Spider-Man: Far From Home
Toy Story 4
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This kaiju flick has a weird James Bond-esque plot where a princess (Akiko Wakabayashi) is threatened by assasination from a foreign government. She also claims to be a Martian and predicts that a recent meteor strike will herald the coming of a new giant monster. Her prophecy comes true in the form of Ghidorah, a golden dragon who shoots electric fire from all three of its mouths. The humans are powerless in this monster's wake, so it's up to the combined efforts of Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan to put Ghidorah in its place. Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster will not entertain those without a spirit for camp, but G-Fans will likely be dazzled by the goofy plot, dated special effects, and the puppeteering work on the titular beast's triumvirate of heads.
The Shaw Brothers are famous for producing hundreds of kung fu movies, but The Super Inframan ("Chinese Superman") is their response to the popularity of imported Japanese kids shows like Ultraman or Kamen Rider. The "plot" surrounds an evil space witch who attempts to conquer Earth with a gang of awkwardly-costumed monsters and an army of astonishingly flammable henchmen. Her main obstacle lies in the fighting prowess, rocket boots, and hand-animated laser beams of the titular cyborg. The Super Inframan has all the wacky costumes, colorful sets, and ludicrous storytelling of the programs it liberally borrows from, but this movie also contains the tight, balletic fight choreography that's emblematic of a Shaw Brothers film. It's no wonder that the ensuing decades have seen this movie become a minor cult classic.
A series of nubile schoolgirls are brutally slaughtered for reasons that evade the police. A young professor (Fabio Testi) has the key to solving the mystery of who the murderer is, but his situation is complicated since he witnessed one of the killings while on a extramarital excursion with one of his students (Christina Galbo). What Have You Done To Solange has an appropriately tense score from Ennio Morricone and suspenseful direction by Massimo Dallamano, but some of its thematic motifs left me cold. The narrative of the movie criticizes teenage girls for open sexuality, but it also fetishizes them when they're tortured, sexually violated, and murdered. This may be the prudish American in me talking, but I found the bluntness of this dichotomy (as well as the creepy endorsement of "innocent virginity" in young women) to be unsettling in ways that the film didn't seem to consciously intend.
Robert Montgomery (who also directed) stars as an embittered, abrasive veteran who travels down to a fiesta in a New Mexico border town in the hopes of blackmailing a war profiteer who murdered his friend. As expected, he runs into more than he bargained for. Ride The Pink Horse runs through a lot of the typical tropes of film noir, but it distinguishes itself thanks to sharp dialogue, relatable acting, and camerawork that knows all about visual storytelling (cinematographer Russell Metty tries out a few tricks that he later used on Orson Welles' Touch of Evil). It would probably be an overstatement to call Ride The Pink Horse a forgotten masterpiece, but I feel that it's fair to label it an underappreciated gem that's worth seeking out.
The motley gang of interstellar freebooters in the Guardians of the Galaxy are split up into a tangled assortment of subplots that all converge on Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) meeting the sentient planet who turns out to be his father (Kurt Russell). The plot of this sequel is scattershot, but I get the impression that this was a deliberate choice on the part of writer/director James Gunn. This movie has plenty of badinage, action, adept soundtrack choices, and visual spectacle, but the focus tends to remain on characterization; this gives Dave Bautista, Karen Gillan, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, and Michael Rooker plenty of moments to shine. I guess it's debatable as to whether this movie completely recreates what made its predecessor such a fun ride, but (in my humble opinion) I'd say that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a rare case of a Marvel Studios sequel properly recapturing and expanding upon what made its cast of characters so appealing in the first place.
Nine soldiers in the Korean War are heroically rescued by the stoic Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey). He wins the Congressional Medal of Honor for his deeds, but it turns out that this hero has been mentally conditioned by foreign powers to become an assassin . It's up to one of his former comrades (Frank Sinatra) to get to the bottom of things before a puppet gets installed in the White House. The Manchurian Candidate has long been a go-to when it comes to classic films about spies, conspiracy, and Cold War paranoia. John Frankenheimer's tight direction and some striking visuals play a role in this film's longevity, but its dominant virtue is undoubtedly Angela Lansbury's chilling, dynamic performance as Raymond's mother.
