Saturday, October 2, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, September 2021

I spent a lot of time in September preparing for the last ten days of October and my traditional run of 40 posts in the lead-up to Halloween. Despite this, I also managed to knock out six movies on this list. I did a little more than that, actually--I watched all three of the latest Star Trek movies, for instance. I also finally got around to watching Pumping Iron, which I strongly recommend. I'm not sure how many I'll get through in October, since I'm still trying to get ready for the 22nd and beyond, but I guess we'll see in a month.

What I’ve Caught Up With, September 2021:
Film: Fail-Safe (1964)

When you think about apocalyptic films from mid-‘60s, it’s natural to go to Dr. Strangelove. Fail-Safe was made at roughly the same time and has an almost identical plot. The difference is that this is entirely serious and not a parody. The destruction of the world through incompetence, mechanical failures, and technological advances is played out as a tragedy, not a comedy. As such, it’s a fine thriller with some solid performances (Henry Fonda makes a good president, after all), but it’s never going to be the right tone. World destruction, after all, is naturally comedic. It’s dark, and arguably too dark, which is odd to say about a movie with a body count that is probably in nine figures.

Film: Star Trek (2009)

It's always tempting to reboot a series, but it’s not easy to do in a way that will attract new fans without alienating the old ones. So how do you reboot the Star Trek universe, whose fanbase is unbelievably dedicated? Well, a little time travel and a little alternate universe, and you’ve got characters with the same names but an entirely new continuity. It was a really smart way to handle things and having Leonard Nimoy show up as a bridge between the original series and the reboot was brilliant. It was entertaining, fun seeing new takes on classic characters and, while the villain was undeveloped, it’s not a bad re-introduction to the world and characters.

Film: The Crimson Ghost (1946)

Not so much a film as a classic Republic serial, The Crimson Ghost involves atomic bombs, criminal masterminds, and a bad guy who was eventually used as the logo for the band The Misfits. It’s about what you expect it to be. Every 13-15 minutes, there is a cliffhanger and then another set of credits as we move to the next episode in the serial. It would not have been difficult to turn this into a movie of about half this length. This is clearly kids’ stuff, but it I admittedly fun kids’ stuff, filled with Science! and Technology! Plenty of sped-up footage adds to the hilarity, and I believe there are more fistfights per minute than in anything I’ve ever watched.

Film: Suffragette (2015)

There is a particular genre of film that is all about making the audience righteously indignant on behalf of the people in the film. Suffragette, which covers the movement for women in the U.K. to gain the right to vote, is such a film. A tremendous cast the features Carey Mulligan (certainly an Oscar winner someday), Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Whishaw, and Brendan Gleeson. It’s not a happy film by any stretch, but is an important one, and one worth seeing. Watch this and tell me unions are a bad idea, or that the political right stands for anything useful, I dare you.

Film: La Femme Nikita (1990)

I’ve seen the remake with Bridget Fonda a couple of times, but this is my first time watching the original. What we lose in not having Bridget Fonda in the main role we gain in having Luc Besson as the director. In a chapter of his book A Year at the Movies, Kevin Murphy discusses original film versus foreign remakes. In each case with the exception of this one, Murphy suggests watching the original. For La Femme Nikita/Point of No Return he suggests that neither is worth watching. He’s kind of right. It’s not bad (the third act was a surprise to me, and the remake’s third act is better), but it’s not necessary to watch it more than once.


There’s something both pure and terrible about high school sports. Hoosiers is one of those movies where the ending and the various emotional beats are not surprising, but Hoosiers is simply damned good at what it does. It reminds me of Strictly Ballroom in that sense—I know what’s coming and I still fall for it. Much of that comes from the masterful performance from Gene Hackman, who has rarely, if ever, been better. Barbara Hershey is one note and flat, but Dennis Hopper makes up for a lot of deficiencies. What’s interesting is how we are directed into rooting for the white kids against the black kids in 1950s Indiana.


