Streaming Recommendations, Vol. 18: New Year, Same Plague

Featured image from Querelle

A friend contacted me recently with an urgent query: “I’m out of stuff to watch and the only things my friends are recommending are bougie serials with good dialogue. Help!” Clearly, it’s time for a new round of streaming recommendations.

Paid rentals (these are on multiple platforms)

The Kid Detective (2020)

Adam Brody Interview: The Kid Detective - Path of Ex

This Canadian noir is one of the best new releases from 2020. The setup is that Adam Brody was a kid detective à la Encyclopedia Brown who grew up to become a loser private eye. A young woman comes to him with his first big case in ages: her boyfriend’s murder. The big case doubles as a quest for self-knowledge and personal reckoning. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that while the movie is quite funny, it also achieves surprising gravitas. It is ultimately very heavy. Indeed, the emotional fallout from watching this stayed with me for several days.

Joan of Arc (aka Jeanne) (2020)

Joan of Arc' ('Jeanne'): Film Review | Cannes 2019 | Hollywood Reporter

We loved Bruno Dumont’s 2017 headbanging musical Jeannette (aka The Childhood of Joan of Arc) and were dismayed when early reviews painted the follow up as more conventional and less inventive. We were delighted to discover that these early reviews were total bullshit. This movie is way out there. It *is* a musical, but the music is handled much differently than in the first movie. While it’s not a full-on absurdist comedy like much of Dumont’s other recent work, the trial material has absurdist elements. This is not for everyone, but if you like Jeannette, you should absolutely see this. (NB, we like the French titles Jeannette and Jeanne much better than the English titles!)

Amazon Prime

Prime still reigns supreme among the most popular services, with a really fantastic catalogue of genre movies. The main downside is that you have to be careful about aspect ratio and overall quality. The most time-consuming part of writing these recommendations is vetting the damn amazon selections for quality (it’s really annoying, there’s one title below where two different versions are on amazon and one is much better quality than the other).

Conquest (1984)

Cool Ass Cinema: Conquest (1983) review

Oh, baby! This is a real treat. It’s been on prime for ages in terrible quality and the wrong aspect ratio. Finally, the restored version! This is one of my favorite films by Italian genre maverick Lucio Fulci. It’s part of the 80’s wave of sword & sorcery flicks kicked off by the success of Conan the Barbarian. It is *wild*. The entire film is shot through a 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.

Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Blood And Black Lace – [FILMGRAB]

Note that there are two versions of this movie on Prime. The one labeled 2018 with the yellow thumbnail is poor quality. The one labeled 1964 with the orange and red thumbnail is good quality.

This is the film that popularized the giallo and established many of its most prominent conventions. Set in a fashion house, full of luscious production design, and filmed by Bava in a vibrant and exaggerated style, this is one of the greatest and most essential gialli. Beautiful murder, and lots of it.

The Sweeper (1996)

The Sweeper (1996) Car Chase 2 - YouTube

PM Entertainment was a production company founded by the owner of a chain of Las Vegas pizza restaurants that churned out cheap direct-to-video action jams in the 90’s. It’s not for everyone. I had to progress pretty far in my journey into the depths of low budget action cinema before I learned to appreciate PM Entertainment. Still, their very best titles will appeal broadly to fans of B-movies, and this is one of their best. It’s about a cop who won’t play by the rules and so is recruited by a secret society of vigilantes. If you like this kind of thing, this is a delicacy.

PM Entertainment Gary Daniels double feature: Rage (1995) and Recoil (1998)

Two parts of the PM Entertainment Gary Daniels “R” trilogy. Riot is missing. Recoil has mandatory commercials because it’s on the IMDB channel rather than Prime, but Rage plays without commercials. If you like Sweeper and/or you have a taste for British kickboxer-turned-actor Gary Daniels, don’t miss these. Rage is about a schoolteacher who gets caught up in a nefarious plot. Recoil is a revenge movie about a cop taking on the mob.

Blind Fury (1990)

Blind Fury (1989) - Kung-fu Kingdom

If you’re around my age, this probably has immense nostalgia value for you. I watched it like 100 times as a kid. It’s an American riff on Zatoichi (the blind swordsman), starring Rutger Hauer.

Replicant (2001)

Replicant (film) - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia

Super weird Ringo Lam-Jean Claude Van Damme movie. This doesn’t have a ton of action but it does have an absolutely bonkers premise (which I won’t give away) and two especially wild Van Damme performances (this is one of the three movies where he plays two roles).

Hawk the Slayer (1980)

Very good sword & sorcery schlock. Peak Jack Palance.

Johnny Mnemonic (1995) – Also on Hulu

Johnny Mnemonic (1995) - Rotten Tomatoes

This has aged extremely well. I remember how unpopular it was upon initial release, but in retrospect it’s mostly just amazing that such an uncompromised example of cyberpunk was sold for mass consumption. The cast is deep and awesome, but Dolph is without question the MVP.

Starcrash (1979)

The Year of Star Wars: The Hasselhoffian Legacy of Starcrash - Deadshirt

Not my favorite Italian Star Wars knockoff (that would be The Humanoid), but certainly the craziest. This thing is way, way out there. It’s worth watching for the production design alone in my opinion, but your results may vary.

The Boss (1971)

In Italian exploitation movies from this era, actors usually spoke whatever language they were most comfortable with during filming and then multiple audio tracks were dubbed in post-production. The English track often fits at least as well as the Italian track does, but there are many exceptions. Sometimes the English track uses alternate voice actors where the Italian track uses the actual cast, or sometimes the Italian track is just much better than the English track. When available, I always compare both to see which I like better. As a rule of thumb, most Italian horror movies can be watched in English, Westerns are about 50-50, and most poliziotteschi should be watched in Italian. This is a poliziotteschi and part of a trilogy by Di Leo (who most Americans would know best from his collaborations with Sergio Leone). Caliber 9, part of the same trilogy, is also on prime but it’s in English and I would not recommend watching it that way (though I like it even better than this film and would recommend seeking it out). The problem with the English tracks for these movies is that the characters are usually supposed to be formidable badasses and the English dubbing makes them sound goofy. It takes off the hard, gritty edge that poliziotteschi are supposed to have. It works much better for horror because most Italian horror films from this period have a more outlandish tone.

Anyways, this is a very representative and very good poliziotteschi with Henry Silva as a hit man who gets involved in a mob war, though it’s not in the highest tier of Di Leo’s output.

Chi-raq (2016)

Chi-Raq | Chicago Reader

Easily my favorite of Spike Lee’s latter-day output, this is a formally ambitious adaptation of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, transposed to South Chicago.


Homefront (2013) and Redemption (2013)

Homefront' Review: Jason Statham Stars in Joyless Action Movie Written by  Sylvester Stallone - Variety

Not one but TWO movies from 2013 where Jason Statham is a military veteran who needs to fight one last battle. Both are upper-tier Statham.

Accident (2009)

Accident Blu-ray - Michelle Ye

Soi Cheang is one of the best directors working in the post-handover Hong Kong film industry. This one is extra slick in the Milkyway house style. It’s a paranoid thriller (reminiscent of The Conversation) about a hitman who specializes in faking accidents.

Rogue City (2020)

Excellent French crime yarn (set in Marseille), full of dirty cops and drug traffickers of all stripes. It’s the sort of gritty, expansive, technically sound genre cinema we rarely see in the US anymore.

Between Worlds (2018)

I believe I’ve recommended this before, but if you want to get your Nicolas Cage on, this is absolutely hilarious and way out there.

Guest House (2020)

Netflixable? Who's up for a little Pauly Shore hate-watching? “Guest House”  | Movie Nation

I dragged my feet on this at first, until my brother called me in disbelief: “Dude, this is the most exotic animal: a 2020 Pauly Shore movie! How have you not watched it?!” And that’s what it is, for better and for worse. Of course, this is not for everyone. OF COURSE. But you know who you are. It’s like Neighbors but instead of a fraternity across the street, it’s Pauly Shore refusing to move out of the guest house.

Legendary Weapons of China (1982)

Buy Legendary Weapons of China - Microsoft Store en-AU

Watch this in Cantonese with subtitles. This is one of Lau Kar-leung’s most significant 80’s films. It’s ridiculous and the narrative is sort of garbled and hard to follow, but the action choreography is great and it’s really fun to cycle through all the legendary weapons one by one (I think there are 18?).

Knock Knock (2015)

One of the best thrillers of the 10’s (really it’s right on the border between thriller and horror). This gives the Eli Roth treatment to the 10’s trend of flipping the script on gender roles. It’s far more subversive and complex than most titles of this ilk. Excellent Keanu performance

Midnight Diner

Review: “Midnight Diner” | The New Yorker

If you haven’t discovered this yet, we probably haven’t been talking very much. I feel like I discovered it way late (I heard of it well before I watched any of it), but I’ve been recommending it to everyone. It’s a Japanese serial about a late night diner in Shinjuku. There is also a reboot series, Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories that I haven’t watched yet. I find this show to be the absolutely perfect late night vibe. It is *exactly* what I want to watch when I decide I want to go to bed soon but I’m not quite ready yet. It’s about a lot of things, but most episodes have one focal dish and one or more focal characters, and there is a (compassionate, complex) emphasis on sex work. The main focus, though, is really on the way that food can become invested with emotion. In most episodes, there is a big climactic scene where the focal character of the episode eats the focal dish and has an emotional catharsis.


Alone (2020)

Excellent functional thriller. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but (as one would expect from John Hyams) it is precise and stylish and it goes hard. The use of rack focus is especially impressive.

Jerry Lewis comedies directed by Frank Tashlin: The Bellboy (1960), The Patsy (1964), Cinderfella (1960)

Quirky Jerky: Jerry Lewis in THE BELLBOY (Paramount 1960) – cracked rear  viewer

I haven’t seen Cinderfella myself, but I can’t wait. These Tashlin-Lewis collaborations are pure joy for anyone who likes Jerry Lewis (and it seems a grave misfortune not to like Jerry Lewis, though I guess I understand how someone could feel that way).

