The Maltese Falcon (1942)

<span style=”font-size: 1.5em;”>The Flower didn’t even hesitate.</span>

Of course we were going to see it again. It’s still great. This was actually the movie that launched our classic-film-going binge, almost two years ago! Check out the review at the link. My opinion has not changed. I’m still disappointed when it’s Mary Astor. I still think she did a great job. Etc.

The bird casts a shadow.
And there are still a bunch of great stills that are not actually in the movie.

 

Let The Right One In (2008)

This is a first for the site, I believe: I took the kids to see a “throwback” movie for a movie The Boy and I had already seen and I had blogged about when it first came up. But the Swedish vampire flick Let The Right One In is a very interesting and different vampire movie which is typically (for Swedes) low-key punctuated by amazingly shocking moments.

The above-linked review still sums up exactly how I feel about the film, down the part that I don’t think worked. I still didn’t think it worked (and I had forgotten what I wrote 10 years ago, so I had to review that old entry to see how my thoughts held up). And I still won’t spoil it, though I will note that it is a very typical cinematic cheat (still).

I was right about it being made in America. I was right about it not being nearly as good, though apparently it was pretty good.

The Boy had seen it originally and still liked it. I wasn’t sure how The Flower would feel about it, but she really liked it and didn’t have the same issue I had with That One Thing. It’s not that she didn’t see the problem, it’s just that she dismisses these sorts of things, sort of like how she can watch a film that doesn’t interest her on a narrative level by just looking at the visuals.

Trivia question that earned me a free ticket: The word “vampire” is spoken only once in the film. (I got this because somebody else guessed “zero” first, and was wrong…)

Although...is the main kid the background shadow?
This is what happens when you don’t invite them in.

Rifftrax: Night of the Living Dead

We didn’t get on the “live” Rifftrax performances right away so it’s nice that they occasionally re-show them in theaters. I trust my opinion about viewing things in theaters versus on TV is clear by this time, and the benefits are particularly exaggerated in horror and comedy. So what about horror-comedy? Or comedy-horror? Whatever this would count as?

I had pretty high hopes for this, because Night of the Living Dead is a very effective film, but part of that is its cranked-up high-tension-drama which lends itself to riffing. (A movie doesn’t have to be bad to be riffed. And a movie can be too bad to be riffed.)

It was too edgy.
Most of the movies leave out the scene where Duane Jones offers to shine Judith O’Dea’s shoes.

And?

Well.

It was…okay. It picks up steam in the second half, but the first half felt a little unfair to us. (I had similar feelings about Carnival of Souls.) They’re critiquing the credits for being credits, for example. (High point: “If I see a sign for Valley Lodge, I’m out.”) Then the expository dialogue at the front of the movie (for being expository). Then the boarding up of the house. (“It’s a movie about carpentry!”)

Things start to swing into gear later on, when Mikes does a series of riffs based around the fact that the hero insists on staying in the main part of the house while villain wants to stay in the basement, and both monologue about it. “Let them stay up there!” (We will, it’s really great!) “We’ll see how they like it!” (Judy’s making brownies!)

We did like it, and even a so-so Rifftrax is pretty hilarious and a good time, but we also felt like the boys had gotten a lot better over time. Although this was the 9th show they had done so maybe it was just the movie. And for some people, it might allow them to watch the movie without getting freaked out. ’cause it’s still a freaky flick.

Have your parents spayed and/or neutered.
So creepy.

The Fly (1958)

“Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

That line is actually not from the 1958 version of The Fly but the 1986 remake, itself iconic in its own unique way. “Help me. Please, help me.” on the other hand is from the film’s still freaky conclusion.

It's a Thriller...diller night...
Unique. (Is it Jeff Goldblum or Michael Jackson?)

Our film opens with a night watchman at the Science Factory discovering Chief Scientist Andre Delambre crushed under a machine press, head and arm, and his wife Helene fleeing the scene. Helene calls her brother-in-law Francois to confess, and tells him to call the police, and with some goading, we get our story in flashback.

It’s remarkable how good this film is, for all its charmingly dated view on society (and less charmingly dated special effects). And despite its French-Canadian-ness. The kids did not pick up on the fact that it was set in French-Canadia until I pointed out all the names and that the Inspector looked like Captain Renault. (In fairness to the kids, though, this was supposedly taking place in winter and spring, but not a flake of snow was to be found and the lawn was green and lush in March.)

Kitty's in Limbo.
The movie’s attitude toward CATS probably wouldn’t go over big today either.

This is squarely ’50s sci-fi, not just because killer insect but because Delambre is an all-things-are-possible-with-science kind of mad scientist. He’s not even a mad scientist, really. He’s obsessive and perfectionist, though the movie itself is a cautionary tale about what happens when ya get sloppy. Also very ’50s: It takes a remarkably “don’t tamper in God’s domain” attitude, even though one wouldn’t think, necessarily, that teleportation would fall into the category of God’s domain (I mean, insofar as anything could be outside of God’s domain).

I suppose it’s because the nature of the…erm…error…is so horrifying!

The supportive wife who does everything her husband asks, even at a terrible cost to herself (and their son), is something you don’t see much these days. It creates an unusual dynamic that is missing from almost every recent film. It’s an element you see in modern religious films, and occasional secular-but-still-faith-based-films like Field of Dreams. You also don’t get this kind of indulgence from the police these days: The Inspector is very reluctant to arrest the wife, on the basis of her possible insanity or some other mitigating factor.

