Movies you've seen recently

I just showed this to my wife this weekend. I could’ve sworn I showed it to her before, but she doesn’t remember it. A wonderfully made low-budget science fiction film that owes a lot to Hal Clement’s novel Needle (which gets no credit).

The thing I love is that Kyle McLachlan plays a weird FBI agent in it, just as he was shortly to play a weird FBI agent in the TV series Twin Peaks. It’s almost as if this film explains how he got that way.

The new thing I noticed is that the Evil Symbiont sort of explains Trump, especially at the end when the limited-vocabulary creature who has no impulse control, who grabs what he wants when he sees it, and speaks with a grade school vocabulary inhabits the body of a Senator and goes to the podium and says “I want to be President!”

Where’s Kyle MacLachlan with a flamethrower when you need him?

Preach it!

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie - A rather small and domestic musical about a 16-year-old boy in Sheffield who wants to be a drag queen. I have to admit that I found this underwhelming - a lot of the characters are flat and dull, the songs aren’t particularly memorable, every group number looks like final recital day at Italia Conti, and “Jamie”, although more-than-ably played by Max Harwood, is kind of annoying - apart from his asshole of a father, most of his issues are due less to him being a drag queen and more to him being a drama queen and a whiny little jerk. His teacher was set up as an adversary but honestly, I thought she was right about him most of the time.

On the plus side there are some excellent turns by Sarah Lancashire and Richard E Grant that inject much-needed emotional oomph to the film. Both are shining stars in an otherwise overcast firmament.

Just saw this tonight and I agree with this assessment. It is fairly predictable, but it was better than I was expecting, if not revolutionary or mind-blowing. Glad I saw it.

ETA: Sorry, this is about “Kate” on Netlfix, if you don’t want to track the conversation back.

Cry Macho: watched this by myself after wife said she wasn’t interested. It was just okay. Seemed like something that earlier in his career would degenerate into a shooting Western, but it’s clear that Clint’s action days are long over and the resolution was going to be much different. He was already an old man when he made Gran Torino way back in 2008, but he’s now reached the point where he’s noticeably shrunk.

The Guilty starring Jake Gyllenhaal in a great performance as a disgraced and demoted LAPD cop working the late-night shift at 9-1-1. He gets a call from a distraught woman who apparently has been kidnapped by her ex-husband…and things just spiral from there. It’s a tight 90 minutes but a lot happens in that amount of time. This film has gotten a bad rap from people who thought the Danish original was better, but I’ve never seen that so I’m reviewing it on its own merits. Jake Gyllenhaal once again proves he is one of today’s best and most versatile actors.

Ghosts of Mississippi (1996), our local PBS station’s movie of the week. True story of the murder of Medgar Evers and the re-trial, after 25 years, of Byron de la Beckwith (James Woods). With a young and skinny Alec Baldwin as the crusading DA, and Whoopie Goldberg as Myrlie Evers. Good procedural/courtroom drama … but it was really fun to spot the recognizable supporting cast. Hey, that’s William H. Macy! That’s Margo Martindale! and the judge…it’s Locke, from Lost! With hair!

Just a sampling of the most recent…

Without Getting Killed or Caught - Documentary on Guy Clark, an alt country/Americana legend. It gives a great deal of insight into what drove his music, but it is just as much about the relationship of Clark, his wife Susanna (a gifted songwriter herself), and his lifelong best friend Townes Van Zandt. A lot of amazing songs plus a consideration of the fluid and steadfast nature of love. Very much recommended to be watched with a good sound system.

For those unfamiliar with Clark, check this out: Guy Clark. Dublin Blues - YouTube

Old Henry - First, cards on the table. I like westerns. I think they are one of the simplest and the hardest genres for a filmmaker to tackle. This one doesn’t cover any new ground, but it is a worthy entry. It stars Tim Blake Nelson as a sodbuster, who may have a past, who finds a wounded man and a satchel of cash. A group claiming to be the law shows up asking after said man. Hijinks ensue (OK, not exactly hijinks, more like mayhem and slaughter). I enjoyed it thoroughly. If you don’t cotton to westerns, this won’t change your mind. If you do, take a look.

Titane - WTF? I’m not sure what I just saw. Something about filling the void of a lost child with a cross-dressing serial killer, the homoerotic celebrations of French firefighters, the dangers of having sex in cars (or with cars), and the resemblance of car shows to strip clubs (I guess I just don’t get out enough). It will keep you engaged throughout, but I’m not sure it has a coherent point.

I have this on my viewing queue. Is it streaming somewhere now?

I saw it in an AMC theater, if you can believe that. Based on the attendance (I was the only one in the theater), it won’t be in the theaters next week, so it will probably be streaming then.

