“Why use old code to do something new?”
“Maybe this isn’t the story we think it is.”

Extremely self-referential sequel in which Neo is a game developer whose history of reality breakdowns resurfaces when he’s asked to revisit his most famous property, The Matrix. “Our beloved parent company Warner Bros has decided to make a sequel to the trilogy – they’re gonna do it with or without us.”

Lots of reality fakeouts and good in-jokes (psychiatrist Neil Patrick Harris’s cat is named Deja Vu). There’s bullet-time action and Inception space-bending, but also a bleary slow-mo effect in the action scenes, which is sorta not as cool. I miss the 35mm grain, but this has a curious look – a hyperreal digital cleanness I’ve never seen on this scale, like if Michael Mann made an Avengers movie. An explicitly nonbinary story (Dev Neo’s cancelled game was to be called BINARY) – the future is against the “red pill” choices of one thing or another, and more into blends. It’s also more generous in spirit, not only literally resurrecting the two lead characters, but refusing to kill off good guys, while previous movies would introduce a new crew then slaughter them all.

The straight world sees Neo as an eyepatched dude (played by Carrie-Anne Moss’s husband):

Agent Smith is sorta Neo’s boss and sorta also Morpheus, I dunno, I was having too much fun to sweat all the details. The Franco-looking boss is actually Jonathan Groff (the king in Hamilton), New Morpheus is Yahya Abdul-Mateen (New Candyman), New Punk Hacker Girl is Jessica Henwick (final survivor of Underwater). Ancient Jada Pinkett is in charge of humanity, and Junkyard Lambert Wilson has become a raving Gilliam vagrant.

Game of Death (1978, Robert Clouse)

Time for the post-Bruce-Lee movies in the Bruce Lee box set. Bruce had filmed about ten minutes of fights for this one, then he inconveniently died. The American studio knew Bruce was profitable, and that’s all they knew, so they cobbled together a new movie, blatantly using stand-ins and cutting reaction shots from other movies. Once they simply pasted a still photo of Bruce’s face over another guy. It’s full of callbacks to the previous movies (thanks to a films-with-the-film subplot), but anyone who enjoyed those is gonna be sad about this one. Even doc footage from Bruce’s actual funeral is used, when lead character “Billy Lo” is supposed to be faking his own death. And this is all in service of a third-rate crime thriller. 1 star for the music, 1 for Sammo Hung, zero for the rest.

After filming a scene, Billy is calmly threatened by a white suited gangster who wants protection money. He works for an evil bald guy who’s somehow involved in both a record pressing plant (which threatens Billy’s girlfriend’s music career) and a championship fight in Macao (their star fighter is Carl: Robert Wall from Enter the Dragon, who died last week). The gangster protection money plot had already been used in Way of the Dragon (and the Chang Cheh movie I just watched), but so what, it’s a plot, and movies need those.

Billy’s in hiding, letting the gangsters think he’s dead, which gives all the non-Bruce actors an excuse to wear heavy disguises. Carl cheats and beats Sammo Hung in the ring, but Sammo puts on a good showcase, then Billy slaughters Carl in the lockers. The girlfriend (Colleen Camp) inevitably gets kidnapped, and a stuntman wearing Bruce’s yellow tracksuit and a dark helmet fights some motorcycle dudes in a warehouse. Finally, the one true Bruce fights some dudes (including the absurdly tall Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and it’s glorious for a few minutes. He never even touches the old bald gangster (Dean Jagger, the sheriff of Forty Guns), who falls off a roof while running away, the credits rolling before he even hit the ground.

Movie magic via still photo:


Game of Death II (1981, Ng See-yuen)

The only sense that this is a sequel is it’s playing the stand-in game with old Bruce footage (the film stock still doesn’t match). Bruce is hilariously dubbed by some cowboy-ass American. He chills with an ass-kicking abbot then gets an incriminating film from some girl. At a friend’s funeral, he’s shot and falls to his death while chasing a helicopter that was stealing his friend’s casket(!), and now Bruce’s sad brother Bobby takes over as the lead, like Bruce took over from James Tien in The Big Boss – but not exactly like that, since Tong Lung is playing both brothers here. Now with an hour to go, the movie doesn’t have to pretend to star Bruce Lee anymore, and can cut loose. The dubbing is atrocious, but the Chinese/Koreans in charge of this movie have got more respect for Bruce’s legacy and more filmmaking and fighting talent than the doofus Americans in part one.

