Lobster Cop

I mean. The title. The title alone virtually guarantees you gotta go see this film. I mean, is he a cop who’s a lobster or is he a cop with jurisdiction over lobsters, or some kind of crazy mix of both?

Former owner, I think.
Or whatever…this…is.

And the answer is: Neither. He’s a cop who makes lobster. And, actually, it’s crawfish. But I guess Crawfish Cop, despite the alliteration, doesn’t have the same panache, so we got lobsters. The premise is simple:

A rag-tag team of investigators trying to bring down a drug kingpin (they love their drug kingpin villains in China, which I guess makes sense given their history) opens up (as a front) a restaurant across the street from the bad guys’ hideout, and it turns out that one of them is very good at coooking—and before you know it, they’ve got a going concern as a popular spot for shellfish.

It’s brisk, delightful and jam-packed, but not as adept at juggling tones as other Asian films we have seen. We’ve talked a lot about how good the Asians are at switching things up, going from comedy to drama, sometimes slapstick to apocalypse, in a heartbeat. I haven’t figured out how they do it so well, but I will note this one doesn’t quite.

Still endearing, though.
The crew is grungier than we’re used to seeing in Asian cinema.

It’s not that the funny parts aren’t funny—they are—or that the gripping parts aren’t gripping—they are, and how!—but that the success of shifts like this seem to depend a certain magic that leaves you more exhilarated than jarred. And the shifts here are sometimes jarring.

You kind of forgive it because the movie is really good about making you care about the characters, and it’s funny while having a couple of the most tense standoffs I’ve seen in movies.

There’s probably too much here for its 90 minutes, and the crime story is pretty by-the-numbers. I also would’ve liked to see the restaurant aspect developed more, and the surprisingly serious tone of the investigation given a lighter feeling, but as a freshman effort from the hotter-than-average director Xinyun Li, we weren’t disappointed.

How To Marry A Millionaire (1953)

I documented a few months back how The Flower and I were not really Marilyn Monroe fans. We didn’t get it, as they say. Some Like It Hot made believers out of us, and so we eagerly attended this Monroe double-feature instead of going to see the increasingly rarely-screened Blazing Saddles. (Eat-See-Hear is showing Saddles outdoors on their giant screen this year so I hope the tide is turning on hyper-sensitivity.) I, personally, have always had a hard time separating the first film in our double-feature How To Marry A Millionaire with the second, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes which I am going to attribute to the fact that both were released in 1953, and both are centered around the idea of attractive women using their looks to bag rich men for husbands.

And both feature Marilyn Monroe, of course.

Top. Flight.

In HTMAM, we have three top-flight honeys (as The Flower and I call them), Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. Our story begins when Schtaze Page (Bacall) finagles her way into a penthouse (or at least very high up) apartment, recently vacated by a guy named Freddie Denmark (the once ubiquitous David Wayne) who’s on the lam from the IRS. Her plan is simple: She wants to bag a rich man, and she’s not going to find a rich man unless she hangs out in places where rich men hang out, hence the apartment.

The problem is, she can’t even remotely afford it. She calls in pal Pola Debevoise (Monroe), and Monroe calls in Loco Dempsey (Grable) who proves her bona fides by managing to buy a formidable lunch for the three of them with only a quarter.

None of the girls have any money, but they’re game to the plan. There are some issues, of course. Roadblocks, as ’twere. Pola’s suitor (Alexander D’Arcy, in an eyepatch) is an obvious phony, hoping to get her alone in some isolated spot for a weekend or so. Loco’s guy (the choleric Fred Clark) is married, and simultaneously irritated by her and any insinuation that he would be doing anything untoward while simultaneously doing everything untoward, or at least setting up everything in a particular way. Schatze is spurning the attentions of young, handsome Tom Brookman, played by Cameron Mitchell—which is kind of fun because the Red Letter Media kids have discovered late-era Mitchell in their “Best of the Worst” series, which we’ve been enjoying lately.

That's a lotta star power.
L to R: Grable, Calhoun, some guy in the background, Bacall, Mitchell, Monroe and Wayne.

Here, though he’s young and handsome, Schatze spurns Tom because he’s a gas-pump jockey. She knows because she’s attracted to him, and that’s apparently sure sign of a gas-pump jockey. She’s divorced from one such specimen at the moment, and this is what spurs on her whole “marry a rich guy” quest. Her target is the very wealthy J.D. Hanley (William Powell) and he’s too savvy to fall for it: Not because he’s not attracted (duh) but because he feels the age difference, if not an issue now, would become one later in life.

Things heat up in the second act, when Loco flees from her married suitor into the arms of rich, rugged and handsome Eben (Rory Calhoun, speaking of guys with colorful end-of-life careers). All the timberland between this peak and that peak, he says, are his. But this turns out to be “his”, in the sense that he watches over them. ’cause he’s a park ranger living in a tiny shack in the middle of nowhere.

It's so legit.
“Do not play coy. Do you not see that I have the eye-patch?”

Meanwhile, Pola keeps running into Freddie, who sneaks back to the apartment several times (there are many good gags around this) and when she gets on a plane to go visit eyepatch-guy, ends up sitting next to Freddie. The running gag with Pola is that she can’t see without glasses, which she doesn’t wear because she doesn’t want to look like an old maid. The movie plays this up appropriately. And in a not-too-surprising twist, J.D. realizes “Hey! Lauren-Freakin’-Bacall!” and heads back to marry her while Tom (who is clearly rich and hiding it) becomes increasingly annoyed with Bacall’s insistence on a rich husband. Even though he’s pretty hung up on her.

There’s a lot of good material here and the honeys, as mentioned, are top-flight. Now, Bacall, at 29 is really starting to show the effects of her smoking. Grable is cute, but she’s 32, which is a little long-in-the-tooth to play the ingenue—especially for the day—and she seems a little tired. She basically retired after this, remarking to Marilyn “You can have it” or something like that. The 26-year-old (third billed) Marilyn is perfect, and it’s no big surprise that they pulled her in after this for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

But I could just post pix of those three all day.
We were wondering if they still did those fashion-shows for rich customers looking to buy clothes for the women in their life.

It’s a solid comedy with solid characters and a lot of fun bits, though it’s generally ranked well below Blondes. The Flower preferred this, however, both for the humor and the sheer quantity of honeys, especially Bacall. The Boy reluctantly would prefer Blondes. I…dunno. Both were terrific. And at 90 minutes, you can watch both in less time than the trailer for a Peter Jackson film.

 

Hereditary

We were, once again, without a second feature to see in Koreatown, so we trundled over to the Fairfax district and had our first experience in The Grove, a ridiculous, opulent mall opened up about 15 years ago where evening tickets for adults go for a whopping $16.75!

MoviePass may have made some serious miscalculations when putting together their business model.

Sucks now.
Me, when I heard about MoviePass’s new terms.

Hereditary is a moody, morbid tale that is reminiscent of last year’s The Witch, in the sense that it largely eschews jump scares and builds to increasingly freaky situations. It is seriously morbid, though, and not in a summer-horror way, which explains its 89/59 RT split. They should be happy with their $43M box office, though, all things considered.

