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).





Streaming Recommendations, Vol 13: Plague Year Zero

Featured image from Daughters of Darkness.

Amazon Prime

Runaway Train (1985)

Bullet Points: Runaway Train – BULLETPROOF ACTION

One of the very best action movies of the 80’s, about a prison escape. It contains the single best Jon Voight performance, and I don’t say that lightly (yes, I’ve seen Anaconda). Also exceptional turns from Eric Roberts, John P. Ryan, and Rebecca De Mornay.

Daughters of Darkness (1971)


Arthouse-grindhouse hybrid par excellence, with the inimitable Delphine Seyrig as Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Arguably the high point of 70’s vampire erotica.

Slugs (1988)

Retro Review - SLUGS (1988) - PopHorror

I love Slugs! Top-tier 80’s horror. This hits the “killer slugs” premise out of the park. Very sleazy. More lurid and violent than typical 80’s horror. Content warnings, etc.

King of the Ants (2003)

King of the Ants (2003)

Stuart Gordon died recently, and here’s a classic Gordon revenge-exploitation flick to celebrate his legacy. This is at the farthest extreme of mean, nasty grime in his filmography.

99 River Street (1953)

99 River Street (1953)Awesome B noir from the great Phil Karlson about a washed up boxer who gets tangled up in a web of trouble.

The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

An essential classic with all sorts of new resonances related to the rise of social media. I would be in favor of an Instagram remake with DJ Khaled as Burt Lancaster and Drake as Tony Curtis.

Death Wish 1-5

Death Wish 3

Be still my beating heart. The original Death Wish is actually probably the weakest entry in the whole series. The sequels totally rule. Quick rundown: II is the gnarliest of the bunch by a large margin. Full rape-revenge mayhem. III is the most over the top and absurd. It’s still pretty gnarly but so ridiculous that it’s not as likely to be upsetting. IV is the schlockiest and not at all gnarly or upsetting. V is all about the Michael Parks factor and the bizarre choice of setting: the Fashion District.

Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (2018)

Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc movie review (2018 ...

I think we’ve brought this up before, but in any case, we love it. It’s a head-banging metal musical about the childhood of Joan of Arc. It’s a little long, but mesmerizing throughout.

Torso (1973)

Sergio Martino's 'Torso' Getting a Brand New 2K Restoration for ...

This came at the tail end of Sergio Martino’s run of all-time great gialli. It is a giallo, but on the proto-slasher side of the spectrum, with a psycho who stalks co-eds.

The Toxic Avenger (1986)

Pin on hillarious and weird movies colection

Restored version! I grew up with this hilarious and delightfully depraved spectacle. I just rewatched it and I found that it’s still very much to my liking. Peak 80’s trash.

Tromeo and Juliet (1997)

Tromeo & Juliet: Shakespeare at its Schlockiest | The Frida Cinema

I love it. Content warnings in spades. This is the most transgressive, distasteful, taboo-breaking Shakespeare adaptation out there, as far as I know.

Knightriders (1981)

How George Romero's Knightriders Gave Him the Independence He ...

George Romero’s singularly odd tale of a motorcycle gang with a medieval reenactment show. Essential for anyone interested in Romero. Peak Ed Harris.

Art School Confidential (2006)

art school confidential | Film Inquiry

Very funny and acrid art school satire from Terry Zwigoff.

Fear City (1985)

Classic Review – Fear City (1984) | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)

Early Abel Ferrara. One of his least ambitious movies, but it’s very appealing sleaze with Tom Berenger and Melanie Griffith and a killer targeting exotic dancers.


NB, there’s some really excellent stuff coming later in the month: Michael Mann’s masterpiece Public Enemies on May 16th and (in case you’ve been under a rock for the last year) the Safdie Brothers’ total banger Uncut Gems on May 25th

The Core (2003)

The Citizen Kane of Awful: The Core - One Room With A ViewMy book (in progress) about love of good-bad movies begins with lots of swooning about The Core. This is one of my personal favorite good-bad movies. The core of the Earth has stopped spinning and so a crack team of fake scientists led by a very emotional Aaron Eckhart has to drive a special vehicle made out of Unobtanium into the center of the Earth to detonate all the nuclear bombs at once. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times and I’d watch it again right now.

She Hate Me (2004)

She Hate Me streaming: where to watch movie online?

Spike Lee’s most underrated movie. It’s widely disliked, which I take to be evidence not that it’s bad, but that it’s bold and aggressive. Not for everyone, but definitely for me. Give it a try.

