This Week in Rixflix #9: May 5-11, 2017

With all honesty, for me there was really only one reason for living during this week, and that was seeing the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Perhaps I actually had a great many reasons for continuing to breathe in this span, but the anticipation I had surrounding the second volume of Guardians adventures clearly overrode everything else in my brain.

If you are already suffering Cinematic Superhero Burnout, I totally understand. It certainly seems like there is a new super-powered flick on the horizon every single week, and for the next few months, because we are entering the official Summer Movie Season, we will meet that horizon over and over again. Cinematic Superhero Burnout is how we weed out the posers. The second one of you goes, "Why doesn't Hollywood give us real stories with real characters anymore?," that's when we roll our eyes collectively and hear nothing but the whining of an overly spoiled baby. We are a long suffering lot, having to put up with subpar adaptations for eons (with the occasional decent flick), or even worse, having no hope at all of ever seeing certain heroes on the big or small screen. As a guy raised on the Marvel and DC comics of the 1970s and 1980s (and who still collected comics all the way up to April of 2005, and still possesses his entire collection), this is heaven for me. Well, it's heaven as long as the movies turn out good. (Rest assured, if I did actually believe in a heaven, that heaven would never include Suicide Squad.)

I could go on for weeks about the superhero genre, so I will save that conversation for elsewhere. Likewise, I will discuss the new Guardians film (which I felt equaled the first film in fun and excellence) at a later date. Our focus here today is on the entirety (or a solid chunk at least) of my film-viewing last week. Wresting my viewings of both Guardians films savagely out of the mix, the remainder of the week was as eclectic as any that I have had.

Even with my primary, lifelong focus on horror and science fiction, I am a restless genre jumper. Living by the twin mantras that I have developed over my lifetime of "Any movie, at any time" and "I will see any movie ONCE," I have taken mostly to simply following my instincts in determining what film to see next. Some days, knowing what is on my DVR, streaming watch-lists, or my DVD pile, I will compile short lists of the films that I should watch next, sometimes for that day and often beyond. Most often, about two hours later, that list has been blown apart, because I accidentally ran into a new release of a stupid monster movie on Amazon Prime or was flipping channels and saw that a showing of Chisum was coming on in ten minutes.

This week was no different. I have had Tortilla FlatLook Back in Anger, The Desert Rats, and many other films sitting in my DVR queue for weeks now, but my attention kept shifting to other films. Other films of interest just popped up left and right, and so I went where my muse, sweet Cinema, led me. Still on my Jonathan Demme kick following my overload the previous week, I ended up watching two more features that he directed – Last Embrace and The Truth About Charlie – both of which were premieres for me. I also saw three other films on which Demme served in some other aspect besides directing, as well as a repeat viewing of the 1977 Howard Hughes mini-series (albeit in shortened feature form) that I mentioned had influenced me as a kid in my discussion of Melvin and Howard last week. After that, there was a wide variety of other films, including catching up to a couple of this year's Oscar contenders, one of which disappointed me for reasons I will explain below.

To close this out with a final nod within the general range of the superhero genre, I was also able to cram in the first episode of the new Starz series based on Neil Gaiman's work, American Gods. I read his excellent novel eons ago, and so the material is sort of stored inside my noggin but I don't have the freshest recollection of it. And after watching the first episode, it is still too early to know if I am going to enjoy this take on the story, even though the show is run by a man for whom I have immense respect, Bryan Fuller. His name is usually a mark of quality and intelligence, and I hope that mark continues here.

The main obstacle was in getting the wife to partake, since she has little knowledge of Gaiman's work overall (she knows who he is and has seen both Stardust and Coraline, as well as his Doctor Who episode). We have not discussed our reactions to the first episode, preferring instead to see how the second one plays for us. Generally, if she doesn't like something, she will bow out of the rest of the series around the 2-3 episode mark (like she did with Gotham, but she has serious Batman fatigue anyway). Time will have to tell with American Gods. I hope it works out, because with Feud and Legion done for now and Bates Motel gone for good, and with the end of the normal network season looming, I have a little bit of room on my TV schedule.

The Numbers: 

This week's feature-length film count: 21; 15 first-time viewings and 6 repeats.

Highest rated feature-length films: Shield for Murder (1954), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), Manchester by the Sea (2016) all 8/9
Lowest rated feature film: The Hot Box (1972) – 4/9
Average films per day in May so far: 2.45
Average films per day in 2017 so far: 3.03

Before we get to the reviews below, I did up some numbers that I found pretty fascinating regarding the high number of films that I have been watching thus far in the year. As many of you know, I suffered a hip injury last October that eventually led to my curtailing my writing activities on all of my blogs until late in February. In the middle of that month, after a series of visits with my chiropractor until I could see my general practitioner and finally an orthopedic expert, I received a bursa injection, with the diagnosis that bursitis was the likely cause of about 80% of the problems that flared up due to the injury. It turns out that it was correct – the hip, legs, and foot junk cleared up after a few days – though I am now going through a prolonged series of physical therapy workouts to hopefully alleviate everything else.

