Film Review: Short Eyes (dir by Robert M. Young)

Last night, fully intent on just viewing one movie before going to bed, I decided to watch the 1977 film, Short Eyes.

Why I thought that was a good idea, I’m not sure. Even though I didn’t know much about the film, I did know that it was a gritty prison drama that was written by an ex-con, filmed in an actual New York prison, and that a few prisoners appeared in small roles in the film. So, I really can’t claim that I didn’t realize that I was about to watch something that probably wasn’t going to be deal with particularly pleasant subject matter. I think my main reason for watching it, to be honest, was just that it had been sitting there on my Prime watchlist for nearly a year. My main motivation can be summed up as “If not now, when?” Of course, if I had know that “Short Eyes’ was apparently prison slang for someone who is a pedophile, I might have thought twice about watching.

The Short Eyes of the title is Clark Davis (Bruce Davison), a young man from a vaguely wealthy background who is being held on charges of raping a young girl. Clark is one of only three white men being housed in his cell block. As Clark soon discovers, everything in prison is determined by your race and what you’re accused of doing. As a white man, he’s already in the minority and, because he’s a “short eyes,” he soon discovers that not even the other whites are willing to watch his back. The only person who is vaguely sympathetic to Clark is Juan (Jose Perez), a longtime prisoner who is determined to not allow prison to turn him into an animal. Juan tells Clark that he needs to get a transfer to protective custody but it soon becomes apparent that’s not going to happen. The prison guards feel no obligation to protect Clark and Clark himself almost seems to have a death wish.

As Clark explains to Juan, he’s not sure whether he’s guilty or not. He says that he blacks out and sometimes, he’s not sure what he did. Clark thinks he’s innocent but, at the same time, he also confessed to Juan that he has molested other girls. Juan knows that Clark’s a dead man if he doesn’t get out of prison but he also know that, even if Clark is innocent this time, he won’t be in the future. When the other prisoners decide to kill Clark, Juan has to decide whether to let it happen or to risk his safety by trying to stop it.

Short Eyes is one of the most thoroughly unpleasant films that I’ve ever watched but that obviously was the point. This is a film about the reality of prison, that it’s a dirty, brutal, and inhumane place where the weak are targeted and anyone who goes against the system — whether it’s the system enforced by the guards or the even more important system created by the prisoners — will be punished. It’s not at all fun to watch but, if anyone wants to know why incarceration tends to just create hardened criminals as opposed to rehabilitating them, they should find some answers in the film’s portrait of prison life.

The film is based on a play and, in many scenes, it’s a bit too theatrical for its own good. Clark delivers a lengthy monologue about his previous actions and, while it’s well-delivered by Davison, it also goes on and on and you never quite understand why he’s opening up to Juan in the first place. (Juan, himself, angrily responds that he never asked to be Clark’s father confessor.) The scenes of the prisoners just hanging out and talking are also well-acted but again, they tend to drag on for a bit too long. Musicians Curtis Mayfield and Freddy Fender both appear as anonymous prisoners and both sing songs, which brings the film’s already uneven narrative momentum to a complete halt. Just as the inmates will never be able to escape prison, the film never escapes its theatrical origins. While the decision to film Short Eyes in an actual operating prison brings a good deal of authenticity to the production, the production’s staginess ultimately works against it.

At its best, this is a well-acted portrait of people trapped in a man-made Hell. Jose Perez gives an excellent performance and Bruce Davison will make your skin crawl as Clark, a character about whom most viewers will have very mixed feelings. Nathan George and Joseph Carberry are both properly intimidating as the heads of, respectively, the black prisoners and the whites.

This is definitely not a film to watch late at night, unless you’re actively trying to generate nightmares. (Of course, if that’s your goal, have it!) As for me, I stayed up an extra two and a half hours just so I could watch another movie after Short Eyes. As a result, I spent all of Saturday tired but I still think I made the right decision.

Film Review: Night Terror (dir by E.W. Swackhamer)

“There’s a killer on the road.

His brain is squirming like a toad.”

So sang Jim Morrison in the song Riders on the Storm. Now, whatever you may think of Jim Morrison and the Doors (personally, I think the music was good, Jim was pretentious as Hell, and I look cute in my Doors t-shirt), this is a perfect description of the character who is at the center of the 1977 film, Night Terror. He’s played by Richard Romanus and, in the credits, he’s simply called The Killer. The Killer spends his times driving up and down the highway, killing people seemingly at random. We never learn why exactly the Killer does what he does, though the film does offer up a few hints. For one thing, he has no voice. He carries an electrolarynx with him and holds it up to his throat whenever he wants to speak. Of course, he only does this two times in the film and, both times, it’s to basically howl with rage. In another scene, he can clearly be seen to be wearing military-style dog tags. Given when this film was made and the unfortunate popularity of the “deranged Vietnam vet” trope in the 70s and 80s, it’s easy to pick up on what exactly the film is implying.

