Seven more movies

Big yes today for Gun Crazy and The Hidden. Also yes for The Big Steal and Perfumed Nightmare.

The big find, though, is that last one, Perfumed Nightmare. I'd never even heard of it, but it jumped out at me on the sixth page of frustrating results while I was looking for something else in Putlocker's godawful search function. And now I love Putlocker's godawful search function.

The Big Steal (1990)

Like a lot of teenage boys, I suppose, Daniel dreams of driving a Jaguar and dating a particular girl from school. The girl is Joanna, but she’s not particularly interested in Daniel or in cars, and for his birthday the boy’s parents give him their used car, but it’s not a Jaguar so he’s disappointed.

It sounds ordinary and it is, and it's hard to give a damn about a kid who's unhappy to be handed the keys to a reliable automobile. I came close to clicking it off.

After a painfully tedious first twenty minutes, though, this Australian movie slowly blooms into one of those amusing teen comedies full of kids doing dumb and impossible things, where the story keeps getting crazier and crazier, but you know everything will work out in the end.

For that genre, it’s much better than average. I never warmed up to the main boy, but the girl is smart and seems human, and both dads (his and hers) are colorful characters. There’s an amusing twist on the standard Romeo/John Cusack front yard scene, an unexpected end to the stereotypical “let’s race” scene, and possibly the finest and funniest boy-meets-girlfriend’s-father scene ever filmed.

Also, Jaguar is a three-syllable word down under, used cars apparently come with a warranty, and don’t click the movie off when the end credits begin.

♦ ♦ ♦

Cats (2019)

I enjoy musicals, but not particularly Andrew Lloyd Webber. To me, musicals work best as light comedy with catchy tunes, but what little Webber I’ve heard has been bombastic and overwrought, with music that rarely threatens to make a toe tap.

I came to Cats, though, expecting that the unanimous disdain for this movie of the Broadway hit was probably exaggerated. Surely I'd have at least a moderately good time. Heck, I enjoyed Ishtar and Hudson Hawk, and seriously liked The Last Action Hero. Not all bombs are explosive.

So, with fingers crossed I clicked the 'play' button and...

Part of the allure of a good musical is great dancing, athletic and synchronized. Like hockey, I can’t do it, but marvel at watching it. Many of the dance moves in Cats, though, are literally impossible and clearly CGI’d, so there’s no knowing what dancing to respect here, and what was created or improved with a keyboard.

Unable to much appreciate the dancing, perhaps the story will be interesting? Nope. The movie is 3/4 through as I’m typing this and I have only a rough idea what’s going on, mostly because I cheated and looked up an online summary of the plot. If you’re lost, too, let me help: it’s about a contest to award an extra life to the most deserving alley cat.

The lyrics by T S Eliot aren’t half bad in their original form, as poetry for children, and most remain pleasant as reworked to match the tunes. Some of the words, though, become astoundingly annoying when sung, like the opening number, where Eliot’s made-up word ‘jellicle’ is repeated dozens of times, rapid-fire and relentless. Jellicle, jellicle, jellicle. Also, jellicle. The poet Eliot repeats 'jellicle' a lot too, but it works better on paper and for little kids, than sung by a bunch of adults in catsuits.

As for the music, Webber’s songs are serious and slow with minimal melody, adequate as mood music but there's not much you could whistle afterwards if you wanted to. Weirdly, there are several sequences where it sounds like we’re listening to one guy pounding a synthesizer, not an orchestra (though the credits belie this).

The visuals are the main disaster, of course. Every time a scene momentarily threatens to become watchable, there’s a close-up of an actor in cat regalia, with wiggling ears and a tail flopping every which way. The cat suits would be very realistic if these were animals, but except for James Corden these actors are human, so it just looks ridiculous.

It's kitty litter with jellicle in it, but beyond the abomination of the costumes and CGI, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed Cats on stage, either. Did something vaguely similar to this movie actually run on Broadway for almost twenty years? Srsly?