Lewis trying to be intense despite the cute monkey:

Bobby gets intel from a white monk that the evil Lewis and his scarfaced brother, masters of the Palace of Death, are responsible, so he heads on down. Lewis can’t be that evil – he keeps pet peacocks and monkeys. The Whatever Brothers (I didn’t catch their names) challenge Bobby, and he proves his mettle, then a sudden blonde girl gets suddenly naked, tries to kill him, then a guy in a lion suit joins in! Movie is already kinda nutty, and that’s before Bobby descends to the subterranean MST3K sci-fi lair with spacesuited harpoon-armed flunkies and electrified floors. Lewis is found dead, the scarface guy is suspected so Bobby beats his ass, but Bruce’s “dead” friend, who was stealing his own coffin to avoid discovery, is behind the whole thing. Friend/enemy Chin Ku is Jeong-lee Hwang of Drunken Master, the abbot was in Temple of Doom and Sammo’s Enter the Fat Dragon.


Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend (1973, Shih Wu)

Polishing off the Criterion box set with a return to the shameless, shoddy quality of Game of Death 1, this time in documentary form. Opens with ten minutes of news film from Bruce’s funeral, which doesn’t sound like such a long time but really felt like it, making me realize I am not cut out to watch Loznitsa’s State Funeral. Then a chronological run through his life and career, with lots of slow zooms into photographs, and a narrator who sounds like he’s from some MST3K short, like How to Go on a Date. Why is the dialogue in the movie Bruce was in as a child covered up with horn music? Why does the English narrator sometimes talk over people speaking English, telling us the same story at a slightly different pace? When Bruce defeats Bob Baker in Fist of Fury, “Baker studied for seven years under Bruce, but he is still no match for his teacher,” the narrator confusing an actor’s skill with a scripted scenario. It closes with then-unreleased Game of Death footage – in fact, Enter The Dragon wasn’t even out yet – in Hong Kong, this quickie doc beat it into theaters by a week. Shih Wu was an assistant director on A Better Tomorrow III, which I’ll probably end up watching eventually.

In 2003 we watched this, wanting it to rule, but it kinda sucked. In 2021, I am a serious auteurist cinephile who understands the unique artistry of the Wachowskis, rewatching with a corrected mindset, wanting it to rule, but it kinda sucks. The action certainly moves like a twice-as-big upgrade to the original, but the digital effects and music picks say otherwise.

Keanu dreams an extreme-bullet-time moto-leather-splosion intro, then he’s back with Larry, who always uses three words when one would suffice. Jada Pinkett Smith is a bigwig in a red coat. Humans live in caves, led by Harry Lennix, and worship Neo and Morpheus. Neo has hot sex with Trinity, then has to battle Oracle’s agent Serif before he’s allowed to visit her – those two are said to be programs, not human. At this point, Neo battles a playground full of Agent Smiths, who have been duplicating themselves.

There are too many new characters, and it’s very talky, but somehow Lambert Wilson and his wife Monica Bellucci are important – she opens a secret door behind a bookcase and shoots a guard with a silver bullet, then the albino twins turn into medusa-haired ghosts. The crazy car chase with the twins is just as crazy as I remember it, and Neo isn’t even there. This is all a quest to save the Keymaster, who all but admits he’s an NPC. Keymaster leads Neo to The Architect, who is of course a genteel bearded white man (c’mon Wachowskis). GW Bush appears when he says the phrase “varying grotesqueries.” “It was all another system of control” is very Adam Curtis. There’s talk of performing a full system reset, saving a few people after Zion is destroyed, but we’re distracted by the death and resurrection of Trinity. Chad Stahelski and Leigh Whannel both in the credits.

My WFH setup:

What I do at work:

Opens with a crackpot on a TV talk show discussing the events of the previous film, not a good sign. Also not good that Devon has been killed offscreen in the interval. But I got the one thing I asked for: more Coroner Tony Todd, and now he’s even got a character name (Mr. Bludworth). Trying to avoid looking up how many more sequels he’ll be in. David R. Ellis had previously made Homeward Bound II, how’d he get this gig?

Cop and Kim:

Ellis acquits himself capably right from the start of the action – I knew this was the movie with the log truck, but thought that’d be a single-car accident, not this awesome super-fatal setpiece. Rewind to Kim (AJ Cook, a Virgin Suicides sister) seeing it happen and blocking the entrance ramp, saving herself and a bunch of strangers (not her friends, who still get killed a minute later, haha). The action remains good, but script is clunky, and each survivor is allowed one character trait: Pregnant Lady, Mom & Kid, Firebird Guy, Businesswoman (“my career is at a peak,” she will later tell us), and so on. Before they all die a la the first movie, Kim and Cop and Ali Larter (who checked herself into an asylum between movies to hide from death) are gonna have to solve the same ol’ mysteries.

