Logan’s Run (1976)

Logan's Run (1976) movie poster

director Michael Anderson
viewed: 02/20/2017

Logan’s Run is a great example of what passed for big studio science fiction filmmaking in the 1970’s, before Star Wars.

Now Star Wars, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg may have brought about the “blockbuster” era of Hollywood, sounding the death knell of the great Hollywood director films of the Seventies, but they did up the ante on how cool science fiction could look.

I grew up with Logan’s Run, the movie, the TV show. And while it was part of the scenery, I never loved it. Watching it for the first time in decades, I’m hit by how much I remember the first 30-45 minutes of the film and then the end of the film. And not a ton in between.

For a present day viewing, the miniatures that stand in for special effects don’t even quite live up to a good Toho film. And height of the Seventies fashion design now has a somewhat charming campiness to it. The additional FX, particularly “Box” the robot, were possibly outdone on even the low budgets of the BBC’s Dr. Who of the era (and they were CHEAP!)

On the plus side, there’s Jenny Agutter. Really there was never enough Jenny Agutter. And Farrah Fawcett-Majors, the ubiquity of 1976, a standard bearer for the time. And Peter Ustinov, I actually quite like his lonely cat man.

Wherever else it falls in analysis (and there are many, many perspectives), Star Wars made science fiction “cool” and aesthetically interesting. Something it never really was (save maybe 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)) before. Logan’s Run is my documentary evidence exemplar.

Hangmen Also Die! (1943)

Hangmen Also Die! (1943) movie poster

director Fritz Lang
viewed: 02/19/2017

This year has got me thinking a lot about resistance to Nazis and fascists. So, now I’ve opened a new trope in my movie-watching “Anti-nazi/Anti-fascist movies”, particularly those made during the build-up and duration of WWII.

It’s not that Hollywood itself was ahead of the game on this, because in fact, it largely wasn’t. There was still money to be made in Europe and calling out the fascists didn’t happen a lot until war was actually declared. And by that time, the stuff shaped more in the form of propaganda a lot of the time.

Emigree director Fritz Lang made three films during WWII with explicit depiction of Nazis. He claimed to have been approached by Joseph Goebbels to join the Nazis as a propagandist and took this meeting as signal to get the heck out of Germany. Whether that story is disputable or not, Lang did emigrate and make films like Hangmen Also Die! a film noir resistance thriller based loosely on real events.

Hangmen depicts a fictional version of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi Reich Protector of German-occupied Prague, the highest ranking Nazi assassinated during the war. In Hangmen, the assassin is Brian Donlevy, a doctor involved with the underground Czech resistance. In his flight after the murder, he runs into a young woman (Anna Lee) who inadvertently helps him escape and soon becomes involved in his continued escape during a vicious and random crack-down by the nazis to root out the killer and any possible associates.

The ruthlessness and brutality of the crackdown no doubt have basis in fact, but the rest of the story is total fabrication. But it works and is tense and thrilling. Shining brightest is Tonio Selwart as the chief of the Gestapo, the canny, cruel mustachioed policeman who orders roundups and executions with cheerful disregard for humanity.

Propaganda is propaganda, but Nazis suck.

Out of Print (2014)

Out of Print (2014) movie poster

director Julia Marchese
viewed: 02/19/2017

Not much to say here. It’s nice to have a document about a local business, one that has developed such a world-wide fame as the New Beverly Theater in Los Angeles. Repertory movie theaters were few and far between even in their heyday and quite a rare thing in the contemporary world. The New Beverley sounds like it’s been pretty prime for a long time and it’s nice that this film focuses not only on the celebs who drop by but the workers and the customers who’ve long made it their home.

Out of Print stretches a little further though and focuses on the commitment to showing films on 35mm, one of the New Beverley’s main things. How continued projection of film is of value to cinema, the very medium itself.

It’s nice and there are some charming talking heads, but really the whole thing is padded heavily and gets kind of repetitive. Still, having seen some of San Francisco’s rep theaters go the way of dinosaurs, I can appreciate having captured what is captured here. And I will have to get down there sometime myself.

