Thursday, January 7, 2021

Fool's View (12/21 – 12/31) (Part 1 of 2)

Howdy, folks!

Well, here we are, a week into the New Year and I’m still wrapping up the Old. I’d chalk it up to the holiday hustle bustle except that there was precious little of that. Instead, it was mostly camping out at home, eating snacks, and watching a truckload of flickers in service of wrapping up the year’s various odds and ends. While most of the titles listed below had some sort of connection to movies I’d watched earlier in the year, whether it be a director’s work (Hill, Tsukamoto, Hughes, Zeman, Zhao) or a star (Jean-Claude, Arnold), there were also the random recs (His House), screeners (Beasts Clawing at Straws), or Kryptic Army missions (Starfish) to be tended to. We didn’t get to them all, but we sure gave it the ol’ college try.

(The final tallies on 2020’s Bronson, Tarantino, and Coen Bros. Projects will appear in the second half of this write-up, so stay tuned!)

I hope this finds you and yours safe and healthy, and that your New Year is off to a fine start. While the evening news may seem dark much of the time, there is light if we choose to seek it. Glad you’re here with me, friends. Here’s to brighter days.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



His House (2020) d. Weekes, Remi (UK) (1st viewing)

I’d been hearing plenty of positive buzz about this haunted house thriller with a socio-political spin, so I signed up for Netflix for a month in order to check it out. I would have happily paid the $9 fee to see this in the cinema – the hype is for real. This is an excellent blend of real-life horrors presented within a supernatural spin, as well as delivering a concrete reason why the owners don’t just bail out of the afflicted residence. Political refugees Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Real (Wunmi Mosaku) escape the genocide of Sudan on British shores and are provided a spacious home to stay in. However, it is clearly stated by the officials that the couple MUST reside within the lodgings or they will be deported. Cue the angry spirits living in the walls, as well as the personal demons in Bol and Real’s hearts and past. The result is a winning combination of deep human emotions and genuinely frightening, dread-soaked imagery. One of the best genre efforts of the year.

Starfish (2018) d. White, A.T. (USA) (1st viewing)

One of those independent flicks where you say, “Well done, everybody,” even if it’s not for everybody. Refusing to use a limited budget as an excuse for simplistic or shoddy work, writer/director White crafts an extraordinarily ambitious and intellectually stimulating vision of the end of the world. A young woman (Virginia Gardner) leaves her best friend’s funeral, proceeds to break into said friend’s apartment in an attempt to process her grief… then the majority of the world’s population suddenly disappears, and literal monsters start showing up at the front door. While that scenario might sound thrilling, it’s worth warning casual viewers that the final product is deliberately paced and steeped in metaphor and symbolism (as well as a nifty anime-inspired sequence), more of an assault on the gray matter than the other senses. Gardner’s performance is breathtaking and deeply nuanced, literally carrying the movie since she’s pretty much the only character, and White gives her (and the viewer) plenty to chew on.

Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (1992) d. Tsukamoto, Shinya (Japan) (2nd viewing)

I had viewed this once before (on a subtitle-free disc courtesy of my buddy Gert) and it didn’t leave much of an impression because I had absolutely no clue what was happening. Well, even on the shiny new Blu-ray release from Arrow Video, Tsukamoto’s remake of his smash breakout is bigger and bolder but somehow less impressive in its attempt to explain itself rather than letting the raw power of cinema be its own raison d’etre. I’ll probably give it another spin with commentary by expert Tom Mes at some point to see if I’m able to appreciate it on a deeper level.


Beasts Clawing at Straws (2020) d. Kim, Yong-hoon (South Korea) (1st viewing)

Fantastic ensemble thriller about a traveling bag of cash and the assorted conniving hands it passes through, most of whom end up dead by the final fade-out. This is what I was talking about when I said in January that I was surprised at all the acclaim for Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite, since there has never been any shortage of brilliant filmmaking from South Korea. Considering this was released by minor genre label Artsploitation Films, I doubt many people are going to see this one either. It’s all about the Hollywood marketing machine, I guess.

48 Hrs. (1982) d. Hill, Walter (USA) (1st viewing)

Yes, it’s true. I had never seen Eddie Murphy’s breakthrough film performance (he was already a star on Saturday Night Live and the stand-up circuit), playing a slick-talking con bailed out of prison for two days to assist Nick Nolte’s gruff racist cop tracking down some bad dudes. While it succeeds as both an action and comedy, the best thing about it is how natural the tough-talking banter between the two leads plays out, with the jokes not really feeling like jokes. Good stuff.

