Long Weekend, and six more movies

Long Weekend (1977)

A bickering couple goes camping at the beach for a few days, hoping that a weekend getaway might heal their fractured relationship.

It's a two-character drama, and it's a horror movie, technically, but with no monsters or maniacs. The horror is only unexplained noises in the distance, snarling varmints in the woods, etc — and watching this couple's relationship dissolve into angry arguments. 



Feb. 27, 2023

Peter and Marcia only intermittently stop snapping at each other, and she doesn't even want to be there. She would've preferred to stay at a hotel instead of a remote campspot, and probably she'd have chosen the company of friends over the company of Peter. I certainly would've.

The trip is off to a bad start when their car hits a kangaroo on a dark and lonely road. (Have I mentioned? It's an Australian film.)

For a couple gone camping, they're awfully disrespectful of nature, with Peter chopping down a tree just for a better view, Marcia tossing an eagle's egg, and the whole run-me-kangaroo-down bit.

In response, nature goes just a few degrees askew. The campsite is infested with ants, there's something in the water, and the air is filled with insults that bit-by-bit reveal some of what Peter and Marcia are arguing about. 

It's a deliciously unsettling film, skipping most of the tropes of suspense and horror and concentrating on its characters instead. Despite being set almost entirely in the great outdoors, it feels almost claustrophobic. It's moody, serious, and one of those films so smartly put together that when it finished I watched it a second time.

It occurs to me that the movie might be making a statement against abortion, but only if you think too hard, and I try to never think too hard.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

A Hitch in Time (1978)

This is a chipper, wholesome, junior sci-fi movie from Britain, about a couple of rosy-cheeked early-teens who talk the local mad scientist into letting them borrow his time machine. Hop, skip, and jumping through time, the kids get to show up an arrogant teacher and the teacher's ancestors.

There's a bopping synthesizer score, a computer with flashing lights, laughably bad kung fu, World War II, Robin Hood, witches being burned at the stake, cavemen, and all manner of silliness. The mad scientist is played by ex-Doctor Who Patrick Troughton, and at a little less than an hour there's no time to be bored.

Written by T.E.B. Clarke (The Lavender Hill Mob).

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦   

Freddy Got Fingered (2001)

If you're expecting a few laughs from a routine comedy, this might be the worst movie you've ever seen. If you'd like something different, though…

Tom Green writes, stars, and directs his motion picture debut, and you might say, who? Green was a 1990s comic who's rarely been heard from since this film opened and almost immediately closed.

It's easy to see why it flopped — it doesn't play by movie rules, and it's weird more than funny. From the opening moments, it is astoundingly stupid, sometimes shocking, and determined to be offensive to any easily-melted snowflakes.

Rip Torn plays Green's idiotic father, and he's both lovable and monstrous. The movie, though, is all about Tom Green.

He's one of those guys who never shuts up, and who'll do anything to be the center of attention. He's Jerry Lewis without any G-rated restraint — giving a horse a handjob, twirling a newborn by its umbilical cord, toppling an old man from a walker, falsely accusing his dad of child molestation, whatever. He's an asshole stretched to six feet in height, and in real life you'd run in the opposite direction.

In this movie, though, somehow he's frequently funny. And anyway, science says we all have brain cells to spare.

Julie Hagerty and Anthony Michael Hall are not allowed to be funny, but (very briefly) Drew Barrymore and Shaquille O'Neal are.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦   

Imitation of Life (1934)

"I want my quack-quack."

Bea (Claudette Colbert) is a single mother with an infant daughter, and so's Delilah (Louise Beavers), but Bea is white and Delilah is black. Bea hires Delilah as a maid, and the two women soon become friends and business partners, opening a hotcake restaurant together. Their success is built on Delilah's recipe for pancake mix, but Delilah is an equal partner in the business. 