Ali’s asylum wall:

It’s too late for Firebird Guy (David Paetkau of the second Alien vs. Predator) who gets the funniest death scene of the movie, everything in his kitchen trying to kill him all at once as he carelessly cooks fish sticks, until he escapes and gets his head smashed by the fire escape. Every survivor hears of his death that night on the TV evening news (everyone in 2003 watched the news). They repeat the trick with Kid (James Kirk, Iceman’s brother in an X-Men sequel), who survives a chain of dentist office catastrophes only to leave unharmed and be smooshed by falling construction equipment. I’m detecting references to Poltergeist (Kim’s room at night) and Hellraiser (“get them off me” in asylum).

Ali and Businesswoman after the elevator incident:

It’s decided that if Pregnant Lady (Justina Machado of a Purge sequel) gives birth then New Life will derail Death’s Plan, so Cop and Kim scheme to rescue her from Kim’s flashforward deathdreams. Meanwhile, Mom (Lynda Boyd of The V Word) gets beheaded by a elevator, Ali Larter and Verbose Black Guy (TC Carson of a Rob Lowe prison murder mystery) get fried in an explosion. They are so, so quick to proclaim that they’ve cheated death, should really know better. Half the movie was mega-death setpieces with spinning camera, so I’m happy and am gonna have to keep watching these.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987, Chuck Russell)

Kicking off the second Elm Street double-feature, and Videodrome was right, this is the great sequel, a big blockbustery movie, more inventive than it is jokey. Classy intro music until Kristen (Patricia Arquette’s debut) plays a cock-rock song on her boombox. Freddy slashes her wrists to send her to the psych ward where Nancy now works helping people with dream issues. We meet a new group of weirdos and misfits, who will be killed off one by one, their personality quirks weaponized against them.

Kristen’s thing is that she can pull others into her dreams (good sfx on this), which is how Freddy plans to get new victims, something like that. Is there any reason Nancy’s house should be so important in the hauntings, besides visual reference for the viewer? We get some new backstory, as we must, meeting Freddy’s nun mom’s ghost (Nan Martin: a nun named nan) who reports FK was “the bastard son of a hundred maniacs.” They need to find FK’s bones and bury them in hallowed ground, but the kids don’t know where that is – maybe Heather’s drunk, washed-up dad John Saxon can help, before getting killed by a cool skeleton.

Arquette’s fellow survivors will be mute Joey (Rodney Eastman of I Spit On Your Grave Remake) and combative Kincaid (Atlanta’s own Ken Sagoes of the What’s Happening reboot). Memorable deaths include sleepwalker Bradley Gregg (of some major 80’s movies and also Class of 1999) featuring good stop-motion puppetry, and TV-loving Penelope Sudrow (the Jon Cryer ep of Amazing Stories). We also got punker Jennifer Rubin (Screamers) and wheelchair nerd Ira Heiden (Elvira: Mistress of the Dark) and a slumming Laurence Fishburne as a doctor.

I was getting Hellraiser II vibes from some of this – Arquette can’t help looking like Imogen Boorman, but the mute kid screaming and shattering mirrors, and Freddy pretending to be Nancy’s dad then stabbing the shit out of her all added to the feeling. Nancy gets another doctor (Body Double star Craig Wasson) to believe her crackpot stories about dream murders, the kids imagine themselves as the titular warriors, the bones are buried, and Chuck would go on to direct the pretty good Blob remake.


A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988, Renny Harlin)

They were “the last” of the Elm Street kids in part 3, so what’s left for this movie, which opens with a shitty pop song, and stars nobody? Part three felt like a real movie, now suddenly all the dialogue feels made-for-cable. Wikipedia says the writer’s strike was to blame for this. Parts 2 and 3 were like alternative sequels, different ways to follow up the original, but this one just feels like a part four, so I’m holding off on the next Nightmare movies before they get too depressing.

Should’ve watched Hairspray instead:

It’s a little funny that the dog who digs up Freddy’s bones (which reanimate using Frank’s Hellraiser re-fleshing effect) is named Jason. Different Actress Kristen is now Tuesday Knight, singer of the opening theme and star of Sex Demon Metropolis: Vampire Madonna and AI-generated werewolf film The Amityville Moon, but we’ve still got the real Kincaid and Joey, for a few minutes at least, before they succumb to junkyard and waterbed.

