Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Even more movies I’ve had a chance to watch or re-watch recently!

Yes, I just posted about a bunch of movies I had watched, but when television shows go on hiatus, I tend to watch more movies, so over the Christmas break, we’ve been watching a bunch! Plus, my parents came to town to visit, and even though we have some of the series we watch on DVR, we feel bad making my mother watch some of those, because she doesn’t know what’s going on (even though she often falls asleep during the shows she does like – she’s 74, whaddayagonnado?), so we watched a bunch of movies instead! Here are some thoughts!

1. Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Elsa Lanchester is in this movie for less than five minutes, a few as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (which is how she’s billed in the credits), and then as the bride, but she’s really terrific. She brings a languid sensuality to Shelley, and she acts circles around both Gavin Gordon and Douglas Walton as Byron and Shelley, respectively, who condescend to her even as she knowingly shows that she’s much smarter than both of them, and as the Bride, she has that amazing bird-like quality that everyone knows because everyone has seen the few minutes she’s on screen as the Bride, even if they’ve never seen the movie (Lanchester never really became a big star, but she’s amazing as Jessica Marbles in Murder by Death at the end of her career). It’s a pretty good movie, a nice example of an early retcon, as James Whale and the coterie of writers turn around the end of Frankenstein so the monster survives and then goes around trying to make friends (including a blind Gene Hackman!) and everyone keeps dumping on him. Dr. Pretorius is a good, creepy villain, keeping Henry Frankenstein away from his hot wife (played by Valerie Hobson in a recasting from the first movie), and Una O’Connor adds nice comic relief. But it’s Lanchester who steals the movie, even in the very brief time she’s on the screen.

Come on, Doc, don’t you have better things to, ahem, do than making a wife for your monster?

2. Topaz (1969). Topaz is late-era Hitchcock (he only directed two more movies after it), and unfortunately, it’s not very good. He and Leon Uris, who wrote the book on which the movie is based and who started out writing the screenplay, clashed over the direction of the film, and Uris left the picture. It’s weirdly anti-thriller, as if Hitchcock wanted to make a spy movie with as little spycraft as possible just to see if he could. The main villain is a milquetoast, the action veers from Harlem to Cuba to Paris and never really settles into a gripping plot, and I assume that what worked in a book – where you can sprawl a bit if you want with the plots – doesn’t work in the movie, because it feels overstuffed. Plus, Dean Wormer as a Cuban revolutionary will never not be hilarious. However, some of Hitchcock’s wonderful directorial touches are present – there’s a simply amazing overhead shot when someone gets killed that takes your breath away, and shows you that this could have been a classic if Hitchcock either wanted to make it so or wasn’t hamstrung by outside factors (apparently Universal “forced” Hitchcock to make it, although what that means I don’t know). It’s his longest movie, too, which only adds to the drudgery. I had never seen any Hitchcock past The Birds, but TCM has been showing some of his last works recently, so I’ve been DVRing them. I’ll get around to Marnie and Frenzy soon enough, and I hope they show Family Plot again soon, because I missed it the last time it was on!

3. The Thing (1982). John Carpenter’s movie is, of course, amazing, with special effects that largely hold up today, great acting, and extremely tense scenes all throughout. I don’t get nor do I care about the whole “eye-glinting” thing that’s supposed to tell us that Kurt Russell is human and Keith David is alien at the end – it appears that there are conflicting theories, even from Carpenter himself, and I’ve never really gotten into that kind of crap when it comes to movies. This is just an amazing nail-biting horror/thriller, and we should all watch it every once in a while just for fun.

4. Footloose (1984). I had never seen Footloose before, but as we’re showing “older” movies to our daughter and my wife dug this one, we watched it recently. It’s not bad, and John Lithgow is far more sympathetic than I thought he would be (Dianne Wiest is in it for too short a time, but she’s terrific, of course). Bacon has charisma to spare, which helps make up for Lori Singer’s lack of it – Singer is great in something like The Man With One Red Shoe (an underrated classic) because she’s supposed to be somewhat aloof, but she can’t quite pull off the rebellious teenager with the heart of gold in this movie. Chris Penn couldn’t dance, so the scenes of him learning how to dance were really him learning how to dance, which is kind of neat. As I hadn’t seen it, I kept predicting that Penn wouldn’t make it out of the movie alive, as he seemed to fit that “Best Friend Who Dies To Teach The Main Character Some Lesson About Life” role, so I was pretty happy that he survived. Well done, Chris Penn!

