Alright, you may have noticed that I’ve been doing a lot of lists around here lately – year-end music lists, movie-themed lists, etc. – and with that I’ve decided to take my Letterboxd list that I curate throughout the year and consolidate it here. So, presented here with star-ratings and synopses intact, here’s a list of movies I watched for the first time in 2017 that I really, really dug.

’night, Mother (1986, Tom Moore)

★★★★½

A devastating and provocative adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by Marsha Norman (who also wrote the screenplay.)

Jessie Cates (Sissy Spacek) lives with her widowed mother Thelma (Anne Banncroft) in a country house; one night, Jessie calmly reveals to Thelma that she will kill herself at the end of the evening. The film goes from there, spinning around the house with just the right amount of visual flair to make things cinematic while retaining the raw intensity of a stage-play. The two central performances are – as I mentioned off-the-top – devastating.


Live Wire (1992, Christian Duguay)

★★★★

Live Wire is everything you want out of a 90s action movie and more; it stars a pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan chewing the hell out of scenery, a script where every other word is a zinger, and a plot about terrorists who create a way turn humans into bombs through drinking water – this leads to a copious amount of scenes where people straight-up explode.

It’s absolutely bonkers-wonderful, and it pretty much never lets up; there’s no third-act lull to be found in this movie, which continues to crank up the crazy until Brosnan is hurling a clown in a wheelchair and shoving him into a tent before exploding.

It’s fucking terrific; highly recommended. I love this era of New Line Cinema (see also: Quiet Cool, The Hidden, etc.) The success of Freddy really allowed them to go buck-wild in the late-eighties and early-nineties, and Live Wire is no exception. I can’t wait to watch this movie again with some friends.


Ricochet (1991, Russell Mulcahy)

★★★½

Legitimately ridiculous action-excess – from a story by Fred Dekker! – featuring Denzel and Lithgow going tete-a-tete.

They sure don’t make villains like they used to; Lithgow is going at it hard here, and the movie cranks his evil ways up to wild levels, it’s amazing.

Takes a big turn in tone going into the second half, with Denzel playing drunk and unhinged.

The while movie has a real mean streak with a lot of graphic squib moments, but it never becomes a drag, thankfully. I mean, Lithgow and Jesse Ventura strap phone books to themselves and have a makeshift sword fight in jail here, come on.

Pretty much just what I was looking for from this Saturday afternoon pick.


Firstborn (1984, Michael Apted)

★★★★

Michael Apted directs this well-observed familial drama featuring Teri Garr, Peter Weller, Christopher Collet, Corey Haim, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Robert Downey Jr.

Apted unsurprisingly has a very soft touch for small and believable human moments in the early-goings of Firstborn, focusing on the emotional turmoil bubbling just under the surface for Garr’s divorced mother trying to be as good as mother as she can for Collet and Haim.

The introduction of Weller’s skeezy boyfriend character ratchets up the drama, but unfortunately goes a bit too over-the-top in the film’s finale. This is not the kind of movie that needs an extended chase scene at the end, and it’s certainly not the kind of movie that should have Weller busting through doors like RoboCop.

It’s all entertaining regardless, but it betrays the very honest and emotional drama that came before it. Despite this, the strong performances really hold the whole thing together even with the silly finale.


Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986, Paul Mazursky)

★★★★½

Not what I expected at all; I should have known, being a Mazursky joint, but the control of tone and character here is just astounding. Organically unfolds to farcical heights so nicely it almost goes unnoticeable while somehow maintaining such sharply observed insights into its characters’ hearts. A delight.


Seeding of a Ghost (1983, Richard Yeung Kuen)

★★★½

This Shaw Brothers Studio distributed spells and sorcery horror/exploitation hybrid begins as a tawdry drama with plenty of gratuitous softcore-level nudity before things take a very dark turn, landing in gut-buster territory.

After Taxi driver Chau’s wife Irene begins an affair with a wealthy and married playboy named Fang, she winds up alone on a dark stretch of road after an argument. A pretty harrowing assault occurs, and she dies after falling off the roof of an abandoned mansion. The film segues into something of a crime drama, where Chau and Fang are both suspects despite all signs pointing towards a pair of wandering dirtbags.

Chau takes things into his own hands, remembering a chance meeting with a black magic sorcerer. It’s here where the film really takes off, as Irene is resurrected and begins to get her revenge from beyond the grave in a number of entertaining and disgusting ways – from worm-barfing, to brain-eating and ultimately gut-busting monster-tentacle insanity.

