Category Archives: Movies

Some TV, a couple of movies and a play

As I kid I loved Gerry Anderson’s UFO (1970-3), a British series about SHADO, the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization, fighting to stop aliens from rebuilding their dying race with transplanted human parts (the episode speculates they’re also planning an invasion). Cool tech, UFOs and ETs and some wild-looking futuristic outfits and hairstyles, not to mention sophisticated future tech (the series was set in 1980).

Rewatching a few episodes for Alien Visitors, it’s obvious the critics I resented for talking smack about the show were spot on. Ed Bishop as SHADO’s top dog is a wooden actor and the other cast members aren’t much better (we do get capable guest actors, such as Jean Marsh). Then there’s the sexism, like the butt and boob shots in the opening credits — it’s as if Anderson heard all the criticism of sexism in Star Trek and declared, “Gene Roddenberry, hold my beer!” Having just watched Filmed in Supermarionation last year, I notice the SHADO vehicles look a lot like they were adapted from props for Thunderbirds. So this was a disillusioning rewatching. “Electronic tissue identification is as infalliable as a voice print.”

I had my doubts removing Kate Kane from BATWOMAN would work for me, and sure enough, it didn’t. The season opener has Kate apparently killed (word is the character will be recast eventually), homeless Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie) finding the suit and stepping into the Batwoman role, at first reluctantly, then with more confidence.

While I could live without Ruby Rose as the lead (though she had a hard edge I miss), the heart of the show was Kate Kane’s relationships with her father, her good and evil sisters, Luke Fox and Sophie. Without that core, the show just feels hollow. It doesn’t help that new villain Safiyah (Shivaani Ghai) feels like the third and least interesting of Ra’s al Ghul’s daughters. So regrettably, I’m done with this one. “It appears we are under attack — from Bats!”

THE MYSTERIANS (1957) are alien invaders who show up on Japanese soil asking for a home and oh yes, the use of some of our human women; this doesn’t go over well, but with the aliens’ tech advantage, is there anything we can do about it? A spectacular, colorful, entertaining adventure though it’s jarring now that the alien outfits look so much like Power Rangers. “You ask will humans or Mysterians rule the world? Neither — science will rule.”

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: Ghost Protocol (2011) ups the stakes considerably from III as Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) team gets tricked into serving as a red herring while the bad guy steals Russia’s nuclear launch codes. Now he’s just a few steps away from triggering the apocalypse (confident that a better world will arise in the aftermath), the IMF has been shut down — can Hunt stop him, even with the help of new team members Jeremy Renner and Paula Patten (“Agent Carter” which wouldn’t have triggered other associations back then). This does explain what happened to Hunt’s marriage (staying on made her a target, so he chose Country over Marriage — bad Ethan!) but not how the villain set up the IMF at the start (if the original “your mission” taped message was a fake, that makes the third time Hunt’s been manipulated by someone in the organization — seriously, how bad is their security?). The plot is just something to bridge the action scenes, but they’re good enough to make that work. “I believe that nuclear war has a place in the natural order.”

VANYA AND SONIA AND MASCHA AND SPIKE was a Christopher Durang production from 2012 that I caught streaming (legally).  Three of the four title characters are siblings named after Chekhov characters (their parents were fanatics for Chekhov’s plays); Vanya (David Hyde Pierce) and Sonia spent years caring for their aged parents and have lived in their home since the parents passed. That makes it unsettling when Mascha (Sigourney Weaver) announces she’s tired of paying the bills on the place and intends to put it up for sale. This is very funny in Durang’s usually askew way. “The younger generation are like that — they strip down to their underwear all the time.”

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A Blob Gets Furious: Movies and some TV

According to producer Jack Harris on the commentary track for THE BLOB (1958), his goal was to combine an SF film and a juvenile delinquent film. That gave us this story of a meteorite that hatches out an oozing mass of protoplasm that absorbs any animal matter that comes near it like, for instance, people. Steve McQueen and his girlfriend know it’s true, but can they convince the cops or their parents the town is in danger?

While the film comes off as what Seeing is Believing classifies as conservative centrist — the community of regular folks comes together to fight the menace, no need for a brilliant scientist to whip up a cure — it also strikes me as straining the formula. The sort-of delinquent kids see the threat first but so does the town’s doctor (he dies too soon to weigh in) and cops and parents ultimately turn out pretty reasonable. It’s not an entirely successful mix of genres but it’s an interesting one. “Thanks to you, we’ve wasted our eighty cents.”