Long Way North (2015)

Long Way North (2015) movie poster

director Rémi Chayé
viewed: 02/18/2017

The style of this French-Danish animated feature reminded me aesthetically of Tomm Moore’s films The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, and it’s not so surprising. First time head director Rémi Chayé assistant directed the 2009 film.

Sasha is the daughter or a Russian aristocrat who leaves everything behind in a quest to find her grandfather or his missing ice-breaking ship, both of whom disappeared as he searched for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole. He’s a sort of Russian version of a Ernest Shackleton but more shaggy and fun.

It’s a nice film, with a strong female hero. It’s light but also mostly serious, with a lot less humor than your average children’s animated fare. Which isn’t really the problem.

The problem is more in the pacing and drama. Some things fly by, others happen suddenly without much impact. The polar bear scene near the end really lacked something. It’s hard to describe exactly what is off here, but both me and my daughter noticed it.

Still, enjoyable, if by no means a classic.

Sudden Fear (1952)

Sudden Fear (1952) movie poster

director David Miller
viewed: 02/17/2017

When a dictaphone is shown in the home office of a writer with such elaborate demonstration, you know it’s going be a key plot device later in the film. And that’s the thing with Sudden Fear. It’s not so much boilerplate woman-in-distress noir, as it is rather conventional and obvious.

Leave it to star Joan Crawford and an excellent Gloria Grahame and a slithery Jack Palance to give heft to this piece. And old San Francisco gets shown off in some glory as well, maybe not as primely as in a couple other notable SF noirs, but still pretty nice.

I’ve always had some weird issue with Crawford, just the extremity of her visage. Those eyebrows! That mouth! Those eyes, almost always glaring. But she’s very good here as the semi-spinsterish successful playwright who foolishly falls for an actor she fired (Palance).  Grahame on the other hand is pitch perfect as Palance’s floozy girlfriend, pretty and nasty.

I guess that’s why there were movie stars. To elevate mediocre pictures to decent ones.

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933)

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933) movie poster

director  Phil Goldstone
viewed: 02/16/2017

Unfairly obscure, Phil Goldstone’s The Sin of Nora Moran really deserves to be seen by more. The gorgeous Vargas movie poster (considered by many to be one of the most beautiful of all time) doesn’t seem to help it get seen more, at least as yet. The poster is gorgeous.

This Poverty Row proto-noir pre-code flick is perhaps far from perfect, but it has many fascinating elements, most notably its montages and editing, set in prolonged flashbacks. The striking Zita Johann stars as Nora, a girl orphaned twice, who turned to dancing and showbiz before finding herself raped by a lion tamer. And that is just the beginning.

The story unfolds in flashbacks, related by a DA (Alan Dinehart) to his sister, telling the wild tale of a lost girl who wasn’t half as tawdry as suspected. Really, she had a heart of gold (this was the Depression, of course). Her story unfolds at times as delusions she undergoes via morphine doses to calm her nerves as she sits on Death Row for a crime she did not commit but will go down for.

It’s Zita Johann and the crazy quilt montages that really deliver the film from middling mediocrity and rise it to some Hollywood version of Dziga Vertov and pop culture Surrealism. When the montages come, they come fast and furious, vivid and surprising, extremely unusual.

Goldstone was a longtime producer who only directed a dozen films, mostly in the Silent Era. Was this inventiveness his? Or some collaboration with editor Otis Garrett? Or who knows what kind of alchemy made it possible?

Really a remarkable little picture.

The Greasy Strangler (2016)

The Greasy Strangler (2016) movie poster

director Jim Hosking
viewed: 02/15/2017

Horror-comedy The Greasy Strangler has been considered somewhat polarizing in audience response from its initial showing at Sundance in 2016. Letterboxd listed it as the Most Divisive film of 2016 regarding user reviews.

So, it just figures that I find myself on neither far end of the spectrum but smackdab in the middle.

