This Week in Rixflix #14: June 9-15, 2017

Going into this week, there was just one film on my mind: the new Universal version of The Mummy. I had a sense going in that it was probably not going to be great, and in a way that is quite unusual for me, I did not prepare for the film by watching a marathon of the original Universal Mummy flicks (all six of them, including the Abbott and Costello one), nor did I wade into the later Universal Mummy series with Brendan Fraser. (And don't even get me started on The Scorpion King spin-off series... to be fully honest, I am no fan of the Fraser films either.) Instead, I concentrated on other films and just waited for The Mummy to arrive. Jen had no interest in all with it and told me to "go see your buddy Tom" (a running gag that I must explain fully at some point in the future).

And yeah, the result was rather tepid. I did manage to have fun enjoying the film as a straight ahead monster flick, and enjoyed some of the character and set design. But I am so confused as to why Universal dropped the Universal Monsters label they had been pitching and keeping alive (like the truly undead) for so many decades. Now I can't, officially, say that I am going to the latest Universal Monsters picture, and am instead told that this is the first film of their – big fucking yawn – DARK UNIVERSE series, a title that has already supposedly been co-opted by Warner Brothers and DC Comics for their adaptation of Justice League Dark, which I guess is their own stupid move to not burning out the Justice League brand (even though they put out a comic and an animated film (this year nonetheless!) called Justice League Dark (which I will get to next week). So, now instead of a Universal Monsters series and Justice League Dark live-action, we have two stupid things called Dark Universe from different studios, neither of which has anything to do with the other except for shared elements of basic horror.

I have so much more to gripe about how Universal is screwing up the use of their monster franchises, especially at their theme parks. (You know how annoying it is to walk through Universal Studios in Hollywood and not find a single Dracula shirt in their gift shops? And yet, you can walk straight past the Universal store in CityWalk and go to Things from Another World and find scores of monster t-shirts. The company itself, though, doesn't care for selling its own creations.) Once I saw the new Mummy, apart from watching Svengoolie have fun with The Mummy's Tomb on his show the next day, Universal went away almost immediately in my mind. The film did not propel me into maintaining the mood because there was no real mood to maintain. (Honestly, the films it really reminded me of were Van Helsing and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, both huge disappointments in my book. I thought the new version of The Mummy was much better than both of them however.) 

I instead spent the week concentrating on classic western films. Five such films to be precise, starting with Stagecoach, and then plowing through They Died with Their Boots On, Red River, Winchester '73, and High Noon throughout the remainder of the week. The reason? An online course on the History of the Western that I found while signing up for TCM's upcoming course on Alfred Hitchcock. I decided to take the Western course to see if I would enjoy and benefit from the experience, and while I still have a few last items to complete, I have passed all of my tests and found it to be great fun. (I still have to watch Fort Apache this weekend, which I don't own anymore but is showing on TCM; Turner Classic Movies isn't hosting this particular online course, so it is complete coincidence that it is airing.) Mostly, I enjoyed simply watching each of these films again, even the one that I don't like all that much (the Custer one starring Errol Flynn).

Next week, you will notice that the aftermath of taking this course has done something the new Mummy movie couldn't. It inspired me to do an immersion in a bunch of westerns over a couple of days, including one this morning (the day of this writing). I have more lined up for this weekend, including two more John Wayne films, that should be the 86th and 87th films of his that I have seen in my lifetime. (Just writing that last part exhausted me...) I may not enjoy the western genre as much as I do classic horror or film noir, but I have always had more than a quiet appreciation for the genre, and taking this course has truly made me remember my roots in film, having watched a great number of western films and shows growing up in the '70s. 

The Numbers: 

This week's feature-length film count: 24; 13 first-time viewings and 11 repeats.

Highest rated feature-length film: Red River (1948), Stagecoach (1939), Out of the Past (1948), Winchester '73 (1950), High Noon (1952), and The Lost Weekend (1945) – 9/9
Lowest rated feature films: Island of Lost Women (1959) – 4/9
Average films per day in June so far: 2.86
Average films per day in 2017 so far: 3.02
Consecutive days with at least 1 feature-length film seen per day: 184

The Reviews:

Becoming Bond (2016) Dir.: Josh Greenbaum – Riding to physical therapy on the bus towards Riverside, I looked out the window at one of the bus stops and saw the smirking face of George Lazenby staring back at me. I was absolutely not expecting it, and in my half-awake daze, I started to wonder if I had really seen the poster that I had or if I had some strange daydream in which Lazenby popped in for a non-sequitur cameo. Riding on the bus back, I managed to look across the several lanes and see the poster at that stop. Then I started wondering if it was a film playing at a theatre at the mall next to that bus stop. Looking up the Jurupa Valley theatre there, I found no such reference to such a film as Becoming Bond. Riding the bus two days later (once again to PT), I took a longer look at the sign as we stopped to pick up a couple of passengers. Ah, so it is a Hulu documentary! The second that I got home, I fired up the Hulu page and found myself watching a most surprising and entertaining look at the most unlikely and oddball career of the guy who played James Bond once and lived to tell about it... almost 50 years later. And it is hard, even with it being so entertaining (or especially because of that) to believe many of the stories that spill out the corners of Lazenby's still charming, wide, handsome smile. 