The cast isn’t revealed until afterwards, and includes many famous names, but it’s all wasted wages under the fur. At least early on, the leading actress is Francesca Hayward, a half-black ballerina who’s been made up to appear snow white, and that's at least as creepy as all the mechanical ears. Until tonight I’d rather liked Jennifer Hudson, but her rendition of “Memories,” the show’s only memorable number, is forgettable. IMDB says Taylor Swift wore whiskers and fur for long enough to sing a song, but I didn’t notice it or her. Judi Dench and Ian McKellen are among the few performers recognizable under the makeup or CGI or whatever, and they’re both acting their arses off, but my postman sings better. Idris Elba, what the hellba? And the movie is from Amblin Entertainment — you know, the kid on the flying bike — which means Steven Spielberg helped coughed up this hairball. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Curdled (1996)

A little kid witnesses a murder, and becomes a murder fanatic — not a killer, but obsessed with the details of whatever killings make the news — so of course as an adult, she finds work cleaning up after crime scenes. William Baldwin, meanwhile, is at his most unlikable (which is saying a lot, for William Baldwin) as a ladykiller by decapitation, and we get to see his crimes and cruelty at length.

This is supposed to be a comedy, though, or at least it’s paced like one, and seems to think it's funny. Quentin Tarantino was involved behind the scenes, and it features the delightfully curmudgeonly Barry Corbin in a supporting role, so I had my hopes, which were quickly chopped off at the neck.

♦ ♦ ♦

Dune (1984)

I’ve tried twice, maybe three times to read Frank Herbert’s novel Dune, but I lack the patience for keeping track of a complex, multi-species, multi-planet saga of politics and war and worms. Especially, the worms. 

There’s a new Dune movie opening in a week, and it's the third time the novel's been filmed. I like David Lynch more than anyone involved in the new version, so I dialed up Lynch’s big-budget Dune bomb from the ‘80s.

Can’t say whether it’s faithful to the novel, but as expected, it’s a complex, multi-species, multi-planet saga of politics and war and worms. Complex means, every plot element must be explained at length in the dialogue, or via voiceover, preferably twice. It's empty intellectual calories, like Fritos and fried Twinkies for dinner, but never underestimate the joy of salt and sugar — Dune is sometimes entertaining.

Everything is enormously epic, in all the expected ways. There’s testosterone posturing galore, the expected traitors turn out to be traitors, and vengeance is sworn. Music by Toto and Brian Eno (which is miles of improvement over Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats). Dune looks good, too. There’s a box-like force field special effect that wasn't familiar to me from a hundred other sci-fi films, and one species has cool blue glowing eyeballs.

There are lots of familiar names in the cast — Kyle MacLachlan stars, and gets to ride on a giant frickin’ worm. There’s Brad Dourif, Jose Ferrer, Linda Hunt (in basically the only role she was ever allowed to play, as ‘spooky short person’), Virginia Madsen, Jack Nance, Dean Stockwell, Max Von Sydow, and Sean Young (in basically the only role she was ever allowed to play, as 'beautiful woman in love with the leading actor'). It was an unexpected jolt to see Patrick Stewart in full gray baldness years before Star Trek, and Sting in ridiculous underwear. I wanted more worms, though. 

Also, just asking: In science fiction, why is it so utterly commonplace for advanced societies to be mystical, worshiping gods or ancestors, believing ancient prophecies, and all such rot? “One cannot go against the word of God, blah blah blah.”

And why are the leaders in sci-fi so often kings and emperors, with their children poised to assume control of the dynasty? Jeez, I hope the future brings us something better than more blind stupid faith in religion, and endless royal families.

♦ ♦ ♦

Gun Crazy (1950)

This classic noir has all the ingredients for a great good-guy-gone-bad drama, and uses each ingredient wisely, and for monosodium glutamate it’s directed by Joseph Lewis, and was co-written by Dalton Trumbo, though he was of course blacklisted and behind a front. There's clipped, clever dialogue, internal battles of conscience against love, and excellent camerawork that puts you in the back seat of the getaway car.

Bart is a good kid, darn it, but he’s fascinated with guns and a very good shot. For stealing a pistol he gets sent to juvy prison, and soon grows up to become the slightly-creepy actor John Dall. When he meets circus sharpshooter Laurie (Peggy Cummins), they match up in a sharp-shootin' contest that would not be approved by OSHA, and after that they’re in love.

