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Letterboxd Loose Ends 2017

Film reviews I’ve written on Letterboxd that are fewer than 100 words are collected here.

La La Land

A love letter to a city I do not love, La La Land nevertheless did an impressive job of disarming me with its vivid palette and dazzling setpieces. It managed to seize on my love of music while circumventing my distaste for musicals.

The Grifters

An Oedipal love triangle of professional liars is undoubtedly a concept worth mining, but The Grifters’s update of classic noir ultimately amounts to little more than stagey anachronism.

La La Land

When Ryan Gosling sings “City of Stars,” my ears editorialize it as “City of Cars,” but then he wins by making me wish I had nice hair too.

The Great Dictator

A looser and more uneven amalgam of gags than I expected, which makes the coherence and emotional impact of its humanitarian rebuke of fascism – a system which, at the time, many Americans still regarded with curious optimism – all the more incredible.


In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ambulance scene, an EMT says awkwardly to her charge, “I’m just gonna… check you.” She looks enough like Abbi Jacobson – a Philadelphia area native, like Split’s writer/director, M. Night Shyamalan – that it instantly becomes my favorite scene in the movie, a random cameo with Jacobson’s hapless Broad City character stumbling into an EMT job for which she is comically unqualified. But it’s not her. In her absence, the scene is reduced to just another tiny vignette of Shyamalan’s frustratingly skewed sense of how real people interact.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Mostly on the stupid side of silly, but it still beats Temple of Doom.

Life, Animated

This is exactly as corny as it looks.


I’m amazed this role wasn’t written specifically for Isabelle Huppert, because no one else on the planet could have pulled it off.


Apatow productions have a habit of reveling in the pathetic frailty of maleness, and in a way that usually doesn’t do much for me. Superbad, the apotheosis of the form, an effortless synthesis of vulgarity and tenderness, is the one that finally reached me. Every time I see it, I laugh until I cry, and then I laugh some more.

The Asphalt Jungle

A magnificently dark crime thriller with equal attention paid to tense plotting and nuanced characterization, spread out across a sizable and capable ensemble. The urban underworld of The Asphalt Jungle is as vivid as it is bleak.

Get Out

Jordan Peele’s uncommon wit, keen perspective on racial identity, and perfect cast are unfortunately no match for Blumhouse’s insistent blandness.


Alice Lowe was already well into her pregnancy when she was approached to make a film, and she managed to write, direct, and star in Prevenge before she gave birth, which is amazing. And there’s a lot to admire about its surrealist fusion of horror, comedy, and drama. But the final product doesn’t quite hang together.

Sign o’ the Times


The Wraith

If any kids out there want to know about white America in the ’80s without the burden of understanding white America in the ’80s, The Wraith is your delightfully dumb one-stop shop.


An interesting profile for the uninitiated, but in its cursory understanding of chess, it makes little effort to comprehend Magnus’s genius, which is enigmatic as ever. While Magnus the man has had an outsize role in inspiring a new generation of young chess players, Magnus the film fails to depict the game as anything but arcane.

The Love Witch

A strange homage/parody of occult and hippie films from the ’60s and ’70s, overloaded with wishy-washy neopaganism and boneheaded musings on heterosexuality and patriarchy. My best guess is that it wants to be some kind of feminist Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, but apart from offering an excuse for the wardrobe department to go for broke, I can’t really figure out why this film exists.

The Red Pill


A Hard Day’s Night

Obviously the music is great, and I like that Richard Lester was able to make something so formally daring out of what would otherwise have been rote idolatry. Its kinetic energy simultaneously encapsulates early Beatlemania’s rapture (for the kids) and chaos (for everyone else). That said, the movie, which is essentially plotless, lives and dies by the band’s offstage antics. Their irreverence may have been revolutionary at the time, but its presumed charm was almost entirely lost on me.

Yes, Madam

Needs about 100% more Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock, but naturally the finale is worth the price of admission.


A very engrossing, unromantic portrait of NYC in the twilight of punk’s first wave, a palpably grimy dystopia populated almost entirely by down-and-out scammers of various stripes. Susan Berman is extraordinary as Wren, a deeply unlikeable opportunist who nevertheless inspires empathy. Her desperate energy propels the film, whose plot is essentially a catalog of her bad decisions. Pair with Midnight Cowboy for the consummate feel-bad double feature.


Imagine the crew nervously looking over their shoulders while shooting one of the small handful of scenes that aren’t dominated by the clown crawling all over the screen, knowing that at any moment, a producer will storm onto the set demanding to know why the fuck this scene has no clown.

