Baxter, and six more movies

The Neverending
Film Festival

It's almost a miracle, ain't it? When I was a kid, a movie meant 5-6 reels of film wrapped onto metal spools and threaded through a projector. Later, a movie was a single box not much bigger than a book, and later still a flat round thing the size of a coffee coaster. Now anyone with an internet connection can download fifty movies onto a thumb drive, or stream anything onto their phone.

Almost a miracle, especially if the movie you're watching doesn't suck.

♦ ♦ ♦

Alligator (1980)

A little girl's lovable baby alligator gets flushed down the toilet. Twelve years later, a chewed-off human arm is found in the sewer, and police detective Robert Forster is assigned to the case. Gators in the sewer!

Forster is very good, of course. There was never a movie where he wasn't very good. John Sayles wrote the script, and it was obviously a paycheck, not City of Hope or something, but it builds tension well and has characters who seem human and possess a sense of humor.

There's a beautiful herpetologist who explains (twice) that alligators can't survive in the sewer, and even if they could they certainly wouldn't be giant alligators.

And she's right — the giant alligator is a prop that's not very believable, and there are laughable shots where a lizard walks through a miniature street set. Not sure I'd send the SWAT team into the sewer to find a giant gator, but hey, what do I know about police strategy? 

It's a predictable genre piece, sure, but who among us wouldn't enjoy watching people get chewed up and spat out by a giant alligator?

"I'm gonna go out there and find that alligator and kick its ass."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Baxter (1988)

Baxter is the name of a dog, and the movie is told from the dog's perspective. Pooch goes through three owners — an old woman who doesn't particularly want a dog, a newlywed couple who fuck a lot until she gets pregnant, and a teenage boy who's fascinated with Hitler.

Baxter is not a cartoon, not rated G, and it's French. It's an extremely weird and cynical film, constantly uncomfortable like life itself, and I loved it. Not recommended for children, though, or dogs.

"Even then, my dearest wish was to live with humans, to see them, smell them, and try to understand the astonishing things they sometimes do."

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Bleeding House (2011)

'Crazed killer kills people' is not my favorite genre, but if you like such stuff you'll like this. It's well-made, and has some original touches, like that the family's mentally-unbalanced daughter (Alexandra Chando) might be nuttier than the bad guy.

When it became clear how the story was unfolding, I fast-forwarded through most of the madman's torturing and murders. Not my cup of blood, sorry, but skip ahead to the loony girl's story, and this is a pretty good half-hour movie.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Happy Accidents (2000)

Marisa Tomei and Vincent D'Onofrio have an unusual relationship. She teaches English as a second language, and he's a time traveler from the far future Atlantic coast of Iowa, or so he says. 

In a romantic comedy, I don't ask much. The relationship has to be sorta believable, so I don't feel like an idiot while I'm watching. It's best if the lovebirds have some human-style quirks, so they're not completely generic. And it's a comedy, so I want a laugh once in a while.

Happy Accidents delivers on all the above.

"You're so busy trying to fix the problem that you forget to enjoy the moments of happiness that you have."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

John Carter (2012)

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of one of Disney's biggest-ever bombs, I queued up John Carter. It's the Mouse House version of an early-era sci-fi story by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I'd heard that the movie is awful, but my intent was to give it a fair chance. Honestly, I was expecting some popcorn-chomping fun, but...

It's overblown and formulaic right from the pompous opening narration. Every scene, every visual, every line of dialogue feels mimicked from better movies. In the first 15 minutes it goes from war in outer space to costume drama in old England to tough guy antics in Arizona, and every molecule feels calculated to be a ride at Disneyland.

I turned it off, and simply looked out the window for a while. Nothing happened, which was a big improvement.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

No Down Payment (1957)

With that title and Tony Randall, I was expecting an unfunny mid-century comedy, but No Down Payment is an increasingly dark spin on suburbia, all the better because it was made when suburbia was all the rage.

A large cast of mid-range stars play several married couples living in identical houses in a newly-built development, where everyone can see inside everyone else's windows, and they're all one big happy whitebread neighborhood. Secrets and prejudices come bubbling up at the barbecue, when there's too much booze at night, and when the wives get together for coffee the next morning.

Yeah, Tony Randall lives in the neighborhood, but he does the only serious acting I've ever seen him do, and he's good. If this was a lesser movie he'd be the best thing in it, but he's not in the top five things going on here. Most movies of this era (or ours) aren't as grown up as this movie. I'm not as grown up as this movie.

"Here's to Sunrise Hills, the place for better living for young lovers."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Videodrome (1983)

"Do you know a show called Videodrome? It's just torture and murder. No plot, no characters. Very, very realistic. I think it's what's next."

In this early David Cronenberg classic, James Woods stars as a sleazy executive at a sleazier TV network, who finds clandestine tapes of torture, and decides it could be a hit series. Debbie Harry gives out bad advice on radio's top-rated Emotional Rescue Show, and wants you to "take out your Swiss Army knife and cut me here just a little."

When this movie first came out, it felt like a razor-sharp reflection on the power and impact and emptiness of television. A lot of years later it only seems sharper. Like TV itself, it is intentionally disquieting and occasionally a gross-out.

"The television screen has become the retina of the mind's eye."

Verdict: YES.

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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.  

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  1. Stupid question: any chance that any of these free downloadable movies have closed captioning? I'm so severely hard of hearing that even when dialogue is loud and clear, I require text to reaffirm what I"m hearing. It's been a major issue for me for decades. Again, that's life.--LArden

    1. Closed captions are easy to come by (required by law, I think) on any of the paid streaming sites, and they're click-and-findable on any DVDs made in the past several years, though sometimes not on earlier DVDs. With free downloaded movies, it's dicey, though -- even foreign movies I've downloaded, there's a good chance when I click 'play' they'll be speaking Chinese with no subtitles.

      There are also sites that let you download subtitles as a separate file, then somehow connect them to your movie file, but I don't know how that works. It looks like a pain in the arse, and I'd rather just get the DVD from the library or Scarerow Video.


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