Author Archives: Alex Good

The Hunt (2020)

*. The idea that art can genuinely outrage people anymore is pretty much dead. Outrage itself has been co-opted and turned into marketing, a way of drawing eyeballs online or getting out the vote. This is a kind of bastard outrage or manufactured controversy, and I suppose it’s not surprising that it gained traction with The Hunt, which I found to be a rather innocuous bit of satire that was turned into a political football for reasons that I don’t think had a lot to do with its message. But Trump tweeted about it and that led to outrage and its release date got pushed back and then, by the time it came out (billing itself as “the most talked about movie of the year”), the world was going into lockdown and people had other things to worry about.
*. The basic concept is an old one, going back to The Most Dangerous Game and leading up to such modern instances as Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. A bunch of wealthy elites kidnap a dozen “deplorables” and drop them into a natural setting, where they proceed to hunt them as animals. Those labels (“elites” and “deplorables”) indicate the nature of the political satire. It’s red states against blue in a game of last man (or woman) standing. But do we really know what side everyone is on?

*. Though more than just shading red, our hero Crystal (codename Snowball) is ultimately revealed as not being solidly one side or the other, which reinforces the idea of not relying on first impressions while making her an ideal surrogate for the audience. But what does the invocation of Animal Farm mean? Is it all just a set-up for the punchline that Crystal has actually read it? I don’t see the connection. It’s suggested on the “making of” featurette that the end was supposed to show that Crystal was like one of the new class of pigs, dressing up and enjoying champagne and caviar on her private jet. But she’s clearly not an inheritor, like Beth at the end of Hostel: Part II (the Hostel movies being an obvious source here, especially with the Eastern European setting). And yet despite the lack of any connection, at least that I can see, Orwell keeps coming up throughout the film. Even the point of the pig in the box had me scratching my head.
*. Much of the satire was more obvious. And indeed one of the critiques leveled at The Hunt was that it was overly broad. To which I would like to respond “Compared to what?” I thought it worked well, mocking the different blue and red styles of speech to the point where they really do seem to be talking different languages. And I like how the confrontation at the end is presented as a showdown between two different truths, with the idea that the truth of the Manor had been constructed out of a false belief in it. “You wanted it to be true, so you decided it was.” That’s not a new thought, but it’s an important one in context, stretching from Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer to the followers of QAnon.

*. All of which is to say that I really enjoyed The Hunt. Betty Gilpin, who I’d seen in The Grudge but who hadn’t registered with me there, is terrific as Crystal. The script hits a nice balance between action and comedy, and the action proceeds by way of various misdirections at a sprightly pace. I thought the whole introductory act, where characters who we grab on to like flotsam keep going under the blood-red tide, was great. And even though I knew where things were heading there were a lot of change-ups along the way that kept me guessing.
*. To use the word “progressive” with regard to a movie like this seems out of place, but bear with me. Action movies have tried more and more to present women as “just as tough as men,” to the point where every actress now has to have a repertoire of MMA moves they can unleash at a moment’s notice. This is seen in most circles as being progress, and in one sense it is. On the other hand, watching two women beat each other into bloody pulps, however much it fits with the story, seems off to me. I’m sure there’s a place for catfights, but I kept thinking “Have you come a long way just to get to this, baby?”
*. The fight is a good one though, mixing action well with humour. They also threw in some nice touches like the skin on Crystal’s forearm getting pinched in the break of the shotgun. That’s the kind of wit The Hunt has a lot of, and it’s why I liked it. I don’t think it’s a classic, and its politics are no more controversial than the monologue on any late-night talk show from the same time, but it’s a solid entertainment that does a good job addressing the current American dilemma.