I mean, it’s Toni Colette, and she’s doing what Toni Colette does best: Depress you, or at least excite your sympathy.

In this tale, she’s Annie, an artist who makes miniatures, models of things, e.g. like the family house, down to tiny details. She has recently buried her mother, with whom she had shall-we-call-it-complex? relationship with her mother.

I'll allow it.
Kinda cool, kinda creepy.

Annie is not a great mother, being very neurotic and especially self-involved, and this shows in the strain between her and her son Peter (Alex Wolff of “The Naked Brothers Band”), and in the fact she’s always pushing her weirdo daughter Charlie (the adorable Milly Shapiro, who does “dead eyes” almost as good as The Barbarienne) on her son. Gabriel Byrne rounds out the dysfunctional family as Steve, a dull-witted quasi-involved father and husband.

While Annie tries to cope with her grief by sorta going to a support group and meeting the creepily sympathetic Joan, and by losing herself in her art project, she demands Peter take Charlie to his teen “study group”, because apparently she has no knowledge or memory of what teens mean when they say “study group”.

You don't need a seance to know which way the wind blows.
So many red flags.

To say that “things go badly” is to underplay what is one of the most shocking scenes I’ve seen in a recent horror movie. It’s not shown. Instead, we see a character’s reaction to it, or rather said character’s complete inability to confront what has happened for hours and hours.

It was startlingly realistic besides being horrific. (I did mention this movie isn’t for everyone, right?)

Let’s just say there’s a lot more grief for Annie to handle, and one that pushes her into the arms of the Joan, and our first real supernatural moment.

I mean, we’re halfway into the movie at this point, and this will either work for you or not. Sometimes a sudden introduction of (essentially) magic will be very “impactful” (to use a word that pisses people off) or it will break your suspension of disbelief.

Not a spoiler. Could be anyone. Could be a dream.
People explode all the time.

Assuming the latter, and you stick it out, things escalate pretty quickly from there and go into a fairly elaborate occult plot, with a few more shocking moments.

The Boy and I liked it, of course, because we tend to like things that are different. But I would definitely say this is more “creepy and shocking” than “scary”. It’s got a nice, weird (in the traditional sense of that word) ending, reminiscent of The Witch, in that it doesn’t try to hedge its bets.

If you’re not hooked on the jump scares, and like the weird, this could work for you.

Don't they look happy?
It’s also nice to see a wholesome family dinner again.

Believer (2018, Korea)

Korean crime dramas are interesting. In a lot of ways, Believer reminds me of a Martin Scorsese film, as our hero cop chases a drug kingpin no one has ever seen. Maybe this is only because Scorsese’s The Departed was a remake of the Chinese crime drama Infernal Affairs, but I think, at some level, it’s the moral ambiguity.

'cause there are no good guys.
At some point, you have to start calling them “the worse guys”.

In this film, we focus on two main characters: The cop who has devoted his life to bringing down the mysterious Mr. Lee, and a kid who has grown up within the organization, and works as a sort-of executive assistant to Lee, and coordinates with the more ambitious thugs who do most of the dirty work.

Our story opens with a meth (or whatever) factory being blown up, murdering everyone inside except Rak (Jun-Ryeol Ryu, A Heart Blackened, Little Forest), but including his mother (and injuring his dog). Hero cop Won-Ho (Jin-Woong Cho, The HandmaidenThe Spy Gone North) sees an opportunity to get an “in”—filial piety being a big thing in Korea—and the two go off on an adventure of “catch the mystery man”.

Everybody wants to be in charge, and the hidden nature of things allows for all kinds of pretense and mistaken identity. One of the more gripping moments has Won-Ho’s team first pretending to be buyers for a new drug from foreign dealers (half-Japanese or half-Chinese, I forget, but miscegenation is a clear sign of a ne’er-do-well in Korean movies), then immediately flipping it around to play the same foreign dealers to get to the drug cartel’s buyers.

Yow.
They want to see you use the product yourself, that’s not a problem, right?

What you get from this is that Won-Ho is determined to the point of obsession, going so far as to take the brand new (and dubious) foreign drugs which he knows may kill him (and nearly do). He cares about his team, but secondarily to his goal. He’s been pursuing Mr. Lee for years, to the exclusion of all else, it seems, and he is determined to root him out.

Meanwhile, Rak, who has a very flat affect, seems to be rather amoral, but has a curious attachment to, e.g., a couple of peers who are mute and act as the cartel’s drug designers. He’s grown up in the organization, and has adopted its morality as a survival mode, but maybe hasn’t absorbed that morality. One gets the sense that he wants out, more than anything, and that, in a weird way, Won-Ho wants in.

He's thinking.
Nothing like waking up at the old crack farm early in the morn’ and watchin’ the sun rise.

The climax of the movie did not surprise me. It was necessary, in my opinion, to the satisfactory dramatic conclusion of the plot.

The stinger, on the other hand, was somewhat unexpected. A shot is fired. Someone, presumably, has died at the hand of another—or at his own hand. I think I know who, but it was an interesting choice.

Overall, it was an entertaining flick. The Boy and I both liked it. I found it less engaging—actually, in general, I find the Korean crime dramas have to work a little harder to pull me in (than the historical dramas or slice-of-life pictures), and I have to work a little harder to understand what’s going on. (The Koreans may have dumb, fun buddy-cop type flicks, like the Chinese seem to enjoy but I don’t think I’ve seen one yet.)

Worth a watch, for sure.

That affect. He was so nice in Little Forest, too!
Watch, but not in a creepy way.

Touch of Evil (1958)

In one of my favorite moments of one of my favorite films (Ed Wood), Orson Welles (played by Vincent D’Onofrio but voiced by Maurice LaMarche) laments to the transvestite hero that the studio is always interfering with his movies, recutting his films and even going so far as demanding he make Charlton Heston a Mexican! This charming lament shows that genius, real or imagined, shares the same problems.

Welles still holds the record for bags of peas, though.
Fun fact: D’onofrio would go on to beat Welles’ record at the “Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks Eating Competition”.

In fact, Welles was only supposed to act in Touch of Evil, and it was Heston who insisted on Welles being the director. Meanwhile it was Welles who changed Heston from a white, American lawman to a Mexican. He also race-swapped Janet Leigh, whose character was originally the hispanic. (Leigh and Marlene Detrich were there on the cheap because they wanted to be directed by Welles.) Welles actually noted that this was one of his favorite shoots, since he had so little interference, even though the film was re-cut by the studio. It would go on to be  restored (back in the ’70s, originally, before such things were popular), and re-restored again in the ’90s.

