Happy birthday to me!

Happy birthday to me! In honor of my 55th natal anniversary, I present my fantasy of Jane Russell happily submitting to my vigorous examination of her underarms.

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#SatMat Live Tweet movie for Sat., Apr. 30: THEM! (1954)

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After two weeks’ hiatus from #SatMat, I am tanned, rested, and ready to show another B-movie gem. This week, the gem is Them!

Atomic testing seems to have done for 1950’s movies that the Nazis did for 1940’s flicks: Provide the most convenient, generic villain you could ask for. Just plug it into any plot hole, and voila — instant drama! In this instance, atomic bombs set off the in the New Mexico desert appear to have turned ants into genetically mutated monsters. (When you think about the Southwestern desert, are ants the first thing that come to mind? Wouldn’t giant snakes or scorpions have been more likely?)

As if the premise weren’t delicious enough, the casting is to die for. James Whitmore is the first actor to appear on-screen, as a cop who sets the movie’s entire plot in motion. James Arness, as a fair but firm FBI agent, was seen by John Wayne in this movie, which led to Wayne helping to cast Arness in TV’s long-running Western “Gunsmoke.” Add Edmund Gwenn (Santa Claus himself from Miracle on 34th Street) as an avuncular entomologist, and you’ve just died and gone to B-Movie Heaven!

So join us on Twitter.com this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EDT, and bring plenty of snacks…but don’t leave a lot of sugar lying around!

 

SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004) – Best comic-book movie ever

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The following is my entry in The Blogathon from Another World, being hosted by Blog of the Darned on April 9 and 10, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on a wide range of science-fiction films!

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There are some “popcorn movies” that transcend their origins and just become great movies — North by NorthwestRaiders of the Lost Ark.

Add Spider-Man 2 to the list.

There’s no good reason that a film about a guy with the dubious talent for traveling by web should be one of the most touching movies around. But darned if I wasn’t near tears by movie’s end.

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For that, kudos to director Sam Raimi, who found the same “realistic” tone in his first Spider-Man film and extends it here. The characters seem like cliches — the clumsy kid turned super-hero, the erstwhile girlfriend, the doting aunt. But thanks to heartfelt encore performances from Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, and Rosemary Harris, they were more believable than those in more “earthbound” movies I saw in 2004.

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Of course, some viewers don’t watch Spider-Man movies for character depth, and action fans won’t be disappointed here either. Alfred Molina, whom I’ve always found hammy, here has perfect pitch as Dr. Octavius–at first friendly and caring to Peter Parker (Spidey’s daily alter-ego), then downright operatic in his revenge when his planned scientific breakthrough goes wrong and turns him into a kind of octopus-robot.

But the movie spends an unusual amount of time letting us get to know its characters, so that viewers truly have a stake in the high-powered action scenes. (Warning: Those scenes might be very tough sledding for younger viewers. But if you’ve seen Spider-Man 1you know what you’re in for anyway.)

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Out of a flawless cast, I end by singling out thoroughly winning Kirsten Dunst as M.J., Peter/Spidey’s love interest. Her dreamy, sunny face grounds the story in happy normalcy. And her final scene tops even S1‘s much-ballyhooed kiss.

In a just world, Hollywood would have ended the Spider-Man franchise right here. This movie has it all.

MYSTIC RIVER (2003) – Director Clint Eastwood at his best

 

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The following is my entry in the Beyond the Cover Blogathon, being hosted by the blogs Now Voyaging and Speakeasy from Apr. 8-10, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on novels adapted into movies!

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In Mystic River, a man confesses to a murder and says that when he committed it, he felt God looking down upon him in resignation, as you would look at a puppy who made a mess on your rug.

Thanks to the keen directorial eye of Clint Eastwood, his movie of Dennis Lehane’s novel has the same effect — as though God is looking down on a neighborhood of self-haters who won’t give Him or themselves a break.

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The most notable member of this neighborhood is David, a boy who was lured into a car by two child molesters who posed as cops. David is embodied as an adult by Tim Robbins, who shows us that David, now a husband and father, is still inhabited by that little boy. The high-pitched voice, the overeagerness to please whomever he’s talking to, the slumped shoulders, all tell us what David says in a perfect line of dialogue — whoever escaped from his abductors’ basement after four days, left behind that little boy when he emerged.

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David had two friends who weren’t lured into that car, but they don’t seem any happier as adults than David does. Jimmy (Sean Penn) is a reformed crook who still rules the neighborhood, but he seems puny even before he gets the news that his young daughter has been murdered. The other friend, Sean (Kevin Bacon), is a cop who has escaped the neighborhood and dreads returning to it to investigate the daughter’s death.

There isn’t a person in this movie who doesn’t seem fully realized. Never mind Robbins, Penn, Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, and every other major actor in the movie. Just assume that they’re great. Look at a character like the funeral home attendant. He mechanically goes through a list of funeral procedures with Jimmy, until Jimmy says he wants to see his late daughter, who’s in their morgue. The guy looks as though he doesn’t know how to handle a request that isn’t covered in his rule book. Every character has little details like that, making the whole movie feel lived in.

And everything that was so poor in Eastwood’s previous movie, Blood Work, is perfect here. In particular, there’s a climactic cross-cutting scene that I’d compare to The Godfather — not nearly as melodramatic, but just as effective. I’m not a fan of Eastwood’s movie work overall, but Mystic River is certainly one of his highlights from an excellent set of ’00s movies.

#SatMat Live Tweet movie for Sat., Apr. 9: EVIL ROY SLADE (1972)

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There are plenty of theatrical movies that have attained cult status, but many TV-movies have. This is one of them. Evil Roy Slade stars “The Addams Family’s” John Astin as the title character, a typical low-down Western villain who makes an honest (so to speak) effort to change his way after a run-in with a cute local schoolmarm (Pamela Austin).

It’s not quite up in Blazing Saddles comedy territory (it was broadcast about a year before Mel Brooks’ mock-oater), but it’s not for lack of trying. It was written by TV wunderkind Garry Marshall while he was still doing the TV version of “The Odd Couple” (and a couple of years before he hit it big with “Happy Days”), and it carries some “Odd Couple” personnel with it (director Jerry Paris, co-writer Jerry Belson, and Garry’s sister Penny in a small role), so it certainly has its comedy chops. And John Astin going whole hog on anything is a good enough reason for me to watch a comedy.

In keeping with the Western theme, I will preface the movie with a vintage Popeye cartoon, Blow Me Down! (1933) in which Popeye enters a small Mexican town where Bluto is holding forth as local bandito. So saddle up, partner, and join us at #SatMat for a lively Live Tweet on Twitter.com this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EDT.