December 27, 2020

The BEST & WORST Stuff We Reviewed in 2020

Without going into yet-another diatribe about the shitstorm that was 2020, I will say that the ongoing global pandemic has affected the content we’ve shared. As a relatively small site that primarily covers physical media, Free Kittens Movie Guide reviewed far fewer titles from various studios than previous years. Still, we’ve managed to put together decent lists of the best and worst.

: We reviewed some good stuff this year, but the following titles were better than taunting a mouse to death:

10. THE LAST BLOCKBUSTER (PopMotion) - Now that Blockbuster has become the very mom & pop video store they all-but put out of business to decades ago, this might be the most ironic documentary ever made.  Informative, congenial, funny and surprisingly affecting, the film is most-highly recommended for anyone nostalgic for the weekends when they walked out of their local video store with an armload of tapes. 

9. THE MORTAL STORM (Warner Archive) - Obviously not a feel-good film, but the performances are excellent and the story itself is relentlessly compelling, mainly because we know this happened to countless real families. We see the dark side of human nature, where people’s worst tendencies surface through sheer manipulation. Probably the only chance you’ll get to witness a beloved TV dad (Robert Young) totally nail-it as a despicable Nazi. Who knew he had it in him?

8. SHUDDER ON BLU-RAY (RLJE Films) - Somewhat fittingly, 2020 was a pretty damn good year for horror movies, with a surprising number coming from the streaming service, Shudder. While not everything they pumped out on disc was worth the effort, films and TV shows like Scare Package, The Beach House, Blood Quantum, The Room, Cursed Films, The Dark and the Wicked and Creepshow Season 1 are worth having in any horror collection.

7. POSSESSOR (Well Go USA) - A chip off the old block, Brandon Cronenberg also demonstrates a penchant for combining uninhibited, wince-inducing violence with a sharp, challenging story. A potential cult classic, Possessor is a superlative example of sci-fi body horror, courtesy of a director who probably grew up around it.

6. PICARD Season One (Paramount) - Think back to some of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s best episodes, the ones which have the most intriguing stories, terrific character exposition and a far-reaching impact on the direction later seasons - as well as the subsequent movies - would take. Picard plays like one of those classic episodes, only it happens to be eight hours long. It’s also the best Star Trek series since TNG.

5. BEYOND THE DOOR (Arrow) - Whether one considers Beyond the Door a terrifying treasure, crazy campfest or ridiculous rip-off, this is a beautifully-packaged set with considerable historical importance for horror buffs. Extensive bonus features offer an in-depth look at both the film and the opportunistic Italian auteurs who briefly started a movement. The fold-out poster is awesome!

4. ANTEBELLUM (Lionsgate) - While everyone's entitled to an opinion, I wonder if the critics who panned it watched the same movie I did. First-time writer-directors Gerard Bush & Christopher Renz built a wonderfully-structured narrative, punctuated by atmospheric cinematography, authentic production design and a powerful performance by Jenaelle Monáe as the main protagonist.  Antebellum completely blindsided me with one of the most unexpected plot twists I’ve seen in a long time.

3. SILENT RUNNING (Arrow) - A cult classic that belies its age with a timely message and an affecting story, this disc has an outstanding video & audio transfer, along with a great batch of new and vintage bonus features. The only thing missing is a box of tissues because it’s still one of the most bittersweet sci-fi movies ever made.

2. THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (Criterion) - If not the quintessential alien invasion movie, The War of the Worlds is certainly one of the most influential. In addition to what might be the best restoration of a film I've ever seen, the disc includes many new bonus features, as well as a few archival supplements and – of course – Orson Welles' original radio broadcast from 1938. An essential film for any collection.

1. TREMORS (Arrow) - Arrow Video saved their best release of 2020 for last. It’s been released on Blu-ray before, but never quite like this Limited Edition boxed set. In addition to the terrific 4K restoration, it’s loaded with a ton of entertaining bonus material, much of it brand new, and just about everyone else who was essential to the film’s success are featured in revealing interviews, from it’s conception through it’s disappointing theatrical run and eventual popularity on home video. 

