"The Dish" (Warner, 2001)
Charming Aussie comedy about a tiny Outback town's true-life role in the historical Apollo 11 moon landing... Patrick Warburton shines as a genial, all-American NASA scientist on loan to the Aussies, Sam Neill stars as the fumpferring head of the Australian science team. A nice "little" movie, about the goofy, ditzy details of everyday live, and the heartwarming foibles of the people around us. For some reason Australian directors have a knack for creating this particular brand of film -- if you liked Last Days At The Chez Nous, Muriel's Wedding, or Flirting, then this is another gem you may want to check out.
"Thunder Road" (MGM, 1958)
A slow-moving crime melodrama about a family of old-fashioned, backwoods moonshiners being muscled out by big city gangsters. Robert Mitchum, in sort of a James Dean turn, sleepy-eyes his way through with his usual mix of menace and charm; Edie Adams plays his long-suffering nightclub-singer girlfriend, and gets a few vocal numbers in, too. (Adam's fans will definitely want to check this film out... those who don't quite get her charms will probably find her irritating, or simply adequate in her role.) The most interesting piece of casting, however is Mitchum's son (!) who looks just like him, and plays his younger brother, a weird but brilliant choice. This film was okay, but not great.
5/24/02"The Others" (Miramax, 2001)
"I Was A Teenage Werewolf" (1957)
This campy B-grade teen-exploitation horror flick stars Michael Landon as a tortured teen whose overly-aggressive behavior can either be explained by lycanthropy (yeah!!) or hypnotism performed under the guise of psychotherapy (bo-o-r-ring!!) The manipulation of a troubled youth by an unscrupulous adult authority figure is fairly subversive, although the "scientific" explanation doesn't quite explain all that hair popping out of Landon's scalp. A classic midnight movie.
"It Came From Beneath The Sea" (1955)
A classic B-movie horror flick about an icky, tentacled ocean giant who comes to the surface to wreck havoc on the world of man. Brainiac scientists are called in to help the military, but will they figure out how to stop it in time to save the world? Typical, silly 'Fifties drive-in fodder, with some great, vintage Ray Harryhausen stop-motion animation as the beast from below trashes the San Francisco waterfront and the Golden Gate Bridge. Eeeek!!
"Down From The Mountain" (Artisan Entertainment, 2001)
Perhaps the single best thing about the commercial success of O Brother Where Art Thou was that it made a major concert tour -- and this documentary of the tour -- possible. Besides being one of the most successful films to ever capture the complex emotional interactions between musicians on stage, this is also an enduring testament to the talent and perseverence of the late, great, John Hartford, who emceed the show and performed eloquently with various musicians, despite ongoing health problems that were, literally, killing him at the time. I cried almost every time he came on screen. An absolutely beautiful, subtle, humorous and affectionate film, co-produced by the venerable D. A. Pennebaker. If you liked the O Brother album, this concert film will blow you away.
"Zoot Suit" (1981)
This re-telling of the so-called "zoot suit riots" that rocked the Los Angeles homefront during World War II gets the facts right, but tells them rather poorly. Part of it is the super-stagey presentation, which basically is a filming of the play this was based on (right down to the shaking props and backdrops) and which takes little advantage of the possibilities of the film medium. Plus, Edward James Olmos is absolutely insufferable as the uber-symbolic Voice of The Barrio, although Daniel Valdez and Tyne Daly (!) are okay in their respective roles as a young man railroaded by the white establishment for a crime he did not commit, and as the commie agitator who comes to his defense. Anyone interested in the time period and in Chicano politics may benefit from watching this -- I rented it while doing some reseach on the pachucho music scene that erupted right after the war -- but in dramatic and filmic terms, this is not a first-rate production. It's hammy and ham-fisted. Latter-day star spotting: El Teatro Campesion veteran Robert Beltran (of future Star Trek Voyager notoriety) has a bit role as a modern-day audience member...
"Drunken Angel" (1960)
Toshiro Mifune stars as a brash yakuza gangster whose bellicose bullying of a meek, alcoholic local doctor lead to the discovery that he is actually dying of tuberculosis. Mifune's subsequent emotional transformation brings out the best in his ever-alluring acting style. Interesting early glimpse at the Japanses underworld, and another great film by director Akira Kurosawa.
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