While those who are lead to believe that Seeding of a Ghost will be top-to-bottom pedal-to-the-metal energy may leave disappointed, it’s hard not to admire the sheer level of commitment to the material here.

The effects are goopy and gory, and just when you’re ready to pass some that’s not as crazy as I had heard judgement, it really kicks off. Patience, and the ability to get through some of the more exploitative elements of the picture, will be readily rewarded for adventurous viewers.


The Boxer’s Omen (1983, Kuei Chih-Hung)

★★★★

More wild stuff from Shaw Bros.; unlike Seeding of a Ghost, where things seem at first tied to some kind of film-reality, The Boxer’s Omen takes the story of a boxer injured in the ring and immediately turns down an alley full of Taoist Monks, wizards, monsters, flying heads, zombies, spider-puppets, popped eyeballs, bats, and more. Director Kuei Chih-Hung keeps things gorgeous and dizzying, and you never know what is going to come at you next – this one makes you feel like you’ve been dosed with LSD and just haven’t realized it yet. Highly recommended.


You’ll Like My Mother (1972, Lamont Johnson)

★★★½
A pregnant Los Angeles widow (played by Patty Duke) arrives unannounced in Minnesota to visit her late husband’s mother in this hidden gem (released by Shout! Factory on BluRay last year.)

Don’t go into this one expecting a slasher – the poster kind of misrepresents it that way – but the level of emotional manipulation and twisted undercurrents going on here make it a really entertainingly trashy viewing experience for those who aren’t looking for gore or violence.

It’s not played for pure suspense the whole way through, but the first third of the picture really hooks you in for the ride and has you anticipating the odd goings-ons in the house.

Visually, it plays out much like a TV movie, with melodramatic and ominous strings adorning the manipulation, making for an uncomfortable yet effective juxtaposition to the visual style (or general lack-thereof.)

Very worthy of re-discovery and I think a lot of viewers would find much to like in this one, especially if you’re a fan of vintage, underseen thrillers.


Outrageous Fortune (1987, Arthur Hiller)

★★★½
Noisy 80s comedy with two terrific lead performances; this one gets less funny the further it gets into the cliche-fueled spy plotting, but Long and Midler remain so great together on-screen and their chemistry really pushes the movie along; I laughed a whole lot throughout, even as interest sightly waned near the finale. This is another one that blooms in hindsight, where I’ll likely end up reaching for it again-and-again.


Girl Asleep (2015, Rosemary Myers)

★★★★

Girl Asleep is a stylish and imaginative coming-of-age comedy from director Rosemary Myers, who blends the everything in its place visual flair of Me, Earl and the Dying Girl with the pastels of Wes Anderson shot through the lens of surreal art-house cinema – all while keeping a tight grip on the films’ emotional core.

Some viewers are going to be turned off by the film’s turn into the very literal dream-sequences, this is for sure, but the whole movie was so damn charming, and so damn off-beat while keeping Bethany Whitmore’s performance as Greta in the spotlight, that I was completely won over by the whole package.

Girl Asleep may dip its toe a little bit in the Napoleon Dynamite school of character design, but it never does a full-on cannonball, and felt on the whole more restrained than many films of this nature; Matthew Whittet’s script helps by giving us brief glimpses into what seems to be happening before a scene starts – quiet moments of weird and awkward exchanges before getting to a scene’s point actually help immensely in making the movie feel more real, despite the heightened nature of it all.

And the surreal sequences, while blunt and quite obvious in their imagery and representations, are effective regardless in sketching the confused and overbearing feelings other coming-of-age films lay out more traditionally; in Girl Asleep, the fear and excitement of relationships and intimacy manifests itself in both the darkness and beauty of these surreal scenes, but the emotions feel wholly lived in and real to Greta rather than mere teen-movie cliches.

Shot in 4:3 aspect ratio, the film seems to constrain its busy but composed art direction upon Greta, almost silently promising a bigger world out there beyond the black bars on our screens. This makes moments like Greta letting her guard down at her birthday party and joining in the film’s already-in-progress musical number feel joyous.


Gimme an ‘F’ (1984, Paul Justman)

★★★

A much tamer film than the title and VHS cover will have you believe; outside of one ‘prank’ based scene, this is less about getting into sexual-hijinks and much more about the snobs-versus-slobs plotting and ridiculous dance/gymnastic scenes.

