Infinity Pool

A ridiculous premise for a film about the consequences of our actions , transforms into an incoherent mess becoming more inconsequential as it goes along. “Infinity Pool” is a horror film with a science fiction conceit that gets completed wasted and turns the story into an examination of unpleasantness for no reason whatsoever. This could have been something interesting and important, and it gets less and less of each of those things the longer it goes on. 

Alexander Skarsgård is  failed novelist James Foster, on holiday at a resort, in a country trapped in poverty and full of the kinds of cultural improprieties that we are supposed to overlook to avoid ethnocentrism. The tribalism and cultural imperative of family honor requires immediate retribution for offenses committed in the nation. So go ahead and trust the people you just met, and venture outside of the resort enclave, meet people from the place you are visiting, and learn their quaint form of justice, except there is a get out of jail card. Maybe the wilder the idea, the more fun we can have with it, after all “Face Off” ,was a blast in spite of being completely bonkers. The problem here is that no one is having fun with the premise, instead there are pretentions of insight into human behavior. That might have also made for a good story, but writer/director Brandon Cronenberg leaves that on the table to wallow in excess revulsion. 

The idea of buying your way out of the consequences of your actions is an interesting one. What does that process do to a persons sense of self. Does guilt linger or vanish? Will your morality disappear entirely? These are great questions that the film asks, but it’s answers are muddled by a series of indulgent episodes that become increasingly boring and irritating. Mia Goth, who gave what I thought was a fantastic performance last year in “Pearl”, at risk of being trapped in the same kind of roles in the future if she keeps getting parts like this. She is great here, but her character is just a slightly different twist on the sick mind that cropped up in that earlier film. Her character Gabi, at first is mysterious, but quickly becomes tritely cruel and less and less interesting. 

A few examples of the pointless excess that Cronenberg has created here might help you understand why this movie is infuriating. Gabi gives James a reach around after a few hours of picnicking with James and his wife? We get to see his seed spilled on the ground. Why? The sense of unearned intimacy is probably what the writer is seeking here, but that is physical rather than emotional, and the emotional is where this movie needs to be working. The best character in the film when it comes to dealing with the questions being raised by the premise, is James’s wife Em,  played by Cleopatra Coleman. Unfortunately, she is removed from the film and the only characters that James has to measure his behavior against, are the ones who are indulging in the reckless excess that will turn off most of the viewers. There is an extended orgy sequence shot as if it is the “stars” sequence from “2001”. It goes on interminably,  the lights flash in different colors, and we see hazy images of people entangled in some sort of sexual behavior, but what it is will never become clear. Obtuse abstractness is supposed to be artistic in these moments, rather, it is pretentious diddling. One last thing to irritate you, there are grotesque masks worn by the characters during many of the scenes of violence and lasciviousness. They were introduced early on, without a clear explanation and the cultural symbolism is completely baffling. The art house sensibility can’t be masked by the fact that this is a horror film, it simply makes the film less frightening and more vaguely symbolic. I call bullshit.

There was another potential direction the film could have gone in, one that the director set up and then completely ignored. How do we know that the doppelganger is the one being executed? Maybe the accused has been replaced by the clone. If that is the case, is there in fact a redemption of guilt because the surviving “person” is in fact, blameless? That is an intriguing thought. Unfortunately, it is not the thought Cronenberg wanted to dwell on. Instead, we get violent and emotional cruelty. Trippy visual interludes don’t make the film deep, they simply fill in the time between unpleasant characters doing more unpleasant things. None of it makes any sense, and the symbolism is too trite to be taken seriously, much less understood. Somewhere some cineaste will write about this and make it sound like an artistic breakthrough, I’m sorry, they will be as full of it as this movie was. 

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 “Lucky Lady”

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don’t see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

Lucky Lady

Three big stars, on a boat, in 1975, that’s a hit right?, Only if you add a shark, otherwise you have the misbegotten and mostly forgotten “Lucky Lady”, an action romantic comedy adventure starring Academy Award winning actor Gene Hackman, Academy Award winning Actress Liza Minelli and soon to be Number One Box Office star in the world Burt Reynolds. You wonder how it could wrong, well let me count the ways.

