Tag Archives: Alien visitors

The murderous alien clowns were the pick of the week

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988) is a one-joke film but the joke works. A necking couple spots a shooting star landing nearby (while I haven’t kept track, this and having something weird briefly appear on radar are staple opening setups). Next thing you know, ET clowns are cocooning the locals with candy-cotton guns, tracking them with balloon-animal bloodhounds, feeding people to shadow puppets, or jumping out of a clown car that you wouldn’t think they could all fit inside. Can the town survive? I got particular pleasure out of one conversation where the characters try to make sense of this (“Maybe they were ancient astronauts and that’s why we have the idea of clowns in our culture.”). Doesn’t give me any deep inside for Alien Visitors but still enjoyable low-budget fun.“I don’t believe in UFOs, but if they exist, we’re inside one.”

K-PAX (2002) aims higher and falls very far short. Kevin Spacey is Prot, the self-proclaimed ET visitor locked up in an asylum where Jeff Bridges tries to restore him to sanity. But Bridges can’t help noticing his patient is rehabilitating the other patients much better than conventional therapy — and while it’s impossible, you don’t suppose he could really be telling the truth, do you? This mix of psychological drama and SF doesn’t work as either, and feels cobbled together from bits of better movies (Fisher King and Equus come to mind). Spacey, as usual, delivers his lines with a Smartest Guy In The Room air, and it doesn’t work here (if he were more frustrated or more — well, anything — there’d be a more interesting conflict). “I have arrived, so my travels are over for the time being.”

COLOSSAL (2016) has an interesting concept (though not one that qualifies for Alien Visitors) but unsatisfying execution. After drunken party girl Anne Hathaway’s boyfriend breaks up with her, she returns to her home town and meets up with her old boyfriend. When a monster goes rampaging through Seoul, Hathaway realizes it’s acting out her inner frustrations; worse, her ex discovers how to do the same trick and threatens to go on a rampage if Hathaway crosses him (“I will crush an entire suburb!”). There’s definitely a good movie buried in this, but it doesn’t come to the surface. It’s also disturbing that the movie seems to care less about the hundreds of dead Koreans than about Hathaway’s personal growth arc. “Who gets a tattoo that says ‘I’m sorry, this won’t happen again.’”

Guillermo del Toro’s THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017) is another one that doesn’t fit the book, though it’s a much superior film. A mute cleaning woman at an early 1960s government lab discovers they’ve captured the Gill Man from Creature from the Black Lagoon and are subjecting him to cruel experiments, plus outright cruelty. Slowly she bonds with the creature, then sets out to help him escape. Despite some jarring brutality in spots, this is very good, particularly in its evocation of 1962. “That’s the password — ‘And the eagle takes the prey.’”

The 2002 SyFy miniseries TAKEN evokes quite a few eras, starting in WW II when a fighter squadron is harassed by foo lights (though they don’t use the term), then following various families across the decades as they’re abducted by ETs and spied on by the government (though one of the families is part of the goverment UFO Watch program). I was initially unimpressed by this but found it picked up near the end; in fairness, that may reflect I wasn’t a little more relaxed for the ending episodes.

The secret behind it all turns out to be that aliens are experimenting in hopes of understanding emotions (“You have so much that we’ve lost.”). The culmination of their work is the human/ET hybrid Allie (Dakota Fanning) who has powers far beyond the aliens. This made me realize how often this happens, for example with super-powered Elizabeth in V. So stuff was learned, even if it was a slog to get there. “Right son — there were no monsters in my generation.”

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Oh, that’s why I don’t work much in the evenings any more

I tried last night because we’re dog-sitting for Lily and Tito this afternoon so I wanted to make up for the inevitable lost time. Here’s photos of the winsome twosome, in case you were wondering (Lily’s on top)It did not go well, though I did get my next Atomic Junk Shop post up. Plushie loses it and starts barking his head off about once every five minutes. Wisp comes in, begs for food, then goes out again. I could just go isolate myself in my office, but the trouble is I like hanging out with our pets. I don’t want to isolate myself. But if I try that again, I definitely will go that route.

That aside, work went well this week. I finished our taxes, discovering we owe in a little (bad!) but at least they’re done. I’ll check them over again to make certain I figured things right, but I doubt I’ll discover a major error that gets us a refund. Oh, well.

I finished editing Chapter Six of Undead Sexist Cliches and made a final read through of Chapter Four. The latter went slower than I wanted — I had more cleaning up than I expected. I got some Veterans Network articles written (here’s one on art therapy for trauma, and one on military trivia). I did a lot of viewing for Alien Visitors but not much writing. I must compensate for that next week.

My new approach of breaking down my day and assigning a set number of units to different projects went … okay, I guess. I seem to be running out of Undead Sexist Cliches units, but we’ll see how it goes the rest of the month.

This weekend I will probably work Sunday. That’s not typical, but I have a lot to do this week once I become fully vaccinated on Tuesday. Best to make up the time in advance. I’ll be back next Friday to report how it went.


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An oddly lazy weekend

Lately my weekends haven’t been lazy, or not as lazy as I’d like. As we have to take the dogs to their rehab appointment at least once a week, I’ve been compensating for that by watching Alien Visitors movies on the weekend. But this weekend, after rushing to get all my Leaf and Veterans Network stuff done, and finish the golem article, I just decided to crash. And did.

