and a few more films

#230  [archive]
DEC. 5, 2023

Cellular (2004)

This opens with a mother walking her son to the school bus stop, holding his hand all the way. At the bus, she bends over and kisses him goodbye, and then he gets on the school bus, pokes his head out an open window, sweetly shouts, "Bye, Mom," and waves at her. If the boy is 5 years old, maybe, but this boy is ten and somebody should call CPS.

Kim Bassinger is the mom, and soon as she gets back home she's taken prisoner by a gang of baddies, who lock her in an upstairs bedroom after smashing her landline phone. Once they've left her alone, though, she fiddles with the phone and makes a connection, but apparently the only number it'll ring is the cell phone of one random stranger.

So she can't call the cops, only the stranger. That's the movie's set-up.

This is of course preposterous, and the stranger has already been shown to be a schlub — not even an everyman, but a shallow, conceited pretty boy.

When she convinces him she's being held prisoner, though, he springs into action-movie mode to rescue this unknown woman he knows only as a voice on the phone. He's Chris Evans, by the way — a next-gen movie star, previously unknown to me.

Evans is fine as the schlub, and Bassinger rocks it as a put-upon woman who will not be put upon. Jason Statham plays the bad guy, and he's very good at being very bad. William H Macy plays a cop who sniffs that something's up, while all the other cops in L.A. are either incompetent or corrupt, which is the film's only element of reality. 

Nothing else stands up to a moment of scrutiny, and I still don't know why the baddies targeted Bassinger.

But, who cares? It's a cascading series of impossible events — thrilling, but so stupid you'll laugh at yourself for being thrilled. The movie keeps its hyperkinetic adrenaline pumping all the way to the end. 

My favorite schlockmaker, Larry Cohen, wrote the story, but someone named David Ellis directed. Snakes on a Plane is Ellis's only other credit of note, but this one's near-perfection for what it is — a super-slick Hollywood ride.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009)

This is a low-key clever, enjoyable short about teenagers embarrassed by their parents and parents embarrassed by their teenagers. I smiled most of the way through it, despite it being relentlessly family-friendly. 

It was made by Northwest Film Forum, a local filmmakers and screening group, and mostly shot at a high school I frequently ride past on the bus.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Naked Alibi (1954)

This is a movie of tough-talking and quick-slugging cops, who don't need any namby-pamby 'evidence' to know who the killer is, and if you mention 'civil rights' it only proves you're guilty.

Gene Barry plays an apparently righteous guy who has a clean record and a steady job at a bakery where everybody likes him — but detective Sterling Hayden knows he done it. Some pinko cop-hating reporter shows up with a camera just as cop Hayden is pushing the suspect into an open fire, but c'mon, that was just a trick of the camera angles. Hayden is fired when the pix hit the paper, but once out of work he makes it personal, and trails the perp night and day and down to Mehico.

Gloria Grahame is the only worthwhile element here, a good actress who was usually given roles that shortchanged her talent. Hayden isn't even acting, only sneering. Chuck Connors plays Hayden's sidekick, in an early, mostly wordless role.

A lot of police officers must've masturbated watching this film.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Nightfall (1956)

Here's a very good old-school thriller. 

Straight-ahead nice guy Aldo Ray goes hunting with a buddy, and they stumble onto a couple of bad guys making their getaway from a bank heist. The baddies kill the buddy, and Aldo goes on the run.

Of the two bad guys, Brian Keith is the muscle, and Rudy Bond is the lack-of-brains (and very funny comic relief). They're mean and meaner, and they think Aldo has their money.

Maybe he does — his story explaining that he doesn't have it is so convoluted, my theory is that Aldo's hoodwinking the movie itself, but Anne Bancroft (before she The Graduated) believes him.

Bancroft is playing a model, so there's a fashion show, and when she walks on the runway the announcer says, "Our next mannequin is wearing blah blah blah." Never heard 'mannequin' for a human before; weird.

Other than a hokey opening theme song, Nightfall is a nifty clockpiece work, tic tic tension all the way. Written by Stirling Sillipant, directed by Jacques Tourneur.

"Footprints in the sands of time are not made by sitting down." 

Hey, get off my case.

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

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. "Gloria Grahame is the only worthwhile element here, a good actress who was usually given roles that shortchanged her talent."

    Totally agree with this, one of the best actresses from the era. I saw her for the first time opposite Bogart in "In A Lonely Place." I never heard of her before but thought she might be the best actress I've ever seen.

    1. She always a depth that Donna Reed never knew, man. GG's characters have souls. In a Lonely Place, The Big Heat, Crossfire, Sudden Fear...


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