekly special pizzas himself and some of them have been out of balance (like a Cubano pizza that sounded amazing but was overwhelmingly acidic).

Dinosaur Cafe

Cajun joint in the back of Charlie B’s. The setting here is great. Charlie’s is the best bar in Missoula, and really the only one I actively enjoy spending time in. What’s so great about it is the total lack of social barriers. Everyone goes to Charlie’s from all Montanan walks of life and people mostly get along. I can’t vouch for most of the menu but the Gumbolaya (yep, gumbo on jambalaya) is the best cheap, quick lunch around and I would eat it twice a week if I lived closer. Also: very good wings. I’ve had the etouffee and some of the po’ boys and I enjoyed them but I like the Gumbolaya so much I rarely even think about what I’m going to order.

Le Petit Outre

Well-prepared Vivace espresso from Seattle and excellent not-too-sweet French-style pastries. The canelés are transcendent and the other pastries–except the scones– are great (though a lot of people also like the scones). This is the only coffee or espresso in town I will go out of my way for (ignore their drip, though).

Kamoon Arabian Cuisine

New food truck outside Imagine Nation Brewing. Spendy, but I don’t mind supporting these guys and this is really the only great non-Western food around. Indeed, it’s exceptional. One thing: if you get a wrap, probably ask them to heat the shell just to make sure they do. That’s the one problem I’ve had.

Hobnob Cafe

Best breakfast, and a good value. Corned beef hash, sourdough pancakes.

Parker’s Family Restaurant

This is actually in Drummond, but it’s totally worth the drive (closed on Sundays and Mondays!) and easy to tie in with a visit to Garnet ghost town during summer months or Phillipsburg all year round. They have like 127 burgers on the menu and they get really crazy. Like, you can get a burger topped with a smaller burger. The woman who runs the place is AMAZING and I LOVE HER.

Also decent:

La Mas Fina Mexican Food

This is down in Victor, but it’s the only Mexican food around I’d go out of my way for. Good tamales.

Notorious P.I.G.

This place has been inconsistent in my experience but it is generally very solid BBQ. They are better at ribs than brisket. The sides are generally awesome. Not into the sauces but when you catch them on a good day their meat doesn’t need any sauce.

Lisa’s Pasty Pantry

A taste of Butte, right here in Missoula. Aside from a classic pasty, you can get a Butte-style fried pork chop sandwich or a pretty damn good Reuben.

Snowbowl

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a ski area that serves better food for more reasonable prices than Snowbowl, which is also open much of the summer for MTB and ziplining. The pizza is not as good as Biga, but I wouldn’t want to eat only Biga and never have Snowbowl. It’s good in its own way.

Sweet Peaks

Excellent hipster ice cream. Much better than Big Dipper. Avoid the sorbet. I like mainstays like salted caramel, but their very best special flavors deploy fresh herbs.

Bernice’s Bakery

Excellent cake. The only bakery around besides Le Petit that I’d recommend.

Glen’s Cafe

Fun spot for homemade pie down in Florence

Red Bird Wine Bar

Best burger in the city limits. Get hushpuppies on the side. The duck pâté is good but I generally don’t enjoy the rest of their menu.

Masala

Unexceptional but pleasant Indian counter service. A good choice for a quick, relatively healthy lunch.

Bamboo Chopstix

They moved to Lolo. The only acceptable Americanized Chinese food around.

Tagliare

Inconsistent but usually very good expensive sandwiches. I always get the Megadeth.

The Empanada Joint

Solid. They do more traditional Argentine-style but also breakfast empanadas with eggs and bacon or sausage that are awesome.

Other comments:

I do not recommend fine dining in Missoula. None of the places here would be good enough to stay open in a modestly competitive market. If you absolutely must, you can get a tasty plate of overpriced food at the Pearl. Avoid Scotty’s Table and ignore the people who will inevitably disagree with me about this. They make some very basic mistakes for a place that charges as much as they do (standing out in my memory: mushy mussels and unbalanced plates without enough of components that you need with every bite). Except for their holiday stollen, avoid the very popular Black Cat Bake Shop, which has gone way down hill. Almost everything there tastes like the walk-in freezer.  They fill fruit pastries with pie filling out of a can. Almost everything is underbaked. Avoid all Asian food not mentioned above, except maybe Vietnam Noodle, which does kinda sorta have a place in my heart (it’s not good per se but it’s got charm). The Michi Ramen bar is probably the single worst place I’ve eaten at in Missoula (the food made me so angry that I was inspired to write this post– greasy, watery, undersalted, mushy noodles, undercooked egg white, overpowering burnt garlic). Definitely no sushi. There used to be a marginally acceptable place in Hamilton but it closed and reopened and I heard that it’s now bad. Avoid all the random upscale bar food like the James Bar. Just go to Charlie’s if you want to eat in a bar. And that, friends, is my grumpy Missoula dining summary.

 

 

 

 

2018 Albums

This was a good year in music for me. For the first time in recent memory, my favorite album was not a rap album. Hands down, no question, my pick is Aïsha Devi’s DNA Feelings. It feels to me like a futuristic pagan ritual, which is exactly my taste. The other big one was of course Both Directions at Once, though it’s not really fair to count that as a 2018 album.

For R&B, I was extremely fond of SiR’s November. My favorite pop album was SOPHIE’s OIL OF EVERY PEARL’S UN-INSIDES, followed by Kali Uchis’s Isolation and Robyn’s Honey.

For most of the year my favorite metal album was Chrch’s Light Will Consume Us All, which is an excellent doom metal release. Just recently I discovered a couple other metal albums I really like: Toronto death metal outfit Tomb Mold’s Manor of Infinite Forms and Head Cage, a grindcore album from Pig Destroyer.

I listened to quite a bit of electronic music this year. After Aïsha Devi, my favorites were Jlin’s Autobiography, Aphex Twin’s Collapse EP, Jon Hopkins’ Singularity, Pauline Anna Strom’s Trans-Millennia Music, The Field’s Infinite Moment, and Skee Mask’s Compro (thanks, Dru).

I don’t listen to much rock music, but someone recommended I check out Zola Jesus (thanks, Catharine) and I loved her release Okovi: Additions, which consists of unreleased tracks and remixes from last year’s Okovi. There’s a Wolves in the Throne Room track! She reminds me of Florence and the Machine, except good.

The one country album I got really into was Colter Wall’s Songs of the Plains (thanks, John). I also saw him perform live and it was excellent, though (predictably) compromised by bad audience behavior.

I listened through some of the other big critical favorites that I’m seeing on end of the year lists. I didn’t find much that really interests me, except Low’s Double Negative, which I need to spend some more time with. I actively dislike the Noname and DJ Koze albums, and I find Mitski irredeemably boring and I have no idea why critics are so into her.

Now, the main event. Top ten rap albums:

1) Earl Sweatshirt- Some Rap Songs

Dense, dark, and innovative.

2) Freddie Gibbs, Curren$y, and The Alchemist – Fetti

The menacing beats and gritty storytelling make for a welcome reboot of the 90’s east coast sound. This stood out against the sea of uptempo trap.

3) SOB X RBE– Gangin and Gangin II

According to Spotify, SOB X RBE was my most-listened to artist of 2018. It’s because they released not one, but two albums that I totally loved. The four-part ensemble west coast sound is raucous, with Yhung T.O. at the center channeling the sort of gangsta-badassery-expressed-through-soulful-melody feel that we associate with Akon and Nate Dogg.

4) Pusha T- Daytona

Way too short but basically perfect within its constraints.

5) Ski Mask the Slump God- Beware the Book of Eli

I love the crazy Ski Mask creative energy. His more recent studio release isn’t as good but this shit is lit. While other rappers are still talking about guns, Ski Mask’s signature threat is to drown you in a river of lost souls.

6) Joey Purp- Quarterthing

He spans basically every style of contemporary rap here and hits them all out of the park. This is a tight album.

7) Cardi B– Invasion of Privacy

I was a little disappointed at first by how overproduced this turned out to be, but it grew on me steadily and I’m still listening to it regularly. I do prefer Cardi’s rawer tracks but she’s pretty much always fantastic.

8) Lil Wayne- The Carter V

!!! I went to see Lil Wayne live a couple years ago purely for the nostalgia and was relieved that it wasn’t terrible. I certainly didn’t think he’d ever release a good album again. This is about twice as long as it should be and there are many mediocre tracks but the high points are extremely high and I love seeing Wayne shut the haters up.

9) BlocBoy JB- Simi

Rude, brash, offensive, and unrelentingly fun. He’s got a strong Memphis sound, in the vein of Young Dolph but more dynamic. He creates a vivid, richly detailed world rather than just rattling off the standard boasts.