So I watched some Hitchcock, read quite a bit, cooked dinner, made what’s called a cottage loaf —— and no, that’s not two bagels on top of each other, it’s one loaf — and watched some TV. Plus petting dogs, Wisp, using the stationary bike and snuggling with TYG some.

Now that the golem piece is done (subject to edits) I imagine I’ll get back into weekend movie viewing, but it was a really good break.


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On working for free

So the golem article is done and off. Which has me thinking about Harlan Ellison’s advice that you should always work for pay, because this piece was a freebie.

Generally speaking, I’m down with Ellison’s argument: this is a business, someone, somewhere is making money off your work, so you should too. But I make exceptions. One is fiction. If I can’t sell a story to a magazine that pays decently, I’ll sell it to one that pays poorly. If I can’t do that I’ll sell it to the free ones (of course, sometimes even they turn it down). Unlike Ellison, fiction isn’t where I make my money. I’d sooner have my story published and readable somewhere that’s free than go unpublished — though as I mentioned last year, I’m thinking of just self-publishing them instead, even given that won’t be massively lucrative either.

That said, even doing something for free or token payment costs me in time and effort, often in spending on research materials. So I try to keep the amount of time manageable, but that doesn’t always work. I’d figured the golem article would be a light, simple one to work on, but it turned out to be way more effort than I’d anticipated. Had I known that in advance, I might not have jumped in. My McFarland movie books don’t generate much in the way of $/hour revenue either. However writing about stuff like this is a lot of fun, so I’m willing to go for it (admittedly I sometimes regret it when I’m pressed for time and half-wiped out).  Ditto blogging at Atomic Junk Shop (where my latest, on Dc’s Bat Lash, just appeared at the link).

Undead Sexist Cliches was supposed to be a much simpler, snarkier book, but it changed as I started working on it. Footnoting alone was a ton of work. I have no idea if it will generate any sales. But it’s a cause I believe in, so why not?

And at this point in my life, I don’t feel concentrating on fiction would make it a cash cow.

That said, after Alien Visitors is done in the fall, I think I’m going to concentrate on fiction (excluding time spent on Leaf, Veteran Network and other clients who pay). I’ve only got so many years left, I might as well devote them to what’s the most fun, even if it isn’t profitable fun. As I’ve said before, if I think of writing as a demanding, time-consuming hobby, I don’t worry so much about the bottom line.

It would be nice if my fiction were selling so well that “is it a paying market?”and “why am I doing this for free when I could be selling a novel?” were pertinent questions. But it isn’t. So what the hey.

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Not many aliens in movies this week

But that will be rectified soon.

THUNDER FORCE (2021) is a pleasant superhero spoof set in a world where superpowers only manifest in people with evil traits. Super-genius Octavia Spencer hopes to change that and turn herself into the world’s first superhero, but when former high-school buddy Melissa McCarthy stumbles into the experiment, they wind up splitting the powers (super-strength for McCarthy, invisibility for Spencer). Can they stop a corrupt metahuman politician from taking over the city with his henchmen (including a deadpan Jason Bateman as a man-crab)? Feels like the two leads could use more chemistry, but it was fun; TYG, who isn’t a superhero fan, admitted she enjoyed it. “I guess the deep dive into Bevari-Sutton genetic structures was too much for us to take.”

THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA (1964) was the first film I recall seeing on the Wonderful World of Disney TV show, though I came in a little late (right as Thomasina arrives in the realm of Bast). The eponymous cat narrates how she went from being the pet of motherless moppet Karen Dotrice (who was good enough in this to be cast in Mary Poppins) and gruff father Patrick McGoohan. When the cat is injured, McGoohan declares she’s too sick to save, alienating his daughter; Thomasina, meanwhile, survives and winds up as the pet of “mad witch” Susan Hampshire. This is just as charming as I remember, though the Evil Roma stereotypes are a minus.Shows not all Disney in this era was The Cat From Outer Space. “Jamie can play MACKINTOSH’S LAMENT on the pipes with only nine mistakes!”

I didn’t care for DISTRICT 9 (2009) when I saw it in the theater and it still strikes me as gratuitously gory. Rewatching for Alien Visitors, though, I found it works better, if only as an example of how our perception of alien immigrants and refugees has shifted. In It Came From Outer Space they just need some tolerance while they repair their ship. In The Coneheads, people accept ETs Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin despite their weirdness. District 9 feels like an immigrant film for the Trump era, even given it was five years earlier and South African to boot. The alien survivors of a shipwreck are hemmed into a shantytown, preyed on and exploited and in response to protests, they’re being forced to evacuate to a new shantytown. The protagonist is a human bureaucrat pushing the relocation project until a freak accident turns him half-man, half-ET. Can’t say I love it, but worth seeing again.“He became the most valuable business artifact on Earth.”

I honestly can’t remember what prompted me to put NO TIME FOR COMEDY (1940) on my Amazon wish list, but I did and my friend Ross ordered it, so I watched it last weekend. Jimmy Stewart plays a small-town hick turned playwright who arrives in the Big Apple to fix his play’s problem third act (as the trailer acknowledges, this is very much Mr. Smith Goes to Broadway). Almost immediately he and leading lady Rosalind Russell fall for each other, which leads to marriage and a Broadway hit. A few years later, though, Stewart falls under the influence of would-be muse Genevieve Tobin; will she turn him from lively comedy to somber tragedy? And what about her husband, gruff stockbroker Charles Ruggles. I found this a nice, relaxing bit of fun. “You can read less enthusiasm into an invitation than any actress I know.”

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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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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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