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🎬 "I know quack fu!"

🎬 "I know quack fu!"
By Eric Johnson • Issue #88 • View online
Behind the scenes note: Starting this week, I’m also publishing this newsletter on Medium. The content is exactly the same as what you see below, but if you use Medium, check it out here and click the “applaud” button on the left.
Also: I totally forgot that I used to use Medium to syndicate my old podcast newsletter and make one-off pop culture posts. Long before I was rewriting the prequels, I anticipated one of the biggest problems with the new Star Wars trilogy in this 2015 essay about The Force Awakens; and in August 2016, I compared that year’s presidential race to Game of Thrones, in a dumb jokey post that has held up better than I expected.
- Eric

🤡 Honey Boy
I had a vague memory from the trailers that Honey Boy was based on costar Shia LaBeouf’s real life, but I didn’t know, or had forgotten, that LaBeouf wrote the movie, too.
Autobiographies are notoriously difficult, but he excels here; this film is suffused with empathy, pain, and introspection in a way that most Hollywood stories are not. Rather than painting himself as merely the victim of an abusive father, LaBeouf literally steps into his dad’s shoes, playing an alcoholic veteran-turned-rodeo clown who lives with his TV star son (Noah Jupe) in a dirty motel.
We also spend some crucial scenes with Lucas Hedges, playing Jupe’s character 10 years later in rehab, as he tries to process what the hell happened to him when he was a kid. I loved all three lead performances and the fact that this is a movie about trauma that doesn’t try to oversimplify it or explain it away; rather, it dares to show how messy people really are, and asks us to sit with that feeling. Recommended. ★★★★
Honey Boy - Official Trailer | Amazon Studios
Honey Boy - Official Trailer | Amazon Studios
Honey Boy is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
💃 West Side Story
West Side Story might be my favorite movie musical: Beautifully directed and stylish, full of charming songs and engaging characters, and of course it’s an adaptation of an iconic story, Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. No disrespect to Willy Shakes, but I’d argue West Side Story actually improves on the source material, particularly the ending.
The balletic dancing and corny language (daddy-o!) sticks out to modern ears, and the performances are often cheesy and overly earnest — but then we remember the timeless truth that Shakespeare and the writers of this musical knew: EVERYTHING is heightened drama to a teenager in love.
I will reserve judgment on Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake of West Side Story until I see it, but I’m skeptical that even he will be able to improve on this movie if he’s redoing it as a conventional Hollywood musical; I’d be more interested in seeing someone approach the Broadway material through a completely different lens. Recommended. ★★★★½ 
West Side Story - Official® Trailer [HD]
West Side Story - Official® Trailer [HD]
I watched West Side Story on Blu-Ray, but it’s currently streaming alllllll over the place — on Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix, The Criterion Channel, Hoopla, DirecTV, and Epix.
🤖 Live From the Space Stage: A Halyx Story
Where you stop reading this review probably says a lot about how much our tastes overlap. Live From the Space Stage: A Halyx Story is a quirky documentary about a Kiss-inspired sci-fi rock band that performed for exactly one summer at Disneyland.
All of the band members were in costume, and some of them were dressed as aliens, including a robot keyboard player driving a tricked-out maintenance cart and a bassist in a cumbersome faux-Wookiee suit, which was made of real yak hair.
Look, I’m not going to hide my bias here: I really like theme park history, and I only watched this documentary because it was made available for free on Defunctland, a YouTube channel I adore that discusses the history of old rides. But even I was skeptical that this quickly-forgotten band merited an 80-minute documentary.
I’m happy to say I was mostly wrong: Although Live From the Space Stage doesn’t quite stick the landing and convince me that Halyx was important, it earnestly makes the case that this fledgling band was a creative passion project that was actually trying something different, and had to overcome some serious obstacles to do it even for a little while. Recommended. ★★★½ 
Disneyland's Forgotten Sci-Fi Rock Band - Live From the Space Stage (Full Documentary)
Disneyland's Forgotten Sci-Fi Rock Band - Live From the Space Stage (Full Documentary)
Live From the Space Stage: A Halyx Story is currently streaming on YouTube.
🎓 Horse Feathers
I’ve liked The Marx Brothers from a young age, but had somehow never seen one of their most popular movies, 1932’s Horse Feathers, until now.
