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Sneakers, and six more movies

Mostly ordinary movies today, sorry. I'll try to be weirder.

Three hacker flicks from the early days of the internet, all better than I'd expected, and one of them is actually good. Also, some science fiction, and a disappointing heist flick.

5 Against the House (1955)
Enemy Mine (1985)
Hackers (1995)
The Net (1995)
Sneakers (1992)
Snowbeast (1997)
Unknown Origin (1995) 

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5 Against the House (1955)

Was this the first movie about robbing a casino in Las Vegas? The casino seems about the size of an Elks Club, and the security system consists of a guard walking around in the attic, looking through windows at the gamblers below. 

None of that is the movie's problem, but jeez it has problems. The gang of four planning the heist are supposed to be college students, and they look old enough to have children in college. They wisecrack constantly, with rapid-fire unfunny dad jokes. One of them is marrying Eva Marie Saint, and she won't stop singing.

Biggest problem of all is that the movie is 2/3 over before the four middle-age college students begin seriously planning the heist, and when they do, only one of them actually wants to go through with it, so he forces the others with threats.

Of interest only for a glimpse inside an old-school casino, and because it's based on a novel by Jack Finney.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Enemy Mine (1985)

Dennis Quaid is a gung ho military man, part of the eternal war effort against the dratted Dracs, bumpy-faced space aliens.

In the chaos of war, Quaid is lost on a harsh planet, and ends up sharing cave space and supplies with a similarly stranded Drac, played by Lou Gossett in a rubber mask. Over the course of the film, they save each other's lives, learn each other's languages, and become each other's friends.

When I saw this in first-release at the Lewis & Clark Theater in Seattle in 1985, I was transfixed, moved by its optimistic story about the possibility of peace.

When I saw it in my recliner last night, it seemed cute, quaint, and corny.

I still enjoyed the film, and you gotta like its rather obvious message, but over the years perhaps I've become grumpier and more cynical, and immune to its vision of hope.

Enemy Mine was directed by Wolfgang Petersen, who also made The Neverending Story, and it feels only slightly more grown up, but just as much a fantasy.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Hackers (1995)

Hackers opens with a little kid on trial for hacking. He's awfully little, pre-pubescent, so seeing him as a superhacker seems unlikely, but OK. He's sentenced to probation and must stay off-line until his 18th birthday, when he becomes Johnny Lee Miller and takes down a TV network.

Miller was 23 when this was made, but looks older, and he's supposed to be a high school student, but OK. Also in high school is Angelina Jolie with a butch haircut, and she's the local hacker queen, which is better than OK. At least she looks and acts the part. Miller and Jolie hate each other, but his handle is 'Crash' and hers is 'Burn' (or maybe it's vice versa) so love is fated in the circuitry. 

"This is our world now. The world of the electron and the switch; the beauty of the baud. We exist without nationality, skin color, or religious bias. You wage wars, murder, cheat, lie to us and try to make us believe it's for our own good, yet we're the criminals. Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto." 

I tend to think of hackers as dweebs working alone from their bedrooms, but in this movie hackers are exuberant gangsters, tough-talking and muscular, the school's coolest clique. The hacker gang goes to night clubs together, wears leather and roller skates around town, and when they're excited, they shout like Bill and Ted having an excellent adventure.

Penn Jillette plays a humorless computer security man, and I'll let Crash and Burn brief you on the plot: "A virus called DaVinci will cause oil spills at 10:30 AM Eastern time tomorrow. It's somehow connected with the worm that's stealing the money. We need your help to overload the Gibson so we can kill the DaVinci virus and download the worm program."

That's wacky, but OK. The tech is outdated, but that's OK, too; it's an old movie so you expect that. There's catchy music, and the movie visualizes data flow rather cleverly, with electronic impulses flowing across circuitboard streets in a minimalist CGI city. 

What torpedoes everything is Johnny Lee Miller in the lead role. I'm not sure what he was trying for, but he oozes obnoxious, and reminds me of every kid I hated in high school, except the dweebs and nerds. We wouldn't have had anything to do with him.

Never seen a hacker movie before where I was rooting against the main hacker.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Net (1995) 

Sandra Bullock plays Angela, an anti-virus hacker, and she plays it right, as a nerdy introvert. She turns down a date to stay home and order from pizza.net (a site which sadly no longer exists if it ever did). She has a few friends, but they're all on-line, brought to life by a text-to-voice reader.

Jeremy Northam is the bad guy, chasing Angela for reasons unknown to her, and because the baddies have internet access they've deleted Angela's existence, and all evidence that she ever existed. 

"Our whole world is sitting there on a computer. It's in the computer, everything — your DMV records, your Social Security, your credit cards, your medical history — it's all right there. Everyone is stored, and there's this little electronic shadow on each and every one of us, just begging for someone to screw with, and you know what, they've done it to me, and you know what, they're going to do it to you."

Yikes! A paranoid thriller built on fear of floppy-disc technology! Weirdly, it works as a movie, so long as you don't understand anything about the internet. It's enjoyable nonsense, except for a brief bit with the insufferable Dennis Miller. 

