61. Akira (1988)

Bikes
Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo

I remember seeing late-night TV commercials for Akira when I was a kid (probably during Liquid Television on MTV, if I had to guess). The commercials hyped it up to be some profound contribution to cinema, and even name-dropped Blade Runner, without really revealing the plot of the movie, other than it had people riding motorbikes.  I recently stumbled across it on the Tubi app, and decided to watch it to see what all the fuss was about.

This sci-fi Japanese anime begins by showing an atomic explosion in Tokyo in 1988, that kicks off World War III. Fast forward to the year 2019, and Neo-Tokyo is a dystopian wasteland with both domestic terrorists and motorbike gangs roaming the city, engaging in acts of violence.

Akira

Tetsuo, a teenage member of one of these motorcycle gangs, acquires special powers after nearly crashing his bike into a weird being that looks like an elderly child with bluish skin. Turns out this child has escaped the research facility where he and two other elderly-looking psychic children like him are being kept and studied. The Army shows up to collect the child and Tetsuo. Tetsuo is put in various MRI-type machines so that scientists can study him. They determine that he has strong telekinetic powers, much like Akira, a former test subject who got too big for his britches, so to speak, and caused the atomic explosion in 1988.

After experiencing some terrifying hallucinations, Tetsuo escapes the facility and returns back to his friends. He tries to steal his much-cooler friend Kaneda’s badass, red motorcyle to leave the city with his girlfriend, but is thwarted by a rival gang. His anger stirs up his newfound magical powers, and he begins to destroy everything he comes into contact with. Meanwhile, Kaneda and his new domestic terrorist girlfriend try to figure out what is going on.

I, too, was left trying to figure out what was going on toward the end of the movie. Tetsuo morphs into a giant blob with tentacles, and tries to kill his friends. After a lot of screaming and fighting, the three elderly children float into him, and some kind of magic happens. The power of love saves the day or whatever. I still don’t really know. Even though I saw what occurred, I had to look it up on Wikipedia to understand. Apparently, Akira was awakened, and whisked Tetsuo away to another dimension.

Tetsuo… Disgusted Scottish MomDESGUSTANG!

What I do know is that I was impressed by the quality and style of the animation. It is crisp and detailed. I am impressed that people hand-drew this.  All the little details, down to the neon lights in the city to the trailing tail-lights of the bikes, almost made me forget I was watching a two-hour-long cartoon. In fact, the scene where Tetsuo steps on broken glass and pulls a shard out of his foot made me physically ill. Stylistically, Tetsuo looks like any standard character from Dragon Ball Z, but aside from that, the cityscapes are really cool. I would imagine that this is one example of the ’80s-futuristic aesthetic that Vaporwave attempts to imitate. I can also see a connection with Jamie Hewlett’s Gorillaz, in terms of the characters’ facial construction and movement, although I’m not sure if this movie had any sort of direct influence on him.

I am not really qualified to say if this is one of the best full-length anime films out there, but I did enjoy it, despite the psychedelic mess it became toward the end.

Akira

Advertisements

60. Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu
Directed by F. W. Murnau

If anyone doubted how bad things were in Weimar-era Germany, they needed only to look at the art coming out of it. A mere two years after giving us the first ever horror movie, Caligari, it gave us Nosferatu, its spin on the classic Dracula tale. You know what they say: if your child starts turning goth, it’s probably a cry for help.

Nosferatu

Were you trying to tell us something?

(Note: There are many different versions and translations of this movie floating around. The official IMDB page uses the original characters’ names, but in my review, I use the names that were on the title cards of the version I saw, which were based on the characters in Bram Stoker’s novel.)

The story starts in Bremen, where Jonathon Harker, a young real estate agent, works for Renfield’s real estate agency. Renfield, a nutty elderly man, receives a letter full of gibberish and doodles, and interprets it to mean that Count Dracula of Transylvania is interested in purchasing a condo in town. The condo across the street from Harker is for sale, so Renfield tells him to go to Transylvania and close the deal on that one.

