Iron Sky (2012)

Iron Sky (2012) movie poster

director Timo Vuorensola
viewed: 01/19/2015

Moon Nazis.

This comic sci-fi vision imagines that the Nazis escaped to the dark side of the moon in the waning years of WWII and have been hiding out there with limited versions of technology ever since.  But when a mission to the moon, manned by an African-American actor playing an astronaut as a re-election stunt by a Sarah Palin-esque president stumbles on them, an inevitable clash is sprung into motion, including space dirigibles and Nazi moon men.

This Finnish/Australian/German production is a camp piece with a few quite funny aspects to it, though overall it’s almost a Troma film in other ways.  I do give them credit for adherence to silliness.

Felix and I watched this at his behest.  I had queued it up because I’d read something about it being weird or something.  We both kind of enjoyed it for what it was.  Felix was shocked to hear that a sequel was in the works, due out next year at the time of my writing this.

My Bodyguard (1980)

My Bodyguard (1980) movie poster

director Tony Bill
viewed: 01/19/2015

I always liked My Bodyguard.  My mom took me to see it back in 1980 when it came out.  I always liked Chris Makepeace, who I mainly knew from this movie and Meatballs (1979).  He has such an understated likability and charm, a natural real kind of kid you feel like you know him in real life.

My Bodyguard has a great cast including Makepeace (as Clifford), Matt Dillon as the high school bully Melvin Moody, Adam Baldwin as the bodyguard of the title, with Joan Cusack, Martin Mull, John Houseman, and the absolutely wonderful Ruth Gordon as Clifford’s fun-loving grandmother.  Even some more obscure actors in the movie are also excellent, specifically Paul Quandt as Carson, Clifford’s deep-voiced little school chum.

The film is shot extensively on location in Chicago, capturing the city in great detail and natural character.

Clifford and his family (dad Martin Mull, grandmother Gordon) has just moved into Chicago proper, living at a downtown hotel that his father manages.  Moving into an inner city public high school, Clifford runs afoul right away of class bully Moody, who gets kids like Carson and other to pay him protection money.  Ostensibly, he is protecting them from Ricky Linderman (Baldwin), the big kid in school who is rumored to have murdered a boy and lots of other heinous crimes.  Clifford decides to approach the big quiet loner to see if he’ll act as his bodyguard to protect him from Moody, finding out about Linderman’s real background.

My Bodyguard is one of those teen films that really captures a sense of the reality of life, school, kids, everything.  I’d been intending to watch it with my kids for some time and they enjoyed it.  They particularly liked Ruth Gordon and Paul Quandt, though they thought that the drama didn’t quite reach the full crescendo that it should have.

But I really like the good-natured naturalism of the film.  The characters are deftly drawn but (to me, at least) feel so much like real life.  I liked the film back in the 1980’s when I first saw it and I like it today, too.  I think it’s a great little film.

Cocaine Cowboys 2 (2008)

Cocaine Cowboys 2 (2008) movie poster

directors Billy Corben, Lisa M. Perry
viewed: 01/19/2015

Director Billy Corben’s follow-up documentary to his Cocaine Cowboys (2006) shifts the focus from the broader history of the rise in the cocaine trade in South Florida and across the United States and hones in on the particular character of Griselda Blanco, who he highlighted in the original film.  As much as this film keens in on Blanco, it does so through the specific perspective of former small time Oakland, CA drug dealer Charles Cosby who developed a relationship with Blanco while she was in prison and whose story structures the entire film.

Cosby was an early but small operator in the drug trade in California before he wrote a fan/love letter to Blanco, who he heard of through the media.  He became her lover and historian as well as well-endowed member of her inner circle.  This whole film pretty much is told through him and his recounting of everything.

He is an intelligent and well-informed narrator, whose story seems true and legitimate, though it ranges the breadth of outrageous fortunes and shocking extremes.  His is a truly crazy tale that includes Blanco’s attempt to kidnap John F. Kennedy, Jr. as a plot to get Blanco out of prison.  Additionally there is a strange secondary plot that manages to keep Blanco out of Florida’s electric chair and eventually deported rather than tried for many of the murders she was supposedly responsible for ordering.

