Saturday, September 26, 2020

Weekend Open Thread


  1. Even though I'm not fully back on the movie-watching bandwagon (having too much fun competing in "Splatoon 2" tournaments and beating up Norwegians at online "Mario Kart 8" races... yeah, I know! :'( ), next week Scary Movie Month starts. Time to shape-up or shut-up, so I tried to get on the wagon with some horror flicks to get me on the mindset of seven-word reviews.

    THE OMEGA MAN (1971, TCM, first-time viewing) is a legitimate argument for why remakes of some dated movies are necessary. Richard Matheson's story has universal appeal, and this now-cheesy '71 version (a fuel-propelled 35mm theatrical screening of "Woodstock," really? Who knew Neville was a hipster! :-D) was clearly made to parallel the racial/society unrest of the post-Civil Rights era. Or is it just an excuse for Chuck Heston to show off his upper torso and propensity to let his guns do the talking when not monologuing? Either way, other than the impressive-for-the-time shots of a desolate Los Angeles (like "Night of the Comet" with an old white guy) the 2007 "I Am Legend" remake puts this one to shame. The only true horrors I felt were (a) how lucky lil' boys were back then that a 'GP' rated flick could show female butt/breasts and (b) how 'The Family' behaved/acted like present-day MAGA supporters. :-O

    THE CAR (1977, Netflix, also first-time viewing) was a lot more fun, especially the way the clever editing implied a lot more mean and violent stuff than what was actually shown. It's basically "Jaws" on wheels, except the small town where The Car attacks doesn't have a corrupt mayor trying to keep the local school show going to save the season. Music is too histrionic, but the L-O-U-D claxon is iconic. John Marley gets high billing for little-but-memorable screen time, and James Brolin's mustache is strong-enough to get The Car to stop when it wouldn't brake for anybody else. Other than some questionable choices (a character's abusive behavior towards his wife is tolerated because his explosives skills are necessary for the grand finale) "The Car" is a blast from the 70's past, when 'PG' horror flicks felt a little dangerous and meaner than their latter decades' counterparts.

    Even though I've seen it before, PUMPKINHEAD (1988, Blu-ray) really showed its age under the scrutiny of a Jury Room Facebook group watch. It's basically "Pet Sematary" a year before "Pet Sematary," except the undead being brought back to life is a monster seeking to avenge the death of Lance Henriksen's kid. While it's nice for Lance to get a rare chance to headline the picture, one-time director Stan Winston (who wisely went back to his shop and never directed again) wasted the actor's considerable talents on a Southern Gothic-lite role. Great mechanical effects, but who cares when (a) the few likable characters are dispatched early and (b) we're supposed to care for one-dimensional kids who act/behave reprehensibly? Just because its sequels are considerably worse doesn't mean "Pumpkinhead" gets a pass at being as shallow and ultimately forgettable as the stock characters inhabiting its world.

    THE RUNNING MAN (1987, A. Prime) is too stupid, badly made (it looks like a TV movie) and cheesy to be as memorable as it eventually is, all because Arnold Schwarzenegger's impressive physique and personality fills its vacuum. Richard Dawson is fully aware of the movie he's in, and the first time he sees Ben Richards on tape ("Hello, gorgeous") his villain character is in synch with the audience watching both the actual movie and TV show within. The definition of a star vehicle being carried to success by the on-camera talent involved, except everyone else becomes invisible background fodder for Arnie and Dawson to chew on.

    1. Are you ready for pain?! Are you ready for suffering?? Then you are ready for Captain Freedom's workout

    2. Ready for pain? I guess if l lose a few pounds. Ready for suffering? Hell no! I'd rather Ciimb for Dollars.🤯🥳

  2. Good weekend to everyone.

    I came back this morning from the first night of Weekend of Terror at the Mahoning Drive-In. This year it is a celebration of Italian horror. I saw Deep Red (The Hatchet Murders cut) and Fulci's The Psychic before heading home. With work later today, staying for the third feature, Torso, was not an option. It was my second visit to the drive-in this week. With my work taking me close to the Mahoning on Tuesday, I came around to watch The Warriors for the first time. That is a really fun movie, definitely existing in some imaginary world.