Welles suffered through the shoot carrying 60 pounds of fake fat, looking much more convincingly older than he did in Citizen Kane. (The Flower, who has a fondness for the ’90s TV show “The Critic”, winces a little bit whenever there’s a fat joke about Welles or Brando.) It’s hard to know whether the film’s re-cut by the studio helped or harmed it, but it seems unlikely that its packaging as the “B” picture with Harry Keller’s indifferent soaper The Female Animal (featuring Hedy Lamar in a lamentable last performance) helped its box office much. (Keller shot some extra scenes the studio wanted to clarify elements of the plot, while Welles was going for The Big Sleep style confusion.)

I should see that it again. It sounds too cute in retrospect.
Altman parodies this shot in “The Player” as characters are talking about it.

Setting all this aside, and setting aside certain cinematic firsts, such as the lengthy opening tracking scene and the first non-rear-projected car filming, it’s interesting that this movie is, a la Casablanca, a rather extraordinary “B”-movie. It’s very much of its time—and the 15 years between this and Casablanca shows a marked degeneration in culture—but it also cares about every single character who utters a line. (Apparently, Welles conducted a lot of rehearsals and solicited a lot of feedback, encouraging the actors to re-write their parts.)

The plot is that newlywed Mexican lawman Vargas (Heston) has put away some bad hombres who now want him dead, or at least discredited, so they can go on with their drug-dealing. Meanwhile, American lawman Quinlan (Welles) has a reputation to uphold as a guy who catches the bad guys, which he maintains by planting evidence as needed. Vargas and his bride Susan (Leigh) are babes in the woods here, with Susan being set-up to look promiscuous and ultimately like the ’50s equivalent of a crack whore.

And she can act!
If I tell you that Jamie Lee Curtis was conceived around the time this was filmed, would you be surprised?

The tension is thick. Most of the time while Vargas is out doing the investigating, she’s in a seedy motel run by a creepy pervert (foreshadowing!), who doesn’t stab her in the shower but instead looks the other way while she’s menaced by a bunch of creepy Mexican teens (including the uncredited Mercedes McCambridge). Being that it was still the ’50s, the situation is resolved in an unlikely way—that is, it’s never explained why the bad guys wouldn’t just drug and rape her, and throw her into the Tijuana whore house—but I can’t express enough how okay I am with that.

The main character of the film, though, is Quinlan. He’s crooked, but he’s going by a simple standard: He has to think someone is guilty before he’ll frame them. We learn a bit about his tragic past from a madame (Marlene Dietrich), in whose establishment Quinlan morosely listens to a player piano. He’s fallen, for sure, but in the course of this movie, he finds himself having to make deal with Mexican drug lords to take out Vargas, and that’s when he really hits the skids.

It’s all very melodramatic, in its way, again much like Casablanca. But in the hands of skilled performers at the top of their respective games, it transcends. It manages to maintain a visceral interest while not sacrificing its art.

Definitely praise-worthy, even for non-cinephiles.

At least I think so.
Welles has his own story about the film, but Heston is more believable.

The Incredibles 2

It is hard to over-estimate how greatly Pixar has fallen at The House of Gique. We view them as having produced the longest streak of perfect (or near-perfect) films in movie history: eleven. From Toy Story to Toy Story 3, coming to a crashing halt with the dismal Cars 2, and sputtering back to life briefly with BraveMonsters University, and Inside Out. The Flower, who was young enough for me to refer to as “The Flower” when I started blogging ten years ago, and who got excited to see the little white lamp jump out on a preview, now has to be coaxed into seeing anything the studio puts out. We all saw Coco, and we all agreed it was very good, but we also all agreed it wasn’t Pixar. It was straight-up Disney. (This is not strictly a quality matter. We also all agreed that Zootopia was very good, and rather more Pixar-y.)

The Boy and I were in the part of town where we usually will try to pack in two Korean or Chinese movies (’cause it’s a bit of a drive), and while we had settled on the (rather glorious) Chinese film Animal World—a movie about the high stakes world of underground Rock, Scissors, Paper—we were short a first feature. We go see a lot of movies, but have found very little mainstream stuff appealing lately, and we both sorta wanted to see this. And we both had the same reaction to it.

Meh.

First of all, they did the same thing they did with Coco (and maybe this started with Wreck-It Ralph) where some people who made the film (actors, in this case) come out before the movie to tell you how much you’re going to like the movie that you paid for and are waiting to see. It feels positively needy.

Second of all, they’re all 15 years older and it really, really shows. I don’t know if Holly Hunter smokes, but her voice has gone from a charming whiskey-soaked Southern twang to your grandmother.  Craig T. Nelson is no spring chicken either. Neither of them did “voices” for this, and that’s the price you pay. (Frank Welker can still sound like Freddie Jones of Scooby-Doo from 50 years ago, by contrast.) Writer/director Brad Bird’s Edna Mode is fine. And this may not bug most people, but I sorely felt the absence of the late Bud Luckey (who plays agent Rick Dickey, the guy in charge in keeping Mr. Incredible employed).

I mean, REALLY old.
“Old”

Third of all, SJWness (social justice warriors abound!). The Boy didn’t think it was so bad, but as I pointed out the examples, he began to see it, too. To elaborate it helps to get a light summary of the story:

We begin at the exact end of the previous movie with the Underminer running amok and our newly united super family ready to face him together! Except this is a new movie and we need a new conflict, so let’s pretend nothing was resolved by the last movie—the number one ways sequel screw up their classic origins—and let’s use the same conflict again, to wit, the Parrs are at each others’ throats and (despite saving the day) superheroes are still illegal. The Incredibles save the day from the Underminer, but this backfires due to collateral damage. (People are arguing that they didn’t save the day, but they stop his drill from smashing into City Hall or whatever, so even though he gets away with the cash, I’d say it still counts.)

Now, the Parrs are broke because the government can’t get them jobs any more. A reprieve comes in the form of a Jobs/Wosniak-style brother-sister team who assure the Parrs that, if only they wear body cams so people can see what they prevented from happening rather than just the after damage. They can use this to sway public opinion and get supers de-criminalized. Because Mr. Incredible tends toward the more destructive, Elastigirl will be the pilot, and her target is the mind-controlling Screenslaver. Bob will stay home and take care of Jack-Jack.

The Mr. Mom bit was reasonably fresh when Michael Keaton did it in 1983, and it doesn’t have to be the case that this kind of storyline is SJW, but the Bob Parr of this movie is more than just a middle-aged man looking to relive his glory days: He’s freaking psychotic, usually on the verge of a murderous rage. When his wife tells his how good the crime-fighting is going, he’s so riddled with envy, he has to fight his urges to congratulate her (even though her success means the realization of his goals).

Dude's a psycho.
Mr. Incredible in one of his happier moments.

He’s completely unable to do the house-husband thing at first. Just when I was about to check out, he has a good moment and I think, “OK, at least they’re not going to turn him into a complete boob.” Except that the next scene, he’s back to being completely overwhelmed. It doesn’t help that Elastigirl’s (already over-played) feistiness gets knocked into 12th gear here. She seems utterly unsympathetic to Bob, with only a token nod toward missing the biggest moments of her baby’s life.