Love, Simon (2018)

If you missed this one, it’s a very endearing gay highschool romance. It takes a few missteps, but it’s so charming that I have no trouble giving it a pass on its small faults.

Dog Eat Dog (2016)

Review: 'Dog Eat Dog' Is a Pulpy Tale With Nasty, Bumbling Crooks - The New  York Times

Paul Schrader full-tilt madness. Cage is pretty tame in this; it’s Dafoe who lets loose. Content warnings, etc. but if you enjoy transgressive movies, it’s not to be missed.

The Quick and the Dead (1995)

Sam Raimi neo-western with Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman. It’s aged very well IMO.

The Mechanic (1972)

Laconic hitman thriller. Stoical early performance from Charles Bronson. Tight direction from Michael Winner. Highly recommended for genre fans.

Gretel & Hansel (2020)– also on Prime

I’m brought this up many times but yeah: this is my favorite 2020 horror movie. It seems to be divisive among horror fans, but I am a stalwart evangelist. Watch it in the dark and turn it up loud. Unlike a lot of the horror movies I recommend, it’s PG-13 and safe viewing for horror tourists.

Sputnik (2020)

Russian Alien-type sci fi/horror. Excellent monster.

Nic Cage 1997 Blockbusters Double Feature: Con Air and Face/Off

You know you want to. Everyone has always loved Face/Off, but few movies have aged better than Con Air. It was sort of a joke at the time, but now it’s plainly a masterpiece.


HBO Max is so stacked that I don’t think recommendations are as necessary, but still, here are a few:

Querelle (1982)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder - Coeval Magazine

Fassbinder’s last film and one of his best (not a popular opinion, but definitely my opinion), based on Jean Genet’s novel about a much-desired Beglian sailor’s homosexual experimentations. It’s stylistically delirious and extremely frank about its sexual content. Not for everyone, but I love it. NB, the arthouse crowd is less likely to appreciate one of this film’s main attractions: Italian genre icon Franco Nero as the Lieutenant! Django himself!

Police Story (1985)

Essential Jackie Chan actioner.

Malcolm X (1992)

Biopics are terrible, but this is one of the good ones. It really changed my perspective to learn from a friend who grew up in Iran that kids were shown this at school to learn about the evils of the USA and the noble struggles of Muslims like Malcolm X. That tells you something about how hard Spike goes here.

10 to Midnight (1983)

Cannon Group sleaze, starring Charles Bronson. Traditional masculinity vs. the proto-incel. It’s a hoot.

Touki Bouki (1973)

Touki Bouki – Life and Nothing More

One of the most important films from Senegal, directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty (the uncle of Mati Diop, who many know through her recent film Atlantics). It’s aggressive and not for everyone (skip it if you can’t watch unsimulated violence towards animals), but also vibrant and playful. Godard is the most obvious influence, but it’s notably original in the way it connects trends from European art cinema with post-colonial themes.

The Rite (1969)

Television - Productions - Ingmar Bergman

One of the more obscure titles from this phase of Bergman’s career. It wasn’t easy to access until just a couple years ago. It’s not one of his best, but if you’re interested in Bergman you should absolutely see it. It’s short, strange, and visually striking.

Year in review: 2020 Horror

Featured image from Possessor.

I used the last gasps of my grand 2020 movie binge to scrape up the rest of the horror new releases that were on my radar. I wanted to get as broad a view as possible of the state of the genre. I watched everything of note that’s currently available for home viewing and quite a few things not of note. I did skip a few titles that I expect are almost certainly a waste of time.

It’s not good news. The worst trends of 2010’s horror have taken over and things are getting worse rather than better. The horror genre is multifaceted and there are many different sorts of values that horror movies can achieve, but the most essential element is visceral emotional impact. This element is largely missing. The vast majority of horror releases are aimed at a crossover audience. It’s like a Buffalo Wild Wings where you can only order your wings mild.

Two formulas have taken over. The first and most prevalent is the mashing together of well-worn horror tropes with topics trending on Twitter. These movies typically have an overly literal context and dialogue that directly explains their thematic orientation. They are characteristically extremely safe and tame, so as to appeal to a broad audience of people who don’t necessarily like horror but do like having their worldview reflected back to them. The second is the horror family drama, where the real horror is trauma/loss/grief/secrets. These movies recycle the grammar of the haunting and possession subgenres but add an overly literal context and (usually) ugly CGI. There’s usually a black mold motif, and it’s usually a transparent metaphor for trauma/loss/grief/secrets. Category 2 is a little edgier than Category 1, but they’re both united in selling themselves as “not just a horror movie.” I don’t mean to say that all of these movies are bad. Some Category 1 movies are clever and inventive. Some Category 2 movies go far enough to work as horror.

There were no horror masterpieces. Nothing for the pantheon. That’s been par for the course in recent years, but it’s still disappointing. There were a handful of very good horror films, however, that deliver a visceral emotional experience while achieving something interesting with cinematic form. There were also a number of movies that I found enjoyable and/or interesting despite some shortcomings. Unfortunately, the largest cluster of the 2020 horror movies I saw were in the OK to Meh range (which is probably a generous appraisal because I have an easy time enjoying horror movies). And then there were a number that I actively disliked.

The list is divided into the above-mentioned categories and is very roughly ranked within each category (if I thought about it for a while I’d probably change my mind about some of the specific rankings). I’m not counting John Hyams’ Alone, because I consider it a thriller rather than a horror movie, but it would be in the “very good” category.



Very good

Gretel & Hansel: Moody and refined, with an appealing abstract visual style and immersive score.

The Dark and the Wicked: Family loss horror done right. Light on narrative, heavy on Bertino’s deliberate framing. The horror is driven by a slow accumulation of nightmarish moments that build an overwhelming sense of spiritual desolation, like there could be no hope or love or brightness ever again. A rare movie that feels genuinely evil.

Possessor: Brandon Cronenberg takes up his dad’s legacy with exhilarating boldness. It’s a real horror movie with original ideas and challenging content. This is the kind of thing I would like to see the genre moving towards.

The Golden Glove: How did Fatih Akin get from Soul Kitchen to here in so few moves?! It’s a grisly, grimy, nasty portrait of a serial killer with Jonas Dassler turning in the horror performance of the year. The setting is vivid; no punches are pulled.

Hunter Hunter: I recommend going in cold but if you must: it’s a variant on Leave No Trace where something actually happens. It’s about a family of three living on the outskirts of civilization and is thematically concerned with hunters as predators and the way going off the grid makes salient the animal nature of human beings.

Enjoyable and/or interesting

Sputnik: Russian Alien– style sci fi horror. Excellent monster.

Run: Well-crafted but formulaic genre exercise with terrific acting and well-imagined suspense sequences.

VFW: It’s too dark and it’s hard to see what’s going on in some scenes, but it still works as a fun throwback splatterfest with old guys vs mutant punks.

The Beach House: Of the several vacation property-themed movies that came out this year, this is the most Lovecraftian. Alternate title: When the Edibles Hit: The Movie. The early expository dialogue is clumsy and the movie doesn’t do a great job sustaining its crescendo of tension, but the high points are very high and this is overall a refreshing example of low budget horror done well.

Antebellum: Wokesploitation! Between this and Ma, we’re starting to see a transition out of the initial moralistic phase of woke horror into an exploitation phase where the woke themes serve as pretext for trashy spectacle. Jena Malone chews scenery like an absolute boss, casually addressing a hotel employee as “puddin’” and using the most condescending possible tone at all times. Janelle Monáe is totally up for carrying this thing and her big slo-mo Daniel Day Lewis from Last of the Mohicans horseback ride is glorious.

Freaky: a mashup of Freaky Friday and Friday the 13th. It’s underrealized but a lot of fun and many of the jokes land.

La Llorona:  Not to be confused with the Conjuring spinoff, this is a new release from Guatemala. I appreciate that it takes a different approach to the sprawling “haunting as transparent trauma metaphor” subgenre. This time it’s not the supernatural presence haunting the family that’s malevolent, but rather the family whose perspective we adopt. This pulls its punches, but it’s still one of the better recent examples of explicitly political horror.

The New Mutants: This is surprisingly out there. It’s sort of a Nightmare on Elm Street riff where Freddy is a teenage girl and the hero of the story. This has more of a slow burn horror vibe than a superhero origin story vibe. I always find Maisie Williams a little intolerable but Anya Taylor-Joy is delightful. Overall, I appreciate how unique this is. It’s not destined to be a crowd-pleaser, but there are enough crowd-pleasers already.

Deep Blue Sea 3: The production value is much, much higher than part 2 but the fun wonkiness is still there (“Water Blog!”). Frankly, it’s a lot better than a bargain basement smart sharks thriller needs to be. Bring on part 4.

The Grudge: The CGI is a bummer (are CGI maggots seriously easier than real maggots?) but every second of Lin Shaye is a treasure and I enjoy how old-fashioned this is. It’s fun to see Harold Lee married to Debbie Eagan.

The Invisible Man: This could have been much better if the villain weren’t so one-dimensional, but Whannell is great with high concept gimmicks and he finds plenty of inventive things to do with the premise. Elisabeth Moss is strong, as one would expect.

Zombi Child: Bonello’s films are always nice to look at. This has interesting moments scattered throughout and the boarding school material is mostly good. But it’s timid about its subject matter and wants to lead the viewer by the hand and as a result it has nowhere near the impact of previous attempts at zombie horror colonial reckoning (e.g., Tourneur, Fulci, Craven, Costa).

Ok to meh

Color Out of Space: This has a great list of ingredients, but they don’t really come together. I would have loved to see what Stuart Gordon could have done with it.

The Wolf of Snow Hallow: Deadpan black comedy/werewolf horror/police procedural/family melodrama. The family melodrama and about half of the black comedy falls flat for me but the werewolf horror and the other half of the black comedy are good.