Noir galore. If you ever scratched your head wondering what's all the fuss about film noir, here's the answer. Climb into the swampy wetlands with Lewis and Trumbo, and Dall and Cummins.

In odd product placement, their big heist is from the payroll at an Armour meatpacking plant.

Dall is, as previously mentioned, creepy by nature, and he was creepy in everything I’ve ever seen him in, but here’s he’s borderline sympathetic (while still being kinda creepy). 

Ms Cummins as Laurie is a very attractive femme fatale — I’d go on a crime spree with her. What makes a woman attractive is purely subjective, though, and maybe what I like about 1950s Peggy Cummins is that she looks kinda like a woman I dated in the 1970s.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Hidden (1987)

This is your basic space-alien-that-can-take-any-shape movie, and also your basic buddy-cop movie, but those simple, well-worn clichés are souped up like the movie's Ferraris.

An interstellar bad guy keeps moving into the wrong bodies, and killing anyone who gets in his way. Kyle MacLachlan is a space detective pretending to be FBI, and Michael Nouri is a local cop assigned to work with him, who notices there’s something odd about MacLachlan, and about the whole case.

The movie is completely serious about all this, but the humans often make with the wisecracks, and I laughed frequently, despite having seen The Hidden half a dozen times before. The ending doesn’t stand up to ten seconds of thinking about it, but still the story packs some bizarrely sincere emotional resonance.

There’s good music, and effective but minimal special effects. The alien goes through seven bodies, but best of show is William Boyett as its second incarnation, an overweight, pasty-faced, 50-ish white guy with a bad heart and permanent indigestion.

♦ ♦ ♦

Perfumed Nightmare
a/k/a Mababangong Bangungot (1977)

This is the story of a Filipino jitney-driver who dreams of being an astronaut. Everything he knows about the space program — and about the world — comes from Voice of America radio broadcasts, until he gets a chance to travel to Europe, and a promise that eventually he'll see America.

It’s autobiographical, with writer/director/star Kidlat Tahimik playing himself, and the first few minutes are almost poetic (in a good sense) as we're introduced to his town, which can only be reached by crossing a small bridge. It was such a sweet start, I watched the opening twice before watching the rest of the movie.

That poetic pace continues throughout, which is not necessarily a problem but requires a complete adjustment from your expectations for, basically, every movie you’ve ever seen. Think of Perfumed Nightmare as a zine on film — amateur, personal, and almost photocopied onto the screen.

There’s next to no acting, in the ordinary 'movie' sense of dialogue and camera cuts, and very few moments where characters even talk to each other. My guess is that Tahimik lacked the budget and staff for staging scenes. Instead he seems to have filmed the real locations he wanted, and then edited together an hour and a half of that footage, and narrated it to tell his story — and it works, eventually evolving into a thoughtful, low-key debate between the old ways and the western world’s new methods.

It’s an odd but compelling concoction, with none of the ordinary elements you'd expect, and with credited thanks to three chewing gum machines. I could’ve done without the group circumcision scene, but if you’re up for an utterly DIY movie with heart, this is it. "I am Kidlat Tahimik. I choose my vehicle, and I can cross this bridge."


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  1. 3 Dunes? I only know of 2. I saw and loved Big Steal. Looking forward to the "zine movie". Thank you!

    1. This one, the new one, and a pretty dang good TV multi-part movie.

    2. It was released on tape or maybe DVD when I worked at Video Wave. I remember it being better than the Lynch movie. But I also kinda liked that as well. I remember being impressed by the special effects, in both versions.

      The book was pretty good. I also sometimes have trouble with long-ass stories with a million threads - The GRR Martin books, The Wheel of Time series, they don't really do it for me. And I only read the first Dune book. But it was good.

    3. Can I ask, how old were you when you read it?

      I wonder if it's an age thing, because I read and enjoyed some super-complex sci-fi when I was young. Old me, though, hasn't got the patience.

    4. I watched Perfumed Nightmare and LOVED IT. Thank you!! But how could you only give it a yes but not a big yes?

    5. I was not a child, but not yet old. I was married to Shawna when I read it, I'm 99% certain. So at least 27 or so.

  2. Dune... If there must be worms, worm-size worms are preferable.

    1. Suitable for a bumper sticker.

      The worms are what have always kept me from reading Dune.


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