Arguably Mario Bava's strongest horror film, Kill, Baby Kill follows a coroner who's called in to help investigate the mysterious death of a young woman in an isolated, superstitious village. The locals blame this killing (as well as a slew of similar ones) on the sadistic machinations of the ghost of a little girl; naturally, this turns out to be exactly what happened. Mario Bava chronicles this chiller with his trademark use of saturated colors, heavy shadows, and ample use of the fog machine. While not dissimilar to rest of his catalog, everything in Kill, Baby, Kill just clicks in a way that only happens when talent, hard work, and luck all happen to be in the right place at the right time. No exploration of Italian exploitation cinema would be complete without going over this movie.
Black Sunday centers on a Satanic witch (Barbara Steele) who is brutally executed in the memorable opening scene, but not before she lays a curse on all around her. She's unwittingly resurrected as a vampiric powerhouse ages later and the usual repercussions of this immediately begin to play out. Black Sunday's plot isn't anything to write home about, but director Mario Bava infuses every frame with stark contrast, moody atmosphere, and gothic style. It's no wonder that this film made celebrities out of both him and Barbara Steele.
Ghostwatch is a mockumentary where a poltergeist harasses a family while a BBC news crew captures it all. This program is often compared to Orson Welles' infamous radio broadcast of War of the Worlds since many credulous television viewers believed that Ghostwatch was a genuine live news program when it first aired; a hotline that was displayed during the broadcast was inundated with calls from frightened people at home. A lot of one's enjoyment of this feature will stem more from the context that it arose from rather than the content itself, but Ghostwatch is still an intriguing curio for horror movie devotees.
American Graffiti follows an assortment of recent high school grads as they go through one last hurrah on the last day of summer in 1962. As one would expect from the premise, the story is a coming-of-age yarn that finds its cast of various young people struggling with the life-changing decisions they're about to make at a critical moment in their lives. American Graffiti is billed as a comedy and it does have funny moments, but this movie is also as sad, confused, awkward, dramatic, painful, silly, nostalgic, and cynical as an actual adolescent can be. These qualities can be attributed to an honest script, judicious direction by George Lucas, a well-chosen roster of actors, and a soundtrack that provides a nonstop fusillade of period chart hits overseen by legendary DJ Wolfman Jack.
The earliest cinematic adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, this film is remembered by cinephiles today for Charles Laughton's eerie performance as the mad scientist, the expressionistic and shadowy cinematography by Karl Struss, a few hilariously unconvincing fight scenes, some memorable lines from Bela Lugosi as one of the creatures, and grisly depictions of vivisection that betray how the movie predates the Hays Code. H.G. Wells was famously dismissive of The Island of Lost Souls since he believed that it ignored the philosophical subtleties of his novel in favor of the lurid, horrific, and weirdly sensual underpinnings within it. Wells is right in that The Island of Lost Souls is a pulpy horror movie that focuses its attentions on baser themes, but it's still an interesting, entertaining, and (in some places) shockingly advanced film. Horror junkies should seek it out.
Jesus is Magic is a stand-up special showcasing Sarah Silverman during a period where her career was reaching its crest. Its key selling point is in framing a cute, bubbly young woman making racist, dirty, homophobic, and misogynistic jokes in a sarcastic manner. An individual's mileage on that can vary, but I personally couldn't get into this show since Silverman's delivery came off as ponderous without a single bit transitioning into the next with any sort of flow. I also found that the unfunny skits and musical numbers did even more to derail any kind of comedic momentum that could've potentially begun.
The Power Rangers movie feels like an overextended, self-serious, and much more expensive episode of the chintzy, goofball children's show that it's based upon. It seemed like this film could've been a fun ride in theory, but I couldn't get into it thanks to dingy lighting, unfocused direction that overuses jump cuts and handheld, lots of obnoxious product placement, and a penchant for the narrative to bring up seemingly-important plot points only to abandon them completely. The worst culprit is probably how the sloppy cinematography prevents the viewer from discerning which character is in which place during the cluttered action scenes. I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone except those who can come in with their nostalgia goggles firmly attached.
A "crackpot" lobbysit (John Goodman) somehow manages to convince a senator to allow his company to explore a mysterious, uncharted island with a military escort. As expected by the audience, this leads to a large number of people being eaten and/or stomped upon by a legion of monsters dominated by King Kong. The proudly lowbrow Kong: Skull Island wisely places most of its emphasis on the creature feature department; that being said, John C. Reilly's performance as a WWII pilot stranded on the titular island for 28 years is a standout. This movie doesn't remake the wheel, but it's a deliriously fun popcorn flick and it should entertain anyone looking for B-movie mayhem with a modern day studio budget.