To begin with, the director Stanley Donen was probably wrong for this kind of picture, although at first blush it seemed like he would be perfect for it. Donen had directed some of the greatest movie musicals of the 1950s, including “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. Liza Minelli had recently won her Academy Award for a musical drama set in the 1930’s, “Cabaret” and she was a friend of Donen’s so it seemed like a good fit. There is a musical number at the start of this film. This part is right up his alley. Unfortunately, that sequence is only 2 minutes of a movie that ran a hundred and twenty-five minutes. Most of the film takes place on boats and you know, that ain’t easy to get right.

The second problem is that the film can’t quite balance the tone. Is this a slapstick nostalgia piece, is it an action film with gangsters shooting it out, or is it a romantic comedy with a ménages à trois as it’s centerpiece? It tries to be all of those things and never hits the right amount of any one element. There were several films in the 1970s that were set in the depression era, gangster films and some others, but there were two that seemed most likely to have inspired Twentieth Century Fox to back this project: “Paper Moon” and “The Sting”. Both of those films managed to get the hardscrabble era right, with a good amount of humor, but not turning it into a cartoon. This script by the married duo Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, is all over the place and Donen compounds the problem by having the lead actors playing it for laughs, in the face of machine guns mowing down people left and right. Burt Reynolds mugging, Gene Hackman aw shucking, and Liza sometimes sincere and sometimes shrill.  

In “The Sting” and “Paper Moon”, everyone is playing it straight. Sure there are a couple of double take looks by Redford when shooting takes place in the story, but you feel the stakes are real. Ryan O’Neal is in serious danger from John Hillerman and his thugs in “Paper Moon”. Hillerman is one of the bad guys in this film, but you never feel  like the main characters are at risk. Reynolds is taking pratfalls during the action and Hackman is aiding and abetting in all of that jocularity in the face of killers. Maybe you can get away with that in “Some Like It Hot” but the premise there is comedic to begin with as the leads are cross dressing to escape the gangsters. It simply doesn’t work here. Especially, when the young companion of the three, gets shot to pieces and we see it with squibs and everything. The joke won’t work in these circumstances.

Both Gene Hackman and Burt Reynolds had four movies that they starred in during 1975. They were clearly very busy. I will be covering at least four of those other seven films during the yearlong project here. One of the co-stars in this picture was also in four movies in 1975. Geoffrey Lewis plays the captain of a Coast Guard ship that tries to stop the rum running scheme of the three main characters. This part was all bluster and buffoonery, even when he is pointing machine guns and shotguns on the two men and ordering his crew to basically murder them. This feckless character might work is the violence in the film was all cartoon like, but in the big climax, dozens of people are getting killed. 

The film was given at least three different endings, one of which involved the demise of the two male leads. But having tried to make this a light hearted romp thru bootlegging, that downer of an ending was dropped for something more in keeping with 80% of the film we have been watching. The big sea battle that is the finale of the picture would have made more sense if the eastern syndicate had been pitied against some of these other independent groups earlier in the film. Otherwise, as it seems in the film, they come out of nowhere at the end. In “The Sting” we get a sense of the community of con artists who have come together to take down the bad guy. No such connection was established in this script. 

I can’t quite criticize the cinematography, it seems like it should be a good looking movie, and 

Geoffrey Unsworth, a two time Academy Award winning Director of Photography, had just done “Cabaret” and “Murder on the Orient Express” , two terrific looking period pieces. The problem is, the print I viewed this movie on was from a out of print DVD, that seemed to be badly in need of a remaster. This film is not available to stream anywhere, I had to go to ebay to find a DVD. It looks like it never had a home video release until the 2011 Shout Factory DVD. So though the whole VHS era, this movie was missing. That will tell you how forgotten it must have been.

This was a blind spot for me from 1975. I never saw this film before today, in spite of the fact that it features my favorite actor and it came out in my favorite film year. This was a Christmas release and Christmas 1975 was a tough time for us that year. I was in my first year at college and my schedule with the debate team kept me busy. It slipped by because it bombed and I never caught up with it until now.

