Saturday, September 18, 2021

Weekend Open Thread


  1. So, where to start with James Wan's MALIGNANT (2021, theater)? How about with Warner Bros. putting our own Heather Wixon's pull-quote at the start of TV commercials (scroll to 41:23)? Or the fact I avoid James Wan movies like the plague, but his precise set of quote/unquote "skills" (along with the clout of creating and/or directing billion-dollar franchises for three separate studios) are part of the weird alchemy that makes "Malignant" THE black swan of James' unremarkable filmography? Or that after seeing it in a packed theater on a Wednesday night half the crowd applauded (me included) while a vociferous group booed just as loudly? Or that HBO Max allows for the crazy ride aboard Wan's runaway underground Seattle train to be boarded as many times as we want between now and October 11? Is it too late to make "Malignant" 2021's Scary Movie Month's opening-day commentary track feature, Patrick? :-P

    I already knew I wanted to see "Malignant" based on Cedric R's advance praise from its French release, but this surpassed even my heightened expectations for the second coming of "Xtro." I could write encyclopedia volumes about the good (practical/physical stunts, a go-for-broke script in which the filmmakers swing so hard for the fences the bat cracks the collective back of their own skulls), the bad (most of the actors, overreliance on old timey tech that was already old when Wes Craven's "Shocker" first tried it in 1989), the weird (too-obvious disregard for interiors of the house not matching the repeated-too-often exterior shots, wild tone swings from shlock to melodrama to terror, on-the-nose music choices) and the sublime (excellent use of the Seattle Underground, even better than in Nic Cage's "Pig") that make "Malignant" a once-in-a-director's-career standout work. It made me want to see more James Wan movies (the horror!), but that's natural when "Malignant" plays so hard by its own absurd rules it demands respect for getting made and released by a major American studio instead of an Italian one. ;-) Highly recommended, one of 2021's most entertaining(ly bad, emphasis on 'ENTERTAINING') movies.

    Just returned from a packed-house theatrical screening of director Sion Sono's ("Why Don't You Play In Hell?") 2021 feature PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND at NYC's IFC Center. A mostly hipster college crowd (an NYU film student was celebrating his birthday by bringing 25 of his friends to IFC to watch this flick) came prepared to mock Nicholas Cage. They got plenty of mileage out of Cage's attached-to-explosives testicles (an integral part of the plot... for real), but the "Escape From New York"-meets-"Turbo Kid"-with-Japanese-motifs narrative was mostly a tedious exercise in weirdness for weirdness' sake. Bill Moseley and Nick Cassavetes have fun baddie roles, but the often-impressive production values (the factory with the giant clock looks like it cost a pretty penny) contrast with the "Mad Max"-ish post-apocalyptic tone that appears to exist just for show. A rental at best.

    Joe Carnahan's COP SHOP (2021, theater) is basically a Southwestern-set "Assault on Precinct 13" (aka Howard Hawk's "Rio Bravo") with constant winks at the audience at all the fun Carnahan had directing the hell out of the set-ups, actors and shoot-outs (slow-motion, CG fire, etc.). Dialogue is secondary to interesting stock characterizations, with Frank Grillo, Gerard 'I'm a producer' Butler, Alexis Louder and Toby Huss (whose contract killer shtick wears thin) essentially carrying the film. Worth seeing... when it hits streaming.


      Writer/director John Pollono adapts his own theatrical play, SMALL ENGINE REPAIR (2021, theater), and casts himself among the three leads alongside co-producer Jon Bernthal (Netflix's "The Punisher") and character actor Shea Whigham ("American Hustle"). Essentially "Manchester By The Sea"-type New England working class misery porn set in an empty garage, the first half is an interesting look at adult men learning to channel their on/off friendship into a constructive-for-the-unit relationship. The second half takes a turn toward the dark side of toxic masculinity, using the good will built for Frank's teenage daughter Crystal (Clara Bravo) to take the audience and the characters on a "Breaking Bad"-type narrative. Good stuff, but you feel the older filmmakers patronizing young people by arriving at too-convenient resolutions to morally complex situations. Still worth seeing when "SER" arrives on streaming.

      I was a little let down by Carnahan's "Copshop" (my fault for raising my expectations too high), so I took a chance to rewatch Quentin Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS (1992, DVD) to get a whiff of great dialogue to go along with the heist-gone-wrong antics of the plot. Despite every other iconic actor (Harvey Keitel), scene (Michael Madsen dancing while torturing) or iconic visuals (Tim Roth bleeding to death for most of the non-flashback narrative) in this flick, to me this scene remains the best-cast actor in my favorite Tarantino movie delivering the best lines of dialogue Quentin has ever written, IMHO. :')

    2. I thought Prisoners of the Ghostland was entertaining enough and was pretty great visually, but sometimes it felt like pages had somehow fallen out of the screenplay here and there. I like Sion Sono but as far as the story goes this felt a little sloppier than what I'm used to from him.

