Saturday, January 16, 2021

Weekend Open Thread


  1. Thank God for Facebook's Jury Room 4.0 weekly viewing parties. :-)

    Brian Trenchard-Smith's BMX BANDITS (1983, Amazon Prime) could have used menacing bad guys instead of the lame ones here, who only want the walkie-talkies stolen by a trio of bike-riding teens (including Nicole Kidman in her feature film debut) for their pre-planned heist. Pacing is dire for most of the first and second acts (a cemetary sequence goes on forever), coppers are painfully stupid and a throw-flour-and-bubbles-at-the-camera finale doesn't save it.

    PASSENGER 57 (1992, Netflix) is a perfect time capsule of the early school of "Die Hard in a..." knockoffs (including yokel white cops' treatment of the black lead that land differently in BLM America :-O). At 84 mins. it doesn't outstay its welcome, which is good because it pulls a "Speed" (three-in-one locale set-pieces) before "Speed" came out. Wesley Snipes is a cool action man, but lacks chemistry with anybody (including baby-faced Tom Sizemore and Elizabeth Hurley). Worth a first (and last?) viewing.

    Last week I posted my list of Top 70 Movies of 2020. Except for the top 10 I couldn't comment on the movies from 70 to 11. A few '20 highlights I'd like to recommend (or steer you away from):

    JASPER MALL (HBO Max): terrific fly-on-the-wall dispassionate chronicle of the folks working and/or making a living at an Alabama mall. Perfect documentary to log on the internet when finished to see whatever became of the mall.

    THE OLD GUARD (Netflix): basically "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (the villains seem lifted directly from that clunker) but character-based and at times shockingly compelling. So happy there's a set-up for a sequel worth looking forward to. Charlize Theron is the man! ;-)

    SHIRLEY (Hulu): Elisabeth Moss stars in an indie biopic (executive produced my Martin Scorsese) of horror writer Shirley Jackson that borders on up-its-own-ass pretentiousness. But Moss' chemistry with "hubby" Michael Stuhlbarg is to die for, because good acting can still lift a dour script.

    THE VAST OF NIGHT (Amazon Prime): a terrific demo reel for co-writer/director Andrew Patterson, who simultaneously shows off (amazing long "oners"), shows restraint (camera hovers on actors' faces because the story being told needs to be heard) and tests viewers' patients (is there an alien invasion happening or not?). Fans of "Twilight Zone"-type cinematic tales will appreciate the Rod Serling callbacks.

    DA 5 BLOODS (Netflix): despite being way too long and at times looking unpolished/amateurish (just because Spike Lee clearly likes "Apocalypse Now!" doesn't mean he should helm a Vietnam war epic) the acting and depth of character motivation are where this movie excels. Delroy Lindo is an acting beast, and the little bit we get of Chadwick Boseman is worth his diminished weight in acting gold. :'( Reminds me of Larry Cohen's "Original Gangstas," but with Netflix money to attract better actors and a director aiming high and (more often than not) hitting bullseyes.

    NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS (HBO Max): every single line of dialogue here is so perfect because it's devoid of typical backstory-filling chit chat. Autumn and Skylar know what has to be done, go about doing it and don't talk about it more than necessary. The restraint in how she presents something that arises so much passion is writer/director Eliza Hittman's biggest success story.

    AVA (Netflix): a world-trotting professional assassin (Jessica Chastain) deals with her substance abuse and personal demons while visiting family in Boston. Thin-and-overused material, but a strong cast (John Malkovich, Common, Geena Davis, Colin Farrell) that could have cashed their paycheck actually commit.

    1. I watched BMX Bandits only as an adult and experienced some of the same frustrations with the villains. Then again, it was probably made for twelve-year-olds to enjoy (cool bikes, nice outfits, that Nicole Kidman is cute) and not for grown-ups to critique. I did like the chase sequence, though. It showed some filmmaking effort.

    2. Just because Brian Trenchard-Smith is slumming doing a kid's movie doesn't mean the man forgets his "Turkey Shoot" skills. 8-)

  2. Destination Wedding: yes. keanu and winona are hilarious. best sex scene ever.

    If Beale Street Could Talk: yes. beautiful. also dave franco???? ok.

    Da 5 Bloods: this movie was wild. Like it felt *weird*. I loved it. Main dude was so interesting and watchable. I think moments that humanized the vietnamese are particularly great, such as the poetry reading in a forest scene and some of the imagery later on. I wondered if it could have done this more...I don't know. regardless.