"You got somethin' on yer face..."
I hate it when flies land on me when I’m trying to sleep.

By the way, if you’re over 30 and you saw this movie on TV as a kid, you really didn’t see it. The shocks, which are especially shocking since the whole movie is so sedate and civilized, just don’t translate to small screen. It’s a situation where seeing it on TV just sorta ruins things.

The Fly was basically the start of Vincent Price’s second career—his successful career as a horror lead—at this point, and he’s sort of a necessary but minor character. He’s really doing the same sort of blandly charming thing that didn’t make him a leading man in the ’40s. He would follow this up with The House on Haunted HillReturn of the Fly and, significantly, Roger Corman’s “Poe Cycle”, cementing his status as a horror icon.

I'll be a CHEF!
“Maybe it’s time to retire. The acting thing isn’t really panning out.”

The other icon in this film, though you may not catch it, is Betty Lou Gerson, who plays the nurse. Gerson supplied the voice for Cruella De Ville in 101 Dalmations. (I recognized her name but couldn’t pin down her voice.)

Definitely worth seeing.

Trollhunter (2010)

“TROOOOLLLL!”

It is at this point in André Øvredal Trollhunter that it seriously begins distinguish itself from its inspiration, The Blair Witch Project. Because it is at this point in the film when our suspicious but bemused college videographers get a glimpse of their first troll. Unlike the earlier film (and many of its imitators), this Norwegian fantasy delivers on the trolls.

Someone is DELIBERATELY WRONG on the INTERNET!
Our hero discovers the Internet.

The story is that Thomas, Johanna and Kalle are investigating an unlicensed hunter who seems to be stalking and killing a bear that is ravaging the countryside. They manage to get to the location where the bear corpse is, but even casual observation of the site reveals that something else is going on: The tracks are all wrong. The bear seems not to have been killed there. The bear seems like maybe it’s not even from Norway.

They follow Hans, a sullen, grouchy hunter, whom they think may be the bear killer—or something more. And in a fit of pique, he comes clean: He’s a trollhunter. He works for the Norwegian government to keep trolls from leaving their areas, and hunting them down when they do. Typically he kills them with a light—trolls turn to stone in the daylight, so he has a powerful enough lamp to bring the smaller ones down—but sometimes, as in an early case they “document”, he has to get blood samples.

A really large enema, is what I was going for.
Good thing they didn’t want a fresh stool sample.

It turns out the trolls are behaving oddly, and fleeing their area for unknown reason, and the four of them work together to unravel the mystery.

It works. It works very, very well. Hans comes off like any naturalist you’ve seen. He knows his stuff. (Trolls are born with one head, but they grow others as they get older. The extra “heads” are really just protuberances that scare off rivals and impress the lady trolls.) But he’s also grumpy because he doesn’t get overtime or hazard pay.

There’s this combination of nature film, horror film and mockumentary here that makes it very appealing. Hans’ irritation over how he is treated, the giant syringe he must use on the trolls, the thorough grilling of the kids as to whether or not they’re Christian—trolls can smell a Christian’s blood, you see—all keep things kind of absurdly amusing. (And there’s a good bit on the Christian thing, since one of the kids is lying, and a fourth kid turns out to be Muslim.)

"I'm an atheist because I don't want to be eaten by trolls." is the best anti-Christian argument I've heard yet.
Trolling for trolls with a bucket of Christian blood.

There are also a lot of subtly amusing things, as when Hans places a billy goat on a bridge to lure out the troll he’s trying to catch. When that doesn’t work, he places another, larger one there. When that doesn’t work, he places a third one.

At the same time, the actual interaction with the trolls is treated with complete earnestness, giving us the opportunity to root for our characters, even though (apart from Hans) we don’t really get to know them as people. They are human and they have a sincere drive to discover the truth—for want of which several people are eaten every year while camping out in the wilds of Norway. Unlike, e.g., Blair Witch, you like the characters more as they come together under pressure rather than turning on each other, and pursue the matter when both the government and the trolls are out to get them.

A highly watchable film and easily the best movie about (real) trolls I’ve ever seen.

It's the Al Franken troll, starring me, Al Franken.
Unrelated: Recent press conference with Al Franken.

Bocaccio ’70 (1962)

The thing about The Boy is if you tell him there’s a 3 1/2 hour Italian anthology movie from the degenerate ’70s which is probably full of surrealism and perversion, he’ll be all Let’s Do This! He was not put off by Stalker‘s runtime, e.g., and he’s just very much into the whole “cinema” thing, regardless. The reviews on the film are only “good” (not great), garnering in the 75% range on Rotten Tomatoes, but this did not deter him, either.

Now, Bocaccio ’70 is from 1962, so it’s actually pretty sweet on a lot of levels. I had forgotten that “1970” was used for many years much in the way “2000” would be used after 1970: To mean the “not too distant future”. When originally released, 3 1/2 hours was a bit much, so the first film of the four was dropped. This was, apparently, the first time in history all four segments of the movie had gotten a showing in America. (Though that may not be true at all: Who on earth would police such things?)

Bevete piu latte!
I suppose this guy might.

It is quite the little time capsule, I tell you what. The four segments are:

“Renzo e Luciana”: Mario Monicelli (The Great War) directs this tale of a young girl (Luciana) and her beau (Renzo) who have to get married but also have to keep it hidden from her employer.

“The Temptation of Doctor Anthony”: Federico Fellini (8 1/2) directs this tale of a prudish middle-aged man who is tormented by a giant Anita Ekberg.

