The Boxer's Omen – The first time I saw this Hong Kong oddity I couldn’t initially tell whether it was a boxing movie, revenge drama, gangster film, softcore crossover, spiritual odyssey, martial arts thriller, horror movie, stop-motion cartoon or black comedy. It’s a bit of each, and all of that in just the first 30 minutes, eventually ‘settling into the conventions’ of the obscure HK micro-genre of Buddhist monk vs. Voodoo witchdoctor combat. I have to wonder if director Kuei Chih-Hung knew he was at the end of his career (his next film, appropriately named Misfire, would be his last of nearly 40) and tried to cram in every idea he had left. It pays off, though only according to its few acolytes. The hyperactive unpredictable imagination of its fast-paced, anything-goes plot left me breathless and happy. Its willingness to ignore good taste and common sense occasionally goes too far, especially in some expendable gross-out scenes, but I’m glad it never holds back. This is an all-time favorite.
A Boy and His Dog – Post apocalyptic SF written by Harlan Ellison and starring Miami Vice’s Don Johnson as a wasteland youth hunting women to rape with the help of his telepathic dog. The second half gets weirder. The politically incorrect, frequently mistimed humor is not for everyone, but most agree the anti-romantic ending is priceless.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia – El Jefe, a rich Mexican landowner, tortures his pregnant daughter to discover her lover’s name (Alfredo Garcia) and sets a million dollar bounty on his head. Bennie, a washed-up drunk, learns that Garcia is already dead, digs up the head, and plans to make a killing, except that everything goes to hell. Bloodsoaked, grotesque and riddled with amoral desolation, Sam Peckinpah’s film was critically savaged on its release, but hailed as a masterpiece decades later. I found it revolting on first watch, but Netflixed it a second time only a couple of weeks later after I couldn’t get it out of my head. I also considered including Peckinpah’s The Getaway, which is sort of the reverse case: a huge box office success in its day now considered beneath notice. I think it’s an action classic with some brilliant technical work (especially in the editing of the opening act), but it was made for all the wrong reasons: Peckinpah needed the money and McQueen and McGraw couldn’t keep their hands off each other.
Brother from Another Planet – An “alien” (who happens to look exactly like a black man) crash lands on Earth and has to survive in New York City without knowing anyone or speaking the language and while being hunted by space slavers (who happen to look exactly like white yuppies). The metaphor’s total lack of subtlety is part of the charm. Director John Sayles has made better films, but few with such a knowing sense of humor.
A Bucket of Blood – Roger Corman’s unexpectedly sensitive satire of beatniks finds a dimwitted waiter inadvertently transformed into the toast of the 1950’s avant-garde after he kills a cat (and later much more) and coats the corpse in clay. I’m a Corman apologist and considered several of his films for this list, ultimately running with A Bucket of Blood (that sounds odd out of context) though these days it might be considered an obvious choice. Prefer something of his more eccentric? I'm curious; throw it in a comment.
Cannibal: The Musical – An early film by the South Park guys, this is a musical based on the real life frontier cannibalism of prospecting party lost during a trip from Utah to Colorado. It’s low-budget, irreverent and surreal, but it’s surprising how often the film actually succeeds. The songwriting, especially, is rather memorable. (I'm playing back the musical numbers in my head and laughing. Some it you just has to be witnessed!)
Care Bears Adventures in Wonderland – Even the few professional critics who bother to review Care Bears movies, considered this, the third in the series, to be a confusing and unwelcome effort from the Canadian animation team. I watched this whenever I was sick as a kid and I still love their take on Alice in Wonderland, especially the cheery-dreary villain who wants to bring sanity to wonderland (how evil!) and desaturate all the colors (or something). A few bastardizations go too far, including a rapping Cheshire cat. Also new is a pair of red robots, piloted by Tweedledee and Tweedledum, which gave me nightmares.
Carnival of Souls – Carnival is sort of an art-house zombie movie, produced for peanuts and taking decades to build up word of mouth. Deliberate, brooding and mild-mannered, it gets under your skin, thanks largely to the inexperienced director’s earnest artistic ambition and the investment of his cast and crew. Part of the kick I get out of watching the film is having lived near both the primary shooting locations: Lawrence, KS and Salt Lake City, UT.
Cassandra Cat – Czech children’s parable about innocence, love and kittens. A small village is visited by a beautiful immortal magician who puts on a puppet show. The local young-at-heart teacher falls in love. The plot hinges around the lady’s magical cat who reveals the citizen’s true colors (literally) when it removes its stylish sunglasses. Essentially it’s about how authority, hypocrisy, taxidermy and most adults suck. Yeah, it’s a product of its time, but one I utterly sympathize with.
The Central Region – Michael Snow placed a camera that could rotate on every axis in the rocky shrub-strewn Canadian wilderness far from the nearest human habitation. For three days it executed pre-programmed patterns of movements in the absence of a director, cameraman or cast. Snow edits the resulting footage into a 3 hours film with no story. This is Structuralism, hardcore. More specifically it’s an experimental work that abandons conventional notions of narrative and performance in favor of analyzing form and technique, challenging us to see our world through alien eyes. Tedious? Yes. But after overcoming my fidgets I gradually synchronized with the film’s rhythm of motions and became strangely hypnotized. Enough to watch it several times!
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