The Shadow Out of Time, and a few more movies

Seven movie sorta-reviews is too much writing and editing at once, and probably too much to ask of a reader, so let's slow down to one or two or three movies at a time.

Monday, July 3, 2023

Today: a slightly-dated big budget sci-fi, an old-school western, and an independent spin on H P Lovecraft. Of these three, by far the best is Lovecraft:

The Shadow Out of Time (2012)

Economics Professor Nathaniel Peaslee collapses in class. While he's out cold, he hallucinates another, much more adventurous life for himself, and lives that life, then awakens and tries to find that life.

Turns out there's an alien species that travels all across time and space by seizing the minds of the living, and they've made Professor Peaslee into sort of a shuttle bus.

It's based on an H P Lovecraft novella, which is usually trouble. Lovecraft's horrors make great reading, but have proven difficult to film.

Well, this is the way to do it: The book's text has been whittled down to the length of a short story, and then it's simply read aloud, and illustrated in a manner that fits the text — sometimes there's slight, spectacular animation, but most of the visuals are simply one man, surreally acting, in front of green-screened, stationary backgrounds.

Instead of trying to make everything look real, this never looks real for even a few frames. It's crazy and colorful, even when it's in black-and-white. 15 minutes of troubled dreams unravel into nothing you'd mistake for reality, with minimal but marvelous music that matches and enhances the mood. 

Big in imagination but very personal in presentation, this is a short investment of time that pays off.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Minority Report (2002)

Here's a police homicide unit that assembles the clues before a murder happens, rushes to the scene of the crime, and prevents the murder. It's all breathless and seems heroic, with no time to stop and think until it's over, but — 

There was the prediction of a crime, the prevention of a crime, but there was no crime, and yet the perp is arrested, locked away for life, for the crime he hadn't been able to commit. 

"I'm sorry for whatever I'm going to do, and I swear, I didn't do any of that stuff I did."

How does it work? Three people who are barely people live their lives in a chest-deep saline solution, where their genetically-tinkered ability to peer hazily into the future is used by the cops' "Pre-Cog Division" to prevent murders. What could possibly go wrong, besides everything?

Tom Cruise stars, with Colin Farrell and Max Von Sydow. Steven Spielberg directs. Minority Report is based on a 1956 P K Dick novel, and I was Dick-obsessed for a long time so I probably read it, but I don't really remember it.

No doubt the movie changed everything, especially the happy, tidy ending, but there are still a few moments that feel Dickian. The mood is Blade Runner meets Spielberg, plus a whole lot of product placement. 

I wish Cruise was a crappier actor, because from everything I know about his real life, he's a douchbag. On screen, though, he's so damned likable that you can't help rooting for him, and he's fine here, as the pretty boy / good cop with tragedy in his past and trouble bearing down on him.

Casting Max Von Sydow was a mistake. He's fine too, but he's Max Von Sydow, so you know he's not merely going to be a background character. He's a walking spoiler. 

Between the busy, often fake-looking CGI, a key scene set at a crowded shopping mall, and lots of product placement for companies of its era that are disappearing from ours, the movie feels dated even though it's barely 20 years old.

It's all rather glib, but there are still remnants of Dick underneath, and it's fun.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Renegades (1946)

This is a western so forgettable, you'll have forgotten the first half by midway through it. Most of the budget seems to have been spent on gorgeous Technicolor, leaving no funds for anyone with an original idea.

The movie's good guy is a doctor, and he sure is a good doctor, his pretty fiancée sure is sweet, his horse sure is white. 

"Gotta hand it to him — the doc's a great guy."

"You bet he is."

The good doctor draws his gun much more often than his stethoscope or scalpel, the redhead has a heart of gold, the stagecoach driver has a big mustache to go with his hick accent and habit of spitin', and the story has plenty of action that somehow never gets interesting. Also, it needs more square dancing.

Edgar Buchanan, best remembered as the ever-bumbling Uncle Joe from TV's Petticoat Junction, gets to do a bit of acting as the patriarch of the movie's gang of bad brothers. Even here, though, he seems to be playing Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junction.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Coming attractions:

Animal House (1978)

The Arnelo Affair (1947)

At the Circus (1939)

Bamboozled (2000)

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

Brain Donors (1992)

Curse of the Black Widow (1977)

Dark Days (2000)

Edge of Fury (1978)

Elysium (2013)

Emily the Criminal (2022)

Ghosts with Shit Jobs (2012)

The Honeymoon Killers (1969)

Invisible City (2009)

Labyrint (1963)

Miracles (1989)

Nothing Lasts Forever (1984)

Our House (2006)

Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

The Thing from Another World (1951)

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)


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, or at least spoiler-warned. 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. Captain HampocketsJuly 5, 2023 at 9:48 AM

    >I was Dick-obsessed for a long time

    Now, you fucking typed that knowing I couldn't rightly let it go.

    1. That was no boating accident. That was a boating on purpose.

  2. Captain HampocketsJuly 5, 2023 at 9:50 AM

    Upcoming films:

    I read the book upon which Dark Days is based / coincided with, and have seen the movie, but ages and ages ago. I remember loving both.

    Searching For Bobby Fischer is fan-fucking-tastic, a wonderful film.

  3. Gots no wisecracks or comments and I don't disagree.

  4. Shadow Out Of Time was hard to find but I'm glad I did. It's every bit as good as you say.

    Minority Report is better than you say. Yes it's based on Philip K Dick, but forget that. Spielberg certainly did. I think you came in looking for Philip Dick, so of course you're dissappointed but for a big budget stunts and explosions and Spielberg movie, MR is much better than anyone could expect.

    1. Oh yay! I love it when someone actually digs a movie from my recommendations.

      I don't disagree with your view of MINORITY REPORT, but I'd strike the word "much" from your last sentence.


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