“Il Lavoro” (The Work): Luchino Visconti (Death In Venice) directs this first whimsical, then dark story of a marriage of convenience.

“La Riffa” (The Raffle): Vittorio De Sica (Marriage, Italian Style) helms this tale of a raffle held by carnies…for a night with Sophia Loren.

The movie opens with “Renzo and Luciana”, which was the film dropped because it featured no headliners. Luciana (Marisa Solinas, who acted pretty steadly into the 2000s) has gotten herself in trouble with Renzo (Germano Gilioli, who has only one other credit) and they convince Luciana’s parents that they just can’t wait to get married. The parents reluctantly go along with it, bringing Renzo back with them to live in their three room apartment with Luciana’s little sister, the father’s nightly card game, and the giant neon flashing “ABC” light outside the window. (They get 10% off the products, Luciana informs Renzo!)

Sure, this seems secluded.
So…wanna get busy?

Now legally married, they cannot find a moment’s peace to be alone and do what Italians do, married or not. The Boy was actually shocked by how crazy crowded Rome was: The movie theater was standing room only—something he’d never even heard of as a real thing. To say nothing of the smoking going on in the theater. The sides of the road are populated by construction workers, even in the late night. The public pool is a sea of humanity where Luciana runs into her wolfish supervisor, from whom she must hide her romantic relationship even as he pursues one with her.

This all comes to a head when she finds out she’s not pregnant and in an ill-time PDA, said wolfish supervisor (believing Luciana to be unattached) fires Renzo for sexual harrassment. Get a load of that! A sexual harrassment firing in 1962! In Italy! Before the phrase was even a thing!

WTH is that?
Sure, it’s crowded! But it’s never too crowded to wear your Speedo-diaper!

It all resolves in a nice, rather wry way where our lovers get their own space—but basically at the cost of never seeing each other. The Boy said this might have been his favorite. (As a side note, the 1827 novel Renzo e Lucia is one of the most famous in Italian history and involves a couple whose marriage is being thwarted by a local baron.)

Next up was Fellini’s joint, “The Temptation of Doctor Anthony” which is a pretty coherent narrative, only lapsing into WTFism with some surreal filigree at the very end. Italian comedic stalwart Peppino De Fillippo plays the good doctor, who is quite concerned with the moral uprightness of his (rapidly deteriorating) country, and marches around correcting people and warning Boy Scouts (the Italian branch, I guess) of the evils of success when quite unprovoked, the milk council puts up a billboard directly facing his apartment.

I mean, it’s totally unprovoked. And illogical. The board is in a low traffic area, facing his building! They have to actually set up the billboard support, since it’s just an empty lot before. It plays a rather inane tune (I think it plays it, we hear it a lot) that commands him to bevete piu latte! (Drink more milk!) And it looks like this:

I feel like Wisconsinites might find that funnier than it really is.
He’s a 2%er in a 4% world.

Oh. Well, I’m sure that moves a lot of gallons. Poor Doctor Anthony struggles to get the board covered up, and actually succeeds, with much perseverance, in getting the board covered. While basking in the glory, however, he starts to hear Anita Ekberg (the model in the poster, playing herself) lament what he has done to her. And when a storm uncovers the board, he goes down to vandalize it. This results in The Attack of the 50 Ft. Ekberg.

Poor Antonio is completely overwhelmed, metaphorically and literally!

It’s pretty cute, though a little less so 55 years later, I think, when we could do with a little more prudery. Ekberg, herself, just off of La Dolce Vita is certainly imposing at 50 feet—Viking women, amirite?—but we find little sympathy for the poor doctor, who doesn’t appear to be a hypocrite, just not a match for human frailty under constant provocation. There is something rather amusing about the kaiju approach of the era being used for such a purpose, though.

Yow.
“Giant Anita Ekberg is destroying our city! Reactions are…mixed”

The third story was really dark, and featured Romy Schneider as the rich wife in an arranged marriage where her husband’s infidelities have just been splashed across the tabloids. In “The Work”, we learn that our heroine is not as sanguine about her arranged marriage as she pretends, and as her husband pretends. Her response, however, is that she’s going to make her own way in the world, free of her husband and father’s influence.

No justice. OK, sure, she's beautiful. But non e Italiano!
The only nudity in an Italian film and it’s a German chick.

The tragedy, however, becomes apparent as she really has no skills. Not only no skills but no concept of life for people who aren’t completely free of responsibility. It’s tragic, and turns especially dark when she realizes she does have one skill.

The fourth and final story, “The Raffle”, should actually be darker and sleazier, as the premise is that our heroine, Sophia Loren, is allowing a carny and his wife raffle off a night with her in order to help them pay their back taxes so that their as-yet-unborn child won’t be without a home (the trailer they do their carny stuff out of). The impression I had was that Loren’s character owed the two a debt, but I couldn’t quite figure out the backstory. (It’s also not clear to me whether they’d done this before.)

Hideous.
The famously homely Sophia Loren.

But, you know, Sophia Loren. Up for auction. Could raise some money, even in the impoverished post-War Italy. And does. Zoe (Loren) positively drips with contempt over the men who pay for a chance at her—well, not just drips, but actively antagonizes and scolds them, because when you’re Sophia Loren, you don’t have to promote the product. It’s rather funny. Meanwhile, she’s actually pretty sweet on a hunky stableman, which makes more aesthetic sense to the audience, though he turns out not to be too keen on the whole selling-her-body-for-money thing.