5. The Terminator (1984). We told my daughter she had to watch this, and she digs Arnold, so she was into it. She’s calling everyone and everything “beautiful” these days, so of course both Arnold and Michael Beihn were “beautiful.” What else is there to say about this movie? It’s awesome. And hey, it’s pretty clear that Bill Paxton survives, so that’s all right!

6. Better Off Dead … (1985). Another 1980s movies that we thought our daughter should watch, so my wife actually bought a cheap two-pack of this and The Sure Thing. If I had to make a list of funniest movies I’ve ever seen, this would be near the top. My wife and I quote this movie all the time (well, not all the time, as that would get annoying, but a lot), from the iconic “Two dollars …” to stuff like “Frahnch bread,” “My grandmother dropped acid and she freaked out and hijacked a bus full of penguins,” “Now that’s a real shame when folks be throwing away a perfectly good white boy like that,” “Gee, I’m really sorry your mom blew up, Ricky,” among many others. It’s just a ridiculously funny movie, and Cusack, of course, is great in it. He apparently hates it, but all that shows is good actors don’t always have good taste! Oh, and the director, Savage Steve Holland (really?) is now directing Disney Channel television shows. Bizaardvark is a terrible, terrible show, but you can certainly see some of his sensibilities in it.

7. The Delta Force (1986). Gadzooks, this is a terrible movie. I saw it years ago, and decided to watch it again just for the fun of it. It’s mostly fun to watch it now to contemplate the reasons behind its making, as it appears Golan-Globus really wanted to make a pro-Israel propaganda piece, so they did. There’s not really anything wrong with that, but it does reduce the terrorists in the movie to cardboard cut-outs, and not even actual Arab actor cardboard cut-outs, either, as Robert Forster, of all people, plays the head terrorist. It’s fascinating seeing people like Martin Balsam, Shelley Winters, Joey Bishop, and George Kennedy in this movie, and Lee Marvin, although he was dying rather quickly, plays the colonel with Lee Marvin-esque grit, naturally. The movie can be a bit gripping, like when the terrorists force a German flight attendant, played by Hanna Schygulla, to identify the Jews on board and she freaks out because she’s German. It’s still kind of crap, but Norris does his thing, and the bad guys get sufficiently nullified. U! S! A!

8. Say Anything … (1989). Yes, we’ve been on a bit of a John Cusack kick recently, but there’s nothing wrong with that. This is, of course, a terrific movie, and I don’t really have much to say after watching it now, some years after the last time, because it still holds up. Cusack, Ione Skye (amazingly radiant), John Mahoney (all too human), Lili Taylor (a bit too broad, but her “guy” speech is superb), and Joan Cusack are wonderful, and even minor parts like Loren Dean’s and Jeremy Piven’s and Eric Stolz’s and Kim Walker’s and Bebe Neuwirth’s add nice touches to the movie (although why Neuwirth is partying with high schoolers is something best left unexamined, as the 1980s were a bit different in terms of social norms). Crowe’s story is excellent, too, because it captures not only the angst of being a teen, but the complexities of life beyond high school, as well, which makes Skye’s dilemma all that more painful. I love how the kids at the party aren’t cruel to her, either – they just never knew her because she didn’t let them know her. It’s a great touch, and it’s one of the reasons why Crowe is such a good writer. This is just a great film.

9. Wild Things (1998). I think Wild Things has a bad reputation for a few reasons: Denise Richards’s tits, as the somewhat silly three-way she has with Matt Dillon and Neve Campbell has overshadowed the rest of the movie; Kevin Bacon’s junk, about which you heard far too much; and Bill Murray’s somewhat goofy lawyer, who isn’t a major character but seems to get lumped in with the other major characters. When you simply watch the movie without any preconceptions, it’s a pretty great sleazy noir movie, with over-the-top performances, sure, but they fit the weird, heightened reality of the swampy Florida town in which the action is set. Dillon is solid as the good-looking, slightly-dim-but-thinks-he’s-smarter-than-he-is guidance counselor; Richards is pure evil throughout; Bacon is good as the slick and unsettling cop; the magnificent Theresa Russell is amazing, as always; Murray hams it up as the ambulance-chasing lawyer; and Daphne Rubin-Vega brings some much-needed gravitas to the entire affair as Bacon’s partner, who knows something’s up but doesn’t figure it out until it’s too late. John McNaughton is a strange director; he hasn’t done much, but he did make Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which is as chilling a movie as you’ll ever see, and he imbues this film with the right kind of gonzo sleaze, and all the plot twists, while stretching credulity a little bit, really do make sense when you think about them. Of course, you show up for the tits and Richards and Campbell making out, but you stay for the sheer fun of all these horrible people doing horrible things and getting their horrible comeuppances. It’s a ton of fun.

