Thursday, June 27, 2013

Staff Picks (Part Six)

The latest spate of big summer storms have blown through town, and the Twin Cities--somewhat less tree-lined--have survived to see another day. Here at Casa de Jon, our Power is on and the Internet is strong once again, so that means... Time to get the Staff Picks list back on track, so without further ado...

Filmzilla has closed and with it, all the good times...

Somehow we'll soldier on... In lieu of the daily in-person experience you could have had in what is now a much lamented and by-gone era, I've decided to chronicle my Staff Picks wall for you as a sort of guide to some real good movies, or maybe just as a list of movies I happen to like a lot, or maybe you could say that this is really an ultimate (but not quite 100% complete) My Favorite Movies list, or... as the length of the list would coincidentally have it, you could simply call it:

Jon's Hot 100
(Part Six--Numbers 51 thru 60)

You can find the first half of this list here. I may be a bit biased, but I've got to tell you, it's a pretty damn good read. Don't believe me? Take a look for yourself. Once again, the only order these films appear in is alphabetical... C'est pour vous!

51. Hellhouse

If you spend much time poking around in my life or reading my plethora of rantings and ravings, you will very quickly figure out that organized religions often bug the hell out of me and this documentary showcases a lot of the reasons why. The story of a Christian-themed Haunted House and the various church members involved in setting it up, some folks might dismiss this film as mere sensationalism or a hatchet-job on a somewhat easy target of a bunch of gloriously bombastic hicks and small town boobs. I disagree. That's just someone who either wasn't able to pay attention or wasn't willing to, as it's the closer look that really reveals what the film is about. The Devil--if you will--is in the details. If you watch this film, and you should, you will see and hear things you would not believe people would actually do out in public, right where others can see them and everything! It exposes a casual narrow-mindedness, a sheer pomposity, a shockingly unaware naivete, and a seething undercurrent of anger, but it does so without judgement or interference. All you see is who these people really are. You will be shocked. Horrified. Plus, the conversation a group of them have about Magic, the Gathering is both hilarious and really, really sad. Does the film provide answers? I don't know... Are there answers? Or is this just a glimpse into a world that a lot of us would rather not believe truly exists? Scary, man. Really scary.

52. Hot Fuzz

Oh, how I love the team-up of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright. I am a fan. I love their stuff. Unabashedly love. It's all so clever, so funny. This is the second film in their Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, but don't let that name intimidate you, it's just a loose bit of funny film-head nonsense and it doesn't really impact the individual films. What should intimidate you is how insanely clever the films are, how well-written, how funny, how intricately built. What should intimidate you is how all of their films can be viewed as both a send-up of the respective subject genre AND an excellent example of that particular type of genre film. For example, Hot Fuzz here is both a comedy skewering the buddy cop action flick and is also a rollicking good time buddy cop action flick. It's about the most hardcore cop in London, who is transferred to a sleepy little hamlet that has some dark secrets. It's hilarious. The Point Break joke alone is pure genius.

53. Hulk vs.

This pick may only really play for the comic book heads out there, most specifically for the ones who remember Wolverine's first appearance way back in Incredible Hulk #180 (in silhouette) or for those of you who love them some classic Kirby-esque Thor in Asgard action. If that's you and you haven't see these two episodes, then you are missing out. Usually, at least when it comes to animation, DC wins hands down over Marvel, but this out-of-nowhere and seemingly random dvd set rockets past anything DC has ever done. I don't know why they were made, because they don't seem to coincide with a big media push, but I'm certainly glad they were. They're both classic stories of the respective characters when facing the awesome power of the Hulk, faithful to the source material, but smart enough to add a few tweeks here and there in the right places. More so, they're both great examples of what Marvel could be doing with animation, but for some reason doesn't seem to be able to. I prefer the Wolverine episode to the Thor one, but both are fun and all around well-done. Also, they're kid-safe-ish. Maybe PG-13. Just fyi.

54. I saw the Devil

Well... ok, basically, you just have to make it through the first scene. Fair warning: It's not that it's excessively gory (that I recall), but it is horrifying. HORRIFYING! Make it through that and you get a really good movie about a Secret Agent chasing down a Serial Killer for personal revenge. And once he catches the man, instead of arresting or killing him, the Secret Agent does this whole torturing, catch-and-release game with the Serial Killer, which eventually leads to the two of them engaging in this cat-and-mouse kung-fu ass-whooping that is the definition of thrilling and suspenseful action. It's shocking. It's gory. It's tense. I don't recommend horror films often, but this one is totally worth the watch.