Like Corben’s first documentary, the movie gets going at a rat-a-tat spate, so fast-paced and packed with information that you barely have time to gasp for air.  Really, a few pauses for dramatic impact would benefit the film.  It’s really almost too much to take in.  Corben edits in moments from the earlier film to supplement Cosby’s accounts of things and it all seems a most believable presentation of the histories of these dark and outrageous times.

It’s kind of amazing that Blanco lived for eight more years in her native Columbia after being deported in 2004 before being finally gunned down in an inevitable assassination.  This film was made in 2008 while she still lived free and while Cosby still lived in fear for her potential vengeance.

These movies are dense, fast-paced, and truly packed with horrific and fascinating accounts of the world at the height of the drug trade.  It would be interesting to know how verifiable all of the information is.  Cosby is an intelligent and seemingly reliable narrator so I’ll take it for what he says.

It’s crazy stuff.

Foxes (1980)

Foxes (1980) movie poster

director Adrian Lyne
viewed: 01/18/2015

This 1980 teen issues film set in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley swings between aspects of realism and eventual “after school special”.  It was British director Adrian Lyne’s first feature film and it features a cast including Jodie Foster, Scott Baio, Sally Kellerman, Randy Quaid, and Cherie Currie, the then lead singer of Joan Jett’s The Runaways.  It also features a soundtrack by the inimitable Giorgio Moroder including the constant theme and hit single “On the Radio” by Donna Summer.

The “foxes” of the title are a group of teenage girls dealing with life in their various broken homes and the sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll for which teens all seem to strive.  Foster plays Jeanie, the most level-headed of the gang, who also plays mother to her own mother (Kellerman) as well as her brood of buddies.  Currie plays platinum blonde Annie, the most troubled of the crew, who parties hard and swings out with biker dudes and other guys who offer it up.  Her dad is a fascist cop.  Baio is the sweet young skateboarder who seems to flit around L.A. free from the constraints and cares of his family.

The film is ripe for critique in its genre, portraying the girls as playing at adults, even at one time trying to put on a hoity-toity dinner party only to see it get trashed and ruined.  The parents are children themselves, with Kellerman bringing home schlubs and Jeanie’s dad managing a glam band.  I’m sure its been parsed that way before, so I won’t attempt to delve into it deeply.

There are aspects of the film that really capture the time and place.  The cast is good, especially Baio and the girls.  And the milieu of the time, speckled with junk food and its packaging, as well as the L.A. landscapes are captured well in the set design and cinematography.

Only the film is in some ways an after school special in lots of ways.  I’ve never considered Lyne a particularly able director, though he did have his finger on the cultural pulse for a while (Flashdance (1983), 9½ Weeks (1986), Fatal Attraction (1987)), and Foxes, for its qualities doesn’t really overcome its shortcomings and triteness.

That said, there are indeed aspects of the film that connect, be it Jodie Foster, Baio or Currie, the sights of the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, or even the pretty classic Moroder soundtrack.  If nothing else, listening to Donna Summer and “On the Radio” hooked some sensibility with me, its melancholy disco tears and joy, connecting to some fragment of my childhood soul.  There is something here.  But it’s not a great movie.

The Bigamist (1953)

The Bigamist (1953) movie poster

director Ida Lupino
viewed: 01/17/2015 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

I’d taken the kids to the Castro Theatre to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941), but given the cost of admission, convinced them to sit through the second half of the Joan Fontaine film noir double feature in Ida Lupino’s The Bigamist.  I hadn’t really watched film noir with the kids before and The Bigamist hardly seemed like the perfect starting point, but I actually was keen to see it as I hadn’t seen it before.  Oddly enough, just the night before, Clara and I had watched a The Twilight Zone episode starring Lupino.

Edmund O’Brien plays the titular two-timer in Lupino’s earnest, low-budget noir.  It’s more noir in its moral ambiguity perhaps than typical of other noir.  Here the crime is that of bigamy, but not portrayed as outre crime, but as the act of a humane and honest guy caught in a bad situation.  He’s married to Fontaine in San Francisco, though their marriage is at a low ebb.  He’s drawn her into his sales business, which has been great for their business but bad for their marriage, and he finds himself alone and lonely in Los Angeles when he meets “mousy” Phyllis, a waitress in a Chinese restaurant who he falls for and eventually knocks up.