Bloodsport (1988)

I’ve known every word of dialogue in this movie by heart since I was 9. I can still recite all of it, and I’m still not the least bit tired of the movie. This is the most essential Van Damme film.

Angel Has Fallen (2019)

Angel Has Fallen | Film Review | Consequence of Sound

Excellent mid-budget Gerard Butler action movie. This one leaves aside the dubious politics of the first two (to be clear, I like those as well, but the politics are messed up). If you like action movies and find yourself complaining that they don’t make ’em like they used to, here’s your movie. All the stuff with Nick Nolte is amazing.

Den of Thieves (2018)

For Better or Worse, “Den of Thieves” Gives Gerard Butler 140 ...

A pulpy, trashy version of Heat with the sweatiest, stinkiest performance of Gerard Butler’s career.

Dolemite is My Name (2019)

Dolemite Is My Name

This has been around for a while but we’ve never brought it up in a recommendation post. In case you skipped it: highly recommended. It was the most entertaining new release I saw last year. It’s frickin’ hilarious, but it’s also a joyous and very satisfying celebration of renegade movie-making and the rejection of constrictive mainstream notions of what it means to be “good” movie. I really, really do not like the practice of watching good-bad movies in the mode of mockery and ridicule. Love and affection is the higher path. This movie gets it.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

One of the most essential martial arts films. Make sure you switch the audio track to the original and watch it with subtitles. It’s too good to watch dubbed.

Blood Father (2016)

Blood Father is Dollar-Store Cartel-Infused Mad Max | Scene and ...

If you need a badass Mel Gibson fix, here you go. I always misremember the title of this movie as Anger Dad.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,' With Gary Oldman - Review - The New ...

This holds up. Austere and tightly constructed, it’s one of the better spy movies of the new millennium.

Kickboxer: Vengeance (2016)

With Van Damme reduced to supporting role, 'Kickboxer: Vengeance ...

Much better than I expected it to be. It’s more or a less a DTV remake of the original Kickboxer, except now Van Damme is the trainer (Dave Bautista is Tong Po!). There is so much more Van Damme in this than I expected.

The Heartbreak Kid (2007)

The Heartbreak Kid (2007) directed by Bobby Farrelly, Peter ...

Certainly not as good as Elaine May’s classic, but the Farrelly Brothers’ remake is plenty frickin’ hilarious in its own right.

How to be a Latin Lover (2017)

I keep hammering this recommendation, but it’s because I feel I need to. I never in a million years would have guessed from the title and DVD cover that this would be any good. But it’s hilarious.

Just Friends (2005)

If and only if you like Ryan Reynolds romantic comedies (I know there aren’t a lot of us these days, but we’re out there), this is a nice little treat.


Hulu is trash. Disney destroys everything it touches. But there are a few good titles.

Portrait of a Lady of Fire (2019)

On the Groundbreaking 'A Portrait of a Lady on Fire' | The Cornell ...

It is very rare that I agree with the Indiewire crowd about a movie, so I really want to relish this occasion. It ticks enough progressive film twitter boxes to appeal to them, but it’s got enough elegant neoclassicism to light me up. This is easily the best new release I’ve seen lately.

Misery (1990)

Fascinating Facts about Misery the Movie | Film adaptations ...

Already standing out as one of the best Stephen King adaptations, this has gained potent new resonances now that fans are trying to usurp more and more power over the creative process (eg., “redo this movie I didn’t like!” petitions everywhere, fan edits, etc.).

Mother (2009)

Bong Joon-Ho Season: 'Mother' (2010)

Probably my third favorite Bong Joon-ho movie after Memories of Murder and The Host. It’s closer to the former than to Bong’s other work.

Bangkok Dangerous (2008)

Bangkok Dangerous | Fandango

The Pang brothers were Hong Kong action directors who migrated to Thailand. It’s very fun to see Nicolas Cage in a proper Asian action movie.

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

Beale Street' Channels Baldwin's Vision of Black Love - The Atlantic

I’ve mentioned this a few times but I just want to gently nudge people again. Jenkins’ follow-up to Moonlight is in my opinion by far the better of the two films.  It’s gorgeous and the acting is remarkable.

Start Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Star Trek': Khan Prequel Series Is Reportedly Being Developed

A bunch of the Star Trek movies are on Hulu. I’m not a huge Star Trek fan but even tourists like me should be able to appreciate this. Ricardo Montalbán is a perfect human specimen.