The thing is, once you notice one of these things, they start to pile up fast. In the brother-sister team, for example, it’s the sister who’s the world-wise Wozniak (technical wizard), and the brother who’s the bubble-headed Jobs. The sensible Violet is victimized by her father’s blundering attempts to help, while Dash is basically  random destructiveness.

Then you got the second string heroes. Remember in the first movie, there’s a quick run-through of all the (murdered) super-heroes? You probably didn’t think anything of it, but all those characters were what you might call “conventionally attractive” and “rather idealized”. In this movie, all of the heroes (apart from the Parrs and Frozone) are what Diversity & Comics would call alt-lifestyle-freakazoids, except for the one white male who’s old and has irritable bowel syndromeacid reflux for his power. I mean, the most prominent one even sports the classic “mentally disturbed” hairstyle, blue and shaved on one side.

The black dude's nearly normal, I guess.
Who WOULDN’T want to look like these guys.

They look like the latex version of a furry convention.

Bird, whom I have loved since his early days on the “Simpsons” and “The Critic” (which also featured Zootopia’s director Rich Moore), was wrong to bristle at the Twitter dad who said his kid had trouble sitting still during the talky parts. There are two lengthy, pointless speeches that I think a more engaged John Lasseter would’ve gently guided Bird away from. At 2:05, it’s too long for woke, girl-power speeches which literally do nothing to advance the plot.

All this I could, believe it or not, overlook, but the story is as by-the-numbers as they come. The villain is supposed to be a surprise, but it’s tipped very early on, and the only way around it would be for the story to have lied to us (a la Frozen).  Elastigirl misses so many obvious cues—mind control is about as hoary a superhero cliché as they come—she ends up looking a little dumb. But I have a theory about that.

I mean, honestly.
Everybody looks fine in here!

I have mentioned many times that I think critics come out with a gut-reaction to a movie, like everyone else, and then backfill it with “reasons”, much like people do with politics. But with SJW-based fiction (not exclusively, but especially), we see artists desiring to see specific outcomes played out by certain demographics, and the stories are completely retrofitted to make those things happen however little sense it makes. This happens big and small throughout, as when Violet’s character arc shows her accepting the possibility that a teenage girl might occasionally, maybe, sometimes when there’s no other option, be suited to babysitting.

Our expectations were low, but we were still pretty disappointed. As I mentioned, The Boy hadn’t initially considered it too SJW, and he still gave it a “meh”.

The short up-front is very cute, by the way, about a little Chinese dumpling that comes to life and acts out life from babyhood to young adulthood with the middle-aged woman who made it. When the obvious climax occurs, people in our theater were shocked, and even a little upset. Because a story about a walking dumpling is of course completely literal.

And Animal World was the bomb, yo.

Meh.
The average audience member vs. me with regard to this movie.

Airplane! (1979)

Following the modest-but-unexpected success of their sketch-based comedy film Kentucky Fried Movie, Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker tied their scattershot comedy together using a mostly forgotten WWII based melodrama, Zero Hour and redefined comedy films for the next 25 years. Airplane! would be the #4 movie of the year, but only second in influence—and only arguably—to the #1 film, The Empire Strikes Back. (#2 was the girl-power office comedy 9 to 5.  #3 was Wilder and Pryor’s follow up to The Silver StreakStir Crazy.)

I’ve written extensively about Airplane before. Here’s a post detailing all the movie spoofs I noticed on one viewing.

Nobody shows up to our shows. :(
My Dixieland band named “Cockpit”.

Elmer Bernstein’s score is still amazing. We recently saw Devil in a Blue Dress, which Bernstein also scored and I noticed some similar themes. But this is why it works: The score stays away (mostly) from mwah-mwah trombones and deliberate goofiness. Instead, like the acting, it’s largely done dead serious (Jaws riff notwithstanding), and even overly dramatic.

I didn’t laugh as much this time, though. I enjoyed it; it’s a solid film and the references are not as chained to 1979 as you might expect. The Flower accompanied me to this one, and loved it.

And that’s all I have to say about that. This time.

"Christmas, Ted, what does that mean to you? It was living hell."
“…Loneliness, that’s the bottom line. I was never happy as a child… “

Saving Brinton

My follow-up to the dismal 2036 was such a delightful love song to small-town America, it completely erased any negative feelings from the previous films, as well as most memories of it. Check it out:

The old 16mm. I guess those are 16mm.
Zahs, or possibly Santa Claus

So, there’s a guy, Michael Zahs, a retired history teacher who, 35-odd years ago—in his first week of marriage!—discovered an estate sale (in a small town in Iowa!) for a turn-of-the-century entrepreneur/inventor named William Franklin Brinton. Brinton was one of these guys who, in the early days of film, would take reels of film around the heartland of America and put on shows! This is, quite literally, how the movies began out in the heartland, with those circuits being kept alive into the VCR era.

Brinton himself built (had built? was behind?) the State theater in Iowa, the oldest continuing running theater in the world, where he and his wife would put on the show.

133 years!
Not from the movie but from a Guiness Event celebrating the theater.

As directors Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne reveal the story to us, Zahs is revealed as a kind of eccentric, knowing all the stories and history behind so many items and landmarks and sometimes just trees. Zahs tells us the story of Brinton in tantalizing vignettes, such as the fact that his house (still standing) has a flat roof, per his design, so that he could land his flying machine on it.

I couldn’t help but feel we’d lost something in modern days. Brinton didn’t just build a landing pad for a flying machine he built an actual flying machine. Well, he built an actual machine, but it didn’t fly and, apparently, a mob gathered to watch him destroyed it after its failure. Brinton was a cutting-edge, technophile, American entrepreneur that—even though we only meet him through his actions—typified Gilded Age sensibilities.

Zahs himself emerges as a hero of an entirely different sort. He’s someone who cares. He cares enough to store cans of films and Brinton memorabilia in his house for decades when (impossibly it seems now) nobody cared. I’m sorry to keep italicizing things but nobody cared even though among these cans were lost films of Georges Méliés, the father of cinematic special effects.

Early cinema. Come for the effects, stay for the...oh, it's over.
Look, it’s a tiny man! Or a giant head! Maybe both!

As we go through the story, and Zahs’ struggle upward to get recognition for Brinton, we start caring about all these little things, too. (There’s a nice little vignette where Zahs puts his nativity scenes up, a collection I would’ve liked to learn more about.) Ultimately, the movie is a kind of love song to small town America, to American history, to movie lovers, and Zahs becomes a heroic figure on his own.

He sort of reminds me of Iris Apfel. If you remember that charming lady, she had a way of taking dime store junk and just imbuing it with her own aesthetic elan vital (for lack of a better word) so that, by the time she was done with it, it was something more stylish or just flat out beautiful. And she seemed to have a limitless capacity to do this, so while having more stuff than a hoarder, it was all organized and stored neatly in homes and warehouses across the world.

Lovely.
The Brintons, in their prime.