10) Kodak Black- Heart Break Kodak

This blew my mind when I first heard it but I wore it out relatively quickly. I want to acknowledge it though as a very unique and timely mixtape (much better than the album he recently released). At a point when everyone is going full autotune, he released one of the most emo, out of key, raw, underproduced, brutally honest tapes in recent memory (alongside Boosie’s In My Feelings…).

Honorable mention: 21 Savage is my favorite rapper right now but I thought his album (just released last week) was a little uneven. I thought the Gucci Mane album, the JID album, the Metro Boomin mixtape and the Jay Rock album were excellent. I like the minimalism of the Quavo solo album. There were a lot of not-very-distinct but enjoyable trap albums this year. My favorites were Playboi Carti, Young Nudy, and Lil Baby with Gunna. It’s a little boring but I appreciate the professional polish of The Carters’ EVERYTHING IS LOVE, and the video for “APESHIT” is all time.

Streaming Recommendations, Vol. 6

Featured image from The Perfume of the Lady in Black

Amazon Prime

Amazon prime is so amazing now. Month after month they just keep adding incredible stuff that’s not easily accessible elsewhere. The one thing to watch out for is that they often run stuff in terrible quality or the wrong aspect ratio, but as long as one is careful to check whether a better version is available there are many treasures to be found. I vetted the quality of any title I’m recommending where I thought there might be a concern.

The Perfume of the Lady in Black (Barilli, 1974)

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This is a peak giallo. It’s ultra lurid and moody, full of creepy hallucinations and perverse secrets. I would rank it up there with better known gialli from Bava, Argento, Fulci, and Martino.

Basket Case (Henenlotter, 1982)

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American exploitation classic from the great Frank Henenlotter, now part of the permanent collection of the MoMA! Exceptional practical effects, a wicked sense of humor, and more psychoanalytic acuity than one might expect.

Performance (Roeg and Cammell, 1970)

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In honor of Roeg’s recent passing, I recommend this batshit early work starring Mick Jagger. Roeg took it to 11, making heavy use of the jarring crosscuts that were characteristic of his style throughout his career.

The Proposition (Hillcoat, 2005)

Written by Nick Cave, this is an extremely dark and intense Aussie western. I think it’s easily one of the best entries in the western genre in this millennium.

Dog Soldiers (Marshall, 2002)

I was so thrilled to see this show up on streaming! This is one of the best modern werewolf movies. It uses practical effects throughout, no CGI wolf morphing crap.

House of Games (Mamet, 1987)

In honor of Ricky Jay’s recent passing, I recommend this wonderful David Mamet con artist flick. I grew up loving this movie, and I think it holds up well. As one would expect, there are lots of twists and turns and it’s full of amazing Mamet dialogue.

Dolls (Stuart Gordon, 1987)

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No one can execute an awesome horror premise like Stuart Gordon can. Every Stuart Gordon movie is worthwhile, and this one’s on Prime.

Eaten Alive (Tobe Hooper, 1976)

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Yes! This is where to go next if you like Texas Chainsaw and want to dig deeper into Tobe Hooper’s filmography. Creepy bayou hotel, crocodile, etc. It’s crazy and awesome.

Alexandra’s Project (Rolf de Heer, 2003)

Interesting to see this one pop up. I rented it from Netflix dvd ages ago while watching through Rolf de Heer’s complete works and it’s stuck with me every since. It’s not the most cinematic of his works (far from it), but it’s distinctive in how angry and hardass it is as a feminist invective.

The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (Pasolini, 1964)
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One of the only Pasolini movies I fully love, and possibly the best movie about the life of Jesus Christ. It plays up Christ’s activities as a lefty political agitator.

Excalibur (Boorman, 1981)

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This is pure, distilled awesomeness. All the totally on the nose Wagner is what really puts it over the top.

Point Blank (Boorman, 1967)

This was remade as Payback with Mel Gibson. As much as I love Mel Gibson, Payback is a very shoddy movie compared to Boorman’s masterpiece, and Mel is just no Lee Marvin. If you haven’t seen it, don’t hesitate.

Blind Woman’s Curse (Ishii, 1970)

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Meiko Kaji yakuza revenge movie. I don’t think it’s ever been readily available in the US before.

Sukiyaki Western Django (Miike, 2007)

Very fun mashup of the spaghetti western and samurai genres.

First Reformed (Schrader, 2018)

This has come up several times already on Strohltopia and yeah, I’ll say it again: this is the movie of the year.

Netflix

Netflix has been better lately. It’s still fundamentally awful and curse them to hell for the bait-and-switch they pulled by killing the rental store and then removing nearly all classic cinema from their platform, but some of their recent proprietary movies have been awesome and they finally have a couple decent reality food shows. Prime is still vastly better but I have some solid Netlix recs this time.

The Five Venoms (Chang Cheh, 1978), Return to the 36th Chamber (Lau Kar-leung, 1980)

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The problem with vintage Shaw Brothers on streaming is that it’s usually presented with dubbed English audio. One should never (I repeat, NEVER) watch a Shaw Bros martial arts movie dubbed. These movies are amazing and the English dubbing always completely destroys their tone and essentially makes a mockery of them. Netflix has done us a solid and presented these two titles (and a couple others that are a bit later) with the original audio and subtitles. You’ll need to go into the audio menu to switch it.

Christine (Carpenter, 1983)

John Carpenter’s classic Stephen King adaptation is essential viewing and holds up extremely well.

May the Devil Take You (Tjahjanto, 2018)

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I’m an instant fan of Timo Tjahjanto. I loved the two horror anthology shorts I had seen, and his two new features on netflix (this and The Night Comes for Us) are both excellent. This is sort of like Hereditary but not boring and with more of a Raimi-esque style. Top tier for recent horror.

47 Meters Down (Roberts, 2017)

Extremely effective, unambitious shark horror. It delivers. I screamed an involuntary, high pitched scream at one point.

The Final Table

There are so many bad cooking shows on Netflix. Of course Bake off is amazing, but I can’t stand most of their proprietary content. Ugly, Delicious was good, but I’ve found most episodes of Chef’s Table that I’ve tried watching to be unbearably pretentious and the reality competitions to be shrill and uninteresting. This is the big exception: it’s at least on par with the very best reality cooking competitions. The cooking and most of the judging is at a very high level. There are some judges that are brought in more for humorous banter but every episode has a world class food critic and a world class chef. I enjoyed the way so many different world cuisines are represented, even if the downside is that they are represented rather superficially. But yeah, if you’ve been reading my commentary you’ll know that I’m generally very down on Netflix’s original content, so it was sort of a coup for me to enjoy one of their shows as much as I enjoyed this.

Hulu

Slim pickins on Hulu, though The Duchess of Langeais, which I recommended last time, is still available.

Let the Sunshine In (Denis, 2018)

Image result for let the sunshine inThis is an odd duck of a movie. She made it to kill time while waiting to start a more expensive project, and she clearly wasn’t trying to make the greatest movie ever. It feels like she had a couple ideas and characters in mind and she took the opportunity to explore them in a free-form manner. The acting and direction are just exquisite, and although in one sense this is an unambitious movie, it’s also something very special and unique. I love it, and I think it’s easily one of the best movies of the year.

Lifeforce (Hooper, 1985)

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Totally bonkers naked space vampire shit. A crown jewel of Hooper’s filmography. I believe this is also on Prime.

All is Lost (Chandor, 2013)

Very effective, well-crafted Robert Redford nautical thriller.

A Fistful of Dynamite (Leone, 1971)

One Sergio Leone’s less well-known works. James Coburn plays an IRA explosives expert who gets involved with the Mexican Revolution. It’s fantastic and something you should definitely see if you like his other movies.

 

 

Notes on the death and rebirth of Filmstruck

It’s never been as painful to receive a $9 refund as it was to see the balance of my yearly Filmstruck subscription show up on my PayPal account earlier this week. I’ve been holding back from commenting in hopes that it would somehow be prevented by the collective efforts of champions of cinema like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, who have been pressuring the relevant corporate overlords to reconsider.  They have indeed succeeded in eliciting a promise that a Filmstruck reincarnation will be included in a set of channels that Warner/AT&T will seek to launch next year.  Meanwhile, Criterion has announced a stand alone channel as soon as this coming Spring.

I’m still binging: Rossellini histories, some odds and ends from Oshima, Tourneur, and Straub/Huillet, hopefully Mizoguchi’s The 47 Ronin and The Crucified Lovers (AKA A Story from Chikamatsu).  I’ll be fine in the interim: there’s still MUBI, Fandor, the Cohen Media Group channel on Amazon, Shudder, and the vast and bottomless internet.  I rarely have trouble getting my hands on something I want to see. But I still feel an abiding sense of sadness about the state of film culture.

