Captain Carlo's Top 10 Movie Discoveries in 2018
Another year, another record amount of movies watched. 713 to be exact. When I wasn’t watching movies, I was making a magazine about them, talking about them right here, or travelling across the globe to meet my movie buddies. I continued my exploration of one of my biggest blindspots growing up, so if you like Hong Kong action cinema you’ve come to the right place. Speaking of blindspots…
Humbling is the only word that comes to mind when I consider Blindspotting is a debut feature for the creative team behind it–comprised of Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, and Carlos Lopez Estrada. Their ability to translate their own experiences to the big screen in such a dense fashion, full of sharp, down to earth writing, is something I’ve rarely encountered. Blindspotting follows Daveed’s character, Collin, during the final days of his probation, struggling to reconnect with his old life and the realities of his new situation. It put a chokehold on my heart, effortlessly nailing both how meaningful and seemingly meaningless life can be at the same time; tackling real shit (appropriation, gentrification, identity, etc) without losing sight of the levity and empathy you need to get through life and interact with others. Apparently this got severely mis-marketed in the States, which is still more word than we got of it over here in mainland Europe, so big up to my main hoser Dan for the recommendation and restoring my faith in contemporary cinema. Sorry to bother you, but this is what you shoulda been watching in 2018.
I love a good kaiju movie, but in reality I have to go back half a century when I think of kaiju movies that truly move me. So despite hearing nothing but praise since its release, I’d been casually dismissing The Host based on its reliance on digital effects, and the fact that I do not enjoy Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer. What a maroon I was. This is genre cinema with a big, fat, beating human heart. It crafts an impossibly lovable, dysfunctional family dynamic that manages to do what very few kaiju movies have managed to do: not testing your patience until the guy in the rubber suit destroys some maquettes. It’s like Bong was the first one to crack a very basic code by making us care what happens every step of the way. By going big emotionally, and by scaling back the size of the monster, he actually managed to make the threat more tangible. The Host made me feel all of the emotions and I wanted only the best for everyone. Every time someone ran in this with a life or death urgency I teared up. Incredible.
A sort of waiting room exercise in between Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow, Shaolin Drunkard is one of Yuen Woo-ping’s early career outings. Trademarked by a breakneck, gag-a-minute spirit we’d see return in 1984’s Drunken Tai Chi (Donnie Yen’s first starring role), Shaolin Drunkard justifies the existence of words like "batshit," because there is no other way to accurately describe it. I’d love to tell you what the plot was but A: I’ll be damned if I remember it, and B: it could not matter less. Seeing an evil wizard control a man in a giant toad suit using a pretzel-shaped flute is just one of many circus attractions that adds up to something that is as physically exhausting as it is mentally invigorating. Also known in Pakistan as Zombi 29: Drunken Rat Mutants of Shaolin, which… sure?
Now here’s something from the absolute depths of the rabbit hole and legit one of the best thrillers I've ever seen, tucked away in Hong Kong obscurity. Helmed by David Chung, protégé of Tsui Hark, and director of other under-the-radar bangers such as Royal Warriors and I Love Maria, Chung might just have both of those beat in terms of raw film-making with Web of Deception. A ludicrous, melodramatic, Hitchcockian (Hitchkong? Hongcock?) soap opera starring some of Hong Kong's finest leading ladies: Brigitte Lin, Pauline Wong, and Joey Wong in a dual role in which she plays her own “evil” twin. Insane and insanely well made, if you’re a fan of bitchy, backstabby thrillers like Gone Girl or A Simple Favor, you need to seek it out. Or ask me for a copy because that might prove a challenge.
Here we have what I at the time crowned “the prize for trudging through the moat of mediocrity.” Spoiled spoils, junkyards and subways, chasing across the Brooklyn bridge right into my heart, an artefact left to deteriorate in a pre-Giuliani lower east side tenement, miraculously recovered and restored by Vinegar Syndrome (bless em) to rejuvenate my synapses. A prime example of the importance of analog preservation, like the people behind this knew even back then that one day magazines and cassette tapes would become treasure maps to buried lives. Blue Vengeance hits an incredibly tight sweet spot of sincere self-awareness, and also serves as a reminder that toxic fandom has always been around. Kicking off its narrative with a prison break, a serial killer who thinks he’s in a lifelong D&D session after inhaling one too many a pages from the book of his favorite metal band, Warriors of the Inferno, decides to then target them for his next murder spree. One of those is a guy who says "Well my name is Buster Hyman, and I'm almost as funny as my name", and I couldn’t help but think this was a “save the cat” moment for the killer.