Night Terror follows one night in the life of both The Killer and Carol Turner (Valerie Harper). Carol is just trying to get to Denver, where her son is in the hospital. When she sees a police officer pulling over a sports car for speeding, Carol decides to ask the cop for directions. Unfortunately, the sports car belong to The Killer and, as soon as the cop turns his back on him, out comes the shotgun. Carol slams down on the accelerator and speeds off, with the Killer pursuing her in own his vehicle. Unfortunately, Carol’s station wagon (which comes with wood paneling because, again, this is a movie from 1977) is nearly out of gas. What follows is a fairly tense game of cat-and-mouse, as Carol tries to hide from the Killer while the Killer stalks the highway, relentlessly searching for her. Along the way, a few familiar character actors pop up. John Quade is a homeless man living in a gas station. The great Nicholas Pryor is another motorist, one who proves to be not much help. Making things all the more dangerous for Carol is that the Killer knows what she looks like but she has no idea what the Killer looks like.

Night Terror owes an obvious debt to Steven Spielberg’s Duel and a host of other 70s car chase films. While Night Terror really can’t compare to the Duel, it does do a good job of creating and maintaining suspense. Fortunately, the film never makes the mistake of tying to turn Carol into some sort of badass action girl. She’s just an average person who has found herself in a terrifying situation and, as played by Valerie Harper, she’s never less than relatable. Richard Romanus, meanwhile, makes for a terrifying killer. The fact that he occasionally flashes a rather child-like smile only serves to make his single-minded pursuit of Carol all the more frightening. We never learn much about what’s led The Killer to becoming what he is but Romanus gives such an intense performance that we don’t need to understand him in order to be scared of him. He’s a nightmare come to life.

Night Terror ends on a somewhat awkward note, as if the filmmakers suddenly remembered that they were making a made-for-TV movie as opposed to a feature film. But, that said, Night Terror is an effectively scary and suspenseful road film. It can currently be viewed on YouTube.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Kong (dir by Adam Wingard)

From the minute Godzilla vs. Kong was announced, I’ve been rooting for Godzilla.

I’m probably not alone in this. I mean, let’s just be honest. King Kong seems like he means well and certainly, he’s had to deal with enough dumbass humans that it’s impossible not to feel some sympathy for him. But, in the end, King Kong is just a big monkey whereas Godzilla is an atomic, fire-breathing lizard who only protects Earth because he can’t stand the thought of anyone else destroying it before he gets the chance. King Kong is cool but Godzilla is a freaking badass. (It’s not a coincidence that literally everyone hates the fact that the original, Japanese-produced King Kong vs. Godzilla ended with King Kong winning.) One of my main hopes when it came to Godzilla vs Kong was that Godzilla would be declared the rightful winner of this battle of the Titans.

Obviously, I can’t tell you whether or not my hope came true, not without spoiling the film. (That said, it’s probably debatable just how much you can really spoil a film like Godzilla vs. Kong.) I can tell you that the title of the film is accurate. Kong and Godzilla meet and they fight, a total of three times. Buildings are climbed and destroyed. Radioactive fire is spewed across the Earth. The monkey and the lizard do not team up to conquer climate change. The climatic battle takes place in a city and many people are undoubtedly killed as a result but no one ever mentions anything about any of them so you’re free not to worry about them. Though the film doesn’t quite have the same charm as the sight of two men in rubber monster suits tossing miniature trees at each other, the CGI and the fight scenes are all undeniably well-done. As far as the film’s actual story goes, it’s all pretty dumb and it has none of the subversive bite of director Adam Wingard’s pervious films but Godzilla vs Kong is still undeniably entertaining. Those who have commented that there’s not much subtext to Godzilla vs Kong have a point but that’s actually a huge part of the film’s appeal. After a year of pop culture that was marinated in doom and gloom, there’s something undeniably appealing about a film that says, “Sit back, enjoy, and don’t worry about a thing.”

(I saw one negative review of Godzilla vs Kong that complained that the film didn’t have a strong environmental message, as if the filmmakers should have stopped the action so that Greta Thunberg could show up and shout “How dare you!?” at the two monsters.)