What most saddens me about this affair is what it reveals about the role film has come to play in mainstream American life. When Warner/AT&T announced that it was going to murder Filmstruck, they said they learned the lesson that it’s too “niche.” But what is the content of Filmstruck? What all the movies on Filmstruck have in common is that they are justly considered canon. They are movies that are somehow important or significant for the global tradition of filmmaking. Not all of them are aesthetically worthwhile, but most of them are, and the ones that aren’t are still important for understanding the development of the medium. They range from the universally acknowledged (like dozens of movies by Ingmar Bergman) to titles that are less well known by mainstream film fans, like a series of works by Indian filmmaker Bimal Roy or a selection of obscure low-budget Phil Karlson flicks or a huge cache of Shirley Clarke shorts.

If you love movies, you should be able to just throw a dart at Filmstruck and hit something that you’d like to see. My queue always grows faster than I can tick titles off, and I watch a lot of Filmstruck. The target audience is people who care about film as an art form. This is a niche, apparently. It’s so small of a niche that it can’t justify a piddling ongoing effort by the many-headed hydra of AT&T/Warner.

I have a diagnosis. Film culture has struggled in the US ever since the success of Jaws reoriented the strategies of major studios, but the rise of streaming has taken us to a new low. I’m not going to search for it now, but I remember reading an article in the early days of Netflix streaming about the divergence between what people say their favorite film categories are and what they actually watch. Back then, instead of your foregrounded streaming options being selected by an algorithm, you had the opportunity to tick off boxes indicating your favorite categories: Comedy, Drama, Action, Romance, Independent, Foreign Language, Classic, etc. The article I read said that Netflix had found that while many people checked the boxes for Foreign Language and Classic, few people actually watched this content. Serial television, blockbusters, new release Oscar contenders, sensationalist documentaries, star vehicles: this is the stuff people actually watch.  This revealed an unsurprising divergence between peoples’ aspirations and day to day inclinations. People filled their queues with titles they saw as edifying or in some way worthwhile, but then eternally procrastinated watching them as they rubbernecked from New Thing to New Thing. As more streaming services popped up and licensing became more expensive, Netflix opted for the content people actually watch rather than the content that people merely aspire to watch. Now they have basically no classic films and their foreign language selection is random and filled with bargain basement junk (though, to be fair it usually has a few gems).

Now, instead of every subscriber living with the background hum of their aspirational queue, the service aims to give us more and more of what we already like. The algorithm is antithetical to the evolution of taste. It’s an all you can eat buffet filled with all your favorite junk food. There’s no push to challenge yourself or broaden your horizons. To have the aspirational queue, you have to make a separate purchase of a separate streaming channel—presently, Filmstruck—that offers nothing but the good stuff. I did a little googling to learn more when I found out Filmstruck was being cancelled, and the discussion I saw was extraordinarily dispiriting.  People sagely diagnosed: it’s too expensive, and there’s not enough content. First of all, the notion of caring about the ratio of content to dollar is so ridiculous….  Netflix has vast oceans of garbage. Filmstruck has more movies than I have time to watch and they are all worth watching.  Second of all, I’m filled with contempt at the consumer’s notion that they know best what they should be watching—just give us as many choices as possible and we will live our best lives through our own self-direction. The age of a hyper-excess of options has deadened us to the value of curation. Filmstruck employs experts to create curated features meant to introduce us to content that we may not have had an antecedent desire to engage with. This is a valuable service. I don’t care who you are, you can benefit from letting someone else take the reins for a minute. In concrete terms, I’m saying: if you care about film, consider subscribing to the next incarnations of the Criterion channel and/or Filmstruck and just watching what they throw at you, even if it’s not something you already think of yourself as being interested in. I’ve been doing this, and my aesthetic life has been so much richer than it was during the brief stretch where I was trying to keep up with Netflix’s foregrounded content.

This is the core of my sadness: film is being sucked into a culture of gratification, where endless ways to feed our already entrenched preferences occlude the limitations of our self-knowledge.  We know what we want, and we don’t question whether there are other things that maybe we should want even more. But there’s still an opportunity to resist. The corporate invasion of our taste is not absolute yet. Support the good shit.

 

 

 

Film Diary vol 6: Horror, Borzage, etc.

Featured image from StageFright.

I’ve been pretty busy and gotten way behind on this… this entry represents something like four months of Film Diary.  I watched a ton of horror movies, including all of Fulci except some of the early comedies, a complete Argento rewatch (still underway), and a full survey of one other director who I’ll leave as a surprise. I decided to break those out into separate posts. Here’s most of the other stuff I watched. I’m going to lead with horror because it’s that time of year.

Favorites (relative to the category) highlighted in bold.

Recent Horror

Not a lot of great news here. I thought highly of the first three, but the others range from half-decent to terrible.

Unsane (Soderbergh, 2018)

On the border between horror and thriller, and extremely effective. One of my favorites of the year so far. It does a great job building a terrifying feeling of confinement and powerlessness.

47 Meters Down (Roberts, 2017)

This Mandy Moore shark movie is very successful relative to its ambitions. It’s not quite as good as The Shallows, but it’s a total hoot. Forget everything you may happen to know about scuba diving and just roll with it. I literally screamed at one point. I mean I screamed an involuntary, high-pitched scream like a shark was actually about to eat me. It’s been a long time since a movie made me really and truly scream.

Hold the Dark (Saulnier, 2018)

Soooooooooo weird! Absolutely not what I was expecting on the basis of Netflix’s description. I like Saulnier’s other work so I gave it a shot, and this is definitely not the wolf-themed survival movie it was advertised as. This is the most Black Metal movie ever. People are taking about how Mandy is so metal. No way: Mandy is prog rock. Hold the Dark is metal. I dug it.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (Cosmatos, 2010), Mandy (Cosmatos, 2018)

I watched these as a double feature and thought they were pretty meh. This director makes glorified music videos. The storytelling is totally inept, which would be fine if these movies achieved something worthwhile in atmosphere and tone, but they really don’t. It’s all predictable and has been done much better before. Cage mostly repeats himself in Mandy, often crossing over into self-parody (though the vodka scene is great). For recent Cage movies, I’ll take Looking Glass or Mom and Dad over Mandy any day of the week.

A Quiet Place (Krasinski, 2018)

I completely hated this. It’s one of the worst horror movies of the decade. The exposition is literally done on a white board. The internal logic is broken: the creatures can hear a jar tip over from outside the house but they can’t hear a scared person breathing if they hide behind a desk? It’s not suspenseful because the rules are so unclear. The screenplay does a poor job extrapolating the horror possibilities of the premise and the climactic plot solution is very dissatisfying. All the acting is terrible, the creatures aren’t cool or scary, and the PG-13 gore is tepid and boring.

Hereditary (Aster, 2018)

This is a C-grade Paranormal Activity riff combined with a Polanski rip off and dressed up as a weighty grief drama. Toni Colette’s fully batshit performance elevates it, but there are a few serious missteps (especially some aspects of the climax) and it takes itself too seriously for how clichéd it is.

Revenge (Fargeat, 2017)

Stylistically slick rape-revenge movie, relatively light on the rape. It’s too slick for its own good, and really nothing new, but the final bloody showdown is impressive.

The Strangers: Prey at Night (Roberts, 2018)

A lot of people celebrate this for its retro 80’s sensibility, but it didn’t work for me. It’s way homage heavy, but mostly goes for really obvious nods (though I do appreciate the Christine love). My main problem with it is that it totally loses what made the first Strangers movie special: the surreal and terrifying breakdown in spatial logic, creative use of sound, relentless sense of confinement, and abstract rendering of the horror menace.  I prefer retro horror that actually embodies a retro form (like House of the Devil) rather than movies like this that just make lots of cheeky references.

Unfriended: Dark Web (Susco, 2018)

A sequel to Unfriended, the gimmick is that the entire movie takes place on a computer desktop. The form is really cool and I’m highly in favor of this sort of high concept horror, but the screenplay is too dumb even for me.

The First Purge (McMurray, 2018)

I liked this just fine. If you like the other Purge movies, then certainly go for it, but otherwise don’t go out of your way.

Other Horror

Mountain of the Cannibal God (Martino, 1978); Cannibal Holocaust (Deodato, 1980); Cannibal Ferox (Lenzi, 1981)

These are three of the most significant entries in the Italian Jungle Exploitation subgenre. Mountain of the Cannibal God is pretty trashy, with a few extremely transgressive moments. Cannibal Holocaust is a masterpiece. It’s a masterpiece that I specifically recommend not watching unless you’ve seen a whole lot of horror movies and are highly desensitized. It will mess you right the hell up. It’s often claimed to be the most extreme horror movie ever made, and I think all things considered that’s probably accurate. It’s also the most brutal indictment of western civilization I’ve ever encountered. Cannibal Ferox is a relatively silly, campy, fun take on similar material. Be warned that all of these movies (and really all the other Italian Jungle movies from this period) contain unsimulated violence against animals. This is part of why there will probably never again be a movie as grotesque as Cannibal Holocaust: you just can’t get away with this kind of thing anymore.

