Booksmart (2019, d. Olivia Wilde)
Comedies are generally pretty low on my list of movie priorities, which is odd considering that many of my absolute favorite (non-horror) movies would qualify: Fargo, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Harold and Maude, and Waiting for Guffman to name a few. But the buzz on Booksmart was so strong I finally relented (such a trial, will the suffering never end) and lo, I was charmed! It’s a good time, if a little (a lot) too over-reliant on slow-mo needle drop moments. The cast is terrific (Beanie Feldstein was a highlight of Ladybird for me, and she kills it here) and it’s got heart without getting too schmaltzy. And any movie
that features a cameo from Lisa Kudrow is fine by moi.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011, d. Lynne Ramsay)
This was a repeat viewing, but it had me grinding my teeth from the intensity just the same as the first time I saw it. Lynne Ramsay really specializes in quietly devastating, brutal work, doesn’t she? I’m never sure why her films don’t get wider attention, never mind the incredible performances she gets from her actors. Everything I’ve seen from her has blown me away.
The Unknown Girl (La fille inconnue) (2016, d. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
In a moment of uncharacteristic selfishness, Dr. Jenny Davin (Adèle Haenel) refuses to open clinic doors after hours. The next morning, the young woman who sought entry is found dead under mysterious circumstances and the guilt-riddled doctor takes it upon herself to make amends by finding out the unknown girl’s name and give her a proper burial. The course of doctor’s life is altered as her search becomes an obsession and she’s forced reckon with who she personally and professionally. I’m a big fan of the Dardennes’ patented handheld, common-man, society-based melodramas that center women and their relationships with the communities around them and I really dug this one. Though at times the narrative moves along a little too conveniently (and there are whiffs of “white savior” to the affair, I suppose), the film is anchored on the subtle performance by Haenel, who has a way of rendering a smile or the lift of an eyebrow into an earth-shattering moment.
Destroyer (2018, d. Karyn Kusama)
You mostly get used to the prosthetics and makeup on Nicole Kidman, I promise. They serve a purpose, but it’s too bad they’re so jarring because Destroyer ended up a conversation piece for all the wrong reasons. The plot is labyrinthine but never inaccessible, and Kidman is in top form here, all menace and glower as a washed-up cop investigating a murder case that falls outside her purview.
Bombshell (2019, d. Jay Roach)
You mostly get used to the prosthetics and makeup on Charlize Theron, I promise. Bombshell strikes a strange tone—it’s often oddly light, considering the subject matter. The film is frequently derided, particularly by liberal audiences, for not “condemning” these women blatantly enough. It doesn’t hammer home the point that the women who work(ed) for Fox News were complicit in the circumstances that led to their being harassed or outright assaulted. But just because a point isn’t made bluntly or stated explicitly doesn’t mean it’s not there. I think it’s laid out plainly just the same—these women state time and again that they’re “not feminists,” and they willingly coast along in an environment that’s rife with (and an example of) systemic misogyny. They played a huge role in the rise of Tr*mp and all that entails. They’re often misogynist themselves, if not racist and xenophobic. Does that mean they “deserve” what happened to them?
In the Tall Grass (2019, d. Vincenzo Natali)
Look, this was one my family watched when I was home for the holidays, okay? I had no say in the matter. People get lost in the grass. Time is weird! There’s a cosmic thing in the grass! Patrick Wilson flips out! It was terrible, I don’t want to talk about it.
Wine Country (2019, d. Amy Poehler)
Another “home for the holidays” viewing, but at least this one was enjoyable. It’s uneven and light, sure, but it coasts easily on the comedic chops, charm, and strength of the cast. I’d watch them in just about anything…obviously.
The Amazing Johnathan Documentary (2019, d. Benjamin Berman)
The Amazing Johnathan was a popular…I don’t know, “alt-magician,” maybe?…for a hot minute in the 80s and 90s. His act, which often deconstructed familiar tricks, was funny and gory and unique. In 2014, he retired, announcing that he’d been diagnosed with a fatal heart condition and only had a year to live. Somehow, he’s still here. Initially, The Amazing Johnathan Documentary lets us into the magician’s daily life as he smokes copious amounts of meth and debates a small comeback. Soon, however, director Berman learns that there are multiple documentary film crews following The Amazing Johnathan. A perplexed Berman begins to wonder if he’s being had and where to go with his film. It’s certainly an interesting conflict, but not terribly fascinating to watch play out. The film becomes about Berman and Crew, and mostly I’m just tired of documentaries that center the documentarians, you know?
Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971, d. John D. Hancock)
Watched the new Blu-ray release and reviewed it for Rue Morgue and boy oh boy, Jessica looks fucking gorgeous. I’d only ever seen the film on VHS (on my copy purchased at Tori Spelling’s yard sale, thank you very much) and this upgrade was like seeing this haunting, gem of a film for the first time. Though there aren’t a ton of special features on the disc (and none featuring Zohra Lampert or Mariclare Costello, unfortunately), the picture quality alone is worth a purchase.
Searching for Sugar Man (2012, d. Malik Bendjelloul)
Singer-songwriter Rodriguez never garnered a following or success in America, but in South Africa he was a bonafide phenomenon…only he didn’t know it. In fact, it was unknown whether or not Rodriguez was still alive–he was rumored to have died in any number of ways, including an on-stage suicide. The film traces the roots of and reasons for his popularity amongst South African youth and follows two Cape Town fans as they attempt to track down the singer. Engrossing, fantastic, and full of great music.
Jack L’Éventreur (1959, d. Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman)
I picked up Blood on Satan’s Claw on Blu-ray and Severin included a bonus disc featuring this European cut of the British film Jack the Ripper. (“European” mostly means the Can-Can girls show their breasts.) I still haven’t watched Satan’s Claw but I gave this one a go and I really dug it. It’s dark and moody, making liberal use of shadowy alleyways, and wow, it’s really cathartic watching the Ripper get caught and get what’s coming to him.
Blood on Her Name (2019, d. Matthew Pope)
Another one reviewed for Rue Morgue. SPOILER I loved it, the lead performance from Bethany Anne Lind is gripping…see it.
Arang (2006, d. Sang-hoon Ahn)
I’m a sucker for J+ horror, I admit it, and I haven’t met many of ’em that I don’t like. This one leans more toward the “solve the mystery” side of yer typical J+ horror plot than the horror, and what horror there is is fairly typical for the subgenre–you know, the ghost girl, the blood tears, etc etc. It was fairly refreshing to find some feminism in Arang, however, even if it’s mostly of the basic “girls can do whatever boys can do!” variety. Not the best of its kind by a long shot, nor would I give it a hearty recommendation…but if you’re like me and you’ll watch anything with a long-haired ghost girl, I’m sure you could do worse.
The House on Sorority Row (1982, d. Mark Rosman)
Watched this in preparation for a Gaylords of Darkness episode. My knee-jerk reaction to this movie is “Oh, I love it!” and I think I do? But I’m not entirely sure it deserves it…well, I take that back. In strict “slasher movie” terms it might not be great–it’s too weird, maybe, to qualify as an all-timer. But that weirdness sets it apart from its subgenre brethren and gives it a little something extra. It’s a bit like Black Christmas and Diabolique had a baby, and I’m here for that baby. The cast is charming, there are some touches of bonkers-ness, and hey, who doesn’t love a movie featuring a head in a toilet?
The Legacy (1978, d. Richard Marquand)
This is a movie I’ve really come to love since I first watched it for Final Girl years ago. It’s a mess, to be sure–the plot is convoluted, there are ample “romantic adventure” sequences that dissolve any horror-flavored tension that might be brewing, and it leaves the viewer with little more than a “Huh. Well, that’s a thing that I watched” feeling when all is said and done. But this time, especially, I was taken not only with its gothic horror touches (the swimming pool death scene is iconic, at least to those of us who were traumatized by it as youths) but all that delicious gay subtext I wrote about over at Final Girl. And hey, who doesn’t love a movie featuring the complicated, non-sensical plans hatched by Satanists?
Lady Macbeth (2016, d. William Oldroyd)
Okay, this I fucking loved. Whatever I write here is simply not going to do this movie justice. Florence Pugh is magnificent–I mean, she won me over with her performance in Midsommar, but this earlier film just cements for me that she’s one of the absolute finest actors of her generation. And more generations. She’s just the real deal, man, and she brings this incredibly complicated character to life. Katherine is a maddening character you find yourself rooting for even when you really don’t want to be. This one is going to stay with me for a while. See it.
Killer Workout (1987, d. David A. Prior)
Speaking of complicated characters, wow, how about that Rhonda Johnson, huh? This was another Gaylords viewing, though I’ve seen Killer Workout so many times I’m sure I could, as I noted on the show, project it from my eyeballs. I’m fixin’ to do a writeup on Final Girl regarding heroine/killer (OOPS SPOILER) Rhonda, which I’ll link to ’round these parts. This movie is 100% aerobics-laden late 80s cheese, not scary or “good” in the least, but who cares? I love it so much. Rhonda Johnson forever.