Hoo boy, we watched some garbage this week, folks. It wasn’t really intentional – my housemates have learned to schedule their hate-watching outside of my hangout hours, and we entered all of these films with the hope of at least being entertained, if not enriched by the experience. But somehow the cards just didn’t fall in our favor, and we ended up watching a half-dozen or so films that peaked at “middling” and bottomed at “how much longer is this, again?” So congrats folks, it looks like I’ll be back on my old bullshit for a moment, as I callously assess and disregard a pile of film productions, and also mention maybe one or two ones. Let’s get to it!
Our first film kinda split the difference, as we checked out the 2017 film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I walked in on this one just after my housemate had started it, and within a few minutes was grumbling about how the director had clearly watched too many Guy Ritchie movies. Well, it turns out the director actually is Guy Ritchie, which goes a great distance in explaining why this King Arthur film is constructed and toned like a modern British crime drama, complete with “here’s how the deal will go down” montages and entirely anachronistic dialogue.
Ritchie seems to be experiencing the same process as Tim Burton, whereby his idiosyncrasies have been sanded to the point where he can offer general audience-friendly blockbusters with just a dash of Richie spice. King Arthur is far from a great film, but it is an undeniably Richie-seasoned medieval drama; though the film’s PS3-tier CG battles are excruciating, it’s interesting just seeing Richie’s style applied to a decidedly un-Richie venue.
After that, we checked out Night Teeth, which turned out to be one of our best films this week, in spite of possessing the stupidest title. Night Teeth centers on a young man who’s subbing in for his chauffeur brother, and who finds himself serving as the driver for two fashionable young lady vampires. As the night proceeds, a grand plot to overthrow LA’s vampire truce unfolds, with our hero developing a lopsided friendship with his two murderous companions. Night Teeth’s overarching plot is nonsensical, but that’s not really the point of this film – it’s more about luxuriating in the atmosphere of LA’s vampire nightlife, complete with saturated vaporwave colors and lots of “make sure to manage your drinking” puns. I didn’t expect much, and I was pleasantly surprised – the leads have solid chemistry, the violence is satisfying, and the style is plentiful. A fun… I want to say, horror romcom?
Next up we brought some class to this goddamn establishment, as one of my housemates requested a watch of Angel’s Egg. I’ve seen Angel’s Egg a few times now, and it never fails to stun me. Mamoru Oshii was stretching towards new peaks of anime artistry back then, and Angel’s Egg is one of his most beautiful, personal, and strange creations. The film is easy to enjoy simply as an evocative travelogue, as our heroine explores a fallen world, and wanders through the beautiful squalor of mankind’s destruction. You can also enjoy it as Oshii’s most abstracted statement on the perils of militarism, with the film’s doomed Ahabs isolating the thematic heart of a work like Patlabor. Or you can enjoy it as a fractured meditation on the crucifixion, with its finale offering an ambiguous revision of the story of Christ.
However you approach it, Angel’s Egg is gorgeous and one-of-a-kind, a reflection of that brief moment in anime history where it seemed like the medium might evolve to include regular, challenging works for adults as well as children. The dream of the ‘80s anime creators didn’t come to pass, but the relics of their efforts remain, delighting, perplexing, and reminding us of animation’s potential.
Next up we returned to the Shaw Brothers filmography, for a film I’d consistently seen on their best-of lists: Come Drink With Me. I was expecting great things from this one, but in the end, we couldn’t even make it to the conclusion. Come Drink With Me boasts some of the best set design and color correction I’ve seen in a Shaw Brothers film, but none of that can begin to make up for the fact that it doesn’t actually have martial arts battles. Instead, every time the heroine gets in a scuffle, the film avoids the need for any actual martial arts choreography through exceedingly generous cuts away from the action. A martial arts movie without the martial arts is mostly just a clumsy, interminable drama, and so it was ultimately a relief when my housemate asked if we could just turn this one off.
Things didn’t really improve after that, as we checked out the recent mushroom-themed horror film Gaia. Gaia centers on two park rangers who end up lost in the woods, pursued by the monsters from The Last of Us. When one of the rangers comes across a forest man and his forest boy, she develops an odd relationship with them, eventually coming into conflict with their mushroom-based religion.
You might think I’m describing this plot in vague terms to avoid spoilers, but in truth, this film barely has a plot, and the connective tissue between scenes is so threadbare that it’s essentially just a series of Events, rather than a coherent narrative. Also, the heroine ends up in a weird sort of romance with the forest boy, even though she’s an adult woman and he has the mind of a child? Also also, this film loves nesting its dream sequences so thickly that it’s impossible to tell what’s a dream and what’s real, a favored trick of terrible writers across the globe. As it turns out, when you’ve convinced the audience that nothing happening has any meaningful consequences, they tend to lose their investment in your drama. So it goes for this overcomplicated and underwritten production, but hey, at least the mushroom-man practical effects are pretty sweet.
Our horror misadventures continued with No One Gets Out Alive, a film about a young Mexican woman named Ambar who crosses the border after her mother’s death, hoping to rebuild her life in the States. No One Gets Out Alive’s first half is a punishingly bleak journey into Ambar’s daily life as an illegal immigrant, as she’s harassed by sweat shop bosses and desperately seeks an American ID. With its ominous apartments and creepy neighbors, the film seemingly aspires to be an immigration-focused take on Rosemary’s Baby – unfortunately, it all unravels in the second half, culminating in perhaps the silliest monster reveal I’ve seen in a horror film. Half oppressive and half ludicrous, No One Gets Out Alive expends the last of its audience goodwill around the three-quarter mark.
Finally, we ended this week on something that truly understands bad drama, and is committed to having a grand time with it. Theater of Blood stars Vincent Price as the bombastically named Edward Lionheart, a former Shakespearian actor who survived his presumed death, and who has now returned to wreak bloody vengeance on all his critics.
Theater of Blood is an absolute bounty for any fans of Vincent at his absolute campiest, as well as any Shakespeare nerds in the audience. His revenges on his critics all take the form of kills from Shakespeare’s plays, complete with Vincent himself in full, preposterous costume, reading through his lines with the grace of a chainsaw passing through concrete. The underlying joke of the film is that all of Vincent’s critics were absolutely right, as he clearly demonstrates through his over-the-top kills and overblown line reads. It’s funny, it’s bloody, and it’s a sendup of the overwhelming hubris of the performer in the face of critical appraisal. How could I not have a great time?