Mac and Me (1988)

Mac and Me (1988) movie poster

director Stewart Raffill
viewed: 04/24/2015

Probably the greatest, most terrible E.T. (1982) knock-off ever made, Mac and Me is notoriously considered to be one of the worst films ever made and perhaps even more notorious for its prevalent product placements.

All that said, I would still file this under “needs to be seen to be believed.”

Among the many tropes of our film-watching, I’ve been also introducing my kids to the “so bad it’s good” world of awful movies.  Let’s face it.  True movie enjoyment is a broad spectrum.  And I have to say that we all got some enjoyment out of this ludicrous, cheap-o 1980’s disaster of a movie.

The aliens are wonderfully awful, so creepy looking that they aren’t the least cute, more like moronic sea monkeys from outer space.  How they get sucked into an Earth-based vacuum space ship and sent to Southern California is one of the aspects of goofy anti-logic that runs rampant in the film.

The film’s greatest scene is when the kids disguise “Mac” in a teddy bear costume and take him to a wild dance-filled birthday party at McDonald’s, hosted by none other than Ronald McDonald.  Clara had a hard time getting over the dancing.  This entire segment is a joy of awfulness in the extreme.

That the film’s human star is a wheelchair-bound young man is a bit of an oddity in casting, it also sets up a number of really, truly hilarious moments such as plummeting from his backyard cliff into a small lake, outracing cars and running secret agents from the government, and other wheelchair stunts galore.  You really are waiting for them to shoot through the air across the moon a la E.T. (though that doesn’t end up happening.)

Wow.  Seriously.  Wow.  This movie is amazing.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) movie poster

director Ana Lily Amirpour
viewed: 04/23/2015

One of the most interesting new films I’ve seen in a while, Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an American independent film of a truly unusual stripe.  For one, though the film was shot in the small town of Taft, CA in a lustrous black-and-white, the film is entirely in Farsi.  The world of Amirpour’s film, though, is a dreamland of a place called Bad City, a neither Iranian nor purely American world nor just some mashup of a place either.

Sheila Vand plays the girl, a vampire, wearing a “chador—an ankle-lngth, open-faced head-covering”, hunting a young man and a world of drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes and loners.

In parts, the film evokes early Jim Jarmusch, though perhaps it would make a prime double feature with his more recent vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive (2013).  That would be a good double bill for any art house worth its salt.

I don’t know what else to say other than I found this film really intriguing and interesting.  I’m excited to see more from Amirpour and Sheila Vand as well.

Life Itself (2014)

Life Itself (2014) movie poster

director Steve James
viewed: 04/21/2015

Roger Ebert, RIP.

Like a lot of people, I watched Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel on their long-running commentary show back on PBS.  That show introduced me to all kinds of things, probably too many to recount.  I always preferred Ebert to Siskel, especially when I learned more about him and his career (very notably screen-writing Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)).  And late in his days, he became one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter up until his death in 2013.

Life Itself is a good biographical film, filling in his story as a classic sort of all-American kid who stumbled into a career that helped define a life and expand upon its culture.  He was a cool guy, smart, funny, and had very good taste in movies on the whole.

The film was shot in his late years, after his jaw had been removed in treatment for thyroid cancer.  If anything, on top of all else his life reflects upon, the film exposes a man of great humor and life.  With his jaw removed, the flesh from his lower face including his chin, hangs limply down over a hole over his throat, allowing him a highly altered but still very expressive and human face.  Still, it’s strange and not a little freaky to look at.  He stopped appearing on television largely by that time, though the image of him in this state also appeared on magazine covers.

His mind was vigorously alive during this phase, and luckily for Roger, he had the wonderful love and support of his wife Chaz, who still updates his Twitter account from time to time.  The film recounts their relationship and the wonder and spectrum of his life and fulfillment therein.

A good documentary, well worthwhile.

The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971)

The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971) movie poster

director Dario Argento
viewed: 04/19/2015

I’d decided to start working my way through the films of Dario Argento after watching his first film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) but I was having a hard time deciding on a strategy, sort of wanting to go chronologically.  His second feature, The Cat o’Nine Tails wasn’t available on any of the services I had and I had toyed with watching Deep Red (1975), the earliest of his films that was available.  But then TCM had featured The Cat o’Nine Tails on its TCM Underground and so Bam! there it was.

Starring James Franciscus (man that is a hard name to type) and Karl Malden, it’s Giallo as a big expansive Hitchcock thriller.  There is a convoluted plot that I won’t try to unravel or reiterate save to say that it involves a serial killer and a genetics clinic and that the “cat o’nine tails” is merely a metaphor for the number of clues that the bumbling duo hashes out as they try to solve the mystery that the police don’t seem to take too seriously.

Argento is very active as a director, playing with cuts and framings, setting up some really nice and interesting shots.  But this thing is a bit of a drag as a story and ends with a plot twist that I found weird and unsatisfying.  It’s not nearly as good as his first feature, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and I’ve got a feeling it might be one of his lesser early films.  Apparently it’s the second of his “so called ‘Animal Trilogy'” (thanks, wikipedia!), his first three films all had animals in their titles.

The NeverEnding Story (1984)

The NeverEnding Story (1984) movie poster

director Wolfgang Peterson
viewed: 04/18/2015

A sort of spur of the moment movie choice, Clara and a friend of hers and I hunkered down and watched The NeverEnding Story, which neither was sure if they had seen before or not.  I had watched it back about 8 years ago, but apparently sans children for whatever reason.  Could be that I’d rented it but then it had turned out that Felix had already seen it or something.  Clara might have been too young.

