Thursday, June 10, 2021

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Dying in '85

Spoiler alert: death plays a part in each of these films. Let's talk about it.

After Hours

A yuppie office worker has One Crazy Night in Greenwich Village, and not the fun kind, the purgatorial kind. So uncomfortably tense, I stood up and watched it standing behind the couch at some points, just to get some distance between myself and all that. That's a good thing, it's supposed to make you feel like that, and you don't know whether you're laughing out of commiseration or out of extreme nervousness. Death is inevitable but still surprising. 

Blood Simple

The Coen Brothers' debut is a corker, a Texas-set noir about a bartender, his boss, his boss's wife, and a private detective who upends everything. You know from the title someone's gonna die, you even have a good feeling while watching who's gonna die, but where and how made me gasp, and from there on, it's a nerve-wracking 90 minutes of "oh God, now what?" Effective.

Enemy Mine

Earthlings fight for space supremacy against the Dracs; two soldiers from each crash land on a hostile planet and form a bond to survive. What the hell did this movie do to everyone to go so ignored? An incredibly designed and constructed set creates this alien planet, insane makeup transforms Louis Gossett Jr. into the amphibious creature without ever covering his impossibly great performance, weird score, and of course, a great message! I was reminded of being back in Ms. Dos Santos' class post-9/11, when she suddenly made her Social Studies class focus on Ramadan and the Pillars of Islam, so that, in her words, "We could never in good conscience meet another culture on the battlefield." I love the turns this movie takes, I love the love between these two, I love so much about it!


When a millionaire asks Fletch to kill him, the investigative journalist investigates just what the hell is going on. I liked this! I liked Chevy Chase in this! Wasn't so big on the disguises, it's the silliest thing that turns it from a Long Goodbye-esque laconic comedy-thriller into a comedy with thriller elements. Tim Matheson is very pretty in this.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome

Max Rockatansky finds himself caught in the middle of a power struggle in Bartertown, then, through circumstances, finds himself a guardian to a bunch of kids in the jungle. The scale and detail of every bit of Bartertown, from its layout to the costumes to the pig shit, is just jaw-dropping. The jungle kids with their legends of The Captain should be that extra much that's too much, but perhaps because Max agrees with that assessment, it gets away with it. It's a wonderful movie, a beautiful movie, and, I think, a great finale for this series (in my head, you can easily program Fury Road between Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome).


A serious woman is possessed by the ghost of a flapper. Loses some of its interesting subplots too soon - Ruth Gordon's time as a landlady who knew the dead flapper is effective, even tear-inducing in some parts, but is soon jettisoned in favor of other aspects. Ending doesn't make a lot of sense. Those are my caveats, and I didn't think much about them while sitting and watching Glenn Close play both sides to great comic effect, with Mandy Patinkin in terrific "what am I gonna do?" mode as the husband who doesn't want to cheat on his wife with the ghost within her. Surprised this isn't a musical!

Ordeal by Innocence

Agatha Christie adaptation about a man who realizes he holds the proof that a man was falsely accused of his mother's murder...three years after his execution. But that means there's still a murderer about... Much bleaker than Christie's original novel: she was very much an advocate for justice, the truth above all else, while the film sees delayed justice as no justice at all, especially when everyone involved has moved on. Not much detecting, so that halfway through, the killer's identity is revealed to us long before sleuth Donald Sutherland pieces things together. I suppose it really is more about the mood and the questioning of what is right.

The Shooting Party

A shooting party gathers at a country estate as World War I looms. Death and violence loom over every aspect of this drama. The Great War was, ultimately, a large-scale family disagreement, an unnecessary sacrifice of a generation all in the service of the upper-class ego. Likewise, here we see aristocrats coming together in the name of slaughter, making a sport of violence and callousness, ruthlessly competing in all matters merely to stake their claim as "better." A final roll call of all who'll meet their deaths in the battles to come is the final twist of the nife. James Mason's final film, one of his greatest performances, as the host grappling with a changing world and his own precepts and prejudices. One of the great ones.

Starchaser: The Legend of Orin

A little bit of everything, but mostly Star Wars, informs this animated space fantasy, worth watching if just for the robot-human romantic subplot and some of the horror-show depictions of extraterrestrial monstrosities.

To Live and Die in L.A.

Now, take notes, Michael Cimino: this is how you depict an asshole protagonist! Feds are on the trail of a big-time counterfeiter, and the agent leading the charge is not in a mental place to handle it smoothly. Thrills, chills, and brain matter - and a demonically sexy Willem Dafoe.

Trouble in Mind

An ex-con gets mixed up in the life of a couple just arrived in Rain City, especially when the husband falls into a dangerous life of crime. Great use of Seattle locations, eccentric casting (Divine, out of drag, plays a crime kingpin; Genevieve Bujold, a gritty diner owner), awesome sets and costuming, a groovin' soundtrack courtesy Mark Isham and Marianne Faithfull. I can't quite gather all my thoughts on it yet, but I know I adored it, and its ability to present such comic book visuals and over-the-top moments (the final shootout is the best cinematic chaos since Blazing Saddles fought its way across soundstages) without jeopardizing the groundedness of its characters and their struggles to realize something better for themselves impressed me.


A woman is haunted - but not as troubled as expected - after a stranger kills himself in her home. It's a very sad movie portraying a contemporary listlessness, people speaking very softly and tiredly about their unsatisfactory lives, personal implosions that they seem to watch in slow motion, fully aware of the consequences but not rushing to do anything about it. Then there is the youth, full of bad decisions but no real regrets - yet - as they shut themselves off from emotions, each other...or else put a bullet in their head. I love the movie, but my oh my, what a headspace it puts you in!

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