This Week in Rixflix #1: March 10-16, 2017
I watch a hell of a lot of feature-length films, not just daily (my average this year is still well over three a day), but in any way you can cut my viewing list: weekly, monthly, annually, etc. In my drive to get back to writing regularly about film, I often find myself struggling over what films I should review, especially when I would really like to write about all of them. But when you run two other regular blogs and share two others, time gets crunched and spit back out at you pretty fast.
In an effort to at least acknowledge the wide variety of films and genres I encounter on a weekly basis, I am starting this new regular series on the Pylon called This Week in Rixflix, the last word in the title being my personal term for the movies that get added to my film database as I watch them. Each week with present a recap of the films or other interesting entertainments seen by me in the preceding seven days – detailed in the graphic at the top of this article – and after I have pulled out the titles for which I have greater plans on one of my websites, I will then select a handful of films from that week's list on which I will expound below.
Like anything on this website, This Week in Rixflix is an experiment. If this works out comfortably for me, I will continue to do it. But if it suddenly disappears for several weeks, it is very likely that I have given up on the cause. Let's hope that it works out for me...
This week's feature film count: 17; 16 first-time viewings and 1 replay (Nomads).
Highest rated films: The Enemy Below (1957) and The Lego Batman Movie (2017) – 8/9 each.
Lowest rated films: Ski Troop Attack (1960) and Here Come the Tigers (1978) – 3/9 each
For the Love of Spock (2016) Dir.: Adam Nimoy - I freely admit that my interest in science-fiction as a lad was more due directly to TV series like Star Trek, Lost in Space, and The Six Million Dollar Man than it was Star Wars. Yes, George Lucas' film immensely special to me, but I only got to see it in a theatre a few times in its initial and second releases. Those shows were on my television constantly, if not daily in the case of the first two, then weekly with the visits of Col. Steve Austin. On Star Trek, while Kirk and the rest were all terrific, Mr. Spock was the... well, not man – or human "man" – since he was half-Vulcan. He was, looking back, really more of a super-hero to us. He had powers no one else on the ship had; he could mind-meld, had a computer-like brain, and he had that nerve pinch thingie. Spock kicked major ass. In this love letter of a documentary from a doting son who misses his recently departed father, Adam Nimoy gives us a full bio of Leonard Nimoy, a hard-working actor who suddenly finds himself graced with the adoration of tens of millions of fans. But we also see behind the curtain as the elder Nimoy struggles with keeping his artistic sense even as his life seems to get swallowed by the cult popularity of a character he played to low ratings for three years in the late '60s. He releases records, keeps acting on other shows, and even writes a book titled I Am Not Spock to fight back against typecasting. But Mr. Spock would not leave him be, as the Star Trek cult exploded in the '70s and expanded to the movies, where Nimoy was able to leverage his fame for the chance to direct numerous movies. This film is for more than just the Trek completist, and is not solely a nerd paradise populated by geek references. For the Love of Spock allows even the casual movie fan the chance to enter into the life of an interesting and talented individual, and to see how his fame created complications in his relationships with his children, but also gave him the drive to reconcile with them later in his life. TC4P Rating: 7/9
I Am Your Father (2015) Dir.: Toni Bestard & Marcos Cabotá - More familial relationships, but of a far different stripe. And yes, this time, the focus is squarely on Star Wars, because in I Am Your Father, we get a deep profile of actor David Prowse, otherwise better known in America as the body that inhabited the costume in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. (Or, at least, parts of those films, because he was constantly at odds over scenes and screen time shared with his stunt doubles.) It is very interesting to see the full scope of Prowse's career (A Clockwork Orange, Doctor Who, Jabberwocky, and his many years as the popular Green Cross Code Man in England), but it is simply frustrating that the filmmakers were not able to get more response from Lucasfilm over Prowse's seemingly nasty removal from most official Star Wars functions and celebrations. Thanks to a few things that Prowse has or has not said or done over the years, debates rage over what really happened between the former Sith Lord and his one-time masters. This leaves the film a little too one-sided in its subject's favor, though this is not his fault or the directors, who from all accounts made a massive effort to get all sides of the story here. It is still an engaging story, and Prowse himself is a most appealing subject. TC4P Rating: 6/9
B.F.'s Daughter (1948) Dir.: Robert Z. Leonard - Van Heflin is just one of those 1940s movie stars to whom I have never really warmed. He's not a bad actor, just a little hammy and, in my opinion, miscast in several roles in which I have seen him. (MGM's 1948 version of The Three Musketeers, for instance – but Gene Kelly makes for a great super-athletic D'Artagnan). B.F.'s Daughter is an example of how the preset excellence of the Hollywood studio system won this viewer over despite having zero actual interest in the film. Poor intellectual Heflin (who is obsessed with economic theory and how the Man is keeping the little guy down, i.e. a Commie in those days) marries rich glamour girl Barbara Stanwyck – who is always marrying guys not even worth half her salt – and then she and her family precede to sneakily advance Heflin's career without him knowing it. Lots of arguments over wanting to prove he can make it on his own terms and admissions of guilt and unrequited love commence. It's all blustery and phony, features yet another grand Charles Coburn performance, and Stanwyck is her usual strong self in yet another role where she still seriously needed to whoop her lover's ass but good. I just wish the film had a bit more oomph, but Heflin kind of keeps it down. TC4P Rating: 6/9
