My Week(s) in Movies: March 5-18, 2023

the little foxes poster

I seem to have forgotten to write a movie journal last week, which is ok because I didn’t watch that many this week as I wound up binge-watching a show. Still, I’ve got a lot of movies to get through which means’ I’ll just touch on each one briefly.

The Mystery of Mr. Wong (1939): There is a lot of talk these days about representation and appropriation and with movies like this it is perfectly understandable why. In the 1930s there were a number of film series about Asian detectives who were inevitably played by white dudes. The three main ones were Charlie Chan (initially played Warner Oland then Sidney Toler and later Roland Winters), Mr. Moto (played by Peter Lorre), and Mr. Wong (Boris Karloff).

I don’t have time to get into all the ins and outs of why this was a popular genre back then, so I’ll just move on to this particular film. As I say that I realize it has been so long since I watched it and the film was so unmemorable that I don’t actually have much to say about it. It involves a jewel theft and some murders which take place during a house party where some folks enact a bad play. I’ve seen a couple of Wong mysteries and none of them are great. Karloff plays the character pretty stiffly, unlike Waner Oland as Charlie Chan who is at least somewhat humorous.

Stars in My Crown (1950): A movie I should have already talked about in my Westerns in March series. Joel McCrea plays a preacher in a small post Civil War town. There isn’t much to it, just a slice-of-life kind of film that’s a bit sentimental but also sweet.

The Little Foxes (1941): A bitter, brutal little film about awful rich people who will do anything and everything to get even richer. It is based on a stage play and the filmmaking doesn’t really do anything to expand it. Better Davis plays the lead, a conniving woman who married for money and is willing to stab everyone she comes across in the back to stay that way. She’s terrific in it and the entire film is quite wonderful.

Major Dundee (1965): I did write about this one for my Westerns in March series, you can read it here.

Gone in the Night (2022): Winona Ryder is good in this undercooked mystery. She spends the film trying to find out what happened to her boyfriend after he disappears one night that they spent in a cabin in the woods. The mystery isn’t particularly interesting and the twists can be seen coming from a mile away. But Ryder demonstrates why she’s been a star for a decade and Demot Mulroney is also pretty great as a guy who helps her solve the mystery.

Hell of the Living Dead (1980): I wrote about this one in my Friday Night Horror Movie post.

Young Guns (1988): Also wrote about this one in my Westerns in March series.

The Magnificent Seven (2016): Gosh darn it, I have been slacking with my Westerns in March series. I’ll do better this week, I promise. This film is a pale imitation of the original The Magnificent Seven (1960) which was itself a pale imitation of The Seven Samurai (1954).

Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019): A pretty good little mystery about a woman who tries to solve the kidnapping she witnessed as a little girl. The twists in this one are pretty good and it has a nice moody tone to it.

The Retaliators (2022): A not-very-good horror movie that I reviewed over at Cinema Sentries.

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022): A wonderful film from Martin McDonagh. On its surface, it’s about a guy (Brendan Gleeson) who is so tired of another guy’s small talk (Colin Farrell) that he’s willing to chop off his fingers just to get him to shut up. But really it is about the Irish Civil War and the true value of art. Gleeson and Farrell are terrific as is Kerry Condon.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie (2022): Bob’s Burgers is one of those shows that I love when I’m watching it, but don’t actually follow. I think it started about the time we cut the cord so it wasn’t something I’d sit down and watch every week and I believe it only streams on Hulu which is a station we only subscribe to periodically.

I had originally planned to not watch the movie until I had caught up with the series up to the point the movie originally aired, but decided that was dumb as this is not the sort of show you need to know everything about in order to watch the movie. The film is like an extended version of the film, but a little spiffier, all of which is to its detriment. It is still hilarious, but I found that it overstayed its welcome and the better-looking graphics only made it look weird.

Little Women (1933): I’ve seen multiple adaptations of the book by Louisa May Alcott, and even ran lights for a musical production in college. To tell the truth, I don’t actually love the story, but my wife does and so I periodically throw it on as something we both can watch. This one stars Katharine Hepburn as Jo and she’s delightful.

Final Destination (2000): A pretty dumb horror flick from the early 2000s. I wrote a full review here.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986): A completely nutso sequel to one of the all-time great horror movies. I wrote about it for my Friday Night Horror feature.

Piranha 3D (2010): I didn’t have high hopes for this film, but I liked director Alexandre Aja’s adaptation of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, and Crawl (2019) was kind of fun in a dumb way, but this was terrible. It might have been fun had I seen it in a crowded theater on a late Saturday night, but watching it alone in my bedroom I found it to be dreadfully stupid and an utter bore.

Cheyanne Autumn (1964): Yet another western I need to write about. This one was John Ford’s last western and it centers on the plight of the Cheyanne Indians and their harrowing flight to their homelands. It is overlong and rather dry, but I’ll have more to say about that soon.

The World’s End (2013): Every single film in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy gets better with repeat viewings. This has long been my least favorite of the three, but it continues to grow on me. The beauty of these films, and what makes them work on repeat viewings is that the jokes build on themselves. Things happen early in the films that get payoffs later and that’s the sort of thing I don’t notice on first (or second, or third) viewings but that make me keep coming back.

The Friday Night Horror Movie: Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

hell of the living dead poster

George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) was a huge international success. It made over $1 million in Italy alone. In 1979 Lucio Fulci made an unofficial sequel, Zombi 2 (Dawn was titled Zombi in Italy). It was quite successful as well and for the next few years, the Italians began churning out one zombie film after another.

In 1980 Bruno Mattei got into the game with Hell of the Living Dead, aka Virus, aka Night of the Zombies, aka Zombie Creeping Flesh, aka half a dozen other things. It is, well it is a mess, but kind of a glorious, ridiculous, god-awful mess. It’s also a lot of fun in a late-night weekend kind of way.

The plot, such as it is, involves a research facility in Papua New Guinea that accidentally releases an experimental gas called “Operation Sweet Death” which turns the recently deceased into flesh-eating monsters.

The government sends in an elite SWAT team to take care of business. Along the way they run into two reporters and together, they make their way through the jungle, battling hordes of monsters, to the research facility to…well it’s never exactly clear what their ultimate goal is, but there sure takes a lot of gore-filled violence to get there.

Most of the plot makes very little sense. The dubbed dialogue is hilariously bad, and the acting is atrocious. There is a ton of very obvious stock footage of animals and natives thrown in to boost the run time. The score is by the very excellent band Goblin, but all of it is recycled from various other films.

The characters make ridiculous decisions after ridiculous decisions. Though early on they figure out the only way to kill the zombies is to shoot them in the head, they constantly shoot them everywhere but the brain pan. One guy liked to taunt them and dance around them for some reason. Whenever a zombie attacks the other characters literally just stand there for the longest time watching them eat their friends until finally decide to act. Etc,. etc.

I’ve seen a lot of bad horror movies. I’ve seen a lot of bad zombie movies. This is one of the worst ones I’ve ever seen. And yet, under the right circumstance, in the right mood this film kind of works.