FURIOUS SEVEN (2015) is a direct sequel to Furious 6, starting with Shaw (Luke Evans) in hospital, being visited by his brother (Jason Statharn) who vows to avenge him; the camera then pulls back to see how much damage Shaw 2 has wrought getting past the guards which is effective but dumb (Statharn wants his brother to live, which is a lot less likely with the hospital half-demolished). Shortly afterwards Shaw’s revenge puts Hobbs in hospital (in a later scene he busts his arm out of its cast just by flexing his muscles) and blows up Brian and Mia’s house.

All of this forces our heroes into an alliance with enigmatic agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). If they’ll help him stop bad guy Djimon Hounsou from hacking into Godseye, a satellite that can instantly access any security camera anywhere (we’re apparently supposed to be chill with the U.S. government having the tech), Nobody will help them nail Shaw. This leads to the racers traversing the globe, driving between the tenth floor of two skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi, Michelle Rodriguez having a clash of titans with Ronda Rousey and a final showdown in which the cast races around Los Angeles dodging Predator missiles. This was more preposterous and less interesting than the previous film, partly because Statharn’s one-man army doesn’t seem as formidable as his smarter sibling in 6. This was the last movie for Paul Walker, who died in an unrelated traffic accident mid-filming (the ending makes a big deal of saying goodbye to his character). “Only two things keep a group like this together, fear or loyalty — and I don’t see a drop of fear in you.”

GRAY MATTER (2018) is an utterly mindless low-budget SF film with a threadbare plot — Grays send a reprogrammed abductee to hunt down alien parasites taking over humans and turning them cannibal — that justifies endless uninspired action scenes. I watched a lot of this on fast-forward and didn’t miss anything. “Boobs … boooooobs!”

I recently finished the first season of EXTANT, a 2014 CBS SF drama starring Halle Berry as Molly Haskell, an astronaut in a near future setting who returns home from a year in space to discover she’s pregnant. Her boss, Sparks, initially tells her the agency hit her with experimental fertility drugs without telling her because her last miscarriage was so rough (like other stories in this vein, it doesn’t provoke half the outrage is should). In reality, she’s carrying an alien/human hybrid; Sparks is willing to let it happen because the creature can create 100 percent realistic illusions, like making him think his daughter is alive again. A dying techtrepreneur has skin in the game, believing the aliens can save his life. Can Molly stop them from getting a foothold on Earth? How will her android son respond to having such a peculiar brother? Not classic SF but it’s well-cast and I did enjoy it. “I assume you’d like to see your family again — interpret that any way you choose.”

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Aliens abduct us fast and furiously!

FURIOUS 6 (2013) picks up some months after Fast Five with everyone comfortable in their new lives and Brian and Mia (Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster) happy new parents. Then Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) shows up with proof Dom’s (Vin Diesel) wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is alive and working for Shaw (Luke Evans), an international criminal plotting to steal components of a Doomsday McGuffin and sell them to the highest bidder. That’s all Dom has to hear to get the band back together and we’re off for another round of over-the-top action.

At this point the cast are about one step short of becoming either a superhero team or a 1980s cartoon franchise (Camestros Felapton suggests mythic heroes too). This film has all the trappings: a former teammate returning from the dead (with amnesia, natch), continuity touches (the crimelord who murdered Letty turns out to be working for Shaw) and pitting the good guys against their mirror image team. The difference, unsurprisingly, is that the Racers of Justice are, as Dom points out, a family, where Shaw sees his team as interchangeable parts; if one doesn’t work, he replaces it. Oh, and we have an ending introducing a new foe, Jason Statharn as Shaw’s brother, who turns out to be responsible for Han’s death in Tokyo Drift (so we’re finally caught up in continuity with that one). Can’t say it grabs me more than earlier installments, but it’s interesting to watch the series evolve. Gina Carado has a supporting part as Hobbs’ sidekick. “Like I said, you were never in the game.”

THE FORGOTTEN (2004) has Julianne Moore in a spectacular performance as a mother still grieving for her son’s death in a plane crash a year ago. Except suddenly everyone, even husband Antony Edwards, is insisting her son never existed (“You had a miscarriage.”), all her photographs of him are gone and the videotapes of him are blank. Then, when she refuses to accept shrink Gary Sinese’s insistence it’s all in her head, the NSA gets involved — what’s going on?

