After my last post I told myself if I watch ten more movies in 2021 maybe I’ll do another of those What I Watched Recently posts. I pictured that happening in December, if at all. But lo – I hit ten movies watched in just the month or so since then; what the what? * Have I been exposed to the metaphasic radiation from the Briar Patch? Such a pace may not seem too extraordinary to anyone else, but it’s been since Before Kids since my wife and I have watched this many movies.
* Casablanca wasn't one of them; just liked the picture up there of an old 70s ad for whatever gadget that is.
Let’s take these in reverse chronology of year released. Beginning with:
A mom and dad who usually say no decide to say yes to their kids's wildest requests with a few ground rules on a whirlwind day of fun and adventure.
This one’s a big hit with my kids. It’s cute. Arturo Castro steals the few scenes he’s in. That one guy from Beerfest (and elsewhere of course) gets the magic peddler role. The kids are cute, the adults are good. Kudos to all involved.
About halfway through the film, we have a new contender for Most Unrealistic Party Ever Depicted On Film (the “nerd party”). It doesn’t detract from anything, it’s just kind of funny the idea is put across as something that has ever happened on Planet Earth or ever would. Movie magic. Hey maybe now it will. There’s a similar sense of unreality around the pop star at the end (you know how these things go – you get the Mom up on stage and sing a song to her daughter). Not the kind of unreality you get from Davy Jones showing up on The Brady Bunch or whatever, but the kind where I thought they invented her for the film. But nope: she’s real. My kids are too young to play the "Duh, Dad" card, bless 'em, but it's coming.
(I was unimpressed. More power to her and all. Just hey, I’m cigarette-ashtrays-in-McDonalds years-old; I’m not supposed to get teenage girls. If anyone does at any age.)
A demoted police officer assigned to a call dispatch desk is conflicted when he receives an emergency phone call from a kidnapped woman.
This is an American remake of a Norwegian film. I imagine the Norwegian film is less marinated in less summer 2020 narratives. Maybe it isn't. I'll probably watch it, so I'll let you know.
Jake Gyllensuck is always going to be a hard sell for me. He’s a fine actor, as the saying goes, but if I look at him or listen to him talk too long I want to cast him in the Sledgehammer Movie. (Not literally – that joke - i.e. people who annoy me are cast in a movie where it’s just me and pals hitting them with sledgehammers – could get you in trouble these days.) But actually, the first half of the film, he’s quite good – so’s the movie. As soon as they start literalizing things, though, it goes off the rails in all the predictable ways, with the "This is Joe" mantra nudging you in the ribs when it's not rubbing your face in it.
Too bad. I was enjoying it and admiring it in equal measure until that point. Once it turns that corner I said aloud all the branches I expected it to hit and was not wrong. Bully for me?
Extra points for making the title font recall the New York Times. That gave me a chuckle, though probably not what the filmmakers intended.
A vacationing couple must discover the mystery behind a strange video that shows one of them killing the other.
Holy moley, this film is terrible.
(1) The video described above makes no sense. Especially in light of all you learn after. (2) The reaction to it makes no sense. (3) The other characters introduced after that point make no sense. (4) The Wicker Man allusions only serve to remind you that The Wicker Man makes much, much more sense than anything going on here. Even the one with Nic Cage. (5) The characters are very unlikable. (6) One character is stabbing herself, is discovered, then says “RUN!!” as if warning the character who discovered her, and then finishes stabbing herself. Wow, that's something you never see. (7) Another visits Maggie Q in a dream and tells her things that pointedly do not come true, then finishes with “WAKE UP!!” Why do people do these things? You've seen both these things in too many places. They never make sense. It's the kind of fake-shock/fake-twist that plagues the horror genre. One wishes there was a super-cut like there is for the “Are you scared? You will be / not nearly scared enough” trope for these things and heavy taxes levied when filmmakers opt to use them.
And (7) Not much else works either.
A horror comedy with fake news and commercials section that was filmed on old video cameras to make it look like a real VHS recording of a commercial television station's Halloween special from 1987.
Hey now! This movie is terrific. At first I thought oh, this is cute, but how serious is it? And maybe it’s not uber-serious or drenched in anything resembling actual terror or dread. But it’s an overwhelmingly sincere slice of 80s retro done right.
Likewise I thought the frequent interruption of fake commercials was great fun but perhaps overdone. At first. But as things go along you start to notice some thematic overlap with other bits from the film, and it’s all part of the general spellcasting. Many things claim to recreate an era, but as anyone who lived through the era on display here can attest, they knocked it out of the park with this one.