It’s a parody of the now-extinct “college movie,” which was a whole genre unto itself in the early decades of Hollywood. But like all Marx works, the plot doesn’t really matter, so you don’t need to have seen the source material to have a good time.
Here, Groucho plays a new college president, Zeppo plays his son, and Chico and Harpo play two losers who Groucho recruits to play college football. All four of the brothers get good moments in this short film, but Chico and Harpo win the day with an attempted kidnapping that immediately goes off the rails.
The songs are better than they have any right to be, and Groucho gets in some of his best fourth-wall breaks. Unfortunately, one of the best scenes has been partially lost to history, and I’ve read that several otters that were once in the movie have been lost altogether. Recommended. ★★★½ 
Horse Feathers (1932) - Official Trailer - Marx Brothers Movie HD
Horse Feathers (1932) - Official Trailer - Marx Brothers Movie HD
I watched it on Blu-Ray, but Horse Feathers is currently streaming on Peacock.
🛵 Hot Rod
Compared to the other Lonely Island movies I’ve watched this year — Palm Springs and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping — their freshman effort Hot Rod delivers fewer laughs, but many of the same charms.
It’s an extended satire of supercharged masculinity, driven by wannabe-stuntman Rod (played by Andy Samberg, still at SNL and hot off the success of Lazy Sunday), who’s trying to raise enough money for a heart transplant for his father, played by Ian McShane. The only reason he wants to save McShane, however, is because the two are always trying to beat each other up and Samberg has never won.
The rest of the supporting cast is solid, especially Chris Parnell, and the movie frequently reminded me of the anarchic absurdism of Wet Hot American Summer, a movie I really like. Unfortunately, I was rarely moved by this movie and think Samberg has done much funnier work in recent years that’s more worthy of your time. Skip it. ★★★
Hot Rod - Trailer
Hot Rod - Trailer
I watched Hot Rod on Vudu, but it’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Hulu.
🏜 How the West Was Won
Despite several reservations about its factual accuracy, I liked the historical epic How the West Was Won much better than I expected to.
It tells the story of how one pioneer family travels and settles across the country, and how their lives intersected with major events such as the Civil War and the transcontinental railroad. The movie is divided into five chapters and I greatly preferred the back three, both for their confidently filmed action set pieces and the more engaging character work.
As much as I love Jimmy Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, and Gregory Peck, they don’t get enough to do, especially in acts 1 and 2 (and Reynolds has to pick up a lot of the slack with sudden and cheesy song and dance numbers). Instead, I was most moved by the fourth chapter, “The Railroad,” led by George Peppard. It treats the contradictions of manifest destiny and the double-crossing of American Indians with more nuance than I ever would have expected from a movie called How the West Was Won. Recommended. ★★★½
How the West Was Won - Original Theatrical Trailer
How the West Was Won - Original Theatrical Trailer
I watched How the West Was Won on Blu-Ray, but it’s currently streaming on HBO Max and DirecTV.
🦆 Howard the Duck
I went into Howard the Duck, I movie I impulse-bought because it was $5 on Amazon, ready to hold my nose.
Produced by George Lucas and released in the gonzo heights of 80s blockbusters, this movie is notorious, and sometimes shows up on lists of “worst ever” movies. But honestly … it wasn’t so bad! There were some things I liked!
Let’s get the weird out of the way: The main character is a cigar-smoking sarcastic middle-aged anthropomorphic duck, embodied in an impressive-but-also-kinda-creepy costume by Ed Gale and voiced by Chip Zien; he has a dirty mind and — after being pulled out of his universe and deposited on Earth in the dystopic city of “Cleve Land” — falls into a queasy romance with a human woman, played by Lea Michele from Back to the Future.
(In the first few minutes, he infamously crashes through a female duck’s bathroom while she’s in the bathtub and you can see her duck nipples. This movie is rated PG.)
On Earth, there’s a lot of fun to be had if you have a tolerance for weird. Howard’s grumpiness makes him a good fish (duck) out of water, Michele is cute without making it too weird, and Jeffrey Jones (aka Principal Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) shows up as a scientist who gets possessed by an evil alien, which gives him the chance to be super weird in all the best ways. There’s also an alien monster in the final act that has to be seen to be believed, and which would have scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.