The Exorcist (Friedkin, 1973)

No matter how many times I watch this, it still shocks me when the little girls says “Your mother sucks cocks in hell!”

Brain Damage (Henenlotter, 1988)

One of a kind, with fantastic practical effects and a dark sense of humor. There’s a monster, and the monster secretes hard drugs.

 A Nightmare on Elm Street (Craven, 1984)

I loved it as a kid (though it utterly terrified me), and I still love it today. I appreciate the surreal nightmare compositions now more than ever.

Halloween (Carpenter, 1978)

I hope I don’t ever let a whole year go by where I don’t watch Halloween. 90 minutes of total perfection.

StageFright (Soavi, 1987)

This is an excellent post-giallo Italian slasher movie with a great premise: the cast of a stage play about a murderer is locked in the theater with the actual murderer that the play is about! Stylistically on point.

Death Walks on High Heels (Ercoli, 1971); Death Walks at Midnight (Ercoli, 1972)

A couple of classic gialli starring Nieves Navarro. They are both very good. In the former, she plays an exotic dancer whose jewel thief father has recently been murdered. She’s stalked by criminals who think she has the latest batch of stolen diamonds. In the latter, she plays a model who witnesses a murder through the window across the street while she’s experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs. The ending is bonkers. Of the two, I prefer Death Walks at Midnight.

Blade (Norrington, 1998), Blade II (del Toro, 2002), Blade: Trinity (Goyer, 2004)

The Blade trilogy holds up well. Guillermo del Toro’s installment is clearly superior to the other two, but they are all great. The third one is underappreciated: it’s got very strong Parker Posey factor, not to mention Triple H.

Society (Yunza, 1989)

Beverly Hills cannibal orgy horror, with superb practical effects. Recommended

Spontaneous Combustion (Hooper, 1990)

Nuclear family goes nuclear. The Brad Dourif/Tobe Hooper combo is dreamy. The movie’s perhaps a little uneven but its high points are tremendous.

Crocodile (Hooper, 2000)

Not one of Tobe Hooper’s better movies, but I’ve always had a soft spot for it. Certainly, it’s no Eaten Alive, but he clearly had fun with the direct-to-Cinemax creature feature aesthetic. It’s campy and fun.

The Nude Vampire (Rollin, 1970)

This is a good entry point into Jean Rollin’s Eurotrash artsy erotic vampire horror.

Dead & Buried (Sherman, 1981)

This is a largely neglected but very worthwhile example of the socio-political horror that flourished in the 70’s and 80’s. Great ending.

I Saw the Devil (Kim, 2010)

Brutal South Korean revenge horror.  I thought it was derivative, moralistic (not a quality I can easily tolerate in revenge horror), and way too long, but it has some solid brutality.

Ju-on: The Grudge (Shimizu, 2002)

You know, I actually think I like the American remake (by the same director) better. This is not my favorite subgenre of Japanese horror.

New Releases (other than horror)

First Reformed (Schrader, 2017)

I posted about this already, and yeah, I think it’s a masterpiece and easily the best film of the year.

Let the Sunshine In (Denis, 2017)

This one is very hard to talk about. She wasn’t trying to accomplish much here: she made this to kill time while a more expensive project was on hold. The movie feels half baked, but not in a bad way. It’s liberating. She’s not trying to make the greatest movie ever, she’s just running with some ideas. At the zoomed in level, the acting, writing, and direction are extraordinary, and I found myself just getting lost in the details. I love the film.

Upgrade (Whannell, 2018)

One of the best genre movies of the year. Black Mirror but good.

Ready Player One (Spielberg, 2018)

Forget the haters on this one. I’ve watched it three times and I find the thought of watching it again very appealing. This is master class pop movie-making.

Leave No Trace (Granik, 2018)

I hated it. I found the drama very underwhelming and all the nature photography reeked of city folk overly enamored with ferns. It felt like a big Instagram post about a New Yorker’s visit to Oregon. It even has an Instagram filter look to it. For me what this movie needed was a real conflict. Maybe a bounty hunter or a killer bear. The father-daughter PTSD shtick wasn’t enough to sustain this.

Skyscraper (Thurber, 2018)

The Rock only has one leg and the title is Skyscraper. It’s exactly what you’d expect. I certainly enjoyed it.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (Howard, 2018)

It wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t good. I really don’t care, but I don’t regret watching it.

Blockers (Cannon, 2018)

Vastly better than I expected it to be. Downright hilarious. It’s a female-centric update of American Pie. What I most appreciate about it is that, like Broad City, it gives the female characters plenty of filthy dialogue.

Isle of Dogs (Anderson, 2018)

Meh. It’s got some good qualities but this might be Wes Anderson’s weakest movie. The Greta Gerwig stuff is completely tone deaf and terrible by any standard.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (Reed, 2018)

Pretty good. Certainly one of the better Marvel movies.

Kuro (Koyama, 2017)

Weird experimental movie where the relationship between narration and image is oblique. We are being told a story of the protagonist and her boyfriend taking care of an elderly man in Japan, but the images (which don’t get contextualized much) depict her taking care of her paraplegic boyfriend in the present. I liked it a lot.

Murder on the Orient Express (Branagh, 2017)

Godawful in every respect, but what I hate most about it is the shameful waste of Willem Dafoe.

Wulu (Coulibaly, 2016)

Scarface riff from Mali. It’s pretty non-descript and forgettable.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Bayona, 2018)

It’s too long and Bryce Dallas Howard is bad, but I do like some things about this: fun genre hopping, amazing Republican dinosaur auction scene.

The Death of Stalin (Iannucci, 2017)

I hated it. One would not expect that this material would be apt for a comedy, and it turns out it isn’t. Jeffery Tambor is godawful. Rupert Friend from Homeland as Vasily Stalin is the one shining light.

The Beguiled (Coppola, 2017)

Meh.

The Rider (Zhao, 2017)

Eh…. the acting is really good but otherwise I don’t care.

Hannah Gadsby: Nanette (2018)

I read somewhere that the recent Bill Maher standup special represents comedy’s past while the Hannah Gadsby special represents its future, and I thought this was an intriguing claim so I tried to watch them both. I found the Bill Maher special unwatchable. It sucks. I did watch Nanette all the way through, and if this is the future of comedy then god help us all. I thought it was terrible. It’s more of a social justice TEDx Talk than a comedy routine. I felt like I was being manipulated: she dumps out so much emotional carnage that I’m a bad person if I don’t adopt an admiring attitude and fawn about how devastating it all is. I’m not going to play along with that. I thought it was terrible.

Frank Borzage

I’ve been meaning to dive into Borzage for about a decade, and I finally got around to it.

I ranked these:

14) Liliom (1930)

Sluggish early talkie.

13) Bad Girl (1931)

Eh, very grown up marriage drama with a focus on economic strain (like Man’s Castle in some ways, but not as good).  I didn’t particularly enjoy the leads.

12) Lazybones (1925)

This is an amazing indictment of the protestant work ethic until it turns super creepy (in a bad way).

11) A Farewell to Arms (1932)

Terrible as a Hemmingway adaptation, decent as a stand-alone romantic drama.

10) Street Angel (1928)

I found this the least compelling of the Gaynor-Farrell romances. The use of the Fox sets is fantastic and some of the Murnau-influenced expressionist visuals are striking, but for me the narrative dragged.

9) Man’s Castle (1933)

Angry working class romance with Spencer Tracy. Good stuff.

8) Lucky Star (1929)

Very nice Gaynor-Farrell silent romance.

7) Strange Cargo (1940)

Extremely weird, religious Lifeboat meets Rescue Dawn with Joan Crawford. I dug it.

6) 7th Heaven (1927)

Dreamy silent romance with Gaynor and Farrell. Essential.

5) Desire (1936)

Very funny screwball comedy, in collaboration with Lubitsch. Gary Cooper plays a straight-laced American on vacation and Marlene Dietrich plays a con artist he gets entangled with. Fans of Howard Hawks’ Ball of Fire will enjoy this.

4) Mannequin (1937)

Excellent drama concerned with gender politics. Starring Joan Crawford and Spencer Tracy.

3) The Mortal Storm (1940)

Early anti-Nazi movie with Jimmy Stewart as a German who takes a stand at great peril. Very powerful stuff.