In 1962, Italy, you could smack a woman pretty hard, if she had it coming.

Meanwhile, the winner of the lottery turns out to be the town sacristan, a nebbishy little dude who lives with his mother. (Said mother encourages him in this particular adventure, advising him to turn down the copious amounts of money being offered.)

It has a happy ending. No, not that kind, ya perv. Zoe and our sacristan reach a reasonable compromise, though one wonders about the fate of the carny and his wife.

Such disdain. I think it must be an aphrodisiac for some guys.
Sophia Loren is NOT pleased to see you. Or smell you.

The experience overall is almost that the interest overwhelms the quality of the film. Each segment is good. None of the segments is really great. It could safely be watched in four segments; the four don’t really relate to each other. I would note—when people are amazed that we can sit through the longer films—that a lot of people come home at 6 and watch TV till midnight, so it’s really not that extraordinary, except that the fact that we only go out to do this means we do this about 3 times a year, versus every night.

One does have to comfortable being out though.

Ghostbusters (1984)

I am one of those people—yes, one of those people, as we say when reciting Ed Begley’s wonderfully non-specific bigoted rant from 12 Angry Men—who feels that the original Ghostbusters is, in fact, over-rated. Good, for sure. Funny, yes. And there’s no denying it was a cultural phenomenon, down to Ray Parker’s plagiarized-but-catchy theme. But I remember, at the time, feeling like Bill Murray’s performance was somewhat perfunctory: He’d been doing this schtick in the movies for five years now (longer, if you count his “Saturday Night Live” years), and it feels like he really doesn’t want to be there.

I kid. But it was terrible.
“No, sorry, this the script for The Razor’s Edge.”

A couple of points: First, he really didn’t want to be there. He traded his performance in Ghostbusters to play in the dismal Somerset Maugham adaptation The Razor’s Edge. (The Old Man told me that Tyrone Power had made the same arrangement to make the same movie, with pretty much the same disastrous results, back in the ’40s, but I can’t find any support for that.) The Boy said he felt that was true as well, so I don’t think I’m imagining this.

Second, even half-assed Bill Murray is awful good. If his performance here doesn’t have the same joie de vivre we expect from Murray, there are still few living or dead who could match his timing and delivery.

Overall, the kids felt this was pretty good. Not hilarious. Not the greatest movie ever, omg, which I think is probably because they have by this point seen a lot more of movie history than your average moviegoer (now or in the ’80s), but very solid. It sort of sticks with you with its quotability and its top-notch performances. I mentioned this before in the Spy review but some amount of the humor here is shock value, and that just doesn’t hold up well.

Kind of amazing.
The Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man? Still hot ‘n’ fresh!

What does hold up is Ray and Egon (Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, also the screenwriters) and their ridiculously believable mad-science-nerd schtick. Despite the similarities between the two—that kind of Asperger’s-before-there-was-Asperger’s—Ray has a warmer, more childlike sense of wonder, while Egon really does seem devoid of any normal human emotions. Which of course makes him the perfect target for Annie Potts pitch-perfect tough-but-not-unlikable secretary. As I’ve said before, it’s Winston who’s the real Everyman: He’s there to collect a paycheck, for sure, but that doesn’t keep him from being part of the team.

Sigourney Weaver’s Dana manages to keep Murray’s Totally Inappropriate behavior on the charming side of the ledger rather than creepy. I actually was a little surprised how, em, forward he was, but I suppose I’m sensitized by recent events of a Weinsteinian nature. But her 6′ stature makes her appear up to the task of fending off Murray’s puppy dog advances. She, too, is an Everyman, much like Winston, caught up in events she really doesn’t understand and having to reconcile the serious nature thereof against a backdrop of Murray’s comedic mugging.

Rick Moranis was a gem.
I bet they had fun.

Rick Moranis—the kids really liked his performance here and it truly does shine. Apparently, he improvised the whole party scene with the always delightful Jean Kasem. Moranis, who retired when his wife died in the ’90s and he found his kids needed him—pretty awesome, eh?—hits the same perfect pitch as Potts, giving us a kind of hapless character, forever in pursuit of his dreams (which apparently involves Rather Tall Women, and also Big Tax Breaks) who still manages to be lovable.

And, really, every bit of the cast, even the minor roles does two things: Establishes a strong character (without the wacky antics the remake seemed to feel the need for), and also excites a certain sympathy. The librarians, the guy waiting for the elevator, the guy who has to shut off the grid—even the mayor! This is a sort of love song to New York City and a generally benevolent film.

Annie was a big enough start in part 2 to be able to wear a wig rather than chop her hair off.
“Print is dead,” Egon says presciently.

This can pretty clearly be traced to Ivan Reitman. His movies are more or less funny. The earlier ones (like this, Meatballs and Stripes) are probably funnier. All of them, though, have a lot of heart. Evolution is a pretty clear attempt to revitalize the Ghostbusters formula—which, frankly, seems pretty bold given the current approach of just “soft rebooting” them—and while it doesn’t have the same level of laughs by any means, you end up liking the characters portrayed by Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Julianne Moore and the criminally under-rated Sean William Scott. Same for Kindergarten Cop or, hell, My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

It’s this warmth and quasi-believability (as in, “these are real-seeming people”) that carries you through when the jokes don’t land or the laughs don’t last as long as they might. So, despite my seemingly-negative intro, I don’t really have much bad to say about this movie.

Which is nice.
Ready to believe you.