The answer? Her son has been alien abducted as part of a sinister ET experiment. Like the movies I wrote about a few days ago, we’re absolutely helpless in the face of the alien power: the government’s involved because collaborating is the only way to protect Earth from retribution. It’s a creepy, chilling tale but it gets way too stock in the stretches where Moore and fellow abductee-parent Dominic West are running from cops (include Alfre Woodard) or feds. It also suffers from a big plot hole: the aliens can erase newspapers and videotapes, wipe memories, but in a key scene it turns out they simply painted over a child’s nursery walls. Still good, but it could have been so much more. “I’d say ‘god only knows’ but I don’t think he’s in the loop.”

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The invasion has already happened: alien abduction films

I’ve been watching movies for the alien abductions chapter of Alien Visitors and man, it’s one dark subgenre. Sure, Independence Day and War of the Worlds have millions of people dying, but humanity wins in the end. In abduction movies, there’s no winning: the Greys will take us whenever they like and there’s nothing we can do about it. The real reason the government is covering up is because they can’t stop it and they don’t want us to know. There’s also a strong Chosen One element in these movies: individuals targeted by alien abduction discover it goes all the way back to childhood, or that their kids have been marked as the next victim. Another factor is disbelief: unlike, say, Day the Earth Stood Still, where Klaatu’s reality is obvious, sometimes even the protagonist isn’t certain where the truth lies. Quite a few of the films claim to be Based On A True Story most of the ones I’ve seen so far are dreadful.

Case in point, the first abduction movie, THE UFO INCIDENT (1975), based on the first alien abduction account, by Betty and Barney Hill (Estelle Parsons, James Earl Jones). The couple underwent hypnotherapy (Barnard Hughes plays the doctor here) to make sense of a two-hour time gap on a long drive home and discovered they’d been abducted by aliens clad in Nazi-ish uniforms. This film spends too much time on the Hills’ mundane lives and therapy sessions, resulting in a dull film even a talented cast can’t salvage. It does show how times have changed that the whole concept of abduction is treated as inconceivable. “I thought of that standing out there in the field — I’m that bunny.”

A team of loggers see A FIRE IN THE SKY (1993) when buddy D.B. Cooper is abducted by a giant, glowing spaceship — but can they convince their small town, or state investigator James Garner, that they’re not covering up his murder? Can Robert Patrick get over his guilt at abandoning his buddy? Another well-acted but unmemorable film. “We’ve been telling you the truth from the beginning — and now we’re ready to prove it.”

Adapted from Whitley Strieber’s memoir, COMMUNION (1989) has Strieber (Christopher Walken) slowly becoming aware that a weird nightmare he had on vacation might be real; once again hypnotherapy makes him realize he’s been abducted by aliens who look like comical SF dwarves or rather gumbyish grays. Despite Walken’s talent and Lindsay Crouse as his baffled wife, the personal dramatic side of this is just as tedious as The UFO Incident and the ending slides into muddled, murky mysticism. “This is the tough part — they did not appear to be human.”

THE RECALL (2017) might double-bill well with Evil Dead as it launches with a group of teenage friends taking a weekend break at an isolated cabin and encountering evil — in this case, jellyfish-like aliens renewing a battle with retired astronauts Wesley Snipes before launching a mass abduction (“The past 60 years have just been a test run.”). This actually explains the ETs’ end game, which like Marvel’s Celestials is to advance us up the evolutionary ladder; this makes it a little more interesting than the rest. “You cannot fight them, colonel — all you can do is prepare for the aftermath.”

Like The Recall, DARK SKIES (2013) is SF as horror; despite starting out as a Poltergeist knockoff (“They’re coming” as a tagline invokes “They’re here”), it’s the best of this lot. Keri Russell’s family discovers mysterious intruders messing up the kitchen (“What kind of animal takes the lettuce and leaves the bacon?”), followed by sudden blackouts and random bird swarms due to their home becoming a Petri dish for the Grays’ experiments. This suffers from having no real logic to explain everything beyond The Greys Did It, but it’s better made than most of them; there’s an amusing scene in which one UFOlogist mocks the idea an invasion would resemble War of the Worlds (“People think of aliens invading our planet as a great cataclysm, destroying our monuments — but the invasion already happened.”). “The presence of the Greys is now a fact of life, like death and taxes.”

