Friday, July 26, 2013
Recommendations :: What I've Been Watching, and So Should You! Or Not.
Man, it's depressing to think about, but, for every year that has passed since I first saw it as a Movie of the Week back in the 1970's, Soylent Green (1973) seems less and less like speculative science fiction and more like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The North Pole is a lake, GMO's are propagating, and the decimation of the pollinating bee is the first link in a possible catastrophic collapse of the food chain. We've already achieved Idiocracy status, people. Next stop, Cheese and Crackers -- only their ain't gonna be any cheese. Still worth a look whether you know the ultimate twist or not due to the fantastic supporting efforts of Edward G. Robinson; from his crotchety cussing to his magnificent, Kevorkian send-off.
Somewhat refreshingly, this tale of surrogacy, where a barren yuppie couple team up with a fertile hippie couple to produce a baby never quite goes where you'd expect in the Lifetime Original overwrought melodrama department. And so, thanks to some well drawn characters, and rock solid relationships, The Baby Maker (1970) ultimately rings true over its 10 month odyssey (-- they had to make the baby, first, 'natch), helped immensely by a great cast (Barbara Hershey has never been better), and plays fair with all three corners of this triangle. Teeters on a virtual melancholy collapse in spots, but manages to maintain its positive feng shui till the due date and beyond. Color me charmed.
In the 1980's, the rescue of missing American POW's from Vietnam was a genre unto itself, allowing several Hollywood wingnuts, finally achieving an ersatz moral high ground, to fight the war all over again and win this time. Here, a distraught/obsessed father, after unearthing concrete proof his son might still be alive, rounds up his boy's former platoon to go back and rescue him. What makes Uncommon Valor (1983) the best (and least jingoistic) of this breed is the weight the mind-boggling cast -- Gene Hackman, Patrick Swayze, Reb Brown, Fred Ward, Tim Thomerson, Randall "Tex" Cobb, and Robert Stack -- bring to these otherwise been there, done that, shoot-em-up proceedings.
Though definitely constrained by the budget and technical limitations of the medium in which it was shot, the BBC's six-part TV serial adaptation of Quatermass and the Pit (1958) really overachieves on its sci-fi, end of the world ambitions -- especially when you realize it was shot and broadcast live! But even though it assuredly equals -- and even excels its big screen brethren in several categories I'm not quite ready to call it 'better than' Five Million Years to Earth (1967) due to my love affair with James Donald's climactic, defiant and rational stare into the face of the evils of mass hysteria with nary a sign of flinching. Take THAT, you Martian bastards, you. Consider either version highly recommended.
So, if you've ever wondered what Bolero would've been like set against the backdrop of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, do I have a movie for YOU! Geez, John Derek really was a poor man's Errol Flynn, wasn't he. I can't say it was any good, but, I'll be damned if I didn't enjoy its wonky trappings. Viewer be wary treading these waters.
The Feminist and the Fuzz (1971) is a made for TV farce with Barbara Eden and David "Good Morning America" Hartman as our feminist and fuzz, who, while fighting over a vacant apartment (it's the 70s, roll with it, folks), decide to go all Odd Couple and find out that maybe, just maybe, oil and water can mix. Directed with true comedic flare by Jerry Paris, this actually turned out a lot funnier than I thought possible. Again, with its heart firmly in the right place, the telefilm plays fair with both sides and the end result was pretty entertaining.
Three on a Match (1932) is a fairly brutal morality play about three old grade school friends whose road diverged into three separate directions and yet keep intersecting. Roles are kinda reversed as the good girl winds up on a fast-track to damnation when she throws her marriage over from some cad; and the bad girl makes good trying to pick up the pieces out of the wreckage, culminating in perhaps one of the most insane, redemptive climactic turns ever to derail a kidnap and ransom caper. Seriously, I think I might've woken a few neighbors with the audible "WHOA!" when Dvorak executed that final, desperate act. Can't recommend this Warner pre-code enough.