Never Back Down (2008)

Never Back Down - Review - Movies - The New York Times

Solid fighting movie.

Your Highness (2011)

Movie Review - 'Your Highness' - Low Comedy's Crowning Moment of ...

Skinemax fantasy throwback. Hilarious.

In a Valley of Violence (2016)

In a Valley of Violence movie review (2016) | Roger Ebert

One of the better latter day westerns.

Unstoppable (2010)

The Ace Black Blog: Movie Review: Unstoppable (2010)

Fantastic working class actioner from Tony Scott, starring Denzel and Chris Pine.

Cat People (1982)

Cat People (1982) directed by Paul Schrader • Reviews, film + cast ...

My favorite Paul Schrader movie. A hysterical masterpiece.

Happy Death Day (2017) and Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

Happy Death Day' Star Jessica Rothe Joins Amazon Series 'Utopia ...

Exceptionally clever 80’s throwback horror-comedy. Jessica Rothe is terrific.

Special Effects (1984)

Larry Cohen's Special Effects: A Sleazy Vertigo – We Minored in Film

Brilliant Larry Cohen Proto-metoo Hitchcockian thriller.


Streaming Recommendations, Vol. 12: QUARANTINE

Featured image from Cat o’ Nine Tails

I’m going to make this recommendations post a little longer than usual, because I’m sure most people need lots of stuff to watch. I’m not going too far out of my way to recommend quarantine-themed movies, but there are a few on here. I also want to recommend two streaming services beyond the usual three that I write about: Starz and Criterion Channel. We subscribed to Starz because Angela is really into Outlander, and I’ve been absolutely blown away by their action and horror options. The one (huge) downside of Starz is that they stream everything in 1.85:1, which means that movies that are supposed to be in a different aspect ratio are cropped and should be avoided. It’s easy enough to google the title of the movie and the phrase “aspect ratio” to find out, but please do take this step when in doubt and especially be sure to avoid anything that is supposed to be in 2.35:1 or 2.4:1.  But yeah, their action section is a buffet of Cannon Group 80’s classics. I’ve revisited tons of them recently, and it’s been extremely nostalgic. I grew up on that stuff. Check out Chuck Norris movies like Invasion USA, Charles Bronson movies like the Death Wish sequels (which are all fantastic, though some of them are pretty content warning intensive), the first two American Ninja movies, and the action masterpiece Runaway Train (featuring peak performances from Jon Voight and Eric Roberts).

Criterion Channel is the best streaming service by many orders of magnitude. You can throw a dart at their options and hit something worth watching, but if you’re lost, I would just jump into the Rossellini or Kurosawa or Renoir movies, and also definitely check out Red River and His Girl Friday from Howard Hawks. Out of their rotating options, I would somewhat randomly call special attention to the wonderful Fred Astaire-Rita Hayworth musical You Were Never Lovelier and the bizarro post-Sirkian Burt Lancaster apotheosis The Swimmer, which is a very unusual movie to come out of the US in the 60’s. It feels closer to British New Wave. For major Japanese swordplay binge viewing, try the enormous Zatoichi series about a blind swordsman, or the more violent and modestly-sized Lone Wolf and Cub series. Or for standalone swordplay movies, try Sword of Doom or Three Outlaw Samurai. 

A lot of the titles from my previous streaming recs are still available:

Vol. 9: Month of Horror

Vol. 10: Culture Wars

Vol. 11

And here are my new picks (some repeats from old posts but mostly new):

Amazon Prime

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

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One of the greatest and most iconic westerns, from John Ford. John Wayne, Lee Marvin and Jimmy Stewart star in three of their most essential roles.

The Conversation

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Coppola’s masterpiece about surveillance and paranoia has only gotten more relevant now that we basically live in the panopticon.

Cave horror double feature: The Descent and 47 Meters Down Uncaged

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Although I’m also a huge fan of the first 47 Meters Down (which is on Netflix), this one is a sequel in name only and you don’t need to watch them in order. The Descent is a modern classic of feminist horror. They go well together. Definitely watch The Descent first. Notice how gorgeous the underwater photography is in 47 Meters Down Uncaged. The vivid textures are really remarkable.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

My second favorite Transformers movie after Age of Extinction. It features the utterly jaw-dropping Battle of Chicago. I just revisited it recently and it totally holds up.  I appreciate Michael Bay’s greatness now more than ever in contrast to the bland Disney junk that’s taken over.