I had never seen it back in the day, but was surprised at liking it when I did watch it.

Apparently, it’s only the North American version that features the Limahl-crooned version of its theme song (which was penned by Giorgio Moroder).  It’s quite funny to discus cheesy 80’s music with contemporary tweens.

The girls enjoyed the film.  As did I.

Directed by Wolfgang Peterson, having just come off Das Boot (1981), the story of a boy who stumbles on a book that eventually sucks him into its fantasy (literally at the end) is really all about the amazing animatronics and other traditional FX and designs.  Some of them are cooler than others.  And some, like the signature luck dragon Falkor verge on the creepy clown side of cool, it’s still rich, wondrous fantasy rendered without the aids of computers but rather by more classical crafts and cinema magic.

Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970)

Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970) movie poster

director Mario Bava
viewed: 04/13/2015

Working my way through the films of Mario Bava…

I don’t know what to write about Hatchet for the Honeymoon other than it sort of out trumps Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) in its mommy-obsessed serial killer, recreating his original crime time and again, murdering brides that come through his bridal shop.

Though it has some interesting shots (as all Bava films do), it was perhaps the least satisfying of his films that I have seen thusfar.  Shan’t belabor the point when I don’t really have one.  I’ll leave it at that.

Song of the Sea (2014)

Song of the Sea (2014) movie poster

director Tomm Moore
viewed: 04/12/2015

Song of the Sea is a traditional cel-animated feature film from Tomm Moore, one of the directors of 2009’s The Secret of Kells.  Song of the Sea came and went from the theaters, even in San Francisco where things like this often have longer legs, in one week and with little or no fanfare.  In that time, Felix managed to go see it on his own and liked it quite well.

In a similar highly stylized fashion, Moore animates the story of a “selkie”, a Celtic mythological character who is a human sometimes and a seal sometimes, shedding their coat to walk the land and donning it to re-enter the water.  In this case, the selkie is the daughter of a selkie and a lighthouse keeper who also have a human child son as well.  It’s a mystical adventure tied to traditional Irish folklore and is filled with magic of many kinds.

My kids both really liked The Secret of Kells, which we saw over five years ago, and they both really enjoyed Song of the Sea as well.  I actually liked it a lot better than the earlier film, for whatever reason.  Both films feature magical soundtracks composed by French musician Bruno Calais.

The connection to traditional native mythologies reminded me spiritually perhaps of Hayao Miyazaki’s works, the way he employs the natural and pagan spirituality, a return to the soil and the soul of a people and their land.  Moore’s style isn’t as lush, which could be my only complaint here. The stylized characters are tied to a more limited style of animation that isn’t as impressive in its own inherent beauty, though it is pleasing in its own way, too.

Frankly, I was surprised how much I liked Song of the Sea.  I really did like it.  Quite well.

Home (2015)

Home (2015) movie poster

director Tim Johnson
viewed: 04/12/2015 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA

Dreamworks’ Home is a slick and good-looking animation, but it wasn’t one that enticed me at all.  It did entice my 11 year old daughter Clara whom I was willing to indulge in the viewing of the movie.  There are movies that I would and have balked at.

The story of an alien race that invades Earth and puts all humans into an internment camp might sound a lot darker than the film looks, feels, and is.  That is perhaps the big oddity about the movie.  These aliens are really dumb and deluded into believing that they are doing the right thing, helping humans by stealing their planet and crowding them into tight suburbias in Australia.  Only the biggest loser of the aliens bumbles about and sets their enemies on them.  He meets up with a young girl who has been separated from her mother and learns the errors of mass relocation.

Isn’t this really a pretty grave story?  Not really.  It’s given a slap-on-the-wrist, tut-tut sort of resolution and like most PG-rated fare, everything is happy and joyous at the end, of course.

Clara enjoyed it.  It was less annoying than I anticipated, though I think it’s fair to say that my expectations were rather low.

Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner (1982) movie poster

director Ridley Scott
viewed: 04/10/2015

What is there to add to the overall consensus about Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner as one of the great science fiction movies of all time?  It’s absolutely gorgeous and has aged amazingly well aesthetically.

We watched the original version, which was the last version that I’d personally seen of it, maybe 15 years ago.  This time, though, I had just read Philip K. Dick’s novel from which it was so notably adapted, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and I was extraordinarily aware of the differences in adaptation.

This was an interesting point, I think.  The movie is great because it is its own thing, very much apart from the novel, not at all adhering to the novel but rather using the novel as a starting point for ideas and crafting its own vision and ideas.  This would almost never happen in today’s Hollywood where books have become sacrosanct and adaptations dare not to miss a single tangible element without a fanbase rising up in abject fury.  Really, Blade Runner is a prime example of how adaptation should be allowed the freedom to invent and play with original texts, even pretty great ones, which I would agree that Dick’s novel meets.

I meant to watch it with Felix and Clara but Felix zonked out.  Clara was a little nonplussed by the film.  I still really appreciated it.

Tapeheads (1988)

Tapeheads (1988) movie poster

director Bill Fishman
viewed: 04/09/2015

A movie that could only have come from the 1980’s, Tapeheads is an indie comedy starring Tim Robbins and John Cusack as two would-be music video producers trying to make it on the cheap in LA.

It features Sam Moore and Junior Walker as well as the band Fishbone, who are credited with the music for the film.  Actually a litany of odd notable musicians appear, including Stiv Bators, Weird Al Yankovic, Jello Biafra.  We’ve even got an appearance by Martha Quinn of early MTV days.

Cusack actually has a number of good scenes in this choppy, fun, not exactly terrific cult film.  It’s hard not to like and even harder to fathom how I never actually saw this film before.