I think of it a bit like Napoleon Dynamite (2004), a film decidedly off-kilter in tone and humor, essentially a movie made to be a “cult” film. The Greasy Strangler is somewhat atonal in its humor, delivery and characterization, intentionally flat and out of step in rhythm. But it’s also intentionally gross.

The gross-out stuff is two-fold. Greasy foods, greased-up bodies, occasional gruesome kills. But also body horror of a kind, with a lot of nudity sort of warts and all of people whose bodies are far from perfect and in some cases even far from normal. Add in prosthetic genitalia both large and small and pubic areas hairier than many wild animals. Michael St. Michaels lets it all hang out and given the context of the characters and their physiques, I don’t think the film is asking us to love and accept them, but rather to be further disgusted.

So, there is that.

But it’s also kind of interesting. I’m not entirely sure what it’s all supposed to be about in the end, but Elizabeth De Razzo who also lets it all hang out is the one likable figure in the strange twisted affair.

I neither loved it nor hated it.

The Baby (1973)

The Baby (1973) movie poster

director Ted Post
viewed: 02/13/2017

“Baby, baby, baby
Won’t you be my girl?”
– The Vibrators

I always think it’s a good thing when I watch a movie and think “Man, this would be fun movie to watch with John Waters!” And oddly enough I do think that from time to time. The Baby would be a blast to watch with him.

Interestingly, The Baby is all about the ladies.  First and foremost, Ruth Roman as Mrs. Wadsworth. She is fantastic as the matron of the family, keeping her enfeebled adult son as infantilized man-baby. With sex-pot daughters Germaine (Marianna Hill) and Alba (Suzanne Zenor) ruling the roost with her, spiteful at times, manhandling and brutalizing or sexually exploiting him.

That is until seeming do-gooder Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) shows up as a specialist from the state who has an all too keen interest in “Baby”.

I imagine you could tease out either a critique of women running a man’s life or even find some more positive lady power on display here. Which ever way you slice it, the women run the show and are total archetypes for camp appropriation. The film itself plays it straight, which makes it all the more bizarre and enjoyable.

Where is John Waters when I’m watching this stuff?

Beware! The Blob (1972)

Beware! The Blob (1972) movie poster

director Larry Hagman
viewed: 02/12/2017

Though I don’t think that Beware! The Blob will likely ever get the Criterion treatment as did the original 1950’s Steve McQueen-starring film did, it’s actually a lot more fun than some of its reputation might imply. The fact that it was the only movie that TV star Larry Hagman ever directed (he directed a lot of television) is curious, why a sequel to The Blob? He seems to have had a good time making it. He shows up as a drunk, boozing it up with Burgess Meredith at one point.

It’s comical, but not exactly a comedy. And featuring a number of notable television faces like Dick Van Patton and a young Cindy Williams, there’s actually some pretty funny parts to it. My favorite has to be Shelley Berman as the “hair sculptor”.

The monster effects are not as consistent as the original Blob, but they are often still surprisingly good and fun much of the time. The Blob’s first victim is a fly, which I thought looked pretty slick (no pun intended). And they killed a kitten! Not just a cat but a kitten! That never happens in horror movies!

Hippies are the butts of a number of jokes. Fair enough.

Really, I don’t know how I never saw this before.

Legacy of Satan (1974)

Legacy of Satan (1974) movie poster

director Gerard Damiano
viewed: 02/11/2017

The B-side of the Netflix DVD of Jack the Ripper Goes West (1974) seemed a lot less enticing after the limited charms of Side A. But then, who knows who puts these things together in the first place?

Directed by Gerard Damiano of Deep Throat (1972) and The Devil in Miss Jones (1973) fame, it’s a non-porn flick made before Damiano’s more famous flicks, but released later. Rumored to have been a porn film as well before being edited down, Legacy of Satan seems to have become most well-known for its far-out soundtrack.

I found it strangely intriguing, though I’m having a hard time articulating why. Maybe it was all the hallucinations.

It’s also notable for featuring actress Christa Helm, whose 1977 murder is another unsolved Hollywood mystery.

This is definitely one I have to see again.