90 Movies in 90 Days: Daisies (1966)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Daisies
Release Date: December 30, 1966
Director: Věra Chytilová
Production Company: Ústřední Půjčovna Filmů | Kouzlo Films Společnost
Summary/Review:

In this cornerstone film of the Czech New Wave, two waifish young women – Marie (Ivana Karbanová) and Marie (Jitka Cerhová) – determine that the world is spoiled so they will be spoiled too.  What follows is a series of vignettes in which the Maries cause mayhem while fulfilling their hedonistic desires.  This includes A LOT of eating.  Their episodes are intercut with found footage and collages as well as switches from color to black & white and various tints and filters.

This style of film should feel familiar to anyone familiar with music videos, but must have been shocking to audiences in the 1960s.  Like a lot of performance art there’s a message in all of this nonsense that’s not readily apparent to me, but it is clear that they are undermining the notion of femininity. Apart from that, the movie is very funny.  Karbanová and Cerhová have fits of malicious laughter that is just hilarious.  So find your good friend with whom you get into good trouble and watch this together!

Rating: ****

90 Movies in 90 Days: The Unbelievable Truth (1989)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: The Unbelievable Truth
Release Date: May 15, 1989
Director: Hal Hartley
Production Company: Possible Films | Action Features
Summary/Review:

Audry Hugo (Adrienne Shelly) is a high school senior in the Long Island suburbs who has embraced a fatalistic viewpoint that the world will soon be destroyed by nuclear annihilation.  Josh Hutton (Robert Burke) is a car mechanic (often mistaken for a priest) who returns to his home town after serving time in prison for manslaughter who finds work in the garage owned by Audry’s chauvinistic father Vic (Christopher Cooke).  Can Audry and Josh find love?

That’s the putative plot of the movie, but director Hal Hartley seems less interested in plot and more in slice of life vignettes of everyday people in sometimes improbable situation.  The world melodrama may sound like a dig, but the stiff acting and inconsistent characterization seem to be a feature rather than a bug of this movie. The style of this movie feels oddly like Twin Peaks without a supernatural element (but this came out before Twin Peaks, so maybe it’s like Blue Velvet without the gruesome violence?).  At any rate, this is a fun, definitively 80s take on the art house flick.

Rating: ***

90 movies in 90 Days: Sons of the Desert (1933)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Sons of the Desert
Release Date: December 29, 1933
Director: William A. Seiter
Production Company: Hal Roach Studios
Summary/Review:

Stan: I’ve certainly got to hand it to you.

Oliver: For what?

Stan: Well for the meticulous care with which you have executed your finely formulated machinations in extricating us from this devastating dilemma.

I remember really enjoying Laurel & Hardy in my childhood, mainly their shorts, although I feel like I watched some of their features too.  It’s strange how over the past three decades or so, their cultural relevance has become practically nonexistent, especially compared with other icons of their time like Charlie Chaplin and Betty Boop who are still widely recognizable.  Anyhow, this is supposed to be one of the best Laurel & Hardy features so I figured I’d become reacquainted with them and see if I still find them funny.

The verdict is “not really.”  The gist of this movie is that Ollie and Stan want to go to the convention of their fraternal lodge but their wives, Lottie (Mae Busch) and Betty (Dorothy Christy) won’t let them.  So they have to come up with an elaborate ruse to fool their wives.  For a movie that’s predicated on ideas like “women are harridans” and “domestic violence is funny,” it has some good gags.  I laughed when the veterinarian gave Ollie his medication and the death glare on Betty’s face when she talks about Stan lying to her is priceless.  Actually, a movie where Betty and Lottie were the stars would be a lot of fun.

Overall though, I found this movie to be middling.  Perhaps it’s because these kind of antics have been repeated so many times in movies and sitcoms over the past 90 years that I can’t see it with fresh eyes.  Now I need to find that Laurel & Hardy movie I really loved as a kid and see if I still like it now.

Rating: **1/2

90 Movies in 90 Days: The Squid and the Whale (2005)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: The Squid and the Whale
Release Date: December 16, 2005
Director: Noah Baumbach
Production Company: Sony Pictures Releasing International | Destination Films | American Empirical Pictures | Original Media
Summary/Review:

What if we make a movie in which every single character is a raging asshole?  That is the question Noah Baumbach asked when he wrote and directed The Squid and the Whale.  Set in Brooklyn in 1986, the movie details the divorce of Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) and Joan Berkman (Laura Linney), and the effect that joint custody has on their kids Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline).  Bernard is a pretentious snob and a writer whose career has hit a brick wall.  Joan is a serial philanderer who has just become a successful writer.  Walt emulates the most disturbing personality characteristics of his father.  Frank drinks too much and masturbates in public.  None of these people seem to be capable of being in an honest interpersonal relationship.