It’s free – go watch it, you won’t regret it. Then drop the filmmakers a line and thank ‘em.
Kate and Martin escape from personal tragedy to a remote Scottish island where they are the only occupants. Their attempts to recover are shattered when a man is washed ashore, with news of airborne killer disease that is sweeping through Europe.
It’s always interesting to watch a pandemic movie after living through one. I spent most of this movie more or less empathizing with Kate (Thandie Newton’s) stoicism and disbelief and anger. It was (as A Quiet Place was) an interesting metaphorical transference of a world-gone-mad.
I wasn’t too thrilled with the very ending. Seemed kind of shock-twist-y rather than properly resolving the script. For that reason I can only half-recommend this; they really should have re-thought that. To contrast again to A Quiet Place, the ending of that one really worked as a bow around the child-loss/ unfathomable-grief. A glimmer of hope; maybe, after all the loss and tragedy, the human spirit can rise again, that it can want to rise again. Not the case here, alas. Too abrupt, too negative. Next.
A twisted take on Little Red Riding Hood, with a teenage juvenile delinquent on the run travelling to her grandmother's house and being hounded by a charming but sadistic serial killer and pedophile.
Remember when you first saw this? It was quite shocking at the time. Mrs. Dog Star Omnibus and I were talking about it and wondering how it held up. We expected it not to, but tiens! It’s still very effective. Very 90s extreeeeeeeeme, but it works. The whole thing is self-aware and cynical as hell, steeped in the 80s trash-TV that preceded it. This is an imaginative fantasy given mythological framing of essentially Jerry Springer/ Morton Downey Jr. elements.
Three things: (1) Wolfgang Bodison, I like this actor. Lots of credits at his imdb but lots of things I haven't heard of. Someone cast this guy as the lead in something, FFS. And (2) The director Mark Bright. Who is this guy? His imdb is unhelpful, but Forbidden Zone is one of the strangest things I ever watched. I was mega-creeped out by that film. Anyway: I never saw the sequel to Freeway, but if I were him I’d add a few things to pad that bad boy out/ balance out the creepiness. (3) Reese Witherspoon. She should've done great things, so much energy here. Whatever happened to her? (Also, have you ever really thought about her name and said it aloud? WTF kind of name is that?) What an extraordinary debut. So much raw energy in this performance.
Start to finish, very stylish and on-message. It could be just that it's such a pure blast of Generation X sensibilities. I get stuff like this. It's like a sigh of relief. Enough to freak out the "straights" while never losing sight of the style/ sarcasm. I couldn't find a link, but the dream of Grandma's trailer with all the waving lawn ornaments is genius.
A new teacher at a troubled inner-city high school soon ends up clashing with the delinquent leader of a punk posse that runs the school.
Here's an old fave since I snuck watching it at my friend Mike’s 10th birthday party in Nieder-Roden in German. (“But I’m not supposed to watch R-rated movies...” “Come on, Bryan, don’t be a nerd.”) Later, the same friend named everyone at our table after one of the bad guys in this movie. (I was Drughouse. Thanks, Mike.) It was kind of a thing for me and my buddies, 4th through 5th grade.
It’s a very sleazy film. Appropriately sleazy, I guess, but be forewarned. I should’ve done this one for one of those Scenic Route posts; the cars and visuals are all very early 80s. These were my babysitters, folks.
It’s tempting to read any film like this as being filmed at the stern insistence of Ronald Reagan. It’s amusing to do that and there's room for discussion there, but the violence and out of control-ness of urban youth/ “the kids today” – and the one teacher/ authority figure who’s been pushed too far - is an unfortunately evergreen topic.
While Dr. Loomis hunts for Michael Myers, a traumatized Laurie is rushed to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, and The Shape is not far behind her.
I didn’t expect to watch this one again this Halloween season, as it feels like the missus and I checked it out not too long ago. It’s not exactly a masterpiece – although one can definitely view it as sort of a template for a lot of slasher films that followed – but it has its seasonal and nostalgic appeal.
What makes me include it is a recent episode of The Film Crickets podcast, co-hosted by two of my old buddies Chris and Jay. We never kept in close contact in the years since high school, but I’ve brought up Jay before (here for example) as the “Johnny Metalseed” of my hometown. It's a blast checking in with them each week, and they got me laughing very hard at the scene in this movie where the fake-Michael is killed.
