The President's Analyst (1967)
Director: Theodore J. Flicker
Cinema 4 Rating: 7
Somehow, even after all of the generous souls who have guided me to weird and arcane films since I was a teenager, somehow I managed to miss out on this one until two Christmases ago. That's when a friend at my old job, whom I will refer to as Arch to distinguish him from another co-worker with the same first name (also a good friend), briefly had the prescence of mind to give me one of the best presents that I have ever received. You see, action figures and Lego sets are terrific as gifts, and for those of you so inclined to continue this pattern, don't let me dissuade you in the least. But if you know of a film that I just gotta have in my life, that you are 100 percent sure that my existence is so much lesser for its non-inclusion in my DVD collection, then you had better pop it on me. Even after a couple of other tries to get me interested in every film that he half-remembers from his misspent youth (sadly, many of them being war epics for which I have little or no use), Arch hooked me up with this James Coburn-starring chunk of satirical cinematic brilliance, wherein the lanky Mr. Coburn takes up the titular profession, but nothing or no one that he encounters is really what they seem. It was one of those rare instances where I watched a film and actually remarked out loud, "Where have you been all my life?" The less I say about it, the better for your initial viewing. Just rest assured that you've not seen its like before. Keep your eyes peeled. Remember in its more head-tripping sequences that it is a relic from the psychedelic 60's. And for goodness sake, beware the TPC!

Repo Man (1984)
Director: Alex Cox
Cinema 4 Rating: 7
"Look at 'em... ordinary fucking people. I hate 'em."
- Bud (Harry Dean Stanton)
It seems to me that there is only one ordinary fucking person in Repo Man, and it is Otto, the blank-emotioned deadpan nihilist punk who is presented as the lead in the film. Otto sneers at his Jesus-freak hippie parents and his dorky wannabe-pal Kevin, drinks and sings fuck-the-world Black Flag anthems, and sports an earring and a then-edgy haircut as part of his rebel pose to the world. His stance from the start tells the world to basically take a shit on itself, but within the running time of this film he will get a steady job, a girlfriend, an unexpectedly loyal second family/gang (on their own terms, of course) and a true father figure in the hang-dog form of the brilliant and fiery Harry Dean Stanton. Otto outwardly always remains true to his stance, but you can tell that he relishes the opportunities that are set before him, whether he is aware of it or not. The film starts out weird and just piles more weirdness on top of it; it's no accident that the film nearly falls apart by the final act simply by wearing itself out. And the ordinary fucking people? Treasures, each and every sometimes-despicable one of them. A punk thief who momentarily muses on society's ills with a body full of bullets, while his cronies decide to return to doing "some crimes" like "ordering pizza and not paying"; repo lot sages who have ascertained the true nature of existence from the items found in repossessed cars; an alien-hunting federal agent with a metal hand; even the people getting their cars swiped are far more interesting than the "hero" would want to believe. And all built around two very important components: one of the most perfectly chosen song soundtracks ever and a goofy plot involving a stolen Chevy Malibu with the bodies of four dead aliens stashed in the trunk, which incinerates to their boots the body of any soul unfortunate enough to open that trunk. (Truth be told, re-watching Kiss Me Deadly last weekend, with its body-burning radiation-glowing metal box, reminded me of both this and Pulp Fiction, which each may have been inspired by the Aldrich-Spillane classic.)
"I can't believe I used to like these guys," Otto says of the lounge-singing punks The Circle Jerks, who smarm and cheese it up on stage in a nightclub he is attending. Time and perspective sometimes have ways of making you rethink what you used to love so much. Twenty years on, and Repo Man still works for me the same way it did that first time in a theatre: as a hilarious and still-needed tearing of a new asshole for just about every segment of American society.

Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (1958)
[The Hidden Fortress]
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cinema 4 Rating: 8
A few years ago, in a galaxy unfortunately a lot like ours, a buddy of mine allowed himself to get shanghaied into a viewing of this film and ended up hating it. He went in with an understanding that the film was a samurai epic and that it was a huge inspiration for George Lucas when he was devising Star Wars. Both the shanghaiing and the understanding were my doing, but perhaps I should be more precise with this and declare that "understanding" was the exact opposite of what this friend possessed regarding this film. Because he had been offered the trivial tidbit of the "Lucas inspiration", he actually went in to the film with the belief, wrought purely from his own imagining, that not only would there be samurai in the feature, but that they would somehow be surrounded by wise-blooping robots and laser-sporting spaceships. Not a bad idea as twisted mythologies go, and one taken up by innumerable anime series and films since, but not exactly what Kurosawa had in mind. There is a pair of Greek chorus-acting peasants who might just as well be named C-3PO and R2-D2, a beautiful and fiery-spirited princess on the lam, and a stubborn but heroic general who eventually takes up her cause. There are sword duels galore, an assault on the hidden fortress of the film's title, much battling and bickering, and the ceaseless craving of both fortune and honor. There are also the wipes employed by both Kurosawa and Lucas in major changes of scene, if you want to look past plot and characters and start counting stylistic inspirations, too. Every time I watch the film I discover new parallels, though I sometimes find myself wishing there were even more. But Star Wars is definitely not a remake of this film; it was merely inspired by it, as many other films also served to drop into Lucas' stewpot over his life and finally got served up to humanity as the tasty Jedi confection that has continued to engorge us with lesser meals for the last 30 years. Consider yourself warned: if you think for even fourteen one-hundredths of a second that robots actually co-existed with samurai and that spaceships were going to fire down on Edo from the skies, then you, much like the unnamed friend of whom I speak about in this capsule, are going to be disappointed in this film. But, if you truly understand the meaning of the word "inspiration", then you will get it. Hopefully, this means you will enjoy it, too. Unlike my unnamed friend who could never get past his own mangled interpretation of the word "inspiration".
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Director: Don Siegel
Cinema 4 Rating: 9
In the midst of watching the Twilight Zone marathon on Non-Sci-Fi over the Fourth of July non-weekend, I was able to reacquaint myself with a particular favorite episode of mine called The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, wherein paranoia and the need for an easy scapegoat yet again reveals mankind to be its own worst enemy, whether the crisis is real or imagined. You don't need to remind me that our species sucks beyond compare, but what if there were something worse out there, waiting to take over our minds and bodies and reduce our individual "freedom" to a blandly soul-crushing conformity? Skipping the too-easy Bush administration stab, I'd ask you to take a gander at this exquisite Cold War and McCarthy era masterpiece from Don Siegel, who would eventually direct several films with Clint Eastwood including the original Dirty Harry flick. The movie has been remade a couple of times directly (extremely well in 1978 and so-so in 1994), ripped off many more, referenced ceaselessly in a multitude of other parodies and science-fiction fare (including numerous cameos by star Kevin McCarthy), and become a touchstone film when speaking about the issues of loss of identity and humanity. All of this tends to overwhelm the fact that it is not just top-notch science-fiction, rising far above its supposed B-movie origins, but is also one of the most purely suspenseful films of its era. Not only was it one of the first films that I bought on DVD, but it is also on the short list of my favorite films of all time. (This could solely be the fault of the yummy Dana Wynter, though. Oy...)

Mad Monster Party? (1969)
Director: Jules Bass

Cinema 4 Rating: 6
Though I like to point to the Universal, Hammer, Toho and Harryhausen flicks that I crammed into my teenage years as the center of my cinematic interest, especially in regards to the horror and science-fiction genres, the truth is that the groundwork was laid down years before by several other smaller influences. Topps' You'll Die Laughing monster trading cards (which I still own), The Addams Family, The Groovie Ghoulies, Scooby-Doo and The Munsters, my 45 of Bobby "Boris" Pickett's simple but highly evocative Monster Mash (backed with the lesser but still fun Monster Mash Party) and tattered copies of Famous Monsters of Filmland set the stage years before I discovered that I could actually watch the original films from which many of these monsters had escaped. But, also before the Harryhausens, there was Rankin-Bass and their series of animated puppet specials, such as the still-glorious Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. While I never saw Mad Monster Party? in its theatrical release, I did catch it on the occasional Saturday afternoon showing on Channel 13 in my youth, and I loved it. Dracula, the Werewolf, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and his hideous counterpart Mr. Hyde, the Monster and his Bride, the Mummy, the Creature, a Peter-Lorre zombie lookalike, a skeleton band, giant octopus tentacles climbing out of a saucepan, giant venus fly-traps, and Boris Karloff himself giving voice and appearance to Baron von Frankenstein himself. If only there was something to interest me... hmmm.... Oh, yeah -- there's also Francesca, the hottest femme fatale puppet to ever hit the big screen. (Don't believe me? Watch when her dress gets ripped off in the catfight with the Phyllis Diller-voice Bride. And yes, they actually use the sounds of yowling cats during the scrap!) Too, too much fun for kids, loaded to the Creature's gills with wrenchingly bad puns both vocal and visual, but viewed today as an adult, I find it more of a curio -- it doesn't quite work as a feature film, but there are enough humorous moments and constant visual surprises (incredible sets throughout) to make it worthwhile still. (The DVD also comes with one of the best book inserts that I have yet seen, but sadly, no commentary.)Mainly for true-blue monster fans...


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