And honestly, it’s better for it. This feels more like a hang-out picture punctuated with dance performances than anything else, and in that way it’s actually kind of charming. The dance scene punctuate a less-than-hilarious movie with some needed camp/cheese.

There’s one in particular, which swaps gender on the “peeping on the girls” scenes from 80s comedies where the girls watch as a dude does the most out-of-nowhere dancing since Nightmare On Elm Street II – he’s in the school washroom, but also he’s jumping into the rafters to do horizontal-bar tricks on the piping? Amazing.

This could use a BluRay, as the full-screen copy I had really didn’t do justice to some of the performance scenes, the finale in particular seemed like it was begging to be seen in widescreen, slo-mo and all.

I was a little disappointed – I was hoping the comedy and the non-dance stuff would be a pinch more substantial, and the romantic through-line about a counselor and younger camper struggling with their feelings for each other is more than a little problematic – but it’s a fair watch and quite entertaining throughout.


Eyes of Laura Mars (1978, Irvin Kershner)

★★★★½

Damn, well I loved this and have no idea why I didn’t seek it out sooner.

That John Carpenter offered up a defining riff on Black Christmas’ POV shots in Halloween and also wrote Mars’ script in the same year is marvelous.

The idea that not only the audience sees the Killer POV, but the main character as well, is a fantastic suspense-builder and is played out in a number of satisfyingly tense sequences. The plot may ring a but predictable today, but Kershner and the DOP make sure things look great – it’s not unlike an American riff on the Gialo as well.

Dunaway is perfect, Tommy Lee Jones is great, and many other side characters are locked down by recognizable faces.

I really, really enjoyed this and am glad I finally got around to it.


The Wild Life (1984, Art Linson)

★★★★

Thoroughly underrated pesudo-sequel to Fast Times at Ridgemont High deserves to be seen and spoken of more often; has a great balance of tone, though it feels a lot less vulgar and blunt than the aforementioned picture, though it’s not without its serious moments.

Chris Penn was a surprise here, expecting some kind of imitation of his brother’s role, but this is a different kind of guy and he puts in a rock-solid performance. Rick Moranis pulls some brilliant little moments out of his skeezy-boss character, and Lea Thompson is great as always. Lots of other familiar faces abound.

Enjoyed this a heck of a lot more than I had expected to, considering it doesn’t seem to get discussed all that often.


Feds (1988, Daniel Goldberg)

★★★★

I feel like I loved this movie for all of the same reasons that it received midding to bad reviews at the time; there’s not much conflict here, outside of needing to graduate, plus Rebecca De Mornay and Mary Gross’ characters don’t hate each other and learn to become friends over the course of the picture – instead they recognize their differences, but become great friends anyway – realizing they both share a determination to get through school.

These things actually go a long way into giving FEDS its easy-going charm; there’s not a lot of huge laughs here, but the small and very funny moments that are peppered throughout feel like they come from Rebecca De Mornay and Mary Gross’ solid handle on their characters. Yes, one is the go-getter and the other a bookish nerd-type, but each is allowed to retain their core personality while growing over the course of the running time to reach their goals, which was a delight to see.

I loved this, and I know that a lot of people probably don’t/won’t, but this was a total charmfest to watch. It never talks down to the characters, it never insults their intelligence or abilities, it’s just a smart little comedy that has charm to spare and the good sense not to rely on some pulse-pounding, outrageous and inane action scene to cap off the picture. There’s something so wonderful about that to me.


Smooth Talk (1985, Joyce Chopra)

★★★½

At the center of Smooth Talk are absolutely terrific performances from Treat Williams and Laura Dern; the film is a spiked coming-of-age-story that damn-near becomes a horror film. The third-act is more tense and scary than most thrillers – and where it goes is truly uncomfortable.

It’s as well-made and assured as it is unsettling, especially the ending which has me leaving this at 3.5 stars when it may deserve a 4 because I absolutely don’t know exactly how to feel about what the movie is putting across in its messaging.

It will leave me thinking for days, and so I suppose it cannot be denied as such, but it’s another one that will take a lot of sorting through thoughts to really come down on – and for that reason as well, it’s recommended.


Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970, Joseph Sargent)

★★★★

From the director of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, this science-fiction what if? thriller takes a great premise – after hooking a new super-computer up to control the United States’ defense program, it links up with a similar Russian computer and both begin giving out increasingly dangerous orders – and ratchets up the interest at every turn.