    There were a couple of other watches at home.

    AFRICA: BLOOD AND GUTS/ AFRICA ADDIO (1966) – J.B. recently wrote about the Mondo shockumentary genre. Africa: Blood and Guts is a supreme example of it. It has all of the issues J.B. brought up, but directors Jacopetti and Prosperi had a great eye. There are plenty of impressive images to gawk at. The directors traveled throughout the African continent filming around the newly-independent countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, etc.). Is it a biased and rascist film? Did they stage or create some of the scenes? The answer is undoubtedly yes, but the film strangely holds up as document of that moment of time, too. There is a strong emphasis on animal killing in it, which still has the power to shock. If anyone is curious about where a film like Cannibal Holocaust comes from, this is one to point to.

    POSSESSED (1931) – Strong performances from Joan Crawford and Clark Gable push this pre-code film along to a conclusion that is a big let-down. Crawford is a small-town factory worker determined to escape the drudgery of working-class life. She becomes a kept woman in New York City, a life that initially has its charms. But are human beings ever content for long? Despite that conclusion and a bit of melodrama, this is well worth a look for fans of Golden Age Hollywood. The camerawork and cinematography are impressive for the period.

    My Scary Movie Month picks are pretty much decided. What I watch will all come down to how much time I actually have to focus on movies. Mexican horror and the Phantasm series are definitely getting my attention this year, however.

  3. Console Wars (2020, dir. Blake J. Harris & Jonah Tulis)

    The CBS All Access documentary on the TOTALLY RAD rivalry between Sega and Nintendo in the 90s had my curiousity piqued. None of the background story was new to me, but I was impressed that the filmmakers assembled most of the key executives/employees to flush out the story of their corporate rivalry during the (re)birth of home video games. I was confounded with the decision not to include any kind of interviewee with a critical or historical knowledge of the subject to help place some of the very partisan claims in more even-handed context. At a certain point, it became frustrating to watch marketing people continuing to snipe back and forth to one another with the same PR nonsense they used to try and sway teenage boys away from the competition. I would've liked for them to be able to reflect more honestly given the distance of decades from these events, but I felt like the audience is denied meaningful understanding of the events. However, I thought the presentation was lively, using a mix of retrogame-style animations with archival footage to break up the talking heads.

    The Price of Fear (1956, dir. Abner Biberman)

    One of Universal's film-noir pictures... seemingly on a shoe-string budget. I'm always keen for a noir thriller, but this one was like an overstuffed knock-off "Hitchcock Presents" episode. A handful of cheap sets, lots of opening and closing doors and a some barely-lit scenes of cars driving around at night. The performances were all rather flat (which I recognize was normal for the era [era]), but aside from the lead, Merle Oberon, people are barely reacting to extremely life-altering scenarios. The rest of the C-list cast all look like they would be grateful to be guest starring on Bounty Law.

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968, dir. Ken Hughes)

    I waited 4 decades to watch this and, even knowing that it was a Mary Poppins clone, I came out the other side very pleased. Screenplay by Roald Dahl (!) based on a book by Ian Fleming (!!!) and starring high-stepping impresario/pro goofball Dick van Dyke and the blandest Transformer ever to grace the silver screen. Apparently Producer Cubby Broccoli wanted to "out-Disney Disney," going so far as to hire the Sherman brothers (Mary Poppins songwriters) to pen the music. For a 2 1/2 hour long movie, it's rich and snappy and boisterous, even if none of the songs stuck with me. I didn't have any nostaglia for this, but I really admired the film for its mix of novelty and quaint fantasy. The story-within-the-story aspect confused me a little bit, I plum forgot that this is supposed to be a yarn that "DVD" is spinning for the kids. It's so bizarre, but it makes sense that it comes out of the same imagination as Willy Wonka, The Witches and The BFG.

    Getting my list prepared for Scary Movie Month. I've got 36 titles lined up and will try to hit all of them. My tentative first three are:

    Drag Me to Hell (2009)
    The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
    Needful Things (1993)

    See you in October!

  4. I hope everyone is adequately excited for Scary Movie Month. Today I plan on visiting a couple secondhand DVD stores to see what they have.

