The Cable Guy,
and a few more movies

#209  [archive]
NOV. 7, 2023

The Cable Guy (1996)

I've usually enjoyed Jim Carrey's work, and director Ben Stiller's too, but I skipped The Cable Guy when it came out. All the over-the-top TV commercials for the movie were change-the-channel-worthy. Haven't seen those commercials for a while, so I gave this movie a chance, and don't regret it.

The first half is a comedy that edges toward being a thriller, as recently dumped very white guy Matthew Broderick is befriended by Carrey, the man who's installed his cable.

Carrey is extroverted and uninhibited and invasive, and quickly begins taking over the meek Broderick's world. All this feels like it could almost be real, and the Carrey in the first half of the movie seriously reminds me of my overbearing flatmate Dean.

In the movie's second half, it becomes clear that Carrey's cable guy has some Rupert Pupkin to him — he's not merely clingy, he's crazy. Now you're watching a more formulaic horror piece about obsession, reminding me of Single White Female or Fatal Attraction, but with balls instead of ovaries. And it's still quite good.

"The future is now! Soon every American home will integrate their television, phone and computer. You'll be able to visit the Louvre on one channel, or watch female wrestling on another. You can do your shopping at home, or play Mortal Kombat with a friend from Vietnam. There's no end to the possibilities!" 

The cable guy calls himself Chip Douglas, a name borrowed from one of My Three Sons. There are references to Bewitched and The Mod Squad, I Love Lucy and Star Trek, Jerry Springer and other shows. TV theme songs permeate the soundtrack, too. 

At no extra charge amidst the nervousness and jitters, there's a slight message hidden here. Writer Lou Holtz Jr — who never wrote anything else for the movies — and the uncredited Judd Apatow are suggesting that you should click the tube off, lest you become like the cable guy's Chip Douglas.

"You were never there for me, were you, Mother? You expected Mike and Carol Brady to raise me! I'm the bastard son of Claire Huxtable! I am a Lost Cunningham! I learned the facts of life from watching The Facts of Life!"

The Cable Guy is uncomfortably funny, laughingly creepy, and about as good as a mainstream Hollywood movies gets when it's not aiming at Oscars.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Beatles: Get Back (2021)

Weeks of footage was filmed, of the Beatles prepping their last album and concert in 1969, and a film of it, Let It Be, was released in 1970.

A billion miles of footage was left over, and in 2021 down-under moviemaker Peter Jackson sewed it together into this massive miniseries — three parts, totaling almost eight hours. I've been watching it half an hour at a time since September, but I'll try and fail to keep my remarks short.

At the peak of their fame, the Beatles have a deadline. In 2½ weeks they'll stage a live show that'll be filmed for a TV special, and by then they'll need to have written and rehearsed an album's worth of new songs. We're watching the band's creative process, which is both fascinating and interminably dull.

Being mostly unmusical, I'd always assumed that writing music was like writing writing, only without the typewriter. One person, maybe two, squeezes ideas onto paper and tries them out on a guitar, and then, later, the songs are handed out as sheet music to the rest of the players, like Mr Himelfarb did, in junior high band class.

Well, Mr Himelfarb wasn't in the Beatles, and none of that's how it works here.

Instead, the whole band sits on an otherwise empty sound stage, day after day for weeks. Many cigarettes are smoked, jokes are told, tunes are hummed and strummed, tempers are frayed, all while men in suits stroll around in the background, because this is big business.

Paul, collaborating telepathically with John, improvises bits and snips that became songs that are still beloved by me and millions. George was a brilliant rockman in his own right, but not on the same level as Paul and John, and two out of three of them knew it, so he sometimes watches, sometimes tries to contribute, sometimes feels slighted. Ringo plays the drums.

The heart of this is the ongoing interplay between these four guys who love and hate each other, working under pressure and knowing they were being filmed. If you like the Beatles, you'll like this, and nobody who doesn't like the Beatles is invited.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

A Gnome Named Gnorm (1990)
a/k/a Upworld

Stan Winston was Mr Special Effects for the movies, from the late '70s until his death. If you saw almost any special effects show, he was involved — Aliens, Invaders from Mars, Manimal, The Terminator, White Dog, all the way to Avatar and GI Joe.

Twice he sat in the director's chair, and this is one of those movies. It is a turd.

