Monday, March 21, 2011

Weekend Movies: Laura, Gojira and Predator

So the last three movies I watched were
  • the 1944 noirish classic Laura featuring Dana Andrews and the lovely Gene Tierney
  • Gojira, the original Japanese version of Godzilla (1954) from before someone decided to cut in Raymond Burr to Americanize the flick
  • Predator, the 1987 action/ alien monster flick starring two actual Governors of actual States of the US and the now-under-utilized Carl Weathers
Of late, I've felt like there's so much perfectly good stuff out there that I haven't seen yet, or that I have seen but felt it needed another watching more than, say, Gnomeo + Juliet, that I haven't been out to see very many new movies the past year.  Not to say I don't go out to the movies.  Of course, Austin likes to cater to dorks my age with $10 burning a hole in their pocket, and so if you want to see a super-rare 35mm print of Predator, this is the town to do it in.  And just as TPR runs a terrific summer cinema series of classic and unusual film, so, too, will Austin's Paramount theater.

Sure, I feel bad I didn't see The King's Speech (not really, but I know it will make you feel better if I say so),  but in my experience, if a movie is worth watching, it will be worth watching at some indeterminate point in the future, perhaps more so than had I watched it as part of a media blitz and award season rampage.

That said, I wish the only true arthouse theater left in Austin were not a hike from my house.  And that they also served delicious red pepper hummus like The Alamo.  As it is far from my home and the best I can do is popcorn or Whoppers (which: gross), I don't even really look to see what's playing at the Arbor anymore.


This was my second viewing of Laura, and I realized I actually had forgotten "whodunnit" when it came to the murder, so it was actually quite a bit of fun to watch again and see a young Vincent Price playing The Handsome but Weak Young Man.  And, of course, the mid-movie twist is more or less now a cinema classic (it was fun to watch Jamie during that part).

Add a mustache, smoking jacket, and a razor sharp pendulum of death, and there's Mr. Price!
Its almost more of a drawing room mystery than a true noir, but the obsession with the murdered Laura and the various motives of our suspects certainly makes it a candidate for the ill-defined genre.  I like to think its a precursor to Vertigo, which is a much more complicated film and takes the obsession just that little bit crazier (thanks, Jimmy Stewart!),  but its hard to argue with success or Dana Andrews' as the no-BS-cop who falls hard for a dame who is pushing up daisies.


If you've only seen the American cut of the original Godzilla (which is a perfectly good movie, by the way), I really recommend checking out the original Japanese version, Gojira.  This is the first Godzilla flick, and its where the groundwork for Godzilla as big, physical manifestation of the psychic sins of humanity gets outlined, and in this version its pretty powerful stuff.  Especially when one considers this was about 9 years after Hiroshima, etc...

Gojira just cannot figure out where he dropped his keys
There's just so much to love in a Godzilla movie, whether you're watching it as an earnest albeit metaphorical cautionary tale, as high camp of Man in Suit or just to bask in the weirdness of the sequels.  Being the first, Gojira doesn't hint at the wink-and-a-nod-ness of the more self-aware Godzilla movies, and before technology had moved beyond Man in Suit (but it has become a point of pride to keep the Godzilla movies pure with puppetry and miniatures). 

In about a week, a new Godzilla comic hits, and that was really part of why I was reviewing the movie. Also, man, Godzilla is awesome, but...

Its an odd thing to be watching a Godzilla movie and be thinking "too soon?".  So, give to the Red Cross, won't you?


And, last but not least, SimonUK and I made it out to the Alamo to see Predator.  Its funny how you learn new things all the time, such as:  Director/ Writer Shane Black is actually IN this movie as Hawkins.

These guys really know how to wipe out defenseless trees
Predator is definitely a nostalgia trip for me as its representative of the movies I was watching once we had a VCR, a membership at the local video store and evenings to kill during the summer.  The unapologetically explosive flicks of the 1980's made up my movie viewing in those years between kid's shows and figuring out movies could be a nuanced form of storytelling, which i think started when my Uncle showed me Das Boot and Godfather in the same weekend when I was 15.  But I still like these movies.

Predator also represents one of the high points of a specific sort of genre that became relegated to direct-to-video when studios just quit trying.  In many ways, Predator is sort of a high point for a genre that came out of 50's B-movies and has since become a staple of SyFy original movies.  And in that, much like John Carpenter's The Thing, I was surprised to see that  Predator is actually a pretty darn good movie.

You don't see much of him since he went off to run Howard University's RTF department, but actor/ director Bill Duke makes a serious impression as the "going quickly crazy" Mac.  And I find it surprising you didn't see more of the Elpidia Carillo after this movie.

But the movie is also notable for other names associated with the picture.  Famous creature maker Stan Winston designed the Predator, Die Hard director John McTeirnan did this pic first, Joel Silver was a producer, Alan Silvestri wrote the score...

...and Arnie appeared as the kid who gets bullied
I like the "technology vs. primitive" aspects, especially as the humans realize they don't have any technological advantage (a bit like people versus, say, deer) and the technology the humans depends on becomes useless compared to mud and sticks.  I also think you have to admire how the movie conveys the odd, wordless expression of the Predator honor system that becomes a thread in the movie.  Sure, its got some hokey lines, irresponsible use of explosives and firearms, and seems to believe Native Americans are magical, but its still a fun flick in a sort of Jack London-ish way.  Only with exploding heads, chain guns, and laser missiles.

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