Zahs does a similar sort of thing with history. He finds the interest in everything he touches. In places where most of us would just see what’s there now (and just barely that), he looks for what was there—and of course there are rich histories all around for those who care to look. Part of it, in fairness, is that he’s in a part of the country that has aged slowly—big cities tend to bury their pasts quickly as possible—but the fact that he stewarded something of obvious cultural value while the rest of the world caught up to its (again, obvious) value.

We get a nice happy ending where he gets to premiere the video, and his long-suffering (and camera shy?) wife gets to see Italy (and also her husband lauded for his efforts), and the Smithsonian or AFI or some other official institution finally gets around to examining his find.

On the three-point Blake Documentary scale:

  1. The subject matter is great, though deceptively so, like The King of Kong, since Zah could just be a hoarder, except for his historical awareness.
  2. The style might be described as “staid”, but not in a bad way. It’s got a deliberate pace that fits perfectly with the subject matter and breathes just enough to give weight and life to everything.
  3. The bias, such as it is, is just one of general validation, which is fine. There’s no politics evident, though sadly you might become aware of the fact that the little churches and community groups respectfully portrayed here get approximately zero time in mainstream media these days.

It definitely salvaged an afternoon that began with 2036.

Not a hipster.
He sincerely and effectively wears overalls.

2036 Origin Unknown

Sometimes, of course, you know. You can tell just from looking at the (typically scant) promotional material. The paucity of IMDB information. The lack of Rotten Tomatoes ratings. The material that’s available looking suspiciously amateurish. You know you’re not going to a good movie. So you can’t really complain.

Felt like forever.
Gird your loins: This is where you’re spending the rest of your—what?! It’s only 90 minutes?

But, look, the Flower had a date by the beach, and there weren’t a lot of interesting options. The second feature was the more interesting (and ultimately excellent) documentary Saving Brinton. But this was about it as a lead-in.

I think it’s best to look at 2036 as if Ed Wood had directed 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you go in with that attitude, you’ll probably enjoy yourself.

No, you cannot.
And with effects like these, can you PROVE we didn’t fake the Mars landing?

Or if you’re just a Katee Sackhoff fan, I guess, as she pretty much carries the film, such as it is.

The premise is that, her father being killed on a Mars expedition, Katee runs a…a…hell, I’m not sure, but I think it’s an unmanned drone Mars expeditionary service. She decides when drones are going to be sent to Mars or not, or something. And when the movie starts she’s being made subordinate to an AI (voiced by Steven Cree). This decision has been made by her sister (Julie Cox), who is a Senator or something.

Dad was killed shortly after discovering a mysterious monol—er, cube, on Mars which is a mysterious and impenetrable CGI construct, and the source of Katee’s investigations. These investigations are complicated by the increasing (sorta) awareness of the AI—and there’s some sort of counter-effort going on at the same time which ultimately results in the movie’s only set (the room Katee sits in the whole time) being threatened by…some guys…and then breached by…another guy, whom she knows.

Definitely not that.
Pictured: Not a monolith.

It lacks a certain heft to pull off its schtick. Well, heft and clarity. Katee seems to be the sole operator of this business, and possessive enough to resent the intrusion of an AI—resentment that doesn’t seem really justified—and at the same time, well, she doesn’t seem to be very bright. She’s easily duped, placing herself in a very vulnerable condition for no apparent reason.

Even so, this gets worse, and I can’t tell you without “spoiling” the movie.

You don’t care.

I mean, trust me, the movie was spoiled before I got here.

I mean, wow. What a look.
Stop reading here if you don’t want to be SPOILED!

The upshot of Katee’s activities are to heroically kill every living human being other than herself. I kid you not. The climax of the film involves her struggling valiantly to make sure every man, woman and child dies. And when they do die, this is presented as a happy ending, because people are just so rotten.

Only Katee survives, and she goes off in her magic cube to…hang out at some remote corner of the galaxy with some other folks in cubes whom we never see but I guess we can presume they genocided their own people as well. This is actually less explicable than Kubrick’s ending.

No sets, few actors, cheesy CGI, okay music (though there wasn’t that much of it) and fourteen producers. Oh and “references” to 2001 which really didn’t make sense, like the AI lip-reading even though the people were well within earshot. Just kind of weird “throw in this shot from 2001” moments.

Hard to sit through, hard to recommend, unless you have a serious thing for Ms. Sackhoff. (And who am I to judge such things, ya freak?)

The Wild Bunch (1969)

Sam Peckinpah’s magnum opus didn’t bowl me over when I saw it for the first time in a theater (with the old man, actually, as part of a western series), but I had a feeling I would like it more now, and I did. I think one of the reasons is that the series started in the ’30s, when good guys were good and bad guys were bad, and Wild Bunch‘s anti-heroes rubbed me a bit the wrong way. Whatever the reason…

William Holden plays the hard-bitten leader of an outlaw gang, to whom we’re introduced as they’re robbing a bank during a parade, while the murderous law enforcement mercenaries (probably railroad men) are ready to unleash hell outside, regardless of the innocent casualties. (L.Q. Jones has a nice, over-the-top scene as an outlaw who probably serves best by getting himself shot early on.)

Which Harlan Ellison liked, except the stinger.
Jones would go on to direct the cult classic “A Boy and his Dog”

We’re then treated to one of the gang being killed by (I think) Holden because he’s injured, and then left to be eaten on the rocks, because hey, we’re outlaws, no niceties for us, no sir.

The gang gets a hot job lead, for that One Last Job, stealing arms from the U.S. to sell to Mexican rebels, or maybe the Federales or, hell, I don’t know. In the morality play of this movie, the bad guys are the big governments, and the closest thing you get to good guys are the humble peasants being pushed around. Our heroes are good guys only in that they recognize that the poor are getting the short end of the stick regardless of who gets the guns.

Ya gotta have a gatling gun, or it's barely a Western.
And most importantly: Who gets the gatling gun?

Great performances from Holden (of course), Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates and Strother Martin, amongst others. Robert Ryan (Flying LeathernecksBad Day At Black Rock) apparently pitched a fit ’cause he didn’t get top billing, and they returned the favor by—rather than placing his name next to his face—placing his name next to a horse’s ass.

There are some insanely intense moments, made all the more insane by the director’s well known willingness to pay those scenes off in a violent and bloody fashion. There’s also just straight-up solid western action tropes, like horses bounding out of a train car in hot pursuit, a bridge being blown up, and so on.

Still disturbing is an opening scene where young peasant children cheer on a bunch of ants taking down a pair of much larger beetles. A metaphor, presumably, but I’m not sure for what.

It has a kind of epic feel, even though it’s actually pretty intimate overall, and it doesn’t waste any of its 2:15 runtime. The kids really liked it, too.

Dad joke.
Well, they’re bunched up here, but they don’t look very wild.

The Producers (1968)

I’m not really a Mel Brooks fan, and while I loved Gene Wilder, I was never a fan of shouty-humor.

THINGS ARE NOT FUNNY JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE SHOUTING!

You see what I mean.

Impossible to not love?
The faces of angels. Calm, non-yelling angels.