If I’m being frank, the actual plot is muddled, the character development is basically nil, and some of the scene transitions are so jarring that you have to assume they were yanked from the pages of the original Howard the Duck comics. (Oh yeah, did I mention? Outside of a 1944 Captain America movie, Howard the Duck was the first Marvel character to ever get a theatrical movie release.) Maybe it was my lower-than-low expectations, but I enjoyed this. Surprisingly, I recommend it. ★★½
Howard the Duck Official Trailer #2 - Tim Robbins Movie (1986) HD
Howard the Duck Official Trailer #2 - Tim Robbins Movie (1986) HD
I watched Howard the Duck on Blu-Ray, but it’s currently streaming on Peacock and DirecTV.
🔢 Every Movie I've Seen in 2020, Ranked
(new additions in bold)
  1. The Godfather
  2. 12 Angry Men
  3. Do the Right Thing
  4. Knives Out
  5. Parasite
  6. Arrival
  7. Airplane!
  8. Hot Fuzz
  9. Boys State
  10. Hamilton
  11. Groundhog Day
  12. All About Eve
  13. West Side Story
  14. The Farewell
  15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  16. What We Do in the Shadows
  17. Spotlight
  18. Booksmart
  19. Her
  20. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  21. Moonrise Kingdom
  22. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  23. Your Name.
  24. North by Northwest
  25. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
  26. The Old Guard
  27. Thank You For Smoking
  28. Little Women
  29. Marriage Story
  30. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  31. La La Land
  32. Sunset Boulevard
  33. Ford v Ferrari
  34. A Fish Called Wanda
  35. Bringing Up Baby
  36. Gremlins
  37. Apocalypse Now
  38. The Hidden Fortress
  39. Hell or High Water
  40. Moneyball
  41. Hacksaw Ridge
  42. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  43. The Lunchbox
  44. Heat
  45. Little Miss Sunshine
  46. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  47. Coming to America
  48. Shrek
  49. Wet Hot American Summer
  50. Dolemite Is My Name
  51. Good Will Hunting
  52. Palm Springs
  53. The Grapes of Wrath
  54. Fantasia 2000
  55. First Cow
  56. Kedi
  57. Honey Boy
  58. The Great Escape
  59. Annihilation
  60. Wordplay
  61. Boyhood
  62. 1917
  63. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
  64. The Philadelphia Story
  65. Dark Waters
  66. Hail, Caesar!
  67. The Death of Stalin
  68. 50/50
  69. Hannah and Her Sisters
  70. Horse Feathers
  71. Enemy of the State
  72. Captain Phillips
  73. Uncut Gems
  74. Frost/Nixon
  75. How the West Was Won
  76. Almost Famous
  77. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  78. Bad Education
  79. Godzilla
  80. Just Mercy
  81. Da 5 Bloods
  82. High Fidelity
  83. Guardians of the Galaxy
  84. My Fair Lady
  85. The Hateful Eight
  86. Happy Gilmore
  87. Gates of Heaven
  88. Emma.
  89. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
  90. Home Alone
  91. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
  92. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
  93. Braveheart
  94. Bicycle Thieves
  95. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  96. Frankenstein
  97. Hugo
  98. All the Money in the World
  99. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  100. Live From the Space Stage: A Halyx Story
  101. John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch
  102. Onward
  103. Hidden Figures
  104. Pain and Glory
  105. Bambi
  106. The Great Dictator
  107. Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events
  108. Anastasia
  109. Hot Rod
  110. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  111. Animal House
  112. You’ve Got Mail
  113. The 39 Steps
  114. (500) Days of Summer
  115. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  116. Modern Romance
  117. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
  118. 3:10 to Yuma
  119. The Big Country
  120. Ghost
  121. History of the World: Part I
  122. The African Queen
  123. Greyhound
  124. Bamboozled
  125. Bullitt
  126. Dracula
  127. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
  128. Howard the Duck
  129. Bride of Frankenstein
  130. The Descendants
  131. The Hangover
  132. Joker
  133. Kingpin
  134. 28 Days Later
  135. Bridesmaids
  136. The Great Gatsby
  137. Hang ‘Em High
  138. 13 Assassins
  139. Creature From the Black Lagoon
  140. Kentucky Fried Movie
  141. High Anxiety
  142. Romancing the Stone
  143. Crocodile Dundee
  144. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
  145. Hard Ticket to Hawaii
  146. Gods of Egypt
  147. The Gentlemen
  148. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
  149. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  150. The Last Airbender
Did you enjoy this issue?
Eric Johnson

I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

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