Seven more movies

There are so many good movies out there — a hundred years of old movies, plus thousands of odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten or DIY movies made just for the joy of making 'em — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out. 

All these films are streaming for free and without commercials, if you have a good adblocker. Sites like Putlocker are torrent indexes, and thus legally questionable, so experts recommend using a VPN.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1969) — BIG YES — When I was a kid, we only went to the movies for family flicks. My dad was a scientist, though, and a science-fiction reader, and he’d heard good things about 2001, so he took the family to see it at a huge theater downtown.

Mom fell asleep. All my older brothers and sisters fell asleep. Me and my dad stayed awake and we both loved it, though I certainly did not understand it. It's not a movie easily understood, and if you talk to two people who've seen it you'll hear two different opinions on what it means. Maybe three.

When I grew up, I saw 2001 again. And again and again, always at theaters, because it's too big for a small screen. I was impressed, and eventually I understood the movie, although please don’t ask me to explain it.

Then, after I’d seen it maybe a dozen times, I saw it one time too many and it bored me, so I’d seen it enough. That was 25+ years ago.

Well, my brother wanted to see 2001 as our monthly streaming movie, so on Sunday he watched it in Seattle, and I watched it in Wisconsin, and he fell asleep, and I loved it all over again. After such a long time, the movie still delivers amazement and yawns.

Nothing’s ordinary here, the storytelling is intentionally vague, and you'll be scratching your head. The technical accuracy and attention to detail is still astounding, and even though it’s more than fifty years old, there’s nothing that seems dated except an occasional video display.

Plot synopsis? Something's going on with the humans.

My brother is very Christian, and he didn't like the movie because "it tries to unravel the mysteries of the universe without God." I'd say my brother is wrong — God, or an alien intelligence indistinguishable from God, is the concept that powers the movie. And I love it, but gently disagree with the story's underlying premise, that the spark separating humanity from the apes, or separating our future from our present, comes from a monolith instead of from ourselves.

2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984) — YES — My pal Leon sometimes attends our virtual movies, and he’d suggested making it a double feature by also watching 2001's sequel, 2010. It was made by Peter Hyams, the director I’d dissed for Timecop, who then impressed me with The Relic. 2010 is impressive, again.

It’s interesting to compare Hyams's 2010 with Kubrik’s 2001. Kubrik was making something huge, and no diss to the moviemaestro, but Kubrik was not at all interested in telling his story in the way movies usually tell a story. That's why it’s a difficult film, inspiring arguments and putting people to sleep.

Hyams doesn't aim so high. He wants to keep the audience awake, and indeed, none of us snored. It tells a continuation of 2001's story, with some of the same characters and a few of the same actors, but Hyams' technique is straightforward, and after 2½ hours of 2001, straightforward is appreciated.

Early on, for example, there’s a neatly scripted, staged, and performed scene between Dr Floyd (Roy Scheider) and some Russkie scientist. It’s a “movie conversation” — both actors are saying lines that are wittier than anyone would say in real life, but the dialogue makes sense and helps advance the story — and there were no scenes like that in 2001. Hyams is giving us an interesting movie, and no assembly is required.

It’s a story worth telling, too, but I’ll say nothing more, except that Hyams deserves extra credit for somehow wringing a non-hammy performance out of John Lithgow, something I haven’t seen maybe ever.

The Battery (2012) — YES — In baseball parlance, the ‘battery’ is the pitcher and catcher, and our main characters here were the battery on a college baseball team. But that was before the college, and everything else in modern life, was taken down by the zombie apocalypse.

Now they're buddies on the road, eating canned tuna and pooping in the woods and staying alive. Yup, it’s the strangest baseball movie ever made, and also fairly strange just in general, but if you give it a chance you won't regret it.

It's very DIY, the kind of flick where you’ll see the same few names all through the credits, because everyone does double- or triple-duty. The star is also the writer and director and probably made sandwiches for the crew. So this movie is not calculated to be a popcorn-munching thrill ride and sell toys to the kiddies, and you won't know what's going to happen next because you haven't seen a dozen movies just like it.

Instead The Battery is slowly-paced and smart, with minimal blood and gore, and the principle characters seem like real human beings. The last scene is audacious, and it works. Soon as this movie was over, I watched it a second time.

Bonus: a generous helping of interesting original folk/rock’n’roll.

The Giant Gila Monster (1959) — NO — There's hot-roddin’ sock-hoppin’ country white boys, a dang funny drunk-driving joke, a disabled kid who successfully walks, a few folk songs along the way, and once in a while there’s a big lizard. It's simple-brained silliness, interesting only as a curio.

High School Big Shot (1959) — YES — A smart teenage kid gets the chance to score a million-dollar heist, and impress his high school femme fatale. Is adolescent noir a genre?

Excellent opening scene, followed by a pretty good story, and it’s all so earnest I peeked ahead to make sure Billy Graham wasn’t going to preach at the end. And we're safe. There's no preachin' or convertin'.

Lead actor Tom Pittman was 26 when he made this, way too old to play a high schooler but damned good in the role. Sadly, you’ve never heard of Pittman, because he died in a car wreck before the movie came out.

Suddenly (1954) — YES — The President of the United States will be passing through a small town on short notice, and local and state cops are working with the Secret Service to amp up security in a hurry. Sterling Hayden is the local sheriff, and Frank Sinatra is a federal officer, because nobody would notice America’s most famous singer working undercover. Buckle up for plot twists.

There’s a very loud author’s message I don’t agree with, and it pisses me off that everyone is dismissive of a widow who won’t let her son play with guns or see war movies. That said, there’s no denying that this is an excellent thriller.

Undertow (1949) — MAYBE — Directed by William Castle, who’s usually bigger and better than this. A squeaky-clean ex-GI flies to Chicago to meet up with his long-ago girlfriend and ask her to marry him, but along the way cops and thugs are both pursuing him, and soon he’s been framed for murder.

It's not bad, not great. Beware of racial stereotypes, in this case an early sighting of the 'Magic Negro’ movie trope. Apropos of nothing, the camera passes by a drug store that’s called Walgreen, not Walgreens or Walgreen's, and I went, “Huh.”


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  1. I saw Suddenly a few years ago, and yes it is very good. I'm curious about a slow-paced gore-free zombie movie, so The Battery is "coming soon" for me. Thanks!

    1. > The last scene is audacious

      You damn right. I watched The Battery last night, thanks for the review and the link. Its a very good movie and that's a great site.

    2. Yay! Glad you enjoyed it. I *love* the little discovery movies like that, and try to stay on the lookout.


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