The Host (2006)

From the fevered mind of Joon-Ho Bong, the maniac who brought you Snowpiercer, comes an almost equally batty creature feature about a mutant-fish-serpent thingy who eats Korean people, but not always right away. The story begins, practically Re-Animator style, with a deranged American coroner demanding his Korean subordinate dump all his toxic chemicals into the sink. The sink which drains, as we are informed, into the Han river. (The doctor is played by Scott Wilson, who is best known these days as “Herschel” on “The Walking Dead”.)

It's a LOT, is what they're showing us.
The camera pans over the bottles for, like, five minutes.

This, in very, very short order, indeed, leads to a monster in the Han river. It seems like only a few hours pass, in fact, between the time poor oppressed morgue worker drains the fluids, commits suicide and The Monster leaps from the water to terrorize Korean river-goers. The initial appearance of the monster is, shall we say, a little “rough”, being both so bold and so clearly CGI (done by the defunct San Francisco CGI house, “The Orphanage”, which did movies like Iron Man and HellBoy) that it nearly breaks suspension of disbelief.

A funny thing about that, though, is that this bold daylight assault kind of inures you to the subsequent CGI-ness of things. If you can get past the first monster scene, you’re golden. Also, they used some traditional special effects later on for close-ups, so the monster actually seems to get more realistic as the proceedings wear on.

The movie is centered around the Parks, a family that ends up in the center of the action when the young girl of the family, Hyun-seo (Ah-sung Ko, Snowpiercer) is taken by the monster when her father, Gang-doo (Snowpiercer) mistakenly grabs the wrong child in an attempt to escape. The two live with the family patriarch, Hie-bong, in his little snack shack on the riverside, but when the girl goes missing (presumed dead), brother Nam-il (Hae-il Park, War of the Arrows and this year’s Fortress, which I really wanted to see) and sister/champion archer Nam Joo (Doona Bae, Cloud Atlas, “Sense8”) show up to berate Gang-doo and wail theatrically.

I mean, seriously theatrically.

It's so far over the top, it can't even SEE the top.
This is BEFORE it gets over the top.

The Korean version of the CDC shows up suddenly and tells them all that they’ve been exposed to a dangerous virus and must be quarantined. Then, the hero gets a call which seems to be from the missing Hyun-seo. Apparently The Monster doesn’t eat its victims right away but carries them off for later consumption, and she’s being stored in a giant sewer drain under the river somewhere. This sets up the park family for a grand rescue mission, which they execute poorly, and also sets them up against the U.S. and Korean government, which are (fortunately?) as incompetent as they are, and much less focused.

It’s a common theme in American films for the ne’er-do-well to rise to the occasion, so one of the most remarkable things about this film is that the characters don’t ever really rise above their incompetence, until the very end. And the incompetence is everywhere. The hero can’t stay awake much. He can’t keep himself from eating the tentacles off the squid he’s supposed to be serving to his customers. He can’t save his daughter. His inability to count gets someone killed, in a really memorable scene.

Not bright.
I don’t know: Run away from the monster, instead of parallel to it?

His siblings aren’t much better. His sister tends to choke in her archer competitions, and then decides a bow-and-arrow would be a good way to take down this killer mutant fish-thing that seems largely unimpressed by bullets. His brother’s just kind of a jerk. Between the three of them, there’s just the one kid, which is a potentially good metaphor for Korea as a whole, but works really well just in the literalness of it.

But the incompetence doesn’t end there. Besides the aforementioned coroner who starts the ball rolling, there’s an American who gets himself killed trying to stop the monster, and another American doctor (Paul Lazar, the crosseyed bug-guy from Silence of the Lambs who also has a role in Snowpiercer) who basically is spreading the rumor about the virus to avoid any information about the monster getting out. And part of his plan is to lobotomize Gang-doo, but he botches that, too. The Korean military fares no better, basically being run higgledy-piggledy by the buffoonish Parks.

Timing is every---thing.
Better (but not much) than the Korean military and police force combined? 2nd Place Archery Contest Winner.

And this is a common theme in the Korean films I’ve seen: They really seem to have no confidence in the government. Going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. I mean, think about it: We had The Wailing, where the incompetent corrupt cop gets his ass handed to him by the devil; there’ve been a variety of Korean films about the Japanese invasion, in which the Korean government is varying degrees of incompetent from completely self-serving (Warriors of the Dawn) to just plain not there (The Handmaiden); the only positive view I can think of is from My Way, which is more about the military than civil service.

Interesting, no?

Oh, and then there’s the completely botched plan to capture the Parks for the reward, which reflects rather ill on Koreans as a whole. I mean, honestly. These guys have a pretty well run society but it’s not clear how that happens from any of the movies.

Ultimately, however, it makes for a unique moviegoing experience, as the sole, consistently competent character is Hyun-seo, the missing daughter, and she lacks competence at some very important moments. (*kaff*) Despite all this, one tends to like it because one ultimately ends up liking the main characters. Not admiring, exactly. But almost empathizing with, in a Homer Simpson sort of way.

The kids liked it, too.

But that's just me.
I prefer kids who don’t get captured by mutant river monsters.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

I was tied up handling The Enigma, so I didn’t get out to see this one.

The Flower (who had watched the whole Cornetto trilogy on her birthday last year), and especially The Boy were struck by how much this was just a straight-up zombie flick. I pointed out that Hot Fuzz is also pretty striaght, and what you would get if Michael Bay directed The Wicker ManThe World’s End is pretty much pub-crawl-meets-The-Stepford-Wives, with an almost “Plan 9” climax and a “Mad Max” stinger.