Plane

Gerard Butler has become as reliable an action star as Liam Neeson in my book. He may not have the range that some other actors have, but I have never thought he was not up to the task. His film series about Secret Service Agent Mike Banning may be over the top, but they are exceptionally entertaining. The first one is so solid it trumps the doppelganger version done with Channing Tatum and Jamie Fox by a mile. The high concept, low budget “CopShop” was a surprising little piece that I enjoyed the heck out of two years ago. “Plane” is going to go in the same box. This is exactly what it sets out to be, a high tension thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat for a couple of hours and make you glad you spent the time and the money. Maybe it’s not great drama, but it is great entertainment.

Not a great poster, but you get the idea

You might be lead to believe that the film is all about the hostage drama that involves the passengers of a downed plane and criminal separatists on a Philippine island.  That plotline does play out and it is the focus of the second half of the movie, but a lot happens before the passengers become captives. You will hope never to encounter turbulence again when you see how the weather in the sky influences the plane and causes the initial trouble.  When that seatbelt sign is on, after seeing this movie, you will want to double strap yourself in. The flight dangers are shot well and the tension mounts like it should in a thriller thanks to the efficient direction of  Jean-François Richet, who did the remake of “Precinct 13” back in 2005. He has made some French thrillers that I would now be interested in seeing because this movie worked so well.

Once we are back on the ground, there are some great action set pieces. Butler has a brutal one on one fight in an abandoned building where he is trying to communicate with the airline and his family. This is not a ballet of kicks and splits with pirouette mid-air gun transfers. This is two men, bluntly wrestling, punching, kicking, gouging and simply tiring to outlast the other guy. Captain Brodie Torrance is an airline pilot, who had military flying experience, 20 years earlier but does not have a “certain set of skills”. He is a bright guy  who makes choices as he goes along, and simply does the best he can with those choices. There is one “movie moment” interjection of savior activity that rescues him, but otherwise the action seems pretty straightforward. 

I have not seen the Luke Cage series but based on Mike Colter in this film, I’d be willing to bet it is pretty good. Colter plays a reluctant ally of the Captain, as a convict who survives the landing and has some of the Neeson style skills that Torrance lacks. It does not quite become a buddy picture, but there are some elements of the odd couple style tropes that show up in a lot of these action films. Colter starts the scenes with mass combat and follows through for the remainder of the picture, but there is more to come. This is an island full of criminal bullies who control the population through force and intimidation, to create an army of reprobates that is just waiting to be taken down. Like most revenge pictures, you are happy watching the bad guys get eviscerated. When the sniper with the .50 caliber starts shooting, the on screen mess is significant.

There is nothing in this that is earthshaking, it simply builds a credible story, ratchets up the tension, and makes you Saturday Matinee Happy that you are watching it. It is shot well, cut tightly and full of the kind of stuff that you want in a movie where the popcorn is hot. This used to be why people went to the movies instead of sitting at home streaming. Get to a theater and live, while watching some bad guys die. Don’t sit at home, go out and have some fun, like watching this. 

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 “Smile”

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don’t see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

I did not intend to do this film as soon as this week, but it worked out that it was practical for us to watch it last night so I went ahead and took the plunge. “Smile” is not the horror film from last year, but the social comedy from Michael Ritchie  and Jerry Belson in 1975. Ritchie had just directed two Robert Redford films and would soon be responsible for the “Bad News Bears”, a beloved classic of the 70s, and “Fletch” a beloved classic of the 80s. Belson was a TV writer who had done “Love American Style” and “The Odd Couple”, two very successful comedies of the 1970s.  

This is a slice of life picture that hints at social commentary but is barely about anything in particular. The subject of local beauty pageants will be lampooned in a dozen other films over the following fifty years, but “Smile” got there first. The “Young American Miss” contest is a fictionalized version of other contests and it targets the sponsors, participants and communities in a mostly good hearted way. There are some biting moments in the film, but there isn’t an evil force operating, it is mostly a collection of clueless citizens, some who want to do good and others who are motivated by the inherent sexuality of a beauty pageant. 

