Saturday, May 29, 2021

Weekend Open Thread


  1. My Letterboxd list of Junesploitation titles Let’s go!

    1. Thumbs up, soldier. 😃👍

    2. There are a lot of good watches in that list. Getting through all of that will keep you busy.

  2. I decided to start Junesploitation a little early with a few new-to-me movies that didn't quite fit on my list for next month.

    Split Second (1992, dir. Tony Maylam)

    In the far distant future of 2008, global warming has left London flooded and infested with giant rats. Rutger Hauer is the burnt-out cop on the hunt his partner's killer, a serial killer who may or may not be entirely human. Kim Cattrall is also there. Maylam gets some atmosphere out of the dingy settings and Hauer plays gruff well.

    The Beastmaster (1982, dir. Don Coscarelli)

    An extremely fun fantasy romp. The animal stuff is impressively realized and John Amos might be low-key one of my favorite screen presences (but that's probably mostly because of The West Wing). Also watched the new doc that comes with the Vinegar Syndrome disc, The Beastmaster Chronicles, which is a pretty basic talking-heads retrospective.

    The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974, dir. Jack Hill)

    It's sexploitation fluff, but at least there's some attempt at social commentary to take the edge off.

    Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe (1990, dir. Damian Lee)

    A cheap Terminator knockoff, except the hero and villain are aliens instead of time travelers. The mcguffin the villain is after is called the "anti-life equation", presumably ripped straight from Jack Kirby's DC comics. Jesse Ventura is excellent casting for a wooden alien who doesn't understand human emotion.

    Also, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar was very hit and miss for me, but the hits were more than enough to win me over. Especially Jamie Dornan's plaintive ballad was hilarious.

    Have a great weekend, everone!

    1. No stinkers in the bunch, congrats. 🥶🤠

  3. Well, last 'Weekend Open Thread' in a while before we go 24/7 JUNESPLOITATION! for a full month. Got two weeks' worth of flicks to dissect, so let's get started (in no particular order).

    There's no way an $80 million zombie epic helmed by the director of 2004's remake of "Dawn of the Dead" was getting first-time watched by me on my puny 65" 4K TCL with crap speakers. So trekked all the way to Brooklyn's Nitehawk Cinema to catch "visionary" Zach Snyder's ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021) on the big screen. Other than "Dawn" and "300" Snyder has yet to make a film I truly like, but "Army" comes the closest to delivering an uncompromised-by-Hollywood-suits distillation of his macho-driven mise en scène. Except for anything involving Tig Notaro flying a helicopter (which almost singlehandedly ruins the film's climax) and a post-opening credits (A+) 30 min. set-up that drags, "Army" knows the kind of movie it is and has fun playing with (and often subverting) its well-known zombie/heist genre tropes. It's as if the filmmakers and actors saw "Resident Evil: Extinction" and then turned around and did the exact opposite. Even in a post-"Walking Dead" media landscape, "Army" stands out and earns whatever sequels/spinoffs it gets.

    Rewatched Danny Steinman's SAVAGE STREETS (1984, Amazon Prime) with the Forever Cinematic commentary track. Since it was a repeat I was less shocked by the violence/meanness between the male thugs and the chicks they end up harassing... and worse. :-( John Vernon is wasted unless you create a backstory in your mind that his principal character lusted after Linda Blair, which would explain the intensity of his arguments with Brenda. As a revenge flick this feels like it gets real good too late to be cathartic (way too much time spent with the thugs being a-holes), but what did you expect from the director of the Jason-without-Jason "Friday the 13th" flick? If you haven't seen "Savage Streets" yet, June's right around the corner. ;-)

    Tony Scott's TOP GUN (1986, AMC Dolby Prime). Seen this a few times but never really cared for it. On the big screen with killer Dolby sound I savored every minute of Simpson and Bruckheimer's cheeky blockbuster formula: cool guys, sexy chicks, high-tech speed vehicles, memorable music and 'Indian Ocean' danger. :-D Since Tom Cruise has been coasting on this exact movie persona for decades (for good reasons) I was more entertained by the supporting cast. Goofy Anthony Edwards, fatherly Tom Skerritt, cocky Val Kilmer... even so-bad-he's-good James Tolkan (the big screen doesn't do his overacting any favors) were as delightful as seeing pre-facial surgery young Meg Ryan. As a movie it's just okay, but as a repository of 80's pop culture moments ("Goose is dead," Giorgio Moroder's music, the beach volleyball game, the upside-down plane Polaroid, Maverick taking off his glasses, etc.) "Top Gun" is unrivaled.