They took The Barbarienne, which was nice. She’s a bit of a scaredy-cat—she does not join us for Knott’s Halloween Haunt—but she did all right, apparently, except for the part where Shaun’s mom dies. (This is a button with her: Moms dying. Every now and again I’ll start to play “Mother’s Last Farewell Kiss” and, well, that’s always a mistake.) Anyway, she liked it, and her older siblings didn’t object to bringing her along the next week for Ghostbusters, so that’s good.

Awk-ward.
When you meet your Ex during the apocalypse.

Timecrimes (2007)

The first in the subtitled horror movies (and followed in subsequent weeks with The HostTrollhunter and Let The Right One In), this was a neat little Spanish film I had never heard of. It’s an interesting journey into time-travel-gone-wrong and the nature of causality, which starts out kind of lightly funny and turns horror/thriller, then finally just horror. Our hero is Hector (Karra Elejalda), a pudgy, middle-aged man who’s moving into a new house. While taking a break from his efforts, he spies something across his (large) yard, in the woods.

Her shirt is Schroedinger's Cat.
Fatal cutie.

The “something” he spies is a good looking girl (Bárbara Goenaga) taking off her shirt. So he shoos his wife off to the store and tries to see more, because men are dogs. Not being able spy anything, he sneaks across his yard, across the road where some trash is strewn and a bicycle is askew, locating the area where he saw the girl. It is at this point, a lumbering figure with his face wrapped in a bloody bandage begins to chase him.

One thing the kids really liked was that Hector is out of shape, so he’s not really great at running. He’s often out of breath after a little bit. Somehow, though, his bandaged pursuer never catches up to him.

This may be a little bit spoiler-y, so if you’re spoiler-sensitive, you may want to stop reading. The Flower spotted it right away, as did I. Indeed the title sort of gives a big hint.

OK, forewarned is forearmed and all that.

Very badly indeed.
The star and director contemplating how badly things are going to go.

He is, of course, being pursued by himself. The pursuit leads him into some sort of research building where he’s lured by a young scientist (the director, Nacho Vigalondo)  into hiding into this vat full of goop. The goop closes on him and when he comes out, it’s morning…of the same day. And this is where things start to get hairy. The scientist is shocked to see him, since he had only powered the machine on for an (unauthorized) test, and now Hector must wait out the day without changing anything. There’s some murky stuff going on, as Hector is troubled to see his wife canoodling with some man, even if that man is himself. Kinda. (The scientist is a little vague on this.)

But at some point he realizes that he must have been a factor in the previous day’s activities and so must be a necessary actor in the events in order to not change anything. And soon we’re seeing all kinds of things that we didn’t quite get on the first pass explained in the second pass—though through a series of bizarre events that Hector must orchestrate. The problem seems to be, though, that he can’t quite get it all exactly the way it was.

That’s where the horror aspect really locks in.

It’s a neat, tidy story with a rather dark ending, which perhaps might also work as a metaphor for adultery (a common theme in Spanish/Latin films) but doesn’t have to, if you don’t want. We all were pleasantly surprised.

The worst!
And underneath the bandages was…a surprisingly mild looking, doughy old dude.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Don't order the 50-egg special!
A local deli has this pic blown up and huge on the wall. Not sure what they’re trying to say.

This actually turns out not to be the case in Cool Hand Luke, the second show of our Paul Newman double-feature. Or not exactly, I guess. I’d say the real issue is less of communication and more of reality. I will elaborate on this shortly, but first: CLH is a Stuart Rosenberg joint, far-and-away his best film (among such films as The Amityville Horror (1979), BrubakerThe Pope of Greenwich Village and so on), and it’s also a relatively early example of the whole “Easy Rider/Raging Bull” era which I generally find so loathsome.

The premise is that, on a drunk, Luke (a war hero) goes into town and chops all the heads off the parking meter. He’s not stealing the money, he’s just vandalizing (as we later learn, some kind of imagined payback to…the system?). Nonetheless, he ends up in a prison with a bunch of other sweaty ne’er-do-wells who earn their keep by doing roadwork. He’s not popular at first, especially with the lumbering loudmouth Dragline (George Kennedy, bein’ awesome), but he wins over the much bigger man by losing to him in an epic fistfight, sorta. You see, Luke doesn’t know when to quit. He makes up his mind and he sticks to it. It’s his one principle, from what I could see.

Unhealthy body images for vandals?
This picture makes me think that male bodies in movies used to be more realistic looking.

Dragline knocks him down and Luke gets up, so Dragline knocks him down again, and Luke gets up again. He doesn’t know which way is up by this point, but he keeps getting up and you start to feel sorry for Dragline, having to keep knock him down like that. (Speaking of “Raging Bull”s!)

Later, in a poker game, Luke wins with nothing, again on the principle that he just doesn’t know when to quit but most people do blink if you stare ’em down long enough.

Things actually go pretty well after that, right up until the death Luke’s mother (Jo Van Fleet, Oscar-winner for East of Eden, but mostly a TV gal). The Warden, Captain (Strother Martin, another huge TV guy) tells him that he’s going in The Hole (or The Shack or whatever it is) because when a man loses his mother, he gets it in his head that he should be there at his funeral, and so—purely precautionary—he’s gonna have to go in The Hole.