    Lost Highway: First time seeing it. Probably my least favorite movie I've seen by my favorite director. On paper this should be my favorite movie ever for so many reasons, yet by the last fourth I felt a bit bored. It feels so much like a precursor to mullholland drive. Some of the nudity later on felt a bit less...meaningful than in his other movies. I also found the main characters pretty unlikable, which I realized I can't say for all his other movies I've seen and loved. I don't find any of the leads particularly interesting. I had just had a conversation with someone about marilyn manson being a seriously evil abuser, so to hear him over a scene of sexual violence/coercion, and him and twiggy being in the fake porn felt weird (not saying this is a fault of the movie in any way, just something on my mind). I will say this movie should have my favorite soundtrack ever with bowie, smashing pumpkins, lou reed, but it felt like marilyn manson played the most (could be wrong here), and dear lord it was garbage to me. I mean it didn't fit the vibe at all. It just felt stupid and ruined the mood in multiple scenes.

    Yet, thinking of the movie, it has a very unique vibe, which is hard to explain. The noirish liminal space in the beginning, to the very LA suburban weirdness, the vibe of this world makes me think of cigarettes and nausea and the sun and driving and everything being so mundane and the people like odd dream dopplers, yet it feels like you could have a panic attack into a nightmare or dissociate at any moment from reality. And for that mood this movie had value and I will watch it again at some point. I think there's an fthismovie podcast on it so I'll have to listen to that. I am conflicted and on each side of how I feel there are moments that reflect another side. In general, it just didn't work for me like his other movies, but there is value.

    The Host (Bong Joon Ho): This was fucking amazing. I thought this would be a really fun cgi monster movie. It was that but also incredible. It felt larger than I imagined, yet had so many great smaller moments and personal dialogue. Even in something like this there are so many little references to class and financial hardships. I find it almost impossible to imagine an american movie that is seemingly a b monster movie like this yet somehow so elevated and managing to juggle so much. In addition, there were so many moments that were insanely spot on in relation to current events and the pandemic and human behavior, and that's only one element/focus of the movie. One scene in particular where a man coughs and takes his mask off is hilarious. Scenes from the news had some moments that felt specific to today. Yet it was also heatwarming and never lost sight of the focus between a man searching for his daughter and other connections among the family.

    btw Memories of Murder is coming to criterion, can't wait to see that again. I wanna watch Okja soon and rewatch snowpiercer, I feel I won't love them as much as Memories of murder, parasite, and The Host, but this director makes me excited.


    1. Also, the knowledge that the Host monster is based on Steve Buscemi in Fargo is just...beautiful

    2. "The Host" is one of the better movies from the mid-aughts that still holds up. Wish it'd come out on 4K UHD, because the 1080p transfer on old HD-DVD/Blu-ray is starting to show its age. :-(

      "If Beale Street Could Talk" is a quiet delight. It was Oscar bait when it came out, but stands out on its own. :-) Never seen "Lost Highway," and after reading lukem's review I don't know if I ever want to. :-P

    3. The atmosphere of Lost Highway that you mention is what I enjoyed most about the film and why it was a top watch for me last year. Lynch imbued those shots of the hallway in the couple's house with an amazing sense of dread. The characters are a little on the sleazy side of life, making the film feel like exploitation at times. Being an exploitation fan, I do not mind that.

      The Host is yet another film I have not gotten around to watching.

  3. It was another week of varied watches.

    QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (1967, dir. Roy Ward Baker) – This viewing was a tribute to the actress Barbara Shelley, who passed away earlier this month. She is best known for her work with Hammer Studios, and Quatermass And The Pit is one of its most ambitious films. During a dig to expand the London Underground, a mysterious object is found that may hold a link to the origins of certain notions of what constitutes evil. There is a lot going on in QUATERMASS to follow. The level of spectacle is also greater than one generally gets with a Hammer production. I found the Scream Factory blu-ray for this for a few dollars at local store, quite a bargain.

    DARK HABITS (1983, dir. Pedro Almodóvar) – This is the feature film that, for me, marks the beginning of the elegant and outrageous melodramatic style of Almodóvar. A drug-addicted singer goes on the run when her boyfriend dies from contaminated heroin. Her refuge is a religious house for troubled women run by some eccentric nuns who have gone overboard in so many ways that they are as sinful as the women they try to lead to a better life. Provocative, satirical, and ridiculous, Dark Habits is well worth seeing if you are an Almodóvar fan.