Making perhaps his most sympathetic and comedic character, the center of the film, is actor Bruce Dern.  I have been a fan of his since the early 70s, despite the fact that he shot John Wayne in the back. He will be the subject of another of these Throwback Thursday posts, later this year. In this film, he plays “Big Bob” Freelander, an RV salesman who manages to be a success in the era of energy crisis depressed RV sales, because he is an authentic, optimistic personality. The car salesman has been negatively portrayed in the culture forever. “Big Bob” however, is not pressuring anyone, he is not acting in an underhanded way, he simply finds the things that might convince a buyer and he points them out with passion. As a community booster, he has the role of chief judge and he is honored to be in that position. He sincerely believes in the girls and the ideals of the contest, and wants it to succeed. His buoyant attitude will be challenged by his friend, his son and the other members of his Jaycee organization, who are not all so aligned. 

Some of the most amusing scenes require “Big Bob” to confront some uncomfortable truths about his son “Little Bob” and the relationship he has with his family. His perspective is altered a bit in a couple of moments of self awareness, that really are laugh out loud insights. His optimism seems undiminished though, when he still attempts to keep his best friend in town and cheered up, in spite of the problems his friend faces. He is confronted with many moments that cause him to become somewhat disillusioned with the pageant and the process. 

The girls in the pageant are variously mocked, admired and appreciated in different ways. There is a slight subtext of male domination and sense of proprietary power over women. The girls however seem to be in a lot more control than one might suspect. The two main contestants that we follow are Joan Prather’s Robin and Annette O’Toole’s Daria. Robin changes the most in the story, as she becomes more sophisticated and aware of the impact her choices can have on the judging of the contest. Daria is a knowing veteran of beauty pageants and becomes a confidant and advisor to Robin, often with amusing insights. Collen Camp and Melanie Griffith are also well known actresses who have parts as contestants in the film. Griffith in particular has this film, and another coming up on this project, where she has nude scenes at the age of eighteen. Early on, Griffith seemed destined for roles as sexy provocateurs in the stories she gets roles in. 

Choreographer Michael Kidd, who worked out the dances for “The Band Wagon” and the glorious “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, gets an acting part in this film, playing a prickly version of himself, taking on the job of choreographing the girls show routines.   Geoffrey Lewis, a terrific character actor who will be in four of this year’s Throwback Thursday posts, plays the Jaycee’s pageant organizer, who is the closest we come to a villain in the piece because his budget needs and attitude are not particularly supportive of the girls. Titos Vandis, a ubiquitous presence in 1970s film and television projects, plays an alcoholic custodian with a better attitude toward the girls than many of the pageant sponsors, but who still resents the plumbing problems they create. Also in the cast is Barbara Feldon who was best known as agent “99” in the series “Get Smart”. She is great here as a former pageant champion, struggling to keep an identity as a woman with a purpose, but perhaps losing her relationship with her husband in the process. This is a fairly even handed look at how women’s empowerment might impact the traditional roles of family. Navigating the changing social rules is difficult for both sexes, regardless of whether one had dominance over the other. 

A memory note on this film. I saw it at the same theater I mentioned in last week’s post, the Avco in Westwood. Coming out of the previous screening, were my parent’s friends John and Anne Moon. He was an aerospace guy who was also a magician and they were friends with Jerry Belson. I was seventeen and seeing my folks friends out on the other side of town was a little unusual, but we spoke for a moment and they told us we would certainly enjoy the film which we did. 

William Shatner Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan

It was just last September when I saw “The Wrath of Khan” in a theater again. This second visit within such a short time reflects my love of the film, but more importantly, it was a special event that gave me an opportunity to encounter Captain Kirk IRL. William Shatner is making the rounds this year in an experience for fans that has slim production values but great emotional depth. 

Let me say, that whatever it is that William Shatner and Mel Brooks are eating in their lives, order me a plate. Brooks is 97 and Shatner turns 92 this year. If you have ever been to a live event with either of these gentlemen, you will know why I am impressed with their diet or exercise regime. These guys are as sharp as a tack and have boundless amounts of energy. I’ve seen Brooks a couple of times at the TCM FF and a presentation of “Blazing Saddles“. He has a boundless energy, like a kid with ADHD. This was my first time seeing Shatner live, but it was close to having lightning strike twice in the same place. He takes the stage, walks through the opening segment with commanding authority, and is never less than enthusiastic while talking to us.

