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Wake in Fright, and six more movies

Cutter's Way (1981)

Alex Cutter (John Heard) is a crippled drunk Vietnam vet who's always saying something racist, sexist, or otherwise obnoxious. His best and only friend is Richie Bone (Jeff Bridges), who's a witness in a murder case — he discovered a dead girl's body, and may have seen the perp, but he didn't get a look at the killer's face.

Cutter wasn't there when Bone saw whatever he saw, but he's determined to piece together the clues and solve the mystery of who killed her. The dead girl's sister shows up, oddly without much grieving, and she becomes Cutter's co-amateur detective.

Bridges is always good or great, and gets top billing here, though his Bone seems more a supporting character. The leading man is Heard, an actor I've always liked, and given this bigger role than he usually gets, he's excellent.

Problem is, Heard is excellent at playing this very grating and unlikable character, and it reminded me why I'm a hermit. Same as I feel about most humans, I wanted Cutter to go away.

It's a good movie, though. No arguing that.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Neverending
Film Festival
#59

The Manitou (1977)

This was the first movie I ever reviewed. I don't remember what zine I was writing for, and certainly don't have that original review, but I remember being pleasantly surprised by this cheap horror flick. I wrote something like, "Tony Curtis is washed up and slumming here, but Michael Ansara takes the work seriously and saves the show."

Refreshing my memory by watching it again, wow, it's much worse than I'd remembered. My minimum standards for a movie have gone up. The Manitou is supposed to be scary, but in 2022 it gave me only one goose bump, and lots of unintended laughs.

Curtis plays a charlatan tarot card reader. Susan Strasberg has a fetus growing on the back of her neck. There's a campy séance, talk of black magic, and then a laser malfunctions, and a whole hospital ends up in outer space. Ansara plays a Native American medicine man, and as I'd remembered, he takes the role seriously, but no, he can't save the show. It's beyond being rescued.

"Your God won't help you. Nothing in your Christian world will help — not prayers, not holy water, not the weight of a thousand of your churches."

Yeah, yeah, tell me something I don't already know.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Repeat Performance (1947)

This opens with a murder on New Year's Eve, and the killer's confession against the backdrop of champagne and "Auld Lang Syne." But golly, she wishes that things had happened differently, and then blam, her wish comes true — the calendar rewinds, and she's reliving the entire year leading up to the killing. 

So it's Groundhog Year, but with no laughs. With Repeat Performance's extreme seriousness, and its toddler-like assertion that the wish came true just because New Year's Eve is a magical time, I was not enthralled early on, and became progressively more disinterested as it meandered along.

There's a dramatic twist at the end that's borderline enjoyable, but getting there took a very dull hour and a half. And I usually like movies about time travel.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Terminator (1984) 

Cyborg bad guy Arnie Schwarzenegger is sent back from a hellish 2029 to L.A. in 1984, to prevent the great revolutionary John Connor from being born, by killing his future mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton). Defending their timeline, the good guys send Michael Beihn. 

"I'll be back."

I loved this when I saw it several times in the 1980s, and wondered how it held up almost 40 years later. It's still pretty damned good, though certainly not as polished and smooth as its big-money sequel, Terminator 2. Some of the effects look like they're from the '80s, and the synthesizer soundtrack sounds cheap. Hamilton drives a motorcycle without a helmet, and it's Schwarzenegger's last turn as a bad guy, and it's quite good. 

"Acknowledgment to the works of Harlan Ellison," says the first on-screen credit after the last scene. You're damned right.

Ellison hated the term science fiction, but that's what he wrote, usually bleak, dark, depressing short stories, and as a teen and young man I read everything he wrote. When I first saw The Terminator at a theater, I wondered if it was based on something by Ellison, and he wondered too.

He'd written a few episodes of Outer Limits, including one that's almost exactly like the opening of The Terminator. He threatened a lawsuit, and the moviemakers capitulated, because director James Cameron had casually said in an interview, "I ripped off a few Outer Limits segments." Ellison got an undisclosed cash settlement, and his name was added to the credits.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

It's seven years later, and Sarah Connor has progressed from the innocent dame she was in the first film, to being a tough broad schooled in military tactics by South American revolutionaries. She's tough enough to rescue herself from sticky situations, with or without a cyborg's help. Linda Hamilton worked hard and muscled up to match the character's new backstory.