Bad Hair: This is a frustrating movie, because it doesn’t play to its strengths. It’s a paradigm example of a perfectly good monster movie that is weighed down by an overly literal context and dialogue pulled directly from Twitter.

Relic: This is a very typical example of the contemporary wave of family horror dramas, complete with all the overdone tropes. It does have a few inspired passages, though, and it sticks the landing. It’s an ugly, unpleasant movie (in a good way) and it successfully leaves the viewer with a putrid emotional residue. 

Blood Quantum: I would be surprised if there’s ever another great zombie movie, but this isn’t bad. I like the gritty representation of the rez.

Impetigore: Indonesian supernatural horror. There is some good material and the high points are high, but I question the decision to let this drag for the long middle section and then tell the entire story in an abrupt three-minute info dump.

Come to Daddy: Decidedly stupid, but it has a strong supporting cast and it goes far enough to be exciting.

Becky: Very derivative (Home Alone meets Green Room) but it has its pleasures. The score from Nima Fakhrara is absolutely lit. Honestly, the score is too good for the movie. I like the idea of Kevin James playing against type as a violent white supremacist, but it’s mostly a cowardly performance.

She Dies Tomorrow: This is basically 4:44 Last Day on Earth meets Pontypool, mumblecore edition, as imagined by a David Lynch fan. I wouldn’t say it’s a good movie—it’s half baked—but I found it fun to watch. Right away you get the sense that it’s capable of anything, and that’s an exhilarating feeling. The sound design shook my house pretty well.

Anything for Jackson: It’s very derivative and peters out in the end but it hits some offbeat notes and I appreciate that it keeps throwing twists and turns at us instead of getting bogged down in the drama.

The Babysitter: Killer Queen: Junk food. Indefensible, but in a way I mildly enjoy.

Fantasy Island: It’s too long and I wish it were rated R, but I do not regret it.

The Craft: Legacy: Campy fun for the most part. Making the nemesis David Duchovny as Jordan Peterson is a great idea. But the plotting is terrible and the second half fizzles.

Bit: Queer hipster Lost Boys/Near Dark. Aside from the main character the acting is unfortunate, but the movie is sort of endearing and a little edgier than I expected.

Spree: High concept satire where an Uber driver live-streams a killing spree in the hope of going viral. Much of it is presented as a social media story, with comments scrolling up from the bottom of the frame. Influencer satires are nearly as unbearable as influencers, but this is sometimes appealing in its chaotic energy. The humor mostly falls flat, except that the comment streams are HILARIOUS.

The Rental: Not terrible but I really hope that there are no more Airbnb horror movies ever, because it’s instantly played out.

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find: Dumb and thoroughly inept, but odd and erratic enough to be occasionally fun.

Host: I admire the concept. There are a few inspired moments—it’s at its best when it exploits the novel mechanics of zoom and when it manages to capture the chaotic rhythms of zoom socializing. But it doesn’t have enough ideas even for its short running time and devolves into well-worn clichés.

That’s gonna be a no for me, dawg

His House: On the nose political horror. When I finished it I felt less like I had just watched a horror movie and more like I had just read an opinion piece in the Atlantic. It’s reasonably well-done for what it is, but I really did not like it.

After Midnight: It feels about 10 years late for this sort of generic mumblecore lite-horror, but the punchline is good. I might not have minded it if not for the soundtrack.

May the Devil Take You Too: I liked the first one but this is basically generic CGI-heavy Sam Raimi pastiche minus the humor. And it needs the humor. The first one has a much tighter narrative and is more fun.

Scare Me: A waste of a great premise. I assumed from the description that this was going to be an anthology film about two writers settling in to tell each other scary stories. (Mild spoilers, stop reading if you want to go in cold). I was very surprised when we stuck with the chamber play format and the actors actually told scary stories in the range of 20-30 minutes. Cool. The problem is that the stories suck. And while Aya Cash and the actor who plays the pizza guy are very good, the male lead can’t stand up to them (I later learned that he’s the writer-director, which explains a lot).

The Platform: It’s trite, lacks for interesting images, and the ending is just godawful. I did appreciate some bits of nastiness, though.

The Lodge: Tortuously contrived to get someplace very uninteresting. The cold Austrian precision just magnifies how silly it is, and not in a good way.

Underwater: Awful, muddled action, everything looks the same, the monsters are garbage, and the acting is mostly generic. And then the public service announcement anti-drilling stuff infuses the whole mess with cringey moralism.

Beneath Us: Truly terrible topical immigration horror. I was bored out of my mind almost immediately. I was promised scenery chewing, but Lynn Collins is underwhelming in the Karen From Hell role that needs to carry the movie. She’s generically shrill and her sadism is uninspired. The thematic pronouncements at the end are beyond unbearable.

Corona Zombies: A re-edit and redub of parts of Hell of the Living Dead and a few other movies. It tries to spin a humorous zombie narrative about Covid-19. Complete and utter fail. It’s like the least funny possible undergrad improv team took one attempt at this and then just stuck with whatever they happened to end up with. I hated every minute of it.

Year of 1,200 Movies

Featured image: Pit Stop (Jack Hill, 1969)

There’s some enduring part of me that wants to live as a movie recluse and spend all of my free time curled up with my home entertainment system and stockpile of Chinese tea. This part of me gets indulged plenty, but normally I make a deliberate effort to keep my anti-social impulses in check and maintain a reasonably balanced life outside my lair.

Not this year. I reasoned: “There are plenty of years to go do shit. This is not one of them. There is some shit that it’s possible to go do but it’s terrible. Even the outdoor recreation in Montana is far worse than usual because trails that one would normally have to oneself are crowded with tourists escaping urban pandemic hell. This is the year to really and truly indulge my homebody tendencies. I’m going to allow myself to watch as many movies as I want to, and then when the smoke clears I’ll rejoin society.”

It turns out that “as many movies as I want to” is 1,200 movies. And indeed that’s how many I watched (it’ll probably end up being like 1,210). Some of these 1,200 were short films, but I also watched quite a few in the 8-14 hour range, so it balances out to about 1,200 feature-length movies. That’s about 40 hours a week in movie viewing. How does one watch fit in 40 hours a week of movies?

Well I can tell you. My typical schedule was to get up around 9, exercise, work on my book for a few hours, cook and do chores, have an early dinner, and then watch movies until I crashed at around 2am. Some days I had to teach and/or attend meetings and that typically meant not working on my book and watching one less movie. Some days I snuck in an extra movie first thing in the morning (usually something from the 1930’s– I crave that era with my coffee). I took some days “off” from work and did nothing but watch movies. I very rarely went anywhere. In the summer I went swimming a lot in my neighborhood swimming holes. There’s a farm stand around the corner. Otherwise we ordered supplies online and my wife Angela did errands on her way home from work. I avoided Zoom as much as possible. My buddy Jesse came over sometimes. I have not gotten a haircut since February.

It helped that my book was about movies and so I could think of a lot of my viewing activities as “research.” I’ll be the first to admit that my research was disproportionate to what was required. I wrote about a third of a chapter on direct-to-video action movies. To prepare, I watched something like 250 direct-to-video action movies. I found it especially important to maintain a balanced cinematic diet. One can’t watch 1,200 films that require maximum focus and attention in a single year. I watched plenty of demanding art films, but I also watched an enormous amount of trashy genre movies.

Nemesis 2: Nebula (Albert Pyun, 1995)

Overall I had a very good year. I don’t mean to gloat about that. I know that a lot of people struggled horribly and the fact that I was able to have a good year reflects many ways in which I am unusually fortunate in my material situation. But I do think it’s important to say that a lot of people whose disposition is better suited to a reclusive life would be better off if the world didn’t make us leave the house so much. We all realized this year how unnecessary a lot of face-to-face interaction really is. Zoom teaching is certainly crap compared to in-person teaching, but I really hope I never have to attend another in-person committee meeting again.

I came to terms this year with the fact that being a homebody is my true nature. I could do this indefinitely and I wouldn’t mind. But when the pandemic finally does end, I will resume forcing myself to do otherwise, and I will feel better about it for having had the chance to fully indulge my inner recluse for such a large swath of time. I doubt I’ll ever watch 1,200 movies in a single year again. But if there’s another pandemic? Absolutely.

So what did I watch?

I used letterboxd to keep records. I kept up with new releases, but because so many releases were postponed I only watched about 105 new releases from 2020 (keeping with tradition, we will put up our 2020 year in review on Oscar Sunday). Most of what I watched was older. The 80’s and 90’s were heavily represented but I watched a decent number of films from each decade beginning with the 20’s. My deepest dive was definitely in the action genre, where I watched about 375 films, including many childhood favorites that I hadn’t seen in ages. I watched about 270 horror films and 225 comedies. The majority of what I watched was in English, but there was quite a bit of diversity. Letterboxd includes movies that are only partially in a given language in these stats, but according to my records I watched 153 films in French, 99 in Italian, 88 in Mandarin or Cantonese, 83 in Spanish, 70 in German, 55 in Japanese, and 33 in Russian.

Here’s a list of the directors I watched the most films by along with the number of films I watched by them. There’s still a week left for Albert Pyun to take the lead, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened:

House by the River (Fritz Lang, 1950)
  1. Fritz Lang- 21
  2. Albert Pyun- 20
  3. Chantal Akerman- 15
  4. Jack Hill- 12
  5. Roel Reiné- 12
  6. Abel Ferrara- 11
  7. Ringo Lam- 10
  8. Kiyoshi Kurosawa- 10
  9. Isaac Florentine- 9
  10. Herman Yau- 9

And here’s a list of the actors who appeared in the most films I watched:

Command Performance (Dolph Lundgren, 2009)
  1. Dolph Lundgren- 48
  2. Jean-Claude Van Damme- 44
  3. Nicolas Cage- 24
  4. Scott Adkins- 18
  5. Danny Trejo- 15
  6. Charles Bronson- 11
  7. Randolph Scott- 11
  8. Gary Cooper- 11
  9. Joan Blondell- 11
  10. Jean Arthur- 11

And what were my favorites out of all that?