Of the two stars, Kong gets the most screentime, despite the fact that Godzilla is the more interesting of the two monsters. There are also humans in the film, played by recognizable performers like Alexandar Skarsgard, Rebecca Hall, Kyle Chandler, Millie Bobby Brown, Demian Bichir, Julian Dennison, and Brian Tyree Henry. All of the humans have their own reasons for being concerned about Kong’s fight with Godzilla but, to be honest, you really won’t care. Regardless of the talent of the individuals playing them, the human characters really aren’t important and the film is at its weakest when it tries to convince us that they are. This is a film you watch because of the monsters and it works best when it focuses on them.

As I sit here writing this, Godzilla vs Kong is on the verge of leaving HBOMax. However, it’s still playing in theaters, which is the idea way to watch an effects-driven film like this one. It’s the first true blockbuster of the post-pandemic era. Hopefully, it’ll be the first of many.

Lifetime Film Review: Just What The Doctor Ordered (dir by Jeff Hare)

Dr. Albert Beck is back!

Albert Beck is the character at the center of one of Lifetime’s most successful franchises, the Stalked By My Doctor films. First introduced six years ago in the original Stalked By My Doctor, Albert Beck is a brilliant surgeon who also has a bad habit of growing obsessed with his patients, especially if they’re teenage girls. Dr. Beck tends to fantasize that his patients are in love with him and then he goes out of his way to “protect” them. This usually means kidnapping them and attempting to murder everyone else in their life. Since his first appearance, Dr. Beck has gone from being a world-renowned surgeon to being a fugitive from justice to being a patient in a mental hospital. Just as surely as you can depend on Dr. Beck to fall in love with any teenage girl with a heart murmur, you can also depend on him to always manage to escape confinement. Along the way, Dr. Beck has also developed an alter ego — Laid Back Beck. Laid Back Beck wears Hawaiian shirts, sips tropical drinks, and is always taunting Dr. Beck about his lack of success when it comes to finding love. Of course, only Dr. Beck can see and hear Laid Back Beck.

Laid Back Beck

Of course, what truly sets Dr. Beck apart from other Lifetime obsessive stalker-types is that he’s played by Eric Roberts. In fact, Eric Roberts has become, late in his career, quite a popular figure with Lifetime movie fans, largely due to his performances as Dr. Beck and his appearances in a number of other Lifetime films. (Most of those non-Dr. Beck appearances have only been cameos but still, any film with Eric Roberts is going to be better than a film without Eric Roberts.) From the very first film, Roberts has been wonderfully over-the-top as Dr. Beck, playing him with just the right combination of mad sincerity, overwhelming self-pity, and self-awareness. Everything about Roberts’s performance, from his nervous smile to the rushed way he starts to speak whenever he meets someone who he feels need to be protected, comes together to make Dr. Beck into one of the most memorable and dangerous villains to ever appear in a Lifetime film. And yet, because he is so painfully needy and so convinced that he’s doing the right thing, it’s hard not to occasionally feel a little bit of sympathy for Dr. Beck. He may be a murderer but, in his mind, he’s only trying to fix a broken heart. Several broken hearts, as a matter of fact!

Just What The Doctor Ordered, the fifth film to feature the good doctor, finds Beck escaping from yet another mental institution. This time, he hides out in what he thinks is an abandoned house. However, it turns out that the house has recently been bought by Maggie Newell (Carrie Schroeder) and soon, Dr. Beck has fallen in love with Maggie’s teenage daughter, Alexa (Grace Patterson). And wouldn’t you know it — Alexa needs a heart transplant! Soon, Dr. Beck is disguising himself as a nurse and taking a very active interest in tracking down the perfect heart donor for Alexa.

And, you know what? It’s fun. Yes, you’ll be able to guess what’s going to happen but, as I’ve said before, that’s actually one of the fun things about watching a Lifetime film. As with the previous Stalked By My Doctor films, the main attraction here is Eric Roberts, chewing up the scenery and having violent fantasies about killing Alexa’s boyfriend while Alexa sweetly smiles and thanks him for protecting her. His search for a proper heart donor takes him to some unexpected places, particularly when he meets a police detective who appears to use her handcuffs for more than just arresting perps. Dr. Beck has been through a lot and he spends a good deal of Just What The Doctor Ordered looking a bit worse for wear. (Setting fire to a mental institution and then hiding in an attic for several weeks will do that to you.) But still, Eric Roberts’s unique charisma shines through. By the end of the film, you’ll eagerly be waiting to see what future adventures Albert Beck and his laid back alter ego have ahead of them!

