Seven more movies

In an email from a friend yesterday, I learned that there are pop-ups and other such indignities when you watch movies on Putlocker, or on similar sites that aggregate movie torrents. That's news to me — I never see ads on such sites, or on YouTube. Ads make me cross my eyes and mutter under my breath, so my computer has adblockers. When I click 'play', the movie plays.

Public service announcement: The adblockers I use and recommend are all free, and listed in the sidebar under 'internet improvements'.

♦ ♦ ♦

 Angel Face (1953)

free at Internet Archive

Robert Mitchum plays an ambulance driver who slaps a dame — Jean Simmons — in the first scene, “to stop hysterics.” Simmons is the temptress, a spoiled rich girl who hooks Mitchum into a plot to kill her wicked stepmother.

This is an OK but minor noir that’ll leave you wondering, how do those cigarettes, always barely dangling from Mitchum’s lips, never once fall to the ground?

♦ ♦ ♦

Cube (1997)

Google Playfree torrent

I could’ve done without the opening scene, where an unidentified man gets sliced and diced into cubes. After that, though, Cube thinks outside the box.

Six strangers find themselves in a giant maze, rigged with booby traps through every hatch to the next cube. Similar plotlines have become a genre in recent years, so you’re expecting straightforward Kafkaesque sci-fi/horror, but there’s more to it than that.

Each of the characters has a different perspective — an authoritarian, a cynic, a conspiracy theorist, a mental defective, a famed escape artist, and a woman who thinks she’s nothing. There’s acid-tipped interplay between them.

There are some special effects, but they're not the star of the show, which is wise — effects often add nothing to a movie except cost. The value of a movie is in its story and performances, and Cube has some value. 

Actually, I'll confess that the entire cube/maze setup, while fine by genre standards, didn’t interest me half as much as the interplay between these characters. Even afterwards, I can’t explain how or why the cube/maze exists or works. Most of the expository dialogue was a waste of words that whizzed past me, but I still had a good time. The movie’s most chilling moment isn’t even about the cube; it man’s inhumanity to man.

Not to be mistaken for a newer Japanese remake with the same title, which I haven’t yet seen but plan to.

♦ ♦ ♦

He Ran All the Way (1951)

not available for streaming • free torrent 

First, let’s tell the truth: There’s hardly any running in this movie, and nobody runs “all the way.” Puh-lease.

Against his better judgment, a nervous hood robs a man, but a trigger-happy cop shoots the hood's partner in the back, and takes a shot at Garfield's backside, so Garfield shoots and kills the cop. Desperate for a place to hide, the killer flirts with a young woman (Shelly Winters), quickly makes her his girlfriend, and shelters at her family's home.

The mood is tense, and the drama feels real. “All I’ve asked you people is just for a place to hole up for a few days, that’s all. Something you’d give an alley cat.”

John Garfield is the panicky bad guy, and the girl is Shelly Winters, who forty years later played Roseanne’s grandmother on Roseanne.

It's a well-made movie, certainly worth seeing, but may I quibble? There’s something I don’t understand.

Sure, Garfield’s a bad guy and he’s killed someone, and he gets jittery toward the end, but during the first half of the movie he makes it clear that he’s not going to hurt Winters or anyone in her family unless someone finks him out to the cops. He’s not slugging or pistol-whipping anyone. He even buys a turkey dinner for the family.

Like he said, all he’s asking is a place to exist for a few days. What’s the big deal? If someone has a gun, demands to hide out in my home, says he won’t hurt me, buys me dinner, and he’s generally as nice as Garfield in the movie, hell, I’d let him stay in my spare bedroom. Long as he didn’t smoke in the house.

♦ ♦ ♦

Streetwise (1984)

Criterionfree at YouTube

Most people yawn at documentaries, and maybe me too, sometimes. When the lights dim and the movie starts, I want a story, damn it, not some boring non-fiction explanation of whatever.

Streetwise is anything but boring. It tells a story — hell of a story — about teenagers abandoned or abused by their parents, trying to survive on their own. No yawns here. It’s completely involving from the first moments to the end.

Working for Life magazine in the early 1990s, photographer Mary Ellen Mark created a photo spread of homeless street kids in Seattle, and she thought these runaways and refugees were riveting. She phoned her husband, cinematographer-director Martin Bell, and told him that the kids could be the subject of a marvelous movie. She was right.

Made with a $50k no-strings-attached grant from Willie Nelson, Streetwise follows several teenagers through drugs, prostitution, crime, panhandling, and whatever else they do to stay alive. There are no boring interviews; instead the camera simply watches life on the streets, and the microphone listens as these young people explain what they do, and what brought them to Seattle’s gritty downtown.

With a few of the teenagers we visit their parents, but most of these kids are so far removed from their family, visiting hours are over. From what we see of their home lives, you'll understand why the kids left. It’s infuriating, because there ought to be a place they could go, but America pretends it can’t afford to help lost souls like these, so there's nowhere. (America pretends it can’t afford so many things...)

Amidst all the sadness, Streetwise is also oddly optimistic. Everyone is making do as best they can, and looking out for each other. They’ve found an abandoned hotel, broken in, and put it to good use. There’s food in the dumpsters, and restaurants that can be scammed with a phone call. With all circumstances wildly against them, they’re victims, of course, but they’re also fighting back, sometimes even having a good time, and there’s a chance that some of them might make it out alive. Most of them did.

