Friday the 13th (1980)

Sean S. Cunningham directs Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King and Kevin Bacon in this slasher film set at a summer camp with a tragic past.

Not a well made film, nor even an effective horror but I revisit it surprisingly often due to its cult popularity. I should probably stop revisiting it, there’s little here that isn’t done far, far better elsewhere.

5

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Black Christmas (1974)

Bob Clark directs Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea and Margot Kidder in this festive slasher flick that kick started the whole cycle.

The original if not quite the best. There’s a solid ensemble – Kidder stands out for the right reasons, though poor gorgeous Hussey cannot even answer a phone convincingly. Luckily she has beautiful flowing brown hair, rivalled only by Katherine Ross in the straightness stakes. The Christmas setting adds a nice creepy juxtaposition. Plotwise it works, the girls are heading off to see their families which means missing teens can and are overlooked. What makes carol singers and twinkly lights so cinematically menacing? It must be more than the cold outside, unforgivingly turning your breath into a ghost and making your hands ineffectively shake. Maybe it is a time that should be joyous and colourful still can’t stop a killer nor protect the vulnerably lonely? The kills themselves aren’t that imaginative but the killer POV sequences were copied by pretty much every horror that followed in Black Christmas’ wake, even the mighty Halloween. The best bits are the disturbing, taunting sex phone calls, that appear to be the work of five maniacs. Black Christmas’ coup de grace is we never find out who the killer is. Yet it has an air of self parody that slows things down and probably needs one extra stalk and kill sequence at the one hour mark to take some of the hot air out of it. That is hindsight now we know what works in the genre, this first stab is still better than most of its bland imitators.

6

*batteries not included (1987)

Matthew Robbins directs Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn and Dennis Boutsikaris in this sci-fi parable about the residents of a derelict apartment building saved from eviction by tiny living flying saucer robots.

How did this ever get greenlit? The leads of this kid’s movie are Alzheimer’s ridden wrinklies (Cocoon had been a sleeper hit.) The alien robots are off screen for almost two thirds of the meandering plot (it was originally an Amazing Story for TV that Spielberg liked so much they expanded it to feature length.) The Amblin brand and the Drew Struzan drawn poster misled us into the cinema. I definitely went to see this on release. There’s not enough fun here for kids, it is too saccharine for adults. Yet it conned money out of my mum’s purse 30 years ago and again stole two hours of time out of my nostalgically curious adulthood this week. Well crafted but redundant.

5

Sorry To Bother You (2018)

Boots Riley directs Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson and Armie Hammer in this anti-capitalism satire that follows a cold caller who is promoted within his company opening up a dark, fantastical conspiracy to exploit the workforce.

A wildly unpleasant surprise, possibly the best cinematic satire since the long forgotten Bulworth. What starts out as a keen and quirky parody of race suppression in a sales environment suddenly spirals maniacally out of control into shocking and absorbing directions. As visually outlandish as the storytelling becomes the points made feel apt and humanistic. It helps that every piece of casting is a smash, marrying interesting faces with unique roles. Lakeith Stanfield in particular, continues on from his fine work in TVs Atlanta (a spiritual cousin in formal invention and subversion), with his lynchpin lead. His complicit victim is weak willed yet self aware, physically hunched over as if he carries the ethical weight of all the world’s ill on his shoulders. He is mirrored in the eventual arrival of Hammer’s self absorbed, thrusting tycoon. The bullying air of threat is soaked into every friendly gesture of this familiar megalomaniac. Of course, this would all fall apart if Sorry to Bother You wasn’t funny. Boots Riley manages to hit all his targets with a cruel wit and escalating mania, you can’t help but laugh out loud at the horrors he unfolds.

8

The Intervention (2016)

Clea DuVall directs Melanie Lynskey, herself and Natasha Lyonne in this ensemble drama about a group of friends who reunite in a former plantation house to tell one set of pals that they should divorce.

One of those films with a cast you really like struggling with problems you really couldn’t care less about. White people problems. I’m white but I’m not this white. Not the worst of its kind, but blurrily undefined in every movie making quality, so it can be absorbed and lost among its unspectacular sub-genre peers.

4

Out of the Blue (1980)

Dennis Hopper directs Linda Manz, himself and Sharon Farrell in this grim coming of age tale where a tough kid explores punk just as her trucker Dad is released from prison.

Had high hopes (ordered the DVD from Australia) for this but it proves to be aimless, sleazy and depressing. For nihilists who like seagull shit only.

3

Barefoot in the Park (1967)

Gene Saks directs Jane Fonda, Robert Redford and Mildred Natwick in this comedy about a pair of newlyweds who discover they have wildly different ideas of what life will be like after the honeymoon is over.

Jane Fonda would be an absolute nightmare in reality. Luckily in this sitcommy farce, with the minimum safe distance of fifty years, she is sexy as fuck. The play is well opened up, Simon’s back and forth is witty, the support cast is on point but… hold the phone… 1967 edition Jane Fonda is now doing a mock fertility dance in belly high jeans and a mustard turtleneck!… Listen, I’ll get back to you in a minute with a serious assessment of this…

6

Aquaman (2018)

James Wan directs Jason Momoa, Amber Heard and Nicole Kidman in this aquatic superhero flick.

The DCEU finally gives in, gives up and just copies the Marvel template. This feels like a failure for those of us who enjoyed the more intense, harder edged flops the Warner Brothers studio uncertainly dealt out. Flash Gordon meets The Little Mermaid but nowhere near as sexy as that sounds. This is all water dappled cleavage, join the dots plotting, jukebox karaoke set pieces. Daft but unengaging, lowest common denominator unoriginality. It has a blunt force trauma way of entertaining for its first couple of acts but then just becomes wearying. Much like the raggedly paced The Last Jedi, the spectacular final underwater war sequences comes at a point when you are fatigued of actors who can only perform in trailer moment non-sequiturs and action that is forgettable as the lightweight scraps of Black Panther or Ant-Man And The Wasp. Permission to not come aboard for the sequel.

4

Gilda Live (1980)

Mike Nichols directs Gilda Radner, Don Novello and Paul Shaffer in this concert film of the Saturday Night Live star’s Broadway show.

If you’ve watched any of Gilda Radner’s SNL sketch work then you’ll know what a captivating and spunky presence she was. This live show struggles to translate that. It is a greatest hits revival of her best characters from the TV show, the audience recognises them all but… we don’t . The value of familiarity has been lost in time and the jokes often aren’t there in the admittedly enthusiastic skits. Don Novello’s hip priest act fills in during the costume changes and his monologues do raise a smile but the eponymous headliner only really comes to comedic life with her spirited songs. These are the highlights of a dated show, the rest best half forgotten as a fond memory for a previous generation.

5

My Top 20 Movies of 2018

1. Phantom Thread 

2. The Old Man and the Gun

3. The Avengers: Infinity War 

4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

5. The Post 

6. Mandy

7. Leave No Trace

8. Burning

9. On Chesil Beach

10. They Shall Not Grow Old

11. Cold War

12. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

13. Bohemian Rhapsody 

14. You Were Never Really Here 

15. Isle of Dogs 

16. First Reformed

17. Sorry to Bother You

18. Lady Bird

19. Mary Poppins Returns

20. Apostle


Bubbling under… Hostiles, Solo, A Fantastic Woman, I, Tonya, Private Life, Three Identical Strangers, Yardie, Black ’47, All the Money in the World , Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Revenge, The Hate U Give, A Quiet Place