Vacation time means getting to catch up with podcasts, books, and MOVIES!  Here are the films from my Netflix Instant queue and from the pile of DVDs I rented from the library that I watched recently:

Die, Monster, Die! (1965)

Die Monster Die

VERY loosely adapted from H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Colour Out of Space,” this film features Boris Karloff as a wheelchair-bound scientist with a terrible secret, and Nick Adams as Stephen, the unsuspecting young man who comes to see Susan, the scientist’s daughter.  There are a lot of mysterious things happening here — the residents of the town of Arkham think there’s something weird going on at the Witley house, and within the house people are falling mysteriously ill and there’s a strange object in the basement that glows and produces a curious humming sound.  Nick Adams is playing someone who met Susan at an American university, but … I don’t know, could he have been taking continuing education classes?  Because he looks kind of long in the tooth to be a college student.  Anyway, there are some moments of genuine suspense, some moments of eye-rolling silliness, and repeated instances of people who seem to be incapable of CLOSING A DOOR BEHIND THEM.  Oh, and don’t ask me who the “monster” of the title is supposed to be.  I mean, there are several characters who are, to varying degrees, monstrous, but it’s not like you can pick one and say THAT’s the monster of the title.

Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (2007)

Chasing Ghosts

This documentary is on the one hand going to appeal to fans of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, but on the other hand is bound to disappoint those same fans.  The focus is on a group of people (okay, white guys) who were at the forefront of the video game wave in the early 1980’s, and even managed to make it on the cover of Life Magazine because of their record-breaking high scores.  The film touches on the lives of different people, including several who were featured in The King of Kong (like Billy Mitchell and Walter Day), and shows what happened to them in later years.  While The King of Kong was able to cross the geek barrier by taking a story about guys who play video games and elevating it into a human interest story that could appeal to all different types of audience members, this is more of a “niche” film that will appeal to a smaller audience.

Disaster On the Coastliner (TV Movie – 1979)

Shhhhh ... I'm in Disguise!

A lot of times, when I’m browsing around for movies to watch I’ll read the description and then check out the cast list and see if that will tip the scales in either direction.  When I saw that this movie starred Lloyd Bridges, Raymond Burr, and William Shatner, I knew that I had to see it!  It’s an entertaining adventure film, in the vein of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.  Shatner is entertaining, as always, especially when he’s IN DISGUISE!  They must have had a lot of money to make this film — there were some pretty exciting stunts, and they had some really big names in this cast (the ones I already told you about, plus E.G. Marshall!)

Mars Needs Women (TV Movie – 1967)

Mars Needs Women

Tommy Kirk and Yvonne Craig star in this campy science fiction film that is both funny and ridiculous, and includes some especially dumb attitudes towards women.  Mars doesn’t have enough women to sustain its population, so a Martian ship comes to Earth to … you know.  Get some.  First they try the abduction route (using some painfully lame “special effects”), but that method doesn’t work.  Then they try asking for volunteers, but the military higher-ups reject that idea.  So then they just go wandering around looking for women who meet their standards (they must be healthy, and they must be single), who they will then kidnap and bring back to Mars.  Most of the Martians’ methods are very creepy — they follow pretty girls around and stare at them for long periods of time.  The only Martian who manages to make an emotional connection with an earthling is Dop (Tommy Kirk) who falls in love with Dr. Marjorie Bolen (Yvonne Craig).  The most important female qualities seem to be beauty and deportment, and the earth men speak very patronizingly about women.  Yes, they’re beautiful, they’re special, they’re wonderful, and they need to be protected.  They also can’t be trusted to make their own decisions (they’re not even TOLD about the volunteering option).  The ideal woman would appear to be Marjorie Bolen, who is a doctor, an alien expert, and a Pulitzer Prize winner.  But if she’s the ideal woman, then I don’t hold out much hope for womankind.  Because she’s the biggest alien expert in the world, yet she doesn’t recognize an alien when she sees one.  And more importantly, those glasses that make her look so smart don’t actually have any glass in their frames.  Can you get your Pulitzer revoked for that?

Mac and Me (1988)

Mac and Me

Remember how cute and heartwarming E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was?  Remember how it brought the audience to tears?  Remember how it drove up the sale of Reeses Pieces?  Well, someone came up with a terrible, terrible idea after seeing that film.  Make a movie about a cute little alien that wants to reunite with its family, who bonds with some earth children, and who will be associated with different products and hopefully drive up the sales of those products.  The result of that terrible idea is Mac and Me, a film that features an alien that is more gross and terrifying than cute, and which uses more product placement than I have ever seen in any other film.  But it wasn’t until I saw the dance sequence set at McDonald’s that I realized just how insane this film really was.

Predators (2010)

Predators

First, you should know that I went into this film with little to no memory of the original Predator movie from 1987 and that I never saw any of the sequels.  But the trailer of this film was in the back of my brain as something I’d like to see one day, and then I listened to an episode of the Film Sack podcast where they discussed the film and it sounded like a lot of fun.  So I checked it out from the library, and it was definitely entertaining.  I’m not usually a huge fan of action films, but the plot had enough twists and turns to keep me interested and the ensemble cast was really good.  And if you’re a fan of Adrien Brody and are interested in seeing him acting all manly and growly, with the added benefit of seeing him with his shirt off (yeah, yeah, it was all about throwing off his heat signature), then this is the movie for you.