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

*. I think it would have been hard, in 2016, to find a genre more thoroughly exhausted, both as popular entertainment and as metaphor, than the zombie film. That The Girl with All the Gifts doesn’t reinvent anything but still manages to be a zombie film with enough that’s new to hold one’s attention throughout is no small accomplishment.
*. A note on funding, given that we are talking about a zombie movie. Half of the film’s modest £4 million budget came from the partnership of the BFI Film Fund and Creative England, which made it a huge investment for both bodies. These are basically sources of public funding (though Creative England is both publicly and privately funded), and one may question their involvement.
*. It’s argued by some that government funding of the arts (not just film but publishing, theatre, dance, etc.) should go toward projects that can’t be expected to make money because they are more experimental or just non-commercial. Others find this wrongheaded, saying that work that cannot find an audience shouldn’t be supported by public money. I can see where this latter argument is coming from, but on the other hand I wonder how much government support needs to or should be directed toward producing what are purely commercial ventures. I mean, if you can’t get private funding for a zombie flick either you haven’t knocked on enough doors or there’s something about the project that’s not right.
*. That said, I’m glad that someone came through with the money to make The Girl with All the Gifts as it’s really very good. As with most such successful genre pieces it takes the basic formula and gives it just a bit of a tweak to make it somewhat new. The main tweak here is that the zombie apocalypse is brought on by a variation of the cordyceps fungus that, watchers of BBC nature docs will know, turns ants into “zombies.” David Attenborough was my source for knowledge of this fungus, and the filmmakers credit the same inspiration. Gamers, however, were quick to point out that it’s also used in the video game The Last of Us (2013), so it wasn’t entirely new even in the zombie genre. Still, it’s something I hadn’t seen on screen before, and the mannequin zombies waiting to be triggered felt new to me.
*. The cities returning to nature in the video game also seem to have been drawn on in the creation of the urban locations here, though the look wasn’t entirely new (director Colm McCarthy said he was borrowing from Gareth Edwards’s Monsters). In any event, the production design look terrific. Art departments have really got “ruin porn” (the label used by McCarthy) down pat. Some shots were actually taken by a drone unit sent to Pripyat in Ukraine, a city deserted since the Chernobyl disaster. Apparently it mixed in really well with stuff shot in the English Midlands, including a hospital that had been left deserted for over ten years. I’m thinking there may be a deeper social-political message in that.

*. I also wonder if there was any political message in the idea of having the girl Melanie (Sennia Nanua) be Black. In the book she’s apparently blonde and blue-eyed and it’s Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) who is Black. The political point being that Melanie represents a possible new race of inheritors who will “replace” the last of us. If that is the political point, I’m not sure it’s very progressive. It seems more like they stepped into a mess, sort of like the way the anti-vaccine movement would be accidentally valorized in The Invasion.
*. The zombie basics stay the same, even if they don’t make much sense. The infected are Hungries who only eat human flesh. Why? Not sure. I’m also not sure why it’s only shots to the head that bring them down. Given the high-powered assault rifles the soldiers are armed with, they should be killing the Hungries easily with body shots, but that only seems to slow them down momentarily.
*. The British army doesn’t give a very good account of itself, does it? The base gets overrun and wiped out pretty easily. The gang in The Walking Dead did better defending their prison keep. And what was the army’s bug-out plan? Did they even have one?
*. I’m sure I’m missing something, but I can’t understand the title. Yes, the myth of Pandora is introduced, rather crudely I thought, early on. So we’re meant to read Melanie as Pandora. I get that. But what’s the connection? In what sense is she Pandora? What gifts does she bring humankind? The release of more fungus spores? I can’t think of any gift she’s responsible for, much less “all” of them. How does she represent a punishment sent from the gods? What is her box? What does the connection between Melanie and Pandora mean?
*. The script isn’t great. Meaning that when the action slows down and people start to talk, usually just to introduce some necessary exposition, things stop dead. But the cast works really well. Glenn Close is the cold villainess of a certain age that she seems to be a natural for (the next year she’d play a similar role in Seven Sisters). Gemma Arterton is down-to-earth and relatable. Paddy Considine didn’t strike me as much of a soldier, but then I think he was just a bloke from the reserves. Sennia Nanua is great, but perhaps too likeable, too cute. I couldn’t follow her quick swings from resourceful little kid to stone cold killer and back again.
*. But you can still put me down as satisfied. Looking over some of my notes on the genre, this is probably my favorite zombie movie of the past ten years. The genre has definitely been stuck in a long slide since we hit peak zombie, which I previously reckoned as 2007. The 2010s were awful, giving us such low-grade, high-budget, parodic stuff as World War Z, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Dead Don’t Die, and Zombieland: Double Tap. I don’t think The Girl with All the Gifts reinvents the zombie film or does anything to revive the genre, but it does stand out as being one of the few solid entries from the past decade. Thanks England!

Flightplan (2005)

*. Bunny Lake Is Missing . . . on an airplane. Which is one way, and a rather bold one at that, of doubling down on what was a highly improbable premise in the first place. Remarkably, Flightplan is not as crazy as Otto Preminger’s laughable 1965 film, which took Evelyn Piper’s story and made a joke of it. Far-fetched, yes. But it’s not bonkers.
*. This leads me to comment, again, on one of the more mystifying habits of filmmakers on their DVD commentaries. What I’m referring to is the way they sidestep attribution of what are clear influences and precursors. I’ve mentioned this before in my notes on Don’t Breathe and Villains (both updates of Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs), and Quarantine (an English-language remake of Rec). Well, you can see where I’m going with this. Director Robert Schwentke doesn’t mention Bunny Lake Is Missing once during his commentary.
*. He does mention Hitchcock’s name, in passing, but more by way of denying any significant influence. He also doesn’t cite any of Hitch’s movies by name, like The Lady Vanishes (from which they took not only a lot of the plot but the window-writing clue) or Lifeboat (for its single set, albeit supersized here). I don’t know why you wouldn’t acknowledge such obvious influences. Though to be fair, most contemporary reviews avoided them as well.
*. But I guess none of that matters. Flightplan, like any movie, has to make its own way, and it stands or falls on its merits. Critics didn’t care for it, mainly because of the absurdity of the plot, which really is a doozy. But most reviewers singled out Jodie Foster for praise, which I think is well deserved. It’s a complex part, difficult to bring off, and she delivers. Jodie Foster with her game face on is one of the peak experiences in film, and she’s got it on here. This is especially important given that her supporting players are weirdly subdued. Peter Sarsgaard in particular seems ready to fall asleep half the time.
*. The critics were too hard on Flightplan. As a suspense thriller I think it does well enough. It’s not always gripping, the plot really is silly, the reveal of the villains is underplayed, and the Goose Bay coda should have just been skipped. (Schwentke hadn’t thought it necessary but test screenings changed his mind; I think he should have stuck with his gut.) Still, I found this to be an enjoyable sort of B-picture, with everything around Foster adequately turned out. I think the main thing it lacks is a lighter touch. I don’t mean less serious, but more aware of the story’s roots in the trash of the last days of pulp.

Bunny Lake Is Missing (1965)

*. I read the novel Bunny Lake Is Missing (by Merriam Modell, under the pen name Evelyn Piper) before I saw this movie. That might not have been a good move. I liked the book and the movie only borrows the initial premise from it before going its own way entirely. And when I say it goes its own way I mean it goes crazy.
*. Apparently director Otto Preminger liked the book but wanted a different ending because he thought Pyper’s lacked credibility. Really. This is one of those weird things I hear reported but can’t get my head around. Preminger thought the novel’s ending lacked credibility so he ordered up one that would have made Jimmy Sangster blush to take credit for? I mean the ending of the book is convoluted, but it’s nothing like the madness that screenwriters John and Penelope Mortimer came up with. And that’s John Mortimer of Rumpole fame, by the way. Apparently Dalton Trumbo and Ira Levin both wrote earlier drafts but Preminger didn’t like them either. I’d be curious to see what they looked like.
*. I guess before I go any further I should insert a spoiler alert. Basically this is a gaslighting story, where Ann Lake (Carol Lynley) drops her little girl (nicknamed Bunny) off at daycare and when Bunny goes missing there’s no evidence she (Bunny) ever existed in the first place. People begin to question the mother’s sanity. As a footnote, the same plot was tricked out again for the 2005 Jodie Foster vehicle Flightplan, about which more on another day.

