The Day Mars Invaded Earth, and six more movies

Should I apologize for this week's batch of movies? Nah, but be forewarned: I've been in the mood for schlock and 'bad cinema', and most of these turned out 'bad' in the wrong way. Even the three flicks I'm recommending aren't all that great.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Aftershock (1990)

This is a slight sci-fi about — wait, I finished watching it twenty minutes ago but barely remember what it was about.

In a generic post-apocalyptic future, a white guy who always has three days' stubble rides a motorcycle and acts tough. He's the star, which is the movie's fundamental mistake because jeez he's dull. His sidekick is much more interesting, a black guy who has Aftershock's only sense of humor or humanity.

There's also a space alien beautiful blonde, Christopher Mitchum still trying to be a movie star, and John Saxon slumming it as the bad guy. 

It has its moments, but not many of them.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963)

A scientist is having marital troubles, and also space exploration problems, as his probe of Mars has been unsuccessful.

Or has it? 

Instead of spaceships and lasers and such, this Martian invasion is powered by doppelgangers. Mimicking the scientist, the space aliens intend to sabotage further research, and they figure they couldn't fool the scientist's wife and kids, so they also fake his family.

It's a familiar concept and done fairly well, but it's supposed to be frightening and it's never that.

Nice black-and-white Cinemascope photography, but weird casting choices — the leading man looks like Vincent Price but isn't, and seems about twenty years older than his wife, who looks about ten years older than their "teenage" daughter. Their son is unlike any 10-year-old boy ever, simply smiling and obeying his parents even before the Martian doppelganger crisis.

And scientists must be very well-paid — not-Vincent Price and his family live in a gated compound the size of Citizen Kane's Xanadu. 

The movie definitely makes an effort and some of it succeeds. I was undecided between MAYBE and barely YES, but its unexpected ending won me over.

Verdict: YES, especially if you like old-school science fiction.

♦ ♦ ♦   

Easy Virtue (1927) 

This is directed by Alfred Hitchcock, but he wasn't Hitchcock yet. He made his mark with The Lodger a few months later, but Easy Virtue feels like he's still learning how to make movies. Nothing much happens, and other than giving himself a tiny walk-on bit, there's nothing Hitchcockian about it.

A woman is accused of infidelity in a divorce case, and after the divorce her new boyfriend is shocked by the allegations. Virtually all of the drama is about whether she has any virtue.

It's based on a play by Noel Coward, who also wrote the splendid Brief Encounter, but it feels tremendously dated, and literally put me to sleep. You'd need to be born circa 1900, or be a film historian, to find anything compelling about Easy Virtue.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦   

Food Co-Op (2016)

This is an interesting documentary about the Park Slope Food Co-Op in Brooklyn, where each of the 16,000 members are required to work a short shift every six weeks. 

That work makes them members, allowing them to shop at the store, where prices for everything are substantially lower, and the quality substantially higher, than in ordinary stores, or even ordinary co-ops. 

Through brief interviews with shoppers and workers, we see that almost everyone is passionate about the co-op. It's inspirational and smart, but also has funny bits — the montage of public address announcements cracked me up.

If you're sick of shopping at stores owned by enormous uncaring corporations, this flick will be a revelation. Afterward, I was surprised to see that it was an hour and a half; it felt like about half an hour, and the best half hour of my day.

Verdict: YES.

My only complaint is that the hyphen in co-op is inexplicably eschewed. I've added desperately-needed hyphens above, but at Park Slope and in the movie, co-op is spelled coop, like a chicken coop, not a store. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Key Exchange (1985)

This was one of the first movies I saw at the Seattle International Film Festival. I remember the theater, the woman I went with, and the question & answer session with the director afterwards.

I didn't remember the film at all, though, and watching it again I remembered why I remembered nothing. There's nothing here.

It's a 'modern' ensemble rom-com about a bunch of yuppies and their sexual escapades, but it aims to be sophisticated instead of raunchy. Light jazz score, unfunny dialogue, riding bikes through Central Park... It's so "filmed in New York" that Mayor Ed Koch has a cameo, talking about how great New York is.

It stars Brooke Adams from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and I've always liked her. There's also Daniel Stern, Danny Aiello, Tony Roberts, and Holland Taylor.

The movie, though, takes place entirely on the surface, and there's nothing to suggest that these are real people with real lives. It's feels like a 90-minute pilot for a TV sitcom, but not a good one. A lesser Friends, maybe.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦   

Paper Man (1971)

This is a made-for-TV movie about college kids who use newfangled computers to contrive a fake person, hoping to score a credit card.

Dean Stockwell plays the straight-laced computer genius who explains the concept of "logging in" to femme fatale Stefanie Powers, while James Olson (2001: A Space Odyssey) is the computer technician trying to talk Stockwell out of his hacking ways. And then, things spiral out of control.

This might have been ahead of its time, but its time was long ago, and the story is entirely about the tech. With not much of a human element to hold your interest, it's only quaint.

Verdict: MAYBE. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Warning Sign (1985)

BioTek Corporation is redesigning the corn genome to make super-duper-corn and other, perhaps less yummy scientific advances. There's been a slight whoopsy-daisy, though, which leads to an emergency lockdown of everything and plastic jumpsuits for everyone.

Sam Waterston plays the sheriff, Kathleen Quinlan is the security guard at BioTek, and Yaphet Kotto is a military officer who hurries over to help. The people trapped in the facility aren't happy about it, and it's not clear whether Kotto and the other authorities are telling the entire truth.

"Check around my eyes, nose, mouth, fingernails — anything that glows is an infection."

If you like schlocky sci-fi pictures, this is one and maybe you'll like it. I kinda did. The script is at least 75 watts, and unlike Paper Man, it's more about the people than the technology. Little time is wasted on backstory, scientific gobbledygook, or having a Message, so even decades later, Warning Sign works. It's a sweaty drama, a minor-league Alien, and a good time is had by all who survive.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Coming attractions:

Almost Famous (2000)
Color Out of Space (2019)
Her (2013)
Knightriders™ (1981)  
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Robowar (1988)
This Beautiful Fantastic (2016)

4/10 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 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. Unsure of who's correct, But I was sure that The Lodger was Hitch's first film. It wasn't, but it supposedly did come out the year before Easy Virtue.

    1. The mistake will no doubt cost me that Pulitzer I've been hoping for, but it looks like you're right about the timeline.

  2. I am interested in your take on "Her." Not to oversell it, but I thought it was the best movie I saw that year.

    1. It a good movie, maybe even very good. I gots a complaint, though.


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