Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat. Threshold Entertainment 1995.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not a fan of fighting games. I don’t consider learning complicated button combinations to use against your opponent until all their health is drained to be all that fun, and the carnage Mortal Kombat offered as its selling point did not sweeten the deal.

I know so little about fighting game franchises I was thinking about Raul Julia camping it up when I selected this, but that’s Street Fighter. So all I have to go on for what to expect is mystic Orientalist action focused through a tournament. I’m not sure if it would be more fun for it to make sense or not make sense.

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Gentleman’s Agreement

Gentleman’s Agreement. 20th Century Fox 1947.

Before watching the movie:

I’m unclear whether the anti-Semitism the main character wants to expose is within a particular institution, or more broadly, within society at large, like the seminal Black Like Me, or less seminal White Chicks.

While there are people, perhaps even people who would not be considered eugenicists or race-nationalists, who consider “Jewish” a morphological race, the physical characteristics are very subtle, to the point where I’m not sure how a Gentile reporter would pose as a Jewish man other than introducing himself to people who don’t know him with a “hi, I’m Jewish, by the way!” A long game approach would probably be to get a new job somewhere and drop big hints, but that would point back to “within a single institution”. I feel like I got out of my depth three paragraphs ago and I should just let the movie tell its own story.

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The Manhattan Project

The Manhattan Project. Gladden Entertainment 1986.

Before watching the movie:

I think this is set contemporary (contemporarily set?), but it’s hard to tell. The most obvious difference in fashion between the 50s and 80s is in hairstyles, and a production could possibly overlook them.

This is listed as sci-fi, but it’s in that area of sci-fi that concerns such contemporary technology that I don’t really consider it so. The suspension of disbelief involved in “high school student steals plutonium from a shady lab and builds a nuclear bomb” has nothing to do with the technology so much as with the security procedures being circumvented. The Andromeda Strain is sci-fi so diamond-hard it plays as a pathological procedural, this is just a thriller.

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Compulsion

Compulsion. 20th Century Fox 1959.

Before watching the movie:

I have no idea what to expect. This was an algorithmically generated recommendation I’ve never heard of, and all I have to go on is that it’s a courtroom drama about some amoral law students who believe they’re above the law. And Orson Welles is in it.

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Kate and Leopold

Kate & Leopold. Konrad Pictures 2001.

Before watching the movie:

This is such a minor detail in my memory of the time and all that I’m not sure if I remember any promotional material that would have said this is about a time-displaced nobleman in modern times or if I more surmised it from the way the title makes a point of highlighting the difference in their names and extrapolating. Extrapolating very, very far. And also he dresses very nicely, but the basics of men’s formalwear haven’t changed in the last few centuries. Anyway, I know that that’s what this is about now, but since I don’t directly remember being told that before I selected this now, I’m not entirely certain if I was ever told that.

Turning my thoughts to “person from history is now transplanted to the modern day” movies, I’m particularly interested in the fact that I can’t think of any stories that were contemporary to before the 80s (Specifically, Time After Time). I’m sure there were some, and now I’m pretty interested in what the early part of the 20th century would’ve imagined the people of earlier centuries would have thought of them.

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Gremlins

Gremlins. Amblin Entertainment 1984.

Before watching the movie:

So, here’s one of those 80s classics I missed. I know the rules of the gremlins, I’ve heard an argument that the change the gremlins undergo is a metaphor for puberty, but I really don’t know all that much about what’s actually in the movie.

Apparently it’s one of the things Spielberg was involved in at least to the point of having his name on it opened doors, but the fact that it’s written by Chris Columbus probably tells me a lot about what to expect.

After watching the movie:

Randall Peltzer, an inventor trying to sell his comically disappointing inventions, visits an antique shop in Chinatown to try to sell something or at least get his son a Christmas present. Finding an adorable furry creature the shopkeeper calls a “Mogwai”, Randall insists on buying it and is refused on the grounds that one is too much responsibility, but the shopkeeper’s grandson secretly sells it to him with the instructions to keep him away from bright light, never get him wet, and never feed him after midnight. Randall takes “Gizmo” home to his son Billy, who cares for him well, until a friend spills a glass of water on him and five new, more mischievous Mogwai spawn off Gizmo’s back. Not long after, the younger Mogwai trick Billy into feeding them late by stopping his clock, and they metamorphose into vicious monsters bent on killing anyone they see, wrecking the town, and generally having a lot of fun.

I never realized Billy would be so old. I expected a child protagonist, and Billy is in his late teens or early 20s, and moreover the principal breadwinner for his family through his job as a low-level peon at the bank thanks to his father being a full-time crackpot inventrepreneur. He is in fact, old enough to have a love interest subplot with his principal companion for the final act, though the nature of his relationship with Kate doesn’t really add much.

What’s really odd though is the inclusion Billy’s dog Barney. Barney is in a position to be a major player in the plot and he’s just kind of there, except for the large chunks of the movie when he’s not even present. I’d say Barney mainly exists for Mrs. Deagle to be awful about, but that doesn’t really go anywhere either. She complains about and makes threats toward Barney until she exits the movie as a casualty of the gremlins’ mayhem. I guess they wanted to show the gremlins kill someone, but really wanted it to be okay for that person to get killed. But it’s not even a kind of poetic justice, so establishing her as being vile enough to deserve to die could’ve been done in much less time.

Orientalism is never a value add, but it’s a fact of older movies. So I’m not exceptionally bothered by the way “they’re from China” explains these fantastical creatures or the stereotypes depicted in the shopkeeper Gizmo came from. What bothers me more is the guy in town who goes on rants about how “foreigners” started putting literal gremlins in our equipment as sabotage in WWII (a superstition that was probably mostly in jest) and are still doing it… for reasons. Which could just be giving voice to prejudice for the sake of local color and setting up another unlikeable victim, except the ending narration lends credence to the rants by specifically tying the Mogwai to those foreigner sabotage gremlins. Sure, the movie calls them gremlins by title and by dialogue, but without that narration, they could just be “mischievous creatures wrecking everything” without any connection to malice from foreign enemies.

A lot of horror movies have comic relief, and aside from the prop comedy of the failed inventions, the humor here is very low-key. It’s called a horror-comedy, but to me it’s just a horror with cute fuzzies. It seems a little confused throughout, but it’s probably just me not getting it.

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Laura

Laura. 20th Century Fox 1944.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure if I’ve been aware of this movie before it came up in recommendations or not. I seem to be vaguely aware of “Laura” as a title, but I may just be thinking of the song (which I know because Spike Jones exploded it), that turns out to be the theme from the movie with lyrics added.

Vincent Price appears to have a small role, judging by his billing, but he’s the biggest name I can see. The only other name I even recognize on the shortlist is Clifton Webb.

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