Baxter, Vera Baxter (Marguerite Duras, 1977)

Finally, here is my top 50 out of everything I watched this year, including both first time viewings and rewatches. All of these are peak personal canon for me and the list is a nice cross section of my all-time favorites. The list is in chronological order.

Die Nibelungen (Fritz Lang, 1924)

Dishonored (Josef von Sternberg, 1931)

Shanghai Express (Josef von Sternberg, 1932)

Only Angels Have Wings (Howard Hawks, 1939)

The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)

Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942)

The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947)

Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)

House by the River (Fritz Lang, 1950)

A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)

On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, 1951)

Rancho Notorious (Fritz Lang, 1952)

The Tall T (Bud Boetticher, 1957)

Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)

Pit Stop (Jack Hill, 1969)

Vampyros Lesbos (Jess Franco, 1971)

India Song (Marguerite Duras, 1975)

Baxter, Vera Baxter (Marguerite Duras, 1977)

Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (Chantal Akerman, 1978)

The Shout (Jerzy Skolimowsky, 1978)

Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

Francisca (Manoel de Oliveira, 1981)

The Beyond (Lucio Fulci, 1981)

Cat People (Paul Schrader, 1982)

Tenebre (Dario Argento, 1982)

Mermaid Legend (Toshiharu Ikeda, 1984)

Trouble in Mind (Alan Rudolph, 1985)

Shoah (Claude Lanzmann, 1985)

Van Gogh (Maurice Pialat, 1991)

La Belle Noiseuse (Jacques Rivette, 1991)

The Untold Story (Herman Yau, 1993)

Body Snatchers  (Abel Ferrara, 1993)

Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997)

Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997)

The Blackout (Abel Ferrara, 1997)

Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)

The Captive (Chantal Akerman, 2000)

Evolution of a Filipino Family (Lav Diaz, 2004)

Miami Vice (Michael Mann, 2006)

Déjà Vu (Tony Scott, 2006)

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Tsai Ming-liang, 2006)

Speed Racer (Lily and Lana Wachowski, 2008)

Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2008)

35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, 2008)

Changeling (Clint Eastwood, 2008)

To the Wonder (Terrence Malick, 2012)

Blackhat (Michael Mann, 2015)

Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015)

Field Niggas (Khalik Allah, 2015)

A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick, 2019)

Streaming Recommendations, Vol 17: Lame Duck Purgatory

Permissions roll over tomorrow, so I may have to update this if something changes, but I decided to post it today because if there’s something you really want to see, you’ll at least have definite access tonight. I looked at lists of what’s due to come and go tomorrow and I don’t think it will change anything, but I will double check for surprises.

Amazon Prime

Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You (2012)

To quote Ethan Vestby, “The United States of America may be a rotting corpse, but this represents it at its best.” Don’t Let the Riverbeast Get You is a microbudget feature about a New England town with a Riverbeast problem. It’s not going to work for everyone; the production quality is very low and there are some problems with the sound design. But for those of us who are comfortable with bargain basement quality, this is an absolute delight. I could watch it every day. It gets funnier every time. The key is that everyone plays it straight. It does not make fun of itself or exaggerate its cheapness or wink at the audience. There are no shock tactics or gross out jokes. It’s actually quite wholesome. The humor is in the exceptionally clever writing and committed delivery. NB, this is the very tip of the Motern Media iceberg. It is a vast and strange universe once you start digging.

Capone (2020)

2020 has not been great for new releases. This is one of the only American films I’ve loved this year. It’s an ugly movie and it reeks of death. Tom Hardy, playing Capone at the end of his life with dementia, continues his run as the most interesting actor of his generation. El-P’s score is nightmare fuel.

The Devil’s Rain (1975)

Excellent satanic horror with Ernest Borgnine as a Satanic high priest! Also William Shatner and Ida Lupino.

Lisa (1990)

Eccentric Gary Sherman thriller where a bored teenage girl calls the adult party line and ends up in a phone flirtation with an honest to goodness serial killer. This is not an original observation, but it’s like Harriet the Spy vs. American Psycho.

Valley Girl (1983)

In honor of the totally unwelcome remake, I’m recommending the original. This was the movie that launched Nicolas Cage’s career. He plays a rough Hollywood Romeo to a privileged San Fernando Juliet and it’s utterly delightful.

In a Lonely Place (1950)

One of Nicholas Ray’s peak masterpieces and something everyone should see. It’s about as good as movies get. Bogart sparks a hopeful romance with Gloria Grahame but his inner darkness immediately threatens it. The companion piece to this is Ray’s On Dangerous Ground, which is comparably great and available as a paid rental on various services.

A Place in the Sun (1951)

One of the greatest Hollywood melodramas and also one of the greatest movies about American class immobility. It’s in some respects the polar opposite of Sirk’s great melodramas, replacing color hysterics with straight-faced B&W, but it’s in the same echelon of achievement. Montgomery Clift is exquisite. Compare his performance in Wyler’s The Heiress (1949).

DTV Corner

Amazon has a particularly good selection of direct-to-video (DTV) genre movies. DTV is not for everyone (I expect that people who mostly watch high-budget contemporary releases or who have highfalutin taste are less likely to enjoy it). In any case, I am very deeply into this category right now and here are some treasures I’ve found:

Savage (1996)

For connoisseurs of insane DTV sci-fi premises, this is a fine wine indeed. I couldn’t begin to explain it, but kickboxing champ-turned-actor Olivier Gruner gains atavistic superpowers after a shady tech corporation tries to murder him.

The Minion (1998)

Batshit DTV fantasy-horror with Dolph Lundgren as a member of the Knights Templar who comes to NYC to combat Satan’s minion.

Silent Trigger (1996)

One of my favorite Dolph Lundgren movies, directed by Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, Razorback). The half-finished skyscraper setting is like an Expressionist nightmare and Mulcahy never runs out of inventive ways to exploit it. The combination of minimalist narrative and elaborate two timeline cross-cutting gives this a dreamy, abstract vibe. This is definitely for a very specific niche: people with an arthouse sensibility who like DTV action. But if (like me) you’re in that niche, *chef’s kiss*.

Close Range (2015)

This is a tightly constructed, very enjoyable DTV bordersploitation Scott Adkins action vehicle with characteristically fluid direction from Florentine. It’s the sort of movie that starts out with title cards explaining the meanings of ‘samurai’ and ‘ronin’.

The Hard Corps (2006)

Not for everyone, BUT if you love Jean-Claude Van Damme, you should give this a look. It’s one of his better latter day efforts. He’s a bodyguard with PTSD and he has a romantic subplot with Vivica A. Fox.

Recoil (2011)

I actually really like retired pro wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin as an actor, and this is one of his best roles. He plays a vigilante on a rampage. It begins in medias res as Austin rolls in with incredible angry momentum. His physical acting is very impressive. Danny Trejo is the lead biker villain.

GirlHouse (2014)

I’m shocked that a slasher this good was made as late as 2014. Thanks, Canada. It’s about a college student with financial difficulty who moves into an erotic webcam house. Things are going well enough until a disturbed fan of the website with computer expertise shows up. GirlHouse doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it is very well-executed and does a great job fusing a classic slasher formula with a heady 2010’s cocktail of technology and voyeurism.


The Outpost (2020)

This is an immersive military procedural along the lines of 13 Hours, but it sets itself apart with its vivid sense of the rhythms of life at the outpost of doom. It’s no American Sniper, but it is comparable in the way that it burrows into the mindset of a deployed soldier. It’s not sanitized; it’s full of brash homophobia and it presents its ample violence in the desensitized way the characters experience it. These elements are probably going to turn off some viewers, but it’s important to recognize that while the movie does have an overarching reverential stance towards the military, it’s not uncritical of its particular subjects. The action climax is jaw-dropping.

War Horse (2011)

Throwing this out there as a holiday family viewing option. I’m sure a lot of people have seen it, but it does seem underappreciated. It’s upper-tier Spielberg and it combines superior craft with a pop Saturday matinee sensibility.

Yes, God, Yes (2020)

Very funny 78-minute sex comedy about a young Catholic woman’s sexual awakening.

Lockout (2012)

Luc Besson-penned high concept sci-fi action. It’s like Escape from New York meets Fortress, with Guy Pearce and Maggie Grace doing an It Happened One Night rendition.

The Green Inferno (2013)

I’ve avoided recommending this for *years* because I thought the cut on Netfix was edited, but it turns out there is no edited cut. Eli Roth just labeled the blu-ray release as a director’s cut to highlight that it reflects his uncompromised vision. It’s the same as the version on Netflix.

This is an audacious pastiche of the much maligned Italian Cannibal cycle and an absolutely vicious satire of bourgeois progressive activism. It’s one of the only horror movies in recent memory that effectively combines extreme content and a high level of artistry. Definitely top ten horror of the 10’s for me and a breath of fresh air amidst all the defanged hipster shit.

American Pie Presents Girls’ Rules

Not for everyone, but you know who you are. It stays close to the formula; it’s modern in its outlook without pandering; the characters are vivid and it’s easy to believe they’re friends. It mostly goes for the obvious jokes, but it executes them effectively. I’d say it’s a notch below Blockers and three notches above Booksmart. 


Beach Rats (2017)

You don’t hear me getting excited about a lot of contemporary American indie dramas, but I am a total stan for Eliza Hittman. Her Never Rarely Sometimes Always is my favorite American film this year, and I also highly recommend this 2017 effort. It’s in her trademark edgy, fleshy, impressionistic style, but unlike her other features it follows a male protagonist. He’s a good-looking young guy in Brighton Beach who hangs out with a crew of homophobic tough guys while secretly hooking up with older men he meets online. It has the same sort of crescendo of anxiety that I find so compelling in Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Both resemble a gentler, more delicate Uncut Gems (other obvious points of comparison are Claire Denis and Catherine Breillat). NB, I think this is more thematically interesting than many critics give it credit for. It gets at something deep about the opacity between our public and private selves.

