Monthly Archive for October, 2013

Pulp

Pulp (10/29/13) TCM (1972 *1/2) Written and directed by Mike Hodges, starring Michael Caine, Mickey Rooney, Lionel Stander and Lizabeth Scott. A writer of disposable fiction is asked to assist a former writer with his autobiography and stumbles into multiple murders. Mickey Rooney got second billing for what amounted to five minutes of sometimes uncomfortable screen time. And by uncomfortable, I mean there’s a strangely unmotivated scene of aging Rooney standing in front of a mirror in his underwear. And yet somehow even with his limited screen time, Rooney was able to demonstrate the talent and energy that had once made him “the biggest star in the world.” As for Pulp itself, I didn’t care much for it. It was offbeat in that early-1970s way and so confusing that I didn’t actually understand the end of the film, even after watching it twice. I seriously wonder to what extent the making of the film was an excuse for its star, director and crew to spend some time in Malta.

A Boy and His Dog

A Boy and His Dog (10/23/13) TCM (1975 *1/2) Directed by L.Q. Jones, based on the novel by Harlan Ellison, starring Don Johnson, Jason Robards, Susan Benton and the voice of Tim McIntire. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a man’s telepathic dog helps him sniff out members of the opposite sex. Somebody back in college once recommended this movie and said it was a fun, sexy film. I’d like to go back in time and punch that guy in the face. Then again, maybe that would lead to my getting arrested for assault and battery, which would in turn start a domino effect, altering the course of history and resulting in a global nuclear bomb-fest like the one in the film. So no, I won’t use my time machine for that particular purpose. I strongly disliked this film, in no small part because it was predicated on an audience sympathizing with a main character who’s essentially a dull-witted rapist. No thanks. According to film critic Michael Phillips’ introduction, James Cagney was considered as the voice of Blood, the telepathic dog, but I don’t think that would have improved the film any. With its dystopian, morally bankrupt future setting, it felt a little like it was trying to be a Clockwork Orange (1971) copycat. Also, A Boy and His Dog may have paved part of the cinematic pavement for Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981). So there you go: There’s two different films vastly superior to this one.

This is the End

This is the End (10/19/13) Netflix (2013 ***1/2) Directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, screenplay by Rogen, Goldberg and others, starring Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride. James Franco’s house becomes a fortress as the rapture foretold in the Bible turns Hollywood into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. First off, this movie is rated R for a reason, so if you’re thinking of watching it with your extended families over the holidays, don’t. My wife and I loved it, even if some of the more outrageous scenes made us squirm just a little. It was great fun watching well-known young actors play themselves, either as exaggerations or completely against their public personas. The best example of this was Baruchel walking in on a coked-up Michael Cerra in the bathroom being serviced by two young women from both the front and the back while he sipped from a juice box. A film like this could have disintegrated into Cannonball Run territory, but it didn’t. It held together surprisingly well, and the comic improvisation never derailed the pace or plot of the film. Though this movie is probably not everybody’s cup of tea (or juice box), it was funny as hell (sorry) and ended on a surprisingly sweet note.

Mongol

Mongol (10/17/13) Netflix (2007 ***1/4) Directed by Sergey Bodrov, starring Tadanobu Asano, Honglei Sun and Khulan Chuluun. Long before he founded the Mongol Empire and conquered much of the known world, Genghis Khan was a nine-year-old boy betrothed to a little girl. This was another one of those films from my wife’s Netflix queue that I had little interest in watching, but it was surprisingly good and was in fact nominated for the best foreign language Oscar. Beautiful to watch, it told a gripping tale about a historical figure I knew almost nothing about. To be honest, my understanding of Genghis Khan prior to watching Mongol was based primarily on an episode of I Dream of Jeannie (or was it Bewitched?). Certainly I had no knowledge of his fascinating origin story, which played out like a historically-based, Mongolian version of Batman Begins.

Real Genius

Real Genius (10/15/13) Netflix (1985 ***1/2) Directed by Martha Coolidge, starring Val Kilmer, Gabriel Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, William Atherton and Patti D’Arbanville. Wunderkind Mitch Taylor is accepted by a prestigious university, teamed up with slightly older wunderkind Chris Knight and put to work developing a high-powered laser that may or may not have military applications. Any 1980s-themed film festival would have to include this film, and it would be a real crowd pleaser. I hadn’t seen this movie since sometime in the early 1990s, but it was a blast watching it again after all this time. Even though it’s decidedly “of its time,” it has aged reasonably well. The film features a couple of delightfully archetypal 1980s montages, one of which was parodied superbly a few years ago on one of the Star Wars installments of Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy.

Rollerball

Rollerball (10/14/13) TCM (1975 **) Directed by Norman Jewison, written by William Harrison, starring James Caan, John Houseman, John Beck and Maud Adams. When his corporate boss presses him to retire at the top of his game, champion athlete Jonathan E. resists and attempts to discover how the populace-controlling (metaphorical) sausage gets made in a world governed by a few multinational monopolies. As well-made and acted as it was, I found the plot of the presumably action-packed Rollerball to be painfully slow-paced. I struggled to find a level on which I could relate to this film, and I simply was unable to do it. Perhaps it’s because the film’s Kafkaesque / Orwellian message was something I found more boring than true. It’s definitely a product of its Watergate-era times, and the world was a very different one forty years ago than it is today. At least that’s what the powers that be would have you believe.

Game Change

Game Change (10/12/13) HBO / Netflix (2012 ***1/2) Directed by Jay Roach, based on the book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, starring Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson and Ed Harris. As Republican candidate John McCain struggles to defeat Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, he selects as his running mate a “maverick” that appears to be everything his campaign needs to win. This excellent HBO film won multiple Emmy Awards and Golden Globes, including top honors. Ed Harris played McCain with sensitivity and respect and Julianne Moore was amazing in her role as one of the most polarizing public figures in 21st Century American politics. Given my own decidedly left-of-center political views, I’ll refrain from commenting on Palin herself (as tempting as it is), other to say it takes real cojones to continue to remain in the public eye when people have made an award-winning film about what a Goddamn idiot you are.

First Men in the Moon

First Men in the Moon (10/8/13) TCM (1964 ***) Directed by Nathan Juran, based on the story by H.G. Wells, starring Edward Judd, Martha Hyer and Lionel Jeffries. When a team of 1960s astronauts land on the moon, they discover astonishing evidence that others had landed sixty-some years before! Though directed by Nathan Juran, the primary hand at work in this effects-heavy film shot in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) was Ray Harryhausen. Because the original novel was published by H.G. Wells in 1901, a “contemporary” framing story was added, along with changing many of the details. There are still plenty of scientific inaccuracies to make fun of, though, including anti-gravity paint (derived from “Cavorite,” a material named after its inventor, Joseph Cavor) and astronauts running around on the surface of the moon with bare hands!

Stripes

Stripes (10/7/13) Sundance (1981 ***1/2) Directed by Ivan Reitman, starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, John Candy and John Larroquette. New York cabbie John and his best friend Russell decide they want to “be all that they can be” in The U.S. Army, but boot camp drill instructor Sergeant Hulka has his doubts. This movie was played constantly during the early days of cable TV, but I hadn’t watched it in many, many moons, possibly not since sometime in the 1980s. According to my wife, prior to this viewing, she had literally watched the movie 38 times. Maybe I’m a sentimentalist, but I loved seeing it again after all these years, and it represents a kind of anti-establishment film comedy that was very popular at the time it was made. It is also a great example of why Bill Murray (who wasn’t exactly your typical matinee idol) had the charisma to be a movie star and box-office draw.