I mean, look at this thing. First off, Dr. Loomis is out of his mind. He’s running around screaming at kids, scaring everyone (“Hey Doc – can you please, maybe, kind of tone down the ‘We’re All Going to Die’ business? We’re trying to –“ “HE’S INHUMAN! HE’S THE FACE OF EVIL, THE SHAPE OF WHAT’S TO COME!” (Sigh)). Second off, what the frick time is it? Wasn’t it close to midnight at the end of the first film? Everyone in town is up or out and about. Third, Dr. Loomis is firing his gun wildly down the street. But fourth, the kid just ho-hum, huh, that’s weird? What’s going on with that? Let me just saunter across the street, then Fifth, a cop car comes screaming out of the darkness, going faster than any car you’ve ever seen go in a movie before, and totally destroys him. Then Sixth, the whole “IS IT HIM?!” business and that close-up of Loomis as the sheriff asks again. Man! That is incredibly funny. “Is it him?!” “I, uhhh… well, now that you say it, it’s even harder to tell; I mean, frankly, I couldn’t tell from, way down the street when I was, you know, firing off a few shots. But now? I mean, he’s burning and all, inconclusive, sorry.”) And then finally, the other cop shows up and wham, they just leave the damn scene. Does even the cop who killed the kid leave the scene? He might. That clip cuts off just before we might see him do that, I don’t remember. But they should totally have just kept cutting back to the smoldering corpse and car wreck in the middle of the street for the rest of the movie.
I remembered Bryant covering this one fairly comprehensively over at The Truth Inside The Lie. Sure enough, he was already on it:
"In this bit, they're just cruising for a sighting of Michael, and they sort of get one, which leads to one of the most amusingly shite moments in the entire series. This fake Michael Myers turns out to be Ben Tramer, and Laurie should be glad she never hooked up with him, for he is evidently made mostly out of nitroglycerine.
This death is 100% blameable on Dr. Samuel Loomis, who is a prime example of why not everyone is qualified to dispense justice. Just because a dude wears a modified William Shatner mask, that doesn't inherently mean he is a quasi-supernatural mass murderer and serial killer. (I'm giving Michael credit for being both, for I believe that is accurate.) Sometimes, it's just a teenager in a mask, doc!"
Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt experiences both triumph and tragedy as she attempts to resist the imperial ambitions of Rome.
I just wrapped up a re-listen to Bob Brier’s eternally recommended History of Ancient Egypt and I thought the time was right to fill some gaps in my Egypt collection. This was top of my list. I saw it for the first time only fifteen years ago or so after my first listen to the Brier series. He recommends it as one that got the Egyptology mostly right. And he’s right – take it from… well, him, primarily, much more than me, but take it from someone else, too, who just finished that series: they really get the details right. One thing you’ll notice – and we’ll see it coming up shortly – once you start reading up on Egypt is how certain common errors crop up over and over again. (Slaves didn’t build the pyramids, silver was valued more than gold, only court nobility wore certain headdress, etc.) Not so here.
A tour-de-force performance from Elizabeth Taylor and everyone else, too. They simply don’t make them like they used to. John DeCuir deserves the Sir Ken Adams award - which doesn't exist so far as I know but certainly should - for movie magic in this one.
Moses, an Egyptian Prince, learns of his true heritage as a Hebrew and his divine mission as the deliverer of his people.
Another “they sure don’t make them like they used” movie.
Was Ramses really the Pharaoh of “Exodus”? Many biblical scholars believe he was. There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence for the idea. The death of his first born (Amunherkepshef – "Amun with a strong arm" or something like that) seems to match the timeline of the Hebrews's exit from Egypt, plenty of other intriguing clues like that. “Moses” is of course an Egyptian name (“is born), and much of the later content of Christianity (resurrection, the trinity, “Amen”, even the Virgin Mary) has equally intriguing precedent in Ancient Egyptian theology and thought.
None of this is in the movie, it’s just fascinating to me. I love this crap.
Filmmaking-wise, this is a visual delight. Sumptuous sets and costumes, booming declarations delivered with fire and brimstone, the whole none yards and then some. I love that Cecil B. DeMille both introduces and narrates the movie (which he produced and directed.)
I’ll never forget one afternoon at the coffee shop in 1997 or 1998 listening to NPR recount an archaeological dig in Tunisia for the Ten Commandments set. Not this one, DeMille's first film of that name (from 1923.) There's a good documentary on it (The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille.)