I suppose I should relate to this movie since my parents divorced in the 1980s.  But some experiences do not translate to universality.  There’s no denying that this is a well-made movie, but I hate the experience of watching it.  I haven’t been this disturbed by a movie since I watched The Ice Storm, which was last month, so I’m on a streak! (And they both feature members of the Kline family…hmm).

Rating: ***

 

90 Movies in 90 Days: Downtown ’81 (2000)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Downtown ’81
Release Date: October 5, 2000
Director: Edo Bertoglio
Production Company: New York Beat Films
Summary/Review:

Part film noir, part beat poetry, and part music video, Downtown ’81 explores a day in the life of Manhattan’s art and club scene through the eyes of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.  After being evicted, Jean meets various real life musicians, artists, and graffiti writers in his perambulations around the Lower East Side.

He does not meet any movie actors and the amateurish performances stand out.  But this movie is more about vibes than anything else and towards the end live performances by various artists such as Kid Creole and the Coconuts, James White and the Blacks, The Plastics, and Walter Steding & The Dragon People.  Notable people in the cast include David McDermott, Lee Quiñones,  Fab Five Freddy, and a wonderful bit with Debbie Harry.  It’s a fun glimpse at the very weird New York City scene of the early 80s.

Rating: ***

 

50 Years, 50 Movies (1976): Murder By Death


1976

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.  If you have any suggestions for movies from the past 50 years, please drop them in the comments!

Top Grossing Movies of 1976:

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners of 1976:

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 1976:

Title: Murder By Death
Release Date: June 23, 1976
Director: Robert Moore
Production Company: Rastar
Summary/Review:

You’ve tricked and fooled your readers for years. You’ve tortured us all with surprise endings that made no sense. You’ve introduced characters in the last five pages that were never in the book before. You’ve withheld clues and information that made it impossible for us to guess who did it. But now, the tables are turned. Millions of angry mystery readers are now getting their revenge. When the world learns I’ve outsmarted you, they’ll be selling your $1.95 books for twelve cents.

Murder By Death is one of those movies that was constantly shown on television when I was a kid (most likely in an edited format) that I absolutely loved.  I had a feeling this movie would age poorly and I was correct.  Written by Neil Simon, the movie spoofs classic country-house whodunit’s with characters parodying the classic fictional defectives Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, and Sam Spade. The large ensemble cast includes some of the best actors of the generation including Peter Sellers as Sidney Wang, David Niven and Maggie Smith as Dick and Dora Charleston,  James Coco as Milo Perrier, Peter Falk as Sam Diamond,  and Elsa Lanchester as Jessica Marbles.  Alec Guinness also stars as the blind butler Jamessir Bensonmum while Truman Capote makes what I think is his only acting role where he’s not playing himself as the eccentric host Lionel Twain.

The problems with this movie are pretty obvious from the first time we see Peter Sellers in yellowface (why did he keep doing that?) and speaking in broken English, and the “blind butler” and “deaf cook” jokes are painfully cringy too.  I want to say that the cast deserved a better script, but they all agreed to do this movie so perhaps they liked it just fine.  While maybe one joke out of three in this quip-packed movie actually hit me as funny, I have to admit that the talented cast were excellent in their delivery, particularly Guinness, Niven, Smith, Falk, and Eileen Brennan as Diamond’s plus one Tess Skeffington.

By the way, when I was a kid the version I watched always included a cameo scene with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson arriving late, so I’m going to include it here.

Rating: **

 

90 Movies in 90 Days: Seven Chances (1925)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Seven Chances
Release Date: March 11, 1925
Director: Buster Keaton
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn
Summary/Review:

The premise of this movie is that Jimmy Shannon (Buster Keaton) will inherit 7 million dollars if he marries by 7 P.M. Bungling his proposal to his true love Mary (Ruth Dwyer) he’s encouraged by his colleagues to propose to various society women, and then just random women he encounters.