13 Assassins (2010)

This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve recommended this but to reiterate, this is one of the best modern chanbara and an immensely satisfying action picture. It has just a little of Miike’s perversion– enough to give it a Miike vibe, but not so much that it should deter most people. It’s about an impossible mission to kill the Shogun’s heavily protected brother with a crew of only 12 assassins (plus one surprise figure).

Disappearance on Clifton Hill (2020)

This sleazy little Niagra Falls potboiler is one of the more intriguing 2020 releases, with Tuppence Middleton as the noir protagonist and David Cronenberg as a conspiracy podcaster. It’s not going to blow anyone’s mind, but I want to call attention to it because it’s very under the radar and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Great score.


HBO Max has an embarrassment of riches with its Criterion section, so I won’t make extensive recommendations (just throw a dart at the Criterion offerings and press play), but here are a few:

Sudden Impact (1983)

This is the one Dirty Harry movie that Eastwood directed himself and it is by far the best and most artistically ambitious in the series. It was early in his directorial career but it has his trademark dark lighting and immaculate framing. Sondra Locke is superb. This is a very dark movie and it deals with difficult themes of sexual assault and trauma. Strong content warning.

Deerskin (2020)

As quirky oddball indies go, this is solid. Absurdist horror-comedy about a man bent on being the only person with a jacket.

Troll 2 (1992)

One of the best-worst movies ever made. Directed by Italian trashmaster Claudio Fragasso, written by his wife Rossella Drudi (as an anti-vegetarian parable), and starring a glorious cast of non-professional actors from the Salt Lake City area. There’s a long, loving discussion of this in my forthcoming book on good-bad movies (which I’ve recently submitted a draft of). It’s perfect for a social setting. Profoundly eccentric, very funny.

Streaming Recommendations, vol. 16: Month of Horror

Featured image from Lords of Salem

The best month of the year is upon us. Last year I watched 57 horror movies in the month of October and I expect to easily beat that number this year thanks to pandemic lifestyle changes. I’m continuing my yearly tradition of posting a set of horror streaming recommendations. I am including both more popular, obvious recommendations suitable for horror tourists (and by all means, ’tis the season for horror tourism) along with some deep cuts for genre fans. I will include recommendations for HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, but I also want to draw attention to the Criterion Channel this year, which has come out of nowhere with the most impressive set of horror options of any service other than possibly Shudder. Shudder is a horror-centric service which I do recommend in general (I’m not going to include Shudder in this post but for Shudder subscribers I would especially recommend the slasher classic The Burning and Dario Argento’s masterpiece Tenebrae).

Criterion Channel

If you haven’t used your Criterion free trial yet and you like horror, now is the time. They dropped a couple horror features today that are just fantastic: a set of 70’s horror movies and a set of New World Pictures productions by female directors (this was Roger Corman’s infamous production company). The 70’s selections include some seminal classics as well as some very deep cuts (there are a few I haven’t even seen). They are all worth a look, but I want to draw special attention to a few.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

This is one of my favorite examples of moody, slow burn psychological horror. A woman who has just left a psychiatric facility moves to a country home with her husband and friend, but she questions her sanity after encountering a young woman who may be a vampire. This one is all about creating an atmosphere of mystery and dread rather than aggressive gore or high octane thrills. It’s not very well known, but it’s revered among 70’s horror fans. If I could pick one movie for you to watch this October, this is the one.

The Witch Who Came from the Sea

Another peak 70’s hallucinatory slow burn dread jam. This one is very dark and deals with themes of trauma and abuse. I really love the salty seaside setting and director Matt Cimber’s aggressive stylistic weirdness.

Long Weekend

A couple go on a camping trip where they flagrantly abuse the natural world, and the natural world strikes back. As far as message-y environmentalist horror goes, this is solid. It’s from Australia and bears some comparison with Wake in Fright, though I wouldn’t say it’s as good. Still, it’s worthwhile in its own right and something that I don’t expect most American horror fans will have seen.

Black Christmas

Serious horror fans have probably seen this, but for those who are just looking to dabble in the genre, this is one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Ignore the new remake and peep the original 1974 masterpiece. It takes place at Christmas in a sorority house and the scares are set in motion by a series of frightening phone calls from a stranger. This is a consummate piece of horror filmmaking in all respects. At the formal level it is among the greatest stylistic triumphs of the genre. The lighting and cinematography are perfectly tuned to the setting and subject matter. It creates a vivid atmosphere of mixed holiday emotions (celebration mingling with loneliness and despair). But this is perhaps most notable for the richness of its characterizations: unlike most horror movies set in a sorority, every sorority sister feels like a distinct person. (note: this is also on Shudder)

Death Line

Gary Sherman is nowhere near as famous as he should be. This is one of several neglected Gary Sherman horror classics. It’s very eccentric and not for everyone, but Donald Pleasence fans shouldn’t miss this London Underground subterranean cannibal odyssey.

Slumber Party Massacre

This is part of the New World Pictures feature. Amy Holden Jones’ feminist spin on the slasher– featuring a phallic drill killer– is one of the high points of 80’s horror.

The Velvet Vampire

Also part of the New World Pictures feature. This is an American horror movie but it feels closer to Eurotrash vampire erotica. Stephanie Rothman’s film is an intriguing oddity, with incredible dream sequences and probably the most dune buggy riding of any vampire movie ever.

Humanoids from the Deep

Another New World Pictures title. This Barbara Peeters flick gets a very strong content warning: it’s about fishmen who seek non-consensual mating with human females and it is extremely messed up. But wow, if you want a confrontational take on reproductive horror, this is your movie.


This has been on Criterion for a month or two, but I’m not sure if it’s a permanent addition or a rotating selection. Kiyoshi Kurosawa is best known for his 2001 film Pulse, and that is a great film, but this is even better. It’s arguably the best horror film of the 90’s. The narrative is elusive and I don’t want to say too much as it’s best to go into this cold, but I think of it as being in the tradition of Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse movies. Like Pulse, it’s pitched at a very abstract level.


This 1968 title is part of the permanent collection on Criterion and not a rotating selection, but I want to put a special plug in for it. Although it’s not as famous as Shindo’s Onibaba, this is my favorite of his films and one of my favorite Japanese horror films, period. It’s a revenge story and supernatural romance about a mother and daughter living as ghosts in a bamboo forest who terrorize lost samurai. The black and white horror sequences in the thick bamboo forest are just stunning.


HBO Max is very strong on horror right now.

The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula

These are two of the greatest and most iconic Hammer horror titles, both directed by Terence Fisher and starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. If you want to check out some vintage British gothic horror, Horror of Dracula is as good as it gets, and Curse of Frankenstein is also tremendous.


The best known Obayashi movie. Totally batshit. Not scary, but truly something to experience.

Open Water

Solid shark horror

Day of the Dead

The third entry in Romero’s Dead series, and the strangest. It’s aged extremely well.

Final Destination 5

This might be the best of the whole series. The gymnastics set piece is for me the high point of Final Destination.

Altered States

I recommend this every chance I get. Ken Russell crazytown psychedelic evolutionary regression horror.

The Brood

My favorite early Cronenberg. Come for full tilt Oliver Reed, stay for subversive feminism.

The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

Aja’s remake of the Wes Craven classic is one of the best modern horror remakes. It is GNARLY. Not for the faint of heart.

Vampire in Brooklyn

Eddie Murphy and Wes Craven team up! This neglected gem is due for reappraisal. It’s a true Murphy/Craven hybrid and manages to balance serious horror with absurdist comedy.

Amazon Prime

Lords of Salem

For me this is easily the greatest American horror movie of the last decade (overall a lousy decade for horror) and Rob Zombie’s best film. It’s another slow burn dread jam. It’s not going to thrill gorehounds who want constant jump scares, but it is a masterclass in atmosphere and emotional crescendo and the production design absolutely slams.

Bloody Moon (rental)

The new Severin restoration of Jess Franco’s slasher gem. This is particularly interesting for people deep into the horror genre, as it is a rare example of a European director attempting an American-style slasher (for an example on the other side of the spectrum, compare Nightmare Beach). Elements of the Italian giallo and Eurohorror in general are integrated into the slasher formula. Also, this is one of Franco’s greatest achievements at the formal level. It’s gorgeous. NB, some previously censored scenes are included in this restoration but the materials are lower quality.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

The greatest horror sequel of all time and the perfect comedic companion piece to the original, which is the greatest horror film of all time, period. (You can see the original on Criterion or you can rent it).

Don’t Kill It

This is a direct-to-video low budget horror gem. The hook is there’s a demon that possesses people, but you can’t kill the possessed person or else YOU get possessed. Dolph Lundgren is doing a twangy Indiana Jones-meets-Van Helsing character who wears a duster and VAPES? Yes! I could go for five sequels with this character.

30 Days of Night

Such a great premise: vampire movie set in Northern Alaska at the winter solstice.

John Carpenter’s Vampires

This is such a mean, nasty, hardass vampire movie. It’s about as mean and vile as Carpenter gets. James Woods brings so much intensity. Some elements haven’t aged terribly well (the misogyny is thick) but this is one of the most hardcore vampire movies.


Netflix doesn’t have jack this year. I can repeat my recommendations of The Blackcoat’s Daughter (which is yet another slow burn dread jam) and Cam (which is erotic technological horror, sort of like a more lurid Black Mirror, but good). And then there are a few other things.

Session 9

Brad Anderson atmospheric slow burn horror. Grimy production design. Dark secrets resurface in an abandoned mental hospital.

House of 1000 Corpses

Rob Zombie’s debut film. It’s roughly in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre zone but with Zombie’s distinctive sensibility and a great cast featuring 70’s exploitation icons like Sid Haig. It’s by no means his best and it has an amateurish roughness, but it’s a good intro to his filmography and full of nasty delights for genre fans.


A fun, dumb modern classic creature feature with an absolutely fantastic cast. Ice Cube, J-Lo, Owen Wilson, Eric Stoltz, and Danny Trejo are great, but the MVP is Jon Voight. This is god-tier Jon Voight.


