Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Put a Ring on It

I hesitated when Ms. Spenser suggested we watch Ringu (1998). I was under the impression that it was gory, violent, and slasher-ish. A review mentioned something like "inventive kills" - not our thing in general. But I queued it up anyway - and found that I was wrong. 

It starts with a bunch of kids at a sleepover talking about an urban legend: if you watch a creepy videotape, you get a phone call, then die one week later. One girl mentions that she actually had watched a video like that about a week ago, and of course, she dies (quietly). 

Her aunt, Matsushima Nanako-san, finds out that three other kids died at the same time as her niece. She also hears about the urban legend from some schoolkids. So she starts to investigate. She figures out where the kids were staying in Oshima, and heads up there. She finds an unmarked tape and watches it. Then the phone rings. Now, she realizes, she is cursed. She has one week to live.

She calls in her ex-husband, Sanada Hiroyuki-san, to help. She reluctantly let's him watch a copy of the tape, and he finds a few more clues. Unfortunately, late one night Matsushima-san finds her young son watching the tape. Now he is cursed as well. That really ups the stakes. 

So, instead of being a bloodbath, this is a supernatural tension-fest. The deaths are all or mostly quiet or off-screen. The monster, when finally discovered, is pretty creepy (OK, it's the girl with the hair over her face - we've all seen stills at least). And there are a few scares. But mostly it's just tension and fear. The first section has a lot of teens discussing urban legends, which has a bit of a social media feel - quite modern. In fact, it seems that the modern/ancient dichotomy is driving this movie. 

But I was just glad it wasn't more traumatic. 

Monday, November 28, 2022

Discovery of the Wheel

Here's another that's not from Netflix or streaming: The Wheeler Dealers (1963). I actually bought this. I've been trying to rent or stream it for a while and finally gave in. You see, this is the first movie I remember seeing. I was 7 years old, in my jammies in the backseat of the family car at the drive-in. Other movies I remember seeing from those days include Night of the Iguana The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Viva Las Vegas, but they're all from 1964. So, assuming I saw all of these first-run (it wasn't some rural drive-in, it was legit), this is the first. And I remember loving it, and I've waited this long to rewatch it.

It starts with oil millionaire James Garner coming up dry on his latest field, so he has to head to New York to raise some capital. At LaGuardia, he has a hard time getting a taxi, so the first one he gets, he buys. He explains to cabbie Robert Strauss that he can buy the cab and medallion for $22,000, including the services of Strauss, and in two weeks sell it back to him for $20,000, and use tax depreciation to offset to expense. See, he's a wheeler dealer.

Meanwhile, Lee Remick is a working girl, living with a girlfriend (whose boyfriend is somehow related to the art world). She's the only broker in an all-male brokerage, and boss Jim Backus wants to get rid of her. So he gives her the Universal Widgets account (who haven't made widgets or anything since the turn of the century). When Garner stops by looking for investment money, he pretends to be interested in widgets because he is interested in her. 

The part I mostly remember is a gallery opening where Remick takes Garner. It's a very Mad magazine version of a hip party, with people in outre costumes spouting pretentious BS. But Garner finds the artist, Louis Nye, who, it turns out, is also an operator. They have a little discussion about the art market, leading Garner to fly off to Europe and buy up a batch of Expressionist paintings. Wheeling and dealing.

I'll leave out Garner's good ol' boy backers, Ray Jay, Jay Ray, and J.R. (played by Phil Harris, Chill Wills, and Charles Watts - but not the drummer). I'll just mention John Astin as the fed who thinks Garner is committing securities fraud. I'll skip the part where Remick gets fired due to a mix-up.

I will mention a scene where Garner meets up with Nye while Nye is creating a painting by wheeling a tricycle with paint on the wheels over a canvas. I mention this because i had remembered this as girls in bikinis covered in paint rolling around on the canvas. I even remembered the painter on a stepladder directing the girls. Anyone remember what movie that's from?

Anyway, I can see why I liked this as a 7 year old. Garner is charming as always, always on top of things, usually with a complicated angle. The level of sophistication was just about right, especially if you've been reading Mad magazine about the fakes and phonies. It wasn't so great for a senior citizen like me, but not so bad either. I enjoyed for more than nostalgic reasons.