Magic Mike

If you haven’t seen this, what are you waiting for? The sequel is a paid rental as far as I know, but it’s even better.

Wake in Fright

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Not for people who can’t handle representations of violence against animals!!! This is gnarly Aussie psychological horror and it gets at something deep and dark about masculinity. The only thing I can think of that compares is Straw Dogs. 

Dead & Buried

Not a very well known movie, but it belongs in the socio-political horror pantheon. Certainly check it out if you’re into horror.

Night of the Demons

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Evil Dead meets Scooby-Doo, sort of. Great 80’s fun.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

One of the blackest black comedies ever made. So much so that I don’t think most people realized when it came out that it’s a comedy.

The Stuff

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Larry Cohen’s classic horror satire of consumerism. Essential. 

The Crazies (2010)

As horror remakes go, this is one of the better ones. Pandemic-apocalypse themed. The superior Romero original is on amazon as a .99 cent rental, but I can’t vouch for the quality. Edit: the Romero version is now free while the remake is a rental.

Bone Tomahawk

Ultra-gnarly mash-up of the Western and Italian Cannibal genres from the director of Brawl in Cell Block 99 and Dragged Across Concrete. NOT FOR EVERYONE.

Monkey Shines

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George Romero’s classic holds up. Ultra-intelligent killer monkey.


We have recommended this multiple times but I want to stress again that we think it’s one of the best modern thrillers and one of the edgiest #metoo movies.


Extremely messed up late-80’s horror classic involving an orgy cult for the 1%.

Argento giallo double feature: Cat o’ Nine Tails and Deep Red

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This is some of my very favorite shit. These are top tier gialli and together they make for a perfect intro to the subgenre. Cat is milder and more story-driven while Deep Red is hyper-stylized. It’s a complicated topic, but a typical giallo involves two people (often a reporter and a tourist or resident foreigner, but not always) investigating a string of murders. The murders are shown from the killer’s perspective, and the killer typically wears a black glove. The ending usually involves a lurid twist. If you don’t like these, then you can safely abandon the subgenre. If you do like these, there is a whole lot more where that came from.

The Red Queen Kills Seven Times

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This is an excellent giallo that mixes a classic genre formula with more unorthodox supernatural elements. This is the Italian version with subtitles, which is a fine way to watch it (though the English dub is also fine in this case). The quality isn’t as good as the blu-ray but it’s within the range of acceptability. If you like the Argento gialli, this is a good direction to explore next.

The Church

Soavi was the last great auteur of the golden age of Italian horror. This is a complete and total banger in the spirit of Sam Raimi, but gothic.


I could watch this 100 times. I’ve certainly recommended it before. Nic Cage is a Vegas magician who can see exactly two minutes into the future. Hijinx ensue.

Red Dawn

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John Milius classic where a rag tag gang of Real American Misfits fights back a Communist invasion.

Death Wish V: The Face of Death

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It’s not necessary to watch the Death Wish sequels in order but they are all great and the other ones are all on Starz in the proper aspect ratio. 2 is the gnarliest, 3 is the most over the top, 4 is the schlockiest, and this one is all about the Michael Parks factor. He is an amazing villain. He plays a gangster who rules the fashion district with an iron fist. As always with Death Wish (except maybe part 4), strong content warnings apply.


Johnnie To’s adaptation of Sylvia Chang’s stage musical, starring Chang herself alongside a terrific ensemble cast. This is not going to appeal to everyone. The aesthetic might not work for people who haven’t acquired a taste for more commercial Hong Kong cinema. But the extraordinary sets alone make this an important entry in the To filmography.

Time Regained

Ruiz’s Proust fantasia. Probably impossible to follow if you haven’t read Proust. It’s a difficult movie. I like it a lot more now than I did when it came out. It’s dreamy and focuses less on narrative clarity and more on using formal experimentation to capture the emotional content of the later books of Proust and convey ideas about memory and the passage of time.


Love is Blind

Believe the hype: this is peak reality TV. They basically created ideal conditions for people to become intensely infatuated with each other and then threw these people back into the real world with three weeks to get married and as much pressure and disruption as possible in an effort to generate histrionic drama, and it totally worked. I found it hard to take at first but ended up binging the last five episodes. Cultural decay as riveting TV.

Purple Rain

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YES! The Prince movie holds up extremely well. Just do it.


