This Week in Rixflix #13: June 2-8, 2017

Boy, did my movie count dip the week of June 2-8, and if I had not watched a slew of films those first four days (13 of the 18 films overall), it probably would have been even less. The reason? The buildup to the James Comey testimony, then the actual sessions, and the discussion in the aftermath ate up so much of my spare time on the weekdays that it was really hard to think about anything else.

This year has been so dominated by news about He-Who-Must-Be-Orange that it is no wonder that I have smothered my senses so intensely in movie after movie after movie. It's not the real reason that I watch so many films, but an outsider, knowing at the least of my political leanings, could only surmise that the continued presence of President Rage Toddler has me in such a deep depression that I can only find solace by immersing myself in film history. Well, he does not. He annoys the hell out of me every time I even think about his voice or face, but he has no effect on my film viewing habits. Except when there is the possibility of hearings that will hopefully lead to exposing his criminal ways once and for all on legal grounds – not just on social media, though he does a fine job of that himself – that will – hopefully – eventually get him and his graceless family expelled from the White House.

No, I just naturally watch film after film – I have done this for most of my life, and will continue to do so because for me it is simply a part of breathing. I wake up, I put on a movie, I watch a big chunk of it, maybe I will stop it to write for a while, grab some breakfast, watch another 40 minutes of the film, or maybe I finish watching it instead and then write... it really depends on where the day takes me. Not having regular work has made it even easier to immerse myself in these activities, but even when I did have a solid gig, I still managed to average 2-3 films a day. As I said, it's how I breathe...

[Note: the above was written today during the news of the Washington shooting at the baseball field. There is a lot of talk about how deeply divided we are today, and I have always agreed that bipartisanship is the only way to get things done for this country. However, the White House is going to use this opportunity to try to distract us and pave over the investigations going on currently involving Drumpf and his toadies. However much I want peace and harmony in this country and especially the world, I also want the Angry Orange permanently away from any shiny, candy-colored buttons in the War Room. This must be achieved lawfully and correctly, and without any violence, as the use of violence in our democratic process degrades us all.]

The Numbers:

This week's feature-length film count: 18; 12 first-time viewings and 6 repeats.
Highest rated feature-length film: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) – 9/9
Lowest rated feature film: Shark Babes (2015) – 2/9
Average films per day in June so far: 2.37
Average films per day in 2017 so far: 3.0063
Consecutive days with at least 1 feature-length film seen: 177

The Reviews:

The New Land [aka Nybyggarna] (1972) Dir.: Jan Troell – A couple of years ago, I watched the first of two films by Jan Troell about Swedish immigrants in the United States trying desperately to survive as they traveled through a strange new world in the mid-19th century. That film was called The Emigrants, and it was a remarkably vivid portrayal of people who could lived hardscrabble lives that were likely quite similar to those of my own Swedish ancestors at the same time. That the location of the land where the main characters set up their farm in Minnesota is less than an hour by car today from the county where my father grew up just across the border and north a bit in Wisconsin drives the point home even harder. The follow-up film, The New Land, based like The Emigrants, on the same series of novels by Vilhelm Morberg, is like its predecessor in that it is intricately and lovingly detailed with period touches and also glacially paced. (Both films are well over three hours in running time, so the easily bored should endeavor to avoid this pair.) But slow going does not mean the films weren't completely spellbinding to me, if not a little off-putting at times in how the immigrants react to their new surroundings and its inhabitants. This film in particular has the main characters, played by Bergman regulars Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, learning to deal with the native Sioux in the area. The use of indigenous peoples in The New Land is certainly far different than most American portrayals on film, and it will prove most effective when the story contains elements of the Sioux Uprising of 1862, which leads to some of the more jarringly graphic imagery in the film. I am not sure that I would wish to take this journey on film again, though if I did, I would prefer to watch both films back to back. And maybe with some of my older relatives to dig into their memories of our ancestors' corresponding experiences. Fascinating films overall.  – TC4P Rating: 8/9