And that ain’t right. You don’t put someone in The Hole before they’ve had a chance to deserve it. That’s the breakdown in reality between Luke and The System. One sort of suspects it’s the same kind of breakdown that occurred between Luke and The System right before he decapitated the parking meters. Things go downhill from here, though he’s become a kind of hero to the boys in his cell block, so they don’t see it.

But, generally, when there’s a breakdown between any given individual and The System, it’s the individual who suffers.

She owns a bakery in Burbank now!
Joy Harmon may not have been the first girl to wash a car in the movies, but she is the most memorable.

I had, not too long ago, seen this on TV (before the current rash of revivals) and I wasn’t crazy about it, but The Big Screen makes a Big Difference as always, and I liked it much more here than before, even though it suffers from some of the nihilism that plagued the era. The thing about Luke is that he’s likable, even admirable in a way. He’s operating (as Butch Cassidy would in a few years) on a different level than the rest of the bifocal-wearing world. For instance:

The boys do road work, and it’s nasty, hot and they’re surrounded by hostile men with guns, including a sunglasses wearing demon whom the Coen brothers had to be referencing in O Brother, Where Art Thou. So, they work slow, and they do a poor job. But Luke gets the idea to make a game out of it, and they race—while making careful work of it—to get the road done, and get it done in a fraction of time. The guards are alarmed, and the inmates are delighted, once they catch on.

It’s kind of a powerful statement, that: How we fit into these grooves and act like we have no more volition, because of a particular element of our circumstances. And Luke is a kind of a guy who just doesn’t fit into those grooves, and it doesn’t take much to set him off out of them. This is a particularly common theme of the era, and it works here (for me) unlike most other themes. Even here, you have the problem of, “Well, okay, then what?”

The whiter, the deviler.
“He’s white, as white as you folks, with empty eyes and a big hollow voice. He likes to travel around with a mean old hound.”

Newman does so well here because it is, in a way, him. He didn’t seem to fit into the grooves much.

A heart-breaking rendition of “Plastic Jesus” by Newman who might actually have been plucking on the banjo while singing it. Most of the songs is provided by the late Harry Dean Stanton as Tramp but the great Lalo Schifrin provides the score. (Schifrin was to that era what John Williams would become in the ’70s, Danny Elfman in the ’80s.) Small part for “M*A*S*H”‘s Wayne Rogers and and an even smaller part for Dennis Hopper. Joy Harmon washes a car.

The kids liked it, but once again, it was not clear whether they preferred this (the obviously more iconic film) or Sweet Bird of Youth. The Flower found herself charmed by “Plastic Jesus” and is learning to play it on the guitar.

 

Sweet Bird of Youth (1962)

It’s time for a Paul Newman double feature, apparently, and this was the first film. Not one I’d ever heard of but directed by Richard Brooks, who I think is probably under-rated as a film director. Sweet Bird of Youth is the seamy tale of an aging-but-still-Paul-Newman-gigolo who rescues/kidnaps a famous-but-aging movie star (Geraldine Page) and brings her cross-country to St. Cloud (in the Florida panhandle) in order to extort a movie deal out of her that he can share with his once good-girl girlfriend, Heavenly. Heavenly is played Shirley Knight, now probably best known as Paul Blart’s mom, but last seen by us in Redwood Highway.

Heh. Time. Sucks.
Mama Blart, you’re hawwwt!

It’s so squalid and seamy and sultry and sweaty it feels like a Tennessee Williams play. Which, in fact, it was. (A co-worker pointed that out to me the next day.)

The story is that Chance (Newman) has driven Alexandra Del Lago (Page) to St. Cloud while keeping her drunk and stoned and with a master plan of getting her to confess on tape how she manages to smuggle in all the fabulous drugs she’s on. Well, specifically, hashish, a gift from our Arab friends. Hers is smuggled in from Turkey which, frankly, I don’t understand since it’s just a cannabis product, and there’s nothing that beats good ol’ American cannabis.

I have no idea what I’m talking about. Williams may have, he may not have. It’s hardly important.

Wrong ethnicity!
“Tell me about the jazz cigarettes, Duchess!”

Chance is trying to get to Heavenly but her dad, Boss Finley (played by Ed Begley, known around here as the hero of 12 Angry Men (1957)—well, next to Lee J. Cobb, of course) basically separated the two when they were young and in love by convincing Chance that he had to make a name for himself before whisking away the virginal Heavenly. Boss Finley then apparently spent the next ten years trying to marry her off to old men with money, and she apparently responded by floozing it up.

It’s all very Southern Gothic which, as you (should) know, I usually find as unpleasant as warm sweet tea. Nonetheless, I liked this film.

There’s some serious scenery chewing going on between Page and Newman, and it’s as good as it is ridiculously stagey. This is an actor’s film and these two can really act. Everyone does great: Begley gets to play a different kind of scumbag. Knight hits just the right balance between helpless victim and hero. Rip Torn, whom I did not recognize in the least, is fantastic as the thuggish son who does all of Boss’s dirty work, apparently without much support from his father, who seems ready to throw him under the bus as it becomes politically convenient. (As it turns out, everyone did great at least in part because they’d all been doing the roles on Broadway for hundreds of shows.)

Catholics?
Paul Newman’s probably one of THEM!

Did I mention the abortion? No? Well, the movie doesn’t either, exactly. Actually, I think it’s presented as a venereal disease, but that doesn’t make any sense. It was an abortion in the play and the last minute dodge here clanks. There’s also a scene at the end where it looks like they’re going to castrate ol’ Chance, but they do not. This does not make any sense either but I was grateful for it, and for what was, essentially, a happy ending.