Nosferatu

Harker, the most happy-go-lucky man in Bremen, informs his wife Nina that he will be gone for a few months on a business trip to Eastern Europe, no big deal. She is distraught at the thought of being separated from him, but he doesn’t seem to mind that much. He dumps her off at the doorstep of some friends, and then bolts.

He makes it to Transylvania, and while eating at the restaurant of the local inn, announces that he is there to visit Count Dracula. The room goes still and everyone gets visibly uncomfortable. That should have told him something, but he is oblivious. When he retires to his room for the night, he notices a book titled, “The Book of the Vampires.” He picks it up for some light bedtime reading, and learns the tale of the Nosferatu, or vampire. 

Harker travels all the next day, arriving at the Count’s castle at midnight. Drac, looking like a total freak, answers the door in his nightgown saying that his staff has retired for the night. He serves Harker a midnight snack, and then almost has himself a midnight snack when Harker cuts his finger with a knife. Harker is thoroughly freaked out at the Count’s attempt to suck on his fingers, but knows he has to keep it together until he gets the papers signed. He goes into the parlor, blacks out, and then wakes up in the same spot after sunrise. He looks at his neck in a mirror and sees bite marks. 

Later that night, Harker gets the Count to sign the legal papers to close on the condo. When a picture of Nina falls out of his pocket onto the table, Drac compliments her neck and says he’s glad they are going to be neighbors. Harker is fully shook.

Nosferatu

That night Harker is almost attacked in his bed by the Count’s shadow. Nina telepathically senses that danger has befallen him, and tippy-toes around in her nightgown. That somehow wakes up Harker, spooking the shadow and causing it to recede.

The Count is eager to move into his new place in Bremen, so he packs up his coffin and loads it onto a carriage. He climbs into his coffin, and the movie employs some primitive stop-motion special effects to help him psychokinetically lift the lid on top of himself. The carriage takes him to a ship where he is loaded into the cargo hold, bound for Germany.

Harker witnesses the Count’s departure and escapes the castle, determined to make it back to Bremen before he can get there.

The Count takes full advantage of the 24-hour buffet of crew members on his cruise, killing them one by one. When the boat arrives in Bremen, he sneaks away, and the authorities do not find a single living soul. They believe it is due to the plague, and call for a quarantine in town. People in town start dying and everyone remains confined in their homes. Harker returns with his souvenir vampire book. Nina reads it and understands that the “plague” is really her new neighbor and his peculiar eating habits. The book’s instructions for slaying a vampire state that a pure-hearted woman must willingly offer him her blood, and then keep him with her until the cock crows at sunrise. 

That night, Nina makes up a reason for Harker to leave the house. She sees creepy Count Dracula leering through the window across the street and shows him some sexy neck action to entice him over. After some shadow-groping foreplay, Drac sucks her blood. The rooster crows, and the Count realizes he has been tricked. He disappears into thin air, and everyone is free from the scourge of the Nosferatu.

Nosferatu

When compared to Caligari, Nosferatu seems like a “big budget” production. We get scenes filmed on location in forests and seaside vistas. We also see some Gumby-like stop motion animation; the crazy special effects makeup that turned Max Schreck into the father of all vampires; and all the rats, horses and other animals involved. Not to mention that the plot benefits from being based on a lauded work of literature. Even the though the film quality of the version I saw was very scratchy, the exposure was good, and none of the action was obscured.

While Caligari is more fantastical and imaginative overall, Nosferatu does have one very interesting element: the fact that the Count’s shadow is heavily involved in his evil deeds. I’m sure there are some Jungian connotations behind it, but the visual aspect of it has become iconic.

Nosferatu

59. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The Institute
Directed by Robert Wiene

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is widely regarded as the first horror movie, so I guess we can thank it for paving the way for garbage like Microwave Massacre. In all seriousness, this stylized, macabre movie has had a direct impact on horror movies–and mall goths–up to the present day.