Following the injury, the time that I had to spent laying in bed led, naturally, to a huge increase in the time I spent watching movies and television. Unable to sit for very long at a computer, I tried writing on my phone in bed, but found it tedious and really frustrating after very little time at all. The same thing occurred with the iPad. So, I simply kept careful notes and used the small sliver of writing time to be sure to collect any stray thoughts that might be of interest later for me. If there was one thing I discovered in being away from the computer, it was marvelous for planning ahead, and that was about it. Well, it was also marvelous for watching movies too, of course, and I definitely took advantage.

Here is a quick look at my movie-watching stats pre- and post-bursa injection on February 12, 2017. Since that opening period of the year consisted of 42 days, I chose only the 42 days that followed for comparison:

The numbers are completely telling of what happens when someone suddenly feels much better physically than they did just a mere few days before. As you can see, through Feb. 11, I was averaging close to four feature-length films a day. On days where I had doctor visits or when Jen was home, I might get in just one or two films, but on days where it was just me at home, sometimes seven, up to eight films might be watched.

In the period beginning on February 12, following four days of bedrest right after the injection occurred (boy, was I ever sore), my numbers dipped dramatically, gradually down to close to 2½ per day (though still averaging 3.21 for the year by the end of that second period). Suddenly able to stand comfortably and with a greater range of motion than I had felt in nearly four months, I was able to begin writing again at length, though because I was being careful to mix up my routine with stretching and exercises, I would only go an hour or so before leaving the desk for a break.

Keep in mind, too, that in that second run, I was really seeing only a single film per day much of the time, but would maintain the average with greater runs on a couple of days per week. (Example: if you watch four films each day on Saturday and Sunday, then you only need to see one film per day the rest of the week to have your average settle at just below two a day.) The trend has continued through the period following the time shown above, with my overall average for the year now (as of May 11) at 3.03 films per day. Hopefully, with some big (but, for now, unspecified) changes in my life coming up soon, that number could dip just as dramatically as the post-injection number. (Fingers crossed, you proponents of dumb luck...)

The Reviews:

Bloodsucking Bastards (2015) Dir.: Brian James O'Connell – A real spur of the moment watch for me late one afternoon, I expected nothing from this title but a generic vampire flick. Based on its title, I figured it must be a horror-comedy (which it is), but the true selling point for me was the casting of Fran Kranz, better known for his appealing performances in a trio of Joss Whedon productions: Dollhouse, Much Ado about Nothing, and especially The Cabin in the Woods, in the lead role. Kranz is his dependable, nervous self here as a corporate lackey who suddenly finds out that the management team at his office has been overrun by vampires of a different nature than the usually capitalist money-grubbing sort.

The film is without a doubt meant to cater to Office Space fans and the stoner crowd (not mutually exclusive), though its filmmakers mainly seems concerned (apart from soaking its actors relentlessly in gallons of blood) with griping about human resources, with loads of jokes centering around what you can and can't say or do in an office anymore. Those are easy jokes to do these days, and many of those jokes land, though some of them don't. But the film has some easy charm that stems mainly from Kranz's character's buddies-to-the-end relationship with Max (Pedro Pascal, better known from Narcos and as Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones). It was also a pleasure to see Joel Murray show up to provide some solid support. The influence of famous horror-coms like Shaun of the Dead and even Cabin is, naturally, all over this thing, but I was sensing something else at work, and the film it brought to mind was Broken Lizard's underrated (I feel most deeply) Club Dread. Sure enough, Bloodsucking Bastards is the work of a comedy troupe called Dr. God, who apparently have a following out there, though I had not heard of them until after I saw this film. (I had been wondering what to make of the odd cameo involving Matthew Lillard, where he does little but show his face, but it turns out he is a buddy of some of the group's members.)

Bloodsucking Bastards eventually moves past its HR gags and settles into some fun vampire fighting action, which I was surprised to find actually captured my attention as it escalated. If you love actors completely drenched head to toe in gallon after gallon of fake blood, this is your film, as that drenching comes off (intentionally) as pretty ridiculous and just part of the goofy fun. The unspoken jealousies that pop up between office mates, who are all still angling to move ahead in the company even while fighting for their lives, is a darker component of the script, though it never undercuts the frivolity. I honestly thought this would be a simple, no-brainer of a watch, and halfway through I had sort of written it off already. I am now in the territory of the dreaded "S" word (which I usually don't warn people about using), but I reached a moment in the film where it all turned around for me, and I ended up ultimately enjoying Bloodsucking Bastards, if only in a light way. It kind of hit that extra gear that I look for in the bigger horror-coms. I am interested if this occurs to anyone else out there, and if the moment will be the same as mine, so I will leave it unsaid for now. – TC4P Rating: 6/9