Film Review: Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (dir by Kōbun Shizuno Hiroyuki Seshita)

The 2017 film, Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, takes place in the distant future. It’s been over 20 years since the constant fighting between Godzilla and a host of other giant monsters forced humanity to flee the Earth. Two different alien races offered to help the humans get rid of Godzilla but it turned out that both of them had ulterior motives and ultimately, neither one of them was a match for Godzilla. So, now, humanity is stuck floating through space, looking for another home. An entire generation has never known Earth. Meanwhile, the children who were forced to flee their home planet have grown up hating Godzilla and wondering if they’ll ever be able to return home.

One of them is Captain Haruo Sakaki. He believes that he’s come up with a way to destroy Godzilla once and for all but, in order to do so, he’s going to have to convince the ruling Central Committee to allow him (and several others) to travel back to Earth. It going to take a lot of convincing, especially since Haruo is already in jail for defying orders. But what if Haruo anonymously publishes an essay? Will that be enough to sway public opinion?

Okay, so maybe you’re getting the feeling that Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is not a typical Godzilla film. You’re correct. This is the first animated Godzilla film. It’s also the first Godzilla film in which the key to getting people to team up against Godzilla is the publication of an anonymous essay. It’s kind of like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton singing pseudonyms to the Federalist Papers because they knew readers would be more likely to listen to Publius than to listen to Jim, the Virginia Lawyer. Godzilla: Planet of Monsters spends a lot of time on Haruo and his allies trying to convince the Central Committee to let them fight Godzilla. On the plus side, the animation is gorgeous so visually, the film holds your interest and, as someone who hates bureaucracy, I appreciated the menacing way the that Central Committee was rendered. On the negative side, this is a Godzilla movie and, in the end, that is who we’re watching to see.

That said, the film definitely deserves some credit for returning a sense of menace to Godzilla. As opposed to some of the later Toho films, where Godzilla was too obviously a man in a rubber suit to really be a credible threat, the animated Godzilla presented in Planet of the Monsters is a terrifying force of unstoppable chaos. There’s nothing cute or cuddly about this Godzilla. This Godzilla is all about mindless destruction. Like the atom bomb that was the original inspiration for the monster way back in the 50s, this Godzilla destroys the innocent and the wicked alike. When he first appears as a shadowy form reigning destruction down upon civilization, the audience is reminded that Godzilla was never meant to be a hero or a toy or any of the other roles that he’s played over the years. Godzilla is pure, mindless chaos and destruction.

Of course, he’s still the most compelling character in the film. Unfortunately, the humans in Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters are not very interesting. We’re supposed to care about Haruo but he’s so obsessed with destroying Godzilla that he becomes a bit of a bore after a while. Does he do nothing but talk about Godzilla all the time? No wonder they tossed him in jail. The other human characters all tend to blend together but then again, this is a Godzilla film. We’re not watching for the humans. We’re watching for Godzilla and his family and this film, whatever it’s other flaws, brings everyone’s favorite monsters to vibrant life. You just wish the film would be a bit quicker about getting to him.

Sadly, Godzilla will never win an Oscar. But his fans will always love him, even as he tramples them and disintegrates them with nuclear fire. In the end, that’s what fandom is all about, isn’t it?

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Megalon (dir by Jun Fukada)

Look, I get it.

I fully understand why there are some people out who cannot stand Godzilla vs. Megalon. I mean, Godzilla vs. Megalon is a film that totally goes against everything that originally made Godzilla unique. When Godzilla first showed up and destroyed Tokyo, he was relentless and he ruthless and he was destructive. He didn’t care about humanity. One of the most haunting scenes in the original Gojira features a mother holding her children while Godzilla approaches. Godzilla was created to be a symbol of chaos and madness. For a nation that was still struggling with the trauma of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Godzilla was a nightmare come to life. That’s something that was made very clear in the original Gojira and it’s a theme that’s still present in the American cut of the film, Godzilla, King of the Monsters.

That, however, is not a theme that you’ll find in Godzilla vs. Megalon. There is a nuclear explosion at the start of the film, of course. It rips apart Monster Island and it also angers an underwater civilization. The underwater people retaliate by summoning their God, a giant beetle named Megalon. Why would an underwater civilization worship a beetle? Who knows? Once the beetle starts attacking humanity, it’s up to Godzilla to save the day.

Of course, someone has to let Godzilla know what’s going on. That mission falls to Jet Jaguar, a humanoid robot that is briefly controlled by the bad guys before the good guys override their commands. Jet Jaguar actually gets more screen time than Godzilla and, from what I’ve read, Jet Jaguar is one reason why a lot of hardcore Godzilla fans dislike this film.

Jet Jaguar

Yes, Jet is kind of silly but, when you’re fighting a giant beetle, you do what you have to do. Godzilla doesn’t seem to have a problem with him.

See? BFFs.

