Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train. Warner Bros. 1951

Before watching the movie:

This is one of those that nobody ever really discusses beyond the concept. A pair of strangers meet on a train and through conversation, discover that they both have someone they’d like to murder, and if they each just kill the other person’s target, they could both get away with it from having no apparent motive.

The only other thing people say about it is that it’s a Hitchcock film, which does more or less define a genre, or at least a tone. I also note that Raymond Chandler worked on the screenplay, so it should come off as a good detective story, assuming there’s a detective in it that nobody talks about. There has to be one, so there’s an antagonist, I assume.

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Phantom From Space

Phantom From Space.
Planet Filmplays 1953.

Before watching the movie:

When I came across this movie, I wasn’t sure if I’d already reviewed it, because I thought I remembered a movie about invisible space beings. I was remembering Invisible Invaders, a body-snatching movie where a small town is taken over by aliens hijacking men’s bodies.

The brief synopsis of this one that I have read suggests that the titular alien might be harmless if left alone, as, after killing two attackers frightened by his suit, he takes it off to escape. I notice that’s an inciting incident, not a plot, but this has the potential to go to interesting places.

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In Bruges

In Bruges. Blueprint Pictures 2008

Before watching the movie:

I vaguely remember this movie being around when it came out. I remember being vaguely interested in seeing it, but also having the sense that I probably wouldn’t get to it until it was bloggable. Somehow, I’ve been blogging long enough that even though this came out a year before I started blogging and I avoid reviewing movies less than ten years old, this is now bloggable. That is just completely wrong.

This is a dark comedy about hiding out in an unfamiliar but lovely town after a crime goes sideways. It’s kind of also a travel movie, and I think being a travel comedy in central-ish Europe is what made me associate it with If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. Which is an entirely different kind of movie. Also, for the uneducated Americans, and I include myself in that statement, the poster I found helpfully notes that Bruges is in Belgium.

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A Night to Remember

A Night to Remember. 
The Rank Organisation 1958.

Before watching the movie:

Since 1997, James Cameron’s movie has been considered the epitome of the Titanic legend on film, but this is the dramatization of the epitome of the Titanic in print. I suspect that a documentary would have suited the book a little better, but as I have not yet read the book, I can’t definitively say. At least this movie focuses on people who actually existed and characters composed from people who existed.

I’m watching this movie as part of a brief interest in Titanic media outside of the 1997 movie due to reading a short dramatic account of the Carpathia‘s rescue mission, which does not seem to have been dramatized on screen in the way this account sounds like it deserves. Though apparently that telling largely comes from the book The Other Side of the Night, which I now also intend to read.

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Movies of my Yesterdays: The Iron Giant

I dimly remember actually seeing this movie in the theater, but for whatever reason, what sticks with me more is getting it for Christmas, in a set with a toy figure (example photo, not mine) that was both exciting and yet I don’t think I ever actually played with. I seem to associate the story with winter scenes as well, even though I know there are summer scenes. I guess it takes place over a longer period of time than I thought.

I do recall that seeing the movie in the theater was at least one of the first times I allowed myself to cry at a movie (in a dark theater). The emotion that this movie draws out of celluloid is one of the main reasons that it’s endured as a modern classic and stands out against the more bland landscape of contemporaries that, unlike the perennial vintage cinema, we can still remember. In the nine(!) years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve covered many movies from that year. Only a few of them come close to the legacy The Iron Giant immediately cemented.

The Iron Giant. Warner Bros. 1999.

Hogarth, a boy in advanced classes with an excitable imagination outside of small town Rockwell, Maine, goes investigating his missing TV antenna and comes across a 50-foot tall robot from space! The giant robot, which eats metal, tries to eat a power station transformer, and gets tangled up in power lines, and Hogarth rescues him by pulling the shutoff switch. As Hogarth investigates, the giant befriends him, and they quickly form a secret partnership with junkyard artist Dean for the use of his scrap metal so the giant won’t go hungry. But the reports of strange sightings draw government agent Kent Mansley, a cold war G-man who sees Soviet threats in anything he doesn’t understand. Kent quickly susses out that Hogarth isn’t telling all he knows, and if he can get proof that there’s a dangerous weapon in Rockwell, he’ll finally get the respect he thinks he deserves.

This might not be the first time I’ve watched the movie since that VHS, but it’s the first time I’ve really noticed how much care was put into the art for this movie. I’m not sure I’ve seen better cel-shaded CGI before, but the Giant, Sputnik, and the missile are CG renders blended in so well it’s easy to forget they’re technically a different medium, and if they used it for other things, I couldn’t even tell or it wasn’t major enough to remember. However, the CGI was something I was aware of years ago. This time, I was also looking at the traditional animation, and especially the lovingly-created backgrounds. I think I’ve seen this movie called a love letter to traditional animated movies in an era where everyone wanted to make the next Toy Story, and I got it then, but I see it for myself now. As well, the music is quite evocative of cartoon features of a different age, and sometimes comes very close to evoking Looney Tunes incidental music.

My first instinct was to say that the messages of the movie are what makes it resonate, but there’ve been a lot of bad and forgettable movies with messages of “friendship is good, guns are bad, be yourself, help others, your past doesn’t define you”. What makes it effective is the execution. This story is not just character driven, but the characters express real emotion and profound thoughts that manage to all align to create a package of concentrated Feelings. It’s no wonder Pixar incorporated Brad Bird into their inner circle of creatives after this.

As the 1950s setting evokes a kind of nostalgia for a lost age of childhood, the movie is itself nostalgia for a generation, as it now approaches 20 years since its release. I’m sure that there are professional animators now who were inspired by this opus, and hopefully many of them are actually getting to do something close enough to that to satisfy them, as the market has moved away from traditional animation with any real budget for artistic flair. Being an inspiration is probably the highest honor a work of art can aspire to, and this is certainly one that has inspired careers as well as daily lives.

Missile to the Moon

Missile to the Moon. Layton Film Productions 1958.

Before watching the movie:

This looks like a typical B-movie sci-fi horror shocker. The all-women moon society might be interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how good or bad the monster is, but the most interesting angle is the fact that the ship is stolen in the first place. So that element probably won’t go anywhere.

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The Third Man

The Third Man. London Film 1949

Before watching the movie

Apparently, this movie has appeared in the number two spot on a list of best British movies, and I only hear about it in discussion of lesser-known great Orson Welles movies. Welles is playing the (supposedly?) dead man, so, while even in the late 40s, you don’t cast Orson Welles as a corpse, his presence might be inflated by the fact that he’s the only recognizable name in the cast.

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