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All Singing, All Dancing: Jeanine Basinger’s The Movie Musical

Jeanine Basinger wrote the brilliant World War II Combat Film, the much less brilliant I Do and I Don’t (about marriage in the movies) and provided an excellent commentary track on my DVD of The Philadelphia Story (among other accomplishments). Her THE MOVIE MUSICAL falls in the middle, not as good as the combat-film book but better than I Do and I Don’t. It’s an informative book and I mostly enjoyed reading it, but I kept feeling I should have enjoyed it more.

Basinger is a musical fangirl (she says so in the intro) and it shows: she’s happy to write about not only the great musicals but failures, experiments and low-budget knockoffs. She opens discussing the birth of sound and the success of the musical The Jazz Singer (contrary to legend, neither the first sound film or first musical film) and how the movies developed musicals as a genre. She also discusses the question of what makes a musical (e.g., Casablanca isn’t a musical even though “As Time Goes By” is a major part of the story [the key is that the movie would be 90 percent there without it, which isn’t the same with Brigadoon or Top Hat) and how musicals work: given that people spontaneously singing and dancing together is inherently unrealistic, how do movies sell us that it’s plausible. The answers are various: all the music occurs onstage in performances, or the music starts on stage then continues off stage, or it’s a dream sequence, an animated film, a concert film … Though I must admit, I’m not sure this is such a serious issue: anyone who has issues with the absurdity probably isn’t going to attend a musical anyway (TYG thinks it’s silly, so she doesn’t watch).

Then we switch from chronology to an overview of the musical stars, the kind for whom “star vehicles” were filmed. A star vehicle is one made to showcase the star’s persona: an Elvis Presley film for example, was primarily an excuse to put Elvis onscreen singing, nothing else really mattered (and the quality suffered for it). She also looks at star duos (e.g. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) and what makes them work, then we move on to subgenres (the B-movie, the musical biopic, operettas, singing cowboy films), then the different studios. Then we’re back to chronology: the 1950s when Gene Kelly and director Vincenté Minnelli helped elevate musicals to an art form Then on into the 1960s when things went wrong (big successes such as The Sound of Music followed by a long list of flops such as Doctor Dolittle), the grimdark musicals of the 1970s (e.g. Cabaret, set in Nazi Germany) and then a long ongoing decline. The audience likes musicals, filmmakers like making musicals, but they can’t make them profitably and in Basinger’s opinion can’t make them good enough. She suggests part of the problem is that upbeat musicals run against our more cynical age, which I don’t entirely buy (the 1940s had musicals and film noir, after all) and (more plausibly) that it takes a shit ton of skilled talent to make a good one; with the studio system gone, it’s much harder to assemble a good team than it used to be. Basinger also dismisses most post-studio movies for not being innovative, which is not a standard she applies as much to the musicals of the 1930s and 1940s — but then she made the same argument against recent films in I Do and I Don’t (contemporary movies about marriage aren’t doing anything new, so who cares?).

There’s a lot of interesting stuff and a ton of musicals I’d Netflix if Alien Visitors wasn’t sucking up so much viewing time. But I also finished it feeling unsatisfied. Part of that is the occasional error: Basinger’s version of the genesis of Singing in the Rain differs from the one on the DVD commentary track I have, and the commentary is more persuasive; the “you’ll come back a star” line in 42nd Street is not, in context “cornball” (the point is Ruby Keeler must be a star or everyone working on the show is suddenly unemployed).

Another problem is that the structure is kind of structureless: start with chronology, bounce to stars and studios, then back to chronology felt very off. A third issue is the selection: why devote so much space to Belita, a B-movie knockoff of skating musical star Sonja Henie rather than a more significant player (in fairness, that’s always an issue with a book like this)? I also wish she’d done something to parallel film development with stage more — stage musicals also got darker in the late 20th century, for instance.

And in fairness, part of the problem was me. Basinger went into more detail on specific films or actors than I needed to know; part of that may be the lack of structure but it’s also simply that she gave me more information than I wanted, which is never the author’s fault.

If you’re interested in the subject, it’s definitely worth checking out, despite my demurrals.