The pacing is on point here, and only a silly detour into human relationships feels entirely dated, with the computer having a discussion with Eric Braeden about how many times a week he needs the touch of a woman, before straight-up ogling Susan Clark.

Otherwise, this is a cracking sci-fi thriller that doesn’t disappoint and deserves re-discovery by those who haven’t seen it; like a proto-WarGames, the dated tech doesn’t hinder what remains a well made and classy slice of entertainment.


Dudes (1987, Penelope Spheeris)

★★★½

One of the great punk-rock road-trip movies, directed by Penelope Spheeris with an expected eye for punk-grit (even if Cryer isn’t all that convincing a punker dude.)

It is an absolute shame that this movie does not have a proper release, as the Laser Disc and VHS copies do not do justice to what is clearly a wonderfully directed and edited blend of a cartoon-eighties picture and dirty-revenge tale with fantasy elements.

There’s more than a pinch of Repo Man in here as well, I swear, especially in some of the editing and dream/fantasy sequences. I saw some reviews of a 35mm screening, and good lord does that make me jealous. Thankfully, this one is finally landing on Blu soon – that’s a must-buy.


Housekeeping (1987, Bill Forsyth)

★★★★½

Bill Forsyth’s drama Housekeeping – about two sisters living with their Aunt Sylvie in Idaho during the 1950s – is the kind of quiet, softly humorous but increasingly sad film that we don’t quite get enough of these days.

After being dropped off at their Grandparents by their mother (who then takes to driving off a cliff, committing suicide,) sisters Ruth and Lucille are eventually placed under the care of Aunt Sylvie, their mother’s distant sister and not-quite-right adult. She sits in the dark, falls asleep on benches with newspapers over her face, uses bundled up newspapers as over-sized matches (accidentally setting fires in her wake) and more.

Though it touches upon it, Housekeeping never becomes the “I guess the kids are taking care of her” drama that you may expect. Though Sylvie is clearly at the very least a thoroughly depressed and emotionally distant woman, much of the focus of the film is Ruth and Lucile, who are similarly growing more and more apart as they deal with Sylvie – much like their mother and sister before them. Lucile desperately wants to be “normal” (or not “trashy,” as she puts it) and Ruth slowly becomes awkward and aloof.

There are some very small, very funny moments of comedy sprinkled throughout Housekeeping (the situation in the poster leads to my favourite, as they “sweep” floating debris into the closet with a broom,) but more often its tone remains melancholic.

Christine Lahti’s performance as Aunt Sylvie is stunningly rendered, both quirky and achingly human. Sara Walker and Andrea Burchill are phenomenal as the kids, and really the only sour-note (if you can call it that) in the whole picture is the narration, which just feels a pinch off overall – it doesn’t detract much.

An astonishing little drama full of human moments and emotion, I loved Bill Forsyth’s Housekeeping.


Rad (1986, Hal Needham)

★★★½

Not just a clever name; I know, I’m the last person to finally get around to this one. It holds up to the hype.


Hands of Steel (1986, Sergio Martino)

★★★½

It’s the Italian exploitation version of Terminator, but with way more arm-wrestling (“The loser’s arm… gets bit by a rattlesnake!”).

Hilarious and awesome.

 

 


Echo Park (1986, Robert Dornhelm)

★★★½

Intriguing and low-key hang-out comedy centering around three Los Angeles outcasts who form a kind of love-triangle-meets-friendship in the titular neighborhood of Echo Park.

The three are a single-mother and aspiring actress (Susan Dey as May,) the sorta-aspiring songwriter and pizza-delivery dude (Thomas Hulce as Jonathan) and their “body sculptor” neighbor (Michael Bowen as August) who makes loud sex-like grunts when he works out next door.

May has to take up a stripper-gram gig when her dreams of acting seem to be taking longer to pan out than expected, while Jonathan moves in after delivering them a pizza. August and May begin a physical-fling, while Jonathan pines from afar.

The plot is no great shakes, we mainly watch these dreamers as they wander through their lives with John Paragon, Cassandra Peterson and Cheech Marin making appearances in the fringes of the story.

Some will likely bemoan the lack of stakes and low-propulsion story, but thankfully the performances are solid and the script is nicely observed. It’s also quite funny throughout, and there’s a pinch of fantasy thrown in for good measure.

A nice, well-rounded and overlooked comedy worthy of rediscovery.