2) History is Made at Night (1937)

Wonderful gonzo romantic comedy. Ridiculous and joyous.

1) Moonrise (1948)

Dark sins-of-the-father swamp noir. I think it’s Borzage’s best film by a large margin.

Gance

J’accuse (1919), La Roue (1923), Napoleon (1927)

I watched through Gance’s three major silent epics. J’accuse is undeniably impressive but I didn’t find it as compelling overall and it dragged for stretches. It doesn’t have the same level of visionary grandeur as the other two, which are all time masterpieces. La Roue is the missing piece for understanding what Guy Maddin is up to, particularly in Careful. It’s one of the biggest, craziest movies I’ve ever seen, and I loved it. But nothing can top Napoleon, which is one of my favorite movies of the silent era. It’s technically over the top and unrepentantly heroic. He invented so many techniques for this movie that were way ahead of their time, and some were never repeated.

Straub/Huillet

Not Reconciled (1965), The Bridegroom, the Actress, and the Pimp (1968), En rachachant (1982)

I was imagining I was going to power through the rest of the Straub/Huillet filmography in a few months. Not even close. This stuff is remarkably difficult, but also very rewarding. I watched Not Reconciled six times, and I forced everyone at a full weekend aesthetics conference to watch it with me. Half of them hated it, half of the loved it. It’s an aggressively difficult movie that jumps forwards and backwards in time by decades without any signaling and introduces a huge cast of characters with almost zero exposition. It takes place over the course of 50 years but is less than an hour long. I think it’s absolutely stunning, and having taken the time to map it all out I can report that there is an almost entirely coherent interpretation available.

Resnais

Je t’aime, je t’aime (1968), Stavisky… (1974), My American Uncle (1980)

Je t’aime, je t’aime is the most Resnais movie ever. The classic Resnais theme is memory and identity. This movie imagines a sci fi scenario where a man who has just survived a suicide attempt is enlisted to test a time travel machine. He ends up unstuck in time, forced to relive bits and pieces of his memories in a chaotic way. The grim drama of the movie is generated from the fact that he’s suicidal: he was chosen for the experiment because he had already tried to kill himself and so the scientists felt alright about risking his life, but what worse torture could there be than having to relive the events that led up to his suicide attempt with the benefit of hindsight? It’s a great film, and clearly an influence on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Stavisky is a minor work about the Stavisky affair. I didn’t love it. My American Uncle is a very energetic film tracing the lives of multiple individuals within the framework of a scientific study applying a thesis about behavioral determinism to human beings. I really didn’t like the framing, because the scientific theory itself is so dumb, but the individual narratives are well-rendered and I liked the movie overall.

Taiwan

Taipei Story (Yang, 1985)

I’ve made New Taiwanese Cinema a staple of my movie diet the last year or so. Angela loves this stuff. Most of these movies manage to simultaneously succeed as human dramas and engage with the historical transformations that Taiwan underwent in the 20th century. Taipei Story is no exception. It feels like what it is: the first film by a great genius. It’s not as fully developed as his other work but it’s brilliant in its own way and full of quietly devastating acting performances.

The Terrorizers (Yang, 1986)

Now *this* is a damn movie. This is one of the best things I’ve seen in recent months. Multiple narratives are woven together through coincidence, as a way of examining the theme of globalization and its effect on Taiwan.

Dust in the Wind (Hou, 1986)

The third part of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s coming-of-age trilogy. As one would expect, it’s melancholy and lyrical, combining psychological nuance with a backdrop of socio-political transformation. It doesn’t stand out to me as a high point of Hou’s filmography but it’s very good.

Vive L’Amour (Tsai, 1994)

I completely loved this. It’s about three lonely people who intersect because of an empty apartment: two squatters and the real estate agent trying to rent it out. I think out of what I’ve seen this is my favorite Tsai film. It seamlessly moves between lurid psychosexual material and gut-punching emotional poignancy.

The River (Tsai, 1997)

Maximally depressing. Its surface theme is chronic pain, and it’s relentless about it. This movie ruined my day, but it was worth it. I think it’s great.

Pasolini

Accattone (1961), Mama Roma (1962), The Gospel According to Matthew (1964), Teorema (1968), Porcile [aka Pigsty] (1969)

I took a course on Pasolini when I was an undergrad but I never really cared too much for his work, aside from Salo. There was a Pasolini feature on Filmstruck so I decided to reconsider. I really loved The Gospel According to Matthew, which is a retelling of the Christ story that focuses on his activities as an agitator against the political and social order. I disliked Teorema, which doesn’t live up to its lyrical posture and is ultimately pretty trite. Accattone and Mama Roma are gritty works of social realism. As much as I love Anna Magnani, Accattone is easily the better of the two. I admire how abrasive Porcile is, and the Pierre Clémenti stuff is amazing, but I found it overall tedious.

Fred Astaire

Flying Down to Rio (1933), Roberta (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), Carefree (1938), Funny Face (1957)

I’ve been watching and rewatching Fred Astaire movies at a pretty steady clip this year, and it’s just endlessly delightful. The first couple listed are light on the Astaire song and dance and not all that strong (Roberta is much better than Flying Down to Rio), but the other four are pure joy.

Ozon

Sitcom (1998), Criminal Lovers (1999), Water Drops on Burning Rocks (2000), Double Lover (2017)

The only Ozon movies I had seen were Swimming Pool, Under the Sand, and Potiche. I had a very wrong idea of what Ozon is all about on the basis of those titles. I was never crazy about Swimming Pool, but Under the Sand is a potent drama and Potiche is a delightful feminist Demy homage with an excellent Catherine Deneuve performance. I had no idea, though, that Ozon is such an imp. These titles are all pretty damn lurid and boundary pushing. Sitcom really caught my attention: it’s like Teorema, but Terence Stamp is replaced by a pet rat. I liked it much, much better that Teorema. Double Lover is a Cronenberg-De Palma sort of thing, and it gives no fucks about making sense. Criminal Lovers is a Hansel and Gretel riff. Water Drops on Burning Rocks is based on an early Fassbender play.

Buñuel

Death in the Garden (1956). Simon of the Desert (1965), Tristana (1970), The Phantom of Liberty (1974)

I’ve seen the latter three (a long time ago) but not Death in the Garden. They all hold up really well but I particularly loved The Phantom of Liberty. It contains some of Buñuel’s most exhilarating and creative absurdities

Godard

Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company (1986), Oh, Woe is Me (1993)

I slowed down on Godard this installment but these were both extremely high quality. The former was previously thought to be lost and has only recently been recovered. It’s fairly alienating (as one would expect), but contains a brilliant comedic performance from Jean-Pierre Léaud. I think it’s great. The latter is a masterpiece. It’s one of Godard’s most beautiful films, with ethereal cinematography from the brilliant Caroline Champetier. It updates the myth of Alcmene and Amphitryon, wherein Zeus appeared to Alcmene disguised as her husband Amphitryon, resulting in her pregnancy with Heracles. In this version, the Amphitryon stand in is played by Gerard Depardieu.

Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

I revisited this, and my opinions were quite different this time around. I used to be a little bit of a Phantom Menace apologist. I’m done with that; I thought Jake Lloyd was just unbearable as Anakin. I liked the other two MUCH better this time. They are about a slow, insidious transition from democracy to fascism, and they are very effective at revealing how such a transition can be achieved by almost entirely well-meaning agents. Who proposes special executive powers to the senate after the Star Wars equivalent of the Reichstag fire? Jar Jar Binks. Who activates the clone army? Yoda.  I used to be bothered by the acting from Christenson and Portman, but I actually liked it this time. I think it helped to have just watched all those Borzage movies: the acting style here is closer to an early talkie than a typical adventure epic, and I enjoyed the effect. I also appreciated how uncompromisingly dark the third prequel is. There are certainly some problems, such as the wasted opportunity of Mace Windu, but overall I’ll take Lucas’ sometimes misguided attempts to be a visionary over Disney’s fan service. I would say I now like the second and third prequels better than all of the Disney movies except The Last Jedi.

Miyazaki

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Kiki’s Delivery Service  (1989), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Angela hadn’t seen any of these Miyazaki movies so we’ve been watching them all. I doubt anyone needs me to tell them how good they are. Howl’s Moving Castle especially improved for me on this rewatch. I bought all the new blu-ray releases, and many of them are essential purchases, because the subtitles are terrible on the Disney releases. Instead of actually translating the Japanese dialogue, they just use the transcript of the English dubbed track. If you’ve ever compared the English dubbing to the Japanese dialogue, the English versions are totally different and change the meaning of the movies in a noxious way. The only way to watch these movies is in Japanese with proper subtitles (so avoid the Disney releases!).