The host who was interviewing him was in the same situation that I saw the hosts in the Brooks presentations found themselves, hardly able to focus the subject of the interview as he was overwhelmed with content, stories, stream of consciousness meanderings and quick quips. Yes the Captain spoke a bit about Wrath of Khan, but he also talked about the Original Series, The Robert Wise Star Trek The Motion Picture, and a bucket load of philosophical thought that seemed to overflow his brain. 

I’m sure he has told some of these stories before, but nothing that happened at this event sounded like it was pre-planned or anything less than spontaneous. A couple of things that he mentioned about “Wrath of Khan” are worth noting. He said that the scene with he and Leonard Nimoy, in the engine room at Spock’s death, was shot with the glass separating them and unable to do more than press their hands against the glass, was his suggestion. He also mentioned that his “favored nations” contract allowed him the same treatment as his friend Leonard Nimoy, and that after Star Trek III, he was supposed to direct Star Trek IV, but his TV contract with T.J. Hooker, prevented him from taking that opportunity. He was very complimentary of Nicholas Meyer, the director, who wrote and directed another Trek film, and dated Shatner’s daughter at one point. 

Shatner also confessed that he had not seen the other Star Trek films, so he was unfamiliar with the cast, and he shared an anecdote about accidentally stealing lines from a young actress (we think it was Zoe Saldana) at an event where they both appeared at the podium and he simply read everything on the teleprompter. He mocked himself a couple of times about the strange takes his career has followed, but he is quite proud that he has a song and music video coming that reflects an artistic level that he was once mocked for. His story about the Carson show was pretty amusing, he had to cut down a song routine that he did where he mixed his words and ideas in a mash up with contemporary songs. He ended up singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” without his contextual material and Johnny Carson was mouthing “WTF” in the background at his desk. 

When the host started asking the questions that the audience had submitted, Shatner gave answers, but they were not always direct. He joked that the host could ask anything he wanted, but that the answer might not always go in the direction that was expected. For example, he was asked why he continues to work, and make an effort like he was doing last night, when he is probably well off enough and old enough to skip it. While Shatner did say it was about boredom, he said it in a way that was anything but boring. The question about his reaction to traveling to space last year, was elaborate, enthusiastic and went in some strange but fascinating directions. It was not ultimately tied to the Star Trek question contained in the initial query, but it was close enough and interesting enough that no one seemed to care.

William Shatner spoke for an hour after the screening. The film itself sounded great in the concert hall that is the Long Center here in Austin. It is a beautiful venue, but could maybe use a slightly bigger screen for film presentations. I did see people come in late, and while the show was not sold out, the house looked above 75% and everyone there seemed pleased with the event. 

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 “The Other Side of the Mountain”

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don’t see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

The Other Side of the Mountain

This one is a real deep dive, I saw it once in 1975 and a remembered very little of it. I think this film was a slow roll out across the country and had built up some word of mouth as a romance. My memory may be playing tricks on me but I am pretty sure I saw this with my friend Dan Hasegawa and Diane Heitchew, a girl on the Speech team with us back in High School. We were all friends and Dan was always bringing her to activities that Fall when we were both freshmen at USC and Diane was still in High School. I know that the screening I went to was at the Avco Cinema Center in Westwood, right on Wilshire Blvd. That theater has been replaced with a very different movie complex, but it was a very popular location in the 1970s, with basically no parking and you risked being towed if you parked in the neighborhoods. 

The film is a true story (billed that way in the opening credits, not “inspired by”) about skiing champion Jill Kinmont, who as an Olympic hopeful, was paralyzed  the week she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, in an event that would have qualified her for the U.S. Olympic team. She was in a romantic relationship with U.S. Skier Buddy Werner at the time of the accident, but that relationship did not survive the tragedy. She was also connected with Champion skier and flying daredevil Dick Buek, and that is the romantic angle that this film takes. 

“The Other Side of the Mountain” could be the template for a thousand inspirational TV movies over the next twenty years.  It follows a very straight narrative, showing us the promising young woman in her prime, and the playful connections she has with others in the skiing community. She has a best friend who was also a skier who contracted polio and lost the ability to ski. The true life events in the film all take place in the mid-fifties and there are a lot of things that evoke nostalgia, but also make us glad that we don’t live in that era. The tragedy occurs on the cusp of her greatest accomplishment and is emotionally hard hitting as a result.

Anyone who has seen one of these kinds of movies will recognize the style, or lack thereof in the film. The camera is not very dynamic but there are a few scenes of skiing that are mildly satisfying. There are several montages in the film, some of romance blossoming in the snow, some of the difficult rehabilitation that Jill goes through and all of them are accompanied by schmaltzy romantic music which is incredibly generic. Charles Fox the composer of the score was a prolific writer of music, primarily for television, which is why this may sound so cliché. The end song, was performed by Oliva Newton John, at the height of her musical career pre-“Grease”. That may account for the fact that the song got an Academy Award Nomination.

Beau Bridges, playing a part that could also have been done by his brother, is Dick Buek, the romantic partner who will not give up on Jill. There is a sequence of him coming to the hospital and taking her out of her bed that is funny and could convince you that romance was indeed possible for these two. The rehab scenes and the visit that Jill makes before her accident, to see her friend with polio, will make you happy that you don’t live in that period. Sincere medical providers were limited in the resources and tools they had access to, and it makes Jill’s struggle even more compelling. 

If there is a moment of injustice in the film, it comes when Jill, struggling to be productive after her paralysis, discovers that academic institutions will not hire a teacher in a wheelchair. Can you imagine the outcry today if someone took that attitude? There would be protests and twitter bombs and outraged tiktok videos everywhere. There was a sequel to the film that featured the same actress, Marilyn Hassett, playing Jill Kinmont, in later periods of time. I never saw the sequel but it would not surprise me that part of it would  feature her pushing back on the barriers that she faced trying to become an educator. 

Larry Peerce was the director of this film and he seems to have missed out on a major career. After some dramatic successes in the 1960s, he was relegated to TV movies in the 70s and 80s, and frankly, based on this film, it seems that he was best suited for those. His film “The Incident” did come up in our Lambcast Discussion this week (Thanks to Howard Casner). 

M3GAN

It is possible to spend several paragraphs explaining how this movie could have been something dramatically deep and thematically significant. Like “A.I.” from 2001 or “Ex Machina” from 2015, this film deals with the question of human interaction with machines of intelligent design. This movie could have explored issues of attachment, grief, co-dependence, a whole variety of human conditions that might be effected by the development of artificial intelligence. Taking that path however, would have eliminated the primary function of the film, which is to scare us. This is a monster movie, like “Frankenstein”, where our own creations turn on us and the audience can at times identify with the monster. 

The trailer will give you the set up, but it comes down to this, an artificial person starts acting in ways that are not socially or morally acceptable. There is little doubt as to what is going to happen, this story has been around for a couple hundred years. The thing that makes it a little different is that the monster in in the form of a little girl doll and the person she has been created to assist is herself a little girl. Even though there was a possibility that the story line could turn to end of the world scenarios, it stays a little more grounded and the threats are immediate and localized.

Does it work? As a scare generator it is effective. We get a couple of jump scares but mostly there is a steady build up of tension and the creep factor which keeps us engaged. Dolls seem to be by definition a little disturbing, acting as substitutes for humans, typically in play situations. In this situation the doll is acting as playmate rather than plaything, and has the additional plot of replacing a human component with one that is generated through artificial intelligence. If that replacement of human contact had been followed, you would have a psychological horror film, but not a thriller. This movie goes the thriller route with mysterious deaths and ominous looks from the mechanical star. 

Other than the doll itself, the two main characters are played by Allison Williams as Gemma, the aunt who takes in her orphaned niece, and who also happens to be a cutting edge toy designer, and Violet McGraw as Cady, the nine year old with a deep psychological scar from her parents death. The least realistic part of the film is the way these two manage to be around each other before the introduction of the doll. Aunt Gemma acts as if she has never encountered a child before, was detached from her dead sister, and only overcomes professional setbacks by using shortcuts that no legal department would ever really allow. Cady gets a little more leeway, after all she is a kid suffering a great loss, but her character is more truculent than sympathetic. Only a few times, planned to make the other parts of the plot work, does she let her emotional guard down. They are better written characters once the plot kicks in.