HONORABLE MENTION: The Captain (Well Go USA), The Sin of Nora Moran (The Film Detective), Roman Holiday (Paramount), The Dead Ones (Artsploitation Films)

BLEH...THE WORST: As much as we love movies, there are times when reviewing them feels like an actual job. The following titles deserve to be buried in the litter box:

10. THE HONEYMOON PHASE (Dark Sky Films) - A derivative sci-fi-horror film that has a few interesting moments, but hampered by a muddy narrative, erratic pacing and two main characters who are dull-as-dishwater from the get-go, a definite liability considering it’s just the two of them in nearly every scene. It also seems to draw a lot of inspiration from The Shining, which includes blatantly ripping-off one of its key scenes. As the “antagonist,” actor Jim Schubin Is certainly no Nicholson, playing Tom with all the menace of an obnoxious house guest.

9. THE TRIP TO GREECE (IFC) - Steve Coogan & Ray Brydon’s week-long road-trip through Greece. Along the way, their semi-antagonistic banter covers a variety of topics, sometimes related to Greece, but more often about each other. These guys seem reeeeeally impressed with themselves and it soon becomes apparent the film is gonna be more about them than the country they’re visiting. In fact, Greece often feels like an afterthought. 

8. THE BARGE PEOPLE (RLJE Films) - This is a drab rip-off of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, only with slimy, fish-faced mutants whose diet happens to consist of dull twenty-somethings.The film largely depends on tired tropes and the stupidity of its characters to move the plot along. Unlike Tobe Hooper’s perennial classic, this one substitutes gore for shocks and suspense, but even the death scenes are repetitive and dull.

7. FIST OF FEAR, TOUCH OF DEATH (The Film Detective) - “Brucesploitation” at its most shameless. Vultures had already been picking at Lee’s corpse for years, cobbling together new movies with unused or existing footage from other films, but this pseudo-documentary takes it to another level, not-so-much a movie as patchwork of unrelated sequences in search of a plot. 

6. PLAYING WITH FIRE (Paramount) - The bloopers are the funniest part of Playing with Fire. The rest sinks under the weight of its own stupidity, an almost plotless parade of broad slapstick, obnoxious caricatures and heavy-handed sentimentality, squandering the comic talents of John Cena, John Leguizamo and Keegan-Michael Key, dumbfounded straight-men to three troublemaking kids whose “mischief” would make Mike & Carol Brady consider infanticide. 

5. ABIGAIL (Well Go USA) - A hodge-podge of the usual steampunk tropes: quasi-Victorian setting, waistcoats, biomechanical headgear, goggles, gas-masks, gear-driven machinery and, of course, airships that resemble sadistic colonoscopy tools. It’s all very pretty, but not enough to compensate for the terrible dialogue, dull characters, histrionic performances and a plot so murky that it’s difficult to figure out what the hell’s going on half the time.

4. MIKEY (MVD) - Desperate to be The Bad Seed for a new generation, this rotten relic is undone by unimaginative direction, stupid characters and a story that ain't remotely plausible. The entire film coasts on the conceit that simply showing a marginally-talented child actor doing the killing is inherently terrifying. Dumb enough to make Sleepaway Camp look like Rosemary’s Baby.

3. EDGE OF THE AXE (Arrow) - Edge of the Axe was released direct-to-video in 1989, long after the genre’s glory days were over. Though director Jose Ramon Larraz is somewhat respected in European horror circles, he brings nothing new to the table. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but not only is the film highly derivative, it’s erratically-paced, illogical, poorly acted (even by slasher standards) and packed with more red herrings than a London supermarket.

2. AMERICAN ZOMBIELAND (Mill Creek Entertainment) - American Zombieland eschews brains for a non-stop parade of screaming characters, fat jokes, bodily functions, drugs, boobs, beer and, of course, buckets of blood. Much of the humor is intentionally tasteless, which would be fine if it was actually funny. Even the revealed cause of the zombie outbreak is painfully stupid.

1. GHOST KILLERS VS. BLOODY MARY (Dark Sky Films) - With geysers of blood, gore and a variety of other gross-out gags involving bodily functions, there’s an air of desperation in the film’s constant attempt to shock the viewers, as though over-the-top outrageousness is inherently funny. Tossing-in heavy-handed self-awareness and pop culture references doesn’t elevate this film above any other calculated bid to amuse 15 year old boys.


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