Thursday, March 14, 2024

Christmas Zombie Apocalypse Watch: Night of the Comet (1984)

Watched:  03/14/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Thom Eberhardt
Selection:  me

Apparently this one is a bit of an 80's horror-kid cult classic.  I can see why - it has a good mid-80's trash cinema vibe, and pits the teens against the adults in a sort of classic 1950's manner but with a Valley Girl-meets-punk vibe.  

The movie stars two people I like off the bat:  Catherine Mary Stewart, who may have the best 80's-hair of anyone who ever 80's.  And Mary Woronov as a scientist who cannot believe this shit is the end of the world (you will know her from Eating Raoul, her time with Andy Warhol and/ or possibly as Mike's mom who would not give him a Pepsi).  It's also got fellow Eating Raoul alum Richard Beltran as Hector, the last eligible dude in LA.  

I don't actually have much to say about the movie.  It's... fine?  I liked it well enough.  It's definitely got some funny bits in a dry, 1980's indie vein.  Catherine Mary Stewart is actually really good in this, riding the line between camp and not dipping into a schtick, while still managing to remain a young adult with other priorities than the end of the world.

There's something about this movie that it's fine on it's own, but feels like connective tissue between something like Return of the Living Dead and something punkier like Repo Man.  And certainly part of the continuum of youth-oriented horror flicks of the 1980's, including stuff like Night of the Creeps.  Anyway, fun horror-comedy!

Western Russell Watch: The Tall Men (1955)

Watched:  03/13/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Raoul Walsh
Selection:  me

I had a brief, brief moment at the start of this film where I wondered if Larry McMurtry hadn't seen this film and decided to borrow from it.  And... maybe, but unlikely.

This is kitchen sink western, with the wilds of the northern west, the frontierish town of San Antonio, cattle drives, hostile Sioux, weather, and one woman.

The basic gist is that the Allison brothers, played by Clark Gable and Cameron Mitchell, have gone northwest since the end of the Civil War, where they fought for the South in Quantrill's Raiders (look it up, and it is a choice).  After the war, they've decided to turn outlaw (really trying to not to editorialize historically here) and gone to Montana.  

Seeing what appears to be an easy mark in Robert Ryan and his moneybelt, they stick him up, only to find he has nothing but $100's, which would draw too much attention.  They strike a deal that Clark Gable will drive Ryan's cattle from San Antonio to Montana and they'll split the proceeds.  

On the way to San Antonio, they meet Jane Russell, who is travelling west to seek her fortune in California.  Eventually Gable and Russell wind up sort of falling for each other until it becomes clear their ideas of what life should be like don't jive.  In San Antonio, she falls in with Ryan and his money.

Together, they head to Montana with the cattle.  

Like a lot of these epic westerns, it's hard to say if this is an action-comedy-musical or what it is, exactly.  It's a fascinating period where a setting and period could open the door for a movie to wear a lot of genre hats under the banner of "Western".  

There's the genuine issue of Cameron Mitchell's characters' blood lust when he's drunk, and he's an alcoholic.  The challenge of moving cattle from Texas to Montana, through Kansas and then through Sioux territory.  And the utterly open question of why on earth Jane Russell went on the cattle drive with them back to Montana.  

There's parts of this movie I liked quite a bit.  I also find the movie a fascinating time capsule of a film that is a-ok with having it's heroes being not just former Confederates and their lost cause, but Quantrill's Raiders, who were notoriously awful people.  I won't comment much on the way the Sioux are depicted, because it's about what you'd expect, only marginally worse, maybe?  We have no actual Native American characters that are even seen in close-up.  And of course Hispanics are depicted as friendly and gregarious and existing to serve alpha male white dudes.  

The gender politics are wildly all over the place, with Russell an independent woman, and that's what the men like, but then still applying mid-50's POV to her - even after it falls flat.  But Russell is almost a cartoon throughout the movie, and we know she can play it serious, so it's a little odd.  She's also 20 years younger than Gable here, who is starting to show his age a bit and clearly playing a guy a decade or more younger.

In general, I like the cattle drive idea, and that it's staffed with vaqueros out of San Antonio, which has a nice historical realism to it.  And the drive footage is kind of beautiful.  And the overall plot of the film still basically works.  I just think there's a better film in here somewhere, and maybe I should just watch or re-read Lonesome Dove.  There is a whole sequence at the end I'd be curious how it got filmed, because it's people in the middle of a stampede, which seems... terrifying?  

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Car Watch: Pit Stop (1969)

Watched:  03/11/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director/ Writer:  Jack Hill

This one was viewed on the rec of JAL, who will watch just about anything (and does), and only sends things my way if he's pretty sure he knows I'll find something at least interesting about a flick.  And, indeed, this is no exception.  Sadly, this same rule doesn't apply to everyone else who seems to have whole TV shows you want for me to watch instead of a 90 minute movie.