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One of the best and strangest Hollywood productions of its era: Altman’s wonderful and bizarrely serious Popeye musical with Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall. You may notice that Carly Rae Jepsen sampled one of Duvall’s musical numbers.

Dirty Harry

There was a clip going around recently where Harry makes an extremely sexist speech. A lot of conservatives shared it approvingly. This is very dumb, because the whole point of the movie is that he’s totally wrong. This is one of the most influential crime movies ever made. The best entry in the series is Sudden Impact, which I believe is a paid rental. Clint directed that one himself and it’s extremely dark and lurid.

The Dirty Dozen

War movie classic by Robert Aldrich with a ridiculously good cast: Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Jim Brown, Ernest Borgnine, John Cassavetes, Robert Ryan, Telly Savalas, Robert Webber and Donald Sutherland.

The Wicker Man

Along with Blood on Satan’s Claw, this is peak British folk horror. Essential. Especially check it out if you haven’t seen it and you are into Midsommar. 

Ghost Rider

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Top-tier Cage performance. Peter Fonda as Satan. This is better than all the MCU movies combined.

Nightmare on Elm Street

Yep, it’s on Netflix.

Ip Man 1-3

Donnie Yen’s signature series, about the legendary folk hero who popularized kung fu and trained Bruce Lee.

Bad Boys I&II

One day, this era of action movies will come to be known as “Pre-Disney” in much the same way that movies from 1930-33 are known as “Pre-Code.” Bad Boys II especially is wildly offensive and a total hoot. It’s not merely offensive, though, it’s a virtuoso piece of action film-making. It’s probably the most extreme example of Bay’s distinctive style and it reveals how strongly he was influenced by John Woo. Within the first two minutes of the movie Will Smith is doing a full Chow Yun-fat akimbo two-gun dive in front of a flaming cross at a Klan rally.


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Excellent Soderbergh R-rated action flick. It’s a vehicle for MMA star Gina Carano and it’s delicious.

The Bling Ring

Underrated. This, Marie Antoinette, and The Virgin Suicides are by far Sofia Coppola’s best work IMO.


Trashy 90’s erotic thriller, penned by the one and only Joe Eszterhas, starring Sharon Stone and Billy Baldwin. I remember going to see this in the theater like it was yesterday. It’s not quite at the level of Eszterhas classics like Basic Instinct, Showgirls and Jade, but it’s delightful.

Season of the Witch

Reiterating this recommendation. Trashy B-movie fantasy-horror with a solid Cage performance and a FANTASTIC Claire Foy performance.

Triple Frontier

Narcos meets Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It’s a very solid genre movie with a great cast. The key to making good use of Affleck is to cast him as an asshole.


Johnny Guitar

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One of my very favorite films, featuring Joan Crawford in one of my very favorite performances. This is one of the most essential American movies. Just watch it. Then maybe watch Once Upon a Time in the West (also one of my favorites), which was heavily influenced by this and is on Netflix.

The French Connection

Friedkin’s crime masterpiece features peak Gene Hackman giving probably his most intense performance. I revisited it not long ago and it totally holds up. Notice how closely Joker aped the train chase. Warning: abundant racial slurs.

Killer Joe

This is the uncensored version! (Netflix had the R-rated censored version, so I never recommended it before.) Watch it fast before Disney pulls the plug (they own Hulu now). NOT FOR EVERYONE. DO NOT WATCH THIS IF YOU CARE ABOUT CONTENT WARNINGS. If you like your movies slimy and sleazy, though, don’t miss it. This is peak southern sleaze from Friedkin


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Marco Bellocchio’s more recent movies have featured a two-part structure where’s there’s a sharp shift in tone between the first and second halves. The first half of this is about pre-Duce Mussolini and his torrid love affair with Ida Dalser. It’s energetic and formally bold. The second half slows down to something closer to Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915, but IMO Bellocchio handles the asylum setting and the supporting cast far, far better than Dumont does. This is a rich movie that gets into highly resonant themes of political idolatry.

No Holds Barred

Peak 80’s camp featuring Hulk Hogan. It totally holds up, if you’re into this kind of thing.

Phase IV

My pal Brian Montgomery recently turned me on to this 1974 sci fi gem involving ants. It’s short and ultra-stylized. Essential viewing for sci fi fans.

The Office (UK)

I refuse to accept that there is such a thing as the US version of The Office. I tried it once and I found it unwatchable. THIS is The Office, and it’s great. The generation that skipped directly to the US version should go back and check this out.