10. Insomnia (2002). This is kind of the red-headed stepchild of Christopher Nolan’s filmography – his first movie doesn’t really count, because it’s a first movie, but then he made Memento and everyone went nuts (to be fair, Memento is amazing), and then right after this he started making Batman movies and everyone went nuts. Insomnia, sandwiched between Memento and Batman Begins, kind of gets lost in the shuffle. It has some of the tics we’ve come to associate with Nolan – the quick cuts to show passages of time, for instance, but it’s also probably Nolan’s most bread-and-butter movie, and he just plows ahead telling the story. I saw the original in 1997 but don’t remember too much about it, and this remake was just okay. Pacino, as is his wont for the past 25 years or so, sucks all the air up in any scene, so it’s tough for the other actors, but Hilary Swank is terrific, Nicky Katt is nice and smarmy (but smarter than he looks), Maura Tierney is good as the hotel clerk, and Robin Williams does a great job as the villain. The leaps of logic you have to make to deal with the story are difficult, though. Pacino shoots his partner, Martin Donovan, because he thinks he’s the bad guy they’re chasing and there’s too much fog, but why would he shoot at the dude? Don’t they want to catch him alive? There’s no indication he has a weapon. And while he’s under investigation in Los Angeles and Donovan, it seems, is about to be a witness against him, Pacino still should have come clean, as it would have been better for all concerned. The fact that he’s sleep-deprived when he shoots doesn’t wash, either – he hasn’t been there that long, so his faculties shouldn’t be too messed up, and are you telling me that a hotel that, presumably, caters to summer guests doesn’t have black-out shades in the rooms? It’s a gripping movie mostly because of Swank figuring out what happened to Donovan and Robin Williams fucking with Pacino’s mind, but it does strain your suspension of belief occasionally.

11. Revolver (2005). So when Guy Ritchie married Madonna, he did what everyone who has sex with Madonna tries to do: make her a movie star. Why won’t they learn, people? He cast her in Swept Away, a romantic comedy that’s apparently so awful no one wants to talk about how awful it is, and it almost ruined his career, a career in which he was 2-for-2 after Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. He wisely ditched Madonna and even more wisely decided to start making gangster movies again, and his follow-up to Swept Away was this movie, which is … well, it’s something, all right. Revolver is the story of a gambler and con man, played by Ritchie mainstay Jason Statham, who thinks about getting revenge on Ray Liotta, a gangster casino owner who hung him out to dry years earlier and got Statham sent to prison. Before he can get his revenge, Liotta tries to have him killed, and two strange dudes named Zach (Vincent Pastore) and Avi (André Benjamin) rescue him and tell him he has a deadly disease that will kill him in a few days unless he works for them. He does, and he’s miraculously cured. It seems Zach and Avi are trying to start a war between Ray Liotta and some Chinese gangsters, and they succeed admirably. Meanwhile, Ray Liotta keeps trying to have Jason Statham killed. Oh, and Zach and Avi are pushing Statham toward spiritual enlightenment, so there’s that. It’s really weird, in other words, but Statham (sporting a glorious full head of hair) and Liotta are quite good, as is Mark Strong as a hitman who has a crisis of conscience. It’s very stylish, of course, in Ritchie’s way, and while I’m sure I didn’t quite get it all, it’s a very interesting movie. Just be warned that it’s not a very typical Ritchie movies – it’s by far the most thoughtful one he’s ever made, and you can’t just enjoy the mayhem like you can in some of his other movies.