55. In Bruges

This is a brilliant film. Brilliant. Brilliant and oddly secret too. Have you seen it? I bet not, but don't be too embarrassed because for some reason lots of other people didn't see it either. I was one of them. (GASP!) I know! I missed it in theatres. (GASP!) I know! I wasn't even looking for it when it first came out on DVD! (GASP!) I KNOW! Shocking, isn't it? Well, that time has passed and since then I've seen this film several times. It's the story of a pair of hitmen hiding... in Bruges (clever, clever), guilt-ridden after a bad hit. It's a comedy. It's a drama. It's fantastic. It'll surprise you. You should just watch it.

56. The Incredibles

This is my favorite Pixar movie. This probably shouldn't surprise you. My second favorite is Up. This definitely should not surprise you, because Up is fantastic. It's not as fantastic as The Incredibles of course, but I suppose that was probably a given. Anyway... This is the story of a Super Family driven into retirement and then eventually driven out of retirement again, it's the best. And sure, probably a bit obvious, but I don't care. Funny, charming, great characters, good action, it's all fun, all the time. I love it because it knows what it is and where it comes from and it isn't afraid to embrace itself. I also love it because it was from that time in Pixar's oeurve (fancy, fancy) when they cared first and last about story and it shows. Another reason I love it is because it's a better Fantastic Four movie than Fox Studios will ever be able to make in a million yeard. Also: Edna. Come on. She's awesome.

57. Ip Man 1 and 2


This is the supposedly true story of the man who eventually trained Bruce Lee... and kicked a lot of Japanese ass during the Occupation of China. Also, it has more kung-fu than you can shake a stick at. Sure, sure, Fists of Legend with Jet Li. Sure, sure, Drunken Master with Jackie Chan. Sure, sure, Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee... They're all great, but Donnie Yen is incredible. Totally charismatic. Charming. He's got acting chops and his kung-fu is the fantastic. As for the film itself, the story of Ip Man is epic and the fight choreography is amazing. There's a fight against Sammo Hung in Part 2 on top of a wobbling table that has to be seen. Basically, these two films here? These two films are now your two new go-to kung-fu flicks.

58. The Iron Giant

One of the last great hand-drawn animated films, the Iron Giant is a true classic. Despite critical praise and awards, it was considered a financial failure at the time, but eventually managed to find an audience on home video. Your kids have probably seen it and they should, it's wonderful. The simple story of a young boy named Hogarth, growing up in Cold War 1950s America, and his best friend: A giant robot who doesn't want to be a weapon, what else can I say? It's touching and sweet and intelligent; it's a good film and it's a shame it didn't find a bigger audience initially.

59. Jackie Brown

This is my favorite Tarantino film. I think it's his most mature work. It's also the one where his relentless ego is the most restrained. Of course, that might be due to the fact that it's also his only film based off of someone else's work (Elmore Leonard's Rum Punch). The story of desperate woman squeezed between a vicious drug lord and the long arm of the law, I'd even go so far as to say that this film is maybe the best he's capable of, a fusion of both his worlds/focuses. You see, he used to be Crime Story Tarantino, you remember those films, but in the intervening years he's changed and now he's Homage Tarantino, all his films a day-glo hodge-podge of minutiae and in-jokes. Well, this picture is his Rubber Soul, a mashing of the old and new. It's both a crime picture and an homage to the blaxploitation flicks of the 70s, but it tells a tight, brilliantly-shot story without being overburdened by all that trivial trivia. Plus, I love the soundtrack.  And the opening is one of my all time favorites.

60. Jesus Camp

Well, isn't this a bit of unintentional circle-closing. This particular section of the big Staff Picks list opened with a documentary featuring some crazy religious nuts and by pure happenstance (or divine intervention, perhaps?), it closes with another documentary featuring some crazy religious nuts. So what, you may be asking, makes Jesus Camp different than Hellhouse? On a certain level, I suppose it's fair to say nothing. They're both about Religious Nuts. Both are a look into a world we all wish was a little more fringe than it actually is. However, on closer inspection, they are very different. Hellhouse is about frightened, ignorant people in denial and their desperate attempts to twist reality in order to fit their uninformed world view. Jesus Camp is about a fear of the world and the purposeful indoctrination of youth in response to that world, regardless of the cost to the children. Yes, both films are about religious nuts--I mean, the part where they rant about Harry Potter? Ridiculous--but where Hellhouse will make you sad, Jesus Camp will make you angry.

And that's it for Part Six, folks. Now that we're back on track, keep an eye out for the rest of the list, as we continue to make our way through the back half of the Hot 100!

Vaya con dios, amigos,

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