Pretty Poison (1968, Noel Black)

★★★½

Two great performances hold down this very interesting pesudo-neo-noir (proto-neo-noir?) about two young adults whose relationship spirals out of control when Anthony Perkins tells Tuesday Weld that he’s a CIA agent, and she believes him. How much is she willing to believe, and how far will she take his ruse?

Solid direction dips its toes into art-house editing while maintaining a good hold on interest levels, and though Perkins gets all the praise for his (admittedly terrific) performance, Tuesday Weld’s downbeat and monotonous at times performance has been unfairly criticized in my opinion – her take on dialogue is perfection, and sells the unease and distressing emotions bubbling just under the surface of her visual performance.


Sweetie (1989, Jane Campion)

★★★½

Striking, sad, funny, and beautiful; this was my first Campion film and it was pretty wonderful all-around.

 

 

 


Drive (1997, Steve Wang)

★★★½

A whole bucket-of-fun, with an extra-charming Mark Dacascos who really gets to let loose here, both comedic-wise and action-wise.

Kadeem Hardison isn’t quite the comedic-support you want, but he gets some solid fight scenes as well, and maybe the most high-five worthy moment when he slices a dude’s arm off (that is carrying a machine gun) and as the severed-arm flips through the air, it shoots a buncha dudes.

Drive melds the martial-arts and American-action genres well, and is well-deserving of discovery, since it’s oddly under-mentioned.

Brittany Murphy shows up mid-movie, just as the action-flick hits the required mid-section lull. She does her best with a truly odd character and an over-the-top performance, and gets a number of laughs thanks to it.

Some of the wire-stunts and other set-pieces are truly stunning, and unlike other films it gets bonus points for seeming like everyone is in-on-the-fun – there’s a lot of charm to Drive.

And I haven’t even mentioned that it’s about a prototype-enhanced Dacascos who is able to kick dudes through the air, and jump huge lengths. It’s practically a super-hero movie at times – sooo much fun.


Turk 182! (1985, Bob Clark)

★★★½

Maybe Bob Clark’s slickest, most Hollywood-feeling film; I wasn’t expecting much here, but really dig Turk 182. This would sit well beside something like The Legend of Billie Jean and other 80s film about fighting for what’s right etc.

Timothy Hutton and Kim Cattrall are great together, and the movie breezes along at a solid pace throughout while maintaining its light comedy and foundation of drama.

A very charming and engaging movie that I’m glad I finally checked out.


Betrayed (1988, Costa-Gavras)

★★★★

Debra Winger plays an FBI Agent to infiltrates the world of white supremacy, only to fall for Tom Berenger – who may-or-may-not be involved. Holy shit – aside from the bumpy conclusion, this is one incredibly tense and downright frightening film. Certainly a button-pushing movie from Costa-Gavras (Z, Missing) and writer Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct, Showgirls) but one that remains timely.

 


Permanent Record (1988, Marisa Silver)

★★★★½

A sensitive and near-brilliant drama about the suicide of high-school student David Sinclair (Alan Boyce); the opening stretch of Permanent Record contains some of the most intimate portrayal of a suicidal teenager that I’ve ever seen – I’m almost worried that discussing it in any detail would rob it of some impact.

Sinclair seems to be the kind of compassionate and decent high-school student that most kids would look up to – but the early stretch of the film is filled with Sinclair pushing back against expectations ever so slightly.

He’s teaching Chris Townsend (Keanu Reeves) to play guitar, and becomes frustrated at his slow progress. He’s sleeping with a beautiful girl, but isn’t interested in forging a deeper connection. His principal alerts him to the fact that he has been offered a College scholarship, but Sinclair seems put off by this for reasons unknown at first.

Soon, we understand these earlier scenes in a different light – but we never see the turning-gears or get an explanation. The latter-half of the movie focuses on Reeves’ struggle with the reality of losing his best friend – here, the movie’s age brings up a few wrinkles (their band’s song really dates the picture) but on the strength of Reeves’ performance, it carries through.

I’ve seen this passed over as feeling like an after-school special or your expected “serious movie” drama, but can’t understand that; the film approaches its subject matter in such a respectful and unobtrusive way, even when it dips into melodramatic territory in the second half.

A wonderful, but thoroughly sad drama from director Marisa Silver (of OLD ENOUGH previously.) With those two back-to-back films, Silver showed that she had a huge knack for crafting very quiet, honest and impressive dramas.