Hulu is also not great this year, but there are a few things. I won’t bother to write up Hellraiser or Evil Dead II, which I have recommended multiple times and are essential horror viewing.


Larry Fessenden reimagines Frankenstein in terms of military trauma. It’s overlong and messy but it’s unique and interesting.

Hostel and Hostel II

These nasty Eli Roth bangers are due for reappraisal. “Torture porn” got a bad rep in cultural discourse, with the result that the thematic sophistication of these movies was overlooked. These are some of the most aggressive critiques of capitalist exploitation in the genre.

The Last House on the Left

Not for everyone. Early Wes Craven, grimy production value, rape-revenge exploitation. It still stands out for its unflinching vileness and howling rage. Essential for genre fans, others should proceed with caution.

The Omen (2006)

I actually prefer the Omen remake to the original (which I’m not a huge fan of). It’s the Mia Farrow factor that really puts this over the top. She is fantastic in this.

Streaming Recommendations, Vol. 15: Dog Days

Featured image from Never Rarely Sometimes Always. 

Rentals (on Amazon, Vudu, and Apple)

Gretel & Hansel

Gretel & Hansel' spoilers: Director explains the new ending of the ...

From the director of The Blackcoat’s Daughter. Tellingly, among the people whose opinions I follow, the most avid horror fans especially love this while the horror tourists generally dislike it. It’s moody and refined, with a striking abstract visual style and immersive score (aptly described by one fan as “paganwave”). For me, it’s the best American horror movie not directed by Rob Zombie in years.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Never Rarely Sometimes Always' is the best film of 2020. That's it ...

I am generally not a fan of this sort of topical indie drama, but Eliza Hittman is on another level from the throng of directors cashing in on opportunistic progressive slam dunks. This is the Uncut Gems of going to NYC with your cousin to get an abortion at age 17. It’s much quieter and more low key than Uncut Gems, but it is built around the same sort of extended crescendo of anxiety. I’ve seen complaints that it’s too relentless about ticking off political talking points, but I think this is a mistake. What this movie is interested in is the phenomenology of patriarchy. That is, it’s interested in the way that two 17 year old girls experience oppressive sociopolitical structures. It’s impressionistic (and it is clearly influenced by the impressionistic style of the Claire Denis of Nenette and Boni and Friday Night). If some scenes lay things on a little thick, it’s to capture the way the characters experience those situations. If every man we meet in the movie is menacing, it’s because that’s how it feels to the characters. First time actress Sidney Flanagan is just fantastic. The way she lets emotions bubble to the surface in glimpses and then swallows them back down almost reminds me of Liv Ullmann.


Straight Up

Straight Up' Explores Heteronormativity and Sexual Practices

This is exceptionally hilarious and also sincerely moving. Asexual romance has to be one of the most interesting subjects that basically no one makes movies about. This just hits it out of the park. It has a very distinct tone and style (featuring inventive use of the academy aspect ratio). If you find it annoying early on there’s probably no chance you’ll come around to it, so I’d just bail, but if the movie’s sense of humor works for you, you are in for a treat.

The Wrong Missy

The Wrong Missy' Review: Bad Romance - The New York Times

This is for a very specific audience (which I am a part of). You need to be nostalgic for the prime era of the Happy Madison SNL constellation (Rob Schneider and all) and you need unlimited tolerance for Lauren Lapkus. It’s essentially a revisionary Heartbreak Kid where Lila is the romantic lead rather than the antagonist.

There’s a whole lineage of comedies where one character is from a different universe from everyone else—not merely eccentric, but outside the limits of what we can imagine a real person being like. Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey built their careers on this basic shtick. We have seen a lot of gender swap comedies in recent years, but whereas most just swap the men for women and repeat a formula, this is deep gender swap. Lauren Lapkus turns in the sort of massive, balls-to-the-wall alien-among-us performance that has in the past been reserved for male comedians.

Angel Has Fallen

Angel Has Fallen” – Screen Zealots

The best of the “has fallen” trilogy, this loses the malign politics of the second one and focuses on excellent action and a whole lot of very satisfying Gerard Butler and Nick Nolte. Don’t miss it if you like action movies.

The Witches

the witches (nicolas roeg, 1989/I) | Coffee and Typescript

One of the best children’s movies of all time, from the great Nicolas Roeg. I loved this so much as a kid—it terrified me, but in the best possible way—and it absolutely holds up as an adult.

Public Enemies

Public Enemies (2009) – MUBI

Feast upon cinematographer Dante Spinotti’s ravishing digital textures and Mann’s romantic fatalism.


How to Make a Mutant: Splice's Creepy Creature Evolves | WIRED

Delicious sci-fi sleaze. I still remember how thrilling I found this movie the first time I saw it. The set up leaves some very weird places to go, and I was really, really hoping it would go to those places. I was not disappointed.

Savage Dog

Movie Review - Savage Dog (2017)

This is a satisfying Scott Adkins vehicle with loads and loads of Adkins beating people up, hacking people with machetes, blowing people up with grenades, etc etc. It’s well-made, the writing is enjoyably pulpy, and the character acting is excellent.  “Christ never gave him much but a godawful talent for carnage and death.”

The Debt Collector

Movie Review: A “Limey” learns the rough trade as “The Debt ...

Excellent comedy/crime thriller with Scott Adkins and Louis Mandylor (who is fast becoming the poor man’s Mickey Rourke) as muscle for organized crime. Most of the movie has a relaxed hangout vibe, and the banter between the two leads is delightful.


Buy Riot - Microsoft Store en-CA

Very fun low budget prison exploitation/action movie with Matthew Reese as a cop who goes undercover as a prisoner to catch a gangster played by UFC star Chuck Liddell, who does a very entertaining Russian accent. The other big treats are Danielle Chuchran, who is especially badass in this, and Dolph Lundgren in the Morgan Freeman role. Lots of brutal action.

Acts of Vengeance

Isaac Florentine on Acts of Vengeance, Antonio Banderas's Mastery ...

The one where Antonio Banderas is inspired by Marcus Aurelius to become a vigilante. Ridiculous and very entertaining.


52 Pick-Up

52 Pick-Up Film Review | It Rains... You Get Wet

John Frankenheimer possessed by Michael Winner, doing a sleazy blackmail thriller in the Cannon Group house style. The cast is stacked (Roy Scheider!), but the mvp is easily Clarence Williams III. He is off the charts.


Wishmaster (1997) – Jiggy's Horror Corner

Probably the highpoint of Djinn horror.  “You wish to know what I am? To you, I am this: The cry of the abandoned child. The whimper of the whipped beast. I am the face that stares back at you from the shadowed mirror. The hollowness at the heart of all your hopes, Alexandra. I am despair.”


Birdy (1984): The Way of the Bird [Joey's Review] | The CageClub ...

Alan Parker died recently, so I finally watched this after saving it for a long time. It’s the most significant Nicolas Cage movie that I hadn’t seen. It’s a hot mess, but I realized as I watched it that this was the only way to approach the material. It’s about an intensely close friendship between Matthew Modine, an ostensibly asexual outcast obsessed with birds, and Nicolas Cage, an oversexed histrionic high school hero. The movie cross cuts throughout between lighter material depicting their highschool days and very heavy material about them coping with mental and physical trauma after serving in Vietnam. The narrative is ambling and episodic, which is appropriate to the subject matter: it’s more interested in helping the viewer understand the central friendship than it is in plowing through important events. The Cage factor is very high grade. He has a couple monologues that belong in the Cage pantheon.

Final Score

Final Score Review: 10 Reasons to Watch This Die Hard Riff – /Film

A belated Die Hard/Sudden Death knockoff. The action is uneven but the high points are very high (motorcycle chase!) and there’s a lot of imaginative brutality. Bautista is great in the Bruce Willis/Van Damme role.

The Mercenary

The Mercenary - Green Band Trailer - YouTube

A DTV Cartelsploitation martial arts western. But Catholic. Catholic as in Passion of the Christ meets Rambo 4. I’m here for it.

Shock Wave

Film Review: Shock Wave (2017) by Herman Yau

This is two hours long and for nearly the entire duration some bomb or other is about to go off. Die Hard With a Vengeance taken to the furthest extremes and directed with panache by Herman Yau.


Bone (1972 film) – King of the Bond Villains

Larry Cohen’s extremely confrontational satire of LA race relations, featuring the great Yaphet Kotto. It’s aged well, but content warnings galore.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity

The Yakuza Papers 1: Battles Without Honour and Humanity (1973) – MUBI

One of the most essential yakuza movies. There are four sequels, which I believe are also on Prime. Together they tell an epic story of the postwar transformation of the yakuza, as the old codes of honor were overthrown by the starving younger generation, resulting in decades of bloody conflict. This thing goes a hundred miles an hour from beginning to end.

Massacre Gun

Massacre Gun (1967) | Blu-ray release – This Japanese yakuza crime ...

This is a very representative late-60’s yakuza movie with Jo Shishido and an epic finale.

Shinjuku Triad Society

American Genre Film Archive SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY

One of Miike’s best crime movies. He’s especially interested in foreign gangsters living in Japan and Japanese gansters living abroad. As the title suggests, this starts out with Chinese gangs in Tokyo. It’s aggressively sleazy both with respect to content and production value, and is especially notable for its queer themes. Content warnings in abundance, not for everyone.

Sukiyaki Western Django

Sergio Leone Meets Reservoir Dog in Japanese Pastiche - The New ...

Miike doing spaghetti western pastiche. Don’t miss this if you skipped it when it came out. Tons of fun.


52 Pick-Up

Under amazon above, but it’s also on Hulu.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World - Plugged InWell-crafted naval war movie. The sound design is exceptional.

Stuck on You

Stuck On You (2003) | Bomb Report

This was one of the more neglected peak era Farrelly brothers movies, with Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins. It has the trademark Farrelly combination of clumsy humanism and ribald hilarity. One of their best.

