The Candy Snatchers,
and six more movies

Today's movies are:
Battle Beyond the Sun (1958)
The Candy Snatchers (1973) 
Space (2010)
Spy Kids 2 (2002)
Swiss Army Man (2016)
The Time Crystal (1981)
a/k/a Through the Magic Pyramid
a/k/a Tut and Tuttle
Trash (2014).

Of these, Spy Kids 2 was the most fun, Swiss Army Man was the weirdest, The Time Crystal was the worst, and The Candy Snatchers deserves a special Oscar for outstanding achievement in B-moviemaking.

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Battle Beyond the Sun (1958)

Oh, my. This opens with a lecture about space exploration, reminiscent of boring educational films you might've sat through in junior high school. After that, there's the opening credits, and then — another talkative lecture, explaining that there's been an atomic war, most people are dead, and the few survivors are in a new cold war, and a new space race to Mars. This seems like a very unlikely future.

We're seven minutes into the movie before the lectures end and there's any dialogue, and it's all badly dubbed. But wait, the opening credits listed nothing but American-sounding names, so why is it dubbed? I paused the movie to unravel this mystery.

Thanks to Wikipedia, now I know that this is a Soviet sci-fi movie, purchased by Roger Corman, "Americanized" by Francis Ford Coppola. They even "Americanized" the names of everyone in the credits — Aleksandr Shvorin was renamed "Andy Stewart," Ivan Pereverzev became "Edd Perry," etc. That's cheating, and it's scummy, and it changes everything about how the film should be perceived.

The story is dumb, but is that Corman's fault, or Lenin and Trotsky's? It's visually different from other films of its era, though that's probably more because it's Soviet than from any set design or cinematography choices.

Battle Beyond the Sun isn't 'smooth' like a Hollywood film, it moves slowly, and the voice dubbing is so bad that it's hard to fairly access the film. After what Corman and Coppola did to it, one can only wonder whether the Soviet original was any good. This American version isn't.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Candy Snatchers (1973)

A teenage girl is kidnapped, and stashed in an underground pit. When the bad guys phone her father, though, demanding ransom, Dad hangs up the phone and quietly tells his wife that the girl is spending the night at a friend's house.

A little boy finds the girl buried alive, but he can't help her because he's mentally off, maybe 6 years old and mute. Even if he could talk, his parents are too busy ignoring and beating him to listen.

This is grisly drive-in exploitation cinema, elevated to art. Lurid, shocking, almost subversive, it's a wicked thriller where everyone's damaged, including the viewer. Done right, this sort of film can feel like a stylized, brutalized version of life itself, and The Candy Snatchers is done right.

Whatever's happening in the story, no matter how bleak things look, it's only going to get bleaker. By the movie's bleak conclusion, my only response for several minutes was Holy shit.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Space (2020)

The first thing I noticed about Space is that it stars a young woman who isn't movie-star beautiful, and I love that. She's Lara Jean Sullivan, playing Dr Ada Gray, and she looks and acts like a human woman instead of the standard-shape bland-but-gorgeous women that populate big-budget movies.

Space is not a big-budget movie. It cost $11,000 to make, about 0.0005% of what Hollywood routinely spends on a shitty superhero flick, so the mere fact that it's watchable is a remarkable achievement. It looks good, it's set on a believable spaceship, with characters played by actors who rarely seem as amateur as they must've been with that budget. A few actors who can't act are wisely relegated to the smaller roles.

It's set on a space ship called The Udo, a few decades in our future, on a years-long mission to — I don't know where, but a few lines of dialogue suggest it's somehow urgent for Planet Earth. Ada is the only woman on the crew, working with several men, including a few old enough to be grandfathers. One of the granddads says to another, "I'll tell you what's back-asswards. Britney Spears getting Medicare."

If you know anything about the human species, maybe you're skeptical about sending a bunch of men into space for an extended mission with only one woman aboard, because how can that not lead to problems? Guess what? It leads to problems.

Mostly, the problem is the script. The dialogue is OK, sometimes even witty, but a screenplay also needs to advance and explain the plot, and the story here is all over outer space. There's a big crisis midway through the movie, and I've reversed and watched some key scenes twice, but I still don't understand what the crisis is. There's an ending to the story, too, and it seems big and dramatic but I don't understand that, either.

