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Seven movies

Boom! (1968)
NO, except for laughs —

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The credits announce: "Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Noel Coward in a movie by Tennessee Williams." Three out of four ain't bad, but Tennessee Williams wrote lots of overwrought and overrated rot, in my opinion. Add in a title like Boom!, complete with an exclamation point, and I wasn't expecting much. That's exactly what Williams delivers — nothing much.

Williams is mostly known as a playwright of Southern-set melodramas, but this takes place on an otherworldly private island in the Middle East, owned by Flora Goforth (Taylor), who also holds absolute powers of a sovereign nation, says the script. There’s nobody on the island, though, except Flora and her handful of employees, to whom she issues endless orders and insults. I've never seen Taylor so unlikable on screen.

Burton plays a poet who's an intruder on her island, and he's charming but very egotesticle (that's a pun, not a typo). To prove he's a poet he recites all his dialogue like it’s Shakespeare when, uh, it’s not. Burton's character remains mysterious for most of the story, his motivations revealed bit-by-bit to be poignant, profound, and preposterous. It might've worked better unexplained. 

There’s the assumption that we’ll care about Taylor and Burton, because after all they’re Taylor and Burton, but she’s playing a shallow, cruel woman, and he’s so full of himself there's leakage. Within half an hour it seems not so much a movie as a parody, but as camp it borders on being a masterpiece.

Memorable moments of high drama include ocean waves roaring and splashing on the soundtrack every time anyone’s outdoors, a clock that ticks as loudly as the dialogue (and nobody whispers in this movie), and Taylor's several minutes of an extended coughing or choking fit. There’s also a decrepit dude who's twice Taylor's age but in love with her, and sadly it's Noel Coward, which ought to be embarrassing for all involved but nobody notices the inherent ickiness.

The sets and on-location staging are eyeball-grabbing, but it's just a big bloated story about insufferable people in a beautiful place that's never existed and probably couldn't. None of it rings even slightly real, and it's unintentionally hilarious.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Born to Be Bad (1950)
MAYBE — 

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"I love you so much I wish I liked you," says Nick (Robert Ryan) to Christabel (Joan Fontaine), in this soap opera set among very uppercrust society. Christabel is a youngish blonde houseguest who shows up a day earlier than expected, and Robert Ryan is a conceited jackass who won’t answer straight questions, and says, “If she played her cards right, she could win me.”

Christabel is demure but manipulative, playing a more obvious Eve from All About Eve, and she's targeting Nick, but he's such an obnoxious bastard that I was hoping she'd drop the shenanigans and simply kick him in the balls. Nicholas Ray directed it, so it should've been better than this. Set in San Francisco, but obviously not filmed there. In the background, Mel Ferrer plays an amusingly sarcastic artist. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Green Pastures (1936)
MAYBE

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This is a very old movie about black people, but per the opening credits it’s "a fable by Marc Connelly, suggested by Roark Bradford’s Southern sketches, Ol Man Adam an’ His Chillun’." Oh, my.

Googling confirms my fears, that both Connelly and Bradford were well-regarded and very white writers of their time, and here they're putting black-speak into black actors' mouths, all in the service of the Lord.

Yes, this is a God movie — a series of Sunday School lessons and Old Testament tales with Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, Isaac and Abraham, etc, and they're all black. Even God is black, but he’s the same murderous sonovabitch as when he's portrayed as white.

Some of the script is clever, like Noah arguing with God about how many kegs of liquor he's permitted to bring aboard the ark, or a lady in Heaven lovingly stroking her husband’s wings. There’s also an amusing detour to Black Heaven, which is cleverly visualized with kids on clouds. No white folks allowed; presumably they're on higher clouds.

I’ve been away from this Biblical bullshit for a long while, so I found it amusing when Moses refused to believe God was God, just on God’s say-so. No blind faith for Moses — he wants proof, damn it! And God obliges with his famous burning bush trick, wherein some shrubbery bursts into flames but isn't reduced to ashes. After seeing that with his own eyes, Moses believes — and I’ll believe, too, but not until God shows me similar evidence, and even then I'll have follow-up questions.

Being neither black nor of the 1930s nor Christian, I am not the target audience, but the movie is enjoyable for what it is.

♦ ♦ ♦

It Came from Another World (2007)
YES

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Whenever life gets me down, Mrs Brown, I take a dose of Christopher Mihm, the backyard moviemaker. This is a sequel to his Monster of Phantom Lake, with largely the same amateur cast and campy characters, and more importantly, the same spirit. Sequel schmequel, though — there’s nothing in the first movie that’s needed before this one makes sense.

Two canoe cops and a dry professor try to find an academic who'd gone camping and witnessed something falling from the sky. That's your plot.

The professor smokes a pipe, overacts, and adds Shatneresque pauses that last long enough for a pee break. The professor’s girlfriend from the first movie is gone — “Wait, what happened to that last girl you were with?” “Sadly, she died,” says the professor, and that’s the last we’ll hear of her. Heck, I liked that actress and character, but the professor’s new ladyfriend is also nice and equally 1950s. As he explains, “I never could resist a woman who knows how to properly prepare a chicken.” (laughter).

That's not a funny line, so why the laughter? Everyone in the movie laughs at jokes that aren’t funny, and if you have to ask why, you’re watching the wrong movie. I was laughing, too. Dipshit dumb is the point here, but It Came from Another World is joyous and occasionally goose-bumpy, with some clever tin-foil special effects, and several dialogue callbacks to Star Trek. Recommended for anyone with some geek in ‘em.

