This Week in Rixflix #2: March 17-23, 2017

It was an off-kilter week, with some "small world" coincidences taking place just before one of these movies in a theatre (Get Out) that made the world about two sizes smaller for me. One week before possibly having jury duty had me scrambling to burn through a bunch of stuff on my watchlist on Netflix and from amongst the zillion TCM movies on our always too crowded DVR. I saved the big stuff for other posts on this site in weeks to come, but here's a quick recap and some capsule reviews...

This week's feature film count: 14; 11 first-time viewings and 3 repeats.
Highest rated films: Get Out (2017) and The Uninvited (1944) – 8/9 each.
Lowest rated film: Area 407 (2012) – 3/9.

Pete's Dragon (2016) Dir.: David Lowery – I saw Disney's original Pete's Dragon in a theatre way back in 1977. However, I had just turned 13 and I had seen Star Wars a couple of times before then. The cinematic world as I had known it had been completely turned on its ear by the Force, and in a few weeks, Close Encounters of the Third Kind would capture my imagination even further. At that moment, I had probably closed my mind to a mere "kid's film," even though I still watched the Disney show every week and adored animation of all types. I remember thinking that the first film was just O.K.; I loved the animated parts, but never really bought into the live action antics in the film or the music attached to it. I honestly cannot hum Candle on the Water, even though I am told it was the big hit song from that movie – you know, that movie that I saw in a theatre. (To show you how bad this problem of mine is, I typed Candle in the Wind initially.) Honestly, if my brothers hadn't been with me at the show, I would have no proof that I had ever actually seen the film, so little of it do I recall. Here's the kicker: I bought a DVD of the movie a few years ago, and I have never even tried to watch it yet. (I really should remedy that situation.)

I had meant to watch the film again before the shiny, new super-CGI version of the film came out last year... but we didn't go to see that one either. However, Netflix dropped it onto their streaming platform recently, and so I wasted no time in checking it off the list. Just like with the first film, it was... O.K. They did away with the musical portion and made it more of an eco-warrior version of the story, with Pete turned nearly into Mowgli as he gets raised in the "Pacific Northwest" woods (actually New Zealand) with a bigger, altogether furry (and made to sell stuffed animals) conception of Elliot the Dragon. Robert Redford lends more gravitas to this film than it really needs, but he is always good, and I love seeing him so busy recently with his acting. Bryce Dallas Howard lends more credence to the idea that early considerations of her talent were misguided, as she is pretty much wallpaper here (as in Jurassic World). Once more, I recognize the film is well-done and will delight its target audience(s), but I can admit it is pleasant and really nothing more. The dragon is the best part, though I have already been involved in at least three debates as to whether or not dragons should have fur. I am done with that. TC4P Rating: 6/9

Thrashin' (1986) Dir.: David Winters – So happy to see this one show up on TCM Underground. If memory serves, there seemed to have once been a battle over whether Thrashin' or Gleaming the Cube was the "real" skateboard movie. Who the fuck cares? Both are equally dopey but also equally odd fun on certain terms. Those terms being whether or not you want to spend 90 minutes watching characters with little charisma riding around on four tiny wheels and doing all manner of stunts with their boards. Thrashin' predates Cube by three full years, and has a serious lack of Christian Slater in his early career glory in the lead. Thrashin', however, does have a barely legal and already crazily buff Josh Brolin heading it up, and he's not bad in the part, but the real lead of this film is Robert Rusler as Tommy Hook, the leader of a local gang of skateboard misfits. (And his chick is a pre-Twin Peaks Sherilyn Fenn, wearing about forty pounds of hairspray as a punk diva.) Lots of attitude and underage drinking; lots of turf warfare and pranks between the punks and Brolin's buddies. There's a romance in here for Brolin and Pamela Gidley (very cute), but it really doesn't matter when the entire film is heading towards a downhill skateboard free-for-all race that for some reason will get the winner a coveted sponsorship and a lifetime free from worry and care. It's a truly stupid film, but you can do some '80s-spotting with it, and it also has a truly interesting young cast. TC4P Rating: 5/9