12. The Accountant (2016). I was intrigued by this when it came out, but since I rarely go to theaters anymore, I simply waited until it showed up on HBO, because that’s just how I roll. It turns out that it’s a really good movie, and not what I thought it was about at all. The commercials almost make it seem like Ben Affleck moonlights as an assassin, but it turns out he’s just really good at killing people. Affleck is excellent as a man on the autism spectrum who’s the accountant of a bunch of criminals, which brings him to the attention of the Treasury department. He never allows his face to be photographed, so J.K. Simmons (who isn’t in the movie as much as the commercials imply) sends a young agent, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, to track him down. Meanwhile, Affleck gets hired by a big company, one of whose low-level employees, Anna Kendrick, found weird discrepancies in the money movement. As an action movie, it’s a perfectly good movie – it’s obvious who the bad guy is from the get-go, and it’s obvious what the big reveal about a character will be, but the action is well done (even if they zip over the bad guy’s scheme so quickly I’m not exactly sure what it is), and it’s interesting to see Affleck move and kill people in a slightly different way than your standard action hero, because he’s autistic. What’s more fascinating about the movie is Affleck’s performance and the way the movie confronts his special needs. His military father didn’t believe in weakness, so he trained Affleck and his brother to fight, keeping Affleck focused on something, presumably. It gives Affleck a laser-like focus on his job and explains why he’s so good at killing, but it also means he was never trained on how to deal with people, which hinders his relationship with Kendrick. People as high-functioning as Affleck can learn to interact with others, and it’s interesting that the director, Gavin O’Connor, and the writer, Bill Dubuque, chose the way they went, as I’m not sure how well they researched people on the spectrum. It also brings up the tragic consequences on his father’s choice – many, many marriages involving special needs kids end in divorce, and while Affleck’s father in the movie seems like a guy you wouldn’t want to be married to anyway, the break comes because his mother thinks his father is being too cruel to him. Meanwhile, Affleck can compartmentalize his skills, but the movie shows the effects of this training on his brother, who is neuro-typical, and what comes from that. It’s a far more insightful movie than I thought it would be (I’ve read some negative reviews that say it’s just another example of a person with autism having special skills, but the movie, I thought, went out of its way to show why Affleck has these skills instead of just assuming it’s because of his autism), with good performances by not only those I’ve mentioned, but John Lithgow and Jon Bernthal, as well. Plus, there’s some good violence, so that’s nice.

It’s always fun to check out some of the movies I’ve been watching, right? I don’t know when I’m going to watch more, because my parents have gone home and we need to catch up on the series we watch, but I’m sure I’ll manage to watch some in the coming weeks. And I’ll probably write about those, too!


  1. Wild Things as Sleazy Noir? Yep, that sums it up. Way better than I expected (my wife has the DVD, it’s one of her go-to films when she wants to crash and watch something).
    I like Lori Singer, who does a great job in the obscure VR5 too. But Man With One Red Shoe is such a pale shadow of the French original I can’t really get into it (though it’s not bad in itself).
    But “blind Gene Hackman” was from a different Frankenstein movie.

    1. Greg Burgas

      frasersherman: I haven’t seen the original French version, so I can’t compare it. I really like the English version, though, much to my wife’s chagrin and confusion, as she is not a fan.

      I was just funnin’ about Gene Hackman, but having seen him in Young Frankenstein before I saw this movie, it’s uncanny how well he mimics the blind dude in this movie.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    First, I have to say it’s so nice to find someone else who appreciates “Better Off Dead” as much as I do. It’s indeed a hilarious movie. I particularly love how it’s very much a 1980s high-school teen-romance movie but at the same time so mercilessly skewers that very same genre.
    Otherwise, along with the most excellent recent episode of Podcasta La Vista, Baby, you’ve reminded me that it’s been ages since I’ve seen “Terminator” and I should really get around to watching it again. Like “Better Off Dead,” another classic from the 1980s.

    Never saw the movie, but I can tell you that the novel Topaz is nothing to write home about, either. It’s not boring or anything, and in fact it’s very competently written, but Uris was simply out of his comfort zone writing what was essentially an espionage novel and it shows.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Edo: Yeah, it’s weird how you can know a movie so well then suddenly realize it’s been decades since you’ve seen it. I hadn’t seen the original, uncut Terminator in forever, but I still know every single beat of that movie. It doesn’t matter, though, because it’s awesome.

      That’s interesting about the book. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Uris, so I don’t know how he is as a writer, but it sounds like the book is very much like the movie, so I wonder why Hitchcock didn’t try to change it when Uris took off.

  3. Simon

    – “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, which is as chilling a movie as you’ll ever see”

    Fear, fear! A gold standard for horror that doesn’t even need the supernatural. A film made in one month for $100,000 that slays million-dollar monstrosities. “It’s them or us.”

    If you like 1930s horror, have you looked into some Tod Browning? (And not just the excellent FREAKS, but also THE DEVIL-DOLL or MARK OF THE VAMPIRE with Lionel Barrymore…)

    Or for new chills, there’s THELMA — a paranormal thriller with Kubrickian depth and brio:

    * https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/10/16633718/thelma-movie-review-joachim-trier-superhero-horror
    * http://www.newsweek.com/horror-oscars-thelma-trier-best-foreign-film-707389

    1. Greg Burgas

      Simon: Well, that looks neat. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

      I haven’t seen anything by Browning except Freaks, unfortunately. That was enough to make me like his work, but I haven’t had a chance to track any of his other work down.

  4. Andrew Collins

    Even before I read your write-up about Topaz, my first thought was of “that scene” with the purple dress you allude to in your review. It is just an incredible shot and showed that even after all those years, Hitch still had his eye for the camera. I agree with you too, that Topaz is, sadly, quite the chore to sit through. I have it as part of a blu-ray box set of his films and it will probably be years before I break it out to watch again. Thankfully, he didn’t end his career with it.

    Frenzy is surprisingly dark and nasty, even by Hitch’s standards, but never becomes unbearable thanks to his infusion of his “black humor” into various scenes. It also re-captures the urgency that Topaz missed, making it a genuine thriller. Family Plot is the kind of film that could be the centerpiece of any other director’s career, but is looked at as one of Hitch’s “lesser” films because he’s well…Hitch. I still like Family Plot quite a bit, as the story just hums along like clockwork, but still manages to work in a surprise or two.

    I just re-watched Terminator for the first time in ages and I’m pretty sure the guy next to Bill Paxton was also the bad guy in Stallone’s Cobra. He’s one of those actors who is just perfect for “creepy psychopath” movie roles…

    And great, now I feel like re-watching Better Off Dead! What a great, underrated movie. It’s sad that after the 80’s Cusack has matched every Grosse Pointe Blank and Being John Malkovich with a Con Air or 2012. Guess everybody has to pay the bills somehow…

    1. Greg Burgas

      Andrew: I know that dude from Terminator, but he’s one of those “hey, it’s that guy” guys from 1980s action movies. I wouldn’t be surprised if he were the bad guy in Cobra, even though I haven’t seen that movie in 30 years and don’t remember it very well at all.

      Did … did you just did Con Air? PISTOLS AT DAWN, SIR!!!!! 🙂 Actually, you’re right that it’s crap, but it’s just such enjoyable crap that I can’t hate it. I CAN’T!!!!!

      Yeah, that’s the shot I’m talking about from Topaz. Damn, it’s amazing.

  5. Eric van Schaik

    Yeah!!! Someone who appriciates The Thing. One of my all time favorites.
    My appreciation keeps rising and rising sir.
    A shame they ruined the opening of Terminator in the Genysis crap.
    Maybe it’s me but I prefer the first one over T2.
    Last week I had a week vacation and watched some nice movies myself.
    My oldest one is watching How I Met Your Mother and because of that we saw Starship Troopers (in which Denise Richards played brilliantly ;)). The younger ones can be pleased with watching The Blues Brothers. Maybe the coming weekend I want to see The Abyss with some of them. Great movie apart from the BS ending.
    What are your thoughts on the The Last Jedi?

    1. Greg Burgas

      Eric: I have to believe a lot of people appreciate The Thing. It’s a great movie, after all!

      I haven’t seen Genisys yet, and I doubt if I will. But yes, I heard they screwed things up royally.

      I dig Starship Troopers quite a bit. Paul Verhoeven has made some great movies, and some really awful ones. That’s one of the good ones.

      Yeah, the ending of The Abyss is … weird. I don’t really know how else they could have ended it, but it’s still weird.

      I haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet. My daughter isn’t really interested, so there’s no urgent need to see it, and I’ll probably just wait until it shows up on television. It’s not really that high on my list of priorities.

    2. M-Wolverine

      Speaking of BS endings, you going to let her watch till the end of HIMYM?

      And since it’s not worth two comments on a 6 day old post, Cynthia Addai-Robinson reminds me – consensus on who was the better Naevia?

  6. I remember when the movie Mumford came out, I kept staring at the star, trying to figure out why he looked so familiar. And then it hit me. He was Joe, Lili Taylor’s ex from Say Anything! The jerk she wrote all those angry songs about! That made me really happy.

    I’ve watched Wild Things way too many times. I do like a good trashy thriller.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Sam: It was bugging me as I was watching it, because I couldn’t remember that it was Loren Dean. I just thinking to myself, “Who the hell is that, because I know him!” Then, of course, I mentally smacked myself on the forehead when the credits rolled.

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