Big Wednesday,
and a few more films

#215  [archive]
NOV. 14, 2023

Big Wednesday (1978)

All the surf movies I've seen were really just 'beach' movies about Moondoggie and Annette falling in love or whatever. And Point Break, I guess, but that's mostly a bonding and bro action movie lightly doused with pseudo-surf philosophy. 

Big Wednesday is actually a movie about surfing. There's a Hollywood cast, sure — Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt, Gary Busey — and plenty of myth-making bro-bonding, but there's no musical montage in the middle, no subplots about little kids or lost puppies, and only the slightest romance. It's simply a movie about surfers and surfing, and the intended audience is surfers, though we landlubbers are welcome, long as we stay in shallow waters.

The film's story spans the early-'60s to mid-'70s, with the Vietnam War ominously beckoning, as three surfer dude friends grow from teens to adults to surfer dudes emeriti. It's sort of a coming-of-age pic, and also a coming-of-middle-age pic, all about suntanned and waterlogged surfers. 

How surf-happy is this flick? When there's a death among the surfer crowd, friends gather in a circle at his grave, and remember only what a fine surfer he was. At another point, all the surfers and their friends go to a theater, to watch the premier of a new surf movie.

Everything's soaked in surf ethos, but not annoyingly so. It's authentic, apparently — co-written by legendary surfer dude Dennis Aaberg and John Milius (Apocalypse Now), himself quite the surfer, says the internet. Directed by Milius too, and the moviemakers invested in floating surf photography that's breathtaking and sometimes made me feel the ocean's sway. 

Basil Poledouris delivers a score devoid of surf music, but it's beautiful and somehow seems aquatic and adventurous.

Also in the cast: Andy Warhol's Patti D'Arbanville, Perry Mason's Barbara Hale, Elm Street's Robert Englund, and good ol' boy Reb Brown. They're all spot on, and this is a very good film. There's nothing to criticize except William Katt's dyed-blond hair. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Good Night, My Love (1972)
Streaming free 

This is a made-for-TV noir, which sounds like an oxymoron, but it was written and directed by Peter Hyams, and it's better than TV-quality. 

Lanky and cranky Richard Boone stars as the gruff 1940s private eye, with Michael Dunn as his short sidekick, and Barbara Bain as the platinum blonde who hires them for $25 p/day to find her missing boyfriend. The boyfriend isn't really missing, though — we saw his murder a few minutes earlier.

Boone is great as a gruff Sam Spade character, and Dunn is just as good as his partner, a little person who cracks jokes but isn't one. Barbara Bain nails it as the femme fatale, especially intriguing because she's twice the age you'd expect for the role. Victor Buono plays, basically, Sidney Greenstreet.

The patter is a touch too consciously clever, and would work better if a only few smart guys spoke noir, instead of everyone in the city. Beyond that mild gripe, there's lots here to like. Some dame even sings "Melancholy Baby."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)
Streaming free 

Science fiction movies from the 1950s have a feel to them that modern movies rarely capture, and most of the '50s classics still make great entertainment. Ignore the schlocky title on this one — it's pretty good. It's very much a rip-off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), but if you're stealing ideas, steal from the best.

Monsters from outer space have come to a small American town, where they mimic the bodies and lives of several key people. Morphing their bodies to match humans', the duplicates look and talk just like us, lacking only the empathy most humans lack anyway. The biggest twist from Body Snatchers is that this time it's a woman who's trying to save the town, and the planet. 

The monsters want to spawn with our women and take over our world, yes, but they have their good points, too, and the movie's main space alien might be falling in love.

I Married uses three different special effects that, while not technically brilliant or anything, even by '50s standards, are tricks I haven't seen often, and they're quite well-accomplished.

Nobody's credited for the music; to save money, the studio simply stitched in music it owned from other films. Shrug. Makes me wonder why studios don't do that more often, at least on smaller films like this.

It's not even a plot element, but some of the script's small talk is surprisingly frank for its era, with allusions to sex, marriage, and extramarital affairs. 

I had to use my vast knowledge of sci-fi movie tropes to fill in a few unexplained plot details, but this is a better-than-average effort from the genre's golden age. 

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

Dark Star (1974)
Get Shorty (1995)
The Internet's Own Boy (2014)
Line of Duty (debut episode; 2012)
The Man Who Thought Life (1969)
Not Wanted (1949)
Nothing But a Man (1964)
Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)
Romper Stomper (1992)
Room Service (1938)
Who Farted? (2019)

... plus occasional 
schlock and surprises 

• • • But wait, there's more  • • •

Alexander Nevsky (1938)
Brainwaves (1983)
Cellular (2004) 
The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)
The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009)
The Decline of Western Civilization (1980)
Downsizing (2017)
Frankenhooker (1990)
Hugo (2011)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
Love Happy (1950)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
The Man with Nine Lives (1940)
Phone Booth (2002)
PickAxe (1999)
Poison (1990)
Revelations (1993)
Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
Saved! (2004)
Scared to Death (1947)
Secret Weapons (1985)
The Shooting (1966)
The Soloist (2009)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

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:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • 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. I will not drink today, and then I want to watch I Married a Monster tonight.

    1. That was yesterday. Hope you liked the movie, and hope you also don't drink today.

  2. It's music Tuesday, and why not listen to a little post rock and then a dash of proto-rock. First, Paul what's-his-name (with a little help from his friends) with a few "unfinished" songs from the Beatles' best album.


    And lastly, one of the grandfathers of rock and his wife show what can be done with single-track recording (single-track recording, single track recording). How High the Moon.



    1. Fine stuff as always, and you know my drill — for McCartney, I had to find a cleaner version, without all the screaming and then all the applause. Live music — what a bad idea.

    2. It just seems like there's room in the world for both. It took the Beatles weeks to put that six minutes together. And how often are you going to have Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Phil Collins (back on drums) and Paulie together? I'd be cheering too.


    3. Just to ensure that the horse is really dead, the clean version is the dirty version. It's the version where real human sounds and real human mistakes are digitally eliminated by both digital and physical tools. It's the version where the image transfer is sped up to make it sound more lively; it's the version where a full human choir is recorded, then reduced to 2% of its bandwidth and placed just out of the range of hearing; it's the version where the singer's voice is doubled, then offset by a hundred milliseconds or so to make it sound fuller. The fake one is the recorded one; the real one is the live one.


    4. Same as life vs the movies, maybe. Life is full of unwanted noise and annoyances and detours that lead nowhere and big mistakes that can't be rectified and everyone's story ends with death and along the way most people are assholes, but movies are neatly polished and usually end with a kiss. I'll take neatly polished and a kiss almost every time.

    5. I get grouchy about music from time to time. You have every right to prefer the music you prefer. Sorry if that sounded like a lecture. I'm a little too passionate about music. Live and be well.


    6. I detected no grouchiness from you, through my perpetual fog of grouchiness.


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