Journey to the Beginning of Time (1955) d. Zeman, Karel (Czechoslovakia) (1st viewing)

The third of Zeman’s films from Criterion’s wonderful box set takes a magical cruise with four young lands along a river that inexplicably takes them further into the prehistoric ages, allowing them to witness mammoths, giant birds, and dinosaurs in their (un)natural habitat. As with Zeman’s other efforts, the joy is watching the master choosing to create illusion for the sheer pleasure of it. Why shoot a long shot of the boys paddling when you could make a miniature boat with little shadow puppets pulling along on the oars? All manner of special effects, ranging from stop-motion animation to colored gels, illuminate every frame, and the gentle humor evokes everything from wistful smiles to laugh-out-loud guffaws. Another triumph from the forgotten Czech genius who by all rights should be as common a household name as Ray Harryhausen.

Last Action Hero (1993) d. McTiernan, John (USA) (2nd viewing)

It’s probably not fair of me to lay the blame at the young feet of Austin O’Brien for the film’s notorious D.O.A. reputation, but come ON. This kid is so friggin’ annoying and fake from the first frame, Arnold never had a chance. There are some genuinely fun, funny, and charming moments scattered throughout the plentiful action set-pieces, and while the wink-wink meta is never quite as clever as it thinks it is, it’s also not nearly as clumsy as it could have been. I would be happy to watch this again… except for the fact that O’Brien is in every other frame and I can’t stand him.

Making Apes: The Artists Who Changed Film (2019) d. Conlin, William (USA) (1st viewing)

Confession: I actually watched this earlier this year but forgot to log it, so I’m tossing it in the mix now. A fantastic celebration of John Chambers (later the sub-subject of the Oscar-winning Argo), Thomas Burman, and the rest of the latex and hair-slinging geniuses who brought the beloved Planet of the Apes characters and eventual franchise to life. RECOMMENDED.

The Rider (2017) d. Zhao, Chloe (USA) (1st viewing)

Having asked the inevitable, “Who the heck is this Chloe Zhao person who directed Nomadland and what else has she done?”, the answer arrived in the form of this stunning meditation on real-life horse trainer Brady Jandreau (playing a version of himself) which blends fact and fiction in an almost dreamlike manner with no stars to distract from the spell. In some ways, I now wish Zhao would have chosen another unknown to carry Nomadland instead of Frances McDormand, as great as she is. It would have been a better movie in the end, although I’m sure a fraction of the people would have seen it. Oh, film industry, you are a prickly pear.

TimeCop (1994) d. Hyams, Peter (USA) (2nd viewing)

A six-months-late entry for June-Claude Van Damme? Je Ne Regrette Rien. Ron Silver is having a high old time playing the baddest of bad guys, and it’s a little terrifying to hear the words that come out of his mouth, especially with regard to wanting enough money to “buy the TV time needed to win the presidential election.” Sound familiar, anyone? JCVD kicks ass, does the splits in his underwear, and gets nekkid with onscreen wife Mia Sara in probably the slickest and well-produced of his Hollywood thrillers.

Uncle Buck (1989) d. Hughes, John (USA) (1st viewing)

Not being the biggest John Candy fan, this was never really on my radar, but I decided to throw it in since I’d already watched four John Hughes movies in 2020 and I’m sucker for a theme. Good news is that it was actually pretty darn solid/funny and we get a glimpse of the Macaulay Culkin performance that landed him the Home Alone gig.




  1. Starfish and His House are definitely noted onto my to-see genre list. And the same goes for all post-2000 civilian titles you mentioned here.

    Glad to see you're (finally) catching up with Karel Zeman. I'm pretty sure I mentioned his films before, since you're equally a big fan of Harryhausen's work. Journey to the Beginning of Time is only one of his many masterpieces (of which I still have some to see as well). He might not be as well known outside of Europe, but at least he has his own Czech museum in Prague. If you make it over to these shores again, let's go visit it!

    Terribly funny to see Last Action Hero pop up. I rewatched it again too, end of last year. Had not seen it since my teens and the first thing that came to mind now: If there's one hotchpotch dragon of a movie (from my teen viewing days) that surpasses Last Action Hero in all its bonkers big-budgeted wacky content, it must be... Howard The Duck. I totally agree on the kid (even if he didn't annoy me to such an extent) and at the same time it makes sense why some big Hollywood producer (at the time) would think he was perfect for the role. He acts like an '80s kid stuck in '50s/'60s Tinseltown.

    1. I don't know that I ever heard anyone mention Zeman to me before. Back in 2019, my buddy Dan showed up at my front door for a movie party and said, "Hey, I just found this movie in a sale bin and I think you'll really like it." Turns out it was The Fabulous World of Jules Verne aka Invention for Destruction and I was blown away. Then, later that same year, Criterion put out their box set (almost as an answer to my prayers). I've only seen those three thus far (and a Christmas short) from him, but I'm eager to see more.

      Oddly enough, my friend Kurt (who is also a fan of stop motion) was vacationing in Prague in 2019 and happened to stumble onto the Zeman museum, which turned out to be the first time HE had heard of this guy. Kurt came back and said, "Hey, do you know about...?" about a week after I had my movie party with Dan. Clearly the stars were in alignment. I would love to visit the museum next time we are on that side of the pond!