      Not sure if it has anything to do with the clown car display of production companies at the beginning.

    3. Yo J.M. just wanted to say i appreciate your weekly write ups!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Hey all! Hope everyone has a weekend full of enjoyableness!

    I'm reporting from Helsinki International Film Festival, where yesterday I saw three movies and have 16 more planned over the next five days. Yesterday's highlight was definitely Apples, the directorial debut of Yorgos Lanthimos's former AD, and the influences show. It uses dark comedy and absurd scenarios to examine some serious and dark stuff. Today I'll be representing all F-Heads at the fest by wearing my F This Movie! t-shirt.

    Also, this week I finished the Showa Era (era) Godzilla boxset with the last two movies, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and Terror of Mechagodzilla. They were both great fun, but my favorite of the set (besides the original of course) remains Godzilla vs. Hedorah with its weird editing and earnest songs about pollution. Next up on the list is 1984's The Return of Godzilla, which is on my Scary Movie Month list. (IMDb classifies it as a horror film, so I'm going with it.)

  3. It's mid-September and my anticipation of October, the best month of the year, has me starting to watch some horror films already.Not that there is a time of year when I don't like watching horror movies, but they somehow feel better in autumn. It's getting cooler outside, the second of summer is slowly wilting the leaves and speckling the landscape in reds to yellows, fog is creeping in more frequently, suddenly a wind is raging and rain is lashing against the windows while you sit on the couch snuggled in blankets, spooking yourself into the night within the cosy warmth of your home. I save some horror films for this time of year that I could otherwise have watched earlier - but I don't want to wait for October this time. This is also connected to my planned holiday in Romania at the beginning of October ( if Covid-19 allows it), the home of Vlad III Drăculea aka Dracula. I don't know yet if I'll manage to watch a horror movie and write a review there every day, so maybe I'll cheat a bit atm.

    Since there are also a few wrestling fans at FThisMovie (Macho Man represents) and Heather mentioned AEW in the last podcast, I just want to briefly mention how envious I am of Chicagoans. They've had some of the best wrestling events of all time in the last few weeks. AEW brings a breath of fresh air and a long-needed new culture to a business that was so dominated by unsavoury characters, especially in the 80s and 90s (see the recent "Dark Side of the Ring" episode on the "Plane Ride from Hell"). Right now is perhaps the best time ever to be a wrestling fan.

  4. CRUELLA (2021) I pretty much feel the same about this as everyone else. When it's full-on high camp it's great fun, but I see no reason why it has to be this long. Time slows to a crawl once the movie passes the two-hour mark. Emma Stone nails it, though.

    LAST ACTION HERO (1993) What an oddity. It's nonsense, and yet it's nonsense that Hollywood spent millions on. The story goes that the movie was rushed into theaters before it was finished editing, but there's this strange self-confidence to the whole thing, where everything clearly thought they were making the biggest movie ever. I enjoy the movie in a this-is-goofy way, but I'd rather see the movie they wish they'd made instead.

    THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER (1981) "You are all WEIRDOS!"

    1. I was on the same Jury Room watchalong stream with Mac watching "LAC." Saw it a few weeks back and loved it, but on a group viewing the fact this was a rushed, bloated production with lots of needless padding and old-fashioned pace (it really takes ages for Danny to wind up inside the Jack Slater movie) weighed down the whole thing. Funny a movie whose pace I have no problem with on my own felt padded and overlong when watched in a group.

  5. Malignant (2021, HBO/Max)

    Seven word review (yea,im early): Bat Shit Crazypants Genre Stew, a Masterpiece.

    Holy f@#$ing sh@t i adore this movie. First and foremost, if you've been on the fence, just watch it and try to avoid reading about it. I went in totally blind which was hard as there's been a ton of twitter buzz in the last week. Im gonna resist the urge to extol its countless virtues for now as i dont want anyone to have anything spoiled....yet.

    I will say that as an obsessive movie loving nerd I (and many of you) cant not try and figure out a movie when watching. My snarkiest nerd example is years ago i called the big twist for Sixth Sense from the first teaser released like a year before the movie (sigh..i THAT guy right now..sorry...but hang in there...i have a point). So early during the viewing of Malignant i connected a few dots and figured out where it was going. And i was right. But i was wrong. You see, i think James Wan did this intentionally. I think he knew people would inevitably figure it out. So he let them...and then just unleashed insanity.

    I just finished watching and im giddy as fuk. I didnt think they made movies like this anymore. Its like 16 movies in one. Several of which harken back to the fuked up horror of the 80s video store era.