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Strangers on a train get criss-crossed while Brits grow old: movies viewed

Alfred Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) opens with a striking sequence in which we follow Guy (Farley Grainger) and Bruno (Robert Walker) as they get out of their respective taxis to board a train — but all we see is their lower legs. Sober dark shoes on Guy, a tennis pro and serious young man; snazzier footwear for Bruno, an irresponsible idler.

Although they’re strangers, when Bruno strikes up a conversation with Guy it turns out he knows everything about Guy. Even given Guy is a well-known athlete, it comes off as something of a mancrush; it’s also reminiscent of every story I’ve heard or read about creepy guys insisting on intruding into a woman’s commute, ignoring that she clearly doesn’t want to talk. Guy reluctantly listens over lunch, where Bruno tells him a crazy idea he’s had. He wants his father dead, Guy (dating senator’s daughter Ruth Roman) would be better off his estranged, cheating wife were dead, but they’d be prime suspects. What if they each killed the other’s target? Guy doesn’t know Bruno’s father has no motive, who’d even think of suspecting him?

Guy has no interest in this but his comments convince Bruno they have a pact (again, rather like guys who are convinced they’ve bonded with the woman they’re talking to, even as the woman’s desperate to get rid of them). Bruno does indeed murder Guy’s wife (who’s refusing to divorce him now that her lover has dumped her) and then he starts asking Guy well, when do you whack my daddy? And if Guy reports him to the cops, Bruno’s going to explain about their supposed deal …

This has always been one of my favorite Hitchcock films but for some reason I couldn’t get into it. Was it just my mood, which was a little out of sorts at the time? Or was it one of those cases where I rewatch or reread something and without the shock of the initial encounter I see the flaws? The climax, for example, intercuts Guy playing in a tennis match with Bruno launching a scheme and the tennis simply doesn’t provide any tension (The Hitchcock Romance suggests it’s a deliberate kind of wink-wink at the audience, but I don’t buy it). And Roman is very stiff as the love interest. That said, it’s far from a bad film and deploys several Hitchcock tropes, such as the Innocent Man Accused (though ambiguously innocent, as Guy does indeed benefit from Bruno’s actions) and a character, a la Shadow of a Doubt, with a lurid interest in crime fiction (Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia, playing Roman’s sister). Leo G. Carroll plays Guy’s prospective father in law. “Now why should I stop off in Medcalf to kill a woman I’ve never met — unless it was a plot and you were in on it.”

CRISS CROSS (1949) is the noir film Stephen Soderbergh remade as The Underneath, starring Burt Lancaster returning to his LA neighborhood to see his family, totally not to see ex-wife Yvonne deCarlo, and even if he did, he’d certainly not try to resume their relationship … Where Soderbergh focused on family dysfunction with a largely clueless chump of a protagonist (evidence for John Rogers’ argument that neo-noir characters are never as smart as they think), this one is all about sexual obsession and desperation: Lancaster wants deCarlo so he strikes a deal with her current lover Dan Duryea (always a great, creepy sociopath on screen) to rip off an armored car (he’s one of the guards) but things don’t go the way he expects … “I was wrong — it was in the cards, and there was no way of stopping it.”

Werner Herzog’s WILD BLUE YONDER (2005) starts promisingly as an alien reveals his people have been living among us for years, but without successfully accomplishing anything, even alerting us to their presence (his display of their duplicate Washington DC is hysterical). Most of them film, though, is a drama about space flight which doesn’t work for Alien Visitors and isn’t very interesting either. “Those who arrived here just sucked.”

My big birthday event this year was watching 63 UP (2019), following 56 Up in the seven-year cycle of visiting with an assorted group of Brits first interviewed at seven years old. Once again we catch up with a scientist, politician, librarian (who passed since the previous film; two others don’t look in good shape this time out), teacher, cabbie and others as they ruminate on their kids, life since the last film, Brexit, the British class system and whether their seven year old selves foreshadowed who they are (I must admit, the sharp twists in their lives in previous installments look less drastic now). While only one interviewee dropped out, the solicitor, as usual, objects that he’s not the man he appears to be (““I’m three-quarters foreign, hardly a typical example of the class I’m supposed to represent.”) and one of the women let fly on what she sees as persistent sexism in the series (“You don’t seem to realize how much things changed for women in the 1970s.”). Fascinating as always. “We’re still in the middle of the longest engagement known to man.”

