Giants & Toys, and six more movies

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Two inarguable rules about the movies: 

1. Nobody's better than Doug Liman (Go, The Bourne Ultimatum et al) at churning out modern big-budget action movies. You can sneer at the whole genre, but if you sit down and watch anything he's done, it's irresistible. 

2. Tom Cruise is a wingnut Scientologist, and an almost certainly closeted-gay man who sues if you say he's gay. Seems to be an eminently hateworthy kook, but in a movie, he's damned irresistible, too.

With those two factors in its favor, resistance is futile.

Space aliens have invaded Earth. Humans are in a long bloody land war to defend the planet, and we're losing. Cruise plays a blow-dried American Major, glib spokesman and TV face of the military, but he's been assigned to the front lines, and very much doesn't want to go.

The story fails the common-sense test several times, but that's irrelevant because of rule 1. Cruise's character is a coward and deserves to die, but you're hoping he doesn't and know he won't because of rule 2. 

"On your feet, maggot."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Giants & Toys (1958)

Three big candy companies fight for market dominance. American candies are moving into the Japanese market, so all three companies face lagging sales. They're each planning contests with crazy prizes, and sending spies to learn what their competitors are up to. World Caramel finds a pretty face to push its candies, but behind the face there's a woman with ideas of her own.

Amidst all this cutthroat business, a few executives are sick and one's coughing up blood, but even to the dying man that's not nearly as important as boosting the sales numbers.

Out of nowhere comes a great song and dance number with everyone wearing native American garb, singing, "Leave them, discard them / We can't help the dead." I refuse to be offended, because it's a catchy tune, very well-staged, and anyway, I've spent my allotment of 'offended' for today. 

This is a Japanese movie, and I probably lost some of the subtleties with the subtitles, but the 95% of Giants & Toys that sunk into my head is a delightful satire of big business, and translates quite well. It's one of the most cynical movies I've ever seen, up there with Ace in the Hole and Sweet Smell of Success, and that's high praise from cynical me.

"The public are worse than babies, worse than dogs, because they don't think. They work like slaves and get drunk at night, TV, radio, movies, games; they have no time to think. That's where we come in — we'll fill their empty heads with our messaging: 'Delicious caramel, World Caramel, World, World, World. Every time they see a pack, they'll automatically buy it. Use radio, TV, movies, and control them. You understand? Control their thoughts. The dictatorship of publicity!"

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Master of the World (1983)

This is an Italian (but largely language-less) film about the earliest ages of humanity, when a sharp spear was high-tech, and the only art was painted pictures of bears on cave walls. 

It's not up to modern major-league moviemaking standards — in some shots of the men wrestling a bear, you can quite clearly see that the bear is muzzled, and in other shots I'm certain it's a dude wearing a bear costume. Everyone has white, straight teeth, which proves that it wasn't filmed on location a million years before Christ, but so what? It feels real enough when borderline humans crack the skull of a dead man like a walnut, and scoop and eat his brains for dinner.

"Turn down the porn," my flatmate shouted through the door, but it was only a bunch of cavemen and women shrieking because they'd found a corpse.

Refuse to take all the grunts and groans seriously and you'll be bored or laugh, but stow your skepticism, mate. Master of the World tells an engrossing story of where we came from, and probably where we're going.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Planet Earth (1979)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Genesis II, a very bad TV-movie from Gene Roddenberry, about some unlucky scientist who's in a suspended-animation accident, and wakes up 150 years into a bizarre future where both WWIII and an alien invasion have happened.

This is a sequel to that, and clearly a second attempt to sell the same premise for a TV show. It features different actors playing the same characters, including John Saxon in a Star Trek-style uniform, Ted Cassidy (Lurch from The Addams Family) in a hippie wig, and Diana Muldaur (McCloud) cracking a whip cuz she's the queen of a society ruled by women, where men are enslaved and called "dinks."

"Wherever you're from, you're a dink now. Untrained, but still a dink. The rules are made simple, so that even a male can understand them. Show obedience at all times, and you'll find happiness in service to the community. As long as your behavior warrants it, you'll be protected, fed, clothed, relieved of all the responsibilities that your sex finds so difficult in life."

Yeah, the message here is obvious, and the point is repeated several times, sometimes effectively, sometimes comically on purpose, sometimes comically on accident.

"Women's lib?" asks Saxon, "or women's lib gone mad?"

The cast is an improvement over Genesis II, and so's the story, where even big tough guys like Saxon and Cassidy are treated as inferior by women, by virtue of their sex.

Teleplay by Roddenberry and (mostly, I suspect) Juanita Bartlett, who went on to produce The Rockford Files and The Greatest American Hero. There are some amusing lines here that Bartlett must've written, like, "Not a brain in his head, but he's a comfort."