Yentl (1983) Dir.: Barbara Streisand – There has not been a moment since 1983 where I haven't been prone to suddenly singing in mock fashion the words "Papa can you hear me?" And yet, I have never actually seen Yentl, the film musical directed, produced and starring Barbara Streisand from which the song that carries that line is derived. I had tried to watch it on VHS and cable back in the day but always pulled out of it, and in recent years had recorded it on DVR a handful of times but never quite watched it. Now, I tell you this because your first thought is going to be "Well, yeah, you're a guy (and presumably straight)... why would you want to watch a Barbara Streisand film, especially where she sings?" Well, I grew up with Streisand played in our house, and one memorable evening, I watched a network TV showing of What's Up Doc?, her 1972 Peter Bogdanovich romantic comedy with Ryan O'Neal. The film became a favorite, I came to understand that she was a terrific comedienne and actress, and accepted her from that moment onward. Sure, her music is not my thing normally, but she has that incredible voice, which is featured prominently in Yentl, though I found the music to really be secondary to the story in the film. It's big and brash and lovingly filmed (the heart is quite apparent in the storytelling), but wondered if maybe the musical portion of it wasn't really necessary. Of course, if you take the music out of it, then there is really no reason for a then-40-year-old Streisand to be in the film playing a teenage girl posing as a boy, but if you take her out of it, then the movie doesn't get financed. (The production history is quite convoluted, and really, the more you know about it, the less it looks like a Streisand vanity project in casting herself.) The film is at a tad overlong, and my patience for it actually ran out late in the film, but still I stuck around. It's a pretty film, has some lovely moments, Mandy Patinkin really is a force of nature, and Streisand does just fine despite the whole age thing. And I have checked off another Oscar nominee.  – TC4P Rating: 7/9

Joyride (1977) Dir.: Joseph Ruben – I sometimes wonder if people who actually live in New York and L.A. get upset these days when so many productions are filmed in Vancouver, even when the shows and films sometimes take place in N.Y.C. and L.A. Do they gripe about the minutiae as much as people in other places? Ah, studio filming... Me, I grew up in Alaska, and have had to deal most of my life with things being not quite right in the details when productions filmed elsewhere are supposed to take place in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Nome, Barrow, or some other (often fictional) Alaskan town. While trying to track down a different film from 1977 a couple of weeks back, a search on YouTube gave me a list of other productions from that year, some of which I had never heard before. One of those titles was named Joyride. Seeing that the film had Robert Carradine, Desi Arnaz Jr., and a young Melanie Griffith in it, a quick look at IMDb revealed that the film is supposed to be about three teenagers taking a literal joyride on the lam as they head up to Alaska. Count me in, if only to see if they actually get anywhere near my home state. Nope... I should have just assumed it was so. Joyride was instead shot in Washington, much like Northern Exposure and many other things with supposedly Alaskan locales. I was expecting typical teen prank antics and low grade sleaze, but the film was far grittier than I expected, with some surprisingly dark turns hidden inside. The watch, however, was lessened by the low quality version that I had found. Still, there was enough that I found of interest that I came away knowing I would like to track down a decent copy in the future. So, did anything in the film seem like the actual Alaska at any point? Only fleetingly, but I figured it was probably accidental, though I am not going to hold it against the film. You do what you can with what you've got...  – TC4P Rating: 6/9

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) Dir.: Lewis Gilbert and For Your Eyes Only (1981) Dir.: John Glen – Roger Moore died recently, and while he has never quite been my favorite Bond (I was too influenced by the Connery films early on), Moore had been a constant presence in my life beyond Bond. I grew up watching Moore on two different series: Maverick, where he filled in for a season as Beau, the smooth English cousin of the Maverick brothers after James Garner left the series in 1960, and as The Saint, Simon Templar, on repeats of his 1962-1969 British series. By the time I was twelve, Moore was already established as the new James Bond, having appeared in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun by that point. As I did with the Bond films with Sean Connery, I grew up seeing the films on the occasional Sunday night on ABC, where they were all regularly shown in the '70s. But it wasn't until 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me that I saw a Bond film in the theatre. With my parents' going through their divorce and me at the age where I was incessantly annoying about everything, but going to see movies was becoming most special of all to me (once more, we did not have a movie theatre in our small Alaskan town and had to drive to "big city" Anchorage to see them), my mom left my still too young little brothers with my dad and took me to see Bond on our own. It was showing in a double feature with Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (more on that at another time), and we sat in the front row with a Ziploc bag of popcorn that we popped and buttered at home, Doritos that my mom sneaked inside of her bag, and a can of spray cheese in a can to load up the Doritos. It was magnificent!

