Blonde Crazy (1931)

Blonde Crazy (1931) movie poster

director  Roy Del Ruth
viewed: 08/01/2018

James Cagney is the sliest bellhop and Joan Blondell is his wise and game partner in grift in Roy Del Ruth’s Blonde Crazy.

This pre-code “romantic comedy-drama” is slaphappy and a total hoot. Like a lot of early “talkies”, Blonde Crazy spits patter miles and miles a minute, with deft gags peppering scenes with risqué business.

Cagney and Blondell are a plum pairing, tons of charisma and sparks. It’s unsurprising they shared the screen several times in their early years. Cagney just radiates energy.

These grifters set their sights on higher game in bigger cities, working their scams and earning their dough. Only sometimes the scammers get scammed, and somebody ends up in a jam.

Hollywood Vice Squad (1986)

Hollywood Vice Squad (1986) movie poster

director Penelope Spheeris
viewed: 07/28/2018

I’ve got nothing but (ever increasing) respect and appreciation for Penelope Spheeris. Her 1980s movies reflect her keen interest in Los Angeles, its characters, its denizen. Hollywood Vice Squad perhaps comes off more anomalously, but still presents a picture of street culture in line with her other work.

Hollywood Vice Squad plays a like a little bit of old school exploitation. The crimes depicted purportedly were “based on true events” and Ronny Cox’s Captain Jensen lectures the mother of a runaway on the dark truths of the asphalt jungle.

The episodic drama/comedy doesn’t have much tension but it’s relatively fun. Carrie Fisher has a decent role as a young cop trying to break the glass ceiling in the vice squad. Frank Gorshin makes for a wonderful baddie, and he lights his cigarettes with stylish flips.

“Chile con carne to you too.”

Eighth Grade (2018)

Eighth Grade (2018) movie poster

director Bo Burnham
viewed: 07/21/2018 at Alamo Drafthouse – New Mission, SF, CA

I went to see Eighth Grade with my 14-year old daughter who had herself just completed this educational level. Bo Burnham was not a known quantity to me really before this, but part of seeing Eighth Grade at an Alamo Drafthouse, you get the added pre-film educational material to go in an educated viewer.

I have joked as a parent that I’ve been a 13-year old boy, but I’ve never been a 13-year old girl. Bo Burnham is young enough, and his fanbase is the right age, to be able to write and depict this contemporary world of young teens in a way that feels accurate to my daughter at least. Some things stay the same (skeezy boys trying to get fresh with too young girls, general middle school social awkwardness) while some things are new (vlogging, SnapChat).

Elsie Fisher is great, the center of the film, in almost every scene. The whole cast is good and Burnham works writes and directs with confidence and care, honed from his many other endeavors.

I saw a little too much of myself in the Dad (Josh Hamilton), thinking he’s amusing while really just embarrassing and awkward in the eyes of his teen. It’s one of those things of getting older, especially in teen genre movies, the point of identification has shifted for me and so the experience of these movies is different.

Really, Eighth Grade arrives as an impressive, sensitive, and funny first feature narrative movie from Burnham. My daughter enjoyed it too, though doubtfully from a different angle.

Monstrosity (1987)

Monstrosity (1987)

director Andy Milligan
viewed: 07/11/2018

The first of Andy Milligan’s California-made movies, Monstrosity takes a major tonal shift from misanthropy in the direction of comedy.

Monstrosity opens on a crime spree, murder, rape, thefts all by a small gang of generally over-the-hill hoodlums and their molls. This rather bleak beginning gives way to a trio of dudes who cook up a golem-themed Frankenstein revenge plan that gives us a dim-witted, frizzy-haired hero monster to take back the night.

As wonky as it is still has that Milligan authorship to it, especially in some of the camerawork and editing. That said, it sort of seems like Milligan was sort of having a more fun time on the set? According to Jimmy McDonough’s biography on Milligan, it’s not entirely likely, but who knows?

The comedy is sort of grating, seesawing back and forth to mildly amusing at times.

The most a-typical Andy Milligan flick I’ve seen.

Lolita (1962)

Lolita (1962) movie poster

director Stanley Kubrick
viewed: 07/08/2018

The last time I saw Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita was not terribly long after I had read the Vladimir Nabokov novel. Both of these events were around 25 years ago. I’ve considered the novel to be one of the best I’ve read in my life, one I’ve recommended time and again, and something I’ve meant to revisit. I recalled finding Kubrick’s Lolita a bit of a disappointment.

Now, decades later, the novel not so fresh in my mind, re-watching Lolita evoked a much different response.

The black comedy, driven not just by James Mason’s obsession with Sue Lyon’s Lolita, but by Peter Seller’s manic scene-stealing romp as Clare Quilty, is in many ways an argument that cinematic adaptations do their best when they don’t adhere to the source material so avidly. Surely, fans of the novel will be annoyed, but it arguably makes for better cinema.

Like many a Kubrick film, it’s an experience in and of itself. And surprisingly and unsurprisingly, it seems like it would be the perfect companion piece to Dr. Strangelove.

Also, Shelley Winters is fantastic. Shelley Winters is always fantastic but she’s super duper fantastic here.

Spun (2002)

Spun (2002) movie poster

director  Jonas Åkerlund
viewed: 06/24/2018

Spun spins up a black comedy about the lives of meth heads, meth cooks, and and the experience of being under the influence. And it’s pretty good and effective.