Perhaps realizing that it’s going to be really difficult for a beetle to defeat both a dinosaur and a robot, the underwater people contact a bunch of aliens who agree to lend them Gigan, who is a really cool monster who has a chainsaw in his chest for some reason.

Gigan and Megalon

It all leads to knock-down, drag-out fight, one that sees Godzilla going in for a flying kick. Basically, it looks more like a tag team wrestling match than anything else but again, it’s all about the saving planet and if you don’t cheer when Godzilla goes flying through the air, I don’t know what to tell you.

Now, those who complain that this film feels like it was made for children have a point. It definitely does have something of a chidlish feel to it and the fact that it was one of the more financially successful Godzilla films outside of Japan led to a lot of people assuming that all Godzilla films were like this one. Whenever anyone rolls their eyes at the thought of Godzilla being a serious metaphor for nuclear war, it’s probably because the only Godzilla film that they’ve seen is this one or the original King Kong vs. Godzilla.

So, don’t get me wrong. I full understand why some people don’t like this movie but …. well, I do like it. Or, I should say, I always enjoy it when I see it. Seriously, it’s just all so silly and rather innocent. It’s pure fun, which may go against what Godzilla is meant to represent but, at the same time, it’s impossible for me not to smile whenever I watch it.

Fortunately, though, Jet Jaguar never appeared in another film. He did an okay job in Godzilla vs. Megalon but, by the end of the movie, you could tell he was starting to let his new-found fame go to his head.

Film Review: King Kong (dir by John Guillermin)

The 1976 remake of King Kong is the version of the great ape’s story that no one ever seems to want to talk about.

Everyone, of course, continues to appreciate the original King Kong from 1933, with its charmingly dated but still somewhat effective special effects. The Japanese King Kong films have their fans, even if it still annoys me that two endings were made for the original King Kong vs. Godzilla. The Peter Jackson-directed remake from 2005 had many admirers, including me. The monsterverse Kong certainly has many fans, as is indicated by the fact that Godzilla vs Kong is the first box office hit of the post-pandemic era. King Kong is a beloved character and yet the 1976 version of his story never seem to get as much attention as all the others.

Some of that, of course, is because the 1976 version of King Kong is often described as not being very good. It tells the same basic story as the first King Kong but there’s a few key differences. The expedition to the hidden island is no longer made up of a film crew. Instead, everyone has a separate backstory that doesn’t really make much sense. Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) is an energy company executive who is looking for a new source of oil. Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) is a long-haired hippie environmentalist type who stows away on Wilson’s ship. Prescott apparently thinks that there’s some sort of ancient primate living on the island. Meanwhile, Dwan (future great actress Jessica Lange, making her film debut) is an aspiring actress who is discovered in a life raft, floating out in the middle of the ocean. It turns out that Dwan (that’s not a typo, that’s her name) has escaped from the yacht of a sleazy film producer. Nobody on the ship seems to be surprised when Dwan suddenly shows up in her life raft and Dwan doesn’t seem to have any hesitation about accompanying a bunch of strangers to previously unexplored island. That’s the type of film this is.

After a considerable amount of time, during which Dwan falls in love with Jack and Fred spends a lot of time looking generally annoyed, the island is discovered. As you can already guess, Dwan is kidnapped by the island’s natives, and she’s rescued by a giant ape who falls in love with her after she punches him in the nose and says, “Put me down, you male chauvinist pig ape!” In some shots, Kong is obviously a man in a rubber suit. In others, he’s just as obviously an animatronic model. Unfortunately, the animatronic version of Kong sometimes appears to kind of be leering whenever he looks down at Dwan in the palm of his hand, which bring a definite element of ickiness to a few of the scenes in which Kong carries Dwan across the island.

I would have started praying too.

Eventually, just as in the original film, Kong ends up a prisoner in New York. This time, when he escapes, grabs Dwan, and goes on a rampage, he ends up climbing the Two Towers. This leads to scenes of helicopters and fighter planes all firing at the Two Towers, which is a bit difficult to watch today. I remember a few years ago, one of our local stations actually broadcast this version of King Kong on September 11th and it definitely did not feel right.

The 1976 version of King Kong was a hit at the box office and was nominated for three Academy Awards. It won the the award for Best Visual Effects, sharing the Oscar with Logan’s Run. That said, King Kong wasn’t exactly popular with critics, either at the time of its release or today. To a certain extent, it’s understandable why this version of King Kong is so frequently criticized. The script takes a deliberately campy approach to material that, in order to have any real emotional impact, needs to be played straight regardless of how silly the story might seem. Charles Grodin never seems to be sure whether the film is a drama or a comedy. Jeff Bridges is likable but a bit too naturally mellow for his role. Jessica Lange made her film debut in King Kong, famously beating out Meryl Streep for the role. Despite the fact that the film was a box office hit, the reviews of Lange’s performance were so negative that she didn’t work for three years after appearing in the film. (She spent that time studying acting. She went on to win a Tony, two Oscars, and three Emmys so take that, critics.)