The women's daughters are about the same skin-tone, because Delilah's dead husband was, she says, a very light-skinned black man. As the girls grow, the one who's borderline-black chaffs when she sees that white girls have all the advantages, so she lets people believe she's white. 'Passing', it's called, and unsurprisingly Delilah doesn't approve.

The audience — that's you — is left to ponder, what's the harm, and more to the point, what's the inherent difference between black and white?

My take is that there's none — no harm, and no difference. The black girl's teacher doesn't even know the kid's black, which removes prejudice from the equation so it has to lead to a better education.

And why shouldn't the girl want a better life? After all, even when the pancake business makes both families rich and the four of them share a mansion together, Bea and her daughter live upstairs where there's a veranda and a view; Delilah and her daughter dwell in the basement. And they never hire anyone to take over Delilah's housekeeping duties.

Colbert's the star of the film, and she's terrific, of course. Beavers' Delilah is the saintly, long-suffering stereotype of a maid and mother, but she's not written or played as a fool. There's a somewhat contrived subplot wherein Colbert and her teenage daughter both fall for the same man, but it's handled tastefully if melodramatically.

The film is based on a novel by Fannie Hurst, who seems to have been a remarkable woman. One of the most successful authors of her time, she was also an activist for African-American rights, a feminist, and an early, outspoken supporter of the highly-controversial "New Deal," who later gave and raised funds for refugees from Nazi Germany. Her numerous best-sellers and short-stories frequently featured working women and immigrants, and have been made into 29 movies, but none in the last fifty years, as the civil rights movement and modern era made her work seem dated and perhaps quaint, even racist.

Imitation of Life is about motherhood and love, but it's also about race. It was controversial from both directions, with some whites complaining about the interracial and passing aspects, and some blacks troubled by the stereotypes. Langston Hughes famously wrote a parody called Limitations of Life.

I say, for a Hollywood film made in the 1930s, it's progressive stuff, handled thoughtfully, and not to be missed.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦   

Imitation of Life (1959)

For this remake, they changed everything. It's a good movie, but most of the changes made it worse.

Lana Turner ain't no Claudette Colbert, and Bea is now an aspiring actress instead of a pancake magnate. And also, she's not Bea — most of the characters' names were changed from the novel and first film, but for clarity I'll use the names the book's author gave them.

Rewriting Bea as an actress means that she and Delilah aren't working together, so their scenes are mostly separate, and the sense of their friendship is diminished.

Much of the film is focused on Bea's career as an actress, about which I cared nary half a whit. Also, Sandra Dee plays Turner's daughter, and she's a squeaky-voiced Hollywood fake-teenager, as annoying as when she played Gidget

On the plus side, Delilah's role is less of a stereotype, Mahalia Jackson sings a song, and Doug Sirk directs so the movie looks fabulous.

Overall, though, the original is about a white woman and a black woman who become best friends and business partners, while the remake is about a white woman who has a black maid. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Stepford Wives (1975)

Whether you've seen it or not, you know this movie's plot — suburban wives lose their personalities and become kitchen-bound automatons. It's understood before it starts, and that's a shame, because it's a much better movie than it is a synopsis.

The Stepford Wives is a pointed political satire dressed up as a horror movie, and it's successful at both.

Joanna (Katharine Ross) and Bobbie (Paula Prentiss) play newcomers and new friends in the pricey, airy community of Stepford, Connecticut. They've tried making other friends in town, but the local women are more interested in cooking and cleaning than anything else in life.

"I'm not contemplating any Maidenform bonfires, but they could certainly use something around here!"

There's a classic scene, terrifying and hilarious, where Joanna holds a consciousness-raising session in her living room, but can't get the other women to talk about anything beyond which cleaning powder is most effective against stains.

The film is a little campy, but if its reputation didn't precede it, you'd wonder for a while whether everything's only in Joanna's imagination. Her simmering paranoia and eventually desperation is believable, and true to life.

The point of it all ought to be clear to anyone who's seen America — marriage is where intelligent women with hobbies and interests and lives of their own become housewives or Betty Crockerbots.