The first 3/4’s of this film are quite dull and repetitive.  Additionally, there’s an actor in blackface in a prominent role and some other racist.  The movie only becomes laugh out loud funny in the final sequence where Shannon is chased by a mob of prospective brides and they accidentally start an avalanche of boulders down a hillside.  This is a feature film that would’ve worked much better as a short.

Rating: **

90 Movies in 90 Days: This Magnificent Cake! (2018


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: This Magnificent Cake!
Release Date: 14 May 2018
Director: Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels
Production Company: Beast Animation | Vivement Lundi | Pedri Animation
Summary/Review:

In the 19th-century, the European powers sliced up the African continent as if it were a cake. King Leopold II of Belgium decided that he needed a piece as well.  This film depicts the effects of colonization through fabric-based stop-motion animation and is told in five interconnected vignettes.  The movie is darkly satirical and has a dreamlike quality.  The dehumanizing effect of colonization on the colonizers is told in the stories of some Belgians who tried their luck in the Congo and are all grotesques in one way or another.

Surprisingly there are very few African characters in this movie, with just one part focusing on a Pygmy man who is made to work as a human ashtray holder at a hotel.  All of the African characters in this movie die in horrible ways. On the one hand that their deaths are the unintended consequences of the carelessness of white people who are indifferent to the suffering they cause is telling.  But it also comes across as really grim slapstick comedy.

Regardless of intent, this is an unsettling movie about the crimes of the not so distant past.  I’m also going to see that snail in a toupee in my nightmares.

Rating: ***

50 Years, 50 Movies (1986): Running Scared


1986

I will turn 50 in November of this year, so my project for 2023 will be to watch and review one movie from each year of my life.  The only qualification is that it has to be a movie I’ve not reviewed previously.  If you have any suggestions for movies from the past 50 years, please drop them in the comments!

Top Grossing Movies of 1986:

  • Top Gun
  • Crocodile Dundee
  • Platoon
  • The Karate Kid, Part II
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Best Picture Oscar Nominees and Winners of 1986:

Other Movies I’ve Reviewed from 1986:

Title: Running Scared
Release Date: June 27, 1986
Director: Peter Hyams
Production Company: The Turman-Foster Company
Summary/Review:

I saw Running Scared in the movie theater, possibly more than once, and then several more times on cable.  So I have a certain nostalgic fondness for this movie.  Watching with older and wiser eyes, the Reagan-era “law and order” ideology runs thick in this movie with all the copaganda to justify breaking the rules to get the “bad” guys.  If this were real life, these would be terrible, awful cops not lovable scamps.  Running Scared basically has all the grit of The French Connection with jokes.  In fact it one ups The French Connection’s thrilling car chase after an elevated train by having a car chase ON the elevated railway!

Ray Hughes (Gregory Hines) and Danny Costanzo (Billy Crystal) are undercover police detectives in Chicago. When Danny inherits a small fortune, they decide to retire and run a bar in Key West.  But they have one more job to settle, busting drug kingpin Julio Gonzales (Jimmy Smits in his film debut). Hines and Crystal are pretty funny with the quips and have a good camaraderie. The action scenes hold up pretty well too, and the film makes good use of its Chicago locations and winter setting.

Rating: ***


90 Movies in 90 Days: Hardware Wars (1978)


I’m kicking off 2023 by trying to watch and review one movie every day for the first 90 days, all of which will be 90 minutes or less.

Title: Hardware Wars
Release Date: October 16, 1978
Director: Ernie Fosselius
Production Company: Pyramid Films
Summary/Review:

“Filmed on location in space.”

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the idea of amateur film gaining widespread exposure was unheard of.  Videocassettes and home movie cameras were just becoming widely available, while YouTube and TikTok were well in the future.  So, when someone, anyone, made a parody of the biggest movie of all-time, Star Wars, using household appliances, it was pretty special.And to think this was released even before the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special! I remember seeing it on television, probably on a show like TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes, and thinking it was hilarious.

Well, over four-decades later it’s not so special.  We’ve been saturated in Star Wars content and Star Wars parody for years, and the jokes just feel stale.  Actually, it surprising how much Hardware Wars just follows the plot of Star Wars straight up, just with a lot of gurning and comedic sound effects.  But the visual gags are still fun.  I laughed at the Country & Western bar and the “tractor beam.”  And the flying irons are memorable enough to get a tribute in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  It’s probably still funnier than Spaceballs, which I always thought was just kind of pathetic, although I know I’m in the minority.

Rating: ***