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Seven more movies

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
MAYBE — 

Tubistreaming free

Outer space despot John Saxon kills a few people on some faraway punk planet, and gives the victimized world an ultimatum — when he returns in seven days, the locals must bow to him as their new ruler. Conveniently, this gives the locals time to round up some volunteer mercenaries to help defend the planet, same as Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven, and indeed, this is a low-budget sci-fi remake.

Everything in Battle Beyond the Stars is derivative of other, better movies. Richard Thomas is clearly playing Luke Skywalker, his ship’s computer’s voice sounds like Star Trek’s computer, the visual effects seem to be outtakes from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the android repairs in sickbay are reminiscent of Aliens, the mad scientist and naïve daughter comes from Forbidden Planet, and the mad scientist himself is Sam Jaffee, who so memorably played the braniac in The Day the Earth Stood Still. One of the mercenaries is a woman dressed like Barbarella, and another is Richard Vaughn, basically reprising his role from the original Magnificent Seven. It’s like grandma’s quilt, except grandma’s quilt is warm.

That said, BBTS is from Roger Corman so there are some clever moments, and the script occasionally wakes up, because it’s by John Sayles. Not all, but some of the effects are convincing. As the mercenaries ride to the rescue you’ll be rooting for the punk planet, and it's amusing.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Cornetto trilogy is three films made by Edgar Wright, all staring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost — Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), and The World's End (2013). Once a year or so, I rewatch all of them, back-to-back. They’re not sequels, and have no characters in common, sharing only the same spirit and key creative staff, and they're each excellent.

Wright is British and brilliant, as everyone should know by now — he made Baby Driver (2017), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), and I've heard good things about his TV show, Spaced. Whenever Wright's involved, action is perfectly complemented by the music, which sounds like nothing but trust me, he makes it matter. There are funny camera angles and swooping shots, and there’s often something to see in the background. In his comedies, the laughs aren’t only from the dialogue (as in so many American comedies that just sit there). 

Pegg and Wright wrote all three Cornetto movies, and I imagine beer was also involved, and many hours of “What if he does this?” and “What if she says that?” In all three movies, every tiny detail matters, and any line, any prop, even any song on the soundtrack is likely to come back and play into something an hour later.

Oh, and Cornettos? They’re a manufactured ice cream cone sold in Europe, and briefly seen in all three movies. Wright has said that it’s not a paid product placement, he just likes Cornettos. They're very briefly on-screen, basically irrelevant, and it doesn’t feel like a commercial.

Yeah, but are Cornettos any good? I’ve never had one, because frozen treats don’t import well across an ocean. I’m told they’re similar to Drumstick frozen cones, which are kind of meh.

The three Cornetto movies are not meh at all:

Shaun of the Dead (2004)
BIG YES

Google Playstreaming free

Here comes the zombie apocalypse, but it comes slowly. We stick with ordinary guy Shaun (Pegg) and his dipshit flatmate (Frost) for quite a while, as panning shots show zombie stuff happening only in the background, and you might not even notice if you’re not paying attention — a subtlety I’ve come to admire after several viewings.

The movie works very well as either a scary zombie movie or a funny spoof, sometimes both at the same moment. It's bloody hilarious and also bloody, but with genuine pathos and human moments, too.

Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy (actors I love from Doctor Who) are so good as Shaun’s mom and stepdad, I want to see them together in a movie of their own, sans apocalypse. Lucy Davis, fresh from the original Office, has a surprisingly small role, and she’s unsurprisingly quite good in it.

If you're only going to gamble on one Cornetto, this is the one. It's the best of the three.

Hot Fuzz (2007)
BIG YES

Amazonstreaming free

Are there really ‘serious’ cop movies with this much gunfire, bloodshed, squealing tires, and mayhem? Ridiculous overblown cop movies are not my favorite genre, and if Hot Fuzz is one of them it's my favorite buddy-cop flick. It sends up every cop-movie cliché I’m aware of and probably many more I’m not, and of course it's also very, very funny. 

Two hours is a bit long for a loud comedy, and this is my least favorite of the Cornettos, but it’s still hilarious and delightful and I’ve seen it several times and wouldn’t say ‘no’ to seeing it again.

The fight in the village mockup, and the mug shot montage at the end are my favorite visuals, or maybe they're just fresh in my mind because they're toward the end. Typed words can't do any of these movies justice, so I'll just say see it, and then I'll shut up about it.

The World’s End (2013)
BIG YES

Amazonstreaming free

Pegg is at his best as an aging drunken layabout who’s decided to recapture and perhaps improve the highlight of his pathetic life, by dragging four high school buddies on a drinking binge across a dozen local bars. They’d tried the same pub crawl when they were barely old enough to drink, and failed, but now, well into their 30s, perhaps 40s, they’re going to try again. “To err is human, so — err.”