This silent movie starts with a young man, Francis, telling an elderly man that some very strange events happened to him. As Francis starts his story, the movie flashes back to a traveling carnival that sets up shop in his village. His friend Alan begs him to blow off work and go to the fair. There they see an exhibit called “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” The main feature is a man named Cesare the Somnambulist, who sleeps in a box until his handler, Dr. Caligari, commands him to perform. Dr. Caligari, an old man wearing a top hat and Mickey Mouse gloves, informs the audience that Cesare is clairvoyant, and instructs them to ask him questions about the future. Alan asks how long his life will be, and Cesare tells him that he will die at dawn. That night Alan is stabbed to death in his bed.

The Somnambulist
Francis is disturbed at his friend’s murder, and feels that the somnambulist is responsible. He returns to the carnival and watches Cesare like a hawk, but Cesare never awakens from his sleep. Meanwhile, several other people in the village are murdered. When his crush, Jane, narrowly escapes being abducted and killed, his determination to crack the case intensifies. However, Francis’ efforts are thwarted by a surprising twist…

The plot is good and fine, and the acting adequate, but the most striking element of this movie is its surrealistic sets. Being a German expressionist film, the sets are painted in dramatic fashion with diagonal, jagged lines, and uneven proportions. It makes the most of the tiny, claustrophobic sets to drive home the point that this is a construct of Francis’ memory and a reflection of his emotional state at the time. The misshapen houses, windows, and furniture prove that the viewer cannot trust what they see as reality. I see a direct visual influence on Tim Burton’s style. So, I guess this can be considered a proto-goth piece of art. I also liked the visual effect of using a tiny oculus to transition between scenes. (It kind of reminded me of the cover of a V.C. Andrews novel).

What I found problematic is that I had to watch two different versions of this movie, and both seemed haphazardly cobbled together. The color and quality of film varied wildly throughout both versions, and the dialog screens differed slightly in their translations. It was difficult for me to see what was going on in some of the scenes. This is probably because I tried to watch it for free online, but I’m sure there are better quality versions out there.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

58. Microwave Massacre (1983)

Microwave Massacre

Directed by Wayne Berwick

Microwave Massacre came close to blowing its chance with me. The opening scene features tight shots on a pair of jiggling breasts and a strutting butt. The owner of these assets walks to a construction site, and looks through a hole in the fence. She is immediately groped by a loitering man, and almost groped by two more men who run up to sexually assault her when they see her exposed breasts through the peephole.

Now, I was not expecting anything intellectual, but the vibe screamed “’70s Porno!,” and I was not interested. I almost turned it off.

But, it cut to a construction worker who looks like a cross between Joey Diaz and the Italian robot from Chuck E. Cheese holding a sandwich with a full-sized king crab in it, and I was intrigued. So, I left it on. It’s a decision I only slightly regret.

The construction worker with the sandwich is our protagonist/antagonist, Donald (played by Jackie Vernon, the voice of Frosty the Snowman in all those Christmas cartoons). Donald complains that his wife has no concept of what is edible to human beings, and packs him lunches that defy logic, i.e. a whole crab in between two loaves of bread. When he goes home, we meet his wife, May, who is clearly insane. She fancies herself a gourmet chef because she likes to heat up various things in an impossibly-large microwave, then mixes them together and calls it French cuisine. She serves these concoctions to Donald, and becomes enraged when he refuses to eat them.

No Way

One night, Donald comes home drunk, hungry, and confrontational. He and May get into a heated argument over her cooking, and he beats her to death with a pepper grinder. He cooks her in her own beloved microwave, and eats pieces of her. He acquires a taste for human flesh, driving him to kill and eat hookers.

The movie is full of non-stop, corny double entendre and sight gags. It is incredibly dumb. But I kept laughing. And I kept watching. I’m still not sure why. It is basically a soft-core porn that someone tweaked to have fewer sex scenes and more camp. What pushes this movie the extra mile are the little touches: the large stain on the back of the couch, the actual vomit on the ground outside of the bar, the stretch marks and plastic surgery scars of the nude actresses. The people who made this film just didn’t care….but that somehow makes it more endearing.

