What I’ve Caught Up With, March 2021:
Film: A Shot in the Dark (1964)
Film: Robot Monster (1953)
A good filmmaker can do a great deal without much of a budget. A terrible filmmaker can’t do much regardless of the budget. That being the case, it’s probably a good thing that no one really funded Phil Tucker more than the $16,000 he got for this (although the damned thing grossed $1 million). The eponymous robot monster—a space helmet mounted on a gorilla suit—destroys all life on Earth, save eight people. He attempts to kill them, possibly aided by a bubble-making machine. This is as ridiculous as you’re going to find, but it’s fun in spite of itself, and it sports an Elmer Bernstein score, which is like having Alton Brown show up and make food at a really embarrassingly tacky wedding.
Film: Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)
I didn’t love the first M:I film, and liked the second one less. Since then, though, they’ve only gotten better and better. M:I Fallout brings back a lot of the crew from the whole series and continues to build on the Ethan Hunt mythology. It’s a smart series, since each film is very much its own contained thing, but there are continuing stories that tie them all together. The action pieces are solid, and the characters are continuously engaging. The Bourne movies may seem like an American James Bond franchise, but M:I is the real deal. Say what you will about Tom Cruise being a nutter, he makes a damn fine actioner.
Film: This Gun for Hire (1942)
This is a solid little noir with a damn fine cast that could really stand to be another 10 minutes or so longer. Alan Ladd plays a heartless assassin hired to steal a chemical formula for a high-powered executive played by Laird Creegar, who double-crosses the assassin. Meanwhile, a singing magician/entertainer (Veronica Lake) gets mixed up in all of this and does what she can to assist her cop boyfriend Robert Preston. Toss in the possibility that the chemical company is actually working with the Axis powers, and you’ve got something that hits on a lot of cylinders. It’s a lot more clever than expected, and a dandy role for the always under-used Lake. Loved seeing Ladd playing a straight-up killer as well, and Laird Creegar is always a welcome sight.
Film: Fort Apache (1948)
Movies of this era seemed to want to shoehorn a romance into everything. Ship a martinet officer (Henry Fonda) from the American Civil War out west with his almost-adult daughter (Shirley Temple) and, despite any potential trouble from the Apaches, we’ve got to have her immediately fall in love with one of the officers, played in this case by her real-life husband, John Agar. There’s also some comic relief from a quartet of drunks. The real story, though, is John Wayne acting on behalf of the natives while Henry Fonda demonstrates his acting chops by playing against type. It’s a good Western, but it’s not going to match up with the true greats of the genre.
Film: The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
Essentially, 90 minutes or so of sketch comedy from the guys who made Airplane! and directed by John Landis. There’s enough talent here (including weird cameos from George Lazenby, Donald Sutherland, and Henry Gibson) that some of it is going to work, but far from all of it does. The centerpiece is actually a pretty good parody of Enter the Dragon with Evan C. Kim as the Bruce Lee stand-in. While this has its moments, parts of it have not aged very well. Undoubtedly, this was a lot funnier 40+ years ago, and it’s not really worth a second watch.
Film: The Hateful Eight (2015)
It’s not going to be a surprise when I say that yet another Quentin Tarantino movie is ridiculously self-indulgent. For many a year, Tarantino has not told a movie in two hours when he could tell it in two-and-a-half instead. The Hateful Eight is Taratino going full Western instead of halfway as he did with Django Unchained. The cast is good, and I’m always happy to see Walton Goggins in anything. As usual, this would be better with 20% trimmed from it. This write-up is shorter than average as an example.