I'm always curious about the folks who run parallel to the studio system, especially those with minimal artistic aspirations - a la Roger Corman.  Like, I get that David Lynch was not going to get Disney to make Eraserhead.  But there's a lot of folks out there, and always have been, making movies fast and cheap in genre spaces, with a wildly varying level of skill.  It seems like a curious world, and it's funny that - for as much as Hollywood loves a story about movie making - I don't know that many movies about this part of the industry, and it seems rife with possibility.

Writer/ Director Jack Hill swung back and forth between respectable studio work (IMDB says he designed the Disneyland castle?) and independent work.  And I get the feeling, a movie about making Pit Stop (1969)* might be more fun than the actual film - which is pretty watchable itself.  Hill came out of the Corman shop, and this movie is produced by Corman (credit-free), so that explains no small part of it.

It's impossible not to talk about the cast, so I'll head there.  

Monday, March 11, 2024

Brief Oscars Weigh In: "Godzilla Minus One" Wins an Oscar! (And a Ton of Japanese Awards!)

congrats to this crew and their atomic pal!

I made my feelings on Godzilla Minus One very clear over a series of three posts (post 1, post 2, post 3) over the Fall and into Winter.  I think there's all sorts of superlatives you can apply to the movie, but I also know that genre film has challenges, and a franchise like Godzilla has 70 years of history dragging behind it like a gigantic, spiked tail.  In short, I can understand why a 2023 Godzilla movie might have some trouble getting taken seriously if the last time you checked in with G he was buddying around with Jet Jaguar.

But, indeed, Godzilla Minus One was both compelling human drama and visual spectacle.  And it blew the doors off how Hollywood has been doing VisualFX, delivering a full FX-laden movie with both incredibly natural-looking CGI locations and with an 11-story-tall atomic lizard monster on a miniscule budget and with a small team led by the film's director.

The movie had already reset the stage for what Toho could expect out of Godzilla, earning over $100 million on a $15 million budget.  But now it has also won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects.  

I want to also mention - just a few days ago, this same movie won 8 Japanese Academy Awards.  Including Best Picture.    

Reportedly, Spielberg has seen this movie a number of times, which frankly doesn't surprise me.  It has a lot of that same Spielbergian character exploration via extraordinary circumstances you find across all of his work.  And, maybe some of that silver lining about humanity.

I had not seen all of the movies nominated for Academy Awards - but I am trying to catch up.  I felt the crop this year, from what I'd seen, was actually really solid.  I'm particularly looking forward to Anatomy of a Fall and Killers of the Flower Moon.  But now Zone of Interest has piqued my... interest.  I was on record liking Oppenheimer and Poor Things quite a bit, both.  I particularly thought the editing of Oppenheimer was extraordinary, so thrilled it won.

I weighed in on a few movies:

Of what I saw of the telecast, which was mere minutes as we actually spent the evening hanging out with some neighbors who don't really care one way or another about movies, the real winner I saw was America.  Well, America Ferrera's Barbie-pink gown.  Good golly.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Oscar Watch: Poor Things (2023)

Watched:  03/08/2024
Format:  Hulu
Viewing:  First
Director:  Yorgos Lanthimos
Selection:  Me

I remember seeing the trailer for Poor Things (2023) and immediately saying "well, I would like to see that".  

It is true: one of my favorite films is Bride of Frankenstein.  Not "favorite horror film" or "favorite 1930's movie".  Bride of Frankenstein just lands every note correctly - storywise, visually, casting, etc...  It's simply a favorite.  And it wasn't hard to see echoes of that film in the trailer.

When learning about 1930's horror films, I delved a bit into the German Expressionism that informed the aesthetic.  And this movie, from the trailers again, seemed to be saying "hey, nerds, we play with some of that stuff".  

The look, the lens selection, the occasional use of a keyhole POV into the world, and certainly the artificiality of the sets and astounding set design seem to call back to what you might find in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, or some early Fritz Lang (I won't pretend I have a wider base of knowledge in this arena than I do).  It's certainly not a 1:1, and Lanthimos and his design team go above and beyond, creating a world unique to this film, entirely built upon sets and where the artificiality and surreal environs are the point.

I would expect some of the detail in early horror also informed Lanthimos' inclusion of details like the Pig-Chicken and other oddities seen in the film (not that Bride of Frankenstein doesn't delve into it's own pockets of weirdness).  

There's also a tiny dash of Wizard of Oz in there, but what movie worth it's salt doesn't nod a bit toward that film?