Writer/director Alice Lowe portrays a pregnant woman whose lover recently died in a climbing accident. Blaming his climbing companions and egged on by what she believes to be the disembodied voice of her unborn child, this woman goes on a vindictive killing spree. Prevenge has a novel premise and Alice Lowe has a natural eye for both disturbing detail and gallows humor. I wouldn't be surprised if this movie turns out to be the start of a very interesting directorial career.
Remaking the 1991 animated version of Beauty & The Beast is an obvious attempt by Disney to wring money out of the aging millennials who grew up with Belle, Gaston, and Cogsworth, but I will give the studio credit for hiring a crew who put more effort into this endeavor than they probably needed to. Every frame of this movie is a sign of thousands of people putting heartfelt care into every little detail. The actors are charming, the sets look great, the music is well done, the costuming is memorable, and the extra running time gives space for added characterization, embellishments to minor details in the first film, and opportunities to address plot quibbles that hardcore Disney nerds have been raising ever since they got old enough to begin deconstructing their childhood favorites. The live action remake of Beauty & The Beast could very well be a cynical cash grab, but we'd be all better off if all cynical cash possessed this movie's level of sheer craftsmanship.
Jackie Chan, who also directed and co-wrote the screenplay, plays a cop assigned to protect a secretary (Bridget Lin) who's about to testify against her mafioso boss (Chor Yuen). This quickly leads to boilerplate cop movie drama, plenty of slapstick, a goodly amount of Chinese verbal humor that doesn't translate terribly well to Western ears, and incredible set pieces that include cars plowing through a shantytown, Jackie Chan hanging off a speeding bus with an umbrella, and a climactic fight scene in a mall that demolishes a gargantuan amount of glass. Jackie Chan suffered second-degree burns, a back injury, and a dislocated pelvis while shooting Police Story, but he did make the movie he envisioned after the disappointment of The Protector motivated him to grasp for more creative control. The final result is a consistently entertaining action movie that aptly showcases some of Chan's finest stunt work.
Set in a bleak future where the superheroes of the X-Men have failed in just about every measurable capacity, an alcoholic and suicidal Logan (Hugh Jackman) is taking care of a senile Professor X (Patrick Stewart) whose dementia is making his powerful psychic abilities a danger to himself and all around him. Logan wants to buy a boat so he and Professor X can spend their last days living on the ocean far away from everyone, but the plight of a mysterious young girl (Dafne Keen) drags the former Wolverine back into the fray one more time. This movie's R rating means that Wolverine's claw fights are more grisly than in any prior cinematic outing, but it's the quieter moments that people will be taking home and internalizing. James Mangold's direction, which adeptly balances kinetic action with thoughtful character moments, gives Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart enough room for them to turn in rounded, affecting, and emotive performances. As a whole, Logan is much more intimate, provocative, and humanistic than the superhero movie genre tends to be.
This adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic novel plays things pretty fast and loose in terms of loyalty to the source material. Strong points include a performance from Charlotte Gainsbourg in the title role that is as repressed, poised, and emotionally layered as the character requires. Casting William Hurt as Mr. Rochester is a sore point with many, but I felt that he acquitted himself well enough. There's also a stirring score by Claudio Capponi and Alessio Vlad. This film isn't nearly as timeless as the book that it's based on, but it certainly has its moments nonetheless.
Jackie Chan plays a perverted private eye who follows a runaway heiress to a cruise ship that's subsequently hijacked by terrorists. This leads to balletic martial arts fights, sound effects lifted straight out of Looney Tunes, and numerous examples of beautiful women firing guns in revealing clothing. City Hunter is best-known to American audiences for the scene where Jackie Chan gets slapped into an arcade console and gets warped into both the costumes and abilities of various characters from the Street Fighter series. Other than that weird outlier, this movie is a goofy mess that nonetheless provides ample opportunity for its star to characteristically split the difference between Bruce Lee and Buster Keaton. Few would accuse City Hunter of being transcendent, but it's a fun slice of schlocky action cheese if one happens to be in the mood for it.