Schwarzenegger might have worked as hard on his acting and English as Hamilton worked on her physique, because he's clearly a better actor than he was in the first film. He's playing a whole new cyborg, good guy instead of bad, programmed to protect Sarah and her son, who's been born and is now an adolescent with a very bad haircut.

Oh, and a newer, more advanced cyborg has been sent to kill Sarah and John Connor. It's made of shape-shifting metal, can look like anyone, but it's at its most dastardly when it looks like Robert Patrick.

"Come with me if you want to live."

From seeing this movie half a dozen times in the 1990s, I know every beat of it, but still I was tense during the action scenes. Surprisingly, some of the non-action moments are strong too, with some humanity among the special effects.

It's T2. It's bigger and better than the original, and everyone reading this has probably seen it. If you haven't, you should.

At the end of this installment, the story is finished. The End. All the sequels after this have been fueled only by the profit motive, and can and should be ignored.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains (2018)

With that title, this sounds like a movie I'd hate, but it's actually a bright comedy about friends and acquaintances trying to make a cheap horror movie. They don't have a script and don't yet have the funds, but they have a great title: Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains. There's also a catchy theme song. Guess what it's called?

The first half of this, about a bunch of smart people (and one annoying stoner) figuring out how to make a movie, is a good time, and delightfully different from most slasher movies. There's even a stripper who's read Henry James, which is not treated as a joke.

"You need somebody to chain up virgin cheerleaders? I'm your man, buddy."

Of course, something called Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains needs to live up to its title, so in the second half it becomes a slasher movie that's set on the set of a slasher movie. At the end there's a twist you'll see coming half an hour in advance, but it's clever all through, and the best slasher movie I've seen in a long while.

With about 200 people being thanked in the closing credits, this clearly was made by friends and acquaintances, and it's a DIY delight.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Wake in Fright (1970)

Gary Bond plays a teacher at a middle-of-nowhere Australian school, who doesn't like the job. He doesn't have much money, but the school year is over and he's planned a summer holiday in Sydney. On his way, though, he spends the night at a hotel in the tiny town of Bundanyabba, where there's a surprisingly big and busy bar, and he buys a beer, the first of too many.

Bloke has a long conversation with the local constable. Bloke wins some money gambling on games of chance, then loses the money, gambles more and loses all his money, so now Bloke can't get to Sydney. Bloke goes to another bar, has another beer, meets a few new friends who buy him a few more beers. Bloke goes on a drunken kangaroo hunt with his new buddies.

"I'm bored with it — the aggressive hospitality, the arrogance of stupid people who insist you should be as stupid as they are."

Other than the Aussie heavy drinking, nothing in this movie is a cliché. Bond is terrific — he looks like a young Peter O'Toole, with similar intensity. The town and its people feel like they're there and alive, the kangaroo chase is unforgettable, and events build toward a tense climax and a very strong conclusion.

It doesn't fit neatly into any genre, but it's sure funny when it wants to be, and also scary, sad, and profound at times. Despite the title and some moments of suspense, Wake in Fright is mostly about what Thoreau called lives of quiet desperation, but it's Australian so they're lives of loud, drunken desperation.

Verdict: YES when I first saw it, then BIG YES when I immediately watched it again.

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7/7/2022 
 
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.  

20 comments:

  1. Jimmy Caan played some iconic roles, but his character “Mississippi” in El Dorado was among his best. He came damned close to making John Wayne into an actual actor. It’s one of those movies I watch every five years. So I’ve seen it eleven times. Caan was great every time.

    Sleep well Jimmy.

    Jtb

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    1. I don't think I've seen El Dorado. Looking for it now on your say-so. Mr Caan was usually darn good, but I am somewhat John Wayne resistant, probably to my own detriment.

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    2. It is not a perfect movie but Robert Mitchum, Caan, Ed Asner and Arthur Hunnicut are all great. The female lead is pretty bad. The screenplay is a little corny. I like it very much nonetheless.

      John

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    3. I should mention that El Dorado is a remake of Rio Bravo, both directed by Howard Hawkes. I once saw a bar fight over which was the better film. Answer: El Dorado.

