Unidentified Flying Oddball

Unidentified Flying Oddball.
Walt Disney Pictures 1979.

Before watching the movie:

While the title isn’t very indicative of what the movie is about, upon reading that it’s about an astronaut accidentally winding up in the time of King Arthur, I’m incredibly unsurprised that it’s an adaptation of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court but jazzed up with space. And a robot too, for good measure. I hope the “android double” won’t be too ridiculous.

I’m not sure if I’ve actually seen Jim Dale perform in anything, but of course I know him pretty well as the audiobook narrator for the Harry Potter series in the US. I would not have expected him for Mordred though. A few of the other names are vaguely familiar but I can’t tie them to anything specific.

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Jane and the Lost City

Jane and the Lost City.
New World Pictures 1987.

Before watching the movie:

The legend of the comic strip “Jane” is of a series of contrived pretenses to get the attractive young woman character to lose her clothes, especially around soldiers, drawn as a morale booster for British soldiers in WWII. When I was investigating the background of what this movie is based on, I couldn’t even get much more out of Wikipedia, because the legend is that pervasive. But that just made me even more curious how this pulp adventure-sounding story could relate to that beyond jamming an attractive girl named Jane whose clothes keep falling off into the plot.

I was able to find an article that traces a somewhat more comprehensive history (part 1 of 4, sequential parts are backward in the archive for some reason), where I was able to learn that it started as a high society satire/romance comic a bit like how I imagine early Blondie was before it fossilized around Dagwood’s suburban atomic family, and only later did the titillation creep in, and the war only took it over still later than that, but that reaches the end of the scope of the article, so while I have an impression that Jane was getting into war-related scrapes as an officer’s secretary, I still don’t have much of an idea of how that translates into a movie described as “Winston Churchill sends Jane on a mission to retrieve diamonds from a lost African city before the Nazis can get them.”

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Nancy Drew, Reporter

Nancy Drew, Reporter. First National Pictures 1939.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure whether I’ve ever read a Nancy Drew story. I was probably more likely to have attempted the Hardy Boys, but neither interested me that much growing up. I was much more interested in Encyclopedia Brown.

I don’t recall a particular career or pastime being mentioned as what gets Nancy into sleuthing, and a quick skim of the Wikipedia page seems to show that she’s just a smart kid who happens to be in sleuthing distance of a lot of mysteries, like a teenaged Miss Marple. I was a little worried that by using “being a reporter” to justify her investigation into this mystery, the movie would be applying the name to a much older character, but it seems that she’s a school paper reporter, trying to win a journalism prize. Still seems like a lot of unnecessary scaffolding on “smart kid solves mysteries”.

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Troy

Troy. Warner Bros. Pictures 2004.

Before watching the movie:

What is this movie? Pointing a money canon at the screen. Probably billions of dollars to tell one of the oldest stories we have written down. Big battles, bigger stars, almost three hours of runtime for them to compete for like cinematic gladiators. Pretty and exciting and violent and maybe it even resembles the source material, but at least it’s Epic. That’s the impression I’ve always had of this movie as a former Latin student.

After watching the movie:

The city-states of the Aegean are at constant war, and Agamemnon of Mycenae intends to build an empire by conquering them, despite owing every battle to Achilles and his leadership of the Myrmidons. Meanwhile, as Trojan crown prince Hector has just finished negotiating a peace with Menelaus of Sparta, Hector’s brother Paris, infamous ladies’ man, took up an affair with Menelaus’s wife Helen. When Hector and his Trojans set sail for home, Helen leaves with them to stay with Paris. Seething from the insult, Menelaus goes to his brother Agamemnon to ask him to bring all the Greek armies together to take Helen back from Troy so he can kill her himself, which Agamemnon readily agrees to as the perfect excuse to add Troy to his collection of subjugated kingdoms. As the Greeks lay siege to Troy, Hector tries to find the diplomatic solutions that lead to the least harm done to his country and his people, but still accepts that Helen is a Trojan princess now. Meanwhile Hector’s father King Priam insists that everything is in the will of the gods and nothing can be done to change whatever fate is in store for them. While most of the Greeks loyally fight for Agamemnon, Achilles fights more for his own personal glory, and loathes being in service to a king that hides behind his troops.

I feel like 2004 is really late for a movie about Ancient Greece that’s been cast from a Who’s Who in British Acting with some pretty Americans thrown in for domestic appeal. While it was still too early for anyone to have considered it, I’d be much more interested in an all-Mediterranean production where people speak with actual Greek accents instead of pretending Ancient Greece was a Royal Shakespeare Company show. There’s at least one scene that takes place in a stone ruin, and while I guess that those were not unheard of in those times, it seems more like it was included because “Ancient Greece means broken columns scattered around the hillside, right?”

While this movie credits that it is “based on The Illiad“, Troy is sympathetic and they include an Aeneas cameo, so it feels more heavily influenced by the Aneid. The Illiad was written by Greeks to illustrate Greek glory, while the Aneid was written by a Roman to concoct a Trojan pedigree for Rome and therefore Troy was the nobler kingdom and Greece only won because they cheated. Greece is clearly the aggressor in the wrong here, and while Paris is also in the wrong, the rest of Troy is just caught cleaning up his mistakes. Paris isn’t even all that wrong because the first thing we learn about Menelaus is he ignores his wife to play with prettier, younger women right in front of her.