M3GAN, is the doll at the center of the story, and she is played by a combination of a young actress in costume and a variety of puppets,and some CGI. The actress/puppet element makes the movie so much more effective because the creepy doll looks like a child sized version of those adult rubber dolls that are sold as sex toys. The element of the story that is helpful in engaging us is how young Cady bonds with Megan and Megan seems to be providing comfort that the Aunt is incapable of. If you watch the demo scene played out where Megan comforts Cady while an audience of executives look on, you can see some to the places that this film could go. It doesn’t go there however, it becomes a straight up horror picture,like “Child’s Play” but without any supernatural element. 

Ever since “2001” let loose an AI that we could not control, there have been a string of horror films that follow the same path. “Skynet” is not that far off my friends. The more we turn our lives over to “Siri”, “Alexa” and Bixby”, the more vulnerable we will be. Maybe we don’t really need to worry about malevolent machines, but we should be worried about the unintended consequences of giving technology increasing control of our daily lives. That’s not what this movie is about, but it could have been. This is a solid January horror film, but it will be forgotten when the next scary movie comes out. 

A Man Called Otto

I understand why film buffs get irritated when there is an English language remake of a well regarded foreign film. It seems disrespectful to the original and it suggests that American audiences are too lazy to read subtitles. The former is always going to be in the eye of the beholder, although most adaptions are probably done out of affection for the original work, if there are too many changes it would support that conclusion. The later is in part probably true. It does seem that foreign language films have difficulty reaching American audiences because subtitles are distracting and require a different sort of engagement. The biggest reality though is that you need to adapt to the audience. American audiences are not so much unsophisticated as they are locked in their own paradigms. We relate more to familiar surroundings, to experiences that we are likely to encounter. We are a racially mixed culture but there are enclaves within the broader culture that have limited experience with some parts of the world. Every writer, speaker and artist who is trying to reach a particular audience knows that they need to craft their work in a way that the intended audience will respond to. 

The source material for this Tom Hanks vehicle is a well regarded Swedish film that was the highest grossing foreign language film in the U.S. the year it was released. It was nominated as the Best Non-English film by the Academy Awards that year. It brought in less than 3.5 million at the boxoffice in the States. Assuming an average price of $10 a ticket, that means that it was seen by about 35,000 people in a theater in America. That is a small segment of the potential audience, regardless of why so few got around to seeing it. An English language remake gives the story a second bite of the apple and a chance to let the audience find it. If you want to criticize the film and compare it’s artistic merit to the original, that is fine, but first evaluate the film that you are criticizing, rather than it’s reason for existence.

I have to admit that I did not see the Swedish film. I wish I had. Whether it played outside of my range of theaters, or was released in an inconvenient window, I don’t remember. I did hear about it but resigned myself to catching up with it another day. “A Man Called Otto” will not be a substitute for seeing “Ove”, but it is the film that is in front of audiences now, and that is the context in which I will offer my opinions.

Most people probably think of Tom Hanks as the avuncular nice guy that is his public persona. He has played roles that have made him very popular but not all of those parts were happy go lucky characters. Some of them are quite dark. Otto Anderson is a much darker character than might be suggested by the trailer for the film. To begin with, he is not just a crotchety old man, he is a man who has lost something in his life that propped him up and helped him balance any anti-social inclinations with a more practical attitude. Robbed of the main source of happiness in his life, he has allowed despair to take over and guide him. We can recognize that this is a bad choice, but someone in the midst of his situation is not likely to be thinking in different terms. I can say from personal experience, that without some intervening force, depression and self destruction are paths that might be taken without much effort.  Fortunately, the right kind of force is what is the catalyst for this story. 

Otto has been forcibly retired, in a period of great need to feel useful, and the consequence is that he sees nothing ahead that would be worth waiting for. Suicide seems a delicate subject to use for comedy, but it has been done before. Otto seems serious in planning his exit, but the intervention of an unexpected force, bad timing, or poor quality materials foil his attempts and point his life in a different direction. The movie has fun with those moments but it also builds a character that in spite of his brusque manner, we hope can be redeemed. This is a sentimental heart tugging story that works on both the comedic and the dramatic playing fields. I have no problem with a crowd pleasing film and this is engineered to please the audience.

