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Yes, God, Yes, and six more movies


Yes, God, Yes (2020)

Alice is a teenage girl who's having certain urges. This is normal, of course, and it would be weird if she didn't, but she's a Christian, part of her church youth group, and goes to a Christian school, so such feelings can't be allowed. Amidst rumors that she may have done something nasty with a boy (she didn't) Alice is sent to a 'retreat' for Christian teens, to get closer to Jesus. Shudder.

THE
NEVERENDING
FILM FESTIVAL

#134

Wednesday,
Jan. 18, 2023


Most of the film takes place at the church's youth camp, where this kid deals with more urges, and also more guilt, Bible lessons, smiling Christian guidance, and whispers and suspicions. The only escape is when Alice sneaks out of the Christian camp and into a bar down the road. She's underage, but gets a wine cooler and a few minutes of good advice.

"You know, the truth is, nobody knows what they're doing any more than the rest of us. We're all just trying to figure out our shit."

Other than running off to a bar, everything in this flick rings true to my memory of growing up in a religious family, part of a church youth group, and going to Christian camp and a Christian school (the years Dad could afford the tuition). All of the movie's "spirit of Jesus" clichés are wincingly accurate, and the buildings and grounds at the St Ignatius Retreat Center look exactly like the church summer camp my brothers and sisters and I were sent to, every summer.

It's all here — the intrusive questions delving into every kid's personal life and inner turmoil, the rote advice and scriptural recitations offered as help, re-casting pop music as being about God, nature hikes with a guide reminding the kids that God designed the trees and the skies, and the campfire hymn-alongs with kids hypnotically swaying as they sing. And just like at our Christian camp, some of the kids are sneaking off with each other to make out, or more.

Natalia Dyer stars as Alice, and I've only seen her in Stranger Things, where she's always seemed a blank space looking for a character. Here, though, she conveys all the confusion and curiosity of that difficult age and place.

Timothy Simons (from Veep) nails it to a cross as the 'hip', relaxed, but bullying priest who tells kids that masturbation is a sin, and touching yourself is a ticket to eternal damnation, and explains how sex works despite living his own life under a vow of celibacy.

Unlike the few other films that tread onto this turf, religion isn't the butt of the joke here. It's treated quite respectfully. Alice isn't questioning her faith, only her hormones. She's a better Christian at the end of the film, it's fair to say, and the priest is a better priest.

Writer-director Karen Maine is unknown to me, but I'll want to see anything with her name on it.

Pushing religion so hard onto children is, I believe, a form of abuse that scars kids for life. This film sheds a light on that, and does it without preaching. It's smart, funny, and fun.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Alice's Restaurant (1969)

This is Arlo Guthrie's marvelous song "Alice's Restaurant," stretched to movie length. Every line of the song is enacted on screen, with extra hippie talk added as padding.

It's cool seeing Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger playing themselves. Arlo is as engaging an actor as he is a singer, at least here, playing himself. M Emmet Walsh plays an Army induction officer, and James Broderick — the whitebread father from TV's Family only a few years after this — plays a counterculture preacher.

You could do worse than watching this, but how could it not be disappointing? The song is a masterpiece. The movie is just a movie.

Verdict: MAYBE. Play the song instead.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Planet of the Vampires (1965)

There are no vampires here. It's a science fiction film, wherein a small crew of astronauts land on a planet and something starts messing with their brains. It's from Italian moviemaker Mario Bava, who usually worked in horror, which is probably why they picked the title — 'vampires' would appeal to Bava's fans more than 'mind control'.

Barry Sullivan stars. He was once a fairly big name but you probably don't remember him, because he was usually kinda bland. He's bland here, along with the rest of the cast. Part of that's because most of the actors are speaking Italian, badly dubbed into English, but the script and delivery are so uniformly low-key you'd think it's an all-Vulcan cast. 

The visuals are great, though, the music is eerie, and there's a strong concept behind the story. A lot gets lost in the dubbing, but enough gets through to still be interesting.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

Dr Quatermass is a brilliant scientist who's built a rocket ship, and without waiting for any regulators to say it's OK, launched it into space with a three-man crew.

