Christmas, ghosts and aliens: movies viewed

It’s time for Christmas movies again, but of course with Alien Visitors underway, I have other films mixed in

I kicked off my Yuletide viewing with the lesbian Christmas rom-com HAPPIEST SEASON (2020) in which Mackenzie Davis asks girlfriend Kristen Stewart to come home and meet the parents (Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen). Only on the drive there, Davis reveals that oh, I didn’t actually come out to them last summer, so you’ll have to pretend to be my roommate. Once they arrive, she proceeds to blow off Stewart to hang with her old friends, leaving Stewart bonding with Davis’ ex (whom Davis did not treat well, it turns out). While the movie explains Davis is terrified of disappointing her parents by coming out to them (and a gay friend points out that’s entirely possible), she still comes off as a jerk; if the leads and the supporting cast weren’t so likable I doubt this would work. “I’m not shaming you, I just think the choice you’re making is dumb.”

PARANORMAN (2012) is an unimpressive, dreary film about a teenage boy who’s an outcast in both his family and his small town because he sees dead people. Then it turns out he’s the only one who can avert an ancient witch’s curse on the community but will anyone listen? There’s something dismal and downbeat about this that didn’t work for me, and the Outcast shticks are too cliche to engage me.. “Not believing in the afterlife is like not believing in astrology.”

KRONOS (1957) is the Giant Robot Film With a Difference, the difference being the utterly nonhuman appearance of the eponymous mechanoid (“It’s been named Kronos for the terrifying giant of Greek mythology!”) feeding off human energy sources while mind-controlling scientist Morris Ankrum to further its agenda. This starts weak — the character bits at the start aren’t as winning as they’re meant to be — but picks up steam as it progresses. “I can’t get over the feeling this is the calm before the storm — and at any moment the storm is going to break.”

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) remakes the Don Siegel film, setting it in San Francisco and making it a metaphor for the death of the counter-culture: pod people carry on the same jobs the originals had (from their perspective they are the originals, but improved), but simply stare listlessly at the walls between tasks, rather than talking, stretching, reading … As director Philip Kaufman says, they’re the kind of employees and consumers big business would love to have, with none of that annoying individuality gumming up the works. The F/X get heavy-handed in spots but overall this is an excellent remake — though I could have done without longtime friends Brooke Adams and Donald Sutherland turning out to be secretly in love (a trope I dislike enough I’ll probably blog about it t some point).. “Why not a space flower? Why do we always expect metal ships?”

After reading in Superman vs. Hollywood about the genesis of SUPERMAN III (1983), I’m inclined to think part of the problem is that the Salkinds just took all the ideas they’d considered in production and didn’t let go of any of them: there’s Superman battling his own dark side, a killer computer (the book suggests it’s a holdover from when Brainiac was going to be the villain), Robert Vaughn doing a Luthoresque tycoon (watching so soon after the first two films, I can appreciate how much his dialog resembles Gene Hackman’s) and of course Richard Pryor as a computer super-hacker. The book says Pryor had mentioned during an interview that he’d love to be in a Superman film; given he was an accomplished, successful comedian, the Salkinds snapped him up, then Warner Brothers refused to let them trim him back any. The results is Pryor taking up way too much screen time for the caliber of his performance with the plot awkwardly filling in around him.

Another problem is that Margot Kidder and the Salkinds no longer being on speaking terms, the film sidelines Lois in favor of Annette O’Toole’s Lana Lang. I like O’Toole but as Siskel and Ebert observed, her romance with Clark makes Superman irrelevant; if Clark was merely the good-natured, gentle guy he seems to be, nothing would have changed. That’s a poor substitute for the Clark/Lois/Superman triangle. And there’s the oddity of Vaughn’s bimbo girlfriend hiding the fact she’s a genius (“How can Kant say that absolute categories can’t exist in transcendental thought?”); I like the idea, but it needs a payoff that never materializes.The film’s only saving grace is that Reeve still delivers; his evil Superman is surprisingly good. “You know what I hate? Greed.”

A cast including diva reporter Tallulah Bankhead, U-boat captain Walter Slezak, swabbie William Bendix and radio operator Hume Cronyn are stranded in a LIFEBOAT (1944) after Slezak sends a merchant marine vessel to Davy Jones (his sub was hit soon afterwards). Now the survivors have to work together despite personal issues, political conflicts and the question whether they can trust the stinking Nazi. This is a Hitchcock film I admire more than I like, but I do like it and there’s a lot to admire in the tight little one-set film (not so tight behind the screens — Hitchcock finished it late and over budget). “He’ll eat our food, drink our water and double-cross us the first chance we get.”

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Filed under Movies

4 responses to “Christmas, ghosts and aliens: movies viewed

  1. Am a sucker for anything Rom-com or Christmas-y….so I guess I will check out the first one 🙂

  2. Pingback: Lois Lane and fifties films: books read | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: “You’ll be born again into an untroubled world”: Aliens and emotion | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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