Double Feature: Crises of executive authority

Advise & Consent (Preminger, 1962), Seven Days in May (Frankenheimer, 1964)

Advise and Consent turned out to be absolutely perfect viewing for the Kavanaugh affair (I didn’t intend this, but it worked out—the Kavanaugh shit hit the fan like a week after I watched this). Lyndsey Graham does a pretty good Charles Laughton, but Kavanaugh is no Henry Fonda. Seven Days in May is a real potboiler, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes Frankenheimer or political thrillers.

John Ford Comedies

The Whole Town’s Talking (1933), Steamboat Round the Bend (1935)

These are both very good. The former has Edward G. Robinson playing an escaped murderer and his law-abiding doppelgänger. It’s a hoot. The latter, starring Will Rogers, is very bizarre, featuring a traveling wax museum and the world’s slowest boat race. It deal frankly with issues of class and race while maintaining a comedic tone. Worthwhile for anyone interested in Ford.

Fritz Lang

The Wandering Image (1920), Four Around a Woman (1921), While the City Sleeps (1956)

The first two are very early fragments and not particularly interesting except to Lang completists. The latter is an acrid journalism satire and one of Lang’s better late works. It’s an antecedent to Nightcrawler.

Miscellaneous

Gold Diggers of 1933 (LeRoy, 1933)

Amazing and hilarious pre-code musical. I watched it two or three times as stress relief. It puts a huge smile on my face every time.

Choose Me (Rudolph, 1984)

Still intending to watch through Rudolph’s whole body of work but Angela isn’t into it so it’s hard to find the time. I think Choose Me is one of the best movies of the 80’s. It’s another entry in the “Keith Carradine rolls into town and fucks everyone” genre, and it creates an incredibly vivid world of neon signs and smoky bars, bathed in pink and purple. Barfly borrowed quite a lot from this.

Excalibur (Boorman, 1981)

I love it. I don’t know if I had ever seen it sober before. All the totally on the nose Wagner is what really puts it over the top.

Election 2 [aka Triad Election] (To, 2006)

Revisited this favorite. It’s wonderful.

2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968)

Saw this in Imax sitting in the front row and it melted my face.

His Girl Friday (Hawks, 1940); Monkey Business (Hawks 1952)

Revisited these wonderful Howard Hawks comedies and it made me very happy.

The Fugitive Kind (Lumet, 1960)

I had never seen this before. Marlon Brando and Anna Magnani go absolutely apeshit on some Tennessee Williams.

Big Wednesday  (Milius, 1978)

The most John Milius of all John Milius movies?

My Brother’s Wedding (Burnett, 1983)

It’s rough around the edges but I think this gritty, low-budget family drama is truly great.

Ride in the Whirlwind (Hellman, 1966)

Excellent existential western, though not as good as The Shooting.

The Draughtsman’s Contract (Greenaway, 1982), The Pillow Book (Greenaway, 1996)

I like Peter Greenaway but I don’t love him. I think The Pillow Book is one of his better movies.

Macao (N. Ray and Sternberg, 1952)

Forgettable noir, not really up to the standard one would expect from either director who worked on it.

The Last Unicorn (Bass and Rankin Jr., 1982)

A favorite when I was a kid, it holds up really well! The America soundtrack is pretty amazing.

Asparagus (Pitt, 1979)

Excellent experimental animation full of phalluses.

Blow-Up (Antonioni, 1966)

I revisited this for the sake of its connection with The Terrorizers. I think it’s good, but lower-tier Antonioni.

Casino Royale (Campbell, 2006)

Every time I revisit this I like it less. I now think it is one of the worst Bond movies. Certainly Craig is the worst Bond, and his only good Bond movie is Spectre.

The Magic Sun (Niblock, 1966)

Experimental Sun Ra shit. Enjoyed it.

Kino Eye (Vertov, 1924)

Not as appealing as Man with a Movie Camera.

Ballet Méchanique (Léger and Murphy, 1924)

Fantastic little Dadaist short. Highly recommended.

Night Movies (Penn, 1975)

Top-tier Gene Hackman Florida-LA noir. I didn’t remember it very well and it was a blast to revisit.

The Reluctant Debutante (Minnelli, 1958)

This was one of the only Minnelli movies I hadn’t seen. I skipped it when I was doing my big watch-through because I found the beginning very abrasive with all the shrill British accents. Once the main conflict gets going and the shrill British people become the villains it’s very good. I’m glad I went back and watched it.

Them! (Douglas, 1954)

Eh, it’s not as cool as a movie about giant ants should be.

Barcelona (Stillman, 1994)

There are no comedies this smart anymore, not even by Whit Stillman.

Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1&2 (Condon, 2011 and 2012)

I am a Twilight fan. Mostly it’s ironic but I think these last two are genuinely good. The first one is amazing pregnancy horror. The second one is campier but the brutality of the first version of the ending is awesome.

Role Models (Wain, 2008)

One of the best modern comedies. Angela hadn’t seen it so I made her watch it. It holds up beautifully.

The Red Shoes (Powell and Pressburger, 1948)

I’m not a huge P and P fan (I think my favorite movie from the whole constellation is Powell’s Peeping Tom), but this is one of their better movies. There’s too much low key backstage drama for me. I prefer the hothouse melodramas of Vincente Minnelli.

The Decline of Western Civilization (Spheeris, 1981)

Interesting documentary about the LA punk scene. I had no idea how racist a lot of that scene was.

Everyone Says I Love You (Allen, 1996)

The Tim Roth-Drew Barrymore stuff is great. I hadn’t seen this in many years, and overall it holds up well.

All That Heaven Allows (Sirk 1955)

Nick Stang had us watch this at the same aesthetics conference where I made everyone watch Not Reconciled. His pick was a lot more of a crowd-pleaser. I’ve loved this movie for most of my life, but I still prefer Written on the Wind.

Shopping (Paul W.S. Anderson, 1994)

Good, not great. I like Paul W.S. Anderson (certainly a lot better than the other Paul Anderson!), but I prefer his less British stuff.

Liza (Ferreri, 1972)

I like the premise: Marcello Mastroianni lives alone on an island with his dog. Catherine Deneuve rolls in and kills the dog and then tries to replace it by wearing a dog collar and crawling around on all fours and whatnot. But the execution is weak. I don’t know how a movie with this premise manages to be boring.

The Godfather of Gore: 34 Lucio Fulci films, ranked

I’ve watched every Lucio Fulci movie except for some of his early comedies over the last couple of months (indeed, I watched many of them twice), and I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve always been more of an Argento and Bava guy, but no more: I am 100% onboard the Fulci train. I can’t get enough eyes getting stabbed, sinister cats, and awesome Fabio Frizzi music.

You can watch most of Fulci in English. Like most Italian films at the time, the audio was dubbed in post-production, and so both the Italian and English tracks are dubbed. The English often syncs better. I’ve noted the few Fulci films that I think should be watched in Italian.

PSA: most of the Fulci on Amazon is in the wrong aspect ratio and in bad quality. Shudder is better. Also, as noted below, Conquest is on the Shout Factory app.

34) Silver Saddle (1978)

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This and Door to Silence are the only Fulci movies that can be described as “tame.” There are a few moments of inspiration, but not enough to overcome the annoying child factor.

33) The Sweet House of Horrors (1989)

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This and House of Clocks are two haunted house movies that Fulci made for a TV series that never aired because it was too gory. There are a few fantastic things in this movie but the production quality is abysmal and the kids are super, super annoying.

32) Door to Silence (1991)

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Great premise: business man gets stuck in traffic by a funeral procession… but is it his own funeral? The New Orleans setting is vivid. But again the production quality is terrible and this is ultimately toothless.

31) Touch of Death (1988)

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Late horror-comedy. It’s suitably nasty and the high points are high but it’s very repetitive.

30) Sodoma’s Ghost (1988)

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Haunted house movie where a group of Nazis are killed by a bombing in the middle of an orgy and then haunt a group of teenagers many years later. It’s pretty bad but it’s so perverse and bonkers that I give it a marginal thumbs up.

29) My Sister in Law [aka La Pretora] (1976)

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One of the two Fulci comedies I watched. This one is a fairly raunchy sex comedy starring 70’s genre icon Edvige Fenech. The premise is great: she plays an imperious magistrate who is about to send a crooked businessman to jail for selling dog food as goulash. But she has an identical twin sister who works as a prostitute, and the businessman and his conspirators hire the twin sister to engage in all sorts of indecent activities to ruin the judge’s reputation and force her off the bench before she can hand down a sentence. Things do not go as planned. It has tedious stretches but overall I enjoyed it.

28) The House of Clocks (1989)

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The other made for TV haunted house movie that was too gory to actually air. This one also has pretty lousy production quality but it’s so insane that it’s overall appealing. An old couple live in a house full of clocks. A gang of home invaders murders them. The clocks start running backwards and the home invaders get stuck in a time loop (the rules of which are incomprehensible) where they are terrorized by the couple they killed.