New Kristen is out of the psych ward and in regular school, starts losing classmates left and right. First goes asthma nerd Sheila, then Kung Fu Rick (of the same year’s Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama – it’s a shame John Saxon didn’t live to meet Rick) and Weightlifter Debbie, who gets Gregor Samsa’d. At some point Kristen herself gets burned alive, and the various powers of all these kids are absorbed by classmate Alice (Lisa Wilcox of Watchers 4) who chases after Freddy with her useless boyfriend Dan. Calling back to the childlike magic of the original movie’s ending, Alice shows FK his own reflection, and his imprisoned souls tear him apart. The movie’s one cool addition is sticking the kids in a time loop, a very dreamlike scenario. Harlin had a big moment in the 90’s, but I haven’t heard of any of the ten films he’s directed since he botched that Exorcist prequel.

A Nightmare on Elm Street Remake (2010, Samuel Bayer)

Unexpectedly ended up watching the second half of this (and up through the first kill of Freddy’s Dead) on the ceiling of the dentist’s office while getting a filling replaced. Same ol’ thing, Nancy and her bf trying to stay awake, then trying to figure out why this is happening, then pulling Freddy out of the dream world to kill him. Jackie Earle Haley, now a repeat-offense child abuser, has some cool makeup, distinct from the original design, but that’s the only thing here that’s distinct. I didn’t recognize Rooney Mara at all, blaming the poor lighting for that. The bf was Kyle Gallner, just off Jennifer’s Body, who had worked with Craven on Red Eye. The parents are blamed for killing an innocent gardener (the three-pronged garden cultivator as finger-knives, get it?), then Mara discovers FK was not innocent at all, and isn’t killing them as revenge on the parents, but just because he’s a real bad man. The hearing aid scene in Freddy’s Dead holds up well, but the best Freddy movie I’ve seen this year is still Buzzard.


A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, Wes Craven)

The dentist remake viewing experience combined with the Plaza screening part 3 got me curious whether the original Elm Street series was available cheaply on blu-ray, and yes, very cheaply, so it’s marathon time. My first time seeing any of these in HD, and in at least twenty years. Part one doesn’t look too distinctive, and human behavior wasn’t the writers’ strong suit, but all a horror movie needs to become legendary is a cool concept and good theme song, and we’ve got both of those covered.

First to die is Tina (Amanda Wyss, between Fast Times and Better Off Dead), victim of some memorably anti-gravity claw work. Her pretty-eyed boyfriend Rod (Jsu Garcia would appear in a couple Soderbergh films and Candyman 3) is blamed by the cops, led by Heather’s dad John Saxon. Rod later hangs in his cell, leaving only Heather (also of Shocker and Hellraiser 10) and her bf John Depp (later of Secret Window and Tusk).

“What the hell are dreams anyway?”
“Mysteries… incredible body hocus pocus.”

This is dialogue between two people who WORK at the DREAM INSTITUTE, a Cronenbergian facility where Heather is checked in. She also tried watching The Evil Dead to stay awake. Depp doesn’t make it (both of the movie’s cool kills are in bedrooms, bloody and gravity defying). Heather’s parents are complicit (mom is Ronee Blakley of A Return to Salem’s Lot) and we hear Freddy was “a filthy child murderer who killed at least 20 kids in the neighborhood.” He’s ultimately defeated through some childish magic: Heather turns her back on him and demands her friends back. But:


A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, Jack Sholder)

Jesse (Mark Patton of an Altman film) is new in town, a Simple Minds fan who just moved into Nancy’s house. Straight away he’s being followed by Freddy when asleep, and local girl Lisa (Kim Myers with Meryl Streep vibes, of Hellraiser 4) when awake. Nancy was nice enough to leave her diary behind, so the kids learn more about Freddy, who is trying to emerge into the waking world by taking over Jesse’s body – no glove here, the blades grow through his fingers. When this happens, Jesse ends up “inside,” and Lisa braves some seriously unconvincing mutant animals in the power plant where Freddy used to work, and they burn the Freddy off, Jesse emerging safe from within. A decent sequel, from before they’d fixed a formula for these things. Sholder would make The Hidden next (about killers possessing innocent bodies), writer David Chaskin would do I, Madman (about a disfigured killer wearing the skin of his young victims), both carrying on themes from this movie.

The human behavior here is about 10% better than the original Nightmare. I remember the chaotic pool party, not the leather-studded gym teacher. We get real “Parents Just Don’t Understand” vibes from Jesse’s dad Clu Gulager. The kids are lame, but it feels more like they’re meant to be lame. School jock Grady (Robert Rusler of Sometimes They Come Back) has a Zappa poster. Was everything in the 80’s so very 80’s? Sure the music, but the wallpaper and decor and clothes too.