Venus in Fur

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An adaptation of the kinky David Ives stage play. It feels very much like a play but it does have notably cinematic qualities (directed by Polanski). It’s a torrid psychosexual drama where Emmanuelle Seigner utterly dominates Mathieu Amalric. Definitely some shit.

A Hidden Life

Oof. This is not a film to approach lightly. I wouldn’t recommend just throwing it on casually. A Hidden Life demands to be watched in a distraction-free setting with no interruptions. It’s a difficult, painful movie that presents an opportunity to step outside of the flow of daily life and really put yourself through something. Watching it right now in March of 2020 invites a shift in perspective from petty bickering over the Democratic primary to dire contemplation of the imperative of resistance unto death. One of the things I appreciate about Malick is how utterly unconcerned he is with trends and fashions. This film is the polar opposite of the sort of cheap and easy political cinema that is currently popular with educated audiences in America. A Hidden Life is the inverse of Jojo Rabbit. If Jojo is the Happy Meal of Anti-Fascism, this is the Last Supper. 

A Hidden Life is Malick’s most philosophically explicit film since at least Tree of Life, and the influences are unexpected. Of course it is a Christ parable, but it connects Christ with Socrates on the one hand and Kant on the other in a way I found both surprising and devastating. Kierkegaard is also an obvious point of reference, but I’ll leave that connection for someone more qualified than me to explain. It was clear to me early on that Malick was thinking about Plato and Socrates (particularly the Apology, Phaedo and Gorgias), but he eventually goes so far as to include a direct quotation from the Gorgias: “It is better to suffer injustice than to do it.” Socrates’ stance is that there is nothing that can be gained through injustice– not even the preservation of one’s own life– that outweighs the cost of doing injustice, which is nothing less than sickness and disease of the soul. When the Nazis commit injustices against Franz, they harm themselves more than they harm him, and for him to accede to their demands would be for him to harm himself far worse than they ever could. They merely threaten his body, but for Franz submit to them willingly would mean the corruption of his soul.

The Kantian influence in the film is manifested both in Franz’s conception of freedom and in Malick’s persistent attention to the fact that Franz’s sacrifice will have no positive impact. When Franz insists that he is free while he is in prison, he means he is free in the Kantian sense that he is following a law that has emerged from his own will. One of Malick’s most distinctive traits as a filmmaker is his ability to pose a question discursively and then answer it cinematically. The film asks quite explicitly whether it should matter to Franz that his choice will have no consequences either way beyond the loss his family will endure if he stands on principle. The answer to this question, however, is something that we are meant to feel rather than apprehend cognitively. Malick trusts the power of August Diehl and Valerie Pachner’s performances to convey the validity of Franz’s decision. 

What of Malick’s choice to have the bad characters speak unsubtitled German for the most part while the good characters speak English? Browsing reviews I see complaints that this makes Nazi evil ‘other’ in a simplistic way. I don’t think this is right. Austrian dialect is different from the German that most Nazis would have been speaking, and my impression after one viewing is that Malick has used English primarily for dialogue in Austrian (and perhaps for some non-Austrian German dialogue that is integral to the narrative), while he left the other German dialogue unsubtitled in part to convey Franz’s alienation and quasi-foreignness. There is not one bit of unsubtitled dialogue in the movie that I could not infer the meaning of from tone and context. I take Malick’s choice here to be akin to Godard and Straub-Huillet’s choices to leave some dialogue unsubtitled (or cryptically subtitled, in Godard’s case). It just doesn’t matter exactly what’s being said, and subtitles would be more of a distraction than a help.

If I have a significant quibble with the film it’s that I had a hard time getting used to some aspects of the cinematography. I felt that the fisheye lens was overused in the first half. It works much better in the claustrophobic interior spaces of the second half. I also found the camerawork to be jerkier and less elegant than what we’ve seen in Malick’s other late films. Again, this works better in the second half. I’m going to suspend judgment on this point until I get a chance to rewatch the movie, because my problems here could have been mostly a matter of misaligned expectations. On the plus side, the immediacy of the digital photography is compelling and a lot of the unorthodox framing choices are striking.

At the end of the day, I have to set aside any small faults I find in this, because it’s just so incredibly overwhelming in the emotional impact it builds over the course of three hours. Worrying about the fisheye lens feels tawdry in light of the movie’s cumulative weight. It’s a singularly powerful film.