Sunday, May 27, 2012

Here's Looking at You, Kid

As mentioned in earlier blogs, I determined a while back to revisit methodically the DVDs that were collecting dust on my shelves, figuring that there was no point in keeping them otherwise. (See Of Dust and Disks and Ghosts of Presents Past.) It's been more fun than I expected, and I've fallen asleep only twice (and finished up the next day) despite always choosing a late night hour. This reminds me of TV when I was a kid: old movies were standard fare in late time slots.

The most recent 15 DVD views:

I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958). Yes, I know: don’t we all? The 50s were the heyday of cheap sci-fi films. This one capitalized on the success two years earlier of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As in Body Snatchers, the aliens take human form, but in this case they preserve the original humans. The unconscious originals are hooked up to a broadcasting device that lets their look-alikes access their memories. The aliens run into trouble with their human forms when they find themselves enjoying human pleasures and vices. One even gets married in place of a human man and has a honeymoon. If the real groom, after his rescue, is upset about his bride having gotten it on with a monster from outer space, he doesn’t say so. This is a silly but surprisingly likable little movie.

2 Days in the Valley (1996). An unapologetically trashy film with killers, femmes fatales, flawed cops, a horrible boss, insurance scammers, a massage parlor, and a legendary fight between Teri Hatcher and Charlize Theron. Several apparently independent tales intertwine into one. Not nearly as heavyweight as Pulp Fiction, but if you haven’t 3 hours to spare for that, this one will do.

Battlestar Galactica (2003). This two hour made-for-TV movie also was the pilot for a remarkable and dark reimagining of the original 1970s series. It is high concept and well executed, though the theological discussions get annoying after a while.

Son of Kong (1933). This is probably the least seen of the three classic giant ape movies, the other two being King Kong and Mighty Joe Young. Much of the same cast from King Kong is reassembled for this pic. Carl Denham, the showman who captured King Kong, is being sued by just about everybody for the damage to New York caused by the ape, so he and his buddy Captain Englehorn skip town for the Dutch East Indies. They sail back to Skull Island to find treasure, but are abandoned there by a mutinous crew. On the island the four stranded crewmembers and one young woman stowaway encounter a “little” Kong about twice the height of a man. The director/screenwriters were unsure whether to play this sequel for laughs or to stick with the adventure. They do both, and the mix is not altogether successful. It is modest fun regardless. Where mother Kong might be is anyone’s guess. She probably left King because he kept going to the village to pick up chicks.

Cat Women of the Moon (1953). This movie is the very definition of “so bad it’s good.” All one needs to say about this film’s budget is that the acceleration couches in the rocket are lawn chairs. Several particularly obtuse astronauts, including a busty female navigator who is in telepathic contact with the moon woman “Alpha,” fly to the moon, kill two giant spiders, and then kill the cat women. They are bad cat women, you see. You might think that makes them all the more worth preserving, but this crew doesn’t think so. The movie was remade in 1958 as Missile to the Moon which had enough of a budget for color film and even more silliness.

The Bachelor (1999). In this remake of Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances, a young man must marry within a day in order to qualify for a $100 000 000 inheritance. It’s a harder task than he expects. This rom-com has some good moments. The attack of the brides near the end is as funny as it is in the original silent. If you get a chance, though, see the silent.

King Creole (1958). This is the last Elvis Presley movie made before his stint in the army. It was his favorite of all his movies, and is my favorite, too. Elvis plays a high school dropout in New Orleans who gets a chance at a night club career, but in the process he runs afoul of a gangster. A pre-Morticia Carolyn Jones is perfect as the over-educated Shakespeare-quoting trampy moll. When she flirts with Elvis on orders from her boss, Elvis complains, “Your heart wouldn’t be in it.” “You wouldn’t miss it,” she answers.

The Runaways (2010). This biopic of the 70s band which launched the careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford is based on the autobiography Neon Angel, written by the lead singer Cherie Currie. All were underage at the time the band formed, prompting the term “jailbait rock.” Success, drugs, and an unstable home life almost destroyed Currie in an all-too-familiar pattern before her 18th birthday. Not a great movie, but not bad either, especially for Joan Jett fans. I first saw this in the theater with a friend “You know,” he said, “our families were way too functional.” “Yes,” I agreed, “it ruined our careers.”

The Killer inside Me (2010). The seamy low-life characters of Jim Thompson’s marvelous novels are notoriously difficult to bring to the screen. This is because so much of what is relevant takes place in the characters’ heads. The Grifters was probably the most successful screen-adaptation, since the plot better lent itself than most to being visual. There have been three attempts at The Killer Inside Me. This one with Casey Affleck and Jessica Alba is the best. Yet, even in this version the relationship between the sadistic cop and the masochistic prostitute is likely to be puzzling to anyone who hasn’t read the book. This is recommended only to Jim Thompson fans.