Anthony Michael Hall stars as a tough cop, which is the movie's fist unfathomable mistake. It's five years after The Breakfast Club and Weird Science, and Hall still looks 15. He's a boy with a badge, but nobody mentions it and you're supposed to buy him as a detective. 

And there's a living gnome, who knows something about a murder case. Neither Hall nor anyone in the flick seems surprised that gnomes are walking around Los Angeles, so the gnome — named Gnorm — becomes Hall's de facto partner in the squad car.

Gnorm is a cute little hairy thing, but so's my dick. The gnome-operation is competent, and it usually comes close to looking like it's alive, but it's simply not an effects breakthrough, and the script gives Gnorm no backstory, no insights, no personality.

As fantasy or a cop movie, this is less than zero.

As a buddy flick, it's not the worst ever, because I've seen Lethal Weapon 4.

As a kid's movie, it's inappropriate, since Gnorm makes about twenty sex 'jokes' (none funny), gropes women, visits a strip club, etc.

As a comedy, well... Gnorm always grabs or stabs the bad guys by the gnuts, and Hall commandeers a loaded hearse for a chase sequence. When the coffin falls out of the hearse and the corpse falls out of the coffin, a man passing by on the sidewalk gives the corpse mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, unsuccessfully. Is any of that funny? 

Verdict: BIG NO.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

The Card Counter (2021) 
The General (1926)
Kids in the Hall (debut episode; 1988) 
Kids in the Hall (reunion debut episode; 2022)
The Killing of America (1981)
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) 
The Manhattan Project (1996)
Street of Crocodiles (1986)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
Taken for a Ride (1996)

... plus occasional schlock and surprises 

    • • • And then • • •

Alexander Nevsky (1938)
The Bat People (1974)
Berkeley in the Sixties (1990)
Brainwaves (1983)
Cellular (2004) 
The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)
Dark Star (1974)
The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009)
The Decline of Western Civilization (1980)
Downsizing (2017)
Frankenhooker (1990)
The General (1926)
Get Shorty (1995)
Hugo (2011)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
The Internet's Own Boy (2014)
Line of Duty (debut episode; 2012)
Love Happy (1950)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
The Man Who Thought Life (1969)
The Man with Nine Lives (1940)
Not Wanted (1949)
Nothing But a Man (1964)
Phone Booth (2002)
PickAxe (1999)
Poison (1990)
Revelations (1993)
Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)
Romper Stomper (1992)
Room Service (1938)
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)
Who Farted? (2019)
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. > about as good as a mainstream Hollywood movies gets when it's not aiming at Oscars.

    This got me thinking.

    Quarterly profits are all that matter to big business, and 21st century Hollywood is no different. Nobody in power there is in it for the 'art'. They manufacture superhero movies and derivitives and sequels and remakes and make sure every movie is blank but calculated to appeal to certain demographics.

    Anything original, bold, risky gets unfunded. There are never Hollywood studio films that make you stop and think. Even your Cable Guy that you liked, how long did you need to think before finding its hidden message?

    It's part of the late stage capitalism that enshittifying everything. Long-term, since blander movies have less impact, the magic of movies is being forgotten.

    1. "late stage capitalism"

      I see this phrase incessantly from certain people online... what about "early stage capitalism"? When was that? Was it as pernicious? Was there a "middle stage capitalism"? How was that - boring?

      How come no one ever mentions "late stage communism" or "early stage universal basic income"?

      You'll have to excuse my ignorance, I'm no John Maynard Keynes or Bertrand Russell... my economics education has more to do with Bob Barker.

    2. I like the term "late stage capitalism." It implies it's almost over.

  2. Being a curmudgeon I normally try to avoid anything that becomes too popular but I listened to the new Beatles song and watched the mini-film that Jackson made about it. I was prepared not to like it, and didn't like it until that chorus hit. That kind of mock march as they sing "now... and then..." is pure Beatles and it got me hooked. And it's hard not to be romantic about "the last" of anything.

    1. The Beatles are big business, they wouldn't allow it if it wasn't salable and profitable, so I will take your word that it's a humdinger ditty. The way AI is developing troubles me, so I think I'll keep my virgin ears shielded from it for now.

    2. The Beatles have new music out? I thought a couple of them were under the weather.



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