Wednesday, August 31, 2016

On the Cheap

I often give obscure low-budget movies a chance. To be sure, most are the garbage one expects, but amid the detritus is an occasional overlooked treasure – or at least a kitschy knickknack. A few examples: Dirty Girl, Laggies, Afternoon Delight, The Pretty One, Adult World, and Cheap Thrills. OK, maybe none is truly Oscar-worthy, but each has something to say in an engrossing way. I’d watch or recommend any one of them over the big budget Suicide Squad any day.

So, to cap several nights last week, I tried out five more with mixed results.

The Specials (2000)
“The Specials” are a league of superheroes who aren’t even in the top five leagues. Their superpowers are second-rate. Don’t expect to see much of them even so – fx costs money. The Specials’ greatest claim to fame is once having defended a national monument against a pterodactyl attack when the “real” superheroes were busy elsewhere. Their leader the Strobe (Thomas Haden Church) takes himself way too seriously, and his wife Ms. Indestructible (who doesn’t entirely live up to her title) is cheating on him with team member the Weevil (Rob Lowe). There is much high-schoolish infighting among the team-members. Their biggest concern seems to be an action figure deal with Kosgro Toys.

There is enough humor and satire to make this not entirely unwatchable, but, if you want a movie about would-be superheroes, go with the admittedly larger budget Kick-Ass: 100 times better.

Thumbs down.

**** ****

Lollilove (2004)
This mockumentary send-up of self-serving celebrity altruism is way more effective than its $2000 budget (you read that right) deserves. An utterly clueless wealthy Hollywood couple Jenna Fischer and James Gunn (as themselves) decide to “help” the homeless by giving them lollipops wrapped in papers with James’ artwork and inspirational sayings. Though clearly their money would be better spent on direct cash handouts or on the support of a legitimate charity, neither of those options would be as narcissistically satisfying.

There are some funny moments and the movie does outpunch its budget, but I still can’t recommend it honestly as worth the time it takes to watch.

Thumbs down.

**** ****

Automata (2014)
The robots are coming! The robots are coming! They’re going to replace us by killing us, loving us to death, or just outlasting us. We’ve been told that for generations starting with R.U.R. (1920). Kubrick/Spielberg did it as well as anyone in AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001).  I’ve written a short story of my own with the same prediction (see Circuits Circus). Despite the presence of Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith, this variation gives us nothing very new or interesting.

In a bleak future, increased solar activity has made most of the world uninhabitable for humans. The surviving humans are restricted to a handful of protected urban settlements. They depend on their robots, but have enjoined them from improving themselves; the humans recognize the existential danger posed by self-evolving robots. Naturally, this rule gets broken, but – hey – the robots are our children. Children commonly bury their parents.

I’ve seen worse, but once again I hesitate to recommend it. Go with Melanie Griffith's campy robot movie Cherry 2000 (1987) instead.

Thumbs down.

**** ****

Ask Me Anything (2014)
Based on the novel by Allison Burnett, Ask Me Anything at first seems like a simple mild exploitation flick with teen Katie Kampenfelt (Britt Robertson) enjoying affairs with (mostly) older men and writing about them in an anonymous blog. But it is more than that. This is a coming-of-age tale for a confused time.

Katie decides to take a year off between high school and college, which does not sit well with her parents. She makes questionable judgments in her private life, and acquires a big following on her blog about it. During the year she does manage to grow up a little and face some personal demons. The ending is nonetheless disturbing in a cinematically good way.

Not bad. Thumbs up.

**** ****

Give ‘em Hell Malone (2009)
This is the movie I was hoping to find. It is very very graphically violent – especially in the opening two minutes – but if you can deal with that and also are a film noir fan you’re in for a treat. It is the PI movie Hollywood would have made in 1946 had there been no Motion Picture Production Code in force at the time.

Noir aficionados will be pointing out the references. “Hey, that’s a nod to Out of the Past! That’s from Murder My Sweet!” There’s a two-timing gorgeous dame beautifully played by Elsa Pataky, a too smart for his own good villain, a bigger than life henchman, and Malone (Thomas Jane), a hard-to-kill urban mercenary who loves his mother and drives a ’52 Buick that I want… really want.

There is nothing deep about the film, but it is solidly entertaining. Thumbs up.

The Kinks – Low Budget


  1. I enjoyed Cheap Thrills for what it was. I was watching a movie called Bully last night, which was a low budget film, but fairly entertaining the plot lifted from modern headlines probably. I've got The Last Temptation of Christ at home right now along with a movie called Stay. We'll see.

    1. I haven't seen it Bully, but finding a good low budget film like that is fun rather like fishing in a muddy river. You never know what your line will drag in. Sometimes you pull up an old boot but other times you get a big catfish -- assuming you like catfish (I do).

  2. Oh yeah, I like Catfish, I just don't fix it at home much. I'll get it when I eat out though.