27) The Eroticist [aka The Senator Likes Women] (1972)

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The other comedy I watched. This is about a senator who tries to be chaste but who experiences an uncontrollable compulsion to grab every ass he sees (heads of state, nuns, priests, doctors, etc.). There’s a lot of material digging at the Catholic church where they try to manipulate the senator for their own nefarious purposes. This is about 20 minutes too long and the papal-political machinations grow tiresome, but the high points here are incredible (particularly the dream sequence).

26) New Gladiators [aka Warriors of the Year 2072] (1984)

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This was an attempt to capitalize on the success of Escape from New York and Mad Max in the Italian Exploitation milieu. It is completely batshit. The action scenes are incomprehensible and the movie drags for stretches, but there are enough insane Fulci touches to sustain interest. Like, there’s a scene where they meet the designer of a supercomputer. It could have been a pretty mundane scene but instead it’s like “MY MACHINE HAS A SOUL!!!!”

25) Challenge to White Fang (aka The Return of White Fang) (1974)

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Everything from here on up I really like. This sequel doesn’t stand up to the first one but it is a delight in its own right. Fulci turned White Fang into a fusion of a Spaghetti Western and family animal drama, balancing equal parts violence and sentimentality. The great Franco Nero plays the Man With No Name/Jack London figure. This one doesn’t have quite as good a story or supporting cast as the first one but there’s a dog vs. eagle battle and lots of other delightful touches.

24) Voices from Beyond (1991)

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Delightful late effort featuring one of Fulci’s craziest dream sequences. This is about an asshole patriarch who is murdered in a manner that makes his death appear to be due to natural causes. But he is able to telepathically communicate with his daughter from beyond the grave and he leads her to investigate his murder.

23) Demonia (1990)

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Fulci does nunsploitation! An archaeologist has wild visions of an orgy cult of nun witches and is drawn to the ruins of a monastery where a group of nuns was crucified 500 years earlier. One of his better late efforts.

22) Aenigma (1987)

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Very campy mean girls 80’s boarding school horror. The popular kids play a cruel practical joke on the outcast daughter of the school’s cleaning lady, which leaves her in a coma. She telepathically murders them one by one. Tons of snails.

21) Zombie 3 (1988)

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This is a total mess, and that’s the whole point. Fulci was unable to finish this and it was completed by genre madman Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso, notorious screenwriter and the director of Troll 2. A zombie supervirus escapes from a military testing facility after a terrorist attack and infects an entire flock of birds. Mayhem ensues.

20) A Cat in the Brain (1990)

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Fulci’s 8 1/2. For Fulci fans only, and I recommend watching it only after seeing most of his horror films. He plays himself, driven mad by his own perverse imagination as he works on the films Sodoma’s Ghost and Touch of Death. He visits a therapist, who turns out to be a crazed murderer who frames Fulci for his own crimes. Fulci’s sense of reality breaks down and he’s not sure what’s real and what he’s imagining. The ending is oddly heartwarming if you love the man– it feels like a warm goodbye from the Godfather of Gore. Watch this one in Italian.

19) Murder-Rock: Dancing Death [aka Slashdance, aka Murder Rock] (1984)

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Campy 80’s ballet school giallo where the nicest slasher ever painlessly kills their victims with a hairpin after knocking them out. Fulci was forced to turn this into a musical to capitalize on the success of Flashdance, and the result is delightful.

18) Massacre Time [aka The Brute and the Beast] (1966)

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The earliest Fulci film of broad interest. This is an excellent Spaghetti Western starring Franco Nero and George Hilton. The script is by Fernando Di Leo, who wrote the first two parts of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, and his voice shines through clearly. This feels like a meaner, nastier, more lurid Fistful of Dollars. Highly recommended both to Fulci fans and Spaghetti Western connoisseurs. I recommend watching this one in Italian with subtitles (as for most Franco Nero movies, though I prefer the English dub for White Fang and its sequel).

17) White Fang (1973)

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This is totally excellent. Franco Nero plays a Jack London figure named Jason Scott who visits Dawson City in the Yukon during the Gold Rush. The sublimely creepy John Steiner plays the town’s resident robber baron, Beauty Smith. He bleeds the miners dry with the cooperation of a debauched priest played by the legendary Fernando Rey. Nero takes the side of an Eskimo family wronged by Beauty Smith and we get a classic Spaghetti Western war between the corrupt local power-brokers and the mysterious stranger. The twist is that he’s aided along the way by White Fang, and the movie is about 30% sentimental animal drama. I love it.

16) One on Top of the Other [aka Perversion Story] (1969)

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Fulci’s exploitation revisioning of Vertigo, starring Jean Sorel and genre icon Marisa Mel. In this version, the Kim Novak character (played by Mel) is an exotic dancer and prostitute. This and De Palma’s Obsession are the two great ultra-lurid Vertigo homages.

15) The Black Cat (1981)

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Very fun Poe riff with some giallo trappings. It’s not really a giallo, because we know all along that the killer is the cat, but there is a mystery about what the hell is up with this cat and its creepy psychic owner (played by Patrick Magee, who you’ll remember as the unfortunate writer from A Clockwork Orange).

14) Beatrice Cenci [aka The Conspiracy of Torture] (1969)

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Fulci does… um… historical drama. Beatrice Cenci was a real historical figure, famous for her bizarre murder trial. Fulci of course focuses on all the nastiest bits. The narrative is fractured and non-linear, with brilliant editing, and this film represents a big leap in the development of his style. I watched this in Italian and liked it that way. I’m not sure if an English dub exists.

13) Manhattan Baby [aka Eye of the Evil Dead] (1982)

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This one doesn’t have as much gore and it wasn’t as immediately appealing to me, but once I watched it a second time I realized how insane it is. An archaeologist enrages some spirits by defiling an Egyptian tomb, and his daughter is given an evil magical talisman by a blind woman in the market and brings it back to the USA with her. The vengeance of dark forces ensues.

12) The New York Ripper (1982)

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This is Fulci’s second sleaziest movie, after The Devil’s Honey. It’s a slasher flick set in grimy pre-Giuliani New York City. This is pretty gruesome, but it has a core of angry feminism: every single man in this movie is a disgusting creep, and the film’s horror is drawn from the inescapable terror of being a woman in a world full of men. The killer talks like Donald Duck (!).

11) Contraband [aka The Smuggler] (1980)

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Fulci’s one poliziotteschi, and it’s a doozy. Four words: sulfur pit knife fight. This is a super mean and nasty movie. I recommend watching it in Italian with subtitles. The overall quality of the English audio track is a little better but the voice acting on the English dub is just terrible, and it takes away from how badass this thing is.

10) The House by the Cemetery (1981)

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My least favorite of the Gates of Hell trilogy, but still amazing. Dr. Norman Boyle takes his family to live in an extremely creepy old mansion in New England. As others have pointed out, what makes this special among haunted house movies is that there’s nothing forcing them to stay there except Norman’s arrogant male confidence that he’s got it all under control. This is full of terrifying omens and crazy Fulci editing.

9) Four of the Apocalypse (1975)

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The most bizarre Spaghetti Western I’ve ever seen. Fabio Testi stars. An oddball group of four prisoners in a small town jail are sent packing. They are given peyote by sadistic bandit Chaco, which does not go well. They end up hiding out in a ghost town and things just get nuts.

8) The Devil’s Honey (1986)

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Softcore exploitation mayhem. You’ve got a saxophone player with an unhealthy dom-sub relationship with sultry Jessica. He dies. She blames his doctor, who she terrorizes, with the result that she finally becomes the dominant one. This is at the far extreme of sleaze in Fulci’s filmography, and it’s a blast. I liked the Italian audio track much better than the English dubbing but the subs I had were just a transcription of the English dub, so they didn’t always sync up with the Italian. When I watch it again I’m going to look for better subs.

7) Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)

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Excellent giallo about a series of child murders in a small village. Great cast includes Florinda Bolkan as a crazed witch and Barbara Bouchet as a rich girl from Milan lying low after a scandal. Bouchet teams up with a journalist to investigate the killings. This and the next two are Fulci’s three great classic gialli. They’re all high points of the genre.

6) The Psychic [aka Seven Notes in Black] (1977)

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The only Fulci movie I would describe as “classy.” This is a very tight giallo with a strong narrative and relatively minimal luridness. A psychic has visions of a murder in a country villa owned by her husband. She finds a corpse in the wall, and her wealthy businessman husband is arrested. She teams up with a paranormal researcher to try to exonerate him. Things get twisty. All of Fabio Frizzi’s Fulci scores are great, but his work here is particularly memorable.