Remember, this is years before the first manned orbit of earth, so simply reaching orbit is all they were trying to do, but while they're up there the ship comes in contact with… something.

When it comes down, there's only one man aboard, badly injured, and the other two men are missing. The survivor can't speak, and Quatermass won't cooperate with a police investigation. 

The surviving astronaut isn't a monster on the rampage or anything, but he's wounded, and 'infected' with an alien life form. When he hits or touches anything that's alive, it's not alive much longer. Quatermass says, "There is no living thing on earth that stands a chance against it," but he still won't answer questions from cops or reporters.

If it isn't obvious, this guy Quatermass is 40% ego and 60% ass. He's brusque with everyone, and thinks he's superior. He's a thoroughly unlikable protagonist, and the movie makes no attempt to to change, soften, or improve his personality, and I kinda love that.

I like the movie, too. It's a fine example of old-school science fiction on a low budget, which in this case does not mean schlock. It's an interesting story with next-to-no special effects, but plenty of atmosphere and a solid sci-fi sense of wonder. Expertly directed by Val Guest.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Shootist (1976)

"I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them."

John Wayne plays an aging gunfighter, fresh diagnosed with cancer. It's hopeless, and he has a month to live, maybe two. With no place to stay and die, he moves into Lauren Bacall's boarding house, where her son, Ron Howard (between Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham) comes to idolize the man.

This ain't The Duke's best movie, but it's sure good. Wayne's character is compelling, the story is sweet and sad, the action sequences are strong, and the moral to the story makes it even better.

Some of Wayne's friends stop in. His doctor is Jimmy Stewart. The town marshal is Harry Morgan. Trouble in town is Richard Boone. His horse is tended by Scatman Crothers. His ex-girl is Sheree North. The undertaker is John Carradine.

Directed by Don Siegel, this was John Wayne's last movie, and it's a fine farewell. 

And what better way to establish that Wayne's character has been a gunslinger for a long time, than beginning this movie with clips from some old John Wayne movies? Red River (1948), Hondo (1953), Rio Bravo (1959) and El Dorado (1966) are clipped, and I'm pleased to tell ya, pilgrim, that I recognized three out of four shootouts.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Stroszek (1977)

How come nobody captures America as well as Werner Herzog, in German? This flick is so peculiar and unpredictable and gol-durn American, it seems about half-improvised, and it probably was, but every oddity just adds to it. 

An actor billed only as Bruno S plays a very quiet, possibly retarded man named Stroszek, who immigrates to America with two buddies, a prostitute and a very old man. They end up in Wisconsin, where things get wacky.

You could think about this film all day and never quite puzzle it out, but it's more fun to watch it a second time, and then a third. Stroszek is funny without any jokes, and deeper than Shakespeare.

In the DVD commentary, Herzog says that Bruno S wasn't an actor. Herzog saw him in another filmmaker's documentary about street musicians, and wrote this movie for him, but he was mostly playing himself. Guess that's why the movie feels so dang real. You could know somebody for years and not know him as well as the movie knows Stroszek, but in the end do you really know him at all?

"We have a 10-80 out here — a truck on fire, and we have a man on the lift. We are unable to find the switch to turn the lift off, can't stop the dancing chickens. Send an electrician. We're standing by."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Sugarland Express (1974)

I'd never seen it before, but I've heard of this movie for about as long as I've been going to movies. It's where Goldie Hawn won her Oscar, and it was Steven Spielberg's first movie not made for TV, and it's — OK, that's all.

I don't know what I was expecting, but The Sugarland Express does not deliver anything special, and it's a fart compared to Stroszek.

Goldie Hawn plays Lou Jean, a pretty crook and ex-con, mother of a 2-year-old boy. William Atherton plays her husband Clovis, who's in prison but about to be released. She goes to visit him, and they sneak off the grounds and hijack a cop car, and the cop in it.

After that, it's a road trip movie. The three of them drive to Sugarland, Texas, where Lou Jean and Clovis's baby has been placed in foster care after being seized by Child Protective Services. They think they'll either steal the baby back, or convince a court to return the baby — that's how stupid these characters are.