First victim is the family bird, boooo:

“Sci Fi Pictures presents”

The Full Moon era has ended. Sci Fi are producers of hundreds of TV movies I’ve never heard of, most of them involving sharks, and a few craptastic sequels (Species 3, Stir of Echoes 2, Firestarter Rekindled, Return of the Living Dead 4+5, lots of Lake Placid movies).

“Written by Courtney Joyner”

A cowriter on part 3, also video store faves Class of 1999 and Doctor Mordrid.

“Directed by Ted Nicolaou”

Ted made Bad Channels, which you’ll recall got mashed up with Dollman vs. Demonic Toys, and also made TerrorVision and the Subspecies movies, so he seems like the right man for the job.

It’s a Christmas movie! The Demonic Toys have been rebranded as Christmas Pals by a toy company run by Vanessa Angel (the fake woman in the 90’s Weird Science TV series). In a Child’s Play / Halloween III mashup, she’s helping a demon destroy humanity, and step one is getting cursed toys into every household.

Angel + Henchman Julian:

Meanwhile across town, Disgruntled Suburban Ruffalo Scientist Bobby Toulon has got a full collection of crucified puppets in his basement, is trying to bring them to life using ol’ Andre’s notes. It’s a funny thing to say about circa-2004 Corey Feldman, but he gives one of the finest performances of the franchise – I like the gruff crank voice he’s doing. He’s assisted by loyal daughter Dani Keaton (already a horror vet from Pinocchio’s Revenge and Carpenter’s Village of the Damned). Everyone else in the movie is Bulgarian, since that is a very cheap place to shoot a movie.

All the nazi-fighting magic is turned into toy company espionage. I don’t love the attempt to cross dark puppet magic with christianity, but whatever. Each side runs into setbacks: Six Shooter blows up the lab and all the puppets catch fire, and Angel is scrambling for a human sacrifice on Christmas eve and has to bleed her receptionist in the iron maiden.

It’s definitely a proper Puppet Master movie, in that it’s crowded with Toulon family mythology bullshit, and feels long at 90 minutes. Angel needs the Toulon secrets to complete her evil plan and kidnaps the daughter, but Corey upgrades the puppets’ weaponry, and they fuck up some demonic toys. The demon (wearing a santa suit, nice) is displeased and drags Angel to hell.

“It’s not supposed to be funny, it’s actually a horror transmedia.” No supernatural activity here, it’s something scarier – darknet internet trolls murdering teens for the lulz. There’s bitcoin, SWATing, pizzagate conspiracies. I dunno about the masked conspirators breaking into houses and doing literal murders, that doesn’t seem the same style as the SWATing, but I had fun. Watched on my laptop – I kept seeing the cursor and touching my trackpad to see if it was mine. Good sound mix, not too realistic.

Matias maybe-steals a new laptop and hangs out with his crew on game night. Nobody dies for an entire hour, then they pretty much all die. The laptop was bait, “we did everything they wanted us to do.” The blu-ray presents four different endings, some real indecision here, including a cliffhanger and one where Matias gets Vanishing‘d.

Writer/director Susco started out writing Grudge and Texas Chainsaw Massacre remakes. Lead dude Colin Woodell was in Searching, weirdly specializing in desktop movies. Somehow didn’t recognize Betty Gabriel (Get Out).

It’s just not SHOCKtober until we watch a crappy sequel, and this one was pretty crappy. The original was no great masterpiece, but Cohen made God Told Me To in between, so I hoped he’d upped his game. I showed Katy a scene where the boom mic played a supporting role, but she was busy noticing that we’ve got the same couch as the 70’s couple. My favorite bit was a pigeon flying around the house, overdubbed with bat sounds.

Motherhood not working out as planned:

The one great idea here is that the isolated incident from part one turns into a national conspiracy (Cohen loves a good conspiracy), dad John Ryan from that movie returning to covertly assist couples with new or expecting mutant killer babies. Arizona dad Frederic Forrest (a Coppola fave) is a real prick – why did anyone put up with guys in the 70’s? New mom Kathleen Lloyd and underground mutant baby-hunting org head John Marley had shared the screen the year before in The Car (he’s the sheriff, she’s the girl whose entire house got run over). The movie tries to build suspense for a full hour so it won’t have to do anything else, then one-by-one POV-camera killings begin. I don’t get why the vigilante “volunteers” tent and gas a house their leader is still inside. In postscript, Forrest becomes either the new underground mutant-baby-hunter or the new underground mutant-baby-rescuer, it’s not clear which, but it’s not important since he’s been replaced by some more likable actors in It’s Alive 3. Nice to see Eddie Constantine here, though.

Mutant Baby is wearing his 3D glasses wrong: