Monthly Archives: April 2020

Batman (1989)

*. Batman is often discussed as a sort of cinematic milestone, foreshadowing the coming rise — nay, dominance — of superhero franchise filmmaking. That’s not the way I see it. To me it seems more like the bloated tail-end of an earlier period of comic book movies that haven’t aged that well. Think of the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, or Dick Tracy (which I referred to in my notes as “the last gasp of the old guard”).
*. The character of Batman came carrying a lot of baggage. After his decline into camp in the popular 1960s TV series starring Adam West, recent comic books (or graphic novels, as they were coming to be called) had been trying to recast the figure in a darker light. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns (1986) and Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke (1989) being the leading examples. In the twenty-first century this direction would become more pronounced with the Dark Knight movies of Christopher Nolan and Todd Phillips’s Joker, but in 1989 Batman would still be a hero with feet in both worlds.
*. Watching this movie again I do find it a darker movie than I remembered it being. But overall it still seems closer to the camp Batman. Jack Nicholson’s Joker is a ringer for Cesar Romero’s, not just for his look but also in many of his mannerisms. His gang of henchmen comes straight out of the TV series, as does his toy helicopter. Yes, he’s “the world’s first fully functioning homicidal artist,” but the violence is all comic book.

*. Nicholson gets a lot of praise for this movie, and heaven knows he got paid enough for it as well as insisting on top billing, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say I think he’s miscast. He’s the only thing in the movie worth watching because Michael Keaton is an even worse case of miscasting and Batman/Bruce Wayne is a stick anyway. Heath Ledger would do the same thing to Christian Bale, and in Joker the logical next step was taken and they just got rid of Batman altogether.
*. The reason I think Nicholson miscast is that he’s not very funny or threatening and he doesn’t move well. Is he supposed to be dancing during the two terrible Prince numbers? He’s not even keeping time with the music. As far as not being funny or threatening goes, most of that is a function of the poor script. It’s odd, watching it again, to realize how many of the best known lines from this movie are terrible. “You’re insane!” “I thought I was a Pisces.” “You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?” “I’m of a mind to make some mookie.” “Remember you are my number one guy.” Nicholson does his best to sell crap like this, but it’s awful.
*. Speaking of problems with the script, how can Bruce Wayne  be such a mystery to the reporters? He’s Gotham’s most famous citizen and very much in the public eye. And yet they’re amazed to find out that his parents were murdered? It was headline news!
*. I said Keaton was miscast. That was felt to be a problem from the start. I think he tries hard, but he’s just not the thing. And he has zero chemistry with Kim Basinger. Though admittedly, chemistry with Kim has never been easy. I never even sensed any heat between her and Mickey Rourke in 9 1/2 Weeks.

*. Was Tim Burton a good choice to direct? Again I have my doubts. He doesn’t do action well, and this is an action movie. The fight scenes are terrible, with the movement all too slow and stiff. The Batmobile appears to be crawling through the streets of Gotham and even the Bat Jet seems to fly in slow motion. The film was shot at Pinewood and is way too studio bound, which makes the sets seem less impressive. I don’t mean to pigeonhole Burton, but the effect is not unlike watching stop-motion animation some of the time. Batman here in his hard plastic suit isn’t far removed from his later Lego incarnations.
*. Burton himself said “I liked parts of it, but the whole movie is mainly boring to me. It’s okay, but it was more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie.” Apparently he also didn’t like how Prince’s songs were used. I agree on all counts. The two big musical moments just stop the film dead.
*. I do like Danny Elfman’s score, but note how the movie dies whenever it’s not playing. For a comic book movie Batman has a really slack pace.
*. All of the problems I’ve outlined would get much worse as this original run of Batman movies continued, but I think it’s still worth pointing out how they were all here at the inception. This isn’t a good movie. I didn’t think so at the time, and while I don’t think any less of it today it hasn’t grown in my estimation either. While so much of the comic book aesthetic of film was transformed by Marvel Studios and the use of CGI, making this film a real throwback visually, perhaps it’s the character of the Joker that changed the most in our own day. Ironically, while Nicholson is pretty much the only reason to watch this Batman, he’s also the most retro element in the mix.

Batman: The Movie (1966)

*. I have a lot of trouble separating this movie from the television series it was spun out of, and for good reason. Though it was originally thought of as a way to introduce the series (at least in foreign markets), the series actually launched first, making the movie a sort of glorified episode in-between the first and second season. Think of The X-Files: Fight the Future, which came out between that show’s fifth and sixth seasons. Again, not much of a movie but rather more like a long episode, showing off a bigger budget.
*. That’s really all this movie is. They had a bit more money so they could add a Batboat and Batcopter (which would go on to be featured in the series). There’s some impressive stunt work at the beginning. But aside from that it looks like just another television episode, albeit with an inflated villain count. Villain inflation, something that would really take hold with later Batman movies (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin) and the Marvel franchises, was already getting in gear.
*. As with other cases of villain inflation, having more bad guys just means leaving some of them with nothing to do. Basically this is a plot driven by The Penguin and Catwoman. I don’t see where The Joker or The Riddler have much to add to the criminal conspiracy at all.

*. This is too bad, since Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith hold their own very well when placed up against later versions of the characters they play. Frank Gorshin seems a bit underdeveloped here, perhaps because nothing about him is as good as the solving of his riddles. Still, I’d rather watch him than Jim Carrey doing the The Riddler any day.
*. As for Adam West, his Bruce Wayne/Batman stands alongside William Shatner’s Captain Kirk as an icon of camp emoting (Star Trek, curiously enough, also running for just three seasons exactly contemporary with Batman). It’s interesting that already Batman’s wooden stiffness could be played comically, almost fifty years before we’d be asked to take it straight.
*. Watching it again this latest time I have to say I didn’t find it as much fun as I remembered it. The one really good comic bit, with Batman trying to get rid of a bomb, has since been turned into a meme. I’d completely forgotten the criminal plot to turn world leaders into dust, probably because it’s easy to forget. The dehydration business is dragged out far too long, for too little payoff, and isn’t interesting in the first place. I really liked the opening credits though, which are creative and stylish in a way that works.
*. The problem with camp that tries to be camp is that it can start to seem laboured. I give credit to this movie for keeping things moving along and for being at least somewhat sui generis, but I don’t know if it rises to “theatre of the absurd” status (which is what West liked to call it). It’s far more “toyetic” than later movies in the canon, even when toyetic was what those movies were consciously aiming for. But it was good fun for kids back in the day, and I think it probably still is.

The Wild World of Batwoman (1966)

*. I’ve often thought of comic books as a kind of gateway drug to porn. Though not explicitly sexual they trigger budding hormones with depictions of women with exaggerated hourglass figures clad in impossibly painted-on costumes. Even in the earlierst superhero comics characters like Catwoman and Wonder Woman were basically pin-ups in action. Throw in some bondage and various forms of mind control and you’ve entered a pubescent fantasyland.
*. The Batman television series (1966-68) rolled with this, making Julie Newmar into a slinky fetish queen. The Wild World of Batwoman just takes this association of sex and superheroes and runs with it, giving us a Batwoman (Katherine Victor) with a full display of cleavage branded with a bat symbol that appears to have just been scribbled on with a marker. This Batwoman also has a bevy of batgirls who dress in party clothes and like to dance. Apparently most of them were strippers who found themselves out of work when the club they worked at was shut down by the police. An opportunistic casting director offered them work on the film.
*. Does this movie have anything to do with Batman? Not really. Enough so that DC comics sued for copyright violation, but they lost (though the movie was re-released as She Was a Hippy Vampire). Instead of a real comic-book movie it’s more just a beach movie where the girls have guns. The kind of thing Russ Meyer dabbled in and that Andy Sidaris made a career out of.
*. There is, however, some resemblance to the Batman TV show in the cultivation of a spirit of goofiness. One of the bad guys, Professor Octavius Neon, has developed a happy pill that makes people start to dance. Neon’s boss, the masked villain Rat Fink, wants to steal an experimental hearing aid powered by plutonium that will allow him to eavesdrop on any conversation in the world. The National Security Agency before its time.
*. Unfortunately, it’s such a cheap production it doesn’t quite rise to the level of true camp. Instead it mostly feels like a cash grab. Writer-director Jerry Warren took no great pride in his work: “I’d shoot one day on this stuff and throw it together. . . . I was in the business to make money. I never, ever tried in any way to compete, or to make something worthwhile. I only did enough to get by, so they would buy it, so it would play, and so I’d get a few dollars. It’s not very fair to the public, I guess, but that was my attitude.”
*. One aspect of this dedication to the bottom line (or biggest return for the least amount of effort) was Warren’s penchant for lifting material from other movies and just pasting it into his own. He would even sometimes make hybrid adaptations of other films that he introduced some new material into and redubbed (not an uncommon practice, executed perhaps most notably in Godzilla, King of the Monsters!). In this movie there are a few movies sampled, including The Mole People. To say The Mole People is awkwardly introduced would be an understatement. I’m still not sure what the point of the underground-city stuff was.
*. On the plus side, it’s short and has a few silly parts — the lethargic cage dancer, Batwoman’s DIY costume — of the type that would provide fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000. Mostly, however, it just astonishes at how very bad it is. More fun than it probably should be, and good-natured, but still trash.

The Mule (2018)

*. I think The Mule is a slightly stranger movie than was first appreciated. Yes, it’s a slow-paced swan song from a very old star (which was actually becoming a familiar subgenre at this time). It’s a movie about a driver for a drug cartel, but without any car chases. Or, for that matter, anyone driving above the speed limit. Earl Stone has never even had a ticket, despite never wearing a seatbelt. People of his generation didn’t wear seatbelts. Did you ever see anyone in Smokey and the Bandit wearing a seatbelt? No you did not.
*. In addition, despite being a movie about violent gangsters I think we only see one person being shot, and even that’s done out of frame. This isn’t Scarface. There’s always the threat of violence, but that’s something different. Real violence explodes without a warning. Threats of violence don’t impress Earl, who is a vet, very much.
*. But while all this is different, I don’t think it’s what makes The Mule strange. Nor is there anything untoward about the story itself: the old man who breaks bad in order to better provide for his family. In doing so he manages to reconnect with his wife, daughter, and granddaugter and at least to some degree make amends. It’s a feel-good message and we’re left thinking that perhaps crime really does pay. Hell, of course it does, and if you’re a good man you can use the money to help others. And if you’re really lucky you may even have the story of your life sympathetically adapated for the big screen, in a film starring Clint Eastwood.

*. Sure Earl runs out of time at the end, but that’s going to happen to all of us. The inevitability and indeed imminence of death is something Earl reacts to with the same look of insult whether it be in the form of his wife dying of cancer or a burly gangster pointing a gun at his head. We may even feel there’s a certain immaturity in Earl’s attitude toward death, with his horticultural pursuits being a sort of escape from human mortality. At one point he seems to recognize as much, but this is only glanced at.
*. So its message and pacing are not all that surprising. Nor is the political point about how Earl’s success is at least partially grounded in his invisibility to police profiling. Old white guys aren’t a criminal type, which is something that plays to Earl’s advantage. Even Bradley Cooper refers to Earl as one of “you guys,” meaning “you old people,” which is a politically incorrect faux pas he has to backtrack from but which reveals a lot. Of course Earl himself is genially incorrect in his own way of addressing people, but he has no bad intentions and that seems to count for something.
*. Instead, what strikes me as strange here is how basically reasonable and decent the gangsters are. It’s significant that when Earl suggests to Julio that he give up the gangster life, Julio responds that they are his family. Earl argues that they don’t really care about Julio, but he’s wrong. In fact, for all their brutality the cartel are a sort of family, and show themselves to be considerate and understanding to Earl. They even show real sympathy for him after his wife dies. Sure they rough him up, but this is a business and Earl has been endangering all of them by going off on his own. Meanwhile, don’t expect any scenes hinting at the personal or social damage caused by the drug business. This isn’t Traffic, which should be a good thing but instead made me feel like something was being airbrushed.
*. I don’t know how much of this was intentional and how much was part of Eastwood just wanting to soften the tone of the proceedings. Whatever the reason, The Mule is a very mellow trip. This makes it comfortable enough, but I don’t see where it leaves it with much to say. What’s interesting about it is downplayed so that the more conventional elements can be indulged. I guess after all this time Eastwood figured he knew what audiences wanted, and on that count I’m not going to say he was wrong.

Downfall (2004)

*. Because it’s a foreign language film and also because of when it came out Downfall is most widely known today as the source for countless parodies of the scene where Hitler flies into a rage at his officers, the subtitles changed to make it seem like he’s complaining about any one of the many absurdities of modern life. These “Hitler rants” are the film’s greatest legacy. It’s funny how these things work out.
*. But then meltdowns, getting to watch someone else totally lose their shit, are funny. I don’t think the subtitles needed to be changed for Hitler’s rant to make us laugh. There’s something all too human about someone coming totally undone.
*. This was, in turn, part of director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “new approach” to the material. There had already been several films dealing with the last days of Hitler (Alec Guiness and Anthony Hopkins had both played the Fuhrer), but Hirschbiegel wanted to present the monkeys in the monkey house (to use Hugh Trevor-Roper’s image) not as caricatures or monsters but as human beings. So Hitler has meltdowns. He has tremors from Parkinson’s. And he even at one point cries.
*. Plus he’s played by Bruno Ganz, whose face has all the droopy, pathetic sadness of a Basset Hound. You can’t help feel sorry for his Hitler, at least until he starts talking. Then you realize that he doesn’t care about anything but himself.
*. I don’t mind such an approach, as I think it was a responsible decision. Evil Nazis have become such a stock type on screen I don’t find them interesting at all. I prefer historical dramas that let me think about these things for myself, supplemented by my own readings on the subject.

*. A film like Downfall pins a lot on its historical accuracy. It’s based most directly on Joachim Fest’s Inside Hitler’s Bunker (whose original German title was Der Untergang, which is the same as the German title of this film). It also draws on (while taking liberties with) various memoirs of some of the players, including those of Traudl Junge (the secretary), Ernst-Günther Schenck (the doctor), and Albert Speer. We can thus expect a bit more accuracy than in other versions of the story, while at the same time being on our guard. Is it any surprise that Junge, Schenck, and Speer are three of the most sympathetic figures we see? They are the ones telling the story.
*. Overall, however, it seems to me a fairly accurate portrayal. Some details that might have been interesting were left out, like Hitler’s addiction to chocolate and cake. There are also moments I didn’t buy. Eva Braun as the life of the party, even getting up on a table to dance? I have a hard time believing that happened. I also dug in my heels a bit over the generally positive view taken of Wilhelm Mohnke. I think he was a zealot as bad as the worst of this bunch.
*. It’s not that Hirschbiegel wasn’t well aware of the darker side of even the “noble Nazis” (the flip side of the evil Nazi stereotype). As he points out on his commentary, Speer was an utterly compromised figure and Mohnke had that business with killing POWs in his past. But every story needs some kind of hero, and the moral gloom of the surroundings makes any relative light seem to shine a bit brighter.

*. The bunker itself is nicely realized as a physical space, with the camera tracking along its bare hallways in a way that evokes the trenches in Paths of Glory and the sub in Das Boot. The gradual unraveling is also well done, with the uniforms becoming more ragged, the men not shaving, and everyone starting to drink and smoke a lot more (the rules against smoking in the bunker being flagrantly ignored).
*. It’s a commonplace of post-War historiography that the primary meaning of the Second World War has become the Holocaust. Still, it comes as some surprise when reference to this gets introduced into the film at the very end. I don’t think many of the people in the bunker during the final days were thinking of the fate of the Jews. One feels as though there is some shoehorning going on, and it wasn’t necessary given this wasn’t a movie about the Holocaust at all.
*. The horror of the regime is conveyed effectively enough in the terrible scene where the Goebbels children are killed by their parents. Ulrich Matthes as Joseph Goebbels is the closest the film allows itself to come to caricature, looking like a pale goblin who is already half dead. Which I suppose in an almost literal sense he was. Still, that’s a shocking scene and I think tells us all we need to know about the morality of the regime. This is what a real dead end looks like, and what it feels like too.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

