Movie season is about to start in earnest, so here’s your last chance to call in sick and catch up with those streaming titles before you’ll be back out on the street again giving hj’s for matinee tickets. Start up the old Netflixbox and get to work! Here’s a smattering of films you can find there, as usual, with reviews and scores out of 4.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The 70’s were a heady time ideologically, when America was still deciding whether to initiate a sea change culturally or retreat back into hedonism. We all know that capitalism won the battle in the 80’s, but for a while there ideology was powerful and scary. This ‘78 remake was beaten to the punch by Cronenberg’s Shivers, but has proved more enduring, perhaps due to a star studded cast including Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum,and Leonard Nimoy for good measure. A new life form rains down on San Francisco and starts replacing people with docile replicas. This alien society is reasoned and peaceful, it offers complete satisfaction through absolute homogeny. The kicker is, of course, it’s an offer you can’t refuse. Though the backend action is a little oddly staged and meandering in that pre-80’s kind of way, the buildup to the conspiracy is classic and the emergence of the pod people is suitably gross and disquieting. Though the political bent is lost to time, Invasion still captures the fear of the majority.
Although based in part on a Lovecraft story, Re-Animator seems like a Troma Studios project. Coming four years after Evil Dead, it shares the same delight in murderous hysteria. However every single character acts unbelievably odd to get the plot where it needs to go, and the lurking darkness is predictable. The premise, concerning an obsessed medical student’s pursuit of a corpse reanimating formula, provides a few standout scenes. Just as often though it gives into just doing whatever it feels like; a man fights a cat in the classic hold a simulacrum fur and crash into furniture while screaming method. It is thoroughly and consciously B movie fare, but doesn’t come close to approaching the throne.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Cementing Gilliam’s reputation as a creative savante, this fairy tale deconstruction is equal parts fascination and grim realism. The Baron is a popular target for mockery due to the unbelievable tales he’s spun about his colonial era adventures and dealings with hellinistic deities. A young Sarah Polley embarks with the Baron and a motley crew to suss out the truth behind the fantasy. The journey is surprisingly grim, death haunts the trip at every corner and larger than life figures are often deranged in proportion to their legend. Simultaneously heavy and effete, the Baron skates the razor edge with wit and withering sarcasm, mocking death as impossible situations squeeze in from all sides. Stands alongside Brazil and Time Bandits as the fulfillment of Gilliam’s fever dream promise.
The role MacCaunehey was born to play, a charismatic loser on the Bayou, curiously yields copious screen time to the young boys who discover him shipwrecked in the wilderness. The reasoning is obvious, coming of age via dark mirror, which recalls much of the hard lessons in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Unlike that film though, there is hardly any romance in Mud beyond Mud himself. It’s mean and tidy, lurching about to hit beats without building the connective tissue that would make it meaningful. Focusing on the boys is a bad trade, as Mud is magnetic, effortlessly interesting and menacing as he unabashedly manipulates the boys into helping him put his boat back together. It’s just too bad he has nowhere to go.
Robin Williams and Nathan Lane are a very convincing couple, which is perhaps the biggest achievement of this reframing of Look Who’s Coming to Dinner for an era just coming to grips with homosexuality. That issue is about all that separates it from the situation comedies of the preceding decade, the 80’s, where it seems to fit with its over the top Miami ascetic. But that strangely sweet core overrides most of the exigent scripting issues, making a strong case for the normality of any couple in love. So, as a curiosity, the good cast make this worth a trip.
Moving from stage to screen, Mel Brooks’ zany comedy is probably most interesting for featuring a morally bankrupt Gene Wilder, playing way against type, but is probably most notable for the production which takes center stage. The outsized scam is hysterical and has many great moments, but even for a 40 year old movie shouldn’t be spoiled, as the build up in absurdity is pretty much the only thing Brooks is working with here. The sleaziness is impressive, a predecessor (and doubtlessly inspiration) to the machinations dreamed up by Larry David, but the craft and cleverness that define Mel Brook’s greatest films is missing here.
Originally published on Synthetic Error October 26, 2015