I spent an hour and a half of my limited time on this earth watching this, and I’m still not really sure how I feel about that.

Microwave Massacre

57. The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)

The Man Who Fell to Earth
Directed by Nicolas Roeg

Maybe it was synchronicity that caused me to watch The Man Who Fell to Earth on the eve of Elon Musk’s appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, because there are some eerie similarities between the main character of the movie and the real-life billionaire.

David Bowie plays Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien from a drought-stricken planet who has come to Earth to collect water to bring back home. He has crashed his space craft and must build a ship sufficient for his return trip, which means he needs cash fast. He becomes a billionaire by starting a corporation that sells his futuristic space inventions.

While staying at a non-descript hotel in New Mexico, he meets Earth’s most annoying woman, Mary Lou (Candy Clark), who clings to him from the second she meets him. Mary Lou’s alcoholism rubs off on him, and he starts drinking excessively. He also develops an addiction to television. His mental state seems to decline severely over the course of his stay on Earth, but it’s hard to tell, because he was weird to begin with.

The Man Who Fell to Earth

Newton recruits a college professor, Dr. Bryce (Rip Torn) to help him with his space craft. One day Newton goes to visit him in his home, and Dr. Bryce takes some secret X-rays of him. Bryce discovers that Newton is an alien in a human disguise. Newton eventually takes off his human suit to reveal his alien form to Mary Lou. She loses her mind, and we are treated to a close up of her literally pissing on herself. While she’s freaking out, Newton lies on the bed and fantasizes about gymnastic goo-sex with his alien wife. When he tells Mary Lou that he’s leaving her and going back to his planet, she throws a tantrum.

Newton is all dressed up and ready to launch his spacecraft. He is at the launch site, and the crowd is going nuts in anticipation. An hour before blast-off, for some dumb reason, he asks to be driven home. His driver betrays him, and turns him over to some men-in-black government types who imprison him so they can run tests on him. Some government workers destroy his spaceship while complaining about how space exploration is a huge waste of money.

In the next scene we see an aged Mary Lou and Dr. Bryce talking–an indication that a long time has passed since Newton’s imprisonment. At Bryce’s urging, Mary Lou decides to visit him. He is still in the same place where he was imprisoned, but no one is there to confine him. He is in a drunken stupor and had not realized that he was no longer locked inside. He and Mary Lou engage in some weird sex with a gun, and then decide to permanently part ways.

The Man Who Fell to Earth

Next we see an elderly Dr. Bryce buy a record that Newton has recorded. Newton, who has not aged at all since his arrival on Earth, sits and talks with Bryce at a café. The movie ends with Newton explaining that he recorded the album for his wife, in hopes that she will hear it on the radio someday.

The plot is based on a science fiction novel by Walter Tevis. I feel like the best science fiction is an indictment of modern society, and this is no exception. It’s very obvious that the movie chastises several destructive aspects of American culture.

The movie’s style is very abrupt. There are no smooth transitions. Scenes change with jump cuts. Time passes with no indication other than the characters suddenly have white hair, or their faces have aged. (The old-age makeup is impressive.) The uncertainty of time and place is disorienting, which I can only assume is intentional to make the viewer feel what Newton is feeling. The colors are jarring, and the decor is very mid-’70s. The musical score is a mixed bag, with some groovy instrumentals, some classic country and pop tunes, and some bluegrass and folksy-sounding tracks.

And forgive me for stating the obvious, but Bowie is absolutely beautiful in this film. I’m convinced he was the only human being alien enough to lend authenticity to this role. The corny cheapness of his human counterparts only accentuates his otherworldliness. I’ll give Candy Clark the benefit of the doubt and assume she is a nice person in real life, but her character, Mary Lou, is one of the most annoying characters in movie history. I was hoping she would be killed off early in the film. Unfortunately, we have to see and hear her for the whole movie. The men in black (or in this case, orange sparkly helmets) should have thrown her through the window instead of the lawyer.

