Monday, July 1, 2013

Staff Picks (Part Seven)

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 Seven--Numbers 61 thru 70)

You can find the rest of this list here. Take a look, it is more fun than a barrel of monkeys on crack. Seriously. If it's your first time here, then listen close, noob: The only order these films appear in is alphabetical, ya' get me? Good! Let's do this!

61. The King of Kong

When you tell people that this documentary is about the epic battle for the World Record High Score on Donkey Kong between a cocky, long-entrenched champion and a humble, out-of-nowhere up-and-comer, most of them will lose interest immediately. Their eyes will glaze over and they'll start nodding vacantly while you talk, "Uh-huh, uh-huh," slowly drifting away and browsing through other titles. Well that's just fine, because those people are missing out! This film is great, hands-down great. It is the story of an underdog hero on a seemingly Sisyphean journey against a Video Game championship bureaucracy that is rotten to the core with sycophantic corruption. Seriously... you'll be hard pressed to name a better screen villain than Billy Mitchell. I swear. He's in the All-time Top Five. The list goes like this: 1. Darth Vader 2. Michael Bay 3. That mean lady on that one Reality Show 4. Billy Mitchel And 5. The Alpha Betas. Seriously though, it really is a great film, an Every Man's tale, a true David versus Goliath story. You will gasp. You will rage. You will stutter from the blatant hypocrisy. Most of all, you will cheer. Really. And as a bonus, it also has the best montage utilizing You're the Best by Joe Esposito since The Karate Kid. Let's pause for a moment to enjoy that tune...

62. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

A modern day noir set in a vapid and cynical Los Angeles starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan, and written and directed by Shane Black, it's the story of a small-time con trying to become a big-time movie star, who fakes being a Private Detective to impress a girl and ends up in the middle of a Hollywood power play rife with murder, mystery, and sudden double-crosses. It is the best. Funny. Dirty. Violent. So sarcastic. Also, somewhat unsurprisingly for a Shane Black movie, it's set at Christmas. I love it. Although... it makes me feel bad for Shannyn Sossamon. Remember her? No? You're not alone. For the briefest of moments, way back when, she was almost the next It Girl... and now she's not. She has a small role in the film, one that perhaps could be said to be somewhat representative of the state of her career. Everybody together now: Awwww... Oh well, moving on. This film went nowhere in the theatre, so if you missed it, don't feel bad, just go find it. You won't be sorry.

63. Looper

I've already mentioned the movie Brick on this list. That was Rian Johnson's first film. I loved it. I couldn't wait to see more from the guy. But then his next film was The Brothers Bloom, a film I try every year or two to watch again and really try to like, but... I just can't. I can't. It's pretty and stylish, but it bores me. Sorry. I was a little disappointed. But then Looper came out and I am once again over the moon. The story of a Hitman employed by Mobsters of the future to kill the men they send back in time, it's a twisting-turning sci-fi thriller where Joseph Gordan Levitt plays a young Bruce Willis and Bruce Willis plays an old Joseph Gordan-Levitt, a man sent back in time to be murdered, but who has his own agenda. It's a cat and mouse game. It's sleek and awesome and best of all, an original sci-fi movie. I mean, it is well known that I like the comic book movies, but it's still really refreshing to see a really well-done and original piece of work. Also, as an almost unheralded bonus: Emily Blunt. She is fantastic as the stalwart single mother trying to bring up a child dangerously close to succumbing to his dark destiny. This is a very high recommendation. Very high.

64. Lunopolis

This is a POV film. A POV film is when the camera is being operated by one of the characters, kind of like the Blair Witch movie, understand? Great. Usually POV films are awful. They're usually stupid and fall apart at the barest hint of a question, like: "Why the hell are they still filming? Why aren't they running? Why are they going back for the camera after dropping it, there's a monster after them? How can they be so stupid?" However, when a POV film is done really well, they can be great. Lunopolis is great. A weird little low-budget film about conspiracies and secret societies, government cover-ups and aliens and men from the future living on the moon. It zips from massive underground bases in the middle of the swamp to weird cults and monstrous men in black and straight on into Crazy Town. It's a really good time. It might be a little hard to track down maybe, but if you do happen to come across it, give it a shot.

65. Mad Max and The Road Warrior

I'm sure you've probably heard of both of these films. They're iconic. They're classics. Do I need to say more? First there's Mad Max, the story of a worn-down cop desperately trying to hold on to the fraying edges of the world that has become a white line nightmare. Then there's Road Warrior, the story of a broken man who wandered out into the desert to die, but ended up finding a reason to live. That reason? Gas. Fast Cars. Shotguns. And a Gyro-copter. Also, highway battles. And a bunch of dudes in chaps and mohawks with wrist crossbows who are threatening a town of people that wear football shoulder pads... just around, for some reason. They're two of my all-time favorites. Also, as a bit of trivia, despite being the second film, The Road Warrior was actually released in America first. Why? I don't know, but I think it had something to do with the Australian accents... it doesn't really matter. Watch the movies!