*. I’m sure I should hate this movie. I’ve railed enough times against the CGI revolution that in the twenty-first century has brought us a seemingly endless stream of video game/comic book/superhero fantasies (though I won’t say inexhaustible, since I think the genre was quickly exhausted). And since Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is clearly a CGI blockbuster video game/comic book/superhero fantasy that means it’s the Enemy.
*. I’ve also remarked on how the career of Luc Besson has just kept sinking after Nikita. In large part, but not entirely, because he fell in love with that same video game/comic book/superhero genre of filmmaking.
*. But I didn’t hate Valerian. To be sure, I didn’t think it was a great movie, but I was surprised at how little I disliked it. Even the leads, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, sort of grew on me once I got over just how strange they both look and how alien their delivery is. Is DeHaan trying to sound like Keanu Reeves, or is that just the way he talks?
*. And, also to be sure, there is much to dislike. It’s far too long, with an episodic plot that just slams from one far-fetched action scene to the next with little attempt at connection. There are whole effects sequences that have no purpose whatsoever other than to assault our eyes (for example Valerian’s short-cut through Alpha to intercept the kidnappers). The main aliens seem to have immigrated straight from Avatar, and their back story is weirdly analogized to the Holocaust (six million of their people die in what is described as a genocide but which appears to have been collateral damage).
*. Still, I didn’t find myself bored and some of the critters, when they weren’t trying too hard to be cute, were interesting. It was also a labour of love for Besson, who independently crowd-sourced and personally funded its $180 million budget, which made it not only the most expensive non-American and indepedent film ever made but testifies to just how great a labour of love it was. It would be weird if that kind of passion for the material, no matter how conventional it seems, didn’t show up on screen.
*. So, no hate from me. Yes it’s just a giant light show with plastic characters and no plot to speak of, but . . . I didn’t hate it. I really didn’t.

The Conspiracy (2012)

*. A couple of guys working on a documentary about conspiracy theories find themselves sucked into the granddaddy of all conspiracies, which turns out to be real.
*. That’s the premise, and while not head-spinning it’s a good enough place to start. The problem with The Conspiracy is that the premise is pretty much all there is.
*. Here’s something by way of praise from Dylan Scott: “There isn’t much more here than a killer premise and a memorably creepy finale, but that is one beauty of the found-footage genre: These movies often don’t need much more than that to be successful.”
*. I don’t think I agree, at least completely. I think for a film this formulaic you really do need something more. And I didn’t think there was anything that memorable or creepy about the finale. How many people didn’t know exactly where this was going through every step of its three-act plot? I don’t think for a moment that I’m the most perceptive or knowing moviegoer, but how could you not know that the boys were going to try and crash the Tarsus party, and what was going to happen there? And the way things played out at the ceremony was so obvious it was hard not to feel five minutes ahead of the action. I think that might have been a good thing, giving the proceedings a sense of doom and inevitability, but not to this extent. It’s all fairly predictable.
*. On the other hand, while saying that I don’t think I’m all that perceptive I’ve read a number of reviews of The Conspiracy online that seem to have missed or misunderstood what was going on completely. I sure wasn’t surprised by the sacrifice at the end, but I can understand why Christopher MacBride was upset at the use of the mirror image in the publicity material giving that part away.
*. The Conspiracy isn’t a bad movie. In fact, I liked it quite a bit. I was prepared to go along with its ridiculous premise, and even thought they got away with a real gamble in shooting the final act of the movie with a spyhole camera effect. The blurred faces at the retreat are kind of spooky. The idea of the new (or old) masters of the universe being a Mithraic cult was cute. And there is one twist at the end that actually does a good job of explaining the framing narrative. But . . .
*. Writer-director MacBride mentions how caught up he got doing research for this film, staying up all night watching conspiracy theory movies. I think he meant documentary-style movies which represent the conspiracy theory phenomenon (things like Loose Change or Dark Secrets Inside Bohemian Grove); I don’t think he meant dramatic movies like Conspiracy Theory or the classics of ’70s paranoia like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor.
*. I thought this movie, and in particular its script, needed further development along those lines. Something more interesting going on in the plot or some step forward in the usual found-footage template. Is it supposed to make a difference that these aren’t just a crew of young filmmakers but a crew of young documentary filmmakers? Because it doesn’t.
*. I guess in the end I found The Conspiracy more frustrating than anything else. It’s smart enough that it left me wanting more. The conspiracies mentioned cover all the usual touchstones without suggesting any explanation or connection between them. They’re just stage dressing. What did Tarsus have to do with the JFK assassination or 9/11? If they were involved in these, why? How does the running around in the woods offering sacrifices relate to the founding of a new world order? What is “the” conspiracy?
*. Given the first-person narrative I suppose it’s fair enough that there’s no further explanation. Aaron and Jim never put it all together so why should we? But without something more this is all too much familiar ground. It’s a fine movie for what it does, but I thought an opportunity was missed to do something a little different. If all of these conspiracies are the same in the end, then if you’ve seen one conspiracy you’ve seen them all.

