The Films of July, such as they were


my brother's in-house
entertainment server
The Cat from Outer Space (1978)

Apparently I haven't watched this since 2013, which is frankly a little surprising. I know my kids have watched it with my parents and that's where I last remember seeing it as well. But maybe it's been longer than I think? Who know.

As a kid, I loved this movie but the beer made me a bit uncomfortable. (Good thing I didn't realize how postcoital the end of the airplain-rescue was.) As an adult, I'm amazed so many things slipped by me. I mean---if I'd stopped to think, surely that security would have seemed too slim? I dunno. Kids believe what they're told, I suppose. But so many parts of this movie don't hold up to scrutiny. It could be interesting to really rewrite this to make more sense. But then again maybe not.

The movie has the space-cat plot and the outwitting-the-Army plot and then a James-Bond-villain plot tacked on, perhaps to fit Roddie McDowell in? Who knows.

The movie comes by its dumb honestly and it really means it. Maybe that's why it works.

my brother's in-house
entertainment server
Tron: Legacy (2010)

I've never seen the original Tron. It's hard to say why but I've just never cared. And that carried over to this film as well. But my brother has the Tron: Legacy pinball game and we've been playing it a lot, so he busted this out.

And it's pretty terrible. (The game's fun, though!)

Pretty clear the writers just followed a preforma outline and punched a bunch of big ideas into it without much idea what to do with them. The movie's filled with all sorts of important stuff, Biblical references and fascist imagery (laundered through Star Wars) and genocide and you name it. All stuffed into a script that knows what pages certain cliches and catchphrases should appear on but unclear how to make us thrilled by them.

One of the weirdest choices was the uncanny-valley Young Jeff Bridges. I get why they wanted to do it. And it cuold have been fine. But they wanted to believe they were at Mandalorian-level Luke when they were only at Rogue One-level Grand Moff Tarkin. Which, again, COULD have been fine. All they had to do was spend the money to make all the other programs uncanny and voila. Problem solved. But they didn't go that direction.

I haven't seen the original so I don't know if this scifi-Lebowski version of Jeff Daniels was there back in the 80s but I thought he was good. Olivia Wilde did well also. Everybody else either was mediocre or didn't make sense. Other than it's supposed to tickle pretrained funny bones, what was the deal with the Marchael Sheen character? Really, most of the world was supposed to meke sense because we've already seen it in a million other movies, but that laziness means that the unique things about that world we're just set dressing and cool costumes rather than the engine that drove plot and character. A huge missed opportunity. Done right, the threat posed by this bad guy could have been unique in filmdom. Instead we can only think that Ragnarok and Valerian and even the ******* prequels did this better.

Another thing that really bugged me about this is what the Marvel movies and Star Wars #9 have worn me out on: celebration of (wealth and) royal blood to win the day.

But I really am pissed at how our hero character used meaningless lines in places of the writers knowing what's going on. Lines like that work when the writing is strong! Not as wallpapering over bad writing! How could you all put such a terrible script out and think that cool (and unique) visuals would win the day? I guess Kevin Feige's reign at Marvel hadn't been around long enough to prove the point....

Anyway. Guess I need to finally see the original now.

our dvd
O Brother, Where Art? (2000)

Since seeing O Brother a couple months ago, all the Big O has wanted to do was show it to his brothers. But I managed to show them Sullivan's Travels first which made the showing only more necessary. So the first film watched upon our return---notwithstanding our pile of library dvds---was O Brother.

I can't remember the last time the Eldest had a movie he so badly wanted to show his brothers. It was great to see. And I'm happy to say the choice was a good one. They dug it too.

What's the next influxion of taste to attempt?

library dvd
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

It's been about twenty years since we last watched this. Lady Steed remembers find it much funnier. I remember finding it less funny. There is no record to determine which of us is right.

Anyway, it's funny! We do agree that Chris Guest's later films are funnier and we suspect it's because, in a film like Best of Show or A Mighty Wind, there are multiple clusters of hilarious characters doing different sorts of comedy. With Spinal Tap, you're pretty much just with the band. And while they're funny, we also feel they didn't push it as hard as they could have. This may be a minority opinion.

As an aside, it's fascinating how the cast connects with Saturday Night Live. For instance, Christopher Guest and (former cast member) Harry Shearer and (bit-mime) Billy Crystal, if I'm reading it correctly, both joined SNL the season following Spinal Tap. Michael McKean wouldn't become a cast member for another decade and (bit-mime) Dana Carvey would join a couple years later. I wonder how those pieces fit together.

