Movies I Saw All The Way Through In 2013 With No Fast Forwarding or Anything #22: Smile (1975)
Holy cow, I actually watched a decades-old critical favorite! This one’s a Nashville for teen beauty pageants, episodic and ensemble-centric, only less bravura than that (or any) Altman film and better for it - the lack of acting fireworks or dreamlike direction make it all the more surprising when things get crazy (the talent competition, omg). There aren’t a lot of obvious riffs and bits, and I’ll admit movies this low-key require some acclimation on my part (blame society). But the natural performances and non-judgmental tone make it easier to appreciate the comedy (and drama) inherent in the subject, and there are moments of striking frankness with both the kids and adults. Among the contestants are Annette O’Toole, Melanie Griffith and Colleen Camp, with Bruce Dern giving a more nuanced performance as the head judge than anyone would bother to today. Leaving Netflix May 1st, and if a ’70s teen beauty pageant comedy holds any curiosity for you, I recommend cramming it into your Tuesday night plans.
The ‘84 thriller Monster Dog, starring Alice Cooper, was too slow and too badly dubbed for me to get through without fast forwarding a half hour or so to the dog-heavy climax. But I have to share my amazement that this actor, Emilio Linder, played an amiable dude on a nightmare vacation in the woods with a mild-mannered rock star again just one year after his performance in the MST3K classic Pod People. This is also one of EIGHT film credits Linder has on IMDb from 1984. Dude’s still working in Spain today.
Movies I Saw All The Way Through In 2013 With No Fast Forwarding or Anything #21: The Horror Show (1989)
Lance Henriksen looks really annoyed as the murderer he sent to the electric chair returns to drive him mad with grotesque hallucinations and Urkel laughs, kill off the supporting cast, and make the furnace act crazy. Lines of dialogue include “never sneak up on a kid playing Metallica,” “his last request was to be buried with his meat cleaver,” “every time a cop goes bad, I get it up the ass from the boys downtown…and I gotta go downtown now!” and “when I was at Columbia I was studying the idea of pure evil as an electromagnetic energy.” Lawrence Tierney appears on screen just long enough to mutter “let’s get on with it” as the killer spits his last communion back at a priest. Leaves Netflix May 1st!
Movies I Saw All The Way Through In 2013 With No Fast Forwarding or Anything #20: Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
Why would someone make documentaries that contain excruciatingly long periods of silence before the notable events, and pepper them arbitrarily with coy text that never acknowledges the obvious connotations of the narrative presented? And why end the latest with a sudden blackout after a nightmarish image? What’s the informative goal in that? Shouldn’t there be text afterwards? I know it’s silly to call out the increasing implausibility of a profitable franchise’s conceit, but when the product is as workmanlike as this, you take your amusement where you can get it.
I remember when Deep Impact and Armageddon and Volcano and Dante’s Peak came out, but I thought this wasn’t still a thing. I was wrong.
I’ve been obsessed with this phenomenon ever since Jonathan Bernstein wrote about it in SPIN back in 1992 (thank you, Google Books!) when Christopher Columbus: The Discovery and 1492: The Conquest Of Paradise were released. Other 20+ year-old examples of Hollywood’s pathological habit from the piece: JFK/Ruby (1992), Like Father Like Son/ViceVersa/18 Again! (1987/1988), For Keeps/She’s Having A Baby (1988), and my favorite, Weird Science/Real Genius/My Science Project, all three released the first two weekends of August, 1985. What a great month to be a nerd.
My favorite example not referenced in either work is Without Limits and Prefontaine, the dueling movies about runner Steve Prefontaine, released in 1997/1998, which collectively made less than $2 million in the box office. Man, were they wrong about the Prefontaine market.
Movies I Saw All The Way Through In 2013 With No Fast Forwarding or Anything #19: Alex Cross (2012)
Veteran indie auteurs Tyler Perry and Edward Burns play veteran detectives trapped in a familiar game of cat and mouse with a wild-eyed Matthew Fox, determined to prove he’s not as boring as Seth Rogen thinks. Personally, I think every director/actor-in-his-own-movies who get his name above the title should star in someone else’s B action cop movie at least once, firing guns and leaping through the air in slo-mo, crying “no, no, God, no” as a loved one dies in their arms, glowering through lines like “this is pleasure…the pleasure I’m gonna get when your soul comes oozing out of you, you…maggot!” Kevin Smith, Tarantino, Shyamalan, Scorsese… Hell, I think there should be a law.
Movies I Saw All The Way Through In 2013 With No Fast Forwarding or Anything #18: The Paperboy (2012)
Young buck Zac Efron pines for floozie Nicole Kidman as she lusts for drooling murderer John Cusack in the racial hotbed of the ’60s South, with director Lee Daniels less concerned about storytelling than putting the “hotbed” in “racial hotbed.” Macy Gray’s maid/narrator spends the first half of the film explaining the thoughts behind Efron’s beautiful face in scenes she wasn’t in to an unseen investigator, before achieving full omniscience and addressing us directly, even noting it’s “awkward” to talk over a sex scene. Thankfully, she isn’t made to speak when Zac is attacked by CGI jellyfish after Kidman refuses to blow him. Featuring what will hopefully be the most unpleasant nude scenes of Matthew McConaughey’s career.
Movies I Saw All The Way Through In 2013 With No Fast Forwarding or Anything #17: Dredd (2012)
A Dirty Harry dressed like Robocop and his psychic apprentice (who has to show her beautiful hair and face or else her powers won’t work) tick off the no-nonsense drug queenpin who runs this here dystopian 200-story “mega-block,” causing a lot of shit (and a lot of people) to blow up real good. A remarkably matter-of-fact post-apocalyptic tale, hyper-violence aside, that hits the perfect degree of remove from the fascist goings-on; the film’s not amoral about these “judge”/executioners so much as not moralistic. Karl Urban can only do so much beneath his dumb-ass helmet and Eastwood impression, but Olivia Thirlby and Lena Headey are great enough that he’s basically a plot device for them to react to (though he does deliver at least one classic “yeah”). Note to self: don’t fear movies from directors who get their start doing British TV the way you fear movies from directors who get their start doing American TV.
FYI: I’ve never read the book nor seen the Sylvester Stallone “original” (feels weird to call it that), so I have no idea how fans will take it. But I enjoyed it too much to believe it’s as tone-deaf or boat-missing as your average Alan Moore adaptation.
Movies I Saw All The Way Through In 2013 With No Fast Forwarding or Anything #16: Seven Psychopaths (2012)
A screenwriter trying to put a story under the title Seven Psychopaths comes across seven “psychopaths” thanks to his dog-napping best friend. While this had most of the issues I associate with gabby, meta-heavy post-Tarantino pulp comedies (obnoxious use of words like “psychopath,” for one), they don’t make gabby, meta-heavy post-Tarantino pulp comedies as often these days, and the script is novel enough that the veteran ensemble has low-budget fun rather than straight-to-dvd fatigue. Highly recommended to folks who like to see Christopher Walken’s name above the title.
Movies I Saw All The Way Through In 2013 With No Fast Forwarding or Anything #15: Spring Breakers (2013)
In the ’60s and ’70s, many of our favorite directors learned their trade by making exploitation films with Roger Corman, who didn’t care how many pretentious devices you tried out as long as there were breasts and guns he could sell. While I won’t pretend there weren’t memorable moments between the loops of hamfisted narration (James Franco and Vanessa Hudgens sure have fun), the fact that Harmony Korine made a Roger Corman movie more than 15 years into his directorial career sure is something.