    Luke Howard's FINAL ACCOUNT (2021, theater) is a World War II/Holocaust documentary with a structure that feels repetitive. Sorry, but after decades of cable's "The Hitler Channel" and Hollywood's many awards bait offerings, seeing the same archival footage of German youths being indoctrinated and hearing the same sad violin music when panning over the same train tracks that took prisoners to the death camps isn't as impactful as it used to be. That said, Edwards gets at least a handful of the last-living generation of Germans who lived under the Third Reich to pledge on-camera their ongoing support for Hitler's ideas and Nazi ideology. A few years back this might have been impactful, but not now. Not after January 6th. :'(

  4. DREAM HORSE (2021, theater) might have the most relaxed and fun performances Toni Collette and Damian Lewis have ever given on-screen. This "Rocky"-esque British story of a competitive racing horse lifting the spirits and self-esteem of a rural Welsh town is audience-pleasing 'PG' formula filmmaking to the tilt. But I'd rather watch Lewis and Collette obsess over a horse's well being (or sing a song with their real-life human counterparts during the credits) than any of their more critically-acclaimed work. Not a great flick, but one comfortable within its own family-friendly skin.

    Ditto for FINDING YOU (2021, theater), which marked the return to cinemas for my Upstate, NY family that had been in a lengthy COVID-19 lockdown (as in they got infected with the virus, recovered and are now fully vaccinated, thank God if he/she/it exists). Loved that my 11-year old niece saw protagonist Finley (Rose Reid) playing the violin and whispered to me "She's faking it" since the former is taking virtual violin lessons, which is why I took her to see the flick. Anywho, young woman goes to Ireland to prepare for her violin recital, meets movie heartthrob Beckett Rush (Jedidiah Goodacre), both stay at the same B&B manned by a goofy family (including "Derry Girls'" Saoirse-Monica Jackson) and constantly run into each other and fall in love... yadda yadda yadda. At almost two hours this one tests the limits of the appeal of a YA rom-com (including a sub-plot about estranged sisters that might go well above young people's patience), but the exquisite cinematography and picture-perfect Irish locations go a long way to make the predictable plot engaging. Worth a rental.

    Yimou Zhang's CLIFF WALKERS, aka IMPASSE (2021, theater) is a stylish Chinese spy drama/thriller about Russian-trained spies infiltrating a Japanese-controlled region to expose atrocities that army has perpetrated on Chinese prisoners. Set in the early 1930's (so not a WWII flick), this feels like Spielberg's "Bridge of Spies" with a hint of propaganda and a batshit car chase/gunfight inserted toward the end just because they could. If you can overlook that CG-heavy action nonsense, "Cliff Walkers" will reward you with some impressive visuals (gorgeous snow-covered locales from start to finish) and an entertaining, no-nonsense tale of spies backstabbing and betraying one another... if you can remember whose side each character is on (I struggled to keep up).

    Michel Franco's NEW ORDER (2021, theater) starts with a house-on-fire build-up and payoff during the first act (the poor of Mexico D.F. take their revenge on the rich by robbing them while either killing them or taking them hostage for ransom) that had me genuinely excited. But then things settle into a more routine-but-harrowing character study of good people trapped by their social standing into pre-conceived roles. Worth seeing if you can stand some nasty violence and sexual assault scenes that seemed to go over the top, IMO.

    Last and certainly not least, rewatched A QUIET PLACE (2018, 4K UHD) and also caught A QUIET PLACE: PART II (2021, IMAX). Watched "Part II" first, then went home and watched the first. Don't ask, it's how timing worked out for the holiday weekend. If you can ignore how much the kids grow physically between movies, the sequel's fine. Writer/director/co-star John Krasinski has clearly seen M. Night Shyamalan's filmography, because he repeats the same audience-pleasing dramatic beats (simultaneous separate actions edited to feel as a piece) while never losing sight of character development within the family unit as the driving force propelling the story forward. Even when it stumbles (both movies have essentially the same plot/story), "Part II" sets-up a post-apocalyptic cinematic world I still haven't grown tired of.

  5. Hey gang! Last few days I've been mostly watching stuff in preparation for JUNESPLOITATION, BABY! (TM), including:
    - Ninja (2009) - because I wanted to get that out of the way before tackling Shadow of a Tear on Adkins Day.
    - Slumber Party Massacre 2 (1987) - because I wanted to get back in that sweet 80s horror mood and oh my god this movie is so awesome!
    - Dawn of the Dead (1978) - because first of all, I'd never seen it before (I know...) and second of all, I plan to finally sink my teeth into Zombi 2 on Zombie Day, so it felt only fair. I'm sure no one needs me confirming this, but it's a freaking masterpiece.

    Other than that, I've caught up with last year's Black Bear. I've always been on the fence whether I'm actually an Aubrey Plaza fan or not. Well, I'm not on the fence anymore. This movie's awesome and she is incredible in it. Highly recommended.