As such, when it comes to Mr. Brooks’ films in retrospectives, I have been guarded as far as recommending them to the children. (Not long after this, for example, Blazing Saddles was playing and I suggested we should see it because it was increasingly difficult to show the film for political reasons. But it was playing opposite a Marilyn Monroe double-feature, and we all agreed that we would almost certainly enjoy that more, so we shall have to wait for the next opportunity.) Also, much like with Sunset Blvd., I had to remind the kids that this is not a musical. Which is confusing, because it contains a musical. But it’s not that musical (from the ’90s/00s) in any event.

But we’d all liked Rhinoceros, and so I was cautiously optimistic (or is it cautiously pessimistic?) about this film, because if nothing else you’d have good chemistry between Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.

Yowza.
Not to mention the “top flight honeys”, as The Flower and call them.

Zero Mostel plays a disreputable play producer in the last throes of his dying career when he stumbles across the feckless Wilder, an accountant who muses that if you could guarantee failure, you could make a lot of money by over-committing shares of the production. You could raise tens of millions of dollars and throw a play up for a few grand and walk away with the money. (This is just a less sophisticated version of Hollywood accounting but let’s not get distracted.) Since Zero has produced an unbroken string of flops, he’s sure he can produce another one by making something so reprehensible nobody would ever want to go see it.

Enter Springtime for Hitler, a musical romp featuring the wacky antics of the Third Reich, as played by a bunch of flower children and, I would swear, at least one black guy. And, of course, it’s not a couple of wash-outs doing it, it’s Mel Brooks entering the height of his creative power, and it’s by far the highlight of the movie. (I think Eichmann was a black actor, which was a nice touch.)

Bad taste?
These days, you’d have no basis for assuming it would flop.

We all liked it. The Boy and I actually preferred Rhinoceros, but for The Flower, the actual musical “Springtime For Hitler” put it over the top.

It was Mel Brooks directorial debut, and that really shows. There are some awkward shots, and some of the jokes don’t “read”, but even fresh out of the gate, Brooks never rests anything too hard on any particular gag or setup. If the jokes aren’t working for you, there’s always the top flight honeys shameless objectification of women. It’s not just a matter of having a girl like Lee Meredith in your film, after all, but having her in for the sole purpose of being a sexy distraction.

Much like Detective Chinatown 2, it hearkens back to times and places where you could do things because you liked them, and they were cool, funny or pretty, without having to weigh them on the impossibly fine scales of social justice. For that, it was refreshing in a way I wouldn’t necessarily have expected.

But they're more nuts than menace, even by 1968.
Gene still has some scruples about working with an actual Nazi.

Three Kings (1999)

When I saw this originally, I remembered being impressed that George Clooney had ditched the head tilt finally started acting. I also thought it was a genuinely great film. Twenty years later, I see a lot of warts and caveats, but I still think it’s a really fine film, and The Flower agreed. The Boy, on the other hand, hated it. And it pissed him off that we liked it. But it pissed him off because he realized he had the wrong mindset going in, and with that mindset, well, all of a movies’ glaring faults tend to pop out at you.

Maybe he saw a chiropractor before the shoot.
See? There’s a sliiiight head tilt on that mofo.

For those who don’t know, Three Kings is essentially an uncredited remake (or “update”, if you prefer) of Kelly’s Heroes, and instead of Clint Eastwood and the Donalds Sutherland and Rickles, you get Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and the Cube Ice. Wahlberg and Cube find an ass-map (well?) pointing to Saddam’s gold hoard and plot to go in and grab it. It’s a simple plan—aren’t they always?—although I wondered how on earth they were going to transport it anywhere where they could actually retrieve any of it at a later point.

Of course, it doesn’t even go that smoothly, with them stumbling over the victims of the war that just ended, Iraqis who have heeded George H. W. Bush’s call to rise up against Saddam, only to be left in the lurch.

Never been, no thanks, not for me.
Opening scene is weirdly disturbing, but I hear war is like that.

Now, clearly, that’s a shot at H.W. Just as clearly, to me, it’s well-deserved. Unmentioned, of course, is that he stuck to the U.N. charter rather than unilaterally invade Iraq, and every single attack you could level at him for stopping was flipped around when his son finished the job. (And a lot of what G.H.W. Bush foresaw as a consequence of an Iraqi invasion came to pass under his son.)

But I was fine with that POV in this movie then and now because it’s very clearly a POV. Not all the characters agree, none are shown to be particularly right or righteous, and even their individual acts of heroism are thrown into sharp contrast with the fragile reality of a post-war situation. Their attempts to be selfish fail spectacularly and their attempts to be heroic run the risk of failing even more spectacularly.

One thing was odd to me: I remembered Ice Cube’s character having a special relationship with God and I would’ve sworn that he said, at one point, that God had stopped talking to him. But I didn’t see that in this cut, perhaps because I dreamed it.

Carter Burwell’s score is terrific.

Also: The special effects, which are used in that distinctly late-’90s, not-quite-CGI way, have some great moments, as in the depiction of what happens when you get shot in the gut, are very memorable.

Well, maybe once. Just to see how it feels.
I mean, I never wanted to get shot in the gut before, but I REALLY wouldn’t like it now.

The atmosphere is good. One suspects a less than flawless understanding of the military, not quite as bad as Stripes, mind you, but not great. (On the other hand, others have said it’s remarkably accurate in a lot of places.)

It didn’t get nominated for any Oscars, though it was certainly a breakout for David O. Russell who would go on to to direct The Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, with their back-to-back Best Picture nominations. Also, he’d get #metooed because by all accounts, he’s a maniac on the set.

Anyway, it’s a good movie, and joins a prestigious list of other movies (Fight Club, The Matrix, The Iron Giant) that would also not be nominated for Best Picture, and of course those that were nominated (The Green Mile, The Sixth Sense, The Cider House Rules and The Insider) which would lose to American Beauty.

O Brother! Where Art Thou?
A lot of treasure hunts back around 2000.

Batman (1989)

The Flower puts a certain amount of weight on my cinematic opinions in gauging whether or not to go to a movie. Also, sometimes she gets really, really busy, so it doesn’t take much to hold her back. And the interesting thing to me about Tim Burton’s Batman movie is that my reaction to it today is exactly the same as it was 30 years ago, minus the hopefulness. That is to say, it’s not a very good movie, but it’s a movie with some very good elements. Back then, I hoped it would auger in even better Batman stories, and then we got the execrable Batman Returns where Burton just hammers down the point that not only does he not get The Batman, he doesn’t understand heroism.

Can't take that away from him.
Makes for great stills, tho’.

But at this point, you had a movie that took itself seriously enough to not look cheap, and to invest heavily enough in the visuals to really evoke a “Gotham city”. Basically, Burton nailed the atmosphere, found an improbably compelling Joker in Jack Nicholson, evoked an even more improbable Batman—but not much of a Bruce Wayne—out of Michael Keaton, and the rest is pretty much carried through by Hollywood’s competent technicians.

