Well, as of today, the New York Public Library has officially severed ties with Kanopy, my favorite streaming service. Sadly, like MoviePass and Sunshine Cinema, the free membership model was simply too good to last. Luckily, I managed to cross several movies off of my (forty page long) watch list before my account expired:
A Cat In the Brain: Lucio Fulci (the mad genius behind such stomach-turning classics as City of the Living Dead, Zombi 2, and Don’t Torture a Duckling) goes full-on meta, starring as a horror director haunted by his own violent imagery. It’s a blood-soaked, darkly comic masterpiece in which the filmmaker has an absolute blast eviscerating both his critics and himself (figuratively, of course).
Blood Rage: The opening credits actually displayed the film’s alternate title, Slasher, which feels more appropriate—this steaming hunk of late ‘80s cheese is about as generic as splatter flicks get. While it boasts impressive gore effects (courtesy of Ed French, who also worked on the similarly trashy Sleepaway Camp and the decidedly more prestigious Terminator 2: Judgment Day), a funky synthesizer score, and a genuinely compelling performance by Mark Soper (playing both the murderous psychopath du jour and his wrongfully imprisoned twin brother), it is, by and large, rather forgettable. Though it does feature Ted Raimi in a brief cameo role as the “Condom Salesman,” so it has that going for it.
The Loyal 47 Ronin: This particular interpretation of the oft-adapted Japanese historical legend, produced by Daiei (the studio behind the Zatoichi and Sleepy Eyes of Death series), attempts to tell a sort of “definitive” version of the popular tale, cramming in as many of the obligatory vignettes as it can manage—an honorable man is forced to deceive the woman he loves in order to obtain vital information, a femme fatale finds herself questioning where her loyalties really lie, a devoted son must disgrace himself in front his father to protect his cover, and so on. Obviously, this ambition has the unintended side effect of rendering the narrative bloated and unwieldy, leaving many subplots severely undercooked; fortunately, the stellar cast—including Raizo Ichikawa, Shintaro Katsu, Machiko Kyo, and Kazuo Hasegawa (as well as Date Saburo, thanklessly lurking in the background as always)—more than compensates for such trivial shortcomings.
Funeral Parade of Roses: This countercultural cult classic is borderline indescribable. The narrative structure is defiantly nonlinear, shifting genres, styles, and tones so frequently and abruptly that it causes whiplash. The plot revolves around a love triangle between a drug-dealing nightclub owner and two of his drag queen hostesses (replete with references to Oedipus Rex, of all things)… but there are also documentary segments exploring the Japanese LGBTQ community circa 1969, punctuated by moments of zany slapstick comedy. It’s a disorienting assault on the senses—and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Right Now, Wrong Then: A Korean romantic dramedy that depicts the exact same impromptu date twice in a row… albeit with some major differences between each telling. I love how open to interpretation this one is; personally, I believe that the second version of the story represents the protagonist’s idealized memories of the “true” events (the various supporting characters he encounters, for example, become noticeably less critical of his actions than they were in the first half), but director Hong Sang-soo (Grass) doesn’t enforce a concrete meaning—which makes the movie significantly more memorable.
The Penalty: The incomparable Lon Chaney stars as a diabolical criminal mastermind seeking vengeance for the loss of his legs in a childhood accident. This is quite possibly the single most breathtaking transformation in the entirety of the chameleonic actor’s illustrious career, requiring not one ounce of makeup, yet no less physically-demanding than his performance as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. His unwavering commitment to the role elevates the otherwise thin (and frequently outright misogynistic) material.
Meru: Before Free Solo, professional mountain climber/photographer Jimmy Chin helmed this phenomenal documentary about conquering one of the most perilous peaks in the Himalayas. While it shares its spiritual successor’s penchant for awe-inspiring visuals, this is a markedly more intimate cinematic experience, delving deeper into the inarticulable psychological forces that compel seemingly ordinary human beings to risk life and limb in pursuit of the ultimate thrill.