The dvd includes a full-length commentary with the band (in character) but I'm not sure I'll have a chance to experience it before we return it to the library.

One funny thing about this is that some of the parts I remember best were from the outtakes---the traveling mouth-sore and signing the black album with black pens, for instance. But last time we watched it on VHS and I doubt those were included. Maybe there's an extended version?

Oh, wait. Look what I found:

our dvd
A Mighty Wind (2003)

So no, actually. I'm not sure they do pack more jokes into this movie than Spinal Tap. But I do think rotating characters does help. What helps even more, though, is making Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara the emotional core of the movie. That gives the thing a skeleton. It makes the comedy mean a bit more. And that makes the whole that much better.


library dvd
The Innocents (1961)

I'm sure I'd heard of this movie before but not in any sort of sticky way. I decided to watch it though largely so I could scratch something else off my horror-movies poster. And a fine choice it was!

I read Turn of the Screw the summer I turned fifteen. Thirty summers later, I don't remember exactly what I thought about it. I believe I learned later that some people think there are ghosts or that there are no ghosts and that that alternate possibility had not occurred to me, but I can't remember what my initial opinion had been. But no matter.

I felt this film leaned heavily into no-ghosts, but Lady Steed (and apparently the people working on it) could never settle on a decision. Which is appropriate, I think, because the film, visually, never lets you settle on anything. Fabulous swooping shots through rooms and around characters---bringing first one person or thing into focus, then another. Unsettling use of light and blocking. The Criterion edition has interviews exploring how some of this was accomplished and, in short, it was hella complicated. The camera had two lenses that each required separate focusing! The lighting involved multiple people dimming and undimming as characters turned around!

Among the other things that are interesting is how happy accidents occurred. Deborah Kerr is too old for the character but that is better. Film ran out on one shot creating a timing effect. A third example that I have just forgotten.

One thing I wasn't really conscious of as we watched but was pointed out by several scholars and filmmakers is that instead of ghost-reaction, almost every instance is reaction-ghost. It's a small difference but it's part of what makes this film so interesting.

And they use the entire Cinemascope screen well. I don't see how you could possibly pan-and-scan this thing and do it any justice. No wonder it required "rediscovery" twenty years ago or whenever.

library dvd
The Caine Mutiny (1954)

We watched this because my son just read the novel (and dug it). He wasn't sure how it would be movified but mostly guessed right, I guess

The Caine Mutiny was arguably the biggest story of the early '50s. Huge novel, huge play, huge movie. The novel started things off and several studios wanted to make it---but didn't want to make it without the Navy's help. And the Navy wanted lots of changes to the story so the studios backed out, letting Staney Kramer snap up the rights. Then, as the story became the zeitgeist, the Navy realized it a) wanted to be involved and b) couldn't demand that many changes. Because everyone would know.

Anyway, some parts haven't aged great. For instance, instead of gutting the love story, they should have just cut it entirely. But you can't make a movie in 1954 without a woman or a song and that sidebit provided both. The score also was too much. Long portions of the film felt like they were scored with old sitcom music.

But the bulk of the performances and the story as a whole were strong. And it was fun to see Jose Ferrer as a younger man But the strongest performance was by Van Johnson. I'm not sure that I've seen him in anything outside Batman and I associated his name with forgettable pop, but his face is this film's anchor. It took the movie a while to realize it, but once it let his face become the emotional center, it soared.

library dvd
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Manchurian Candidate is a movie I've meant to watch for as long as I can remember. I have no idea when I first heard of it. I do remember, in 2004 when the remake came out, I couldn't believe I STILL had not watched the original. Seventeen years later...here we are.

Anyway, it's long. I would argue, after first watch, it dragged a bit in the middle. But I loved how it dragged at the end. It's excrutiating to wait the entire national anthem before our hero can start moving again. And then we hear the entire talk.... It's a wild ride. I imagine it is a film that improves with each viewing. Though who knows when (if) I'll watch it again.

Aspects of the movie felt uncannily appropriate to our current moment. But the most uncanny thing must be learning that the novelist based the villain on Ray Cohn.

Anyway, it's a classic. I wish it were fifteen or twenty minutes shorter but no one asked me. What is certainly true is that it goes much harder than I ever expected. Even knowing as much about it as I did, it retained the power to shock.

Previous films watched


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