and a few more films

#229  [archive]
DEC. 3, 2023

Blaze (2022) 

I came into this expecting a movie, but it's a tornado — so angry, intense, fiery that I needed to pause it several times to catch my breath. It's a horror movie, with a horror bigger than the movie.

Blaze is a 12-year-old kid who witnesses a rape/murder in an alleyway as she's walking home from school. She's terrified, frozen, unsure what to do, and afterward withdraws into her imaginary world of household knickknacks that come to life, and a huge purple dragon unlike anything from Disney.

The girl testifies to what she saw, and the court system goes about its business of efficiently shaming, victimizing, and doubting her. She starts cutting herself and turns to mild delinquency and ferocious self-defense classes, and always again comes home to the dragon.

And what a dragon! This is the first feature film from writer-director Del Kathryn Barton, who'd previously been an artist, and she peppers everything with unexpected visuals she's created, put to often-astonishing use.

After the horrific crime to start the story, there are a hundred moments where we're immersed in what this kid's going through, and it's awful, but there are also fragments of joy I'm remembering with watery eyes a week later.

Usually I take notes while watching a movie, but all I typed during this was, "There is no happy ending possible here. This kid is screwed up for life."

I might've been mistaken about that. The story can't plausibly end with a kiss or a hug, but the finish is as exhilarating as it feasibly could be. I've already recommended Blaze to a woman I know who went through something similarly traumatic.

Simon Baker plays the girl's father, and his presence probably helped the film get financial backing. He's fine, and not the annoying presence he was on TV's The Mentalist.

The protagonist is a little kid, but this is not a kids' movie. Well, unless you have a pretty terrific kid, or one who's been through something awful and might need what Blaze offers so beautifully.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Beyond Existence (2022)

This opens with a pyramid CGI-ing itself into existence, and a man walks out of the CGI pyramid, and then the pyramid de-CGIs itself away. This is supposed to be a 'wow' moment, but we've all seen CGI and it adds zilch to the story.

Having blown its budget for effects in the first scene, the movie then needs to rely on stuff like acting and a script, and it quickly gets better.

There's a gray-haired heavy-smoking hard-drinking professor on his way somewhere, and several people want to prevent his journey, but the professor deals with the pointed guns and shouted commands, mostly with acerbic comments and occasional insults. 

This is science fiction, but also a mystery, slowly revealed, with tension but enough laughs to keep it light. It tells its story in dialogue between the professor and a tough-as-titanium security blonde as they drive across England. Lots of talk, but it's brainy talk, and it adds up to an intriguing ride, despite that stupid start.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

In a secret lab, experiments are being conducted with hallucinogenic drugs, seeking to fully understand and heighten human awareness. A mad scientist takes a trip to the deepest towers and highest basements of human consciousness, and comes back a different man.

Whatever's changed about him, though, he's about as boring as when he left, and he's holding some woman captive because he's a movie-style psychopath.

There's barely any plot, and too much sappy music, not much dialogue. When someone speaks you've been waiting a long while, but whatever's said will be cryptic. Every shot, even of people's faces, is lit or designed to look futuristic, but the future could creep up behind you and get a twenty year head start before anything actually happens in this movie. 

It's beautiful to look at, though — a fatal compliment for a flick that has nothing else going on, and there's nothing else going on here.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Crawling Hand (1963)

Have you heard the one about a disembodied hand that crawls toward your neck while you sleep, to strangle you when you least expect it? In the Holland household, this was a common bedtime story, so I had to see the motion picture version.

A space mission goes wrong and crashes, leaving wreckage spread along the beach, where a medical student finds a severed arm and hand. Of course, he brings it home without telling anyone, and the hand, as promised in the movie's title, crawls around, and tries to kill people.

In a cop-out move, the crawling hand somehow takes control of the med student's mind, and starts urging him toward murder. The crawling hand, then, becomes a supporting character, and the movie is mostly about the crazed medical student.

But you know what? It's solid schlock, and that's what I came for. The script has a few intentional laughs, there's a cool murder against a jukebox, Alan Hale (Gilligan's Skipper) plays the sheriff, and if you want B-movie entertainment this fills the bill.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)

David (Jack Nicholson) and Jason (Bruce Dern) are brothers, and opposites. David is a quiet, thoughtful guy who has a late-night radio show, which is the only time he has much to say. Jason is a loud, brash extrovert with criminal connections and big-money schemes that never work out.

He's also the embodiment of one of fiction's most annoying tropes: the character who's difficult for no reason except to be difficult, yet the protagonist keeps coming back for more.

Scene: Inexplicably running someone else's second-hand store, Jason walks out of the shop, and snatches a purse from a random woman walking by, then walks back into the shop. The woman follows him to the counter, with a flock of her friends, all demanding he return the purse. He gives it back with a smile, but now he has a shop full of potential customers, and switches to salesman mode. That's a bullshit moment.

