Old Man Yells At 2017: The Best New To Me Movies
2017 eh? What a stinker. Easily the worst year since... 2016. Yet somehow, despite a stream of global and personal shit hitting the fan, I still managed to watch 560 movies in 2017 (thank you Letterboxd, for those stats). Regrets, I have none. Okay maybe a few. But I'm here to tell you about the ones that made the medicine go down just a bit smoother. As I am terrible at keeping up with new releases, this is going to be exclusively a "new to me for 2017" list, so don't go lookin' for my thoughts on Lady Bird, because it still hasn't gotten a release where I live.
One thing I enjoyed delving into the most in 2017 were Hong Kong action movies from the late '80s to early '90s. While I don't particularly consider myself an "action movie guy," it's hard not to come away impressed when you see how directors such as Yuen Woo-Ping, Sammo Hung, and Corey Yuen-Kwai meticulously plan out every movement to look as fun as is physically (im)possible. I'm not gonna talk too in depth about the plots, as it usually comes down to a simple case of cops vs. robbers on a narrative level. These movies are first and foremost a visceral experience.
Iron Angels (1987, dir. Teresa Woo-San)
The first entry in the Iron Angels trilogy is about a Charlie's Angels-type team that are called to step in when the guys on the "right" side of the law are systematically getting offed by those on the "wrong" side of the law. Has a great up-tempo John Carpenter-esque soundtrack and the final fight between Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima has an unreal, fear for their lives / stand-up and scream moment that had me doubting whether or not they used an actual person. You have to see it to believe it, and you still won't.
The Heroic Trio (1993, dir. Johnny To)
Heroic Trio once again features a team of female "avengers" fighting injustice. The reason I use the term "avengers" is because it is more imaginative than if you were to compress the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe into 90 minutes of high-concept fantasy. It stars the legendary Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, and Maggie Cheung as the most perfect version of The Punisher you'll never get to see outside of HK cinema. The lore they try to lay onto you over the course of Heroic Trio is incredibly daunting, but just sit back and marvel as Maggie Cheung rides a grenade-powered trashcan through the air.
In the Line of Duty 4 (1989) and Tiger Cage II (1990, both dir. Yuen Woo-Ping)
Donnie Yen might be making a name for himself these days what with Rogue One and the Ip Man movies, but like many others before him he got his start 30 years ago in the urban jungle of Hong Kong action movies. Directed by legendary stunt coordinator Yuen Woo-Ping, Tiger Cage II and In the Line of Duty 4 feature some of the wildest choreography you will ever gasp at. Remember when actual people were our superheroes? Not because of computer wizardry or wearing a bright red cape, but because of physical prowess and willingness to do death-defying stunts. As a cherry on top, the soundtrack to Tiger Cage II is basically a knock-off of Harold Faltermeier's Tango & Cash theme, so you better believe I gave this shit five stars.
Police Story 3: Supercop (1992, dir. Stanley Tong)
The original Police Story was one of my first encounters with Hong Kong cinema, and I hate to say this but... I came away a bit underwhelmed. Don't get me wrong, the action was great and wonderful and imaginative, but something about the comedic tone kept undermining my investment in the movie. Which is an odd thing for me to say seeing how I'm normally all about the goofs! Such isn't the case for Supercop, though. I guess it still is kinda goofy, and it wasn't until Michelle Yeoh showed up as a counterweight to Jackie Chan's antics that I realized Supercop is just Supergood.
Okay, on to English-language cinema!
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996, dir. Renny Harlin)
The reason I included this despite having seen it when it first came out, is because I recently did a rewatch and have done a complete 180 on it. I used to think The Long Kiss Goodnight was kind of underwhelming, but time has treated this one well and the key to that I feel is in the way we experience practical effects. Visceral and tangible, not a constant visual strain, allowing Shane Black's writing to really breathe and set in. And Geena Davis and Sam Jackson are at an all-time cool as they team up to unravel the mysteries of Davis' former life as a secret agent. This is just one of those rare occasions where all the stars aligned to give us a perfect, underrated Christmas blowout. Maybe next holiday season consider leaving Die Hard on the shelves for a change.
Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993, dir. Brian Yuzna)
I always assumed Brian Yuzna movies just weren't for me. He's kind of a big deal in horror, and I love horror, but Society? I'm sorry guys, I'm just not there with you. However, usually when I don't enjoy something it doesn't tend to invoke hate, but curiosity. So I come across this indirect sequel he directed to Return of the Living Dead. A love story with sharp, rusty edges, starring Melinda Clarke (yeah, I used to watch The OC, what's it to ya??) as some sort of... tormented zombie super-heroine. Most people don't seem to hold this one in high regard, and I'm really not trying to be contrarian here, but this desaturated Looney Tunes episode just pushed all my buttons.
Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987, dir. Norman Mailer)
So I don't know if I consider this a recommendation more than a thing I just wanna tell you about 'cause it's somethin' else alright. Imagine someone suffering from crippling male insecurity like Tommy Wiseau writing a pilot for Twin Peaks – you know, small town intrigue, crime, adultery, that old chestnut. And you greenlight it, clean up the language to sound like actual English, but keep the tone in tact. Then you go ahead and hire Nicolas Cage to be an acting coach, and put everyone on a strict diet of cocaine, aaaaaand ACTION! Seriously, I am 100% certain that every ounce shown in the movie is the real deal, and NONE of it went to waste. Every single person in this movie is certifiable, and the grandiose garbage that comes out of their mouths is mind boggling. Not even kidding in the least when I say Wings fuckin' Hauser is the most nuanced part of this ludicrous equation. Well, he does slur the words "I made you come 16 times in one night" after he just had a stroke, but still.
Secret Agent 00 Soul (1990, dir. Julius LeFlore)
What? That wasn't crazy enough for you? Okay, how about this? Billy Dee Williams is a retired secret agent who sets up a private detective agency in his old hood, chronically keeps falling over everything, has his own theme song, a mechanic who's in charge of making invisible gadgets, teams up with his estranged homeless son who somehow has a degree in medicine and law – but never uses them. Also there's a mummy rap, and fart jokes, and Billy Dee dresses up as Blacula and/or Sherlock Holmes because why the fuck not. Never boring for a second because it tries so many gags and spectacularly fails at every single one that they end up working on some bizarro level. Stay clear if you have any ounce of self-respect, if you don't: it's on YouTube.
The Manitou (1978, dir. William Girdler)
The Manitou is one of those movies that had me just from reading the summary: "A psychic’s girlfriend finds out that a lump on her back is a growing reincarnation of a 400 year-old demonic Native American spirit." I mean, what more do you really need from a movie? A fifty-year old, barely sober Tony Curtis as a tarot reader with a fake moustache? Lasers??? A computer Manitou to fight the regular Manitou????? What the fuck is a Manitou???????????? All this and more, in The Manitou.
Alright hope y'all have a tolerant 2018, hope to see you soon, and uh, destroy all men.