And yet, I kind of like this version of King Kong. When taken on its own very silly terms (and not as a remake of a legitimate classic), it’s definitely entertaining. Even the fact that Grodin, Bridges, and Lange are all miscast kind of works to the film’s advantage. You can’t help but appreciate that all three of them are trying so hard to be convincing in roles that they shouldn’t have been playing. For all the criticism of Jessica Lange’s performance, she actually does as well as anyone could with some of the dialogue that she gets stuck with. It’s not easy to pull off a scene where you explain to a giant ape that the relationship is never going to work because you’re a city girl and he’s a …. well, he’s a giant ape. But Lange manages to deliver the lines without laughing and that couldn’t have been easy. Lange’s then-inexperience is obvious whenever she’s having to react to or interact with the other actors but she does fine when she’s having to talk to a guy in a rubber suit or a big animatronic head. (Let’s see Meryl Streep pull that off.) Though it seems to take forever for Kong to actually get captured, the film picks up once he’s transported to New York. If you can look past the awkwardness of how the film uses the Twin Towers, the scenes of Kong rampaging through the city have an over-the-top grandeur that’s both ludicrous and compelling. By the time he reaches the top of the World Trade Center, you will totally be on his side. That’s the way it should be.

This remake of King Kong is deeply, deeply silly but, sometimes, that’s exactly what you’re looking for.

Film Review: Conan The Destroyer (dir by Richard Fleischer)

As you can probably tell just from looking at everything that’s been posted on the site today, I love the Oscars. That said, I realize that the Oscars aren’t for everyone. Some people find Oscar-nominated movies to be boring. Some people find the ceremony to be unbearably pompous. Every year, there’s the lament of “The truly entertaining films always get snubbed!”

Well, fear not! If you’re not into the Oscars, there are alternatives! For instance, you can go over to Prime right now and rent the 1984 film, Conan the Destroyer!

Conan The Destroyer is the sequel to the original Conan the Barbarian, with Arnold Schwarzenegger returning as Conan and Mako returning as the sorcerer who narrates the events of Conan’s life. This film is a continuation of the adventures of the barbarian who would become king, a trip to a world much different from our own, and a study of savagery vs civilization. Of course, to most viewers, Conan The Destroyer is just the film where a weird lizard monster picks up Arnold Schwarzenegger by his feet and spins him around in circles. Have you seen that meme where it’s made to appear as if Kate Winslet is spinning around a helpless Schwarzenegger? Along with Titanic, this is the film that you have to thank for it.

Conan The Destroyer picks up from where Conan the Barbarian ended. Conan is still wandering around the desert, working as a thief and a mercenary. He’s still praying to Crom and missing Valeria. He’s picked up a companion, a cowardly thief named Malak (Tracey Walter). When Conan and Malk are captured by Queen Taramis (Sarah Douglas), Taramis offers to bring Valeria back to life if Conan will escort the Queen’s niece, Jehna (Olivia D’Abo), to a temple so that she can retrieve a gem that will be used to …. you know what? I’m just going to be honest here. I have absolutely no idea what the quest is about. It’s just one of those things where Conan and his crew have to break into a castle or a temple and steal something so that a god can either be awakened or defeated. The film, to be honest, is a bit vague about how it all works but then again, the mission is less important than the journey.

It turns out that, with the exception of her insanely tall bodyguard Bombaata (Wilt Chamberlain), Jehna has never seen an actual man before and, needless to say, she is quickly fascinated by Conan. (She asks Bombaata if Conan is as handsome as he appears to be, Bombaata reluctantly agrees that he is.) However, Conan only cares for the deceased Valeria. As he leads Jehna, Malak, and Bombaata to the castle where they’ll find the gem, he picks up some other traveling companions. The wizard Akiro (Mako) joins them as does the fierce warrior Zula (Grace Jones). Of course, it turns out that Taramis has an agenda of her own and it all ends in a lot of shouting, swordplay, and muscle flexing.