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004) Dir.: Xan Cassavetes – For this film to not bowl me over just by its existence means that the filmmakers have really dropped the ball. I should have completely loved Z Channel, which tells the story of a revered television channel in Los Angeles that played such an eclectic lineup of films in its heyday through the '70s and '80s that 30 years of filmmakers were highly influenced by its programming. Director after director is interviewed, including the obligatory and obvious Tarantino appearance, all in the service of telling us just how formative this channel was, and I do not doubt it for a second. Clip after clip of truly awesome film after truly awesome film is shown, and we totally get why the station was so beloved in its time, way before many of the cable channels we now take for granted. (The current love for TCM definitely has a precursor in the Z Channel.) The film also tells the story of its eventual main programmer, Jerry Harvey, whose tastes ran the gamut from silents to Kurosawa to animation to John Waters (much like yours truly and its many fans), but who battled depression throughout his life, and eventually took his life and his second wife's in a murder-suicide in 1988. It's rich material for a documentary, but at over two hours, the film is seriously padded, and I got the point ten minutes into it. I liked it, but really wanted to love it but could not bring myself around to it. TC4P Rating: 6/9

The Sunshine Makers (2015) Dir.: Cosmo Feilding-Mellen – I honestly don't know if I am ready to discuss this film. In the way that LSD blew the mind (and careers) of its two main subjects, Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully, my eyes have been torn to shreds by the self-contained lemon party of the 80-ish Sand exercising and meditating in the nude in this documentary. And not just once. Dude, I don't even want to see myself naked. What makes you think...? Oh, never mind. I am not sure why I decided to watch this film. I don't do drugs (apart from prescription ones, and they are more in the range of blood pressure and asthma meds) and I have never even considered LSD for a second. Don't need it. I trip every time that I close my eyes or even think about something for too long. Even without my meds. So much as happened to these two since the sixties: drug arrests, court cases, Silicon Valley, and there is constantly something new thrown at you. Unfortunately, too much of what is thrown at you are Sands' nuts, and that two octogenarian nuts too many for me. For ex-hippies or current hippies only. Neither of which is me. TC4P Rating: 6/9

Area 407 (2012) Dir.: Dale Fabrigar and Everette Wallin – Found footage aircrash survival scenario in which the bickering and annoying occupants of the plane encounter raptor-like creatures (the dinosaurs, not eagles and hawks... Oh, but technically birds are dinosaurs -- shut up!) in the modern day California desert. Filmed in five days without a script – which means "ab-libbed by amateurs" – if this had not been showing on Shudder and I was looking for a light, pre-bedtime "thriller," then I probably never would have watched it at all. I don't like to get too down on low budget filmmakers outside of any studio system. Hell, this is the type of film I want to make because it looks like a lot of fun. But, still, my own artistic integrity begs me to rate this, and I can't give it more than a 3/9.

VHS Massacre: Cult Films and the Decline of Physical Media (2016) Dir.: Kenneth Powell and Thomas Edward Seymour – Yet another documentary about film, this time partially about the use of VHS tapes in the years between having to suffer through TV scheduling to see something quick and the development of laserdisc and then DVD and Blu-ray (we have it so good right now). The film is also about the cult for VHS tapes that still remains, and I will admit that I still own several hundred videotapes in my own collection. Even when I already own the DVD version, I still hung on to certain tapes that serve as an emotional connection for me. So, I totally get where these guys are coming from, and let me state that this film is definitely an example of happily biased filmmaking, since the directors themselves are collectors (and at least one of them was involved in the making of direct-to-tape, low budget films for many years). You will get little of an anti-VHS vibe from this film, and that is fine. But it also means the film kind of makes its point pretty early, and when we get to the last part of the film where the filmmakers are taking part in a podcast where they talk about closing out the documentary, it gets a little too meta and self-serving. Of interest to film nuts though. TC4P Rating: 6/9

[And for the record, dragons can have fur. See it in ancient Chinese and Japanese art all the time...]


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