Conspiracy Theory (1997)

*. I think I first saw Conspiracy Theory as an in-flight movie around the time it came out. I can’t be entirely sure of this, because if I had seen it then I’d almost completely forgotten it by the time of this re-watch.
*. Completely forgetting Conspiracy Theory is a possibility because the plot itself is so uninteresting. This is a bit surprising given that it has all kinds of potential. But at the end of the day it’s a movie that really doesn’t have much to say, and which only uses its premise (the paranoid kook who is on to something) as a hook to hang a simple action-flick storyline from. I mean, we don’t even know what sort of organization Jonas is working for, who is behind it, or what it does. Jerry tells his handlers at the end that he’ll tell them all about it but then the credits roll.
*. I think this is what’s behind the majority of mainstream critical reviews being disappointed that it wasn’t something more. They saw the potential being frittered away in a conventional and unbelievable star vehicle that drags on for far too long.
*. The direction of Richard Donner and the appearance of Stephen Kahan as Alice’s boss at the Justice Department are enough to make you think this is going to be another Lethal Weapon movie, with Riggs trading in Danny Glover for Julia Roberts. Not to mention Mel Gibson once again being roughed up. Has any actor been tortured as often on screen?
*. But this isn’t a Lethal Weapon movie. For one thing, there aren’t any memorable/special/good action scenes. Indeed there’s not so much as a car chase. No problem-solving either. Alice is directed to where Jerry is being held at the end by a big picture of the building stuck to the collage on his apartment wall with a giant arrow pointing to it. Then when she gets in the building she hears his voice singing through an air vent. Yes, it’s that feeble. This is just going through the motions.
*. There’s also no humour, though I don’t think that was for lack of trying. It’s just that Jerry and Alice have no chemistry. Mel and Julia work hard, but they feel miscast and can’t sell the romance, which struck me as being more stupid than sweet. Really, Jerry comes across as a very disturbed individual and not at all charming.
*. I think it could have been funny, and indeed plays at times as though it wants to turn into a rom-com (something that I find the score also encourages). But Gibson’s manic antics seem out of place here and the comedy is as absent as the action. There is no attempt at satire and the only chuckles I got were from the absurdities in the plot. The legendary black helicopters dropping agents down in crowded city streets? The Organization (whoever they are) keeping Jerry tied up in the abandoned wing of a mental hospital? Didn’t they have a safe house or someplace else to keep him? He needed the entire wing of that enormous building all to himself?
*. I tried to write these notes down as soon after watching Conspiracy Theory as I could because I could already feel myself starting to forget what I’d just seen. By the time I get around to posting this it will all have disappeared again I’m sure.

The Dark Corner (1946)

*. I’ll lead off with some thoughts on the cast.
*. Lucille Ball receives top billing. Before she was “Lucy,” after which audiences wouldn’t be able to imagine her in a role like this. According to the DVD commentary by Alain Silver and James Ursini she “hated the movie and hated being in it.” She was a professional though and I don’t get any sense of that distaste on screen.
*. Clifton Webb just a couple of years after Laura, and playing the exact same role of Waldo Lydecker. Except here he goes by the name of Hardy Cathcart. Another snobbish and jealous connoisseur with a penchant for collecting beautiful young women, but without as many good lines (the only memorable one here being “How I detest the dawn. The grass always looks like it’s been left out all night.”). And Hitchcock had wanted him to play another similar part, Alexander Sebastian in Notorious (also 1946). The typecast was in.
*. Mark Stevens. My initial notes just say “lightweight.” According to Silver and Ursini he was trying to ditch his pretty-boy reputation and change his image into that of a tough guy. It doesn’t work, but to be fair it’s not all his fault. Bradford Galt isn’t a tough guy. Or, as the commentators put it, “the toughness is very thin in this character, very thin.” Despite being a private dick with a criminal record and a bottle of booze in the top drawer of his desk he doesn’t scare anyone. Even William Bendix (an actor at this time probably best known for comedy radio work), playing a professional heavy, has to pretend to be soft with him. But when Galt smears him with ink it seems less tough than bitchy.