It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine.

Steven C. Stewart, a man with severe cerebral palsy, made himself the antihero in a self-penned screenplay for an erotic revenge thriller, and Crispen Glover went pretty far out of his way to commit Stewart’s catharsis to film, co-directing and funding the sexually explicit project with his own money. It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine is unforgettable; I commend the effort, and welcome the challenge to broaden the range of unfiltered perspectives we accept from cinema, but the film’s extremely rough edges ultimately prove to be the dominant challenge.

The Void

Many a movie sports a protagonist who sucks at life, and you’re like, “Hey, I suck at life, too! I am invested in seeing this character succeed, for truly their success is a success for us all.” In The Void, however, it’s more like, “This guy doesn’t seem to have any good excuse for sucking as much as he does, and this warmed-over Lovecraft nonsense is exactly the dull fate he deserves.”


I had to bail on this halfway through because the shaky cam was gonna make me barf. From what I saw, the effects are impressive and all of the characters are irritating, with the possible exception of Lizzy Caplan, who does her usual good job of playing Lizzy Caplan.


Lush, invasive, viscerally unsettling, and tender in every sense of the word. I was rapt for the duration.

The Final Terror

A subpar backwoods survival slasher with a modest body count and zero mystique. Notable for featuring several cast and crew who would go on to much bigger and better things (Daryl Hannah, Joe Pantoliano), but if Hollywood stars’ humble horror beginnings are the primary draw for you, you’d be better served by The Burning (Jason Alexander, Holly Hunter), or, hell, Friday the 13th (Kevin Bacon). The Final Terror is mostly a snooze.


A documentary on witchcraft in seven parts, incorporating a vintage PowerPoint presentation, delightfully grotesque dramatizations of occult folklore, and semi-rational hypotheses of what drove the paranoid, superstitious frenzy of the Middle Ages. Nearly 100 years after its release, Häxan’s preoccupation with female “hysteria” is also an unintentional indictment of its own time’s shallow thinking, and parallels are easily drawn to the modern era’s persistent misogyny and crooked notions of criminal justice.

Flesh for Frankenstein

Perverse camp expertly dialed to 11.

Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror

I admire the chutzpah it takes to acquire a Spanish werewolf/vampire movie, slap a Frankenstein title on it, and sell it in place of (the unwatchable) Dracula Vs. Frankenstein you originally promised to American theaters, which is what distributor Sam Sherman did in the early 1970s with Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror. The movie is terrible, but at least it introduced me to Paul Naschy, who is apparently Spain’s barrel-chested Boris Karloff.


Visually breathtaking to the last, and another reminder that I really need to get more German Expressionism under my belt. The endless invention and confident hand behind Faust’s sets, cinematography, and special effects are entirely stunning, and Emil Jannings’ Mephisto is appropriately otherworldly.


Zombieland’s towering self-satisfaction is inversely proportionate to its ingenuity and wit.

Kill, Baby… Kill!

Sumptuous visuals with atmosphere to spare, but I wish there were more of a story to hang them on. Simple tales of vengeful ghosts are common and often satisfying, but I found this one repetitive and shallow.

The Hitch-Hiker

A scorching condemnation of capitalism. As the armed-and-dangerous hitchhiker reminds his captives, their concern for each other is what keeps them under his thumb, while he is empowered by his selfishness. When competition trumps collaboration, compassion is a liability.


While Itay Tiran’s incredible performance as the possessed bridegroom is the standout component of Demon, the film is largely driven by a morbid fascination with patriarchy. As the father of the bride works frantically to ensure that his new son-in-law’s disturbing ailment doesn’t reflect poorly on him, the groom is hidden rather than helped, the bride’s devastation is ignored, and the wedding reception drags on compulsorily. The father’s pride benefits no one and hurts everyone.


For better or worse, Vampyr prioritizes the lyrical over the logical. Its surreal visual poetry is mesmerizing, though it doesn’t quite make a full meal.


Owing to the central relationship between a kindly antiques shop owner and his granddaughter, as well as the enchantingly mysterious mechanical device that upends their lives, Cronos feels kind of like a Jean-Pierre Jeunet stab at horror, which I guess could be said of several of Guillermo del Toro’s films. That said, Cronos’s imagination and balance of sickly and sweet make for a strong debut. The villains (Claudio Brook and Ron Perlman) aren’t nearly as well-developed as the hero (Federico Luppi), so the stakes never feel all that high, but Luppi is a joy to watch nonetheless.


