The Love Witch (2016)

The Love Witch (2016) movie poster

director Anna Biller
viewed: 12/24/2017

A lot of people loved The Love Witch.

Anna Biller’s critique of wiles of femininity is gorgeous for sure, as is star Samantha Robinson. Steeped in style lifted from the late 1960’s / early 1970’s Euro art horror films, every shot is meticulously constructed, every idea intensely intentional.

And funny. A very off-beat funny, setting an awkward tone throughout. Again, intensely intentional.

Robinson is the “love witch” of the title, a super-gorgeous gal who has come to town (Arcata, CA for the win) in search of love. If her looks weren’t enchanting enough, she’s got potions, spells, and other tricks to capture hapless men in her dealings. But she also has a deep well of need that she herself does not understand, and all her natural and unnatural powers can’t give her what she wants.

Biller’s comedy is quite arch in its way, which usually leads to characters who represent particular ideas or concepts. But Biller’s attitude towards the metaphorical magic of female allure is double-edged. The witch as metaphor for feminine power and/or the fear of it is for Biller both true and empowering as well as cliché and a trap of over-simplification.

The film is two hours long and would probably be more effective if trimmed by a quarter. For all the beauty of the thing, and the humor and also the depth of concept throughout, The Love Witch did not entrance me as it did others. I liked it and am certainly curious of Biller’s other work.

Blithe Spirit (1945)

Blithe Spirit (1945) movie poster

director David Lean
viewed: 12/22/2017


I love falling into a world of “blushing Technicolor,” and David Lean’s 1945 adaptation of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit is just the ticket. It’s a very British form of Screwball comedy, with wry and suggestive witticisms for which Coward was so well-known.

Rex Harrison and Constance Cummings are a happily married pair, both on their second marriages via widowhood. Happy, that is, until they toy with the supernatural through the help of Madame Arcati (the sublimely scene-stealing Margaret Rutherford). This brings back Harrison’s first wife, in blushing Technicolor green, the playful Kay Hammond, whose haunting at first only Harrison can see.

Maybe it’s not as perfect as Coward’s original theatrical version, in which both Hammond and Rutherford both appeared as here. But for my money, it’s a dark and coy frolic. Lustrous in color, charming all around.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Bell, Book and Candle (1958) movie poster

director  Richard Quine
viewed: 11/25/2017

A cool, comic analog to Alfred Hitchcock’s VertigoBell, Book and Candle is a another darkened romance starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak from the very same year. It’s also a story of obsession and possession, of love’s darker recesses.

In some ways, the shoe is on the other foot, with Novak the enchantress and Stewart the possessed. In other lights, perhaps it’s just as bleak for Novak, though it ends with a more traditional “happy” ending if you don’t read between the lines.

As a comedy, maybe it’s not quite hilarious, though it’s urbane. And maybe its darker soul keeps it from being quite the lark it aspires to.

The cast is sublime, featuring the adorable Elsa Lancaster, Hermione Gingold, Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs. And Pyewacket the cat, “as himself”, though possibly played by up to 12 different felines. And lets not forget The Zodiac Club, a beatnik-witching haven.

Bell, Book and Candle is said to have inspired TV’s Bewitched, which makes sense. It is, after all, the story of a lovely young witch who pines for something more than her magical life. The built-in metaphor of the female having to sublimate all of her inherent skills and character, wit, and abilities in order to succeed in human society is both a critique of patriarchy as well as ceding to patriarchy (for the happy ending).

It’s probably not quite as magical a film as it strives to be, but it’s totally enjoyable, charming, and packed with texts and subtexts, as well as cool character. I did find myself thinking that Billy Wilder could have probably elevated this further, but it’s perfectly fun on its own.

My 13 year old daughter was nonplussed, however.

Greaser’s Palace (1972)

Greaser's Palace (1972) movie poster

director Robert Downey
viewed: 11/23/2017

Less avant-garde than Chafed Elbows (the only other Robert Downey film I’ve seen) but absurdist up the you-know-what. Greaser’s Palace is comedy-cum-acid Western, with less head-trip an a little more giggle.

I was like, “Who is that gorgeous, topless Indian girl on horseback?” and the internet was like, “Toni Basil!”

Greaser’s Palace would be an interesting counterpart to El Topo (1970) as they are both bizarro renderings of Christ via whacked-out Western. Perhaps Greaser’s Palace is in some way a response to El Topo ? I’m spit-balling here.

“I was swimming with billions of babies in a rainbow. And they was naked. And then all of a sudden I turned into a perfect smile.” This is said more than once by a revivified dead guy.

A pretty young Hervé Villechaize shows up.

The Christ figure is a zoot-suited Allan Arbus (best known by me as psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Freedman in TV’s M*A*S*H). I have to say, I always kind of liked his mellow humanism. But some dots that I never connected until watching and researching Greaser’s Palace is that he is also the Allan Arbus who was married to Diane Arbus! This fact kind of blows my mind.

How much you might like Greaser’s Palace is apt to be very hard to anticipate. I actually thought it was pretty funny, though in smallish bursts and slow burns, and mostly unconventionally.

“I can crawl again!”

Galaxina (1980)

Galaxina (1980) movie poster

director William Sachs
viewed: 11/22/2017

Opening with a Star Wars scroll, followed by a Star Trek log entry voiceover, 1980’s Galaxina riffs on existing science fiction tropes. Not exactly parody, it is comedy, comedy painfully executed. Comedy as deft as a rotted corpse.