*. What mainly undercuts Galt’s toughness is the way he falls apart, so that his secretary (Ball) has to carry him over the finish line. He is totally dominated by a woman who embodies the new independence of the postwar American female. She is the one who plays baseball at the fair while he watches. She also watches girly shows with him at the peep-show machines. And at the end she proposes to him, while allowing him to save a bit of face.
*. This is not entirely new. The sad sack loser is as much a traditional noir hero as the hard-bitten tough guy. In fact most noir heroes are weak in some important way. But here it reflects a broader failing of American masculinity. Isn’t Cathcart a wimp, hiring out the dirty work: first using Galt to get rid of Jardine and then Stauffer to get rid of Galt, before finally dispatching Stauffer in a sneaky way. And doesn’t Mari handle Cathcart in the end? It’s the women who get things done.
*. It’s a smart movie, full of artfully-arranged mirrors and shadows, and clues being dropped that will be picked up later. The ink on the jacket, the key chain, the girl with the pennywhistle. And I like the way Kathleen and Brad (to get them in the right order) put things together at the end. It’s far-fetched, but not outside the realm of all possibility.
*. That said, I also find it a bit dull. I don’t think many people rank this among their favourite noirs. Almost everything in it feels second-rate. But that’s still pretty good, and not even much of a criticism for an avowedly B genre.

Jason X (2001)

*. Jason X is the last of the original run of Friday the 13th films, before Jason was (finally, after being stuck in development as opposed to literal hell) sent off to battle Freddy. There was also an attempted reboot in 2009, but the less said about that the better.
*. The producers wanted to do something a bit different (or “crazy, fun, and different” in the words of director Jim Isaac). What they ended up with was a movie that fans either love or hate. Jason in space? This is where horror franchises went to die.
*. It was made under the influence of the success of Scream, but actually doesn’t go down that road very far. There’s a clever bit where Jason is stuck in a holographic simulator of one of his earlier movies that would have been perfect if they’d been able to get Betsy Palmer to reprise her role. Alas, what might have been.
*. Well, there is a spirit of fun at work that I enjoyed. And things get off to a good start with a cameo by David Cronenberg (who had been a mentor to Isaac), some nifty away-team costumes, and one of the best kills in the entire series right after Jason is awakened from his frozen sleep. A doctor has her head frozen in liquid nitrogen and then shattered. This was such a memorable moment that it even featured in an episode of the show Mythbusters, where it was determined that the five seconds her head was submerged was not long enough. Or, as the show’s narrative put it: “a five-second freeze was too brief to turn those soft cheeks to shrapnel.”
*. After that, however, I felt things ran out of steam. There didn’t seem to be any idea of what to do with Jason in space except to redo the Aliens story. So there’s a corporate tool who wants to keep Jason alive for profit, a team of grunts who soon find out they’re in over their heads, a heroic android who gets to go full Milla Jovovich at the end, and a tough-as-nails final girl who had bested Jason in the prologue and is brought back to life with him. I mean, could they have borrowed anything more from Aliens? There wasn’t much in the way of imagination here.
*. Even the stuff I liked at the beginning goes downhill. The costumes everyone wears on board the ship are ridiculous and except for one guy being cut in two the kills are never as impressive as the frozen-head gag. A lot of heads get cut off, but that’s nothing new. And even the sleeping bag slaughter had been done before.
*. I guess I liked the Uber Jason (as he is credited) well enough, though he’s basically the Terminator or Predator warmed over. And given how formulaic a franchise this was I probably shouldn’t knock this entry for being derivative of other films not part of the same series. Overall it doesn’t move as well as I would have liked and I found the final act dull but I appreciate the effort they made to go in a different direction. They didn’t come up with much, but let’s face it: the well by this point was good and dry.