*. New to the movie is the character of Ann’s brother Steven (Keir Dullea). Instead of a fairly simple kidnapping plot Steven has abducted Bunny because . . . well, because he’s a lunatic and he’s jealous of Bunny getting all of Ann’s affections so he wants to kill her (Bunny, that is). Somehow Ann has remained oblivious to the fact that her brother is such a nut job, despite the fact that the two are very close. Meanwhile, a police inspector (Laurence Olivier) is looking into things and a creepy landlord (Noël Coward!) is putting the moves on Ann, all of this going on as The Zombies play Top of the Pops in the background.

*. Full credit to Olivier and Coward for recognizing the kind of nonsense this was and riding with it. Olivier is low key, which perfectly suits all the silliness going on around him. It’s the kind of part he could play in his sleep, and he looks as though he decided that would be for the best. Coward takes the opposite approach, hamming his part up to the hilt. Both fit in and are wonderful in their roles.

*. Lynley is just adequate as Ann, though given the circumstances that was itself an accomplishment. Dullea is pretty awful. Kubrick would cast him in 2001 based on this movie and I’m wondering what he saw in him here. Someone who could be robotic? The story has it that Coward walked up to him one day and whispered in his ear “Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow.” Bitchy, and probably a safe bet at the time, but Kubrick saved him from oblivion (if not Black Christmas). In any event, Steven’s meltdown isn’t very convincing. But then, who could have pulled that off?
*. Oh, England. Were you still using oil lamps in the 1960s? My mother collected oil lamps and they were already antiques when she was a kid. Didn’t they have flashlights, or “torches” as they like to say? And what’s this junket stuff? I find from online sources that “junket is a milk-based dessert, made with sweetened milk and rennet, the digestive enzyme that curdles milk. Some older cookery books call the dish curds and whey.” Is this supposed to be a treat? Do people still eat it? Olivier’s Inspector Newhouse thinks it’s yummy. Is it like custard? I want to give it a try but I don’t know where you get it or if it sells here under some other name.
*. According to Dullea, Preminger was no fun to work with. But at least the movie looks nice. The scene of Ann investigating the doll museum is beautiful, as is her escape from the asylum. But these are scenes without any dialogue. They’re meant to be looked at.

*. But it’s not a good movie. Watching Bunny Lake Is Missing is like staring into a room filled with interesting works of art but the lights are all turned off. You keep trying to see something you know must be in there but you can’t make it out. Today it’s a movie with a bit of a cult following, largely due to its credits (I mean the talent, but the credits themselves are arrestingly presented, as always, by Saul Bass) and the general sense of weirdness it has about it. But it really is a tricked-out production running on a Hammer chassis, without any dramatic coherence and an ending so stupid it fails on every level. Maybe the kind of thing everyone should sit through once, just to be aware that it exists. I can’t see any reason for going back to it though.

My Own Private Idaho (1991)