I Was a Teenage Movie Maker: The Documentary (2006) Dir.: Don Glut – I will tell you at another time about a book that used to be in my possession for a good couple of decades called The Dinosaur Scrapbook. A compendium of information about prehistoric creatures and their impact on pop culture throughout the twentieth century, The Dinosaur Scrapbook set me off a fair bit because it was a little haphazard in its photo selection and overall editing. Despite this, I still thought the book was pretty swell. I had no idea, despite my penchant for perusing end credits, that the author also wrote a great number of episodes of the Saturday morning Hanna-Barbera shows that influenced me so heavily in the '70s. He also worked for nearly every comic book company in that time period, including writing a lot of stories for Marvel Comics, but I never connected his name with that of the guy who wrote the book in my hand. As I recall, at a couple of points in Scrapbook, Glut discusses his own films that he directed, but I was frustrated in trying to locate more information about them at the library. I finally gave up, and figured the guy was full of beans, and promptly forgot about Don Glut's films.

A few years later, I was watching a softcore horror flick on one of the premium cable channels (though it was definitely not Skinemax), called The Mummy's Kiss (2003). The film was pretty boring, and when I say that, I mean even the nudity was stunningly mediocre and couldn't save the flick. Stiff acting doesn't necessarily translate into being stiff elsewhere, and I watched the film with little interest except finishing the damned thing. Then I saw the name of the writer and director: Donald F. Glut. What? Could it be the same guy that wrote my dinosaur book? Or is it a son maybe? Well, the difference between the first time I attempted to find out more about Glut and that second time was that something had been created which made getting instant answers easier: the internet. Checking out IMDb, Glut was indeed the same guy, and I found out that he directed a great many pictures. They just happened to mostly be throughout '50s and '60s. And they were all short amateur films...

I Was a Teenage Movie Maker attempts to tell Glut's story of his life before The Dinosaur Scrapbook, before the cartoon and comic writing, and waaaay before The Mummy's Kiss. In a film mostly comprised of interviews with the man himself, Glut recounts his life growing up on the streets of Chicago. He found out quickly that the locations and resources of the city were perfect for his youthful attempts at filmmaking, all shot on a small camera his mother gave him that once belonged to his father. After making his first exceedingly crude but lovable attempt at a dinosaur movie, Diplodocus at Large, he gave up for three years, but returned at 12 with a stop-motion film, The Earth Before Man, in which he pretty much just pushed static dinosaur figures around, and shook the camera when an earthquake was supposed to happen. Like many who get into youth filmmaking, he discovered and accepted that each succeeding film taught you a little bit more about what worked and what didn't. Before the end of the '60s, by the time he was in his twenties, he had gotten enough notice for his films that he appeared in Famous Monsters of Filmland, acted in a short student film by future Oscar-winner John Milius, and got uncredited bit roles in Von Ryan's Express and The Graduate. He got his foot in the door writing for the Shazam! series, and never looked back, as the phrase goes...

Except Glut does actually look back in this documentary and how you react to his survey of his childhood years will depend on your tolerance for the source material: Glut's amateur films. The documentary itself is of standard length, as Glut tells you about the behind the scenes details of nearly every film he created in breathless fashion. I would love to talk to the guy for days, so I found the doc engaging, and also found myself envious of the fact that he had a movie camera so young. (I never had the opportunity.) Sure, he didn't turn into Spielberg (who had a similar beginning), but damn he had fun. Clips from many of his films are shown during the doc so you can even see most of the silly costumes and props he describes. When you are done with the doc, though, there is a separate part that completes the experience: nearly 3½ hours of Glut's amateur films. I have only made my way through a rather small chunk of them so far (about a half hour in) and therein lies the problem with the entire project. Unless you are a psychotic grandmother or a glutton for punishment, home movies are tough to watch even if your own family and friends are in them. So, while Glut's short films are entered on IMDb and got him a message of fame/notoriety, you are still watching a kid's home movies, warts and all, and they do become a bit of a slog as you make your way through them. They are still cute enough and I am still envious, but they are tough to watch in one huge lump. I have convinced myself that a couple shorts a day is the way to proceed, so it will take me a little while to advance through the entire thing. But, as a standalone documentary, I Was a Teenage Moviemaker is great fun for a film enthusiast such as I am. And now I finally known just about everything that I could need about Donald F. Glut, author of The Dinosaur Scrapbook. Which I still need to replace... – TC4P Rating: 6/9

Shield for Murder (1954) Dir.: Howard W. Koch and Edmond O'Brien – Since Noir Alley, Eddie Muller's new show on TCM, has started, I have found myself prone to overdosing on film noir once more. (It helps that Muller, a crime novelist and noir historian himself, is a completely engaging host.) A longtime wish was to finally see Shield of Murder, which I had heard was the prime film to watch for sheer Edmond O'Brien madness. Boy, does this film deliver the goods. A tough story of a cop gone wrong (I am not really sure he ever started out good at all), O'Brien (who co-directed) gives a stunning performance as he attempts to cover up the links to a murder he committed while in the line of duty. The plot of the film is right in the title, as O'Brien's character gets away with awful behavior as he uses his badge to protect himself from scrutiny. John Agar, before all the monster and space movies, plays the former partner who is trying to determine whether O'Brien is as bad as the piling evidence is making him seem.