In conclusion, now that I've thought about it, I may have seen this on a double-bill with The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze. But I don't remember much about that except for disappointment.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

I can't remember why we queued up My Favorite Wife (1940) - we've seen it before more that once. Maybe because we couldn't quite remember which of the "Got re-married because previous spouse was declared dead and now their back and I've got two spouses" movies it was.

It's the one with Cary Grant. He's getting his previous wife declared dead after she has been missing seven years and to marry his girlfriend Gail Patrick (who I always get confused with Gale Sondergaard - two severe, scary brunettes). Well, what do you know? That very day. Grant's old wife, Irene Dunne, arrives at their old house. She has been rescued, and wants to surprise Grant and their kids. The kids don't recogize her, and Grant is on his honeymoon. Her mother-in-law, Anne Shoemaker, explains the situation, and mentions that they are honeymooning at the same hotel he honeymooned with Dunne (the Ahwanee in Yosemite, recognizably shot on location). So she goes to mess things up.

Once Grant sees her, we get a nice little sex farce with Grant unwilling to tell Patrick that his dead wife is alive, but also won't consummate his marriage. So lots of running around, and finally, heading back home.

At his house, he doesn't tell his kids he is married to Patrick, and makes sure not to sleep with her. Then an insurance man shows up to check if Dunne is still deads, so they can pay off her policy. He mentions a rumor that she was rescued along with a man who was on the same island - they called each other Adam and Eve. Grant runs off into the night to find this "Adam" in his bathrobe (he just goes a little gay).

Although Dunne assures him that Adam was a complete gentlemen, harmless really, Grant discovers that he is Randolph Scott, living at the Pacific Club and continually doing diving stunts in the pool. Grant's series of double takes at his physique is delightful. (Even if you haven't heard the stories about Grant and Scott living together in Bachelor's Hall.)

So that's the outline. Grant is married to Patrick and can't tell her his other wife is alive. He is also wildly jealous of Scott. Dunne is lovely and funny, with a deep attachment to the kids - there's a cute scene where the kids figure out that she is their mother and they put her through it for a little. 

I guess there are a few structural problems with this - it lags here and there, and you have to wonder why Grant didn't just explain things instead of trying out increasingly unlikely lies. But it was pretty funny, the leads are all charming, and it has a neat wrap up for everyone but Patrick, who just sort of flounces. 

Plus the whole gay subtext is always fun.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Thud and Blunder

Remember how the first two Thor movies were kind of joyless, po'-faced self-serious slogs? And then Taika Waititi came along and goofy romp? Well, Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) really takes that and runs with it.

It opens seriously enough, revealing our villain's origin: stripy-headed alien Christian Bale and his daughter are dying as their planet dies up. In spite of Bale's prayers, she does in fact die. He manages to stumble upon the lush garden where his god lives - a sun god who has killed a monster wielding the necrosword - a blade that can kill gods. He is completely contemptuous of Bale and his suffering, so Bale renounces him. Since the necrosword is right there handy, he kills his god and swears to kill all other gods in the universe. He becomes the God-Butcher.

We move now to a cave one evening, where rock guy Korg (Taika Waititi) is telling the tale of his old pal Thor (Chris Hemsworth). He summarizes the last few movies, talking about all the friends and comrades he has lost (although the Warriors Three are called, "this guy, this guy, and ... this other guy"). He then talks about Thor's love for Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), their time of living together, and how they broke up. That is handy, because we can skip that movie, which looks like it would have been kind of boring (also, Hemsworth and Portman don't really sizzle onscreen). 

Korg's tale is full of conventions like "typical Thor adventure". It makes Korg (again, director Waititi) the narrator, and an unreliable one at that. So if you see anything silly or naive in the rest of the movie, that's just the way Korg tells it.

So we have Thor, orphaned, divorced (-ish), living a life of simple meditation, when he is called to battle with the Guardians. When they get sick of him (right away), he heads of to find Sif, who was injured fighting the God-Butcher. His next stop is New Asgard, a sleepy Nordic fishing village and tourist attraction. 

Backing up a little, we find out what's up with Portman. It seems that she has cancer. But also, she has Mjolnir. It seems that Thor made Mjolnir promise to always look after Jane, and so it does. So when Thor shows up in New Asgard, he meets Mighty Thor, Jane Foster. It's a funny scene, typical meeting your ex at a work thing, trying to keep it light and civil. 