The Man Who Fell to Earth

My husband came up with a theory that I had not considered: Newton may be a time traveler instead of a space alien. Evidence to support this includes the fact that he can see through the fabric of time into the past, and he never ages. He also tells Bryce that he hopes his wife will hear his music on the radio someday, and that he can see footprints of “visitors” to his home, which could hint that he is from future Earth, and not from a different planet altogether. Perhaps his spaceship was really supposed to be a time machine. Even if that was not the intention of the author, it is a plausible theory.

While watching the movie, I joked that it must be the life story of Elon Musk. It is incredibly frustrating to see somebody that innovative be constantly thwarted and mocked by the bean counters and money-minded people surrounding him. The very next day we get to see everyone freak out that he smoked the devil’s lettuce during an interview, but no one wanted to comment on the important things he had to say about imminent threats to life as we know it. I would just advise Musk to grab Grimes and leave for some better planet, where they can kick back and enjoy gymnastic goo-sex without human beings messing up everything.

The Man Who Fell to Earth

56. Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

Peggy Sue Got Married
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

It’s been awhile since I’ve had an FFC joint on the countdown, so let’s take a look at Peggy Sue Got Married. Starring Kathleen Turner and Nic Cage (and Jim Carrey as a supporting character!), this movie is a really fun fantasy/comedy in the same vein as Back to the Future.

Peggy Sue (Turner) is about to divorce her husband Charlie (Cage) for having cheated on her. They were high school sweethearts, but now she regrets having spent her life with him because she feels it was all a waste. Her 25th high school reunion is coming up, which has her fantasizing about going back in time and doing everything differently.

During the reunion, she faints, and wakes up as her teenage self in her high school gym. She cannot accept what is going on at first, but then she realizes that her wish has come true. She now has a second chance to create the life she wants. She starts to distance herself from Charlie, and befriends Richard, the class nerd, who she knows becomes a billionaire later in life. She thinks he might be able to explain what has happened to her, and gets him thinking about the science behind time travel, along with encouraging him to invent things that already exist in the future.

Peggy Sue Got Married

In addition to becoming friends with Richard, she also hooks up with Michael, the school’s lone beatnik. He represents freedom and danger to her, providing a possible escape from her boring suburban life. She realizes he is not right for her when he tries to get her to go to Utah with him so that she can be a “sister wife” with some other woman. He wants to have two women supporting him while he writes. She’s like, “No thanks, mang.” But she tells him to write poetry about their night together, making her a muse to a future writer in addition to a future scientist.

Having knowledge of the future makes Peggy Sue realize what is important in life, which to her is her family relationships. She realizes how much she cherishes her parents and her little sister, and vows to make sure they have a stronger bond. When she hears her grandma’s voice on the phone, she becomes filled with longing to see her again.

She visits her grandparents and listens to their wise advice about life. Then she tells them that she has traveled back in time from the future and needs help returning to the present day. Her grandfather takes her to his Free Mason lodge, where they perform a ritual meant to send her consciousness to its correct spot on the space-time continuum. (I tried hard to avoid using the phrase “back to the future.”) But, Charlie swoops in and abducts her. He tells her how much he loves her and wants to marry her, and gives her a locket with their baby pictures in it. She thinks about how much she loves her own children and how they will no longer exist if she does not choose to be with Charlie.

Peggy Sue Got MarriedJust call up Doc Brown.

Having made the choice to accept her life the way it happened, she wakes up in the hospital with Charlie by her side. They realize how much they love each other and decide to work everything out.

Time travel to the past seems to have been a popular theme for films in the mid-’80s, perhaps because Boomers were going through mid-life crises, and the subject appealed to them. Whatever the case, we got some great movies out of it, so I’m not complaining. Even though deep-voiced Kathleen Turner should not be believable as a teenager, her acting is good enough to distract from that fact and absorb you into her story. She becomes very emotional at certain points which makes me sympathize with her character’s situation. Nic Cage’s nasally, annoying voice and sad-sack acting is hilarious, but makes you root against him the entire movie. Peggy Sue must have really loved her kids to have to bite the bullet and get back with him. The cinematography is also beautiful, which is a given, considering the mid-’80s was a golden age for the look and coloring of films. I have not really given ratings to the movies I’m watching for this list, but I would give this movie a solid A. I’ll probably watch it again at some point.