If Conan the Barbarian was distinguished by the grim and girtty approach that it took to material that others would have played for camp, Conan the Destroyer takes the opposite approach. Of course, a lot of that is because director/screenwriter John Milius did not return to oversee Conan the Destroyer. Instead, Conan the Destroyer was directed by Richard Fleischer, who was one of those veteran directors who made a countless number of films in all sorts of genres but who never really developed a signature style of his own. Fleischer takes a semi-comedic approach to Conan and his quest. As opposed to the brutal warrior and conqueror who appeared in Milius’s film, the Conan in this film is a well-meaning rogue who punches out a camel and who also gets tongue-tied whenever he has too much to drink or when Jehna flirts with him. There’s little of the first film’s violence in this sequel and none of the emotional stakes.

That said, Conan the Destroyer is definitely entertaining. It’s just such a silly movie that you can’t help but enjoy it. Schwarzenegger, apparently understanding that the film is never going to make any sense, cheerfully goes through the motions and he actually does a pretty good job with some of his more comedic lines. The allies and the villains who he collects through the film are all memorably flamboyant. Sarah Douglas is especially entertaining as the over-the-top villainous. If you’re going to be evil in a film like this, you might as well go all out.

Conan The Destroyer was not nominated for an Oscars but it’s still a fun movie.

The Best Picture Race In Review: The 2010s

Ah, the 2010s. Social media made anxiety the norm and Americans became obsessed with “red states” and “blue states.” Americans fetishized politicians and the Academy decided that it would be cool to do away with the idea of having a set number of best picture winners. One bright spot, for me at least: Arleigh invited me to write for this site! And the rest, as they say, is history!


Black Swan

The Fighter


The Kids Are All Right

The King’s Speech

127 Hours

The Social Network

Toy Story 3

True Grit

Winter’s Bone

Won: The King’s Speech

Should Have Won: Ah, The King’s Speech vs The Social Network. On the one hand, The King’s Speech was a far more conventional film than The Social Network. On the other hand, The Social Network‘s supporters tended to be so obnoxious about it that you kind of wanted it to lose just to spite them. Personally, I liked The King’s Speech on an emotional level. The Social Network holds up fairly well, though I still find it to be overrated. Inception is still exciting to watch and Winter’s Bone gets better every time I view it. In the end, though, my vote still goes to Black Swan, a film that gave me an asthma attack the first time I watched it.


The Artist

The Descendants

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

The Help


Midnight in Paris


The Tree of Life

War Horse

Won: The Artist

Should Have Won: The Artist isn’t bad but its victory was still more about its novelty than its quality. The Tree of Life is visually stunning but the scenes with Sean Penn are a bit too heavy-handed for me. My vote goes to Hugo, a film that gets better each and every time that I see it. (My favorite film of the year remains the unnominated Hanna.)




Beasts of the Southern Wild

Django Unchained

Les Miserables

Life of Pi


Silver Linings Playbook

Zero Dark Thirty

Won: Argo

Should Have Won: “Argo fuck yourself!” Yes, I can see why this won! Actually, Argo‘s victory has always struck me as weird. Argo is a rather forgettable winner. My vote goes to Life of Pi.


12 years A Slave

American Hustle

Captain Phillips

Dallas Buyers Club





The Wolf of Wall Street

Won: 12 Years A Slave

Should Have Won: This was a good year and I can make an argument for why American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Her, and The Wolf of Wall Street all deserved to win. In the end, though, the power of 12 Years a Slave cannot be denied.


American Sniper



The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game


The Theory of Everything


Won: Birdman

Should Have Won: We all love Michael Keaton but Birdman was a pretentious film that thought it was more profound than it actually was. Of the nominees, Boyhood is my pick. (My favorite film of the year was — and I make no apologies for this — the terrifically entertaining Guardians of the Galaxy.)


The Big Short

Bridge of Spies


Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant



Won: Spotlight

Should Have Won: Spotlight is a well-acted, visually flat movie that feels like it belongs on television as opposed to playing in theaters. Of the nominees, I really love Brooklyn but Mad Max: Fury Road is a masterpiece of the pulp imagination and that’s the film that gets my vote.




Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

La La Land


Manchester By The Sea


Won: Moonlight

Should Have Won: This is one of the stronger best picture line-ups and the fact that I would pick a film other than Moonlight should not be taken as a criticism of the Academy’s decision. Moonlight is a worthwhile winner. La La Land would have been a worthy winner, as well. In retrospect, 2016 was a better year for movie than a lot of us realized a the time. Back then, I would have voted for Arrival but today, I would probably vote for Hell or High Water. “We ain’t got no goddamned trout.”


Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour


Get Out

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Won: The Shape of Water

Should Have Won: Considering how much I love Guillermo Del Toro, it pains me that I didn’t particularly care for The Shape of Water. But I have to admit that the film lost me as soon as the Fishman ate that cat. Of the nominees, I would have voted for Lady Bird.