They hold off the Butcher, but he manages to escape with all the Asgardian kids. Rather than rashly running into battle, he tries to assemble a team. He gets Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), but figures he can get more powerful beings in Omnipotence City, home of the gods. This scene is full of beautiful CGI temples and silliness with the gods.

And so on.  The whole thing is very silly, with Thor's personality at the center. He is a vain and somewhat thoughtless person trying to be better and do the right thing. he desperately wants to save the kids, but is continually having to tell them to hold tight, he get them out real soon, or maybe a little longer than that. Got to go, stay safe, bye! He is pretty upset about Jane getting Mjolnir - it won't return to his hand the way it used to. He then has to sweet-talk his battle axe to keep it from getting jealous. And of course, he still feels bad about losing Jane, but wants to be an adult about it. He wants to support her in her role as Mighty Thor - even though it's hard on him. The clumsiness is adorable, and very relatable.  

There's also a ton of silly stuff like two screaming goats he gets as a present, or when Thor is stripped naked in Omnipotence City, causing several goddesses to faint, or Tessa Thompson being very bi-sexy. In New Asgard, the amateur theatricals get a reprise, this time with Melissa McCarthy as Hela.

There are nice comic book moments, like the final encounter with Eternity, a beloved entity from the old Ditko days. Plus the whole Jane Foster is Thor thing. And it does all this in under two hours.

I understand that a lot of people were not happy with this one. Too jokey, I guess, or maybe too overstuffed. I don't get that at all. I do feel that Marvel has gone a little too silly overall, what with Guardians, Ant-Man, and even the Multiverse of Madness. I would prefer a mix, with some more gravitas for some movies, like Old Logan. But I do like the way they let directors with a style and visions do their thing. Even if that means a misstep like the Eternals

Monday, November 21, 2022

Dead to Us

Dead of Night (1977) is not a remake of the British 1944 movie of the same name. It isn't half as clever. Instead, it's a made-for-TV horror anthology directed by Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows). Unlike the British movie, it doesn't have a clever framing story. It just jumps right into the first story.

We sort of liked this one. Ed Begley Jr. is restoring an old 1926 roadster and goes for a jaunt to the next town over. As he is driving, he sees more and more classic cars in great shape. When he finally arrives, it's 1929. He wanders around, taking in the scenery, but when the movie lets out, someone steals "his" car. Quotes, because it's pretty clear that the guy driving it away is the original owner. So Begley has to walk or hitch home (which appears to be 1977, thank goodness).

Later, he goes to meet his girlfriend's (Christina Hart) parents. Her dad has a 1926 roadster lust like the one he restored - one that hasn't been driven in decades. The parents tell him about how, back in 1926, after a movie, the dad had tried to race a train to the crossing. But at the last second, he decided not to risk it and turned off. Why, if they had been killed, girlfriend would never have been born! Did they remember, on that night, some kid yelling at them about stealing his car? Did this maybe delay them a few seconds so they weren't going to tempt fate with that train? No, neither of them remembered anything like that. But Begley still assumes he was responsible. And who is to say he wasn't?

The next one has Patrick Macnee as a Victorian doctor who doesn't believe that his wife Anjanette Comer is being attacked by a vampire. He calls in friend Horst Buchholz to help him in the case. You may not guess right away that it's a scheme of Mcnee's to punish an imagined affair. But you probably will.

The final one is the only one that's really scary. Mother Joan Hackett lost her son to a drowning and has taken to spiritualism and dark arts to get him back. When she casts a complicated spell to bring him back - it works. He shows up soaked from a rain storm at her back door. He wasn't drowned at all, he was rescued by some people who didn't know who he was and he had amnesia. When he remembered, he came home. Or so he says.

At first, Hackett is overjoyed, even when he acts a little cranky. But before the night is over, he'll get worse than that.

This is sort of Twilight Zone level stuff, slightly better production values, maybe a little worse writing and directing. The first story is by Jack Finney, the rest by Richard Matheson, so that shouldn't be the problem. So I'm going to blame Curtis.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Blades 2

So, if Ms. Spenser is busy or all movied out, I will watch something that she doesn't care about. I thought I found the perfect movie that she definitely did not want to see: Rob Zombie's The Munsters (2022). It started with a graverobber and his assistant. The assistant says, "Master, the crypt is empty", and the graverobber replies, "Ya think?" Boy, that joke is certainly fresh and timely. Next scene, Grampa Munster (with very well done makeup and costume, I must say) rises mysteriously from his coffin, then cries out, "My back!" OK, two short scenes, two monumentally lame gags. I bailed. 