Peggy Sue Got Married

“Bye, BYE!”

55. The Florida Project (2017)

The Florida Project
Directed by Sean Baker

*Warning: This review gets kind of preachy.

I saw The Florida Project a while back, but postponed writing a review for it because I really wanted to do it justice. I think it is the sort of movie that is better seen than reviewed, honestly.

The Florida Project gives a candid glimpse into the life of a child who would be known colloquially, and cruelly, by American society as “poor white trash.” I’m guilty of using this term for myself and others, and I feel somewhat conflicted about it, but I’ll get to that later.

The main character of the movie is Moonee, a little girl who lives with her young, single mother Halley in a pay-by-the-month motel not far from Walt Disney World. Halley is a stripper, and barely makes ends meet. She is not a disciplinarian (to put it mildly), and Moonee and her two young friends Scooty and Jancey run around unsupervised, getting into all sorts of trouble. The manager of the motel, Bobby (Willem Dafoe), keeps an eye on the kids. Despite his gruff exterior, he has compassion for his destitute tenants. The spiral of poverty gets worse and worse for Halley and Moonee which leads to a sequence of life-changing events.

The Magic Castle

Besides Willem Dafoe, the whole cast is comprised of amateurs. The unpolished acting lends authenticity to the experience and absorbs you into their world. As Nerdwriter 1 mentions in his brilliant assessment (*contains spoilers*), the camera angles show the world from a child’s perspective most of the time. The pastel colors and fantastical designs of the buildings evoke feelings of living in a child’s imaginary world. Moonee and her friends are vaguely aware that they don’t have as much as other kids, but they don’t seem too bothered by it. They just want to have fun and live in the moment.

The movie is set during a hot and humid Orlando summer. Days like that seem to crawl by with nothing to break up the monotony. Parts of this movie seem to crawl as well, but the reason for that is revealed toward the end. Most of us have seen Orlando from the perspective of a tourist, taking a temporary jaunt into the paradise of amusement parks. But rarely have we ever stoppped to consider the shadow side, where people are stuck permanently in the hell of being poor. I think this movie paints an honest portrait of the quicksand that is poverty, in which people with limited resources struggle daily against a force trying to pull them down, where one wrong move can pull them under. I found that Baker’s story shows the characters’ point of view, which invites the viewer to sympathize with their situation, rather than putting them on display like a freak show to be gawked at the way Harmony Korine’s Gummo did.

The Florida Project

Not to say that these characters are heroes. You will feel so frustrated with the things they do. That’s part of the honesty. Full disclosure: My husband grew up in a trailer park. We currently live in a very low-income area. I witness things that confound and frustrate me on a daily basis. I see people doing things contrary to their own best interests. But I also recognize the hoplessness of their situation. If you do not have money, you cannot afford an education. If you do not have an education, you cannot obtain a job that pays a living wage. If you do not make a living wage, you can rarely, if ever, afford opportunities to better yourself. I’ve used the term “trash” for myself as a form of self-deprecating humor, and for others when I get so angry with the stupidity of the people in my vicinity. But I think the term as a blanket statement for all people who live at the poverty line is harmful because it indicates that a large swathe of Americans are completely irredeemable and should be thrown away by society just because they were born into the wrong class.

If you grew up poor, this movie might be a bad trip down memory lane for you. I joke that this is the type of movie that “triggers” my husband, but he honestly does not want to be reminded of his past. But if that isn’t the case, and you want to see a touching, and somewhat frustrating story about a little girl just trying to be a kid under rough circumstances, I highly recommend it.

 MooneeSomething always catches on fire.