Moore's death a few weeks ago coincided with the 40th anniversary celebration of the release of The Spy Who Loved Me, which served as arguably the high water mark for his series of seven Bond films at the time (I prefer Golden Gun overall now). I knew it was the anniversary, but hadn't really considered that I might have the chance to see it again on the big screen. Surprise! While we were at the AMC Dine-In Theatres getting ready to watch Wonder Woman on the day it opened, there was a special event advertisement for a double feature showing of Spy and For Your Eyes Only, but the first date (May 31) had past, but the second was in two days (June 4). I didn't really think about it that moment, but by that evening, I had determined that I was going to get to that double feature rain or shine. It meant going by myself since Jen worked, but nothing would stop me. That Sunday, I found myself in Orange, settling in for an afternoon double at the AMC at the Block, and had a terrific experience with the dozen or so other people in the theatre. 

A big thing for me was that these were two of the five Bond films that feature sharks in them (and Spy also has Richard Kiel as the metal-mouthed assassin "Jaws," who quite literally bites a shark to death in the film), but halfway through Spy, while Moore and the gorgeous Barbara Bach are wandering around the Egyptian pyramids, the projector totally stopped, and my fellow patrons and I found ourselves cloaked in darkness for almost 15 minutes. Part of the time, we discussed the film lightly – everyone was greatly enjoying seeing these films on a big screen again – but of course, a couple of us, myself included, ran out to talk to the management, and finally got someone to check on the problem. After the second film was over, the manager was standing by the side as we were exiting and handed each of us a free entry pass for another film, telling us that they didn't know what happened except that the projection system just completely shut down. I will take a free movie ticket any day, and since we saw the whole of the film regardless, no harm, no foul. I got two Bonds, I got Jaws, and most especially, I got tiger sharks. I also saw Alien: Covenant again right before the Bond flicks. That's a full, grand day at the movies for me. – "Spy" TC4P Rating: 7/9; "Eyes" TC4P Rating: 6/9

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) Dir.: James Whale – No review here, just some quick editorializing and plugging. My love for the Universal Monsters films goes back ages to my very youth, when I saw most of the original films in my early teen years (with a few exceptions, like the later Mummy films featuring Kharis). I have also owned many of the films on VHS, all of them on DVD, and jumped a good portion of them up to Blu-ray a few years ago. That they are a constant presence in my life is to never be doubted. So, why is it that I still watch them on television every time that they cross my path? I don't mean just on Turner Classic Movies, where a handful of Frankensteins may show up from time to time, and not necessarily just in October when they usually hold special events for horror films. I refer to when something like The Bride of Frankenstein – arguably the most accomplished, giddiest and purest example of the Universal monster film – pops up on MeTV on the Svengoolie show on Saturday nights. 

Well, the answer is that I rarely skip out on watching ol' Sven even if I have seen all of the films he shows dozens of times outside the show. It is no surprise that I have a great fondness for horror host shows (especially if at least mildly professionally executed) and while I did not grow up with Svengoolie as a regular showcase like many others in different parts of the country did, I certainly wish to take advantage of him now, especially since Elvira's latest series only played for a short period and we have to wait a bit for the next MST3K season. (Yes, it has mostly sci-fi trappings, but I still count it in the same vein; they do show a lot of movies with monsters in them.) Me, I don't mind the commercials (if you DVR it, even better, but I like to watch it live) and the 12-yea-old in me still enjoys the intentionally lame jokes and interruptions. I am just happy knowing that someone is still putting Dracula, Godzilla, Frankenstein, and the rest of the gang on TV so that newer generations can discover and enjoy these films for themselves like I did as a kid. And when Rich Koz stops doing the show (he is now 65), hopefully someone else will come along to take up the cause. The monsters must live on!   – TC4P Rating: 9/9


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