Whip It (2009). Directed by Drew Barrymore, the movie stars Ellen Page as a 17-year-old who discovers Austin roller derby to the annoyance of her mom who would rather she compete in beauty pageants. It’s pretty good both as a teen flick and a sport film. It prompted me to attend a local derby bout, as other blog posts make obvious. Actually, pageants and derby are not mutually exclusive, as Lady Oh-No on a local Jerzey Derby Brigade team can attest.

Cruel Intentions (1999). Before there were Mean Girls, there were the wealthy and private-schooled step-sibs Kathryn and Sebastian (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillipe) whose cruel games wreak havoc in the personal lives of those around them. All is well until Sebastian falls for an intended victim and develops a conscience. In the luxurious high-rise Upper East Side snake pit in which he lives, a conscience is the one thing he cannot afford.

Mommy (1995). Following the book, play, and remake of The Bad Seed rather than the 1956 movie, the psychopathic Rhoda Penmark is alive and has a 12-year-old daughter of her own named Jessica Ann. Rhoda, portrayed by an adult Patty McCormack (child star of the ’56 film), is not happy when a teacher fails to give a “best student” award to her daughter. It’s unsafe to get on the bad side of Mommy, even for Jessica Ann. The low-budget Mommy is pretty mild as serial murderer movies go, and seems aimed primarily at a kid/tween audience (the perspective is Jessica Ann’s). If you’re in the target audience, or if you like The Bad Seed, you’ll find this unofficial sequel amusing. If not, give it a pass.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World (2010). All the world’s a video game, and all the men and women merely avatars. Though this surreal movie did OK at the box office, it surprises me that it didn’t do better. I found it clever and witty and a good adaptation of the comic books (which I also own).

Run Lola Run (1998). When she needs 100 000 marks in 20 minutes to save her boyfriend from being killed (this particular guy hardly seems worth it, but suum cuique) Lola tries three times to get it right, starting on each attempt from the same point in time. Whether these are three alternate realities, the last two tries are just in her head, or she successfully has manipulated space and time, the viewer can decide. Minor differences in each attempt (amounting to seconds or split seconds) produce vastly different results, as the same people are in slightly different places and finish (or don't finish) conversations. It is the Uncertainty Principle writ large.

Play It Again Sam (1972). Written by and starring (but not directed by) Woody Allen, the hapless classic movie buff “Allan” struggles with his love life, aided by an imaginary Humphrey Bogart.

I relate especially to the last movie on the list, not because I identify with Woody's character, but because, Bogart speaks to me, too, if not as vividly. And not just Bogie. Movies can transcend pure entertainment in just this way. Even the idiot astronauts of the Cat Women movie have something to say, though in their case all of it is wrong – if you can be sure that whatever somebody says is wrong, that is useful information, too.



  1. Great lineup of movies there! I had completely forgotten about "2 Days in the Valley". It really was an entertaining flick. A lot of people wrote it off as a "Pulp Fiction" rip off (and there were a lot of those in the mid-90s) but as you said, it is too competent to really call it a rip off. Inspired by, sure.

    I heard of "Cat Women of the Moon" sounds like something I'd get a kick out of. Rifftrax tackled "Missile to the Moon" twice. Once it was Mike Nelson and Fred Willard providing comments. Then Mike, Bill and Kevin took it on. I need to see it in either version, the Rifftrax trailer is a hoot.

    "Run Lola Run" is one of those movies I had on my "to see" list for years. I kept seeing it at my dad's video store and I'd pick it up and then find something else to see. I eventually forgot about it. Thanks for bringing it up again. I reviewed a romantic anime film with a similar theme (and a bit more of an explanation of why time travel is possible) called "The Girl Who Leapt Through Time". It was solidly entertaining.

    "The Runaways" and "Whip It" are on my list to see. I've heard good things about both from several people.

    1. "Cat Women" makes "Missile" seem like fine movie-making. Either one makes prime fodder Rifftrax. There were a load of "gorgeous-women-without-men-on-other-planet-or-moon" pics in the 1950s, e.g. "Fire Maidens of Outer Space." Abbott and Costello were in one in which the Venusians were played by Miss Universe contestants. Most of these flicks are harmless male fantasies, but the scriptwriters in the best known one ("Queen of Outer Space") offended even me with their neanderthal dialogue. Choose your viewing company accordingly for that one.

      "Run Lola Run" is definitely worth a look. As in "The Girl Who Leapt through Time" (didn't see it, but I remember you reviewed it), a lot of things change outside the main plot. For peripheral characters, we sometimes get "And Then" on the screen followed by quick a glimpse ahead for that person. One woman Lola bumps wins the lottery, for example, but doesn't when Lola doesn't bump her, presumably because it changed her timing slightly for buying a ticket.

      Tonight, unless I take the night off, Drowning Mona is in the line-up