      John

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    4. Both directed by Howie Hawks and both starring John Wayne, and one's a remake of the other?

      I didn't know that. I've probably seen both, but I don't remember either.

      It's movie sacrilege, by my granny was a John Wayne fan so we probably saw it on Channel 7's Dialing for Dollars weekday movie slot, but all the JW movies we watched are blurred together and filed under "Granny's movies."

      I did like Stagecoach, True Grit, and his last, The Shootist.

      Delete
    5. If you don’t remember Robert Mitchum and James Caan you might have been paying attention to the wrong actor.

      jtb

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    6. I suppose Stagecoach and The Longest Day are John Wayne movies by broad definition. Not so sure about El Dorado.

      jtb

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    7. I'm the opposite of an expert, but after he'd made his name in the 1930s, every movie he was in was a John Wayne movie, wasn't it? Did he ever take a quirky supporting role, or play anything but the big luvable galoot you were supposed to be rooting for?

      It's a serious question -- if JW ever played the bad guy like Henry Fonda or Gregory Peck I'd be curious to see it. Even when he played Genghis (wrath of) Khan he was the hero.

      Delete
    8. My brother, you asked two questions then deftly switched to one, so I’ll answer the first anyway. The Longest Day was three hours long, John Wayne was one of a dozen featured actor in a cast of thousands and his total screentime was under 20 minutes. Hardly a John Wayne movie.

      I’ll admit I can’t think of any others, but a more astute film person might.

      John

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    9. Oh, I just figured out that The Longest Day and The Longest Yard aren't the same movie. Day is a war movie, right? And Yard is a football movie. No surprise I've never seen either, but I'd break my no-war and no-football rule if you recommended either.

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    10. Where to start? Day is about the Normandy invasion of June 5,6,7 ..., 1944. It is a fairly faithful rendering of the Cornelius Ryan 1959 bestseller of the same name. It’s not quite a doc, but will give you an idea of why the Allies succeeded in establishing a continental beachhead.

      Yard attempts to establish Burt Reynolds as a serio-comic actor. The films are unrelated in any of the four standard dimensions. Neither is a John Wayne movie.

      I recommend both, but on different days.

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    11. So noted and downloaded, thanks.

      Delete
  2. I saw T2 in movie theaters when it was new, then again maybe 10 years later. The second time I remember being kind of appalled by how extensive the product placement was - Pepsi machines, guys walking around precariously balancing a can with the logo turned to the camera. I don't know how I didn't notice it the first time and that is actually a little scary because I was the kind of shithead that ruined everyone's time complaining about corporations (man). If you're excited enough (and it was easily the most anticipated movie of that summer), it'll pass right through you.

    In reality everything about it had changed, not just because the budget went up by the whole way of making movies. You can put the two movies side by side and circle all the differences. The '90s have this reputation for being shabby but they really figured out the whole "product synergy" thing. The music in the first one is futuristic Italo Disco with whatever songs they had lying around that seemed to fit with the scene. In T2, some of the scenes and segues seem like they only exist to fit the song in, or flash the logo, or get 0:03.5 more contractually obligated seconds of screen time to either an actor or a car.

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    1. I'm absolutely sure you're absolutely right. It's one of the things that used to piss me off enormously, then became so mfing ubiquitous that now I barely even notice it... which pisses me off enormously.

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  3. It looks like they did two or three crowdsourcing campaigns to fund Virgin Cheerleaders, which has some adorable info on how it was made:

    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/virgin-cheerleaders-in-chains#/

    That's also probably why they thank a few hundred people. NAME IN THE CREDITS!

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    Replies
    1. Well for god’s sake they’re virgins; give ‘em some credit.

      jtb

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    2. The allure of virginity eluded me. I wanted it gone, it went early, and certainly never felt like I'd 'lost' anything of value.

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    3. I’ve lost the ability to write tongue-in-cheek or in anywhere else it can fit. So it goes.

      jtb

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    4. Do they just list contributors or do they attach roles?

      Doris Night ..... Set Gynocologist
      Fred Hung ..... Special Penis Boy
      Edna Tease ......... Fluffer
      Etc.
      ?
      jtb

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    5. I no longer have the movie, but all I recall is something like "THANKS" and then three columns of names scrolling for a long time. —SPB

      Delete

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