He is that bad... and even worse. I do not want to give away too much about the film, but there is a scene about halfway through that is just about as shocking and horrid than I have ever seen in a film noir, where O'Brien beats a gangster to death in a crowded restaurant, in plain sight of the rest of the patrons and staff. We see the first hit, and then the camera moves away to finally rest on the looks of horror on several faces in the room, but we keep hearing the sick thud of the victim's head being stove in completely. It is about a week since I watched the film, and that scene is still stuck in my head. I cannot shake it, and my stomach gets queasy just thinking about that sound. Like The Set-Up late last year, I am deeply gracious that I finally allowed myself the opportunity to finally see Shield for Murder. There is not a single doubt that I will revisit it, and hopefully own it, in the future. It is that good. I just wish that I didn't feel so sick about it.  – TC4P Rating: 8/9

La La Land (2016) Dir.: Damien Chazelle – Sure, it was up for a mess of Oscars, and yeah, we all thought it won at first but then had it snagged away at the less second. I had really wanted to see this film in theatres when it was released, but the injury and all the doctor visits made it difficult to get to a showing. (Surprisingly, it barely played in the theatre down the street – like, all of two weeks – but Kong: Skull Island was there for seven.)

So, guess what? I am glad that La La Land didn't win Best Picture, because also guess what? I didn't really enjoy the film. That would be fine if it were a heavy dramatic piece, where enjoyment is beside the point and raw human emotion is, but La La Land is a musical. Or it passes for a musical today. Me, I couldn't connect with it emotionally in even the slightest way. I have heard so much praise about the opening musical sequence with the cars and the overpass and the zillion people dancing around in the stalled traffic... and it nearly murders me to say that I didn't find it interesting or even particularly well-done. It seemed like the big street dance scene during Fame to me, another scene that audiences seem to really love that leaves me completely cold (though I do like that Alan Parker film). I hoped that I might connect once the love story starts between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, but I also could not connect to either of their characters, nor did I even like them.

What was my problem? I don't know. My friend mentioned the whole "white guy saving jazz" thing put him off when he heard about it, and I have seen that mentioned in a lot of other places. To me, I was actually able to buy that this guy really did think he could save an art form that he saw being crushed and forgotten by the rest of the world. We all have belief in our own talents, whether they be of the major or minor variety, and I don't find it inconceivable that his character could think such a thing. The question is whether the story allows him to ACTUALLY SAVE JAZZ. (Which it doesn't, thankfully.) My problem is, I have heard a lot of jazz, and I am pretty sure that whatever Ryan Gosling is playing in the film is not actually jazz. He is surrounded by jazz sounds, to be sure, but they aren't coming from his character's fingers, nor from his piano.

That said, I have continued to like City of Stars (it is certainly catchy), though the music in the film just doesn't do it for me. I figured that I might have one or two other songs catch in my ear for a few days afterward, but... no. Nothing, and in fact, I cannot even recall any other songs right now except for the faux fusion tune that John Legend's band plays in the film. Speaking of Legend, I think he does some nice work in his supporting role (he has an engaging personality wherever you seem him), and I will state outright that I thought both Stone and Gosling do fine in their roles. However, and this may just be me, but in their tap duet, both of them look like they started dancing last week. It is still too early to tell if I thought Stone should have won the Oscar, though, as I have not seen the other four nominees' performances yet. What I do know is that there is considerable chemistry between the two actors, but whether just having chemistry is worthy of Oscar praise is highly debatable. Where this film succeeds is on a technical level, from sets and production design to cinematography and direction. The film is gorgeous-looking in every frame, and it was probably justifiable in awarding Oscars for those aspects. I do not dispute that at all. The film is certainly eye candy. But I wanted to feel more from it. As it is, my rating reflects the technical excellence and the performances, but La La Land didn't capture my heart.

Am I sorry about not really liking a thing that everyone else seems to like right now? Of course not... the world and I are mostly divided on a great many things today. This will just have to be yet another one on the pile. Still, my overall rating is 7/9. I can't bring myself to drop it lower, because I do believe the film is still worth watching. Hopefully, I might figure out how to connect in a second showing.

Peace out,


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