    There is zero doubt that when the year ends and i look back upon my viewing, this movie will be the biggest surprise and without question one of my fav experiences.

    Ill end with a song quote that has no relation to anything.....

    "I want to be your sledgehammer, why dont you call my name"
    -p. Gabriel

  6. Saw a few good ones this past week--almost all for the first time.

    END OF WATCH took 20 minutes or so to convince me that it wasn't going to be too copagandish (and 8t walks a fine line with that, at times), but Michael Peña and Jake Gyllenhaal ultimately won me over with their bromance.

    RAPID FIRE was a lot of fun, and my first Brandon Lee flick.

    Rewatched THE KING OF COMEDY and it's still hilarious/terrifying from second to second.

    Saw THE CARD COUNTER in theaters and loved it. A rare slow burn that's also edge-of-your-seat. Oscar Isaac has been awesome before (Ex Machina, Inside Llewyn Davis, etc.), so I was ready for him to be great, but I was really impressed by Tiffany Haddish in this. She's been very funny and magnetic in comedies, but she really matched the tone of this movie in a way that doesn't always go well for comedic actors in a "serious" movie.

    Saw TOUCH OF EVIL yesterday. Disclaimer: I don't really like Citizen Kane. I know it's important in cinema history and I'm glad many people enjoy it, but I just couldn't get into it. While Touch of Evil didn't blow me away, there was a lot of it that I liked, including the opening tracking shot, which 100% deserves its lauded reputation.

    Saw U TURN this morning, and man is it a wild one. For a movie that i could easily (and understandably) see people loving or hating, I’m somewhere between, but mostly on the positive side. I enjoyed the manic/wacky tone, but always felt very aware of it, which is probably what kept me liking it without loving it. I didn't realize how stacked this cast was, but it has to be up there for loaded rosters in movies that aren't talked about much.

    1. Boatload of good movies (and some not-so-good) there, chief. :-)

    2. I understand your reaction to Citizen Kane, Reed. I do not find it the most entertaining film ever, but the style has always carried me through to the conclusion. I would usually recommend Touch of Evil over Kane to someone not familiar with Orson Welles' work.

  7. Last night I watched The Majorettes (free on TubiTV), has anyone seen this movie? I'm fascinated by it. It is somehow completely crazy, and incredibly boring. I don't wanna say too much, but my god.

    1. Never heard of it, but sell me on it without spoilers. Why should I watch "The Majorettes"? ;-)

  8. I see FThisMovie is ready for some Macho Madness. Oh Yeah! Growing up with the WWF (now WWE)in the late 1980s, Macho Man was my favorite wrestler. His interviews are still worth watching. "Cream of the crop."

    I got around to more movies than I thought I would. Being up in the middle of the night unable to sleep prompts me to watch films.

    GORDON LIGHTFOOT: IF YOU COULD READ MY MIND (2020) on Amazon Prime – The Canadian singer-songwriters whose work I know best are Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. Besides “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” and few other songs, I was unaware of the extent of his catalogue, let alone his status as a Canadian musical institution. There was a lot take in. The narrative style creates a sense of going on a journey with Lightfoot, who was interviewed extensively.

    PORKY’S (1981) – Back in the late 2000s, Porky’s was being shown on the Fox Movie Channel on a regular basis. I watched it several times then, enjoying the juvenile humor. With this re-watch, I was not as enamored with the humor. I identified more with the villains of the film. Nancy Parson’s Balbricker is treated terribly by everyone in the film. I shared her antipathy for some of main characters. They are jerks. Porky, a jerk in his own right, did what he had to to get rid of a bunch of teenagers who should not have been at his establishment in the first place. In any case, Porky’s is still a classic of 1980s sex comedies.

    THE SILENCERS (1966) – Before Austin Powers, superspy Matt Helm was engaging in absurd Bond-style adventures. Helm, portrayed by Dean Martin, has to fight off a horde of lovely ladies while thwarting the plan of The Big O (SPECTRE) to disrupt missile tests. The entire tone of The Silencers is goofy. The titillation factor is amped up considerably, with the actresses being exposed as much as possible without nudity involved. This is certainly the most sexist film I have watched in a long time. Victor Buono does a terrific job spoofing the early Bond villains. Watching The Silencers in a delirium of sleepiness was very appropriate; nothing is meant to have any substance.

    UNHOLY ROLLERS (1972) – I first saw this a few years ago for Junesploitation. Claudia Jenning’s performance as an arrogant roller derby star stands out even more with this viewing. She fully committed to making the character as unlikeable as possible. Everything about Unholy Rollers screams the early 1970s. Fashion tastes sure have changed a lot.

    DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1966, dir. William Grefé) – I was inclined to completely dismiss this film, but the doggedness of a low-budget filmmaker like Grefé is to be appreciated. He got the film made in an environment (The Everglades) that must not have been easy work in with limited resources. The actors were willing to jump into some very murky water. I had a good laugh with the shark attack. The transfer shown on TCM, which probably is the one for the Grefé Arrow set, looked good.

    1. The way you describe sounds like "The Silencers" pushed Dean Martin to drink rather than Dean being sauced on his own. :-D In an alternate universe this would be the movie that Sharon Tate watches in Tarantino's "Once Upon A Time in Hollywood."

    2. It looked like Dino was having a lot of fun. Speaking of drinking, there is a scene of him and co-star Stella Stevens consuming the contents of a portable bar while he drives. From what I remember of the third and fourth films in the Matt Helm series, The Silencers is slightly classier than those. Sharon Tate was in the fourth one, The Wrecking Crew. She is the best part of it.

  9. Anyone wanna watch THE DRESSMAKER (2016)?

    So whenever something happens like they pass the most cruel and terrifying law like they just did in Texas, I watch The Dressmaker. It’s my go-to “burn down the patriarchy” film. It’s a fierce and tender delight.

    I’m kind of bummed there are almost no write-ups on the movie being a political film about the resistance. A lot of reviews just say it’s “oddball” and “quirky”. Ok, I will admit it’s magical realism. But if you frame it in a context that’s pure politics, it’s the opposite of quirky, it’s like a map of reality.

    It just hit me yesterday thinking about this movie that the top self serving guy of this patriarchy - his name is PETTYMAN. Hahaha. It’s fricking great.

    But anyway, the reason I love it and why it actually feels so important in a political way is there are so many tender, private moments of reflection and self revelation for the women characters, who each have been brainwashed in one way or another by the townspeople who subscribe to this capitalist, every-man/woman-for-himself way of life, where people sell each other out or “look the other way” or let other people die just to keep themselves comfortable. Also, it’s extremely clear that the staunchest guardians of the patriarchy are (as we know) also women. The “outsiders” are people and women who don’t or no longer serve the system.

    It’s so brilliantly insightful, I think. Women remembering their connection to themselves and to each other. Finding their own power through care, compassion, tenderness, laughter.

    There’s a romance (thank you Liam Hemsworth), which ends abruptly and lots of reviewers complained. But at the end of the day...would a real man and ally stop you from burning down the patriarchy at the end of a movie like this? Nah.

    I wanna throw in here that I think it’s not hard to describe all our problems in society. But then this movie really, I feel, knows and understands that vibration of compassion that changes people and changes things.

    I could go on and on. I really can't say enough good things about it and wish more people knew about it.

  10. Oh yea and I remembered a non-completely-irritating moment in The Sound of Music this week when the family is trying to escape by hiding in the abbey and Ralph, Leisel’s boyfriend (I GUESS EX BF) is hunting them down for the nazis with a gun. And after the dad calls his bluff and takes Ralph’s gun away he says “You’ll never be one of them”. Then Ralph gets all huffy and blows the whistle on them to alert the rest of the nazis. I wrong could the Captain have been?? In one instant maybe he wasn’t a nazi. In the next exact instant...he was! He may not have been born that way sure, but it only took one breath to blow his whistle. The transition was instant! Ah! I keep thinking about this as I have an ex I was rather fond of in Texas. I was always afraid we might not agree politically so we avoided all conversation on that (clearly a pre-2016 and not long-lived relationship). But anyway now we find ourselves most likely sitting on opposite sides of this thing with all these questions about each other. Like, welp, how is it possible for someone to go from sweet guy you never thought could hurt a fly to, you know, a bounty hunting nazi? I’m a little concerned these transitions seem like they might not be as gradual as I thought. I mean I don't know. But it's funny, I know we're definitely wondering these things about each other.

    1. I believe it is hard to foresee the political positions of most people until they really emerge and become a strong dividing factor. We have some of the same movements in the political landscape like you have in the US - e.g. populists parties on the right wing trying to erode the complete democratic system. Some people I knew just went with it, sometimes because they believed what those people had to say, sometimes just because they think it should be allowed and protected to think the way they do. While I had discussions with those people before, I always thought it's due to the reason that those people liked to discuss for the sake of the argument... until I've learned it isn't that way at all.

      I don't know where I want to go with this comment, to be honest. I agree with you, that this transition can be swift and fast - and it happened here (in Germany) once before, and we all know the results. A democracy can only be as strong as the people in it, defending it.

    2. Agree, Derk. And personally the "because it should be allowed and protected" weighs heaviest.

      You know they might've added that "You'll never be one of them" line hoping people find it in themselves to not go that way again. Seems plausible. 💁🏻‍♀️