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*. Leslie Halliwell (d. 1989): “When Sam Peckinpah made Straw Dogs from a novel called The Siege of Trencher’s Farm he thought it unnecessary to explain to his audience the significance of his new title which, his publicists informed us on request, was taken from an old Chinese proverb. And when Stanley Kubrick made A Clockwork Orange he did not bother to retain the section of the Anthony Burgess novel which explained why it was so called. These almost identical incidents exemplify the kind of arrogance which besets film-makers in the seventies.”
*. And the nineties? I mentioned Halliwell’s observation in my notes on Straw Dogs, but it has an obvious application here too. The title of this film comes from the song “Private Idaho” by a New Wave dance band called The B-52s. You never hear it played in the movie. Even if it had been sampled the results would have had about as much relevance as a Chinese proverb. The lyrics are mostly nonsensical, though you could interpret them as perhaps addressing narcissism and materialism in an indirect way. There’s a lot made of a swimming pool, but there is no swimming pool in Gus Van Sant’s movie.
*. The title then is left up for grabs. Mike is from Idaho. For him it is the site of a strongly dysfunctional origin myth, as well as a state of mind that he never breaks free of. I don’t think we can be any more specific.
*. This may sound like I’m being dismissive, but that’s not how I feel about My Own Private Idaho. I think it’s a decent movie, though one that’s hamstrung by a disjointed script (a yoking together of two ideas Van Sant had been working on for nearly twenty years) and by the presence of Keanu Reeves.
*. It’s not enough to say, as many do, that Reeves “actually isn’t too bad in this movie.” He is very bad. As always.
*. As for the script, the two storylines — Mike and Scott, and Scott and Bob — never come together. The latter is a modernization of Shakespeare’s Henriad (Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and Henry V), but the update is taken both too far and not far enough. That is, Van Sant leans on it too much but for no real purpose or effect. The Gad’s Hill robbery, for example, becomes a silly theatrical set piece without making any kind of point. And while William Richert is very good as Bob/Falstaff, there had to be more of him to make his rejection and death more meaningful, or just help make us understand why he’s behaving the way he does.
*. Richard Schickel found the Shakespeare “a desperate imposition on an essentially inert film,” and I wouldn’t disagree with the first part. “Imposition” suggests the sense we have of something being forced onto the material, not arising naturally from it. A less direct pattern of allusion would have worked better.
*. This leads to an overall sense of awkwardness. The people we meet always seem to be performing (the john who dances while Mike cleans, Udo Keir’s Blue Velvet-style floor show, Mike’s brother/father with his “corny,” and phoney, family history lesson, and of course Bob who seems like he’s always walking the boards). No one naturally inhabits their role. Even the slumming Scott never gives the impression that he’s having a good time.
*. The effect is to leave River Phoenix out on a kind of island. He’s the only one at home in his part, and delivers a terrific performance, especially given that the role was originally imagined as something less. He took what little was there and made it bigger. The campfire scene, for example, was apparently his own invention. I think he’s utterly believable as a hustler going nowhere, someone attractive enough to catch the eye of predatory older men but without the charm or intelligence to make any real friends. It’s hard to have a character like that be something other than empty and pathetic, but Phoenix does it.
*. Aside from Phoenix, I don’t care for the movie much. As I say, it’s awkward. The script is both clumsy and obvious, and most of the cast seem uncomfortable. But perhaps polish in such a film would seem out of place.
*. The ending is left ambiguous. Is Mike being rescued by a Good Samaritan, or picked up as road kill by a serial killer? As cynical a guy as I am, I’m optimistic. I think we’ve seen the bad already with the guys stealing Mike’s gear and his shoes, and it’s worth noting that the driver doesn’t thrown Mike in the back seat or the trunk, but puts him up front (not something you’d do with an abductee). But Mike is, once again, only a passenger. You’d like to warn him about where this is heading, but you know there isn’t any point.

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Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)