    ANGEL FACE (1953, dir. Otto Preminger) – A very satisfying mix of film noir and drama. Robert Mitchum plays an ambulance driver who falls under the spell of a young woman when he responds to an emergency call at the mansion of her rich family. Jean Simmons plays the young woman, and the contrast in acting styles between her and Mitchum creates an engrossing dynamic. The story build-up is slow but is appropriate for the bursts of craziness that do happen as the film goes along. A very pleasant surprise from the DVR.

    TOO MANY GIRLS - A fluffy musical about college life that is mainly remembered today for being the film that brought Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz together. Desi looks so young here. Another notable face in the film is Richard Carlson, who starred in The Creature From The Black Lagoon. It certainly is not on the same level as an MGM musical of the period.

    TRADER HORN (1973) – A terrible movie on all fronts that I admit to being fascinated by. It is a mish-mash of story elements and a literally a mash-up of stock footage. There is no continuity in the scenes at all. Every conceivable cliché of pulp African adventures is crammed into the plot. Finding a platinum mine in central Africa did not seem enough motivation for anything by the conclusion. It does not surprise me that Rod Taylor's career declined after this dud.

  4. Finally watched Sunset Boulevard (1950).
    Everything is clear to me. All the references. I see now.

  5. I'm surprised Bad Teacher (2011) has such bad Rotten Tomatoes reviews; I thought it was hilarious! I miss Cameron Diaz SO much. I might watch Annie just for her (def not for anything else). I bet she could re-do one of my favorite comedic performances (Carol Burnet as Miss Hannigan) and do it justice.

    1. I thought Bad Teacher was hilarious as well. Although I have a soft spot for comedies and laugh at all sorts of dumb things.

      Wow, Diaz really did stop acting. Nothing since 2014. Sometimes an actor fades away into smaller roles, but it appears she just stopped cold turkey.

  6. GREASE 2 (1982). As soon as I said on social media that I was watching this, the Grease 2 fanbase popped up to tell me how they like this one more than the first. I wouldn’t go that far, but I liked G2 a lot. Michelle Pfeiffer’s “Cool Rider” song is killer.

    CHASERS (1994). Dennis Hopper directed this comedy, and it’s a fascinating in that context. The movie might as well be called “This is what Dennis Hopper thinks is funny.” Two Navy guys have to escort a female prisoner for various road trip comedy gags. Tom Berenger plays the staunch, hardcore military man who is the butt of a lot of jokes, while the other two are all about messing with him and with the Navy overall. The movie comes close to being counterculture, but never crosses that line. It’s also NOT a good movie, but the thought process behind it all was interesting.

    SORCERESS (1982) Legendary exploitation filmmaker Jack Hill directs this sword n’ sorcery flick for Roger Corman’s company. Twins Leigh and Lynette Harris play dual chosen ones in a world of barbarians, monsters, magic, and whatnot. If the swordfights and action had been more thrilling, I would have liked it more. But the movie never goes crazy or over-the-top like you want it to, leaving the (ugh) acting to carry the whole thing. Stick with Jack Hill’s super-cool ‘70s flicks instead.

    PASSENGER 57 (1992). But how should I place my bet?

    And please don’t hate me for this, but I went ahead and put on the original STAR WARS (1977). Unlike the rest of the internet, it remains one of my all-time faves, and I needed some mental “comfort food.”

    1. There is no need to ashamed of a film that you like, Mac. Star Wars is a classic and has long gained a place in film history.

      I have been delving into the sword and sorcery genre recently. It can be pretty bad. Sorceress was one that I checked out on Prime but bailed on. I did not find it at all engaging. AMAZONS and THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS at least entertained me.

  7. Hope everyone's having a good weekend!

    I'm currently watching Sneakers, another movie I love for no other reason than I happened to tape it off TV and watched it a lot as a kid. The plot's hokey and the early 90's tech talk is funny, but it moves and has a hell of a cast.

    Also recently saw two documentaries from 2018, Three Identical Strangers and Shirkers. The former tells the story of triplets separated at birth and given up for adoption, who reunite after a chance encounter. The latter is about three Singapore teenagers who made a road movie in the early 90's but never got to finish it. Like every documentary nowadays, both of them take a turn for the weird halfway thru and become about something completely different. Both are definitely worth a watch.

    And The Nice Guys is still great and Iron Sky: The Coming Race, the sequel to 2012's passable Finnish scifi comedy Iron Sky, is one of the worst movies I've seen in a long time.