♦ ♦ ♦

Kid Monk Baroni (1952)
MAYBE

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Way, way down in the opening credits, it says “introducing Leonard Nimoy,” though he’s absolutely the star of the film. I'd always meant to see this, just to see Nimoy at the beginning. 

Almost unrecognizably young, future Spock plays a rough thug off the streets, until he's invited to church, where a "two-fisted priest" teaches him to box.

There’s dialogue about his face as if it’s a handicap, and indeed, for about half the movie Nimoy's already substantial nose has been made up to look a little larger. Nice work on the make-up, by the way — it's subtle, not The Elephant Man.

With or without the fake schnoz, Nimoy is remarkably good in this role, before Star Trek beat all the emotion out of him. The fight sequences are staged and silly, but most of his dialogue sounds like a real person not an actor, and why he wasn’t a star before Trek is an unsolved mystery.

The movie doesn’t deserve him, though. It has all the depth of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney putting on a show in the barn. Spoilers: Boxing is sometimes unscrupulous, the church is righteous, and violins are heard whenever God is mentioned. There are no gray areas to fuzzy up the black and white of good and evil.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Liquid Sky (1982)
BIG NO

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Invisible aliens have come to earth, and they're going after drug-users. Liquid Sky features odd but not annoying music, poetry, drug lingo that sounds theatrically false, a fight to the death over I’m not sure what, and quick, shallow conversations between very pretty women and very pretty men. Also, there's a lot of shrimp.

Most of this mess is constructed from very, very shorty scenes — two lines of dialogue, then on to the next scene — so it moves quickly, but too quickly to make sense. It's colorful and lovely to look at, but there are 55 characters in eleven plots and four subplots, just one of which approaches making sense. I found it mildly intriguing, hoping it might all make sense if I stayed with it, but I had to bail about halfway through, after the third rape scene.

♦ ♦ ♦

Wanda (1970)
YES

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It opens with a crying baby who just keeps crying, reminding me (so I’ll remind you) that I’m not great with kids and glad to be child-free. It also serves to announce that the birthing and raising of children is what's expected of women, but that's a subtext only clear to me when I watched this movie a second time, right after the first time.

Then we see a woman in white walking slowly across a desolate, uninviting American industrial landscape, on her way to ask a man for some money. It’s bleak, same as this lady’s prospects and chances of escape. Just ten minutes in, you know this is not an ordinary movie. It’s not set in the Marvel universe; this is Earth. It's fiction, but wow it's real.

The lady is Wanda, a 30-something white woman in curlers who’s left her husband, home, and children, been fired from her sewing job, won’t fight a divorce, and seems to be adrift in all ways. She’s not dumb, she’s just stuck, so buried in the boredom of it all she can't imagine any other existence.

She floats toward a man who treats her especially crappy, but she doesn't expect anything better than crappy. “Get up and get dressed,” says the man, “and go out and get me something to eat,” so she goes out and gets him something to eat. He's a thief, we find out, and eventually they’re like Bonnie and Clyde, if Bonnie didn’t care and Clyde was a dim-bulb bastard.

Everything here is very sad, and sadly true to life. Wanda is going nowhere, ever. She’s not terribly bright — if she was, she wouldn’t be where she is. She’s just an ordinary woman of her time, maybe ours, and only nominally in charge of her life.

It's a tremendous movie, but not at all an enjoyable experience. I watched it twice, though, and might watch it again. We with dicks sometimes take our privileges for granted, but this movie reminds me, whatever little I’ve done in life would’ve been ten times more difficult and unlikely if I’d been a woman.

Written, directed by, and starring Barbara Loden, it's the only feature film she made, before dying young from breast cancer. 

1/5/2022

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8 comments:

  1. I always enjoy the movie page, thank you. I saw Green Pastures and really enjoyed it, but I was about ten years old so you're probably right. From last week's list I saw Symbiopsychotaxplasm and thought it lagged in the middle but got interesting again when the bum walked out of the woods. From this week I suppose its Wanda but it sounds like a downer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I loved the bum, and the cast and crew's reaction to him — like they'd never heard of anyone living in Central Park before. Maybe it was a secret, back then.

      Wanda is not a popcorn munching movie, but it's beautifully made.

      Delete
  2. I don't know how you choose your movies to review, but I mentioned once or twice that I have a favorite that is different than most others on my top-10, in that it is in color and that many of the actors are still alive.

    So no big deal, but I'll nominate Zero Effect, Jake Kasden's directorial debut, as my favorite. If you've not seen it, you should consider watching it. And listening: the soundtrack has some terrific music.

    Regards,
    johnthebasket

    ReplyDelete
  3. You mentioned Zero Effect a few days ago, which got it onto my list. Never seen it yet, but will. I had it confused in my head with Zero Theorum...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Doug. "Bill Pullmlan's best movie" isn't much of an advert, but he's (I use this adjective advisedly) brilliant. And when you see the soda fountain scene with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds singing "Into My Arms" you might be drawn right into the bigscreen like I was, Or maybe not.

      Delete
    2. Recommendations always welcome, and I'm usually a receptive audience, especially for weird stuff.

      Delete
  4. I watched Wanda last night and it really really was sad but also good. There's so many men good-meaning and bad-meaning who want to steer womens lives it was to me believable that she didn't do the steering herself. I have been there done that and definitelty seen that, a lot. I never would have even heard of Wanda with out this review so thank you Doug.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nothing whip-creams my waffles better than someone saying thanks for a movie nudge, so thanks for your thanks.

      Delete

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