Old Enough (1984, Marisa Silver)

★★★★

Quietly dramatic and contemplative NYC-set coming-of-age film from director Marisa Silver (Permanent Record.)

A young, rich girl meets an older, street-wise girl and their friendship blossoms over the summer; shoplifting, sexuality, class divides, religion, and more is touched upon throughout the meandering (not at all in a bad way) script. A definite gem.


Memories of Me (1988, Henry Winkler)

★★★★
For most of its running time, Memories of Me is a terrific, sharply written and performed comedic-drama; Crystal co-writes here, and most of his scenes with Alan King crackle thanks to their chemistry and way with words.

Henry Winkler directs with a pinch of flair, allowing the material to be the real star; he manages a few nice flourishes – like Crystal in the hospital room that turns into his childhood room with a pan of the camera – and shouldn’t be criticized if some of the visual elements play as sitcom-esque. His direction here doesn’t show-off, and the movie doesn’t call for it to.

It’s unfortunate then, that a couple key scenes in the film’s final half really whiff it; what should be a penultimate confrontation between the two as they drive through a tunnel in L.A. smacks of bluntly written, overly-simplistic exposition.

Regardless, Alan King’s old-Hollywood Extra character steals the show; a hilarious and sad portrait of fatherhood, it helps Memories of Me reach some nice depth despite the aforementioned scenes that let the rest of the picture down a bit.


Wildcats (1986, Michael Ritchie)

★★★★

Oh my god, yes. This was just the kind of movie I was in the mood for when I finally checked in in Wildcats. Watching this made me really happy – and then it ended with an end-credits rap about football? Yes. Goldie Hawn 4 ever.

 

 


Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987, Bruce Pittman)

★★★★

Exceedingly entertaining horror-sequel has just about everything you want in a movie of this ilk; solid gore, over the top muders, energetic style, and it doles out the goods at a fairly even pace. A great time that easily ranks alongside Fright Night II as one of the best horror-sequels that got consistently overlooked throughout the nineties and aughts – I was actively told to not watch those two movies growing up… what the hell, people?!!


Running on Empty (1988, Sidney Lumet)

★★★★½

Lumet directs this phenomenally acted drama with warmth; thankfully resists turning the wanted-family plot-line into anything other than a grounded look at the tensions arising as Pheonix’s character comes of age. Every performance is a winner – as always, especially Pheonix’s – and the finale is honestly earned and emotional.

 


Dance ’Til Dawn (1988, Paul Schneider)

★★★½

Amiable and cliche – but charming and funny – made-for-TV teen-flick about the prom night adventures of both kids and their adults.

The major cast of then-rising-stars and established adults includes Christina Applegate, Kelsey Grammer, Alyssa Milano, Matthew Perry, Alan Thicke, Edie McClurg, Cliff De Young, Tempestt Bledsoe, Tracey Gold and more.

Plotlines are strictly expected – the shy-but-pretty girl who asked to the prom for dubious reasons, the stuck-up mean-girl who will get-hers by the end of the show, the two teens with no dates who wind up spending the evening together, the parents on the edge of divorce who may-or-may-not re-spark their love by the end of the night – but the cast is pleasant and since it’s a made-for-TV movie, it never fully steps into mean-spirited areas that many teen-sex comedies would venture into.

This is exactly why it may not land for some viewers – it’s a tame, easily-digestible television comedy with the standard messages, but there’s a whole lot that charm and charisma can do for this type of content, and the cast really makes it work.

Definitely recommended for those who (like me) are often reaching for easy-going fluff at the end of the night. This ended up being exactly what I was looking for.

See also: High School, USA.


The House That Cried Murder aka The Bride (1973, Jean-Marie Pélissié)

★★★★

The Bride aka The House That Cried Murder is a sharply written, well-executed and often darkly-comedic picture that is positively dripping with 70s atmosphere.

Oddly overlooked – likely due to the lack of gore, I’d assume – this one has more in line with sleazy pictures like You’ll Like My Mother or Julie Darling.

Despite the PG rating, this one builds to a nicely twisted finale, and wraps its narrative in a nicely tense-n-twisty package that wouldn’t be unexpected on an anthology television series like Tales from the Darkside or Crypt.

This one is really begging for rediscovery, the performances all work well, it has a great soundtrack, and a few creepy moments that help maintain the pace throughout its fairly short running time. What more could you want?


Scum (1979, Alan Clarke)

★★★★½

Powerful and upsetting drama about a British Borstal for young offenders in the 1970s; bleak, raw and unflinching. Ray Winstone puts in an all-time performance.