The Usual Suspects (1995)

The Usual Suspects

I saw this film in the theater when it first came out, but I wanted to see it again for an unusual reason.  That’s because I recently read Kevin Pollak’s book How I Slept My Way to the Middle, and in that book he shares lots of behind-the-scenes stories about his career, including his experiences filming The Usual Suspects.  In some ways the film took me by surprise, but in one major way it didn’t.  That’s right — the ONLY part of the film that I remembered from the first time I saw it was the huge reveal at the end of the movie.  But I still found this movie to be fascinating, and in fact I watched the DVD twice because I became so obsessed with looking for the small details.  It’s definitely a great movie to watch multiple times, because once you know what’s going to happen at the end, you see the rest of the film through different eyes.  It was great to see Kevin Spacey’s superb performance again, and it was pleasantly surprising to see how well Stephen Baldwin could keep up with this all-star cast.  Also, I’ve been a fan of Kevin Pollak’s for years, as a comedian, as a podcaster, and as an actor.  So it was nice seeing him at another one of his career high points.  So … I notice that I didn’t actually say anything about the plot of this film, which is mostly because it’s hard to talk about it without spoiling things.  So let me just say this.  A group of criminals are brought in for a lineup.  They have the opportunity to commit a crime as a group.  And things are not quite what they seem.  Does that help?  Anyway, even if you’ve seen this film before, I definitely think it’s worth a rewatch.

Ted (2012)

Ted

If you’re wondering what I thought of this film, let me give you two clues: I love Family Guy to pieces and I’m a big fan of Flash Gordon (I even owned the soundtrack when I was a kid!)  So, yes, I got a HUGE kick out of this film.  Ted is funny, snarky, and crude.  The bear’s animation is ridiculously good, and it’s also worth looking at the special features on the DVD so you can see how they integrated this animated character into a live-action world.  If you’re in the mood for some crude humor and some wicked Boston accents, this is definitely worth checking out.

Oldboy (2003)

Oldboy

And here we go with another podcast tie-in.  I was listening to the latest episode of the Yeah It’s That Bad podcast (which discusses both good and bad movies, BTW), and after three minutes I had to stop the episode.  They were talking about a Korean action film called Oldboy, and they were saying that the plot was so twisted that it would have much more of an impact if you were totally unprepared for what was going to happen next.  I checked on Netflix Instant, saw that it was available, and watched the movie over the course of the next day.  And … WOW.  WOW.  WOW.  It’s the story of a man who is kindapped by SOMEONE, and imprisoned in an unknown location for 15 years.  One day he wakes up, and he’s been freed.  Then for the rest of the film, he tries to figure out what happened to him, and he starts tracking down his captors and exacting his revenge.  Now … I should warn you, there is some VERY violent stuff that happens in this movie.  The kind of stuff that would usually make me stop watching a movie altogether.  In this case, I didn’t stop watching, but there was one point where I had to walk away from my computer for over a minute because while I KNEW what was happening and I could HEAR what was happening, I couldn’t bear to SEE what was happening.  And for about the last 20 minutes or so, I watched the film with my knees pulled up to my chest and my hand over my mouth.  My final verdict:  The plot twists are astounding.  The fight scenes are amazing.  And the ending is ONE OF THE MOST F—ED UP ENDINGS I HAVE EVER SEEN IN A MOVIE.  [ETA: Oops!  I forgot to add that this film is being remade by Spike Lee and is currently in post-production.  I don’t know if I’m going to have the emotional stamina to see this story again, although I’m definitely going to be curious to see how closely it follows the original film].

Alphaville (1965)

Alphaville

This movie was originally going to be the topic of its own post (“I’m Embarassed to Admit That I Don’t ‘Get’ Alphaville“), but since I’m on a roll talking about movies right now I’ll include it here instead.  Now, let me talk about the good stuff first before I talk about how this film bewildered me.  Alphaville is visually beautiful.  Jean-Luc Godard filmed 1960’s Paris in black and white, creating the believable illusion that it was the future and it wasn’t even Earth.  Science fiction is combined with film noir sensibilities in a way that echoed Blade Runner in my mind (more on that in a moment).  The look of the film is both weird and stylish in a hypnotically cool way.  And yet … and yet … and yet … I often found myself confused by things that were happening on screen, and I wasn’t always sure if I was SUPPOSED to be confused or not.  Like, something weird would happen but nobody would act like anything was out of the ordinary.  And I would wonder … wait, is this a 1960’s thing?  Or a French thing?  Or a science fiction thing?  Some of the highbrow philosophical conversations worked for me, but some of them bewildered me (again, was that a French thing?  A science fiction thing?)  I also had issues with just how far I was supposed to suspend my disbelief with different plot points and different 1960’s things that were supposed to be futuristic.  I mean, all the spiral staircases definitely worked and added a great look to the film.  Secret agent Lemmy Caution’s trenchcoat and revolver looked like they belonged in the 1960’s (or even the 1940’s), but I could appreciate the idea of carrying that look over into a future society.  But I had a big problem with the damned flash camera that he kept bringing around with him.  The one he would use to take pictures of people with or without their permission?  Which people couldn’t POSSIBLY ignore because of that huge flash?  The camera that no one ever confiscates from him?  Yeah, RIGHT!  Anyway, while I was watching the film, I looked it up on IMDB to see if it was listed as directly or indirectly connected to Blade Runner because the mood of the films seemed so similar.  I clicked on the “Connections” section, scrolled down the list to see if Blade Runner was there … and before I got to Blade Runner my eyes stopped at the title of another older film that I love … and I read that the ENDING of Alphaville was similar to the ENDING of that film!  AIGH!!!  So beware of spoiler alerts on IMDB, is what I’m saying.  Anyway, my final verdict is that I liked Alphaville and found it fascinating, but I don’t know if I really GOT it.