By: Henry J. Fromage –
I got a chance to stop by and see Oberst again and catch up on a few of this year’s more acclaimed releases, and a few of the cult oddities that we always gravitate to as well.
162. War of the Planet of the Apes
As big budget Hollywood franchises go, has there ever been as big a disparity between hype and results than this one? Critics love all three of these exemplary films, the latter two of which have been shepherded to ever greater artistic heights by Matt Reeves (another under the radar big budget artist who’s due is almost certainly coming with the next Batman film). This (final? they’re going to do Planet of the Apes, right?) installment combines gritty Western revenge tropes with, yes, Apocalypse Now references, but also quite a bit of Kubrick (did he reference the master’s entire oeuvre? Watch it tell me if there are any he missed). And Andy Serkis… wow. CGI has crossed the uncanny valley without us noticing it, folks. One of the best of the year so far.
163. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki
This boxing film, about a true life title fight that represents one of Finland’s most high-profile sporting events in their history, strangely seems to want to be about anything but boxing. As we follow the lively Olli, as he goes to the big city of Helsinki to train while still trying to negotiate a romance with his small-town sweetheart, it’s hard not to bend to to this movie’s slower rhythms and stop worrying about when the boxing will come- but it does, and it’s as well shot and realistically handled as anything else in this film.
164. True Stories
David Byrne of Talking Heads apparently caught the filmmaking buzz from Jonathan Demme as he was making the seminal concert documentary Stop Making Sense. But, as his musical career would probably tell you, his stab at motion picture-making was going to be far, far weirder than the already pretty idiosyncratic Demme (and you can definitely see the small-town Americana influence from earlier Demme films like Handle With Care). The result is some sort of slice of Americana turned just a quarter-dial to the straight bizarre in that singularly early 80s Talking Heads way- the kind of movie in which a young John Goodman tries to find the perfect woman through a surprisingly beautifully-delivered live song at the town fair, or a family dinner devolves into a musical number about economics, all shot in gorgeous pastels by all-time cinematographer Ed Lachman. There’s nothing else like it out there.
165. Killing Ground
This Aussie backwoods horror film is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from an Aussie backwoods horror film (remember Wolf Creek?), but with a nasty, nasty edge of realism and a chronologically cross-cut structure that doesn’t always work beautifully (regardless of how they chop it up, you know pretty much exactly how this story is going to go), but does serve quite well to ratchet the tension to unbearable levels. If you’re a hardcore horror brutality fan, you’ll find what you’re looking for here.
166. The Last Dragon
This is just the kind of cult film that fans of the thoroughly strange, thoroughly 80s brand of cult cinema are looking for. In theory, it’s about a young black kung fu master (Bruce Leroy… yep, you heard that right) protecting his kung fu class, neighborhood, pop’s pizza stand, and Veejay wanna-be girlfriend (one-time Prince hanger-on and star-for-a-minute Vanity) from the machinations of the evil Sho’nuff, which amount to busting up soundstages, pizza parlors, etc. There’s also some sort of Mob-ish subplot that doesn’t really matter, too, but overall, honestly, this film is made to bask in the glory of Julius Carry’s Sho’nuff. Just look at that magnificent bastard in the photo up there. A hearty helping of distinctly 80s cheese is just icing on the cake.
167. Super Dark Times
This suburban horror story starts out like just another Sundance-ready coming-of-age drama, before it swerves sickeningly into something more depressing midway through, and never lets up from there. Beautifully conceived and shot by first-time feature director Kevin Phillips, himself an experienced cinematographer, and DP Eli Born, Super Dark Times is one of the most impressive films of the year so far in my book, with a vibe not unlike Gus Van Sant’s Elephant.