Decided to try Blade of the 47 Ronin (2022) instead. I enjoyed the first one, although mostly for Keanu Reeves (and maybe Rinko Kikuchi). This one is almost completely unrelated, with no overlappiung cast, director or producer. Unlike the original, which took place in medieval Japan, this one takes place in near-future Budapest. In this future, samurai walk around dressed in a mix of kimono and Western business clothes. They have gone international, with African and European members as well as Japanese. They are looking for a blade that is half samurai, half witch. The prophecy states that it must be wielded by a descendant of the loyal retainers to defeat a vague threat.

Anna Akana is bumming around Budapest, doing a little pickpocketing, etc. The samurai, lead by Marc Dacascos, figure out that she is the descendent. They start to train her up, but she notices a strange presence - a hulking seated figure with a ponytail who can deliver magical blows. Based on the ponytail and seated fighting style, I was afraid this was Stephen Seagal, but was actually Daniel Southworth.

I should mention that Dacascos had three young women supporting him, all orphans he picked up and trained. I mention because they are kind of fun and because Akana looks like she'll be another. 

I have to say that the fights are not great, although they do focus on Japanese swords. (When one of our guys just starts using guns near the end, it's kind of cute.) Dacascos does almost nothing in the fights. There's a lot of CGI and wirework as opposed to cool stunt fighting. BUT - the costumes and art direction aren't bad - Japanese schoolgirl outfits, kimono over leisure suit, etc. So, while Ms. Spenser wasn't interested, I was reasonably amused. At least it was better than The Munsters.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Night Tower

I hadn't been having much luck with newer horror, so I decided to go old school, with some Boris Karloff: the double bill Night Key/Tower of London (1937/1939).

Night Key stars Karloff as a scientist who has developed a new burglar alarm. He goes to the company that stole his ideas and fired him 10 years ago to demonstrate, but they blow him off. In the meantime, Warren. Hull, a rent-a-cop from the same company, detains Hobart Cavanaugh, caught in the act of burglary by their silent alarms. Cavanaugh plays Petty Louis, who never stole enough to be charged with a felony. As a result, Hull doesn't call in the police, but detains Louis at the company.

So Karloff just happens to be storming out of the office when he sees Louis locked up. Along with the new alarm system he invented, he also has a gadget that defeats the old system, so he sets Louis free. Petty Louis is grateful and wants "in on it", whatever it is.

So Karloff and Louis go on a crime spree - where they break into stores that use the alarm system, move things around but don't steal anything, and leaving a taunting note. Of course, Louis has to be constantly reminded not to steal anything. 

But some real crooks like Alan Baxter and Ward Bond get wind of this, and force Karloff to help them pull some real crimes. They do this by the usual expedient of kidnapping Karloff's daughter, Jean Rogers. Will he be able to save her? What about rent-a-cop Hull, who has been showing interest in Rogers? And so on. 

Not a great crime movie, and Karloff is playing a quiet old man with a white mustache, not a scary ghoul. But Cavanaugh is a lot of fun as Petty Louis, and the real gangsters are fairly menacing. A good watch.

Tower of London, on the other hand, is a classic. Basil Rathbone plays Richard, Duke of Gloucester, before he became Richard III of England. He had a personal torturer and executioner, club-footed Mord, played by Boris Karloff. The movie deals with the machinations of Richard and his brothers while weak King Edward IV kept in seclusion in the Tower. So Rathbone sets about to eliminate all rivals.

One is the Duke of Clarence, played by Vincent Price. He challenges him to a drinking duel. Rathbone promises to use no weapon except Malmsey. Price figures thatras an old sot, he can't lose. They set about drinking in a somewhat silly scene, but when Price passes out, Rathbone and Karloff dump him in the famous butt of Malmsey.

There are more murders and executions, including the famous children in the Tower. Seeing Karloff tenderly putting them to bed, then measuring them for graves is chilling. Finally, the exiled pretender returns, and there are a few battle scenes. These are chaotic ands intimate, possibly to keep down the cost of extras. (Although the filming of these foggy, rainy scenes in hot, sunny California was apparently a big mess.)

In the little research I've done, I've found that this is considered a bit of a mess. But as far as I'm concerned, it's a classic historical drama with a touch of horror. This is a great double bill.