Waxwork - streams free on Tubi and Roku(I used Roku)

This movie was downright adorable. I think with so many wax museum type horror movies and so forth, I was unaware of this one. Basically, some kids go into a wax museum and each exhibit comes to life when one of them crosses the cord around it.

The opening half is just a bunch of fun little horror sequences and the last half is the main leads trying to defeat the wax museum. It’s honestly really well done, very light in tone, and the whole thing is fun and very well made. I’m surprised this isn’t held in higher regard. Nice little movie.

I also saw Titane this weekend at an AMC. It’s actually playing in several AMC theaters near me! Yeah, I have no idea what to make of that one. I saw it because the trailer looked intriguing but I had no idea what it was actually about, and I’m not certain I do now even after having seen it! I don’t know if certain things were meant to be metaphorical or literal. It had a very Cronenbergian feel to it. It’s not a film I can easily forget, that’s for certain.

Now available on Prime to stream, so we watched it anyway. Take that, movie ratings people!

Anyway - a bit gorier than the television show but not much. Good animation, sad ending, fills the narrative gap between television seasons ( and will make no sense if you haven’t seen the television show). My daughter was more bothered by the “sad ending” bit than the gore.

Saw “no time to die” last night with my lad.

Deeply, meh I’m afraid. Nowhere near as good as “Skyfall” or “Casino Royale”

It looked quite nice and the opening sequence and “Paloma” were highpoints but there weren’t that many.
The plot was bonkers (more so than usual), somewhat muddled and couldn’t sustain the length of the film. The 007 replacement wasn’t convincing, the theme tune was a dismal dirge (I cannot remember any of it) and the villain was utterly forgettable, made worse by comparison to Christoph Waltz who had a good chunk of screen time and I was hoping for more.
Worst of all was the ending? I won’t spoiler it but really?
There seems to have been a decision taken that Bond should no longer be Bond and some sort of redemptive and emotional arc is needed, well, OK if that’s what you want to do with it but if that’s the path they are taking it doesn’t really interest me.

I prefer for Bond to kill bad guys, spar with the villain, foil a crazy plan, shag beautiful women and escape impossible situations. Solid escapist nonsense, rather than angsty bollocks. NTTD was a solid enough action film but it didn’t feel like a Bond Film.

Given how low my opinion of “Skyfall” was, that’s a rather disturbing revelation.

But then I’ve reached the opinion that the Bond franchise just needs to die, or at least go away for a long while. Action-packed escapism is one thing, but this got silly a long time ago.

That’s the thing though, it always was silly. Silly isn’t a problem, too much po-faced earnestness might be.

I thought this had a lot of potential but it didn’t really work for me. Whether it’s the audio on my tv or just my aging ears, the sound was terrible and that, of course, wipes out half the dialogue in a dialogue driven film. I agree that JG is one of today’s best actors but this didn’t come off as a very good showcase.
I won’t go so far as to say “don’t watch it”. It is relatively short and Jake’s is a nice face to look at.

In addition to WWF Smackdown, I have also seen Addams Family 2 (2021) and Space Jam; A New Legacy. I have taken to taking my stepson to the cinema.

More happily, we also saw Free Guy and Jungle cruise.

Frankenstein (1931) – Fall is here, and Halloween stuff has cranked into high gear (I visited Salem MA over the weekend, and the joint is hoppin’ with tourists). So I pulled out my copy of the Universal classic while I was working on something.
I’ve commented on this film before. It departs significantly from Mary Shelley’s original. The story and script are the work of many hands – the Peggy Webling play it’s ostensibly based on (but of which virtually nothing survives), the Robert Florey first shot, of which only a few things survive, Garrett Fort’s and Francis Faragoh’s and John Russell’s contributions, and John Balderston’s final script. The movie script is as much a cobbled-together Frankenstein’s monster as its lead character is. (Balderston is the guy who took Hamilton Deane’s original stage play for Dracula and completely rewrote it for the Broadway stage. Garrett Fort wrote the screenplay for Universal’s Dracula, adding all the scenes in Transylvania that couldn’t be done onstage.)

So, a few thoughts:

1.) Director James Whale makes pretty dramatic use of the camera. He moves in for closeups, and does does quick cuts with them. He moves the camera up for dramatic angles, shooting down on the characters. He does a lot of tracking shots, swinging the camera around to follow the actors. It’s worlds away from Tod Browning’s static camera in Dracula, released only a few months later. Browning’s camera isn’t completely stationary – he does do a bit of tracking in and tracking around (like the scenes where Dracula and his brides first rise from the crypt). But for the most part, he might as well have put on a stage play and simply bolted the camera in place. You can really see the difference if you compare Browning’s version to the Spanish language version directed by George Melford, shot on the same sets at the same time. Melford’s camera moves around dramatically, enlivening the scenes that are so static in Browning’s version.