5) A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)

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My favorite Fulci giallo (though I must say it was a difficult choice). Well-behaved rich wife of a philandering lawyer has kinky dreams about her hard-partying neighbor Julia. She dreams about murdering Julia, who is indeed murdered, and she investigates the mystery while fearing that she may in fact be the murderer. Lurid, twisty, and perfect.

4) City of the Living Dead (1980)

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Part of the Gates of Hell trilogy. The suicide of a priest opens up a gate to hell in a small town. A psychic makes contact with the priest during a seance and suddenly dies, but then returns from the dead. She seeks out the small town along with a journalist, and all sorts of mayhem ensues. This is full-on Fulci madness, with batshit editing and production design.

3) Zombie [aka Zombi 2] (1979)

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The titling is a little confusing: there’s a Zombi 2 and a Zombi 3, but there’s no Zombi by Fulci. Zombie is the American title of Zombi 2. It’s called Zombi 2 because it’s an unofficial sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (itself a sequel to Night of the Living Dead), which was released in Italy as Zombi. This gory monstrosity connects the Romero universe with the original zombie masterpiece, Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie. The roots of the zombie apocalypse are traced back to the transgressions of colonialism, which is vastly more interesting than the sort of sci fi explanation we often get in crappy zombie movies nowadays. This movie famously features the most incredible shark vs. zombie confrontation of all time.

2) Conquest (1983)

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One of my great regrets in life is that I did not discover this as a kid. This sword & sorcery flick was an attempt to capitalize on the success of Conan the Barbarian, but Fulci took it to an unsurpassed level of visionary madness. The entire film is shot through an aggressively foggy lens filter, and then he pumped as much fog as he possibly could into every scene. The result is like a transmission from another dimension. Handsome young adventurer Illias is given a magic bow by the god Cronos, which it turns out is the only weapon that can kill the evil witch Ocron. Ocron sends her army of werewolves to retrieve the bow, promising that she will take away the sun for all time. Illias teams up with an older misanthropic loner played by Jorge Rivero, and their relationship simmers with delightful homoerotic subtext. Things just get more and more insane from there as Ocron redoubles her efforts and performs all sorts of pagan rituals.  There’s an easy way to see this in the proper aspect ratio in good quality: the Shout Factory App, which I was able to download on my Roku player.

1) The Beyond (1981)

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The greatest entry in the Gates of Hell trilogy, this is the apocalypse distilled down to 87 minutes of cinematic doom. The finale of The Beyond is arguably the most insane, abstract stretch of film in the entire horror genre. Roger Ebert wrote a famously vitriolic negative review of this, where he reveals exactly who The Beyond is not meant for: fuddy-duddies who think that narrative continuity matters and horror dialogue should aim to imitate generic prestige pictures. No, sir, you will not find much narrative continuity or MFA dialogue in The Beyond. What you will find is buckets of gore, virtuoso editing, and one of the greatest horror scores of all time.

Streaming Recommendations, Vol. 5

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Amazon Prime is still the clear winner, though it drives me nuts how many titles they have in unwatchably poor quality. Everything I’m recommending has been vetted for quality and correct aspect ratio. Hulu has a few gems, and Netflix has some worthwhile stuff, but their app seems to be getting more obnoxious by the day.

Amazon Prime

The Terrorizers (Edward Yang)

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Edward Yang is best known in the west for his seminal masterpiece Yi Yi, but his entire body of work is extremely worthwhile. If you’re foggy about 20th century Taiwanese history, it’s worth brushing up before watching this (Wikipedia will do). The Terrorizers is a multi-narrative city symphony set in Taipei that uses themes of interconnectedness and coincidence to examine globalization. Antonioni’s Blow Up is a key point of reference. It traces the far-reaching consequences of a crank call.

City of the Living Dead (Fulci)

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I have been on a huge Fulci kick this summer. City of the Living Dead is part of his Gates of Hell trilogy, along with The Beyond (which is on my all-time horror top ten list) and The House by the Cemetery. These movies are among the most abstract in the horror canon, more concerned with creating an overwhelming feeling of impending doom than with narrative. In this one, a psychic and a reporter seek to close a gate to hell opened by the suicide of a priest. A word of warning: there’s tons of Fulci on amazon, but most of it is in the wrong aspect ratio and in terrible quality. Shudder is better, and a lot of Fulci has been restored and released on blu-ray the last few years.

Unsane (Soderbergh)

As I said in my last post, I loved it! It’s one of the best thrillers in recent memory, and I found it extremely stressful to watch.

The River (Tsai Ming-liang)

Extraordinarily depressing. Chronic pain: the movie, more or less. But it’s entirely worth engaging with if you don’t mind ruining your day.

The Ninth Gate (Polanski)

Have people seen this? I don’t really know. It’s long and deliberate, so be in the mood to be patient, but it’s also really great and I consider it essential. Polanski is the master of the slow burn. He has a unique ability to render all sorts of seemingly inconsequential details grim and foreboding. Johnny Depp (before he got terrible) plays a rare book seller looking for a satanic tome. The payoff is tremendous.

The Long Riders (Walter Hill)

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Awesome Jesse James western by the great Walter Hill, starring four sets of real-life brothers (Keaches, Carradines, Quaids, and Guests).

Frozen (Green)

Nope, not the Disney frozen. This is the one and only “stuck on a ski lift” horror movie you ever need to see. It’s trash, but I appreciate how thoroughly it mines its premise (even while being exceptionally dumb). Yes, there are wolves.

The Manchurian Candidate (Demme)

The Strohl brothers are longtime fans of this film. I think it’s one of the best remakes ever. It complements the Frankenheimer masterpiece beautifully. It’s aged well, and is more relevant now than ever. Great Denzel performance, and Meryl Streep lives up to Angela Lansbury. If you haven’t seen it, or if you shrugged at it when it came out, I recommend checking it out.

La Moustache (Carrère)

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I’ve long been a fan of this odd little absurdist gem. Vincent London stars as a man who’s worn a mustache his entire adult life. One day he shaves it, but no one notices, and indeed they all insist that he never had a mustache. Things go haywire from there. I haven’t rewatched this in a long time but I wonder if it would take on new resonances now that gaslighting is a mainstream concept?

The Forest for the Trees (Ade)

Maren Ade’s wonderful films Tony Erdmann and Everyone Else got quite a bit of traction in the US, but her first film is more of a rarity. I saw it back when it came out and really liked it, and I was pleased to see it show up on Prime. It’s about an awkward schoolteacher starting a new job and dealing with social alienation. It’s been a while, but I remember it being very squirmy-cringey and psychologically incisive.

 

Hulu

The Duchess of Langeais (aka Don’t Touch the Axe) (Rivette)

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Yes! Anyone who’s been reading my film writing knows how deeply I love Jacques Rivette. This is one of his most accessible films, and a perfectly fine place to start. It’s a Balzac adaptation, thematically concerned with unrequited love.

Johnny Guitar (N. Ray)

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Yep, Johnny Guitar is on hulu. One of the greatest westerns, and one of the most gender-subversive films of its time thanks to Joan Crawford’s iconic performance. If you haven’t seen it, you must.

Bastards (Denis)

Claire Denis’ bleak and nasty noir about a dark family secret. The major point of reference is Jacques Rivette’s masterpiece Secret Defense. I thought this was one of the two or three best movies of 2013.

Mad Detective (To)

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In the running for Johnnie To’s weirdest movie. It’s about a detective who can see a person’s inner personalities. He had to retire due to mental illness but is brought back to help with a cold case.

 

Netflix

Alexander: The Ultimate Cut (Stone)

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If you gave up on Alexander after the theatrical cut, you’ve missed out on a lot. This is the *fourth* cut of the film, and it’s Stone’s preferred version. I love it. If you have three and a half hours to spare, here’s a good way to spend it.

Man of Tai Chi (Reeves)

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Keanu Reeves’ directorial debut is frickin’ awesome. Excellent martial arts picture.

Lifeline (Johnnie To)

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Good place to start with Johnnie To. I think I recommended this once already, but it wasn’t on Netflix. This is a firefighter thriller (think “Backdraft but good”). There’s a little bit of story, but it’s mostly action. There are far greater works in To’s filmography (of course he’s best known for his crime cinema) but I wouldn’t skip this one.

Beyond Skyline (O’Donnell)

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Extremely weird and trashy sci fi B-movie. If you have an appetite for this sort of thing, it’s delightful. I watched it twice.

Enemy (Villeneuve)

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I love this movie! I’ve gotten the sense that not many others like it as much as I do, but I’m undeterred in recommending it. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a history professor who discovers that he has a doppelgänger. He starts stalking his double and things get weird from there.