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Seven more movies

 Flatliners (1990)
BIG YES — 

Hot shot doctor-in-training Kiefer Sutherland is playing chicken with death, repeatedly stopping his heart to create near-death experiences, and hoping his med student pals (Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, Oliver Platt, and Julia Roberts) will be able to yank him back from the brink. Or maybe he's hoping to die -- his character is kinda nuts. When they successfully resuscitate him, everyone high-fives, and then the other docs start taking turns, trying to stay dead longer and longer. What could possibly go wrong?

What impresses me is how the movie is crafted to sneak up on you. It starts out predictable, formulaic, occasionally kinda dumb but fun, and then about halfway along you realize you’re scared, and not even in the ways you’d expected. By the end it’s a gol durn masterpiece of goose bumps and shivers, with some honest emotional depth underneath.

Directed by Joel Schumacher, and it’s the best work he ever did. 

Please don’t mistake this for an unnecessary and inferior movie with the same title, starring Ellen Page.

♦ ♦ ♦

Hotel Noir (2012)
NO — 

This is a black-and-white 21st-century attempt to recapture the spirit of noir, and it starts strong, with Danny DeVito as a tough-talking shower door installer who has stories to tell, and tells a few. If DeVito had been the star of the movie, with a well-written script swirling around him, damn, this could’ve out-Bogied Bogart. It's nearly perfect, right up until the opening credits.

After that, though, Hotel Noir becomes a meandering ensemble piece, and most of the other actors and stories are of little interest.

On the plus side, Carla Gugino and Robert Forster understand how to deliver the patter. Not so plus, Rufus Sewell is nominally the lead, and mumbles a lot. Several others in the cast try their best but don’t have much material to work with, and some of the actors simply don't seem to understand what noir is supposed to be.

Devito is in four scenes and owns every moment he’s on camera, but it only adds up to maybe twenty minutes, and makes the rest of the movie a washout by comparison. 

♦ ♦ ♦

The Ice Harvest (2005)
BIG NO

This was directed by noted funny moviemaker Harold Ramis, but it’s not a comedy. It’s a gangster drama, with three actors I like: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, and Oliver Platt. It’s thoroughly unpleasant, though.

Cusack plays a mob lawyer who’s stolen a few million dollars from people you shouldn’t steal from. Thornton is his co-crook, who’s ‘holding’ the money but rarely to be seen. Platt plays a drunk, which is amusing at first, but goes on far too long. I waited until the movie’s halfway point for it to get interesting, but it refused, and I turned it off as Cusack was vomiting off a bridge.

Let me know if I missed anything interesting. More vomit, probably.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Killing Time (1987)
YES

This is a serviceable modern noir that inexplicably bombed in theaters, but it’s better than lots of crap that makes big buks. It tells two intertwined stories, leisurely but well, and the script ties everything up at the end, leaving the right touch of uncertainty, but not so much that you feel cheated.

Keifer Sutherland plays a murderer who’s also the new cop in a small town. Joe Don Baker is the sheriff, but he’s retiring, and Beau Bridges will be promoted from deputy to take over. First, though, Bridges needs to kill his lover’s husband. You’ll notice that two out of three cops are bad cops, so the plot certainly feels plausible.

Baker is having a fine time here, Bridges was never better, and Sutherland was a talented actor when he was young, and he’s killer here. Wayne Rogers, perhaps surprisingly, is acceptably despicable as the big money bad guy that three different people plan to kill. Trim your nails before watching this movie, else you'll chew them off in the finale at the beach.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Lathe of Heaven (1980)
YES — 

This is a low-budget but faithful adaptation of Ursula K LeGuin’s excellent sci-fi novel about a young man with an unusual talent — his dreams remake reality. After a nightmare about nuclear armageddon, for example, he awakens in a post-apocalyptic world. The next night his dreams will reconstruct the universe in yet another way, and maybe, maybe it’ll be an improvement.

Bruce Davison stars, and he’s the only person who knows that his dreams are changing reality, so naturally everyone thinks he’s crazy, and he’s sent to a psychoanalyst for help. That’s the next problem. After a few sessions on the couch, his analyst begins to suspect Davison isn’t merely imagining his “effective dreams,” and embarks on a plan to use the dreams to build a better world.

This was made for PBS, back in an era when American public television created dramas worth watching, instead of only importing them from Britain. It’s not great, but it’s quite good, and worth watching.

In seeking it out, I discovered that the book was filmed again in 2002, so that's on my watchlist and coming soon.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Pajama Game (1957)
MAYBE

Always I’m a sucker for a good musical, but somehow I’d never seen this. The movie, of course, is based on the play The Pajama Game, which itself was based on a novel called 7½ Cents. That’s the hourly raise that workers are demanding, at the Sleeptite Pajama Factory. 

Doris Day plays the factory’s union rep, and she’s a tough negotiator who takes her responsibilities seriously. She quickly refuses an off-sides pass from John Raitt, who’s playing the factory superintendent.

Day made so many fluffy movies with Rock Hudson et al, it’s easy to forget that she was a good actress, and she’s bully bully here. Raitt is a weak point, though. He’s fine at singing, dancing, even acting, but whatever intangible element makes a leading man, he lacks it. He’s simply not up to sharing a screen with the radiant Day.

There are some nice songs, some familiar songs, and some tedious songs. The script, though — virtually every word that’s spoken instead of sung — generates no laughs and little interest. A crazed jealous man with a collection of knives is supposed to be amusing, but isn’t. And of course, win or lose their demand for a tiny raise, the fictitious Sleeptite Pajama Factory would’ve closed decades ago, with all manufacturing moved to Malaysia’s cheapest slums.

I hope the novel’s author was well-paid. Can’t imagine the frustration of writing a serious story about a serious topic, and then seeing it revamped into an all-singing, all-dancing collection of catchy ditties.

Surprisingly, the movie shows a few women in supporting roles who are older and plumper than the Hollywood standard, but still have romantic lives — and it’s not played for laughs. 

Overall, I can't quite recommend it, though.

Memorable moments: 

• “Hey There, You with the Stars in Your Eyes”
• “This Is Our Once a Year Day”
• “Steam Heat”
• “Hernando’s Hideaway”
• “I Figured It Out”

♦ ♦ ♦

Port of New York (1949)
NO — 

Sanctimonious and heavily narrated à la Dragnet, this is a police procedural about the scourge of narcotics. “This pestilence had to be stopped before it could spread.”

The principal bad guy is Yul Brynner, so young he still has hair. One of the suspects does an impression of Charles Laughton. It might be borderline enjoyable, if you can get past the concept of cops heroically ruining people’s lives because ‘drugs’. I can never get past that, in real life or in the movies.

10/8/2021

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