Nevertheless, what struck me this time is how “stagy” Whale’s Frankenstein is. Despite all the acrobatic camera moves, it feels like a filmed stage play. So many elements in it are more appropriate for the stage than for the screen. The Monster’s initial reveal has the Creature approach the door to the room where Frankenstein and Waldman are talking backwards, then open that door while still facing away from it, just so that we can get a dramatic reveal of the monster’s face as he turns around (which is followed by a jump cut to a close-up of the face, to a second jump cut to an even closer-up shot). The whole scene plays out as if on stage – Frankenstein and Waldman discussing the Creature, then hearing him approach the door, then shutting off the light, then the door opening to reveal the creature, back to us. Then the creature comes in and is directed to sit down. Then Frankenstein opens the skylight, allowing the light in. It’s all on a single set, visible from one side of that set. You can easily see it playing out exactly the same way on stage. For a film there’s no need for the artificial backwards approach to the door (would even a newly-created monster do such a thing?) – the camera can simply cover Frankenstein and Waldman as the creature enters, then cut to a close-up of the Face. Or, better still, track over to it. There’s really no need for that Unity of Space stage set. The camera is free to move around and see things from all angles, and to provide its own Dramatic Reveals.

  1. The film is filled with such scenes that look as if they were composed for a single stage set, with characters playing to a preferred direction and with carefully crafted exits and entrances.

  2. The sets are extravagant, high, asymmetric, and dramatically lit. A movie set ought to be, as well, but, again, these seem much more appropriate to a theater stage than a movie. The stairs down to the front gate of the “watch tower” where Frankenstein’s lab is located gets a lot of use, and is filled with exits and entrances. It’s gloriously uneven and way too damned tall, and is filled with atmospheric lighting.

  3. It still bothers me that, near the climax, the cloud-filled sky backdrop is very obviously wrinkled. That they let this footage exist rather than fixing the damned backdrop annoys me.

  4. The scene with Fritz (not Ygor) getting the Normal Brain, dropping it, and absconding with the Abnormal Brain is iconic. Except, of course, it inevitably makes me think of the Mel Brooks version. (“Brain depository. After 5 PM slip brains through slot in door”. “Hand Delbruck – Scientist and Saint” “Abnormal Brain . DO NOT USE.” “Abby something. Abby Normal.”)

  5. All of which brings up a secondary issue in the filmed versions of Frankenstein. Nothing like this occurs in Shelley’s novel. Frankenstein creates his creature de novo. He may use people material and even animal parts for his raw material (Shelley’s book talks about Frankenstein getting some of his stuff from slaughterhouses, so it’s obviously animal material, unless the Germans had taken to anthropophagy). I thought of it as comparable to Clark Ashton Smith’s story The Colossus of Ylorgne, where the sorceror Nathaire creates a huge artificial giant from human bodies that he’s rendered down into their component substances. Shelley’s Frankenstein didn’t just sew excavated body parts together – he created them “from scratch”, only using the bodies he obtained as sources for the chemicals, fats, and other such stuff. The closest the movies got to this was the brain of the Bride of Frankenstein, which Dr. Pretorius said was “grown, as from seeds”

This becomes important, in fact, when we get to that brain. Because if Frankenstein simply used a pre-existing brain, why isn’t the Creature basically that person in a different body? You have to explain why there’s no pre-existing mind to go with that brain. So you use an Abnormal brain.

In fact, other movies go to some length to try to deal with this problem. In both the 1957 Hammer film The Curse of Frankenstein and the 1994 Kenneth Branaugh film Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein the Frankenstein attempts to use the brain of a professor in the body (Waldman’s, in fact, in the Branaugh version), but is stymied by the brain getting injured. In the 1957 film the brain gets injured (with broken glass, no less) while being stolen. In Branaugh’s version, there’s a severe head trauma as the Creature is being vivified.

so the Creature is a case of Brain damage. It’s made clear in other films that personality and memory go with the brain – there are numerous cases in the Universal films of the 1940s and in the later Hammer films. Even in Branaugh’s version, the Creature explains that there are things he knows that he has no recollection of actually learning, so he is retaining some memories of his earlier existence.

All of this is very different from the Freshly Created Brain that Shelley envisioned, which was abandoned and note properly nurtured by the student Frankenstein.

I saw the Danish original not too long ago and liked it a lot; it kept me guessing and fully engaged. I hope to see the American remake sometime.