66. Man on Wire

This documentary is all about a moment that is sometimes called "the artistic crime of the century." Although, to be fair, I'm not really sure by whom, but a good guess would probably be Philippe Petit, the French tightrope walker and street performer who illegally strung a high-wire up between the twin towers of the World Trade Center one day in 1974... and then walked it. Petit's definitely a cocky little bastard, but perhaps deservedly so. Presented like a classic heist film, the movie follows he and his friends as they break into the World Trade Center and, barely ducking the guards, set up the wire. It's nail-biting. It's edge of your seat. And the end result will bring a tear to your eye.

67. Moonrise Kingdom

Once upon a time, I loved Wes Anderson's films. He was new and refreshing, but then five or six movies later and that voice had not changed. It had grown stale. I didn't even finish that last stupid train-in-India one... Good Lord, that film was like a parody barfed out of some on-line Wes Anderson film joke-generator. Unbearable. Ugh. And I swear to God, if I saw Jason Schwartzman in a white suit on a Vespa one more time... that was going to be it! I would be done forever. I would swear off Wes Anderson and all of his stale-voiced films forevermore! And it was this close to happening too. This close! But then Moonrise Kingdom came along and while it wasn't exactly different from the style he had become so famous for, it was definitely full of heart, something that had been missing for awhile. It felt new. It was definitely endearing. Magical, even. The story of two young lovers who run away from home and are chased by a wackily-disparate search party as a giant storm approaches is like watching a storybook fairy-tale brought to life on screen. Charming. Charming and romantic. It's like summer love. Is that gushy? Well, that's this film.

68. Mystery Team

I laughed so hard at this movie. Really. It's just ridiculous. It's the tale of three boy detectives: a master of disguise, a boy genius, and the strongest kid in town. All of them were famous when they were seven for solving a bunch of local mysteries... but that was ten years ago. Now high school is over and college looms. Plus, a little girl has just hired them to find out who killed her parents. Will the Mystery Team survive one only to be destroyed by the other? And will they stop being a bunch of creepy weirdos who never grew up? Sounds great, huh? Believe me, it is. It's so funny and it stars Donald Glover! Okay, sure, it might not be your thing, I understand--you're a humorless old bastard--but I laughed my ass off. Here's the trailer:

69. The Nest

At first glance you might not believe this to be a French action movie, due to the general lack of Parkour in the film, but don't worry, it shows up, it always shows up. Luckily, there's very little of it, so whew... and it's actually a pretty good little action film too. The Nest is about a grizzled and disgraced fireman now working as a night-watchman in a computer warehouse, the group of thieves who show up to rip the place off, and the cops who are trying to transfer a very dangerous crime boss, only to be ambushed by the boss's thugs and forced to take shelter in the warehouse. The rag-tag group must then work together to fend off a violent gang of criminals... all night long. It's bad-ass, especially for a French action film, which tend to be a little (actually a lot) hammy. Culture! Guns! Wooo!

70. Night Watch and Day Watch

These two films... hmmm... ultimately, they don't quite work. I'll admit it. But why don't they quite work? Well, they're two films based off a trilogy of books for one, and they feature a major divergence from the original story, really major, something that's usually very problematic. There's also a ton of characters with a lot of history who get shifted around or barely introduced and so a lot of their roles and who they are never really gets explained or makes much sense. Of course, none of that will really matter to most of you, because most of you probably haven't read the books. But don't feel bad about that, because they're Russian and there wasn't even an English translation available until a few years ago. So yeah, that might not bother most of you. What you will notice though, is that they don't quite make sense. The story connects up in the end, but... not really. Whatever. What you get instead is a lot of really cool, really stylish film-making drawn in that distinctively gaudy, seemingly permanently Dynasty-era Russian way. It's all flash and glamour and gold lame. It's also really creepy and scary in a broken down 1980s rubble meets Baba Yaga kind of way that Russians pull off really easily. And even cooler? In Night Watch, they do a great thing with the subtitles, like all of the vampires' dialogue are in red letters that drip and run, for example. It's really cool. But what's the film about, you ask? Well, the forces of light and the forces of darkness once warred with no end. Eventually they realized that they were too evenly matched and that neither side would ever win, so they brokered a truce. The truce has held for a long time and now the forces of light police the forces of darkness. They're known as The Night Watch. Conversely, the forces of darkness police the forces of light. They're called The Day Watch. Both sides maintain the balance, growling at each but avoiding open conflict. And then a special child is born... You can probably guess how it goes. So why should you watch it? Well, for one, it's basically a bunch of Russian vampires and witches and mutants and monsters fighting in the streets of modern day Moscow. It' super slick and super cool. And two, how many Russian action films have you seen? Give it a shot.

And with that... Part Seven is all done. Are you finding films you like? Or maybe a few you haven't heard of? I hope so, it's why I do this. No, really. No... Really. Anyway, stay tuned as the last three sections of the Staff Picks list aren't far away, so they'll be here soon.

Dosvedanya Tovarisch,

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