Hannie Caulder

Not for everyone, but this 1971 British exploitation western should interest genre fans. It’s a rare example of a western built around a female gunfighter, Raquel Welch (!), who seeks revenge against the men who assaulted her and murdered her husband.


Catherine Chan

(Also on Prime) Top-tier Jason Statham action movie in the vein of the Transporter series but less car focused. He’s trying to protect a young Chinese girl from Triads, Russian gangsters, and corrupt cops.

The Last Mistress

La Vellini's Other Dresses from The Last Mistress | Mistress, Asia ...

One of Catherine Breillat’s best, featuring an utterly raw Asia Argento as the older mistress of a 30 year old man who is trying to move past their affair and marry a young noblewoman. Excellent production design.

No Strings Attached

11 Delightful Things I Learned from No Strings Attached

I didn’t much care for this back when it came out, but it’s aged well. It definitely got some deep belly laughs out of me. If you’re in the mood for a politely raunchy throwback romantic comedy, this fits the bill. Kevin Kline isn’t my favorite here but Natalie Portman is great and Ashton Kutcher is solid.


One of David Gordon Green's best movies is one of his least-seen

David Gordon Green’s riff on Night of the Hunter. This arrived at the end of the first phase of his career, when he was still in the mode of Malick-influenced Southern Gothic, and I’ve always considered it one of his best. A young Kristen Stewart is especially memorable. Score by Philip Glass.

Hong Kong Cinema on Streaming

Featured image from Killzone 2.

I’ve noticed with delight that there is an increasingly large selection of Hong Kong films available to stream in the US. Here’s a roundup of stuff that is worth checking out (note: there is also a lot of Wong Kar-wai, but criterion is restoring and releasing his whole filmography, so probably worth waiting for that):

Amazon Prime

Life Without Principle (Johnnie To, 2011)

A Blu-ray With Principle | White City Cinema

The best movie about the 2008 financial crisis. It’s a riff on Killing of a Chinese Bookie, set in a bank on the day the crisis hit.

The White Storm 2 (Herman Yau, 2019)

This is a sequel in name only and you do not need to see Benny Chan’s The White Storm first, though it is a good movie and worth seeing. This one is much better, though. Andy Lau plays a pseudo-Batman, facing off against drug lord Louis Koo and destroying the city in the process. It’s a slyly subversive movie about the collateral damage of drug wars.

The Magic Blade (Chor Yuen, 1976)– note that there is a newer movie with the same title

Film Review: The Magic Blade (1976) by Yuen Chor

An especially abstract and crazy Shaw Brothers wuxia. It’s dark and violent and the pacing is exhilarating. There’s an assassin named Devil Grandma!

Death Duel (Chor Yuen, 1977)

Another Corey Yuen wuxia with similar virtues as The Magic Blade. The narrative is a riff on The Gunfighter, with a legendary swordsman trying to lay low to evade the brigade of challengers trying to prove themselves.

Office (Johnnie To, 2015)

Probably an acquired taste, but worth acquiring. An upbeat musical/office melodrama/critique of professionalism under global capitalism. The production design is glorious.

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (Tsui Hark, 2010)

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame -- Film Review ...

These Detective Dee movies are a total blast. They are like Hong Kong Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes with maximalist CGI and no annoying Robert Downey Jr. to spoil the fun.

Fandor (Amazon channel):

Green Snake (Tsui Hark, 1993)

Watch the films directed by Tsui Hark on Fandor

Oh baby. Green Snake is at the level of batshit creativity that only Tsui Hark is capable of. It is *great*. Two snakes take human form to find love. Starring a young Maggie Cheung.

Magnolia Selects (Amazon channel):

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (Stephen Chow and Derek Kwok, 2013)– Also on youtube

It’s much less goofy than I expected, and actually fairly dark. Demon hunters take on a series of escalating menaces. Extraordinary set piece after extraordinary set piece.

Hi-yah! (Amazon channel– this is three bucks a month and a total treasure trove):

Drug War (Johnnie To, 2012)

Hard, edgy, violent crime movie critiquing China’s draconian drug laws.

Call of Heroes (Benny Chan, 2016)

Call of Heroes' – Hong Kong heroics on Netflix - Stream On Demand

A very gripping wuxia with excellent Sammo Hung choreography and well-integrated American and Japanese influences. It’s like a Rio Bravo/High Noon riff with Lau Ching Wan in the John Wayne/Gary Cooper role, but then Eddie Peng is doing Mifune (he faces off against Wu Jing!). Louis Koo‘s character is visiting from a Miike movie.

The Bodyguard (Sammo Hung, 2016)

My Beloved Bodyguard (Sammo Hung, 2016) - The Chinese Cinema - Medium

Sammo Hung’s Man on Fire, about a retired bodyguard with dementia who seeks to protect his young neighbor from thugs. Both the dementia arc and the redemption arc have real pathos, and the way they tie together is especially moving. The action is sometimes filmed too closely and edited too frenetically, but it is always well-conceived and choreographed and the sheer quantity of broken bones is very satisfying.

Ip Man: The Final Fight (Herman Yau, 2013)

Not to be confused with the Donnie Yen Ip Man movies. Those are also good but Yau is a much more interesting director than Yip.

The Stool Pigeon (Dante Lam, 2010)

Solid crime thriller. A street racer named Ghost is sent to inform on a gangster named Barbarian…


Loving You (Johnnie To, 1995)

Short but potent drama about a cop who comes to depend on the wife he formerly mistreated after suffering a head injury.

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 1&2 (Johnnie To, 2011 & 2014)

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: the only truly great romantic comedies of the last decade. They are in line with Office and Life Without Principle as critiques of the upwardly-mobile professionalist lifestyle.

Blind Detective (Johnnie To, 2013)

Blind Detective: Cannes Review | Hollywood Reporter

One of three movies To made about investigators with unusual powers (along with Mad Detective and Running on Karma). The pairing of Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng as the leads is a real treat. He plays a blind retired investigator who she recruits to help investigate a cold case involving her friend.

Five Elements Ninjas (Chang Cheh, 1982)

Chang Cheh’s late movies are characterized by a near formalist level of abstraction. This is all color and movement. A martial arts school takes on Japanese ninjas, first losing decisively before developing new tactics. Be sure to watch in the original language rather than dubbed.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Lau Kar-leung, 1978)

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin | Netflix

One of the greatest and most iconic Shaw Bros. movies. This is probably the Lau Kar-leung title most seriously concerned with ethical and philosophical issues.

Detective Dee and the Four Heavenly Kings (Tsui Hark, 2018)

The third Detective Dee movie. Extremely fun.

Other rentals:

There are quite a few other good Hong Kong movies rentable for few bucks. I’m going to leave out the Johnnie To stuff as there’s plenty to explore above, but every To movie from 1997 on is worth watching (the earlier stuff is a mixed bag).

Killzone 2 [aka SPL II] (Soi Cheang, 2015)– Vudu, Apple, etc.

Review: Killzone 2 (SPL 2: A Time For Consequences) (2016)

I had this high on my best of the decade list. It’s a sequel in name only and you don’t need to see Killzone/SPL first. Two of the greatest martial artists of our time–Tony Jaa and Wu Jing– really let it rip. The black market organ theft storyline is the perfect framework for the brutal action. This is as good as action cinema gets.

Motorway (Soi Cheang, 2012)– Vudu, Amazon

Distilled essence of awesomeness. Car chase pastiche, expertly crafted and with a degree of genre purity that strongly appeals to me. The sense of physicality is refreshing in the full CGI era.

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon  (Tsui Hark, 2013)– Vudu

The second of the three Detective Dee movies. Delightful.




Streaming Recommendations, Vol. 14: HBO Max launch.

Featured image from Black Girl. 

Before the main event, there’s just one other recommendation I want to triple emphasize: John Frankenheimer’s The Train on Amazon Prime. It’s the best. French resistance fighters, notably Burt Lancaster, try to stop a train full of French artworks that a German colonel is trying to steal during the last days of WWII.  Also featuring Jeanne Moreau and a wonderful late performance from Michel Simon. It’s a terrific action movie, but also interesting because of its exploration of the question of whether it’s ever worth the loss of human life to preserve works of art.

Film Forum · THE TRAIN

Okay, the main event: HBO Max is pretty lit. Far from the trash fire of Disney+, everything is in the right aspect ratio and there are more than a few great movies on offer. There are lots of wonderful cartoons and nostalgic TV shows and all that, but allow me to point in the direction of all this fine cinema:

Trouble in Mind (Rudolph, 1985): What a treat! I watched this last night. I was thrilled to see that it’s in very good quality HD (the image is grainy, but that’s how it’s supposed to look). It has never been available in good quality for home viewing before. I once read the quip (to paraphrase): “With Trouble in Mind and Choose Me, Alan Rudolph attempted to single-handedly redeem 80’s American cinema and mostly succeeded.” I have a rosier view of 80’s American film, but the point’s not too far off. Rudolph brings tropes from the 40’s and 50’s together with a neon-splashed futurist urban milieu and the result is deeply strange. There’s really nothing else like it, but it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Rudolph did for the city what Lynch did for the suburbs (though the styles of the two directors are completely distinct). The cast is glorious, including Divine as mob boss Hilly Blue.

hilly blue | Tumblr

The Young Girls of Rochefort (Demy, 1967): In the running for the single greatest musical.

Black Girl (Sembène, 1966): Potent and infuriating look at the experiences of a Senegalese woman who moves to France to work as a nanny

L’argent (Bresson, 1983): Bresson’s last film, based on a Tolstoy story. Threatens to be a trite ‘money is the root of all evil’ exercise, but in Bresson’s hands it becomes something far more disturbing and profound.

Lady Snowblood (Fujita, 1973): I love revenge movies, and the greatest of all revengers is Meiko Kaji. This is iconic and essential. That death stare! (Not a fan of the sequel.)

Meiko Kaji – Shura No Hana (Lady Snowblood - Shurayukihime) - YouTube

Belly (Williams, 1998): Hype Williams fuses Blaxploitation with hip hop. Brilliantly filmed, with performances from Nas and DMX. It’s a terrible shame he didn’t direct more movies, but don’t miss this one.