Party Girl (1958) Dir.: Nicholas Ray - The latest film in my drive to get closer to see all of cult director Ray's oeuvre, Party Girl is really fun as long as Cyd Charisse is onstage in one of her far too few dance routines, but then makes a mistake in relegating her to the role of scenery when she out of the spotlight. (For a film that features her boldly in its poster as the main attraction, Ray sure seems to want to hide her much of the time.) Quite literally a "party girl" who dances on the nightclub scene, Charisse finds romance with a semi-crooked lawyer played (well) by Robert Taylor, but they get mixed up with some of Taylor's mob clients, and eventually have to fight and think their way out of the jam. It's a gorgeous looking film, shot in only the brightest of hues in Cinemascope, but the story has no room for the characters to breathe, and it really just becomes more mob business as usual. Charisse, as I said, is pretty much wasted once she is turned to simply a girlfriend who represents a better life for Taylor's character. However, it should be seen by film fanatics for the long-legged Charisse's dancing, and for the set decoration, costuming, and cinematography. TC4P Rating: 6/9
Whistling in Dixie (1942) Dir.: S. Sylvan Simon - The second of the "Whistling" mystery trilogy featuring star Red Skelton quite early in his film career, your appreciation of this film will depend on your tolerance for its hero. I was raised in my very early years on a diet of The Red Skelton Hour, where I caught early glimpses of the Muppets, and subsequently never developed a few of clowns because of Mr. Skelton, who frequently employed clown techniques and makeup in his squeaky clean comic routines. Would I enjoy that show today? Not sure. My liking of Skelton runs hot and cold, and I find it necessary to not watch several of his films in a row. This one is aided by the prescence of character actor Rags Ragland, who plays twin brothers at odds in the mystery within the film. Whistling in Dixie is only 74 minutes long, but the final chase/fight scene against the murderer seems to take place over the last 15 minutes. While that scene has a lot of relentlessly complicated (and increasingly stupid) slapstick, this means the film, as short as it is, needed to be trimmed by a few. Talk about wearing out your welcome. Still fun, though... TC4P Rating: 6/9
Magicians: Life in the Impossible (2014) Dir.: Christopher Baaden and Marcie Hume - A really intriguing documentary that follows the lives of a quartet of magicians at varying points in their careers. We see how their loving attention to their craft has affected their personal lives (few of these talents seem truly happy with their lot, whether coming up or going down), and each of the story has key moments that make watching this film worthwhile. Even though I have decent familiarity with sleight of hand techniques and the standard stage tricks of magic trade, I was still overcome with joy watching how smoothly these guys work. Every time that a card turned out to be "your card," I loved it. But that does not mean that everything is coming up fake, pop-up roses hidden up a sleeve. The most intriguing of the four is German-born Jan Rouven, who lived (at the time of filming) in Las Vegas with his "manager," an older former magician named Frank Alfter. For a good chunk of the film, we watch Rouven attempt to prove that fellow Vegas magician Criss Angel swiped one of his tricks, which is eventually summed up with the line, "We decided not to sue," but the details are never given as to why not by the filmmakers, when they show quite clearly it was Rouven's established trick (and across the street no less). We spend even more time waiting for Rouven and Alfter, who live in the same Vegas mansion but supposedly in separate wings, to finally admit they are not just lovers, but married to each other. That would be a nice conclusion, but the film started playing festivals in April of 2016, too early for the next development in Rouven's story, in which he was busted by the FBI later in the year for possession and distribution of child pornography. (Alfter has since gone home to Germany.) There is no tag to Magicians, obviously, noting this event, so unless you did further research on the subjects of the movie, you would not know the real ending. A solid doc, but in several ways, it flubs the trick. My card was a 7, but this film gets a 6/9.
Amy Schumer: The Leather Special (2017) - Just throwing this one in here because it is new and it is likely to get talked about at length, as things involving the comedienne often are. She might be on a career apex, but if this special is any indication, I am not sure she is going to be long for it. While her many detractors love to claim she rips off most of her punchlines, I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt, as I don't sit and slavishly go over ever comedy routine ever and try to find examples of it just so I can get hits on YouTube with a shitty video. I will say simply that this is sloppily written material, and honestly, Amy seems quite off her game in regards to her performance. Not her shining moment. It has put into doubts any consideration of my attending any of her standup appearances live. This Netflix-produced special is currently pulling a 4.2 on IMDb, but I am going to be generous and give her a middling 5/9.