    This Friday I'm going to be doing my 3rd annual October Marathon. This year will be a bit different, obviously, as I won't be having people over during it, and don't need to program around other people. The last 2 years I've hit 8 movies, this year I'm starting a little earlier, gonna try for 11 movies (right around 18 hours).

    Does any one else have any goals or events planned for the month? I'd love to hear them. I finally hit my goal of 50 movies and 1 movie every day last year, so I'll be a little more fast and loose this year.

    1. Did you do 365 movies in 2019?

      I'll try for 31 movies for October, which i don't think I'll make. Last year it was 25 or something like that.

  5. This week I watched Sleepy Hallow (Burton) and Poltergeist (the original). I enjoyed Sleepy Hallow. The plot felt complex in a way that made me feel a bit stupid for struggling to sort the chain of events in my head, perhaps I'm just crazy though.

    Poltergeist was probably my least favorite movie I've seen this year. I didn't even have expectations for it really, as all I knew was that there was contention over whether Spielberg directed it or not. After the first 20 minutes or so it just increasingly frustrated me because it felt jumbled together and the pacing/character interactions just felt off and boring. I didn't buy the ghost experts at all who, for some reason, could go off about how the spiritual world works, and what the ghost and the little girl are feeling. It also kept trying to be like, emotional, and it did not work. It was like, the tone of ET, except if ET was a soulless movie with bland and or annoying characters (the short woman with the high pitched voice was like nails on a chalkboard to me in every way). I realize the comparison probably makes very little sense, it's just the vibe it gave me. I assume many people like it, but it just really did not work for me. HOWEVER in the last 15 minutes or so it felt like it suddenly became fun and creepier, so idk. I haven't seen any other Tobe Hooper movies (I might watch TCM soon)but I assume I'll like those better.

    I'm excited to figure out what horror movies I'll watch/rewatch this year. My gf and I will have to make a list of ones we want to do when we visit. I won't lie, I am perhaps most excited to rewatch "Sleepwalkers" which I saw for the first time last year. Children of the corn was a bit garbage but in an amazing way, so probably that one and maybe the sequels as well. We actually haven't seen ANY of the Halloween or Elm Street sequels so I might pick a few of those. I know I've wanted to watch Suspiria for a while, as well as a Rob Zombie movie (never seen any). I'd also like to do some Park Chan-Wook, Bong Joon Ho, and Takashii Miike films (most importantly, Audition, which I haven't seen).

    1. We were also discussing how The Shining and The Thing both feel like "winter" movies, but I know I'll probably have us watch The Thing anyway because it's amazing. Oh, and maybe some Carpenter I haven't seen. Prince of Darkness? idk.

  6. Each Scary Movie Month, I've struggled a little because there are too many movies to watch and I can't decide what to pick. So this year I'm trying something a little different. I'm starting with 2020's Gretel & Hansel, then going backwards through the years, watching one movie from each year and see how far into the past I end up. That way each day's choice is limited but I've still got 2-3 possibilities for each year. I guess we'll see how it goes.

  7. On a whim, I rewatched Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND. It just doesn't work, does it? I'm a sucker for castles/magic/swords/dragons stuff, so this should be right up my alley. Plugging the ALICE characters into a LOTR/Narnia-type story with quests and battles means those characters lose something.

    This had me in a Burton mood, though, so I rewatched BIG EYES. People are mixed on this one, but I like it.

    And then DUMBO, which I still hadn't seen. The first hour was pretty good, but then they go to this crazy futuristic circus city and that's where it lost me. See, the fact that Dumbo can fly is the story's big fantastical element. But in the city, everything is fantastical, which makes Dumbo just another special effect surrounded by effects. Another mixed bag, I guess.

    1. Wow. I saw "Dumbo" when it came out, liked it but didn't quite know what is it that kept me at arm's length. You just nailed my problem with it. When the titular character ceases to be the centerpiece of the wonderment when a parade of special effects, towering sets and freaky characters take over the 2nd half of the movie the magic of the first hour is gone. Not even Michael Keaton can save "Dumbo," and he's pretty good given what he's asked to do.