  1. Hoosiers... that's one of my dad's favorite movies. He just loves films about the American mid-west and small sports teams that are underdogs as his all-time favorite film is Rudy made by the same filmmaker.

    La Femme Nikita is such an awesome film as it's a shame that I saw the remake first which is just OK. I liked Suffragette as Carey Mulligan was great though I don't understand the top billing for Meryl Streep which was really a cameo. I liked the 2009 version of Star Trek as Chris Pine really understands that part and brought a small dose of William Shatner to the part. Fail-Safe is a film that I've been meaning to see though I am aware it's been overshadowed by Dr. Strangelove.

    1. There's a family connection for me to Hoosiers. The movie is loosely based on a real story about a guy named Bobby Plump. My brother co-wrote a biography of the guy. It's a book that isn't of a great deal of interest outside of Indiana, but there it is.

  2. Fail-Safe is a tough sit. The acting is very fine and its tense but so grim and nihilistic I would never call it entertainment.

    Suffragette again has great acting; I was pulled in by it and it tells an important story but once was enough as far as watching it goes.

    The Crimson Ghost is like so many serials of its day. Some good elements and some bad but with a slapdash feel.

    I’m not much for sports, especially on TV-if I can’t watch in person who cares, but for whatever reason I love sports movies. So, Hoosiers was right in my sweet spot helped enormously by the combo of Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper.

    I’m no Trekkie but I enjoyed the original series and all the evenly numbered theatrical movies with the cast from the show. When the new Star Trek came out I was leery, but it was entertaining on its own merits with Chris Pine a far less pretentious bag of wind than Shatner. I also liked Karl Urban as Bones though it would take a lot to better DeForest Kelley’s prickly characterization.

    Le Femme Nikita was okay, but I LOVE Point of No Return while freely admitting that as a piece of art it ain’t much. Bridget Fonda is fantastic in the lead and while Dermot Mulroney is called on to be little more than a himbo the rest of the supporting cast is incredible including Anne Bancroft who makes her tiny role into so much more than it would have been with anyone else. The woman was a FORCE.

    Well, it finally happened. Though I saw many films that I enjoyed this month in my birthday project none of them were really good enough for me to fully recommend. Hopefully this month will be more fruitful.

    1. I agree completely on both Fail-Safe and Suffragette. Glad I watched both, don't need to watch either again.

      Hoosiers is riddled with cliche, and I kind of don't care. I feel the same way about Breaking Away. There are no surprises in it, and it just works.

      The new Star Trek movies are really well done. I like that they figured out a way to give us completely new versions of the classic characters, preserving the existence of the original series while still giving this new version room to breathe. Great casting, too. Zachary Quinto really works as Spock, and I agree on Karl Urban, who is almost always underrated in my opinion.

      I think ultimately I prefer Point of No Return as well, and for me it's all about Bridget Fonda.

  3. So THAT's where the Misfits logo came from!

    Now to find out what "138" actually means...

  4. I love the Star Trek reboot. It's strange how I never got into the original but I immediately loved those. They work for me, though it's sad to re-watch them now because of Anton.

    1. I agree. I'm still gutted by the lost of Anton Yelchin. I've always had a soft spot for Chekov as a character.

  5. The best thing in the Star Trek reboot is the cast. Every single actor was well chosen and they make up for a lot of plot and script problems. I wish the three movies were better than they are, but I absolutely love the cast.

    Hoosiers is indeed cliche, but a great film. It's sad and touching and triumphant with some great performances. The last game was filmed in the Butler Fieldhouse when my wife was at Butler. She had a chance to be in the crowd, but they were filming during finals, so she turned it down.

    1. Huh. Your wife was at Butler about a decade after my brother was a student at Butler.

      I know what you mean about the Star Trek movies. I like them, but it really is the cast that sells them. Karl Urban and Simon Pegg are perfect casts.