The main exception to the Greeks being the villains is the bad boy antihero Achilles, who only wants his own personal glory while chafing under his kingdom’s obligation to serve at the call of Menelaus. And yet despite his personal motivations he’s also shown to be one of the most honorable Greeks through his protection of Briseis, a captured priestess who happens to be Hector’s cousin. From the quick research I did, it sounds like they cleaned up the relationship a bit to make Achilles more noble, but I was surprised she was in the original material at all since the main thing I knew about Achilles’ personal relationships going in is that a lot of people enthusiastically read Patroclus as Achilles’ one true love and for all I knew, Briseis was created to give him a safe heterosexual love interest while playing Patroclus as his surrogate son.

While the last people who deserve a happy ending are the final couple, there’s a strong sense that the best ending isn’t to live happily ever after, but to get a prominent death. All the people we care most about get a classically tragic and noble death. All the people we like least get an exciting death at a hero’s hand. Paris and Helen just survive by hiding in the city until they escape while everyone else goes out and dies for them, and I guess they have to spend the rest of their lives with that knowledge.

There’s a ton of story in the fight sequences and for once I can actually follow what’s happening really well, and I can’t just tune out until the music dies down and I look up to see what the outcome of all the punching is. This is somewhat rare for modern action movies, and the prevailing theory is that a generation of cinematographers grew up on pan and scanned video making it impossible to read the fight scenes and decided that shaking the camera and cutting too quickly to get any useful information is how to make things exciting. But I think more than that, in this case the Illiad details a lot of events that happened in battle, so they actually had story beats to include in the sequence instead of just scripting “a fight scene happens and it’s the choreographer’s job to fill the next five minutes”.

This is one of the most engaging action movies I’ve watched in a while, especially considering the runtime and how much of it is action sequences. This is a throwback to the gigantic productions of the classics from the golden age of cinema, and while I’m pretty tired of cinematic epics casting white people with British accents and togas as Greeks and Romans (or proto-Romans here), they sure do make it almost worth the 2 hours, 40+ minutes.

The Phantom of 42nd Street

The Phantom of 42nd Street.
Producers Releasing Corp. 1945.

Before watching the movie:

Sometimes I just want a pulpy mystery. And it doesn’t hurt if it’s closer to one hour than one and a half or two because I’m busy.

I know I’ve seen the name Alan Mowbray around, but I couldn’t place him to anything specific. Seems like someone I should know.

I wonder if audiences outside New York are supposed to get the reference to 42nd street being a cross street with Broadway (something I only know because of the poster) and presumably a place where there are theaters. My initial guess would be that 42nd street would be far enough out of town that it’s not a very nice theater, but New York is gigantic next to the cities I’ve gotten a feel for, so maybe it’s in the heart of the theater district. I don’t know. I’m not a New Yorker, much like most of the people who would be watching this.

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Mr. Deeds

Mr. Deeds.
Happy Madison Productions 2002.

Before watching the movie:

I have the impression that this might be the last “good” Adam Sandler movie before he got lost making movies nobody wanted. I also felt like the title was a little disconnected from the kind of movies Sandler makes, and the character’s name being “Longfellow Deeds” really seemed removed from anything from the time. So I’m not surprised to learn that this is a remake of a movie from the 30s.

The comedy probably comes from putting the “regular guy” in the bizarre world of the mega rich, and especially because it’s a modernization of a much older story, I’m not sure there will be room for the kind of humor that Sandler’s worst movies over-rely on.

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Wag the Dog

Wag the Dog. Baltimore Pictures 1997.

Before watching the movie:

I haven’t been able to laugh at the presidency in years. At least, not as the product of something other than a mixture of horror, anger, and embarrassment. Washington/the Federal Government lately hasn’t been a source of cynical guffaws. But things have changed and there’s room to be relieved and somewhat relaxed again. For the foreseeable future, we’re returning to, at worst, garden variety corruption and only casual imperialism.

This movie came to me in a presidential-themed movie collection that I found when looking for a disk-based replacement to an old VHS copy of Dave, a favorite I’m looking forward to returning to soon, and could get a Movies of My Yesterdays if “soon” is not all that soon.

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The Ghoul

The Ghoul.
Gaumont British Pictures 1933.

Before watching the movie:

It never really seemed consistent to me what kind of supernatural entity a ghoul is. I kind of settled on a subtype of ghost that’s more corporeal than a spectre. I looked up the definition and it wasn’t very helpful. “A monstrous humanoid associated with graveyards and consuming human flesh” is broad enough to include zombies, only this is from pre-Islamic Arabia instead of from Haitian Vodou.

In this movie, Boris Karloff comes back from the dead to get revenge on those who wronged him, but I don’t think he eats flesh, just strangles or snaps necks or something. I expect a lot of overwrought tension that comes off as corny today.

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The Old Dark House (1963)

The Old Dark House.
Columbia Pictures 1963.

Before watching the movie:

I learned of this movie from a preshow for some spooky movie at a theater where they play classic videos along the theme of the movie during seating. A horror comedy starring… Tom Poston? The quirky old neighbor on like a dozen 80s/90s sitcoms? In a slasher comedy of errors? Well, why not? For one thing, apparently this is a remake nobody asked for, but I’m not burdened by the expectations of the 1932 movie, so I’ll probably enjoy it more than it was enjoyed at the time.

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From Noon Till Three

From Noon Till Three.
United Artists 1976.

Before watching the movie:

I’ve probably seen Charles Bronson in things before, but I don’t really recall him, and I don’t seem to have a tag for him. He is playing very against type in this movie, but I don’t really have a bearing on what that is other than “macho”.

I’m also not really clear on what this is about, since every summary I’ve seen seems to pick a different thread to focus on. There’s a bank robber who leaves his gang, there’s a widow whose story becomes a famous book, and it all starts with a life-changing three hours they spend together, and this is in some way a comedy. I hope I can keep my synopsis coherent.

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