In a time when women were burning bras and fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment, this was a movie with a message. It's no less pertinent in our time, when abortion is increasingly against the law, and the ERA has been forgotten.

The movie isn't flawless, certainly. In any role, Ross always seemed only slightly more than an android already, and the direction is sleepy. One wonders what Don Siegel or Joseph Sargent could've done with this material.

Based on a novel by Ira Levin, who also wrote The Boys from Brazil, A Kiss Before Dying, and Rosemary's Baby. Script by William Goldman (All the President's Men, The Princess Bride).

Features Patrick O'Neal and Tina Louise, and I wasn't expecting it but there's no mistaking that Joanna's daughter is little Mary Stewart Masterson. Her father, Peter Masterson, plays her father.

"You see, doctor, my problem is that, given complete freedom of choice, I don't want to squeeze the god damned Charmin."

Verdict: YES.

In addition to the flop remake in 2004, there were also a flock of sequels — Revenge of the Stepford Wives (1980), The Stepford Children (1987), and The Stepford Husbands (1996), none of which I'd even heard of, and all of which seem worth avoiding.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Zabriskie Point (1970)

Zabriskie Point is widely considered a classic, but I found it a confused pile of piffle.

Writer-director Michelangelo Antonioni's first mistake was writing it — he's Italian, but the movie takes place in America, and starts with an awkward meeting of protest planners who speak in US political clichés.

Non-actors play the leads — Daria Halprin, who's pretty but never convincing, and Mark Frechette, who poses and speaks.

Halprin plays a temp secretary who may or may not have left a book on an office's roof — at least, that's what she tells a security guard to gain access, but the matter is never mentioned again. Frechette plays a rebel too bored to actually rebel against anything, so he steals a small airplane.

They "meet cute" when she's driving across the southwest for reasons unknown, and he's buzzes her car with the stolen plane to win her affections. Unbelievably, this tactic works, and almost immediately there's a seven-minute orgy montage in the desert, with about twenty couples who've emerged from nowhere to boink amidst the dust. It looks very uncomfortable, and not as sexy as a can of sardines.

After that the plot lost track of me, but toward the end there's an explosion that's replayed more times and from more angles than I could count without rewinding. Like everything else, the why of the explosion(s) remains unexplained.

To catch the zeitgeist of the '60s that the script missed, it was scored by Pink Floyd, with songs by the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones, and several other major bands, and the music is the only reason to see the movie. Rob Orbison wrote an original theme song and sings it over the closing credits, but he isn't credited on-screen, and the song isn't on the soundtrack album.

With its great reputation, a month ago I might've watched Zabriskie Point a second time and tried very hard to understand what everyone else sees in it, but I'm about to start a new job and lose fifty hours a week to work and commuting, so anything that wastes my time can fuck right off. 

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Coming soon: 

A Night at the Opera (1935)
Blonde Venus (1932)
Comes a Horseman (1978)
Earthworm Tractors (1936)
The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything (1980)
Mad Max (1979)
TimeQuest (2000)


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 twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

CultCinema Classics
Films for Action
Internet Archive
Kino Lorber
Korean Classic Film
Christopher R Mihm
National Film Board of Canada
New Yorker Screening Room
Damon Packard
Mark Pirro
Public Domain Movies
Scarecrow Video
Timeless Classic Movies
or your local library.

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —
Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.

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  1. I've always thought Zabriskie Point was considered the worst movie ever made by a successful director, but I don't know Rob about movies. It was made in a era of great films and died like a fish who fought hard but flopped. Commercial failure certainly doesn't imply artistic failure; but in this case they seem to coexist quietly, like a grave in the desert at night.


    1. Most of my favorite artists are commercial failures like me.

      Antonioni made better movies, but everyone's entitled to an off day. I started laughing during the desert orgy.

  2. By the way, Doug, nice job at the top of the page. Clean, and just the right size. You give good header.



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