 

 


What’s Up, Doc? (1972, Peter Bogdanovich)

★★★½

What kind of wine are you serving at Table One?

A Patreon contributor over at Modern Superior really pushed us to check this one out, and I was glad I did. I was already a Bogdanovich fan after The Last Picture Show but just hadn’t made it to this silly and hilarious movie, but now it’s certainly a favourite.

 


Bloodmoon (1997, Tony Leung Siu-Hung)

★★★★

Gary Daniels stars in this terrifically underrated action flick as a “Mindhunter” who is tasked to track down a robot-finger-havin’ serial killer who has been murdering New York City’s top fighters in a bid to be top-dog. It’s about as amazing as you might think from that description, plus it features Chuck Jeffreys as his cop-buddy who happens to pull magic tricks out at crime scenes (yes, the never-ending handkerchief-from-sleeve makes an appearance.)

Stuffed to the gills with ridiculousness, but also some damn fine wire-fu adorned action scenes and an anything-goes, freewheeling tone. This was a major discovery to me, thanks to Letterboxd user Carlo.


Tales from the Hood (1995, Rusty Cundieff)

★★★★½

This. This is fuckin’ cinema man. I loved Tales from the Hood through and through, and I’m really kicking myself for having waited so long to finally watch it. Easily one of my favourite anthology horror films now.

 

 


The Black Cauldron (1985, Ted Berman & Richard Rich)

★★★½

An unpretentious and to-the-point fantasy yarn laced with horror-elements, aesthetically-driven as heck and totally undeserving of its lower-tier Disney reputation.

Though not without its problems (you can tell the climax was cut to bits, and the disposing of the villain just kind of… happens) but every few moments there’s a new and gorgeous effect happening, plus tons of neon green and purple smoke.

I really dug it on the whole, and if I had seen it as a young’n it’d likely have been one of my favourites.


The Morning After (1986, Sidney Lumet)

★★★½

An intriguing thriller from Lumet featuring Jane Fonda (in an Academy Award Nominated role) and Jeff Bridges.

The Morning After’s set-up immediately makes you feel like you know where this one will go; Jane Fonda wakes up after a black-out night of drinking in the bed of a sleazy photographer type – only he’s got a knife embedded in his back and she’s covered in blood.

I imagined that The Morning After would be your basic thriller, directed with some energy and grit by Lumet – there would be an investigation and Fonda would be the prime suspect as she races to prove her innocence.

And that’s not entirely un-true, but the movie attempts to balance a number of different tones – after the thriller-opening, we move through patches of the plot that are downright comedic, and others very darkly dramatic.

Fonda runs into Jeff Bridges, a stranger who takes to her and eventually believes her story; the movie shifts focus and ultimately becomes a character piece – the action and thrills are less important. Fonda is an alcoholic, and her performance is a brave and effective one.

In fact, if there’s a real fault to The Morning After, it’s how perfunctory the thriller elements become – the ending to the mystery is fine, but feels rushed.

Despite the clunky nature of Lumet’s genre-juggling here, the movie is an interesting piece; the performances all work, it is never boring, but it also never paces out the way your mind expects it to.

For that, I have to give it credit. It may not be a flawed masterpiece, but it’s a flawed, always-watchable movie with much to recommend.


Sometimes They Come Back (1991, Tom McLoughlin)

★★★½

That hokey, 90s-horror-thriller aesthetic is so much my jam that even though this is not quote-unquote great, I still pretty much loved it. Unjustly remembered as a dud, in my opinion.

 

 


Prancer (1989, John D. Hancock)

★★★★★

No idea why this isn’t held in high-regard as one of the best Christmas movies ever… oh wait, yeah I do – it’s because it’s thoroughly depressing. Any movie that makes me cry as hard as Prancer did deserves five-stars sight-unseen. It’s also brilliantly acted and shot-through with film-grain over the snowy, small town setting. A total masterpiece.

 


Mortal Thoughts (1991, Alan Rudolph)

★★★★

Overlooked seedy neo-noir yarn with a stacked cast and phenomenal direction from Alan Rudolph. I wasn’t super into Choose Me when I checked in with it this year, but I should return because Alan Rudolph’s direction here was really doing it for me. Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, Glenne Headly and Harvey Keitel are all great in this beer-soaked noir where the victim is a sleaze-bag and our main characters lives begin to spiral out of their control.