OK, while Home Sweet Home (1981) a/k/a Slasher in the House a/k/a Bloodparty a/k/a Dead Body by Jakeicide (-- fine, I made that last one up...), wasn't the worst slasher movie ever made, it may very well be the DUMBEST slasher movie I've ever encountered -- even dumber than Don't Go Into the Woods -- Alone. Here, "Body by" Jake Steinfield plays an escaped lunatic whacked out on PCP who returns to his home, where he killed his parents, now occupied by some ... loose conglomeration of people trying to celebrate Thanksgiving, including a mime/magician/spazoid whom we all hope gets killed first. Actually, I've never seen an ensemble of insipid fodder begging to be killed quicker and more desperately than those found blundering through this, geez, I'd hate to call it a plot. Otherwise, consider this 120 minutes of sheer mounting stoopidity and colossal ineptitude HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
So, yeah, well *ahem* -- I'm a little ashamed at how much this one made me bark out loud with laughter but I won't deny that it did. A lot. Your mileage may vary with If You Don't Stop It ... You'll Go Blind (1975), depending on your tolerance for borscht belt inspired dick and boob and masturbation jokes.
Overall, I found The Fall (2013) to be a pretty good police procedural mini-series about the authorities' efforts to stop a serial rapist and murderer currently running amok in Belfast. Gillian Anderson is great as the chief inspector (-- though her character is little more than a Jane Tennison clone), and Jamie Dornan is über-creepy as the bad guy. Be aware, this may be a different drummer but the beat remains the same as subplots abound to try and hide that fact. But my only real beef (SPOILERS AHOY!) is the Choose Your Own Adventure ending, especially when some asshole tore out the answer pages, leaving it up to the audience to decide what happens next when the final episode ends. Personally, I hate this type of open-ending bullshit but sometimes the journey is worth the trouble and this one qualifies. Barely.
I love the opening set up of The Awakening (2011), where we meet our 1920's era ghost-hunter and spiritualist debunker, Florence Cathcart, who is hired to investigate a rash of sightings at a secluded boys prep school somewhere in the English countryside. Sightings so intense one of the wards recently dropped dead of fright. After that, things go bump-in-the-night very effectively as Cathcart tries to flush out the fakers and exorcise her own demons; demons that set her on this personal anti-ectoplasm crusade. And even though the inevitable plot twist / surprise revelation is a let down as it reeks of ghost stories already read and seen, and may seem a bit of a cheat at first glance, the efforts of the cast found me in a forgiving mood. Spooky and intriguing, and Rebecca Hall is amazing. Recommendation: Don't watch before going to bed like I did.
The Trygon Factor (1966) is another deliriously demented entry in Rialto Films' über-violent and über-eye-candy inspired Edgar Wallace krimri about an order of nuns who moonlight as jewel thieves, bank robbers and smugglers, and Scotland Yard's efforts to derail their latest caper. (A caper that involves mass murder, a rocket launcher and a suit of armor.) Not the most whackadoodlest of the series but whackadoodley enough to sit through the seizure inducing print I found on YouTube. Always fun to watch Stewart Granger work, who is nearly undone by these conniving and double-crossing vixens; and Susan Hampshire makes for a most sinister villainess in those boots and jodhpurs. M'rowr.
And finally, Dangerous When Wet (1953) finds a fit family of rubes from Arkansas dairy country getting roped into swimming the English Channel as a publicity stunt for a brand of vitamin water. It's MGM musical logic, folks, so just smile and nod and move along, but, I'm telling ya, it's a helluva lot of fun to watch. A vehicle for Esther Williams on the surface to work her magic underwater but turns out she's pretty great on dry land, too. And the whole thing is sufficiently buoyed by a supporting cast including Jack Carson as the pitchman, Fernando Lamas as the love interest, and William Demarest and Donna Corcoran as ma and pa (-- and I simply adore the musical number where these old fudds strut their stuff). There's also an extended cameo by Tom & Jerry for an amazing dream sequence in both content and execution that could have gone on for lot longer than it did in my opinion. Great escapist fluff, sure, but feel free to jump in anytime. The water's fine.