I love John Boorman because he just could not give a fuck about whether the masses liked what he was making or not. I'd argue that Hell in the Pacific is his best work because it shows him intentionally limiting himself by stripping cinema down to its purest form: visual narration. I've always been attracted to simple, high concept stories because it forces you to be creative; you have to really focus to get the most out of limited resources, which is what this movie is all about. It's also very much a live action Looney Tunes cartoon with Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune being complete assholes to each other on a deserted island for a solid hour. So I'd say all the bases are covered for it being my SHOE-IN of the year. Avoid the theatrical ending unless you want the implication that Marvin and Mifune died on the way to the their home planet.
I only occasionally dip my toes in horror outside of Falloween, which is basically Halloween XXL and starts as soon as I see a leaf hit the ground. Another fine example of Vinegar Syndrome doing the Lord’s work, Gorman Bechard’s Psychos in Love made me remember what I love about horror so much. More than being about jump scares and gore, it’s about a DIY spirit and having a sense of humor about yourself, which is something I extremely identify with. Psychos in Love is a love story about two people who find each other in their shared hatred for grapes, and love for… murder! It’s very similar in tone to Paul Bartel’s Eating Raoul; slightly tasteless, but too goofy and good-natured to be anything but a campy delight. With the added bonus of a soundtrack that is chockfull of MIDI goodness.
Chu Yen-ping's Book of Heroes is like a low-rent Yes, Madam!, except instead of stalling time with bumbling buffoonery it comes out (girls with) guns blazing–only ever occupied with finding excuses for its three leading ladies to whoop some ass. All of this to a copyright infringement nightmare of a soundtrack that adds a punch to what are, rhythmically, already some of the best fights you'll see this far down the rabbit hole from someone that isn't associated with the Yuen clan. I came for Yukari Oshima, but I ended up staying for Yang Hui-shan hatchin' up schemes and taking five to re-apply her rouge in the midst of laying waste to hordes of hired goons. Structurally this is nothing but a predictable ass B-movie through and through, so don’t expect anything other than what I’m selling here: a kitchen-sink spectacle of fisticuffs.
For as weird as Hong Kong movies can get, and for someone like director/producer Wong Jing who heavily leans into that, Future Cops is on another level. If nothing else, it’s proof you can have way more fun with a property without actually owning the license. If I can gauge what kind of person Wong Jing is, I'm convinced this is the movie he's most proud of, or at least had complete creative freedom on, because he's ripping off every nerdy thing that he is into. From a conversation that takes place inside of a Super Mario Bros. arcade game between Andy Lau and Chingmy Yau (in Mario and Luigi cosplay) about AIDS, which nearly ends with them about to get it on, to resident creepy uncle actor Richard Ng showing up as Street Fighter’s Blanka for no reason at all aside from wanting to shoehorn that character in. It's all just a glorious, manic mess and maybe the most live-action cartoon I've ever seen. If you liked the Street Fighter scene in Wong Jing’s City Hunter where Jackie Chan dresses up as Chun-Li, get ready for an entire movie like it that also happens to be structured like a Terminator movie.
There are two things about Matango that mislead people into thinking it might be a straightforward kaiju movie. For one, it is known in the English language as Attack of the Mushroom People, and it was directed by Ishiro Honda, who directed just about every Showa-era Godzilla movie. Unexpectedly, I ended up finding something far more interesting than a phoned-in sparring bout. Matango genuinely harkens back to the day of the original Godzilla, mixing legit social commentary about the destructive nature of man with body horror. A group of people find themselves shipwrecked on a deserted island, and as they explore their new surroundings in search for food they come across what appear to be man-made pools of water in a forest of mushrooms… It's got a bit of everything and there's an eerie, brooding vibe throughout the entire thing that would've been wasted on a less patient movie. Open your mind, and Matango will show you the treacherously comforting mold of human nature.
So there you have it, an amalgam of what I discovered during 2018, RIP. I had to whittle this list down from 50, so if you wanna know which movies didn’t make the list because I’d either already talked about them on the site, or I felt enough people were aware of them, you can find out here.