There were three or four spots that I  had to close my eyes and take a deep breath to get through. That is not due to any disturbing visual in the film, but rather because I was recalling moments from my own life that parallel Otto’s. Younger audiences can still relate to the experience, but when a moment plays as if it were a repeat of your own life, it takes a second or two to recover. A couple of small coincidences contribute to that, the car Otto drives is the same model and color my daughter dives and the car parked on the street in front of Otto’s house for every exterior shot, is the same color and model of the car I drive regularly. Substitute old dog for feral cat, and multiple illnesses for one terminal disease, and it just hit close to home. 

This is a mainstream film, made to appeal to adult audiences and gain as wide acceptance as possible. Not having seen the original yet, I have nothing to take umbrage at, and I am happy to say that in this “steaming” heavy world, where these kinds of movies usually end up, I saw it in a full theater with mostly adults in attendance. Maybe I liked it more because I related to the subject so much and I have no reason to look down on it as a remake. I just laughed, cried and thought about my own life a little more hopefully after the movie was done. 

KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975 “Brannigan”

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don’t see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 

Brannigan

John Wayne was in his final decade in the 1970s. He finished off the 60s with a much deserved Academy Award, and then made 10 films in the 1970s. As a child of the sixties, I had seen Wayne in dozens of cowboy films and war stories. He’d been the biggest star in Hollywood for almost forty years, and in spite of several health related setbacks, he continued to work well into his 60s. Apparently, he was at one time offered the role of “Dirty Harry” and turned it down. After seeing the success that it became, he signed up for two contemporary cop stories with the same lone wolf cop plot line. The first was “McQ” which came out the year before and was a modest success, “Brannigan” followed and it was not.

This is a standard 70s cop action film, where the righteous, break all the rules cop, goes after the bad guys and mayhem ensues. Wayne plays Jim Brannigan, a Chicago police detective, who has been pursuing crime boss Larkin, familiar actor John Vernon (he played the Mayor in Dirty Harry). Brannigan has had a contract put out on him by the crime lord. Larkin has relocated to London and Brannigan is sent to bring him back under extradition. So in addition to it being a cop film, it will be a fish out of water story as the American detective crosses paths with the British Criminal justice system. There is plenty of culture clash and the usual rogue cop shenanigan’s, and that adds to the fun of a fairly standard action flick.

Wisely, the sixty-seven year old Wayne is not given a love interest, but there is a paternal angle as he is accompanied on his British escapade by a young policewoman that he becomes something a mentor to as she babysits him for Scotland Yard. Judy Geeson was charming in the role and I kept thinking I’d seen her in something recent, in fact I had. Geeson is the British neighbor across the hall from Paul and Jamie Buchman in the TV series “Mad About You” which I had been rewatching during the pandemic. Her character is lucky it is a John Wayne film rather than an Eastwood picture, if you have seen the other Dirty Harry films, you will know why, partners don’t fare well with Harry. Her boss and Wayne’s counterpart at Scotland Yard is  Cmdr. Swann  played by Richard Attenborough. He is a by the book British Official, who will be shown up by and then influenced by the Yank. 

There is a lot of gunplay in the film, and Brannigan is of course violating British Police policies by carrying a weapon. Swann frequently tries to get him to surrender his Colt but Brannigan simply smiles and offers a quip instead of his sidearm. The cop film replaced the cowboy film as the primary action format in the 1970s. This film very much feels like a western set in the modern era. Instead of horseback pursuits, there are car chases. We still get a bar fight, but it is in a British pub and it is played for laughs, much the same way as a dozen other Wayne cowboy bar fights might have been. The good guy and the bad guys face off at the end, but the last duel is not a gunfight in the dirt street of a western down, but a showdown with a sports car in a dockyard in London.

Sure John Wayne is playing a version of the same character he has portrayed before, but he seems to be having a good time doing so and there are enough twists and character points to make it fun. I especially enjoyed him throwing those haymakers in the pub, and the cautious approach to a toilet in his booby-trapped boarding house room. Sometimes the procedural of following kidnappers directions for a ransom payoff becomes a little tiresome, but the last bit with the double homing devices was fun. 

I originally saw this at the El Rey Theater on Main Street in my hometown of Alhambra California, That location is long gone but it was very typically the theater in the Edwards Theater chain that played these kinds of action films. I watched this yesterday on Pluto, it was free but I did have to sit through a lot of commercials.