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Impossible spies, unconvincing actors: movies viewed

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE III (2006) easily surpasses the first and second films in the series, starting with the opening in which malevolent bad guy Philip Seymour Hoffman puts a gun to Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) wife’s (Michelle Monaghan) head and threatens to pull the trigger if Ethan doesn’t deliver the McGuffin. Then we flashback to show how Cruise got married and also returned to the field to rescue protege Keri Russell from Hoffman (it doesn’t go well). Hunt wants revenge; Hoffman wants the McGuffin (in best Hitchcock tradition, we never learn what it is). Trouble is afoot. JJ Abrams directs this as a first-rate thriller, though the villain’s scheme (come up with a casus belli for another Mideast invasion) now feels very right-after-9/11 in spirit. With Laurence Fishburne as Hunt’s superior, Simon Pegg as a techie and Ving Rhames returning as Ethan Hunt’s right hand. “Please don’t interrupt me when I’m asking rhetorical questions.”

STAGE FRIGHT (1950) has aspiring actor Jane Wyman reluctantly agreeing to help former boyfriend Richard Todd save his mistress Marlene Dietrich from a murder rap over the death of her husband. Of course that proves more complicated than expected — and is Todd telling the truth about everything?

This strikes me as switching up a number of Hitchcock conventions: the Bad Girl (Dietrich) is innocent, at least of murder (in contrast to, say, The Paradine Case), while the male romantic lead on the run is guilty as sin (as opposed to Spellbound and multiple other films), though the relationship between Wyman and cop Michael Wilding is much like Shadow of a Doubt.

The movie, as a whole, though, doesn’t work for me. I’m not bothered by the opening flashback being a lie (something which multiple critics complained was a cheat) but Wyman’s a bland kewpie doll here (she’s rarely anything more). While I like the idea of her as the Actor of Justice vs. Dietrich’s Actor of Doom, and the theme that everyone in the movie is acting and posing in various ways, the film doesn’t do enough with it. The best thing about it is the supporting cast of British actors including Alistair Sim as Wyman’s wannabe rogue of a father (“It was only one cask of brandy.”), Sybil Thorndyke as Wyman’s dotty mom and Joyce Grenfell in a bit part at a charity fete. “You’re not by any chance thinking of changing horses in mid-stream?”

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Silence, skin and sorcery: movies viewed

A QUIET PLACE (2018) is a nail-biting horror/SF film in which a family (Emily Blunt is Mum) struggles to survive while hunted by blind horrors who’ve apparently preyed on everyone else in the area already with their super-acute hearing. Even with sign language for communication, can the family stay quiet enough to live?

This is a really great film, though I found the monsters a bit too CGI. As we don’t get an origin for the creatures (ET? Mutant? Gen-engineered weapons?) I’m not sure if this qualifies for Alien Visitors but it fits the classic 1950s monster-film template very well, just from a different angle. By the time the film starts, the monsters have already attacked, people have done the panic-and-flee (or just died) and we end with the human survivors figuring out the way to kill the enemy. As the movie avoids talking for most of its length, Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie might make a good double-bill. “I didn’t say anything.”

I was much less impressed with UNDER THE SKIN (2014), in which ET Scarlett Johansson drives around the streets of Glasgow, picking up men for sex but actually to lure them back to her flat where her magic pool drains them of everything inside their skin. This has cult status, but I’m definitely not in the cult; to paraphrase one critic, it feels like the kind of cryptic, incomprehensible film you’d make if you wanted to start a cult. Part of the problem is that midway through the film, Johansson’s hunter changes personality, becoming much more vulnerable and afraid, and I don’t see why. “Have you ever had a girlfriend?”

THE SORCERERS (1967) is a good British horror film starring Ian Ogilvie and Boris Karloff. The latters plays a hypnotherapist whose work was discredited (unfairly, he says) years ago, but now he’s back with something better. Using his new treatment, he and his wife (Catherine Lacey) can not only control man-about-town Ogilvie, they can telepathically dominate him at any time. Unfortunately, having a strong young body becomes intoxicating to the wife, who delights in sending Ogilvie out to commit random acts of violence. Can either of the men find the willpower to stop her? A good contemporary horror film. “It will be insured. Things like that are always insured.”#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Racers, assassins, colonials: movies viewed

FAST FIVE (2011) strikes me as a game-changer for the Fast and Furious franchise, replacing the usual formula of street racing and scantily clad women (there’s one brief scene of that and the race takes place off-camera) with a caper film. Following directly on the ending for Fast & Furious, Vin Diesel, Jordana Brewster and Paul Walker relocate to Brazil. Instead of hiding out, they find themselves in the gunsights of Brasilia’s most powerful crimelord and of Dwayne Johnson as a federal agent out to drag them back to stand trial.