He offers the lady a clock radio at a price too good to be true, and she forgets to be angry with him for having stolen her purse. Instead she asks him to plug in the radio so she can be sure it works, and his response is to drop the radio on the floor, shattering it. That's a bullshit moment.

Then Jason steps away, leaving David to deal with a shop full of angry middle-aged ladies. To calm the situation, he starts giving away free merchandise. That's a bullshit moment.

It's just bullshit moment after bullshit moment with this movie. 

Most of Jason's bullshit moments leave David in an awkward spot, but if my brother behaved like Jason, over and over, I wouldn't voluntarily be in the same space with him for an hour and a half. David puts up with it, and keeps putting up with it, which doesn't make him a great brother so much as a great big dummy.

Possibly, this might've been bearable if Nicholson and Dern had switched parts. Nicholson's whole career was about making eccentric characters fascinating, and Dern was always better at long-suffering guys who have hidden depth inside. With Nicholson as the one who's repressed and internal, and Dern being loud and exaggerated, the movie annoyed the bejeebers out of me (obviously), and now the room's full of loose bejeebers everywhere.

The King of Marvin Gardens is from Bob Rafelson, who previously gave us Five Easy Pieces. You should watch that one twice instead of this one once.

The secondary plot has Ellen Burstyn as Jason's girlfriend Sally, a 'fading beauty' who feels overshadowed by her pretty adult stepdaughter. That's bullshit too, because Burstyn is luminously gorgeous and gives a great performance, and her daughter's an ordinary blonde who's ordinary and blonde.

Sally's running out of patience with Jason, though, and that makes her by far the most believable character in the movie.

Verdict: NO.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

Cellular (2004)
The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)
Gods of Times Square (1999)
Frankenhooker (1990)
Greystoke (1984)
Hugo (2011)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
The Lawyer (1970)
Not of This Earth (1957)
The Saint in New York (1938)
Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
The Shooting (1966)
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Winter Soldier (1972)

... plus occasional 
schlock and surprises 

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. So you didn't care for the King of Marvin Gardens?

    1. Or, just as likely, it's a masterpiece but I was in a shitty mood.

  2. Please don't tell me you liked that condescending scene in Five Easy Pieces where Nicholson, the privileged college kid, hassles the waitress for following the asinine rules. That scene still grates on my nerves all these years later, mostly because I've been in audiences where the smarmy college fucks all cheer "Jack" on. That and other 'look at me' moments made Nicholson one of the most overrated actors of his day. Kinda like how Pacino and DeNiro went from being convincing actors to guys who know they can just mug it up and get away with it. Who told DeNiro he could do comedy (the King of Comedy was beautiful but his comedic roles have been miserable)? And why does Pacino perform every role like he's delivering the Declaration of Independence for blind people?

    1. Five Easy Pieces is one of those movies everyone says is great. I saw it once, maybe twice, and remember liking it but not enough to want to add it to my 2023 watchlist and give it another look. I don't remember anything *but* that scene really, and wasn't the waitress rude to him before he was rude back to her?

      Anyone rude to the waitstaff deserves piss in their soup. That is a rule of life.

      What do I know about acting, nada. But DeNiro, Nicholson, and Pacino are all overactors, especially as they got older. Pacino especially, always seems to be playing Pacino playing a role. DeNiro I can take or leave, but Nicholson playing Nicholson playing whatever he plays is usually fun for me. Your kilometerage may vary.

    2. Great comment, Claude — and by the way, great work in Battle of the Worlds (1961) — but wow I have nothing to say in response except that I need to see Five Easy Pieces again, obviously and definitely and tonight.

    3. I am not the movie nut you are but wanted to say you're right about Blaze. I'm going to spreak the word about it.

    4. Glad you liked it. Glad anyone even reads the reviews... :)

    5. Alexander Payne's new flick, The Holdovers - I expected to hate it, but holy shit, it's his best thing since Election, maybe his best ever.

      There's a great callback to the diner scene from Five Easy Pieces, too:


      You gotta see this thing. So great. Laugh out loud throughout, but also genuinely moving. Like a lost Hal Ashby movie, or a humorous companion to Stoner, or an antidote to Dead Poets Society.

    6. I think I've liked all the Paynes I've seen, but I haven't seen many. I will definitely 'buy a ticket' to The Holdovers, but very, very sadly, watching a few movies daily seems to be over.

    7. You need to find a job watching movies

    8. Doesn't Facebook have content "monitoring" jobs? That sounds interesting as hell.

    9. I know of no jobs watching movies. Video store, maybe, but they'd expect me to talk to people and I'd just tell 'em all, "Shut up, I'm watching a movie."

      Facebook would never hire an old fat man who hates Facebook. They did offer me a job a year or so ago, but it was obviously some kind of glitch.


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