What works is Nicholson channeling Caesar Romero, Keaton in the outfit, Basinger being suitably beautiful, Robert Wuhl being dogged and a little grimy, Michael Gough’s Alfred being distinguished and concerned, Jerry Hall being hapless, and all the beautiful toys and sets. The plot and dialogue are serviceable. Danny Elfman’s score is iconic. The art direction choice to make it a sort-of-80s-sort-of-40s style both fixes it in time and still works exceedingly well. The stuntwork makes the otherwise ultra-stiff fight scenes come alive way better than they should. You can see why this would launch the (generally regarded as superior) animated series.

Serious.
Brainy Basinger (you know, ’cause of the glasses)

Some things have aged poorly: The Prince music feels like a stupid pop-trendy tie in, which it was; the rest of the cast smacks too strongly of hedging between the campy TV show and something more serious (the late great Pat Hingle’s Commissioner Gordon looks and sounds like a cartoon); Batman’s hyper-preparedness (a long-running gag predating even the TV show) really jumped out at The Boy, particularly when the Bat-Plane has built in jaws that could serve no other purpose than thwarting the Joker’s balloon-based plan; and the slowness of the action constrained by wire work. The sudden appearance of goons at the top of Gotham Church so that Batman will have someone to fight (when the movie makes pretty clear that Joker’s retreat to that Church was clearly impromptu) bugged me this time. The Boy said that was his planned retreat but there was no reason for him to ever retreat if his plan to kill everyone went off, right? Were they just waiting up there as a contingency? Does the Joker (who shoots one minion capriciously five feet away from another) seem like he’s up to that sort of long-range planning?

To name a few issues I didn’t mind as much back then.

Eyebrows. And laugh.
One of the least Joker-y faces imaginable, but he pulls it off.

Some things were bad then and are still bad now: Sam Hamm’s script, while it has its moments, tries too hard to make the Batman/Joker connection with the improbable and Gremlins-level-stupid “dance with the devil in the pale moonlight” line. This drove me nuts in 1989, but I would give credit to Hamm (or whoever) for not starting with Batman’s origin story. Then there’s Burton’s clear failure to grasp Batman on so many levels: His unwillingness to kill, for example, is somewhat diminished by his dropping a bomb in a factory and strafing the streets of Gotham in the Bat-Plane.

The idea that Batman is a complete loner doesn’t bear scrutiny, either. Sorry, kids, but no. Batman is not a Dexter in a cowl. He’s not a sociopath aimed in the right direction. He has friends, support crew, and always have, even if we don’t dwell on Ace The Bat-Dog or Bat-Mite, or any of the goofy stuff that evolved in the comics.

His first "Mr. Wuhl" show was good. His second was just an anti-W screed.
Wuhl, the lovable muckracker.

I personally have a problem with the notion that Batman is a cad. I see him as an ascetic monk; the playboy image is a front. The dumb ’80s notion that there must be a coupling was as bad as the notion that the villain had to be murdered at the end.

The rubber suit is just a disaster. I don’t knock the movie too much for it because how else you gonna get the look you want in ’89? But the poor man can’t even turn his head. Kudos to Burton for managing to play it off, sorta. And I guess you couldn’t really use tights, after the ’60s Batman. But, man, it’s…constraining.

The Boy’s Girl liked it, and has seen it many times before. (Her family watches videos, which we haven’t done here since The Flower was a baby.) But The Boy and I were pretty much on the same page.

Glorious.
This may have been the last great matte in movie history.

How Long Will I Love U

It’s an oddity that The Boy and I will see 120 to 150 movies (or more!) a year and yet only half of those will be in the top 40. The percentage goes up slightly, however, when you factor in Asian films. This year Detective Chinatown 2 (#6) was one of our favorites, and we really wanted to see Operation Red Sea (#5) but we couldn’t work it out scheduling-wise. Then there’s this film, floating around at #30: A time-traveling romantic comedy called How Long Will I Love U.

Dad joke alert!
It’s a corker of a question! How love will I love “u”, or “v” or “w” for that matter?

The Japanese love this kind of thing (last year’s romantic-comedy anime Your Name mixed time travel with body swap, for example), and this year’s Be With You adds a strong family element (also based on a Japanese novel which was made into a movie in 2004). Then there’s Shed Skin Papa, which is yet another Chinese familial time travel story based on a Japanese play.

Practice makes perfect, I guess, because this is one of those movies that’s a sort of sweet, dopey romance that turns action thriller at the end. And, once again, we see how easy it is to lose one’s soul in the pursuit of wealth. It’s both true and propaganda.

I can't even.
It’s at moments like these that I remember Lucasfilms added Kelly Marie Tran to “The Last Jedi” to appeal to the Asian market—and then frumped her up, I guess because the “Asian” checkbox was supposed to trump beauty.

In the year 2018, a woman, Xiao, discovers her apartment has merged with an older version of itself from 1999, when it was occupied by a single young man, Lu, aspiring to be a civil engineer but struggling with a corrupt boss. The woman is a status climber and gold digger of the worst sort, and she has no interest in the young man, except for using him as a prop to convince her school pals who married well that she also married well. Xiao, played by Liya Tong (who is the love interest in Chinatown Detective and has a cute cameo at the end of the sequel), just about borders on the despicable. There is a definite Chinese “type” we’ve seen in these films: The very haughty, shrewish, demanding female who finds fault with everything. And Tong plays this right at the edge of unlikability. Even beyond that edge, really.

I have always maintained that playing a bitch is the trickiest role for an actress. If she’s just straight up bitchy, she’s going to be unpleasant to watch, and that isn’t fun even if it’s true to some real world model. The trick is to be bitchy and somehow compelling, like Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind.

It's a tightrope.
He’s confused. She’s combative.

Tong manages it, at least long enough for us to get a feel for her history, which took a dark turn into poverty when her father died in a drunk driving accident. This seems to have turned into an increasingly grasping and desperate woman, who only begins to get interested in her time-traveling roommate when it becomes clear that the modern version of him is wildly successful.

On the flip side you have Lu, who is basically a wimpy dreamer. Talented, probably, but harangued at work by a bullying boss and increasingly at home by his time-traveling roommate, both leading him down a bad path. Again, this is a terribly hard role to play without it being uncomfortable to watch, but much like Tong, Jiayin Lei pulls it off. We end up liking him and wanting things to work out for him, and hoping he does the right thing. Furthermore, we know what that is when, empowered by the love of this new girl, he becomes supremely confident in his future success and starts telling the right people off.

But this is where it gets complicated, and I won’t get into too many details because it’s a good one to watch unravel: It becomes increasingly clear that the present Lu is really not a nice person. Not a good person, even. He’s cold, he’s calculating, and he figures out what’s going on—there’s a preposterous and irrelevant sci-fi hook here that “explains” everything—to come after Xiao, and to make sure that his past self takes the exact same path he did.

Then things get dark and scary. Because, you know, Asian films. They do that. It’s not quite as dark as Your Name but it’s pretty close.