“In space, nobody can hear your siren.”

Sloppy and dull with occasional bursts of charm, namely in the cantina-like whorehouse and the cantina-like human restaurant.

So short on ideas they even crib alternate color scheming planet right out of Al Adamson.

I do wonder if Mel Brooks ever saw Galaxina.

Great poster though.

Not the greatest legacy for poor Dorothy Stratton, murdered by her pathetic, cruel husband.

Lady Bird (2017)

Lady Bird (2017) movie poster

director Greta Gerwig
viewed: 11/12/2017

Lady Bird is Greta Gerwig’s love letter to her hometown of Sacramento, California, quite probably the very first cinematic love letter to the capitol of the Golden State. The film opens with a quote from Joan Didion, “Anybody who talks about California hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” And that deprecation is part of the tone of the film.

It’s 2002 in Sacramento, very specifically 2002. And though Gerwig says that the film isn’t exactly autobiographical, it’s hard not to think that she found her perfect counterpart in Saoirse Ronan who stars as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson. The whole cast is pretty perfect. Laurie Metcalf and Tracy Letts are impeccable.

Ronan is lovely and hilarious as the girl from the  (literal) “wrong side of the tracks”. Precocious and out-spoken, she struggles to define and understand her self-image as well as her self. It’s classic coming-of-age stuff. Authenticity and recognition are elements that make a film like this work, and I thought it was interesting that Ronan chose to play Lady Bird with her natural pock-marked cheeks (interestingly enough air-brushed in the movie poster). It adds that je ne sais quoi that I think she intended.

More than anything, it’s a very funny movie, with great character and characters. I took my two teenagers and they both really liked the movie as well.

The Man with Two Brains (1982)

The Man with Two Brains (1982) movie poster

director  Carl Reiner
viewed: 11/10/2017

“Into the mud, scum queen!”

While these days Steve Martin prefers his banjo to comedy, it’s worth recalling that at one point in time (mid-1970’s-early 1980’s), he was one of the funniest people in the world. Some of his best stuff was for TV specials and his own comedy records, but when he first started venturing into movies, he made a series of really interesting features.

Arguably, The Man with Two Brains may be his funniest. It’s co-written by Martin and director Carl Reiner (and George Gipe), and it’s a madcap romp through 1950’s science fiction with a dash of film noir thrown in.

Not only is Martin at the top of his game, the outrageously gorgeous Kathleen Turner is at the peak of hers, with her low sexy voice turned up to 11 and set for comedy.

Frankly, the direction and editing are kind of a hack, but when you’ve got gag after gag flying at you at such incessant speed that you hardly have time for an extra “Hfuhruhurr” much less an “Uumellmahaye”.

It’s not perfect by any means, but it is thoroughly hilarious.

Ghost World (2001)

Ghost World (2001) movie poster

director Terry Zwigoff
viewed: 10/20/2017

This viewing of Ghost World was me sharing it with my teenage kids. They both enjoyed it.

“The girl that looks like Scarlett Johansson” is indeed Scarlett Johansson.

This viewing also reminded me how cool the soundtrack was.

I now need to dig up the comic to share with my daughter.

Also, it’s nice how unresolved the film is at the end. Not knowing what one is and ruining all your relationships while you’re figuring it out. That things don’t always work out and resolution is often unachievable.

Microwave Massacre (1983)

Microwave Massacre (1983) movie poster

director Wayne Berwick
viewed: 10/14/2017

Maybe this is not the best time to watch this sexploitation-cum-gore-comedy, Microwave Massacre. Today is awash in #metoo and the sickening details of Harvey Weinstein’s years of exploitation. For Exploitation film to be fun, it needs a bit more separation from reality…and time, perhaps.

Certainly there are far more salacious and extreme depictions of misogyny, but it’s there, fully baked-in if only nuked on high for 45 seconds. 

Jackie Vernon stars, truly a comic of his time, most certainly akin to Rodney Dangerfield or Jackie Mason, though deadpanning with New York Italian patter (and a voice many people only hear as Frosty the Snowman).

The whole shtick (and shtick it is) is about a poor slob whose wife has gone on into culinary experimentation with her massive new microwave, leaving Mr. Vernon starving for the simple pleasures in eating, comfort foods, etc. This poor guy is pushed to murdering his wife and eventually cannibalism.

It’s not all bad, not all good, but catching it right at this point made it a lot more cringe-inducing and challenging for ironic pleasures.

Video Vixens (1975)

Video Vixens (1975) movie poster

director Henri Pachard
viewed: 09/23/2017

Video Vixens features a premise in which a television executive decides to air an X-rated Oscars on his failing network (most of the film is then elements of this awards show and commercials and clips from the “movies”.) Interestingly, he’s inspired by something very Infowars: he claims that something in soap is turning America gay – (chlorapheme?), so broadcasting good ol’ heterosexual sex will set America straight.

You can readily imagine how all over the place this decidedly un-PC movie is. It is to its credit, an artifact of its time, when sex humor was unfiltered and occasionally amusing.

I think I heard the line: “I used to be able to remember the names of all types of nipples” at one point.

My notes included: Trump, homophobia, and Tex Avery, though as not a very good note-taker, I can’t say why exactly.