  6. Rather than a week of watching movies, it was a week of thinking about them. I have put a lot thought into my Junesploitation list this year, trying to balance out the structure of the month with the films I really want to get to this year. That has made the free days hard to program. Moreover, with so many of the films I have watched in past Junesploitations made after 1960, I am trying to get more films made before 1960 in the list.

    Like Mikko, I have added to my Vinegar Syndrome collection. Among the titles I got in the Halfway Sale this weekend are Blood Games, The Candy Snatchers, and Wonder Women, all good candidates for a Junesploitation viewing.

    These are the Junesploitation days are pretty much set.

    '80s Action: The Killer
    Slashers: Final Exam
    Westerns: Winchester '73
    Sword and Sorcery: Ninja Wars
    Blaxploitation: Cotton Comes to Harlem or Candy Tangerine Man
    Scott Adkins: Universal Soldier, Day of Reckoning
    Vigilantes: The Punisher (1989) or Exterminator 2
    Sci-Fi: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
    '80s Comedy: Private Resort
    Sequels: French Connection II
    Cannon: Runaway Train
    Jackie Chan: First Strike
    Musicals: The Bandwagon
    Julie Strain: Something from the Andy Sidaris DVD set
    '90s Action: The Taking of Beverly Hills
    Cops: Laura (1945)
    Gangsters: Triad Election or Le Doulos

    Free: The Spiral Staircase (1946), Something Weird Video releases

    1. I watched a couple of films this weekend.

      ACT OF VIOLENCE (1948, dir. Fred Zinnemann)- It is clear that things are not good when a limping Robert Ryan comes after you with a gun. Murder seems the only likely outcome. This noir tale of revenge rooted in the World War II experience is all about how war lingers in the minds of those who fought it. For anyone who loves the moody black-and-white cinematography of film noir, Act Of Violence will be a treat.

      SWEPT AWAY (1974, dir. Lina Wertmuller)- I have intended to get to this film for a long time, and it was worth waiting to be in the right frame of mind for it. Swept Away is an intense mix of politics, love, and sex that is frequently uncomfortable to watch. The general story is that of an arrogant rich woman who gets shipwrecked on an island with a sailor who despises her personality and her wealth. The beauty of the film is how everything unfolds with humor, anger, and satire.

  7. I like reading other people's lists in advance, so I'll also mention a few highlights of the stuff I have planned (all of these are new to me):

    80's Action: Deadly Prey
    Slashers: Aquaslash
    Blaxploitation: Friday Foster
    Italian Horror: The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave
    Sci-Fi: The Amazing Transparent Man
    Kung Fu: Man of Tai Chi
    Sequels: Deadliest Prey
    Julie Strain: Heavy Metal 2000
    80's Horror: Deadly Friend
    Gangsters: The Stone Killer
    Free Spaces: Heavy Metal, The Ice Pirates, Satanic Panic

    Plus two or three Finnish movies and some other weird picks. It's gonna be a blast!

  8. Whatever I was going to watch went out the window after I read the Adkins article. So now I'll probably watch the Undisputed series as I don't think I've even ever seen 1 or 4, and I barely remember 2 (though I know 1 is a Snipes thing).

    1. Well, tonight I watched Mannequin 2: On the Move.

      And it was delightful.

  9. WARGAMES (1983)
    A nostalgic fave. It takes Spielberg's fantasy-set-in-the-suburbs thing and combines it with a cold war thriller. Yeah, there are probably ways it could be script-doctored, but it moves at a quick pace with a likable cast, so it's fun.

    Interesting how this is a full-on action comedy, and not just a series of Eddie Murphy skits. I think grounding the cop case in (somewhat) realism might just make Eddie's antics funnier.

    2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003)
    This is the only one in the franchise I hadn't yet seen, and... I liked it. As in, I liked it a lot! A lot of fun action, cool car chases, and tough guys doing the ol' tough guy swagger.

    1. I saw Wargames recently and was surprised by how much meat it had on it. It was a fun 80's "high school hacker" movie, but it was also playing on the omnipresent threat of nuclear war, and nuclear annihilation. How quickly we forget how big a deal it was, and how accepting everyone was of the idea of "If we're going down, then the whole world is going down with us". But also a fun quick paced movie!

  10. that cross-cutting big centerpiece sequence in AQP II is terrific. One of the best made movie moments in a while. So glad to be back in cinemas

    1. Agree. I can't wait for the inevitable "Part lll" if they can get around the kids' rapid on-screen growth in-between sequels. 🤔🥶

  11. Hard Times (1975) - The secretly best Bronson film, the template for a thousand action films, and the obvious pick for best future podcast material. Oh, and it has that awesome crazy bald dude. Robert Tessier? I know him from something I can't place. The Longest Yard?