I shudder to think what Freaks would have been if it were helmed by a director without a circus background, especially given how difficult its 1932 audience apparently found it to empathize with the performers. Despite his cast’s dramatic shortcomings, Tod Browning’s look behind the sideshow curtain is deeply human, and its cathartic revenge sequence is rightfully iconic. I so wish we could see the original 90-minute version.


An anthology of four shorts directed by women, XX’s preoccupation with maternal horror is the opposite of the crappy brodown that was V/H/S, but it’s ultimately just as disappointing. The shorts are all equally unsatisfying, but Sofia Carrillo’s Švankmajer/Quay-inspired dollhouse-of-horrors interstitials are pretty cool.

The Old Dark House

A disparate handful of travelers take shelter from a storm in a creepy house with a creepy family. The plot, a collection of vignettes running the gamut of comical, spooky, and romantic, seems designed more to highlight the strengths of the cast and the set than to advance a cohesive narrative, but it works as both a celebration and satirization of creaky-old-house tropes. The ensemble cast is terrific, as is their staging on the expansive set, built for dramatic shadows and skewed reflections.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Killer Klowns from Outer Space is the rare treat that happens when the right people go all-in on the right ludicrous concept (or at least as all-in as a couple million bucks would allow). The hideous clowns and their imaginative misdeeds are rendered so vividly and with such care that any skeptic the film fails to disarm is truly a lost cause.

Happy Birthday to Me

The most engaging slasher films tend to be the ones that continue the whodunit tradition of their giallo forefathers. Not only do you get to enjoy amusing innovations in grisly murder, you get to guess which unlikely suspect is responsible for them. Happy Birthday to Me is arguably the best of the whodunits in the first wave of slashers, and its crazy finale is my favorite kind of preposterous.

The Hidden

If you were like, “We’ve got to see this hybrid The Thing / Terminator / buddy cop movie from 1987 starring Kyle MacLachlan,” I’d be like, “Um, yes, we certainly do.” And our decision to see it would indeed be a wise one. But as we might have expected, the product is not quite the sum of its parts.


Whatever it is that appeals to me about so many of the satanic-panic-inspired schlock horror flicks of the ’80s, this one doesn’t have it.

Final Destination 2

Once again, death has a nonsensical plan that its victims-to-be generously recite aloud to the viewer in simple declarative sentences as they somehow piece it all together. As with the other Final Destination movies, this is recommended for folks who love to see the Mouse Trap board do its thing but are too lazy to set it up.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

After seeing three of his films, I have yet to undertake a thorough appraisal of Yorgos Lanthimos’s skewed visions, but for now, I’ll just say I’m still really enjoying living in his weird world.

Fiend Without a Face

I spent most of Fiend Without a Face trying to decide if I was amused or annoyed by its budgetary workaround of making its monsters invisible. When we do finally get to see them, they’re rendered with a disarming panache that almost pays off, but at the end of the day, there’s not much to set this apart from the other B movies of the ’50s.

The Uninvited

The Uninvited is a compelling and well-paced mystery that tries to be a few too many things. The seams between its comedy, melodrama, and horror may be visible, but when it wants to be spooky, it does so very successfully, and the whole thing is beautifully shot. I’m especially fond of all the opportunities it creates for characters to emerge from and disappear into inky blackness.

Hot Doug’s: The Movie

Hot Doug’s: The Movie does a good job of capturing the special vibe of the iconic restaurant, but offers virtually no backstory. Who is Doug? What is his background? How did this place come to be? To the extent that these fundamental questions are explored at all, answers are cursory at best. Fans of the now-closed Hot Doug’s will enjoy the opportunity to bathe in its warm glow again (as I did), but anyone looking for something more than a snapshot may be disappointed.


For the small, pedantic portion of the audience I represent, the title character’s old-soul Luddite appeal is undermined by the poetry overlays’ use of a handwriting font rather than actual handwriting. Just sayin’.

The Prestige

Like the magic trade itself, this movie is a silly thing that takes itself way too seriously.

The Dinner

If I were a congressman running for governor, and my son and my nephew committed an appalling crime together, the first thing I would do is arrange a dinner date to discuss the matter in a public place with my unstable brother.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I liked this so much more the second time!

The Shape of Water

A sweet fairy tale, easily the best of the small handful of Guillermo del Toro films I’ve seen. My one gripe is that it relies so heavily on the (strong) appeal of Sally Hawkins’ and Richard Jenkins’ performances that the film sags when they’re not onscreen. Michael Shannon is a serviceable villain, but his contours aren’t nuanced or idiosyncratic enough to justify the amount of attention del Toro lavishes on him.