Less frustrating but still a problem, the sound of radio static and flickering screens are used to convey that we're communicating across the vastness of space. After the first dozen jumpy screens and bursts of static, we get the idea, but the static and jumpy screens continue. It's annoying.

IMDB gives Space a disastrous 1.9 on a scale of one to ten, but that's bullshit. Even with my complaints, it's never boring, sometimes thrilling, there are at least two characters worth caring about, and it's way better than The Phantom Menace

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002)

Sequels are generally against my rules, as they're almost guaranteed to disappoint, but I really enjoyed Spy Kids.

It's the further adventures of two children working as spies. They have a gazillion gadgets, but you can't always count on a gadget when you need one. 

She: I can't believe this.

He: What happened? 

She: Nothing. That's just it. That was supposed to make an instant campfire, and that was supposed to make a shelter. None of our gadgets work.

He: You mean we have to use our heads?

All the wacko characters from the first movie are back and wackier. They've added Holland Taylor and Ricardo Montalban as the Spy Mom's parents who are, of course, retired spies. There's also Steve Buscemi as a mad mastermind of miniaturization.

4½ big laughs, and innumerable smaller smiles. It's just a big fun kids' movie, and I'm a big kid.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Swiss Army Man (2016)

Hank (Paul Dano) is preparing to kill himself, because he's been stranded alone on a deserted island for so long he's lost all hope and his mind. But he unties his noose when a corpse washes up on the shore, and it's the decaying body of a stranger (Daniel Radcliffe).

The corpse is very flatulent, so Hank pulls down its pants and uses its flatulence to propel both of them across the ocean.

Radcliffe plays dead for so long I began wondering if he'd ever have dialogue. Eventually, though, he begins reanimation, and introduces himself as Manny. He can't remember anything about being human except the theme music to Jurassic Park.

Swiss Army Man is about friendship and farts and possibly love, as Hank answers a hundred of Manny's questions about being alive. You might think you know where the story is going, but you'll be wrong every time, right up to the movie's marvelous last moments. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Time Crystal (1981)
a/k/a Through the Magic Pyramid
a/k/a Tut and Tuttle

A kid is magically transported back to ancient Egypt, where Tutankhamen is only a prince and where many stupid things happen.

The cast includes Vic Tayback, Jo Anne Worley, Olivia Barash from Repo Man, and not nearly enough of the marvelous Hans Conreid. Robbie Rist (Oliver on The Brady Bunch) plays a kid called Bonkers who'd rather you called him Boris.

Directed by Ron Howard, and written by his dad, Rance Howard, this is just barely imaginative enough that it might hold a 6-year-old's attention. You're older than that.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Trash (2014)

Welcome to the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where children are abandoned to survive on their own. Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara are the stars you'll recognize, but the movie isn't much about them, and it's better for looking away from the stars.

Instead it's about three kids who find a stolen wallet, while they're scavenging through mountains of garbage at the dump. A mysterious adventure begins with that wallet, and exposes crime, poverty, corruption, and occasionally warmth.

There's not much to be said about Trash without giving away too much, but it's a good movie. Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral, About Time) is one of the writers, so you can depend on a teary-eyed conclusion.

Verdict: YES.


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.   



  1. "Candy Snatchers" is the tits, one of my favorites.

    And part of that is because despite the completely sick content, it is so beautifully photographed, like a Douglas Sirk Technicolor romance. Most exploitation films look like literal trash, and that's a large part of their effectiveness and charm, but this one is all the more subversive because it's so lovely.

    1. It's the tits, eh? That's a new but delightful phrase for me.

      It *is* beautifully cinematogged.

      I looked around byt didn't find anything else that looked interesting from the writer or director. Holler if I'm mistaken.

      The Candy Snatchers fits nicely under my new rule against unnecessary gruesomeness. First off, it's not very graphically gruesome, but more importantly, that gruesomeness is for a storytelling purpose, not merely gruesome for gruesomeness' sake.

      And still I say to myself, Holy shit.


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