It’s terrific fun on a lot of levels. Once again I note that the Asian films do not have anywhere near American levels of CGI tech. And yet, they’re better at it than we are. This, I believe, is because they’re looking to make an artistic statement, not a realistic one. The merging of the two apartments is also done with a lot of practical effects and wonderful, wonderful set design. We loved it.

I'm for it.
It’s not subtle, but it’s effective and aesthetic.

I loved this movie. The Boy found it a little alienating at the beginning because there’s a bunch of 1999/2018 time travel jokes, and they are very specific to Chinese culture. There’s a fish market joke that we didn’t really get (I could sort of guess at it) that basically brought down the house. By the end, though, we were both very pleased, however.

It’s increasingly hard to get us to American movies, really, unless they’re classics.

A Quiet Place

This is one of those movies that suffers from the hype, though it wasn’t as intense as the ridiculously over-hyped Get Out, which has a similar critic and audience split, with critics liking it about 10 points more than audiences. The Boy and I saw it because the AMC that plays Chinese movies only had one that day. (It was on our list but we’ve missed some new American movies because of the classics and foreign films we’ve been seeing, so this seemed like a good opportunity.)

Shhhhhh.
Just tone it down a little, is what I’m sayin’.

This is the post-apocalyptic tale of a family out on a farm who are hunkered down against some boogens that can only find you if you make noise. When the movie starts, they’re venturing into town for supplies—mom (Emily Blunt), dad (her real-life husband, director John Krasinski, who also directed and starred in the much-maligned The Hollars), two sons (one played by Noah Jupe, recently seen in Wonder), and one daughter (who is deaf). Something Bad Happens.

The rest of movie takes place about 300 days later, and family tensions are high as dad struggles to make daughter a hearing aid, while she’s pissed at him, and he’s upset with her. And mom is very pregnant. Meanwhile, older bro is reluctantly being made a man by dad. (He’s trying to teach him how to fish without getting eaten.)

More than you would think.
Which can be tough when there’s random old dudes yellin’ their heads off.

Basically, then, this is a family drama plus boogens. It’s a good family drama. The boogens add, if only marginally, to the tension of an ordinary family drama, but they provide some excellent punctuation to various dramatic set pieces. And, of course, when you’ve got some boogens, you don’t need to give anybody cancer or get them killed in a car to provide prospective: You’ve got boogens.

There are also a handful of very well executed suspense scenes. There is a real payoff here which make it more palatable to a wider audience than, say, last years It Comes At Night, and it’s not really a slow, atmospheric build-up like The Witch or Hereditary, so audiences like that more, too.

The deviciest of plot devices, if not the plottiest.
Pictured: Plot device.

The ending is obvious from the first post-title scene. That’s okay. It’s well done. But this is definitely something that fits in with the general “Don’t think too hard about any of this” tenor of the movie.

Some things rankle right away, like how did they get those beautiful, neat rows of corn if they can’t make noise? If sound volume falls out in a square relation with distance, how is it small sounds seem to attract the Boogens from far away, while those on a similar magnitude up close don’t seem to? If sound-proofing is possible, why don’t they spend most their time in sound-proofed areas? How could she not take the batteries out?

If they’re killed in such an obvious—even intuitive—manner, why did nobody think of that line of attack before?

Eh, nitpicking. it’s a fine film. It makes dramatic sense and aesthetic sense. It doesn’t have to make sense sense. The Boy definitely enjoyed it more than I, though. At least partly because he hadn’t been exposed to as much of the hype.

Eh. Turned off my brain, forgot to turn it back on.
The family that prays together gets slayed together. Wait, slayed? Slain?

Death Wish (2018)

I have never been a fan of the ’66-’75 era of cinema generally, and especially not of the style of violent cop/revenge action pictures—although Dirty Harry (1971) holds up pretty well (as does Bullitt (1968))—and I never really cared for the original Charles Bronson version of Death Wish in particular. Besides the very ugly violence which, to me, has always felt degrading rather than cathartic, I have a very low threshold for rape-as-entertainment.

Democrats.
They look so happy. What could possibly go wrong?

So, the original Death Wish, to me, has always felt like those old exploitation flicks where they show a lot of sex and violence and then moralize about how bad everything is and you shouldn’t exploit sex and violence. But I felt like the remake might actually be enjoyable, and it had a RT split worthy of a “Jesus-flick”: 17% from critics and a whopping 80% from audiences. The right noses appear to have been tweaked.

This was a very busy time and I didn’t have a lot of room for extra movies in-between the mandatory ones (the revivals of classics), and meanwhile the Flower’s pals were over and they wanted to see it. So I took them.

It’s an R-rated film, and the Flower’s not quite 17. One of her friends was 17, but she’s tiny, and both of the friends are relatively meek. They had no concept of how to bluff their way into an R-rated movie. I had to come with them. Fortunately, with MoviePass, it wasn’t really a problem. It didn’t cost me anything. (MoviePass has since changed their policy so that you can’t see the same movie twice, which is one of the many restrictions they’ve been adding that makes me think business isn’t going so well.)

It was a noble effort.
We’re down to three movies a month now which…

So, I joined them for the first half and snuck out in the second. What I saw was quite good, really. Bruce Willis is a very likable lead, of course, and—for all his action star pedigree—is also very plausible as a gentle spirit driven to desperation. The family set up is very endearing: You like the characters.

Director Eli Roth gained some notoriety for the extremity of violence/gore in his earlier pictures (like Cabin Fever and Hostel), but barring one scene in Hostel 2 I have never felt like he was doing “torture porn”: That is, the audience is squarely on the side of the victims in most cases, and not meant to enjoy or empathize with the villains. The problem (for me) with the original movie is that the violence is long enough and explicit enough for me to believe director Michael Winner meant for it to be titillating more than horrifying. (Death Wish 3, and Marina Sirtis’ relation of her experiences on that, sort of back me up.)

Well, except for the whole sexual abuse thing, but that seems to be a constant.
These girls don’t know how lucky they are.

Roth’s treatment of The Incident that leads to the ultimate vigilantism is much more sensitive—even nuanced. The guys breaking in are just looking for money, but there’s Worse Guy who, upon finding the wife and daughter, wants to rape them. Roth contrives the situation to avoid that, and for that I thank him. (Assault and murder is plenty bad in my book.)

Then we get Willis with the blues, and Willis is very good at that. Again, for all his action star background, he’s got a good Everyman quality to him which, I can only imagine, makes the revenge aspect of the film more satisfying.

I can only imagine because, well, I had to go. I checked out right before he gets a gun. And I was out of town and completely tied up when it went out of theaters, so I never did see the end. The critics did a good job of torpedoing this, I’d say, as much less well-received movies (Wrinkle In Time has 30%s) are still sputtering along.

The girls all liked it, though. And they’re very nice teen girls who, between them, have wide and largely disparate tastes. (The Flower only discusses politics and religion with them, because music talk gets too heated, and they don’t see a lot of movies.)

I suspect this movie will do better streaming, might even be a sleeper.

Which I think gets harder as an actor gets older.
Plus, Vincent D’onofrio seems to have lost a lot of his Magnificent 7 weight!