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Looper and Outland, and five more movies

THE
NEVERENDING
FILM FESTIVAL

#103
Today, a 'true story' of pinball-related crime, a Brit comedy about sidewalk advertising, a dated documentary about skid row, Bruce Willis as a sci-fi killer, Sean Connery as a sci-fi cop, another sci-fi that might've been made by space aliens, and Sylvester Stallone with a rope and pick axe.

Cliffhanger (1993)
Looper (2012)
On the Bowery (1956)
Outland (1981)
Portland Exposé (1957)
The Sandwich Man (1966)
Xtro (1982)

Looper and Outland are both very good. Xtro is also very, but I'm not sure very what.

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Cliffhanger (1993)

Sylvester Stallone is on the Rocky Mountain Rescue Squad, at a snowy park where folks climb high, get stranded, and radio his team for help. In the film's opening moments, something goes wrong with the rigging and he accidentally drops a pretty lady to her death. It's supposed to be terrifying and it is, but it also illustrates what idiots these sky-high jocks can be.

Then your movie-standard criminal mastermind (hammy John Lithgow) crash lands onto the mountain, and Stallone is forced to help him and his stooges find the lost luggage that has $88-billion in cash and bearer-bonds in it. It's a formulaic action movie, with only the mountain scenery to set it apart. Action director Reny Harlin knows how to make it watchable, though.

I saw this when it first came out, liked it, gave it a re-watch this morning, and liked it again. It's a well-made and enjoyable thriller, but I have three complaints:

First, it's set in a winter storm atop the mountains, but you can't see anyone's breath, because the action scenes were all filmed on 75° sets and greenscreenery. It's hard not to notice.

Second, the ending isn't much. Give me a wisecrack or something, not just a bland conversation and then the cast of characters.

And third, the music, an orchestral score by Trevor Jones, is too good. I was whistling it for months when I first saw this, and now I'll be whistling it again until springtime.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Looper (2012)

I'm lazy and this movie is complicated, so let's let it explain itself:

"Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been. It will be instantly outlawed, used only in secret by the largest criminal organizations. It's nearly impossible to dispose of a body in the future... I'm told. Tagging techniques, whatnot. So when these criminal organizations in the future need someone gone, they use specialized assassins in our present called "loopers." And so, my employers in the future nab the target, they zap him back to me, their looper. He appears, hands tied and head sacked, and I do the necessaries. Collect my silver. So the target is vanished from the future, and I've just disposed of a body that technically does not exist. Clean."

"There's a reason we're called loopers. When we sign up for this job, taking out the future's garbage, we also agree to a very specific proviso. Time travel in the future is so illegal, that when our employers want to close our contracts, they'll also want to erase any trace of their relationship with us ever existing. So if we're still alive 30 years from now, they'll find our older self, zap him back to us, and we'll kill him like any other job. This is called closing your loop."

It gets more complicated than that, so unless you're watching it on your cell phone, turn off your cell phone and pay attention. 

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, who did some very good stuff — Brick, and this, and maybe more — before he started wasting his time at the Star Wars factory. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe the looper, and Bruce Willis plays Joe thirty years later. Emily Blunt is here, too, and terrific.

It's a competent, interesting but average chunk of science fiction, mostly about the business and politics of being a looper — until it's about half over. Suddenly the pace and setting changes, and it becomes a different movie about… well, I'm not going to tell you what the last half of the movie is about, but it's better than the first half.

By the time it was over, I seriously gave a damn about these fictional characters doing things that shouldn't be done, probably can't be done, and getting by in their impossible future.

Looper is smart, thrilling, and worth watching. The brilliant second half wouldn't make sense without the more mechanical first half, though, so no fast-forwarding.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

On the Bowery (1956) 

The word bowery hasn't been in my vocabulary, so I looked it up. Merriam-Webster say's it's "a city district known for cheap bars and derelicts," so I've lived years of my life in different boweries and never knew it.

This is a documentary on the subject, when I was hoping for a drama. And it's from a different time or place or planet, which may have existed but I'm skeptical. In the movie, everyone living on the street is white, and nobody swears, and they don't look particularly dirty. It feels like a Disney version of boweries I've been.

Maybe the times have changed? This is bumland in the 1950s, and I only know bumland in the 1980s and since.

Several scenes are clearly staged — poorly acted, with camera angles that gave away that the moviemakers knew what was coming. 

I was disappointed but still watching, but shouted "Fuck this shit" when the camera went into a church and a preacher delivered an entire frickin' sermon, while an organ played. At that, I turned it off. You want me to watch a frustrating movie to the end, pay me.

Googling around, I find that this is a respected documentary, so maybe I'm completely wrong. But I'm right that portions of it were staged.

I ain't mad at 'em; maybe documentary standards were different then, and I'm not going to get too self-righteous about it. It simply didn't win me over as a documentary, and if it's a drama set in bumland, it ought to be better than this.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Outland (1981)

An outer-space homage to High Noon, written and directed by Peter Hyams (2010, Capricorn One). 

Sean Connery is the new marshal at a mining colony on one of the moons of Jupiter, where someone's selling a nasty and deadly designer drug.

I am weary of our society's endless panics over recreational drugs — opium, cocaine, marihuana, LSD, heroin, crack, opium again, now it's fentanyl... If humans ever get into space, I sure hope we'll have better things to worry about than telling each other what to never smoke, sniff, or inject under penalty of law.

Other than that political quibble, though, this is a fine sci-fi thriller. Connery is Connery, and whatever drug makes an actor irresistible on screen, he's a walking overdose.