The solution? Rip off the crimelord’s money from an impregnable vault at police headquarters, thereby giving them enough cash to retire beyond the reach of any of their pursuers. This requires bringing together most of the cast members from the first four films (Gail Godot is the standout name) and culminates with literally tearing the vault out of the police building and dragging it behind their cars through the street. The filmmakers were obviously prepared for this to be the last in the series — it has the kind of happy ending that could resolve everything but doesn’t rule out more sequels — but shifting things up clearly worked, given how many more sequels we’ve had. “This just went from Mission Impossible to Mission In-Freaking-Sanity!”

The French film La Femme Nikita inspired both the U.S. Point of No Return and the Chinese THE BLACK CAT (1990), which I caught last weekend. Like the other films (and the Peta Wilson TV show) this has a female drifter kill a cop, go to jail, then get recruited by a black ops group as a counter-terrorist assassin. Unlike what I remember of the others the protagonist here is  a formidable killer even before she gets trained; said training includes an implanted microchip that enhances her performance but I honestly don’t see much difference. Not up to the French original. “From this moment on, we’re the only ones who can help you.”

Alfred Hitchcock had wanted Joseph Cotton and Ingrid Bergman for the lead roles in The Paradine Case; in 1949, he got to use them both in UNDER CAPRICORN but that didn’t help this turkey. Michael Wilding plays a younger son of the aristocracy, arriving in 1800s Sydney to make his fortune. He becomes a friend and business associate to surly Joseph Cotton, a former groom turned convict who’s now a wealthy landowner; complicating things is Wilding’s crush on Cotton’s alcoholic wife, Ingrid Bergman, whom he knew from childhood. This was based on a well-regarded historical novel (adapted for Aussie TV in the 1980s if you’re curious) but it doesn’t work at all, and both Cotton and Bergman feel miscast in their roles. With Cecil Parker as the pompous Aussie governor, I’m inclined to suggest The Court Jester as a double bill for his equally unappealing leader there. “A gentleman’s word in Australia doesn’t mean much.”

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They came for Dr. Seuss and I did not speak up …

Some Dr. Seuss books are being pulled from circulation due to racial stereotyping (Arabs riding camels in turbans, black figures in grass skirts). It was a decision by the copyright holder and doesn’t require the books be burned, pulled off library shelves, etc. Nevertheless the right wing is once again freaking out over cancel culture. Except, as others have noted, when conservatives try to ban LGBTQ books from library shelves — that’s totally different! Of course, it isn’t, but Republicans aren’t going to tell their voters that. For that matter conservatives have hated and sometimes tried to pull some of Seuss’s books from library shelves, such as The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book.

It’s okay to let women characters be evil without a redeeming backstory, one writer says.

Missing the point: The Handmaid’s Tale is not a warning against women’s liberation.

Along with Disney allegedly cheating writers of their royalties, they’re able to keep 80 percent of revenues from streaming material by claiming it’s just home video.

Disney’s Kevin Feige says moviegoers will be able to follow films even if they don’t catch the Disney+ streaming shows. The Mary Sue tries to argue that’s a mistake.

Bad research is never a good thing. But when you’re a serious scholar claiming Korean “comfort women” raped by Japan were voluntarily prostituting themselves, we’re talking seriously bad shit. From working on Undead Sexist Cliches, the researcher’s willingness to imagine consent where none exists is depressingly familiar.

A couple of women bought a small-town Alaskan paper. Then came COVID.

One of my fellow Atomic Junk Shop bloggers argues that no, Soul is not racist because it transforms the black protagonist.

A Star Wars enthusiast tries to find a copy of the original cinematic version without Lucas’ umpty-zillion changes. It’s nigh impossible.

A new online dictionary traces the history of science fiction terms.

Is coverage of the pandemic focusing too much on OMG New Strains! and not how well the vaccines work? More here.

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Filed under Movies, Undead sexist cliches, Writing