Rockie’s Vulcan Staff Picks #7 with Guest Contributor Matt Lynch
I finally met face-to-face with Matt Lynch at Fantastic Fest. He gave me a big hug right away as I was hustling in to see a film and it meant the world to me. You see, Matt and I have been Twitter friends for quite sometime before we finally met. We have a wonderful thing in common, we both work at two very important video stores! Matt hails from Seattle, Washington, home of the movie paradise Scarecrow Video. Bringing him in on this Vulcan Staff Picks journey was an easy choice, and I advise you to take heed to his selections for he has years of experience at Scarecrow with phenomenal taste to back it up. I also recommend you look up Scarecrow online, and if you find yourself in Seattle, go and see this chunk of heaven for yourself. So please, enjoy our picks and know they were selected by dorks that care!
Matt Lynch's Picks
Date with a Kidnapper, a.k.a. Kidnapped Co-Ed (1976)
Everything beautiful in this ends up spoiled, and every despoiled thing is secretly beautiful. What seems to start out as a wannabe-arty roughie turns into something elegant and haunting and sad. Full of sudden, unvarnished violence, quiet lyricism, and straight-up bizarro non-sequitur, at times deeply unpleasant. Is this the BADLANDS of exploitation?
Top of the Heap (1972)
"America can wipe out anything." Total fucking scorcher. Bad Lieutenant plus The Spook Who Sat by the Door divided by The Ninth Configuration. Yeah, really. Black cop's psyche in open revolt as he realizes he's become a willing tool of the system, swallowed whole by a bullshit dream that was never intended for him. Where has this been all your life?
The Hang Up (1969)
Unpleasant melodrama about a violent, racist, homophobic, and truly terrible vice cop who vaguely resembles Glenn Ford. He starts to mellow out when he falls for a young prostitute, but you can probably imagine how that works out. A sad movie, forever veering from (not always accidentally) comic attempts at titillation to deeply ugly misogyny, with this guy being incrementally poisoned by his own thwarted, meager desires. As in director John Hayes' Sweet Trash, the cheap ineptitude, stilted earnestness, and generally unvarnished inhumanity create an almost quotidian bleakness. You'll think I'm overselling this when I say that, at its best, it feels like a trash cinema Seconds, but I swear, I swear I'm totally not overselling it.
Below the Belt (1980)
Maybe the best regional kayfabe picture ever, centering on a group of female wrestlers. Has all the usual wintry highways, grungy locker rooms, and practically criminal working conditions. This is a mostly really kind, plain portrait of camaraderie, with a lot of its energy devoted to fear of missed opportunity and regret over busted expectations, with everyone's half-life endlessly expending, ticking off one electron at a time. Packed with naturalistic performances by a cast of mostly unknown women (lead by Regina Baff, who you also need to see in Road Movie) and featuring a lot of cool cameos (look out for Princess War Star and, of course, Captain Lou).
Handgun, a.k.a. Deep in the Heart (1984)
They could've also called this TRIGGER WARNING. Very blunt, very straightforward rape/revenge film, about a meek young woman who arms herself after a sexual assault. Clinical, with an almost industrial film-like simplicity in its depiction of not just the rape itself (an absolutely harrowing sequence on its own, so be warned), but also its forensic aftermath, the patriarchal dismissal of the crime, her trauma, and even gun culture. Doesn't have the searing punk fire of something like Ms. 45 but it's just as sharp a cutting tool.
The Grey (2011)
“I wanted Liam punching wolves.” If you ever heard someone say this or if you thought it yourself, you are missing the point of this great drama. This film asks the questions, "How would you act in an extreme situation?", and "How would you meet death when it comes for you?" After a horrific plane crash leaves a crew of oil workers stranded in the Alaskan wilderness, they have no choice but to band together, even when a few of them are at each other’s throats. To make matters worse, a pack of wolves begins to defend their territory, picking off the remaining survivors one by one. Intense and profoundly sad, the journey will resonate with you with its deep messages about life, death, and all those moments in between. Easily the greatest film Joe Carnahan has ever made and one of the best films of 2011.
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Steven Spielberg uses James Cameron’s Avatar toys to bring us one of the greatest adventure rides of his entire career. Why yes, I WOULD put this up there with Indiana Jones, even if a gun was pressed firmly to my head. Featuring incredible mo-cap performances from the entire cast (especially Andy Serkis, who adds yet another reason why the technology is important to his resume), the audience is swept along on a rollicking adventure that is loaded with creativity and imagination. In true Spielberg fashion, he lays out the set pieces like a pro, before letting his characters bound through them. Do not let the look of this film deceive you, this is not a kids’ cartoon, guys. This is another home run from the master who uses new (at the time) tech like he actually invented the stuff. A total blast.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013)
In one of the most violent love letters to cinema, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? vibrates with creativity from frame one. A radical film crew known as the Fuck Bombers (great name) loves cinema, probably more than anyone on Earth, in fact. They try their damnedest to create films, risking friendships and reputation along the way. Two rival Yakuza gangs that are at one another’s throats are destined to do battle, and guess who gets to film it? That’s right, the gonzo crew Fuck Bombers. In a third act that has to be witnessed to be understood, Sono fills the frame with body parts, blood, and rainbows. It’s one of the strongest films of his prolific filmography, saying more than just the ludicrous violence within. How does a gore master like Sion Sono outdo himself time and time again? Or better yet, how does he stay fresh with every outing? Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is too damn creative to deny or ignore.
The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)
Once again, Aardman lands all the jokes and sight gags in a dazzling display of stop motion craft that is a testament to the very difficult art form. The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a full tilt comedy about loyalty and finding true happiness that transcends fame or accolades. The Pirates! features some of the greatest voice acting in any animated feature—Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, David Tennant, Anton Yelchin (Rest in Peace), and Imelda Staunton. The film has loads of depth and nuance that will make you fall in love instantly. To me, this and The Curse of The Were-Rabbit are their finest full length features, with better timed jokes than their animation peers and most live action comedies to pegleg, I mean boot.
The Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
The songs, the joy, the colors, the magic. Another shining example of remakes that matter, Little Shop of Horrors takes the original Roger Corman picture and elevates it to a blissful plateau by adding hilarious show tunes with truly wacky performances to back them. Frank Oz, of Muppet fame, confidently directs a film about a carnivorous plant that helps a struggling flower shop find its legs again. It sounds bananas because it is. Thankfully, the film uses the silliness as a weapon that allows an unlikely hero, played by a mousy Rick Moranis, to find love and save the world. Every song in this film matters because no matter how silly they get (I’m looking at you Steve Martin) they are entirely character driven, never allowing the story to slow down or become stagnant. It does not hurt that the numbers are catchy as Hell. Seriously, I’m still singing these songs decades later at the top of lungs in long car rides to places like the dentist's office. There is a Director’s Cut out there but I have always preferred the cut that hit theaters and VHS. Just know, whichever version you watch, you are in for something special and you may never see Bill Murray or candy bars in the same light ever again.