This is, I think, the final film in my Roddenberry retrospective. It's better-than-average for 1970s television, but it's extremely 'television' — designed for a 19-inch screen, with tinny TV music, and commercial breaks every 10-12 minutes. Of course, liberated or not, all the women shave their legs and wear makeup.

Directed by longtime TV and Star Trek stalwart Marc Daniels.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

R.P.M.* Revolutions per Minute (1970)

The Neverending
Film Festival

Stanley Kramer was a very liberal moviemaker who made very liberal movies. A few were quite good (The Defiant Ones, Inherit the Wind, The Caine Mutiny), but some now seem dated and stilted (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, The Runner Stumbles, The Domino Principle). This is Kramer's spin on campus unrest in the 1960s, and it falls into the latter category.

Anthony Quinn is surprisingly believable as the newly-named acting-President at a university where students have taken over the administration building. What's not believable is that he would be named acting-President — his character is a famous lefty, so he'd be much more likely to be fired back then, than put in charge.

Ann-Margret is very pretty as his girlfriend, a grad student half his age who's almost never fully dressed. It's a strange role, and she's never been more unpleasant on screen, challenging and insulting Quinn almost non-stop, while still cheerfully cooking for him.

The student protest leaders have a list of demands, and they're unwilling to compromise. When the university agrees to 9 out of 12 demands, that's not enough. Not sure whether student protests in the real world were that unyielding; I wasn't there. As just a guy watching a movie, though, it seems unsporting, unreasonable, unlikely.

When the inevitable riot happens, we see about as many students assaulting cops as cops assaulting students, and afterward the student leaders look lightly ruffled, as if they'd played a few minutes of flag football. On that point, I'll call bullshit. Cops in such a situation are savage, and if they didn't have time to bludgeon everyone, they'd at least target the student leaders.

The movie's dialogue is almost entirely political, and most of it I agree with. If politics is enough it's a good movie, but even for me and even agreeing with it, politics isn't enough.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)

"I'm sorry, but that's the way things are."

I'd never seen or even heard of this movie, and watched it only because, what the hell, it stars George Sanders and I always liked him. Sanders was great at playing wisecracking, gently bemused dudes. Take a look at All about Eve, to see his best work.

Here he's Harry Quincy, working as a fabric designer at a mill in a small town, and at home he's surrounded by an overbearing family — especially his younger sister Letty (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who's run his life for years.

Harry falls in love with Deborah (Ella Raines), another designer visiting from New York, who soon becomes his fiancée. She's smart, 1940s sexy, and unwilling to take crap, but Harry's sister is determined to make romance and marriage impossible for Harry and Deborah.

Until almost the very end, this isn't much more than a soap opera, but soap operas raging over the top can be very entertaining, and it is. I saw no way for the plot to resolve itself, but resolve itself it does. I am unable to say more, however, because the movie itself requests: "In order that your friends may enjoy this picture, please do not disclose the ending."

I'll disclose this, though. It's directed by Richard Siodmak, which seems to always be a recommendation.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Times Square (1980)

Nicky (Robin Johnson) is a collection of movie tough girl stereotypes — sneer, leather jacket, and a boombox constantly playing the Ramones' "I Want to Be Sedated." Pamela (Trini Alvarado) is a blank-faced innocent. They're teenagers, not big on obedience and conformity, who soon become best buddies and run away together.

As a former teenager and perpetually one inside, I'd love a realistic movie about rebellious teen runaways, but this ain't that. It's a kiddie movie with a sprinkling of after-school special. I expected more from director and co-writer Alan Moyle (Pump Up the Volume).

The kids are all right, and Tim Curry is a mild smile as Johnny LaGuardia, the rock'n'roll radio philosopher who talks to them over the overnight airwaves. The girls (mostly Nicky) sing several songs, one of which isn't awful, but wow, the others sure are.

This was filmed in New York's infamous Times Square before it was all tidied up and Disneyfied, but to me it looks only borderline seedy. Nicky says 'fuck' a few times, but the kids are never in any danger, and the movie could be an ad campaign for a fun weekend getaway to NYC.

Verdict: NO.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. Dang! I've been wanting to see Times Square ever since the soundtrack album graced the record store bins. Saw the ads but never the movie. I assumed it sucked but was still curious about it. For the record, it's "I Wanna Be Sedated." The Ramones, like most rock bands of a certain vintage, weren't big on expressing the full dentals and settled for slang. -- LArden

  2. Thanks. As I was watching the movie, it sounded like they were singing, "I Wanna Be a Comedian." Should've known better than that, too.

    If you own the soundtrack, does it include the songs the girls sang? Asking because holy crap they were bad.


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