His wife is going through a hard time with the death of her father, so O’Brien does the wrong right thing by marrying Phyllis, hoping for the right time to break things off with Fontaine.  Only he and Fontaine had begun the process of adoption, which required the digging into his background that uncovered his whole mess.

Yeah, this isn’t the kind of story that typically compels 10 and 13 year olds.  But it is compellingly told and framed in a humanist perspective.  Lupino crafts an interesting picture out of the material, working with her ex-husband (and then current Fontaine husband) Collier Young’s screenplay.

After the movie, I was telling the kids about O’Brien’s more famous low-budget noir film, also set between LA and SF, 1950’s D.O.A., which I had just watched last year.  Giving them that set-up, where a man walks into a police department to report a murder, his own, they were immediately interested.

Still, it was a cool day down at Noir City.

Suspicion (1941)

Suspicion (1941) movie poster

director Alfred Hitchcock
viewed: 01/17/2015 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

I took the kids down to the Castro Theatre to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion, which was playing as part of the Noir City Festival.  The kids and I have watched a fair amount of Hitchcock films and have also been watching his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television show from the 1950’s-1960’s, but we really hadn’t delved into film noir at all, not that Suspicion is truly a noir film or not.  But we’d also recently watched Cary Grant in His Girl Friday (1940), so the Cary Grant angle was also a pull.

I hadn’t seen Suspicion since probably the 1980’s or early 1990’s, so my memory was vague of it.

In it Grant plays Johnnie Aysgarth, a bon vivant, inveterate gambler, and confidence man who seduces the spinsterish Lina (Joan Fontaine, who won an Oscar for Best Actress for the role) into marriage.  Only people start dying around them and Aysgarth is simply allergic to work but not embezzlement, so he starts to arouse Lina’s Suspicion!

Apparently three different endings were shot for the film, including one where Johnnie runs off to join the RAF and fight the good fight in WWII.  Luckily such propaganda failed to make the final cut.  But the more Hitchcockian ending, the one where Lina dies and leaves a note of Suspicion fingering her widower husband also failed to make the final cut.  Instead, we’ve got an ending where all the Suspicion turns out to be in Lina’s mind and that Johnnie is really a bad apple trying to make good.

There are aspects to this ending that seem like they could have worked better if the whole film had been committed to that narrative from the get-go.  But really the film feels like it was really leading up to the Hitchcockian ending that was not used and so the ending where all the Suspicion is in the mind of the hysterical woman just seems weirdly forced and inapt.

As introduced by Film Noir Foundation’s Treasurer Alan Rode, it’s suggested that fans and critics have grown to like the ending that we’ve had to live with all these years.  Me, I don’t know about that.  But I’ll take it in consideration.

The kids enjoyed it pretty well.

Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989) movie poster

directory Hayao Miyazaki
viewed: 01/16/2015

Oh, Kiki, I love you.  It’s been a while, but you’re great.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is the last of Hayao Miyazaki’s great feature films that I have come to write about here in the film diary.  Over the years since 2002 when I started writing about every feature film that I watched in full, I’ve seen and written about each and every one of his films now except for Kiki.

It’s not that I haven’t seen Kiki.  It’s not that I don’t really love Kiki.  It’s just that somehow, over these past 12 or 13 years, I didn’t sit and watch Kiki in total.

I’m sure that I saw it in parts over that time.  I regularly showed my kids Miyazaki’s films, wandering in and out, often sitting through them all.  And Kiki, even before I had kids or wrote in the film diary, was a film that I bought on VHS for nieces and nephews and watched many, many a time.

This viewing came from a request by Clara, who noted that she hadn’t seen it in a long time, and as Miyazaki’s films are her personal favorite, she wanted to see “one of his big films” (seriously, her words).

Made on the heels of My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki is another of Miyazaki’s most gentle and kid-friendly G-rated stories.  For so many filmmakers, that might easily become a pejorative but here it’s just a point of clarity.  TotoroKiki, and Ponyo (2009) are a wonderful, fantastical set of films that could be played for even the youngest of children.  Others of his films are more complex or frightening, but these three are pure loveliness at that level of parental rating.

The story of a 13 year old witch who travels to a new village with her talking cat, Jiji (Phil Hartman) is one of those things that you might have a harder time convincing an adult to watch than a small child.  Her skills yet undeveloped, she begins delivering things from a small bakery, meets a young boy enraptured by all things flight, and culminates with a dramatic rescue from a rogue dirigible.