Black Panther


Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourtie

Green Book


A Star Is Born


Won: Green Book

Should Have Won: My favorite film of the year, Eighth Grade, was not nominated. In fact, a lot of good films weren’t nominated in 2018. What a strange year that sees both Vice and Bohemian Rhapsody nominated but not Eighth Grade or First Reformed. Spike Lee finally got his first nomination but it was for one of his most conventional films. It was a strange year. Of the nominees, I would vote for A Star is Born.


Ford v Ferrari

The Irishman

Jojo Rabbit


Little Women

Marriage Story


Once Upon A Time In Hollywood


Won: Parasite

Should Have Won: My favorite film of the year was The Souvenir, which barely got any distribution at all in the States and went unnominated. Parasite‘s victory was a great moment and it’s certainly a good film. That said, I still would have voted for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.

And that’s it for our look back at all the previous races for Best Picture! Later tonight, a new film will join these previous winners! The big show starts in about 30 minutes!

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019, dir by Quentin Tarantino)

The Best Picture Race In Review: The 2000s

Lost In Translation (2003, dir by Sofia Coppola)

Ah, the aughts. The new century started out with the terror of 9-11 and it ended with the collapse of the world’s economy. In between, a lot of films were released. Some of them were really good. A few of them were nominated for Best Picture. Most of them were not.



Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Erin Brockovich



Won: Gladiator

Should Have Won: I’m in a minority here but I’ve never particularly cared for Gladiator. Joaquin Phoenix is a good villain and I can certainly understand why some people have adopted it as a sort of a life manual but, for the most part, Gladiator just falls flat for me. If I was voting, I would have voted for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There was a time when I would have voted for Traffic but Crouching Tiger has aged with a bit more grace the Steven Soderbergh’s look at the war on drugs.


A Beautiful Mind

Gosford Park

In the Bedroom

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Moulin Rouge!

Won: A Beautiful Mind

Should Have Won: A Beautiful Mind gets criticized for being too Oscar bait-y but it’s not a bad film. What it does, it does well. That said, I would have voted for Todd Field’s haunting In The Bedroom.



Gangs of New York

The Hours

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

The Pianist

Won: Chicago

Should Have Won: As much as I love Chicago, this is the year that I would have selected to honor Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Two Towers is the darkest chapter in the saga and it’s also the best.


The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Lost in Translation

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Mystic River


Won: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Should Have Won: Even while it was sweeping the Oscars, it was understood that Return of the King was being honored as a way to acknowledge the entire trilogy. Since I already honored the trilogy with The Two Towers, that frees me up to vote for Lost In Translation this year. Lost In Translation is a film that haunts me in a way that few other films ever have or ever will.


The Aviator

Finding Neverland

Million Dollar Baby



Won: Million Dollar Baby

Should Have Won: Million Dollar Baby is good but The Aviator is Scorsese at his best. It also features Leonardo DiCaprio’s first legitimately great performance.


Brokeback Mountain



Good Night and Good Luck


Won: Crash

Should Have Won: Oh God, don’t get me started on Crash. What should have won? Anything other than Crash. I’ll go with Brokeback Mountain.



The Departed

Letters From Iwo Jima

Little Miss Sunshine

The Queen

Won: The Departed

Should Have Won: Martin Scorsese finally won his first Oscar for The Departed. Sadly, The Departed is actually one of his weaker films. (Of course, a weak Scorsese film is still better than an average film from any other director.) Back in 2007, I thought Babel should have won but that’s just because I was going through a pretentious phase where I thought any film with multiple storylines was automatically brilliant. Today, I realize that The Queen was the proper winner.




Michael Clayton

No Country For Old Men

There Will Be Blood

Won: No Country For Old Men

Should Have Won: No Country For Old Men. The Academy got it exactly right.


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button



The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire

Won: Slumdog Millionaire

Should Have Won: Of the nominees, I have to go with Slumdog Millionaire. This, of course, is the year that The Dark Knight was not nominated and the internet lost its mind as a result.



The Blind Side

District 9

An Education

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds


A Serious Man


Up In The Air

Won: The Hurt Locker

Should Have Won: This is the year that the Academy went back to ten nominees. The idea was that this would lead to a more diverse best picture lineup and it certainly worked the first year they tried it. This is one of the strongest best picture lineups in Oscar history and I say that as someone who really disliked Avatar and who thought The Hurt Locker was a bit overrated. I could make an argument for honoring Up In The Air, Up, District 9, A Serious Man, and Inglourious Basterds but my final vote would go to the underrated but wonderful An Education.

Coming up in an hour, we wind up our look at the history of the Best Picture race with the 2010s!