This film may contain some of the best and most imaginative dramatic reenactments that I have ever seen in a supposed documentary, and the use of prime cameos by the likes of Jeff Garlin, Jake Johnson, Jane Seymour, and especially Dana Carvey (doing a full-size Johnny Carson impression) make this film a bouncy, fun trifle. Some names do get changed to keep off the lawsuit monsters, and so those not already aware at least lightly about Lazenby's story coming in may be confused about who is who behind the scenes on his single Bond effort, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It is no secret that OHMSS is my personal favorite of the entire Bond series, so I had no problems. In fact, this film goes down so smoothly, I don't care at all if ol' Georgie Boy is stretching the truth a little bit here and there. You know, just like the best spies do...  – TC4P Rating: 7/9

Phantom Lady (1944) Dir.: Robert Siodmak – One of the joys of watching TCM's Noir Alley show on Sunday mornings is not necessarily discovering obscure film noir gems but actually speeding up the inevitability that I will get to each of these films on my own naturally. I am so attuned to tracking down as many of these films that I can that I really begin to surprise myself more and more when I watch a truly incredible example that has largely slipped by my notice to this point in time. Such is the case of the truly insane drumming scene by Elisha Cook, Jr. midway through this film as he practically drools over the prospect of an evening spent with the admittedly smoking hot Ella Raines. Cook bashes the drums in a sweat-filled jazz room in such an increasingly rabid manner that you swear he is going to collapse in post-orgasmic exhaustion. In the words of Doug Stanhope: "Blort!!!" (Raines is definitely blort-worthy, and is she ever gorgeous throughout this film.) Phantom Lady is soaked in noir atmosphere, and boy, is the villain (I won't say who) an utter creep every second he is onscreen (and they give it away fairly early anyway). I am not so big on the set-up of the film involving the lady in the outrageous hat who becomes the catalyst to the mystery, but I believe a viewing down the road may relieve me of my initial reluctance to accept this film wholeheartedly. With noir, familiarity only breeds greater obsession. Once you are in, you can never get out... – TC4P Rating: 7/9

The Strawberry Blonde (1941) Dir.: Raoul Walsh – When I saw this title pop up on TCM one afternoon, it was a total impulse watch for me. Deep in my movie history is the knowledge that The Strawberry Blonde was the very first film featuring James Cagney that I ever saw as a kid, and I had not really sat down to watch it since then. The real coincidence though comes from the fact that this film was directed by Raoul Walsh in the same year in which he lensed They Died with Their Boots On, one of the six classic westerns I watched this week for the Western Film History course. On a personal level, I enjoyed this film much more, especially as a showcase for Olivia de Havilland, who may play second fiddle to Rita Hayworth as the titular character, but who is (eventually) first in the heart of the film's main character. Cagney's tough guy dentist is by turns blustery and amusing, and well matched by de Havilland's slightly more intentionally modern (and shocking to others) version of a female at the turn of the 20th century. The film is caked thick in nostalgia for a bygone era but also is just spry enough to know that wallowing in it too long is no good for anyone. Cagney's dentist realizes he must move forward and so must the viewer. A far more rewarding return to this film for me than I expected. – TC4P Rating: 7/9

Girl of the Port (1930) Dir.: Bert Glennon – A guy wallowing in self-pity and clearly suffering from PTSD from his World War I experience loses himself in the Fiji Islands. He falls in love with a barmaid who works in the saloon where he has chosen to drink himself to death, but he doesn't let on that he is a British lord who is hiding out from his family and peers. And it is an appropriate thing that his war scars are embodied by a crippling fear of fire (from being surrounded by enemy flamethrowers) because the natives of the island practice the art of fire-walking. Eventually, all of this is going to work out exactly as you suspect from the start, and the film is fairly creaky as it glides by rather mechanically. But Sally O'Neil is pretty charismatic as the love interest, and the war scenes are well sketched (if not nearly on the same battlefield as All Quiet on the Western Front artistically). Intriguing enough for a quickie talkie but no more. – TC4P Rating: 5/9

The Boy (2016) Dir.: William Brent Bell – There are just so many of these types of horror films today that it becomes hard to recall which ones one has seen or not. Luckily, the inclusion of Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead) was pretty much the only catalyst I needed to allow this one into my life. We have here another creepy doll movie, and I must say that this is not my favorite subgenre of horror. Fine with the Chucky series and a few other examples of the ventriloquist dummy variety, but I just really don't clamor for them when we start talking porcelain or baby dolls. Sure, I find them equally creepy -- all dolls are that way naturally -- but the films using those types usually are too far out of my disbelief range. The doll here is a boy who may or may not contain the black-hearted soul of an elderly English couple's son, who died mysteriously decades earlier. The couple insist on treating the doll like their dead son, Cohan is hired as an au pair to spell them for a short vacation, and all sorts of madness begins. The film had me until about halfway, until coincidence and logic refused to play together nicely any longer. Cohan is good in the role, though, as is Rupert Evans as the local delivery grocer who develops a more than slight interest in Cohan's well-being and other parts. Overall, the film is well filmed with an interesting score by Bear McCreary, but I can only give it a TC4P Rating: 5/9.


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