The cast is comprised of interesting leads, supporting roles and cameos, too numerous to mention, all quite solid, keeping the movie buoyant and humorous throughout.

I will say that Brittany Murphy is a real stand-out. Though I’d seen her in several smaller roles, this is probably the juiciest I’ve seen of her works. And she really had that certain something that makes a compelling movie star. Spun is certainly a decent piece of her screen legacy.

On the downside, a lot of the inventive editing and camerawork, animation, and effects used to create the “spun” experience felt dated and not so effectual. I’ve certainly read where other folks have found this stuff as a significant part of the movie’s power. I found a lot of it annoying.

Still, a pretty good flick.

Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (1990)

Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (1990) movie poster

director  Jim Abrahams
viewed: 06/09/2018

Welcome Home, Roxy Charmichael is not as iconic a film as Edward Scissorhands ( also 1990), but it’s a more pleasing prime Winona movie, non-blonde and outside the social cliques.

It’s also a flawed though well-meaning portrayal of someone with not just awkward but maybe mentally ill. Winona is at her best playing contemporary young women out of step with the center of culture, though not really that far from it. At first Dinky (Ryder)  seems like she might be a homeless girl, by the edge of the lake with her menagerie of cast off creatures. She’s unkempt and generally disliked by her home town, virtually disowned by her adoptive parents.

But we come to find out that she’s a misunderstood smart girl (almost straight A’s), who doesn’t identify with her family, school, or town. And even though she develops an obsession over the town’s favorite daughter, Roxy Carmichael, this isn’t further insanity, but a wish-fulfillment escapism of a sound mind.

It’s kinda sweet, seriously. Though also a bit pat and winds up with a rather typical “happy ending” in which boy and girl are united, everything is happy, and everything upholds the social norms.

Roxy Charmichael also features a good, less notable but solid B character cast beside the principals.

The Jeff Daniels aspect of the film is interesting in ways, too. He’s Roxy’s ex-boyfriend, father of a baby she left behind. Though supposedly happily married, the promise of Roxy’s return throws him for a loop, and his wife walks out on him. He can’t come to terms with his obsession. Roxy Carmichael, though never “seen” and vaguely mysterious for what she is famous, is a feminine ideal, swathed in pink, Daniels’ ardor and Winona’s aspiration.

I’m not sure how I never got around to seeing this before.

La nave de los monstruos (1960)

La nave de los monstruos (1960) movie poster

director Rogelio A. González
viewed: 06/01/2018

Women are from Venus; men are from the rest of the galaxy, in La Nave de los Monstruos (The Ship of Monsters en Inglés.) The is a Mexican horror-sci-fi-Western-comedy absurd and good-natured, weird and fun.

Yes, two Venusian babes show up on Earth, looking for men to help the Venusian cause. They’ve picked up characters from Mars and elsewhere, all brought back to re-seed Venus. Only when they set eyes and ears on Earthling Lauriano (Eulalio González), they fall into a squabble over who lands the singing vaquero. And it turns out that Beta (Lorena Velázquez) is actually a vampire from Uranus.

That’s right, a vampire from Uranus.

The other monsters are a variety of oddities, under the sway of she who wields that belt of power. Unfortunately for Beta, Lauriano’s heart is given to Gamma (Ana Bertha Lepe) and so Beta’s quest to take over the Earth is set to failure.

Initially, the comic aspects seem disappointing. But Eulalio González is funny and charming, giving the movie just the right verve in its tone and style. I’m not sure how good the translation was in the version I saw but it had some genuinely funny moments.

At the end of the day, Tractorr, the robot doesn’t just fall for a jukebox, the robot gets the jukebox in the end. The kind of happy ending they just don’t write enough of nowadays.

 

Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool 2 (2018) movie poster

director David Leitch
viewed: 05/27/2018 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Deadpool 2 is the lesser Deadpool of the Deadpool movies. I’d commented about its predecessor that I didn’t think that the movie was as clever as it thought itself. That’s even more true here in the sequel.

Ryan Reynolds and just about everybody from the first film is back, along with Josh Brolin as Cable, Zazie Beetz as Domino, and surprisingly Julian Dennison (from Hunt for the Wilderpeople) as Russell/Firefist. Oh yeah, and all those guys in X-Force.

Knowing jokes about lazy writing don’t make lazy writing okay. They pack in the gags, cultural references, and R-rated raunchiness into a story that also tries to have a heart. That having a heart thing is the mushy muddle that undercuts a lot of the film’s potential irreverence making it much more like the things it attempts to lampoon.

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Ingrid Goes West (2017) movie poster

director  Matt Spicer
viewed: 05/26/2018

Ingrid Goes West is a black comedy that doubles as a psychological horror.

Aubrey Plaza is brilliant as Ingrid, a young woman with obsessions and compulsions, a natural born stalker who gets released after a period in a psych ward. With the money left her from her mother’s estate, she “goes West” toward her newest obsession, Instagram star Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen).

The film skewers California culture, social media existence, millennial hipsters, and is painfully spot-on.

Plaza’s Ingrid is unraveling and when Taylor’s smarmy bro Nicky (Billy Magnussen) shows up, disaster is not far off.

The film’s ending is interpretive: happy or terrifying? I’m going with the latter. Uncomfortable, funny, and bleak.