This movie was remade with Mark Harmon and Elizabeth Taylor in the ’80s, but there is literally no way that could be good. Washed up Geraldine Page is not quite 40 here. Elizabeth Taylor would be nearly 70, which…yeah, no that don’t make no kind of sense. Also. Mark Harmon? vs Paul Newman? Help me out here, ladies…

Anyway, I can recommend this, sorta, if you like acting-heavy dramas (I do) and don’t mind your Southern Gothic watered down (I really don’t mind that at all). In some ways the kids would prefer this to the next feature: Cool Hand Luke.

And, most importantly, the Flower would finally be able to identify Paul Newman, whom she somehow envisioned as a cross between Paul Simon and Randy Newman. (Despite the whole Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid show we saw earlier.) That confusion? Cleared forever.

No color shots, just the stills for ol' Rip.
“If you can dodge an umbrella, you can dodge a ball!”

Memoir of a Murderer

I have, of late, become much less sensitive to crowds and noise, which is a real boon given the way the neighborhood’s been changing over the past decades of my life, and more directly helpful in terms of shuttling The Flower to her friend’s house which is in one of the most crowded areas of the city. I’ll drop her off and drive the five miles (it takes a good half-hour) over to Koreatown and catch a film like Warriors of the Dawn, or, in this case Memoir of a Murderer.

The bamboo forest?
Dodging all the trees is the worst.

The theme of an assassin with amnesia has been done quite a bit. The first one I recall seeing was the slick Flemish film Memories of a Killer(2003), where a hitman is trying to pull One Last Job while losing his mind. Then there was Liam Neeson’s Unknown back in 2011, which has a very similar plot but is based on a French book, rather than a Belgian book. This Korean film, based on a Korean novel, has a different take on the genre. Instead of a professional assassin, our “hero” is actually a serial killer. (There’s also a Korean movie by the name of Memories of Murder by the guy who did The Host and Snowpiercer, but I don’t think that has the amnesia element.)

He’s a quasi-sympathetic, semi-retired serial killer, I suppose, having not killed anyone since a horrible car accident 17 years earlier. That accident may be the source of his current dementia, in fact, and we learn in dribs-and-drabs what happened that fateful day.

The story is fairly simple. Byung-su, a veterinarian, lives with his doting daughter, Eun-hee, who tries to get him to remember things by talking into a tape recorder, and marking time until he can no longer work. Often he goes out into a forest that he planted decades ago and where the bodies of his victims are buried. On his way back, he has an episode out on the road and rear ends a guy. A guy with Something In His Trunk. Something bloody. Although his “victim” laughs it off and says its a deer, Byung-su knows: He was a serial killer, he can spot another serial killer.

The uniform seals it.
Oh, yeah. He’s a serial killer.

Perhaps surprisingly, he’s not particularly sympathetic to other serial killers. He had standards. To wit: He never killed anybody who didn’t have it coming. Though, naturally, as his career progressed, the definition of who “has it coming” got broader. (As a vet, a little animal cruelty was enough to earn you a trip to the woods, e.g., and that’s probably one of the crimes when the audience most sympathizes with Byung-Su.)

This serial killer is going after young schoolgirls, which is not OK. But when he reports to the police, they don’t do anything. First, they know he’s got The Health Problems. Second, the guy he fingered is a cop named Tae-ju. And that’s just ridiculous.

It takes Byung-su a while to report the incident in the first place because, while he records the information (realizing its import), he has an episode not long after, and is easily distracted after such an episode. Tae-ju most clearly is what Byung-su suspects him to be, and uses the old man’s memory lapses to take advantage of his situation—in particular by targeting Eun-hee. While Byung-su doesn’t generally approve of other serial killers, he really doesn’t like them dating his daughter, and often his episodes leave him kind of blank and without his serial-killer-detecting powers, leaving him to believe that Tae-ju is okay.

Sometimes.

Helpful.
“Remember not to murder anyone on your way home.”

So, Byung-su has a problem, which is that his normal handlings of these things involve brute force murder, and he’s about 30 years too old, to say nothing of his mental issues, to take on the young Tae-ju. There’s also the whole issue of, well, is he right about Tae-ju? What if Byung-su is the one killing the girls? He could be doing it and not remembering it, he supposes. There are substantial moments in the film where his understanding of things is shown to be tragically off-base.

There’s a flip in this movie that the kids, were they with me, would’ve called a Double Bluff Reverso (from “King of the Hill”‘s Dale Gribble). But the problem with the DBR—a twist that completely subverts your understanding of the events that have preceded—is that it usually feels like a ridiculously stupid attempt to surprise you, and invalidates everything else you’ve seen. When the movie pulls that, I was still along for the ride, but it sure made me feel like a sap.

But then!

It pulls another Double Bluff Reverso! And then everything sort of makes sense again.

I did say the story was simple, and it actually is, but the plot is very complex at times, and some folks have criticized this film for precisely that: Too much plot getting in the way of the story. I can see that; it is a bit overwrought, I suppose. But I rather liked it. There’s a subtext here about redemption and forgiveness—to the extreme to be sure—that actually made the movie work for me when things got crazy.

Or maybe I just like Korean movies. They’re kind of like Hong Kong potboilers mixed with Israeli films: Crazy action and plot but with a tremendous sense of respect for the characters mixed in. Typically good cinematography. Gripping ending. Nice denouement. If you’re in the mood for an Asian thriller, you could do worse.

OK, cheap shot.
Remember: “North” is the better Korea.