It’s a very simple, very lovely piece of animation.  Perhaps not quite as iconic as Totoro, it’s wonderful, unique, purely Miyazaki kind of film.   Clara loved it.  But even Felix couldn’t remember it all that well from whenever he had last seen it.

I love Miyazaki’s films, and I’ve loved sharing them with my kids.  I think it’s great that they both like his movies so much.  Miyazaki is for the ages.

Inherent Vice (2014)

Inherent Vice (2014) movie poster

director Paul Thomas Anderson
viewed: 01/16/2015 at UA Stonestown Twin, SF, CA

An incoherent riff on Los Angeles, the 1970’s, and the detective genre, Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of the 2009 Thomas Pynchon novel Inherent Vice is a weird movie.  The incoherence seems doubly intentional.  In part, it’s the post-Manson paranoia of the 1970’s through a drug haze through which much of the story and perspective positions itself.  And secondly, it also seems some aspect of critique on genre tropes of detective stories that twist and turn so convolutedly that one often finds oneself wondering what is going on.

It’s hard to imagine the director of Boogie Nights (1997) and There Will Be Blood (2008) to have achieved this level of incoherence accidentally.   As lost as I was throughout the film, I didn’t bother trying to cling to understanding what was going on but rather what was the film ultimately trying to say?  Frankly I don’t know that I came to any more clear conclusions on that front.

Ostensibly it’s a comedy.  Starring Joaquin Phoenix as dirty hippy PI Larry “Doc” Sportello who gets pulled into investigating disappearances of a few prominent people around an ex-girlfriend of his, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterson).  He’s bouncing off flat-topped police stooge Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen played by Josh Brolin and stumbles into other characters played by the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson, and Martin Short.

Quite simply, I didn’t get it.  So boo on me.

I think that the actors are all pretty good in their roles.  And the production design and costuming are really pretty lovingly realized.

But you know, I don’t know.  Didn’t we get our meta-Noir stoner comedy about Los Angeles 17 years ago in a much more fun, funny, and classic The Big Lebowski (1998)?

I don’t know.  Tell me different.

Miami Connection (1987)

Miami Connection (1987) movie poster

director Richard Park
viewed: 01/14/2015

Rediscovered and redistributed by the team from the Alamo Drafthouse and Drafthouse Films, this independently produced 1987 Tae Kwon Do action film sounds like a parodist’s fantasy version of 1980’s movie cheese: “A martial arts rock band tries to take down the motorcycle ninjas running Florida’s drug trade.” (TCM/Comcast description).  Falling into the “it has to be seen to be believed” tier of bad trash cinema, Miami Connection is an utterly sincere objet de trash, made with real love and commitment with heavy doses of poorly choreographed shirtless fighting.

I was living in North Central Florida back in 1987.  I had no idea about this movie.

It is the stuff trash cinema aficionados live for.

The martial arts rock band is called Dragon Sound and they sing rather prescient songs like “Against the Ninja” (as if they knew the finale of the film was imminent even as they so naively took the stage at the local hot spot.  They also sing songs about being “friends forever” and other positive sentiments worn lyrically on their collective sleeves.  Only this martial arts band has ousted another band in getting the gig, enraging them to rumble and to eventually invoke the help of drug dealers and ninjas.

Cheese factor 10, Mr. Sulu.

For the bad acting, fighting, singing, choreography and dialogue, the film’s production isn’t as non-professional as its cast and concept.  Filmed in Miami and Orlando, it’s as much an anomaly as anything, and to that end, it’s kind of cool.

As amused as I was by it, I hope to never have to endure it again in this lifetime.

Evil Dead II (1987)

Evil Dead II (1987) movie poster

director Sam Raimi
viewed: 01/14/2015

I had tried to show the kids Evil Dead II a couple of years back, laughing about how funny it is, but I guess, unsurprisingly all they saw was the scares and gore.   We abandoned the attempt partway through.

This time, they chose it and enjoyed it, though found the horror elements as significant as the comedy.  Though this time they did appreciate it too.

I think the movie is brilliant.  I had just rewatched the original The Evil Dead (1981) on my own last year.  I love all the weirdo POV camerawork.  Anthropomorphized  POV camerawork to the extreme.  And Bruce Campbell – do they give lifetime achievement awards for one role?