My review ends there, and I enthusiastically recommend the film. It’s simply excellent on all levels.

More personally, I'd heard of this movie, of course, but it hadn’t occurred to me that a documentary about Seattle street kids in the 1980s would almost necessarily have been set in areas very familiar to me. Almost all the movie's street scenes take place at the intersection of Second Avenue and Pike Street, just a few blocks from where I lived at the time.

The Olympic Broiler is often in the background. I ate at that restaurant several times.

The kids joke around in front of the Embassy Theater, where I saw my first porno.

One of the teens is hollered at by his jailed father, “They’re not gonna slap your little hand and send you to Echo Glen.” That's a juvy rehab center where my brother spent a few years learning to be a better criminal.

There’s the bookstore where I bought my movie encyclopedia, a thick paperback that helped me choose which old flicks to see in San Francisco's retrospective theaters.

There's the downtown JC Penney, already all boarded up. There's a parking garage where I twice argued with the same insistent panhandler. There's the bus stop where I stood and waited for transit to work, many, many mornings.

Swear to golly, even a few of the street kids looked vaguely familiar, like I’d seen them way back when. Did I give a dollar to that scruffy blonde girl, or maybe that baby-faced boy, forty years ago, if they asked nicely? Hope so. Down-and-outers — especially kids, damn it — always need a kindness, and there but for the grace of luck go any of us.

♦ ♦ ♦

Tiny on Nightline (1993)

free at YouTube

This is an update on Tiny, one of the young hookers from Streetwise, ten years later. She's still on the streets and still a prostitute, but the greatest indignity of her life might be dealing with Ted Koppel, who asks stupid and shallow questions like, “You grew up real fast, didn’t you?”, and “Why did you need the money?” 

It’s a two-part episode of Nightline, and for TV journalism it’s probably spectacular. Maybe it won an Emmy. I abhor the tropes of TV news, though, and this is soaking in them.

It's 59 minutes long, but mostly it’s clips from the movie, introduced agonizingly slowly, and with commercials every few minutes. Maybe 25 minutes of this is original material, but even that's full of the anchorman’s fake gravitas, and plenty of dull-brained Koppel-talk that seems intended to shame Tiny. The clips from Streetwise silence any ‘offensive‘ language, of course — silence reality, in other words — because that's what TV journalism does best.

♦ ♦ ♦

Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell (2016)

 Criterionfree at YouTube

This is a later and far superior update on Tiny, who’s remained friends with the Streetwise moviemakers all through her life. They returned decades later, to show us that Tiny has found love, had a flock of children, and moved to Seattle’s suburbs.

Streetwise wasn't all about Tiny. It showed several other kids, but her bravado with a smile made her memorable. She's lost a lot of that over the years, still battles addiction, and she’s glad she’s off the streets… but she misses it, too, because she's human and therefore complicated.

We meet and get to know some of Tiny's children, which is interesting but sometimes not heartwarming. Closest thing to a happy ending here is just knowing that Tiny survived her years on the street, but in the end surviving is what most of us settle for, so it’s a success story.

♦ ♦ ♦

Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965)

Paramount+ •  free at YouTube

This is a mid-budget science fiction epic about history’s most boring space mission, a visit to Venus. When the ship lands, there’s this riveting exchange:

“Boy, it sure feels strange to have weight.”

“Yes, it does seem strange.”

The whole movie is filled with dialogue like that. The script is mostly sci-fi/military speak, and acting has to be quite bad before I notice bad acting, but I noticed it here. It’s in color, but the color is so faded it might as well be black-and-white. There’s a cool-looking old-style robot, but it speaks in the dullest monotone imaginable. When it looks like something interesting might happen in the story, the sound cuts out for several minutes. What a mess.

It's tedious, so my mind was wandering, but for much of the movie there were three boring white guys in space suits. I was quite surprised later on when there were five boring white guys in space suits, riding together in their space-car. Then the most boring white guy has a dramatic conversation with... himself? Wha—? Turns out it’s not the same boring white guy in a space suit, just two actors in two roles who look very similar — both white men, movie handsome, same age, same hair. It's another reason why diversity in film is a good idea.


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  1. there ought to be a place they could go, you say of Streetwise, but here is a system for dealing with children who have terrible parents. It failed these children, what improbements would you propose?

    1. I've talked about that, but now I'd add, it should include three meals a day, with no questions asked. I want the government to say, you need a place to stay? You can stay here.




    Bret Maverick (at telegraph office): I'd like to send a telegram to Bart Maverick in Tombstone.

    Telegrapher: OK, mister, what would you like to say?

    Bret Maverick: "Help".

    Telegrapher: OK, mister, but you could add nine more words for your dollar.

    Bret Maverick: Add nine more Helps.

    1. Love the Maverick story. Sorry about the comments, John. Trust the sidebar — it's never not worked.

  3. We saw -
    Ghostbusters:Afterlife yesterday. It’s a much better sequel than what’s gone before!

    1. I saw the all-chicks Ghostbusters some years back, and it was OK, but when I have a Ghostbusters itch I'll probably just watch Ghostbusters.

      I'm one of the grumpy old farts who's tired of remakes and sequels and reboots. And superheroes. Once in a while, sure, a superhero, but I mostly prefer movies about earthlings with ordinary earth powers and problems.

    2. Tired of superhero movies? Just you wait, the best is yet to come.


    3. Jesus Christ, Henshaw. That's... Jesus Christ.


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