Private Wars (1993, John Weidner)

★★★★

One of the most shamelessly entertaining PM Entertainment joints you’re likely to see – it’s all roundhouse kicks, explosion-throws, groan-worthy attempts at comedy, and one absolutely fucking insane van-launch. An easy four stars, if there ever was one.

 

 


The Rich Man’s Wife (1996, Amy Holden Jones)

★★★½

Directed by Amy Holden Jones (!!), this is a great take on the 90s yuppies-in-peril/thriller genre with a feminist eye; if the film can’t totally be labeled as feminist, you can at least say that The Rich Man’s Wife is more aware than your average tawdry thriller.

There’s some awareness of racism as well layered in here, and the movie for the most part sidesteps the grossness or cheap exploitation you come to expect from the woman-in-peril thrillers of the time. I also really really love where the movie ends off. I want a sequel!!!

Overall, it’s above average and probably more forgotten than it should be, considering the love for some of the lesser films of the genre that you see bubbling around.


Vampirella (1996, Jim Wynorski)

★★★½

Low-budget z-grade Saturday morning comic schlock from Wynorski – of all his movies to disown, that he chose this very entertaining slice of cheese is odd. Outside of some very brief (comparatively to Wynorski’s other output) nudity and Vampirella’s skimpy outfit, this is basically a kids movie and I looooved that about it. Also, Roger Daltrey has a fever and the only cure is more scenery.


D.O.A. (1988, Annabel Jankel & Rocky Morton)

★★★½

The exact kind of overbaked neo-noir trash that I am so down for, regardless of overall quality.

That said, it’s an absolute shame what happened to Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton after the Super Mario Bros. movie; they directed the hell out of this thing, and I love that. It opens and closes with hyper-stylized black and white noir-throwback scenes, and everything in-between is a sweaty, boozy mess with about a million red herrings. I wish they could have gone on to direct more and more of these kind of over-ambitious, singular things.

The worst thing about the picture is the unfortunate relationship/power-dynamics involved with Quaid and Ryan’s “romance” angle. Gross, for sure.

But otherwise, it was trash that I was more than ready to roll around in – and Christmas themed to boot.


The Christmas Martian (1971, Bernard Gosselin)

5 LSD spiked maple syrup snow-candies out of 5

Absolute unfiltered WTF cinema from Canada; unbelievable and fascinating. This played on television in Canada year-after-year and everybody was OK with it, and that makes me very proud to be Canadian.

 

 


Comfort and Joy (1984, Bill Forsyth)

★★★½

Bill Forsyth’s Housekeeping was one of my favourite personal discoveries of the year, so of course I was going to check in with his kind-of Christmas movie; this one takes a while to get going, and features the patented entering-the-finale-lull, but it definitely gets there and ends on a really great note.

It’s the story of a Radio DJ who’sgirlfriend of four years takes off unexpectedly (like, doesn’t tell him until the moving trucks are there); he soldiers on, and ultimately becomes embroiled between rival ice cream truck companies who make him their go-between. Meanwhile, his bosses think he’s going nuts with all his conspiracy-type talk at the end of his radio show.

This all sounds more eventful than it actually is, in true Forsyth fashion it’s very low-key and subtly hilarious.

The poster tries to skew further towards the Christmas tone than the actual movie (he never drives around with a tree on his car that I recall) but it’s a very charming picture with great performances and cast that ends on a nice note.


Superfights (1995, Tony Leung Siu-Hung)

★★★★½

Soooo many fights… all of them super as hell.

 

 

 

 


One Magic Christmas (1985, Phillip Borsos)

★★★½

Maybe the best small town Ontario Christmas vibe captured on film; also, wow it’s bleak. Would pair well with Prancer as a feel-bad Christmas double feature. But, it does get to the magic feeling by the end of it.

This didn’t ruin me like Prancer did, but I will say that it’s really well executed and I quite liked it overall.


Ghostkeeper (1981, Jim Makichuk)

7 Canadian Snow Banks out of 10

Positively dripping with Canadian atmosphere; waist-deep show surrounds an abandoned lodge, snow-covered trees as far as the eye can see, and some snowmobilers who trek where they shouldn’t be trekking (shoulda listened to the shopkeep, y’all!)

It’s glacially paced, mostly gore-less, and uneventful for a large stretch, but if you can get on the wavelength and overlook some of the questionable performances/dialogue you might just dig on Ghostkeeper the same way I did.