A captured architect designs an ingenious plan to ensure the impregnability of the tomb of a self-absorbed Pharaoh, obsessed with the security of his next life.
I first saw a scene from this in Martin Scorsese’s Personal Journey Through American Cinema and was fascinated. I hadn’t seen too many films from Hollywood’s epic era at that point. (That documentary introduced me to a whole heck of a lot of films, which was of course the point of it – thanks, Marty).
The spectacle of this one is top-notch; its Egyptology, however, is not great. (While ingenious, this, for example, seems to be an invention of the film.) But I doubt anyone’s watching it for that. The soundtrack by Dmitri Tiomkin is amazing. I wish they’d release a new edition of it. The sets and set pieces are all fantastic. James Justice’s voice/ screen presence is as epic as his name. Joan Collins is… a bit miscast? She has the haughtiness of a queen, she's certainly beautiful and is costumed well, but the heavy make-up (bordering on blackface) is distracting.
|With and without the blackface. You tell me.|
An Egyptian mummy searches Cairo for the girl he thinks is his long-lost princess.
You’d figure the Egyptology with this one would be suspect given its era, but actually there’s a lot of fun stuff in here for the detail-oriented. Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb was only ten years old when this came out; difficult to imagine the impact of that on the world’s imagination, but you can see a bit of it in here.
Such wonderful and otherworldly performances from both Boris Karloff and Zita Johann.
That's it for movies, but here's a bonus section for two miniseries recently watched. It was to be three, but the copy of Hollywood Wives I ordered was lost. So it goes.
In the late 1970s, an accused serial rapist claims multiple personalities control his behavior, setting off a legal odyssey that captivates America.
The Minds of Billy Milligan by Daniel Keyes was a book I checked out of the library many times in the 80s. It, Helter Skelter, and Go Ask Alice really expanded my teenage mind as far as the depravities of hippie-era America. One of the first things I did with the internet (besides order a bunch of heretofore-unavailable William Shatner movies) was look up whatever happened to Billy. At that time: not much, except that there was another book called The Milligan Wars, only available in Japan, that detailed what happened to Billy after his escape from the hospital where he’s been committed at the end of the Keyes book.
This series fills in a lot of the gaps – why, for example, the book was only available in Japan and why the first one’s out of print – and is fascinating. The interviews with psychologists and prosecutors of the original trial are dynamite. (I largely sympathize with the lead prosecutor’s view of the what and how of the case.) Not to mention the rather mind-blowing interviews with Billy’s siblings, bless them both.
Highly recommended for all of that, but be forewarned: it’s kind of slow and has a bit of a creep factor. I had the pre-existing interest in the case, which my wife did not. She fell asleep and lost interest and didn’t watch the last couple. Also: some of the interviews are curiously staged. One of them takes place in an abandoned diner, others in small, narrow cells of unknown relation to anything. And some of them are staged in long or medium shots. A little distracting/ not necessary.
During WWII penniless American painter Philip Weber decides to collaborate with the Nazi leaders and help them steal priceless French artwork to keep his room in the chic Ritz Hotel and indulge in the pleasures of Nazi-occupied Paris.
I read the book by AE Hotchner (whose Papa Hemingway was my favorite book for a few years) and have always wanted to see this one. Not so much because the book was great, but just because it existed and I wanted to see it. It’s a very faithful adaptation and imminently watchable, but I drifted in and out over its four episodes. Some of the scenes and dynamics seem a little forced.
I’d checked the book out of the library when I read it, and someone had scrawled messages to the main character on several pages. (“You coward!” etc.) It was kind of weird. Reading that synopsis up there gives me the same feeling; I think people might be over-emphasizing "collaboration" here. I mean watch the movie/ read the book; Philip is sabotaging their efforts as well as organizing his/ others' escape. FFS, we live in a society where people want to turn in their neighbors for wrongthink, but leaving angry graffiti online and in the margins of book is some bold kind of courage? We live in an age of stupid absolutes that make a point of obliterating the sort of nuance in which works like The Man Who Lived at the Ritz exist. Good news for Nazis; bad news for anyone who thinks maybe the Nazi approach was bad.
Anyway, the main character was not punished or incensed enough for some readers. It’s likely the film version might provoke the same reaction from some. Perry King is curiously missing from the imdb entry of this. I wonder why? An oversight? By request of the actor, or SAG?
Until next time, neighborinos.