BELLY ~Hype Williams | Belly 1998

Body Heat (Kasdan, 1981): I can’t wait to revisit this sweaty Florida noir. Kathleen Turner here is near the pinnacle of human sexiness.

Kwaidan (Kobayashi, 1964): A gorgeous quartet of Japanese ghost stories. I love it.

The Bridges of Madison County (Eastwood, 1995): Makes me cry just thinking about it. One of the greatest movie romances.

The River (Renoir, 1951): Sort of a non-musical Meet Me in St. Louis set in India. One of the greatest uses of color in all of cinema.

Unstoppable (Tony Scott, 2010): One of the best action movies in recent memory and also one of the best movies about top down class warfare.

The Demon in the Machine: Approaching Tony Scott | Chicago Film ...

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Almadovar, 1990): There’s no way you could get away with something like this anymore. If you enjoy Almadovar at his most transgressive, here you go.

Taste of Cherry (Kiarostami, 1997): Perfect place to start with Kiarostami. It has many of the qualities that are distinctive of his cinema, but with more readily accessible thematic concerns.

Sweetie (Campion, 1989): Jane Campion’s first film and a fine showcase of her talent. Very strange family drama.

Female Filmmaker Friday: Sweetie, 1989 (dir. Jane Campion) | the ...

Now, Voyager (Rapper, 1942): One of the greatest melodramas, starring an unforgettable Bette Davis. I have a ton to say about this movie, but I’ll restrain myself. It’s about the constraints of adulthood and the possibility of authenticity amid such constraints.

The Naked Kiss (Fuller, 1964): Biting Sam Fuller drama about a sex worker who tries to start over in a small town and is greeted with prejudice.

Pépé le Moko (Duvivier, 1937): Peak Jean Gabin as an indefatigable hood on the run from the law in the Casbah.

Pépé le Moko (1937) directed by Julien Duvivier • Reviews, film + ...

Senso (Visconti, 1954): One of Visconti’s great color pictures about the decline of the aristocracy, this time by way of amour fou. 

The Shooting (Hellman, 1967): Monte Hellman’s bizarre existential western, starring Warren Oates and a young Jack Nicholson.

The Shooting (1966) – MUBI

Fat Girl (Breillat, 2001): Breillat’s ultra-edgy brand of feminist film-making has gone out of style (though take note of Eliza Hittman) but at least now you can watch this on frickin’ HBO.

Hairspray (Waters, 1988): Not the shitty remake, the real John Waters version with Ricki Lake, Divine, Debbie Harry, and Sonny Bono.

John Waters talks about 'Hairspray,' his biggest — and most ...

In Vanda’s Room (Costa, 2000): Definitely not for everyone, but I’m in awe that you can watch this in HD on HBO. Part of Costa’s trilogy documenting the destruction of the Fontainhas neighborhood in Lisbon, which was formerly populated by people from Cape Verde and has since been gentrified. This is basically three hours of a woman doing heroin and rambling while the neighborhood is torn down around her. It’s extremely abrasive, but it’s great cinema.

Ivan the Terrible parts I & II (1944, 1958): Eisenstein’s historical epic, the second part was banned by Stalin. A masterpiece.

Gold Diggers of 1933 (LeRoy, 1933): Hilarious and racy pre-Code musical. I couldn’t emphasize enough how enjoyable this is. I could watch it every day. Busby Berkeley’s fantastical choreography is utterly delightful. What a cast: Warren William, Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, and Ginger Rogers.

Gold Diggers of 1933 - HOME

The Player (Altman, 1992): Perhaps the single greatest Hollywood take-down?

Double features and marathons

Lone Wolf and Cub series. The order goes: Sword of Vengeance (1972), Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972), Baby Cart to Hades (1972), Baby Cart in Peril (1972), Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (1973), White Heaven in Hell (1974) 

Lone Wolf & Cub: The Movies (& Manga) That Influenced The Mandalorian

Enormously entertaining series starring the great Tomisaburō Wakayama as an invincible swordsman who takes up a vocation as an assassin along with his young son after he is betrayed by the shogun. Whenever someone questions whether this is an appropriate situation for a child, he’s like “My son and I walk the demon way in hell together!”

Late Ophüls: The Earrings of Madame de…. (1953), Lola Montes (1955)

Pure joy. Earrings is probably his most beloved film and is absolutely essential viewing. Lola Montes is a remarkable spectacle of pageantry that influenced the New Wave. It tells the story of a courtesan and her illustrious affairs, including trysts with Liszt and Ludwig I of Bavaria.

Monsieur Verdoux (1947) Limelight (1952) A King in New York (1957):

There’s a lot of early Chaplin on there as well, but these talkies are great. Verdoux is deliciously dark, Limelight is exceptionally sad, and A King in New York is his bitter statement on McCarthyism.

Stromboli (1950) Europe ’51 (1952) Journey to Italy (1954):

There’s a lot of Rossellini on there and it’s all great, but I’d call special attention to this trio starring Ingrid Bergman. Essential stuff. 

Bergman: Sawdust & Tinsel (1953), The Rite (1969) Cries and Whispers (1972) Autumn Sonata (1978)

There’s some other Bergman as well. It’s all good, but I’d skip the theatrical versions of Fanny and Alexander and Scenes from a Marriage in favor of the full miniseries versions, which are over on the Criterion Channel. The Rite was hard to see until fairly recently. It’s on the strange side for Bergman. Cries and Whispers is my personal favorite of his filmsIt’s about as dark and upsetting as movies get.

Godard on HBO: Vivre sa vie (1962), Masculin Féminin (1966), 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967), Weekend (1967) 

Masculin Féminin. 1966. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard | MoMA

Hahaha, wow. Just wow. I left off Breathless because I assume everyone has seen it, but this progression is really great for tracing his deepening radicalism. Weekend is my favorite Godard.

Cassavetes marathon: Shadows (1959), Faces (1968), A Woman Under the Influence (1975), Opening Night (1977), The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1978)

Terrific stuff. A Woman… is probably the greatest portrayal of mental illness on film. Opening Night is relatively under the radar but one of Cassavetes’ best works.


The Wild Goose Lake

2020 hasn’t exactly been a great year for movies thus far, with so many releases being postponed. I am pleased to report that I finally saw a new release that I feel unbridled enthusiasm for: Diao Yinan’s The Wild Goose Lake. I watched it a few nights ago, stood up and pronounced “holy shit that was good!”, went to bed thinking about it, woke up thinking about it, watched it again, liked it even better, and then resolved to write a review. So here we are.

I’ll start with spoiler-free remarks and then get into some discussion of the plot, marked with a clear warning for spoilers.

The film is a neo-noir about a gangster who is the subject of an intense police manhunt. It opens with a meeting between him and a mysterious woman. Then we flash back to learn how we got to this point, who this woman is, and how she came to be involved. There are several big set pieces and a high degree of suspense throughout, which has prompted Hitchcock comparisons. Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train is an apt point of reference for the big shootout scene, but really The Wild Goose Lake is much closer to Lang than Hitchcock. In particular, it’s downstream of the numerous paranoid thrillers Lang made where the protagonist is the subject of an investigation or manhunt (most famously M, but there are lots of others, including Hangmen Also Die!, House by the River and The Blue Gardenia). Lang used these tropes to examine both the fascist police state he had fled in his home country of Germany and the appalling justice system he found in the USA (his first three movies upon arrival were about how messed up our justice system is). Diao similarly uses these tropes to critique Chinese authoritarianism, but with a satirical edge: the cops in this movie are for the most part bumbling and incompetent. They overwhelm through ubiquity and sheer numbers.


Diao’s use of shadow and silhouette is frequently reminiscent of Lang:


goose 3

And contemporary points of comparison include Refn and Bi Gan (especially the tracking shots):

goose 2


goose dance


No one planned it this way, but The Wild Goose Lake cannot help but gain an overwhelmingly haunting resonance in virtue of its setting: Wuhan. The film’s sense of place is extraordinary: the city pulses and throbs as we weave through seedy bars and menacing alleys. It’s a city with a fever, and the film presents us with a ready opportunity to vividly imagine the first waves of our current global crisis rippling through these streets.

Spoilers henceforth 

One of the protagonists, Zhou Zenong (television star Hu Ge), is in hiding because he shot a cop who he mistook for a rival gangster. This is one of those movies, like for example Resevoir Dogs, where a character is dying for basically the entire duration. He has been shot, there is a rich reward for capturing him dead or alive, and cops and rivals are closing in around him from all sides. Death is coming. His quest in the movie is not to escape it– it’s already fated– but rather to die the right death. In particular he seeks a degree of redemption by making sure the reward for his capture goes to his abandoned wife.

The other protagonist, Liu Aiai (Taiwanese actress Gwei Lun-mei, who also starred in Diao’s mystery noir Black Coal, Thin Ice) is a “bathing beauty,” that is, a sex worker from the lawless shores of the Wild Goose Lake. She is a bystander to the whole situation, but has been roped in by her manipulative boss to help facilitate Zhou Zenong getting himself turned in for the reward. We follow her point of view for much of the film, and she is an absolutely entrancing performer. By centering her perspective, Diao cleverly inverts the trope of the unknown woman.

goose 5

So while the film’s primary trajectory is Zhou Zenong’s march towards death, Aiai has her own arc, where she is swept into a nightmare and must balance an emergency of self-preservation with the competing demands of honor and humanity. I wouldn’t detract from anyone’s work here but her performance is particularly astonishing.


I am extremely impressed by this film. It works as a pulpy genre exercise, but it is rich with subtext. Its politics are much subtler than Diao’s Black Coal, Thin Ice, which is also worthwhile. The previous film (which won the Golden Bear) is clumsier about integrating its thematic concerns into its genre trappings. Wild Goose Lake is seemless. I’ve seen several new releases this year that I liked quite a bit, but this is the first one that blew me away. I don’t want to say anything else except that you should see it (and then see it again).