*. “Charlie Chan . . . needs no recommendation. The films in which he appears are all genuine detective films as distinct from thrillers, they are always well-made and well-acted.” That’s the novelist Graham Greene in a review of Charlie Chan at the Circus that ran in The Spectator in 1936. Something to keep in mind when considering the split between high and low culture in the first half of the twentieth century.
*. In the featurette included with the DVD release of this movie a pair of film historians (Rush Glick and Courtney Joyner) describe the run of Charlie Chan movies that came out in 1936-37 (Charlie Chan at the Circus, at the Races, at the Opera, and at the Olympics) as when the series “hit full stride,” and that these four indeed were “the best of the Charlie Chans.” It’s not a judgment I’d want to argue with, not because I find myself in full agreement with it but because I think it would be splitting hairs. Were these movies really that different from what came before or after?
*. Still, if you are a Chan fan, like Greene, you’ll probably enjoy this. There’s lots going on, from the introduction of Charlie’s entire family to a raft of suspicious looking circus types. Ten minutes after it was over I couldn’t remember any of the basics, the plot being somewhat tangled, to put it mildly. Despite only being 72 minutes there’s a lot to keep track of. There are threatening letters, forged documents, an insurance policy, a co-owner of the circus who is in financial straits, a shifty snake-handler, a pair of little people trying to keep the show going, a snake deposited in Charlie’s sleeping compartment, a trapeze artist being shot from the sky, a gorilla running loose (twice), and Number One Son chasing after a contortionist and dressing up in drag.
*. The scene in drag has him pushing a pram with a little person (George Brasno) in it who is smoking a cigar. I wonder if that’s where they got the idea for Baby Herman puffing on a fat one in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
*. Yes, this is a movie with a gorilla character in it. The gorilla’s name is Caesar, not to be confused with the chimp leader in the Planet of the Apes franchise. And he looks like most gorillas in movies of the time: like a guy in a gorilla suit. But it’s even worse. Because you suspend your disbelief, going along with the idea that Caesar is indeed a gorilla, but then you find out that sometimes he’s a gorilla and sometimes he actually is a guy in a gorilla suit! And nobody can tell the difference! Which is a hurdle that disbelief can’t be suspended above.
*. It’s familiar ground, to be sure. Things end with the same ruse or trap of luring the villain into revealing himself at the end, a device used in many of the other movies. Odd that the series went back to this same ending so many times, but I guess it works well enough.
*. As for the wisdom of Charlie Chan, the script is now so thick with aphorisms that he seems incapable of communicating in any other way. Most of these are tedious. “Silent witness sometimes speaks loudest.” “One grain of luck sometimes worth more than whole rice field of wisdom.” “Cannot tell where path lead until reach end of road.” “Man who seek trouble never find it far off.” “Question without answer like faraway water — no good for nearby fire.” I can’t say I feel enlightened by any of these. But then, man who seek enlightenment from Charlie Chan movie looking in wrong place.

Pierrot le Fou (1965)

*. Pauline Kael: “It gets to you.” Or else it doesn’t. It hasn’t gotten to me yet. I’ve gone back to some of Jean-Luc Godard’s work recently and developed a greater appreciation for it (and I’ve always liked films like Alphaville and Weekend, at least when I’m in the mood), but Pierrot le Fou still leaves me cold.
*. I’ve never been sure what Godard’s point is here, and (as usual) his own disingenuous and contradictory explanations for what he’s up to are no help at all. There are lots of nouvelle vague stunts but they all seem like empty distractions to me. And I’m not even sure what it was I was being distracted from.
*. There are critics who will tell you what the point is. Which makes me wonder if the point was to enlist the critics. In his Criterion essay on the film Richard Brody refers to Jean-Paul Belmondo as “a handsome, vigorous leading man.” Vigorous maybe, but Belmondo was one ugly fellow. His pairing with stars like Jean Seberg and (here) Anna Karina is a beauty-and-the-beast French specialty. I always thought that was something behind the pairing of Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci (who were married at the time) in Irreversible. Cassel was vigorous too, but not handsome. As David Lee Roth once said, most music critics like Elvis Costello’s music because most music critics look like Elvis Costello. So perhaps Belmondo was Godard’s way of playing film scribes.
*. Within the movie itself we get a cameo by Samuel Fuller at a cocktail party, who tells us that what movies are all about is “in one word: emotion.” An odd invocation of purpose, I would have thought, for a film like this. But in the interview with Karina included with the Criterion DVD she talks of how there’s “a lot of sentiment, there’s a lot of emotions in every scene.” I don’t see any of this, but Brody’s essay suggests I may be looking in the wrong place: “Rather than have actors act out emotions on-screen, Godard wanted to find a way to signify emotion and thus to arouse it in the viewer — so that emotion would go from the filmmaker to the viewer not analogically but in concentrated, sublimated form, by means of style.”
*. I’ve tried, but I have to say I find this explanation by Brody to be even more mystifying than his calling Belmondo handsome. Emotion is not expressed by the actors. I got that. Ferdinand really is a fool, so stuck in his own head that he can’t even see Marianne as a muse, and Marianne is clearly just toying with him. Where the style represents a sublimated emotion, however, escapes me. I didn’t have any emotional response to Pierrot le Fou at all.
*. So what’s it about then? I come back to this because the story is disposable. Godard was writing the script as he went along, and called it “a completely unconscious film.” I couldn’t really follow what was happening. So what does this parade of images and music mean?
*. David Thomson, another sympathetic, even admiring, critic has his own theory. He sees Ferdinand and Marianne as representing the division between words and feeling, which “is not just a weather system for the couple, it’s the storm in Godard’s own head between being a writer or a filmmaker.” Alas, I can’t say I’m feeling much of that either.
*. Thomson also calls this “the last great romantic movie.” This echoes Godard’s own assertion that he wanted “to tell the story of the last romantic couple.” As I’ve said, I don’t see how this applies to Ferdinand and Marianne, neither of whom seem to be in love. And in so far as there’s a masculine-feminine binary being developed I don’t think it’s very illuminating either (as well as being a long way from progressive). Men read Joyce and women read fashion magazines. Welcome to the Age of Ass. And a pop-art movie by a guy who rejected the central tenant of pop — that it’s about liking things — by showing how much he despises all of modern life and culture. Weekend was more honest in its nihilism.
*. I don’t want to pile on the critics here, but Godard really has been a critical darling, and very nearly only a critical darling, throughout his career. In the 2012 Sight & Sound poll Pierrot le Fou ranked as the 42nd-greatest film ever made as chosen by the critics (it actually tied with five other films in that spot). I don’t get it. I don’t find it interesting to think about or even to look at, as devoid of emotion as it is of thought. That may sound like a real put-down, but the thing is I don’t hate Pierrot le Fou. I just don’t think there’s anything to it at all.