These characters seem real, and The World's End is more of an ensemble piece than a buddy picture like the other two Cornettos, and parts of it are painfully real. It’s a comedy, but I’m always also drawn into the drama of the ex-friends’ reunion, which could’ve continued all the way to the end, in my opinion — I love the first half of this. 

The movie makes an abrupt swerve midway, though, and becomes something science-fictiony, which drastically changes the mood, and yet — I love the second half of it, too.

All three of these movies are three times funnier than The Hangover or any other acclaimed comedy from the past 10-15 years. And I’m not even saying The Hangover was bad — I saw it, and laughed — but it's like the difference between a McDonald’s combo and a hot, juicy, genuine burger and fries made to order at a good diner. Or in this case, three hot and juicy burgers.

♦ ♦ ♦

Enter the Dragon (1973)
BIG YES — 

Tubistreaming free

For all the hype and adulation over Enter the Dragon, it’s simply an action movie, damned well-made. Most of the action is kung fu instead of guns and car chases, cops and robbers, but other than those variants, if you like action movies you’ll like it, and if you don’t you won’t.

It’s a fine action film, though. It made Bruce Lee a movie star in America, though he died during production of the film, and wow, he is still charismatic on screen.

And it’s not all Bruce Lee. Jim Kelly is great in his first real role, John Saxon sparkles as the rogue with a heart of gold, and everyone gets to show off in their own fight sequences. The fights (choreographed by Lee), music (Lalo Schifrin), and cinematography (Gil Hubbs) are marvelous. The script is by someone named Michael Allin, who never wrote anything else memorable, so I suspect Lee contributed a lot of the dialogue.

The grand finale fight is mesmerizing, the bits of eastern hooey are fun, and it's simply essential chop-socky. If you've never seen a martial arts movie, this is the one to see, maybe even more than anything from Jackie Chan (who's in Enter the Dragon, very, very briefly and very young).

♦ ♦ ♦

The Plants are Watching (1978)
(a/k/a The Kirlian Witness)
NO — 

Amazonstreaming free

In the 1970s, it was commonly thought that houseplants thrive when you talk to them, and that our flowery friends can sense humans’ emotions. Whether that's true or whether that's bullshit I don’t know and don’t care, but this flick is obviously of that era. It's right there in the title. The plants are watching.

A young woman is inordinately fond of her houseplants, and the feeling is mutual — until she’s found dead. Her grieving sister decides to study plants, to help with her grief and her investigation, because the killer hasn’t been caught. It’s silly, yeah, but I was surprised and to some extent impressed that the moviemakers took the concept seriously.

I came close to liking this, and where else will you see a plant take a polygraph test? More than the plant silliness, the misfire here is that two very creepy actors play men in this lady’s life, and one of them’s supposed to be the good guy but he comes across creepier than the bad guy.

The plants are watching, but you probably shouldn't bother.

♦ ♦ ♦

Ruby in Paradise (1993)
BIG YES — 

Hulustreaming free

Ruby has left her boring hometown in Tennessee, and settled in the resort town of Panama City, Florida, where she finds herself working a retail job and banging the boss’s son. She left Tennessee for no particular reason, just because she was bored, but that’s reason enough. Everyone ought to do that — not move to Florida (it would get crowded), just change things up if the status quo sucks.

There's not much more to the plot than that, and there's not really much of a plot. No heist, no shootout, no blackmail. Ruby has some questions, that’s all. Occasionally she gets all philosophical via the movie’s narration, but she never figures out the answers, same as any of us.

She’s ordinary people, and her friends are ordinary people, and you’re spending an hour and a half inside an ordinary life that ain’t yours, and it's interesting. Filmed on location in barely-getting-by America, it feels real.

What I like best here is that, unlike most movies, Ruby's wistful wanderings don't come to an end as she smooches the right fella, The End. It's not about finding a fella, it's about finding Ruby. Despite the title, there's no paradise, but she's happier at the end than at the beginning, which is all most of us can hope for and more than lots of us get.

“Messes — I’ve sure been there, if I’m not careful. Everybody’s fantasy is tender unions, precious ties. I wonder how many folks get anywhere near…”

12/12/2021

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4 comments:

  1. "Spaced" is fantastic - you should seek it out. Unsure if it's available free.

    TWO John Saxon movies this time?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was a third one, too, but it got held back for some other Sunday seven.

      Spaced is on the list, but it's a long list.

      Delete
  2. Okay, here's a tip - I tried to publish my last comment as "Captain Hampockets," and it poofed. But apparently my default name, from when I did my blog, lets it go through.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, Google really doesn't like it if you have a Gmail account but don't use it here. Something like that.

      Delete

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