Along the way they become sorta-buddies with the cop they've kidnapped, and lead a parade of dozens of cop cars all across Texas. The media makes them into folk heroes, and crowds of gawkers show up in every town to wish them the best.

If you put your brain away this might be entertaining, but it's more and more frustrating, mile after mile, if your noggin is functional. The protagonists are idiots, and the cops chasing them are also idiots. That it's going to end ugly can never be in any doubt, but first we get a feature-length chase scene.

As for Ms Hawn, there's nothing wrong with her performance, but if it's Oscar-worthy then every decent actor deserves an Oscar. She's playing an idiot woman-child who doesn't have a 10-year-old's wits about her. Hawn doesn't do anything to elevate that, and she never won an ounce of sympathy from me.

Michael Sacks plays the cop they kidnap, and he's so bland he reminds me of Paul Rudd. Which is saying something, cuz Paul Rudd is so bland even he doesn't remind me of Paul Rudd.

The most impressive performance in Sugarland Express is by William Atherton. Playing Clovis, he's nearly as dumb as Lou Jean, but he's not the typical character Atherton was later typecast to play — snide and smug.

And I gotta say something about the unspoken white privilege here. Imagine if Lou Jean and Clovis had been black — this movie would've been over so quick the end credits would roll on top of the opening credits.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Coming attractions:

• The American Friend (1977)
• An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)
• Beat Girl (1959)
• Defiance (1979)
• Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973)
• Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989)
• Reborn (2018)

1/18/2023   

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.   

 

6 comments:

  1. I've never seen the Quatermass Xperiment, but I have seen it's followup, Quatermass and the the Pit, which enthralled me as a kid in the 60s when I saw it on broadcast TV. Recommended if you can find it.

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    1. I will add the sequel to my watchlist — grazi!

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  2. Stroszek was also the last movie viewed by Joy Division singer Ian Curtis before he hung himself on the eve of the band's first US tour. I can't imagine that Herzog's commentary on America pushed him towards his end. He clearly suffered serious issues of depression and had a young person's narrow view that circumstances were fixed and never to be altered. And the romanticism that great artists die young. I highly doubt that you, Doug, would enjoy much by the band. They're past your era and their musical values are different. Love Will Tear Us Apart is the legendary single that wins over most people. I'd add New Dawn Fades, A Means to an End, Isolation and The Eternal to that list, along with just about everything they recorded. But then I'm a huge fan. -- Arden

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    Replies
    1. Well, that's unexpected information.

      You highly doubt that I'd enjoy Joy Division? I'm taking that as a challenge, and playing some of their tunes as I surf this evening...

      I've heard of Joy Division, but don't think I'd ever *heard* them until today. I was also unaware of Ian Curtis's suicide, or existence. Music has always been one of my big blind spots.

      I might surprise you, though. There are a few bands from our present post-rock era that I like. Joy Division might be one of them, based on the first four tunes I've now listened to — thanks.

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    2. I'd be extremely interested to hear if you develop any affinity for Joy Division. Their music is distinctly their own. I love it and rank the band as one of the greatest. I have less much less interest in the follow-up without Ian Curtis, New Order.

      JD only released two albums in their day, Unknown Pleasures and Closer. They are very different albums, with Closer sounding less like a punk band who learned to evolve but instead a band exploring how to go off the rails and still keep it coherent. After Curtis' suicide, a double album, Still, was released. One album is live and the other includes songs that were orphaned. Then Substance (on CD) mopped up the singles and others. I've rarely heard music that sounds like the man singing it is literally losing his mind. The lyrics are beyond bleak, yet poetic without being "poetic."

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    3. Well, jeez, not sure I want to listen to a man losing his mind.

      Don't be expecting too much from me on music, but I've given the band a couple of hours. Kinda punk, kinda experimental, and the singer, Mr Curtis, wanders around the notes.

      I liked "Atmosphere" and "Transmission," probably because they're less punk and experimental than the rest. Liked a few others, too. Disliked several as well.

      Of course, I was doing other stuff too. Maybe I missed something subtle.

      Delete

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