Mars Attacks! (1996)

*. When I was looking up information and background on Mars Attacks! I was amazed to find that there were some people who liked this movie when it came out. I didn’t see it on its release, but I’d always heard it was terrible.
*. Well, it is terrible. Given the budget and the talent involved I’d call it spectacularly bad. But it did get some decent reviews. Not raves, but positive enough to qualify as middling. It didn’t deserve that much.
*. Given that it was inspired by a series of trading cards that came out in the 1960s (to which a kind of narrative had been attached) is there much point in complaining about how flimsy the story is? Basically Martians attack. With ray guns. We don’t know why. We don’t know why so many people, including the American president, continue to believe that they come in peace even after they started vaporizing everyone. It’s just stupid.
*. As an aside, in 2012, which was the fiftieth anniversary of the trading cards, Topps came out with a commemorative book with high-quality scans as well as a lot of other related artwork. I recommend the book whole-heartedly. Card 22, “Burning cattle,” helps explain the opening scene here. Nothing in the film does.
*. The all-star cast recalls the celebrity-studded disaster flicks of the ’70s. Every star has their own little story, many of them having no bearing on the main story whatsoever. Jack Nicholson has two roles, one as the president and the other as a Las Vegas casino owner. I have no idea why they bothered with the second. But then I don’t know why they bothered with a lot of these characters. Danny DeVito plays a “Rude Gambler.” He doesn’t even have a name.
*. Once you’ve seen all the stars, and the Martians (highlighted by Lisa Marie as a nitrogen gum-chewing, beehived honey trap), there’s nothing else to be interested in. Director Tim Burton, given far too much liberty to indulge himself, can only spark interest with flippant excess. Much of it is just grotesque though, like Sarah Jessica Parker’s head stuck on a little dog’s body, or poor Rod Steiger being miniaturized and then stepped on.
*. I was going to write more on this but I don’t want to. It’s am embarrassment for everyone involved. The aliens look neat but that’s it. The effects are sup-par, the story slop, and there isn’t a single funny line or interesting idea in the whole damn movie. Costing a hundred times as much, it’s less intelligent and entertaining than the grade-Z SF of the ’60s it was supposedly an homage to. By coincidence it came out the same year as Independence Day, which took the same old idea and played it straight, with equally forgettable results. Just how bad were the ’90s for movies anyway? I think they were pretty bad.
*. Kenneth Turan: “not as much fun as it should be.” Or, as I’d put it: no fun at all.