  8. Snuck in a few extra flicks this weekend (i.e. Friday and Saturday night).

    HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967, Shout! TV for the first time) is so jaw-droppingly bad it almost comes around and becomes good. Country musicians on their way to Nashville get caught in a shootout between cops and spies (!), decide to spend the night at a local haunted house and run into a "Cabin in the Woods"-style gang of bad guys. Lon Chaney, Basil Rathbone, John Carradine and Linda Ho are just some of the legendary actors forced to spew dialogue and perform pratfalls that the cast of "Hee Haw" would hold their nose at. Shoot, Merle Haggard and a truckload of country stars drop by to be scared shitless by below-"Scooby-Doo" special effects. Did I mention this is also (a) a country musical, (b) there's a sentient gorilla locked in the basement and (c) meant-to-be comic relief bumpkin character Jeepers makes TV's Gilligan look like Mark Twain? In his worst moments Larry The Cable Guy never reached the levels of indignity the cast of this flick is saddled with... and it's awesome! Highly recommended for #ScaryMovieMonth precisely because it's not scary at all. Rifftrax version on tap for tonight (also from Shout TV) and it should be glorious! x-D

    C.C. AND COMPANY (1970, TCM Underground for the first time; also streaming on Amazon Prime) was that Joe Namath biker flick whose trailer is briefly seen during the theater scene in Tarantino's "OUATIHollywood." If you can get past an extremely off-putting early rape attempt scene (with Ann-Margret... in a 'PG' rated flick!?) you'll be rewarded with an amusing exploitation flick whose biggest attribute (besides starring Broadway Joe at the height of his post-Super Bowl fame) is that it wears multiple hats and defies categorization. One moment it's a biker flick, the next it's a motocross racing picture with shades of Romero's "Knightriders." The conflict between Namath's Ryder and gang leader Moon (William Smith, the 70's William Forsythe) gets sidelined so Wayne Cochran can sing "I Can't Turn You Loose" (as the characters dance/screw the night away) and Sid Haig do his biker thing. Not a great movie by any means, "C.C. and Company" at least doesn't outstay its welcome. Worth watching... once.

    Unlike the aforementioned picture, J.C. (1972, TCM Underground for the first time) slavishly follows the template of "Easy Rider." Pothead motorcycle gang leader J.C. (co-writer/director/producer star William F. McGaha), who might or might not be a reborn Jesus Christ, leads his flock of racially-integrated bikers back to his Alabama hometown. Naturally the bikers run afoul of the locals, including Sheriff Caldwell (Slim Pickens, whose recognizable folksy delivery can't blunt his character's seething racism), and the tension simmers 'till it finally explodes. If you removed the way-too-many scenes of endless talking/philosophizing by the symbolic characters "J.C." would be 25 minutes long. Unlike "Easy Rider" the camera work and cinematography leaves you with nothing to fall back on after the story/characters have bored viewers to tears.

    Last and certainly least, ON THE BASIS OF SEX (2018, Showtime) is the same epic misfire I remember from watching it theatrically back in '18. A biopic of the early years of Ruth Baider Ginsburg's attempts to juggle family (Armie Hammer hubby, baby) and her early pioneering legal work, the film is just too Hollywood pretty, prim and proper to get across the ideals that the real RGB strived for. Felicity Jones can be a good actor, but here she's just too slick, pretty and perfect to be taken seriously. Mimi Leder can't be accused of directing like a girl (ton of "ER" episodes, "Deep Impact"), but "On the Basis of Sex" lets its subject down by giving RGB's looks as much importance as her words. Shame. :-(

    1. Biopics are no match for a good documentary at your side, kid.

      "RGB" was excellent and it completely sapped any desire to see OTBOS.

  9. Last night I watched some spaghetti sci-fi, THE WILD, WILD PLANET from 1966. Antonio Margheriti's opus is so full of outlandish designs and ridiculous story elements that it truly falls into the camp category. Yet that is what makes it so watchable. The clothing, sets, and not-so-special special effects have a certain charm. That is good a thing because the plot gets so muddled that it is difficult to figure out what is happening by the conclusion. It was a perfect Saturday night movie to unwind with.