It starts and ends with Annie Lennox singing a so-so cover of Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale," which, like most covers of classics, just made me want to hear the real thing. 

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

Sneakers (1992) 

Robert Redford stars, playing a good guy hacker since the 1960s, who made a bad mistake way back then. Never arrested, he's been in hiding — still working as a hacker, though — ever since. 

The feds have figured out who and where he is, and they're blackmailing him to do some dirty work and find a lost encryption chip that would let anybody do just about anything with a computer — crash planes, cut a city's water or power, etc. 

"There's a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it's not about who's got the most bullets. It's about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think... it's all about the information!"

Dan Aykyroyd, Ben Kingsley, Mary McDonnell, Sidney Poitier, River Phoenix, and David Straithairn hang around, helping Redford or hindering him, sometimes both. Aykroyd is funny as a conspiracy nut, Poitier plays off him nicely as an ex-CIA guy, and Mary McDonnell's character seems smarter than anyone else in the movie. It's surprising how little Phoenix is given to do to; he's basically playing an intern. A year later he was dead.

Sneakers is mostly built on the adventure and the characters, more than the new technology of its time, so despite being tech-heavy and three years older than Hackers and The Net, it doesn't feel nearly as dated.

Someone — probably Redford — snuck some politics into the script, like his reticence at the thought of working for the National Security Agency, and none of that seems dated, either.

Albeit a bit fluffier, this belongs on the same shelf with Redford's other very good paranoid flicks, like Three Days of the Condor and All the President's Men.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Snowbeast (1997)

"I saw something. It was monstrous, and it wasn't an animal, and it wasn't human either."

The snowbeast is a Yeti or Abominable snowman or maybe it's Bigfoot. Whatever it is, it's never seen, except brief glimpses of its maw or its paw, its jaw or its claw. Instead we see lots of skiing and Yeti-cam shots, where we see what the snowbeast sees through the bushes.

Whenever you're willing to take any of it seriously, the movie's truly bad music kicks in, or the snowbeast growls, which is an accidentally comical sound. 

Scripted by Joseph Stefano, who wrote Psycho and Futz, and directed badly by Herb Wallerstein, who helmed four episodes of the original Star Trek on TV. Bo Svenson and Yvette Mimieux star, and they're both better than the movie deserves.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Unknown Origin (1995)
a/k/a The Alien Within

"In the year 2020, man has used up and destroyed most of the Earth's resources. Large corporations have begun to develop experimental undersea habitation in the hope of conquering a new frontier…"

Deep under the waters, an "efficiency expert" visits, to observe and offer suggestions to increase mining productivity. Something else is visiting, too, in this none-too-imaginitive but generally adequate Roger Corman spin on Alien and The Abyss.

An old and wrinkled Roddy McDowall stars, opposite Melanie Shatner, daughter of Captain Kirk, which must've been a thrill for both of them. Nepotism is a bad thing, m'kay? But she gives it everything she has, and she's no worse than her father, or than McDowall, who's clearly coasting.

Verdict: MAYBE.

10/11/2022   

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twentyplex, you're missing out.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. I try to make these reviews spoiler-free, but sometimes screw up, sorry. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   

 

4 comments:

  1. I haven't read your review yet, but :

    I fucking LOVE Sneakers. We may have seen it together. I have probably watched it a dozen times, and I still love it every time. I think the Mary McDonnell character is well-acted, but poorly-written. It's a small flaw.

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    Replies
    1. Maybe. I wanted MM to do more in the movie. Wanted everyone to do more, but it's mostly about Redford's character, and yeah, it's great.

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    2. I just watched Sneakers for the first time a few weeks ago. I was indifferent to it. The blind guy driving the truck was absurd and unnecessary; compare it to the scene in Licorice Pizza where the two kids have to navigate the moving van backwards (!) without power (!) down several miles of curving residential streets. I didn't like that film either, but that's the best action scene of the 21st century, not counting Mad Max Fury Road of course.

      I like a few films Redford is in (especially Three Days of the Condor and his Michael Ritchie flicks) and by all accounts he's a decent human, but I think he is, without a doubt, the single vainest actor who ever lived. I mean the roles he chooses, the manner in which his characters are introduced, the character types and arcs (always a hero, always false humility), his haircuts, his wardrobe, everything. He's insufferable. His frequent cohort Paul Newman I just find boring, nothing in his eyes at all. I think Warren Beatty is much more interesting. He's willing to look foolish, he's a legendary cocksman, and he may be the second smartest actor of that generation after Jack Nicholson.

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    3. The blind guy schtick in Sneakers is kinda lame, definitely the drive, and also when he 'finds' the modem.

      Never noticed that about Redford, but also a valid point, I think. Never seen him play anything but another dashing, smart good guy.

      He also briefly dabbled in owning cinemas under his Sundance brand, and built a theater from scratch in Madison, but it was bland, ugly, and overpriced, no better than any other theater, and with a truly tacky interior centered on, I kid you not, dried twigs.

      That said, I've never not liked him in a movie, and I've also liked most of his directorial efforts.

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