Here he's tough, smart, and vulnerable, and just like High Noon, he's very nearly alone for the big showdown. The one person he can count on isn't his wife, isn't any of the cops under his command, it's the space station's delightfully cranky doctor, played by Frances Sternhagen. She has a thousand quips ready for any occasion, and fires them like the marshal fires his space blaster.

I've seen Outland three times over the years, and it always grabs me from the start. It's one of Connery's best performances, and Sternhagen is astounding, and might be the only woman he ever co-stared with who wasn't also a "love interest."

There's neither a dull nor a false moment in the whole dang flick, and it's just really good big-money blockbuster moviemaking.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Portland Exposé (1957)

This opens with picketers on strike, for reasons never quite explained. Edward Binns plays a tavern owner in Portland, who reluctantly adds a pinball machine in his establishment. From that moment, the movie cuts immediately to two thugs mercilessly beating a man. 

Organized crime is involved in the pinball business? It's supposed to be a true story, so I googled, and it's one of those true stories that pays no attention to what actually happened. The powers that be wouldn't even let the movie screen in Portland.

Anyway, back to the so-so movie: The mob wants Binns to add twenty or thirty more machines and go into the hooker business. One of the pinball goons tries to rape his daughter, and Binns never even gives her a hug, but after that he decides to wear a wire and go undercover for the cops.

Binns was never a big star, and he's probably best known as one of the 12 Angry Men, but he starred in the first professional play I saw, Death of a Salesman at the Seattle Rep. I'd give that show a BIG YES, but this is just a lightweight noir.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Sandwich Man (1966)

Here's a very broad, very British comedy about a man who wears advertising placards — a sandwich man — and all the colorful people he meets on his sponsored walks.

For my taste it's never really funny. A homeless chap stinks, so the line disappears as people smell him, and he gets quick service at a burger stand. Another gent wants his tea, but it's handed down to him by a man operating a jackhammer, so it's entirely spilled. If that's comedy, there's lots of it here.

Seeing a priest act silly as he runs a boys' PE class seems perhaps a tad less hilarious than it might've been in 1966, too.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Xtro (1982)

Maybe you can help me understand this?

Dad gets kidnapped by space aliens, so Mom takes up with a new fellow. Three years later, Dad is born like a baby, which had to be painful for the woman who re-birthed him. I didn't catch who she was, though.

Dad wipes the afterbirth off him and hurries home to Mom and her new boyfriend, but he can't remember anything, and he's changed — eats snake eggs, seems to be evolving into a walking scab, etc.

Their son, meanwhile, sends his toys to kill an obnoxious neighbor, and eventually the toys come gunning for Dad. There's also a goopy cocoon hanging from the ceiling, and gurgling balloons of life in the bathtub.

This is an unusual movie. It's the first screen appearance by future Bond girl Maryam d'Abo, though I never figured out what she had to do with the story. Actually, there's lots about this movie that I didn't figure out. 

Verdict: MAYBE, but probably not.

  11/5/2022  

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.   

 

10 comments:

  1. I liked Looper but perhaps not quite as much as you did. Very interesting premise, however. As far as Outland, I remember seeing it in the theaters when it first came out and loved it! It was a real nail biter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Everything is subjective, really. It kinda surprises me that more people aren't constantly telling me my opinions are shit, because honestly, my opinions *are* shit..

      Delete
  2. I loved "before he started wasting his time at the Star Wars factor" and you nailed it on that. Those movies are such drivel.

    I've seen all the famous movies you write about, the Loopers and Bricks, but it's solid gold when you recommend something that's really out there. I am trying to find Xtre (though I know you didn't recommend it). It just sounds so crazy and I like that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My tastes are varied, so I can't promise all "really out there", all the time, but there's plenty of weird stuff coming soon.

      You might like Xtro. I might like it too; I'm thinking of giving it another look. Spell it right, though, or you'll never find it. :)

      Delete
  3. I seethingly dislike Rian Johnson's films, but his episodes of Breaking bad were excellent (well, except for "Fly")

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seethingly! What fuels your seething?

      Brick was way over the top, something I somehow didn't really notice when I first saw it some years ago. That's mostly what I liked about it on my recent re-watch -- it's so marvelously ridiculous.

      Delete
  4. Progress report: I hate to talk about a stale old book when all these movin' pictures are flying about, but when I make a claim I like to back it up, so a week ago, I picked up my copy of Catch-22, about which there was a comment or two back then, and started reading. I'm a slow reader and it's a fairly big book. I read about a half hour a day and I'm now halfway through. I'll write a review, 60 years late, when I finish. I can tell you now that it took me a few chapters to get started, but I'm finding what I hoped to: a serious work of fiction, well and passionately written, well organized with three dimensional characters in a brutal war.

    I happen to have the 1995 paperback edition in which Heller writes a short forward, reminding the reader that the book was on no American hardback bestseller lists, received as many bad reviews as good, and won no book awards upon publication or after. It sold poorly until it came out in paperback -- then it exploded. I'll describe the explosion when I review the book 60 years late. I read it when I was about 20 and when I was about 45, so much of it is familiar, but the prose is so dynamic that it still seems fresh.

    It's almost as easy as watching a movie.

    John

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Winning no awards can often be seen as the highest award.

      I look forward to your verdict when it's finished.

      I'm currently reading Earth Abides, by George R Stewart. Enjoying every page so far, almost every paragraph, but still, only reading it at the cafe and at bedtime, it'll take me a month or longer.

      Delete
    2. Quick preview: Yossarian lives.

      John

      Delete
    3. Well, now you've given it away.

      Delete

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