What I’ve Caught Up With, March 2023:
Film: Waking Ned Devine (1998)
A man in a tiny Irish town wins the lottery, and the shock of it kills him. His friends Michael (David Kelly) and Jackie (Ian Bannen) decide to claim the ticket, but since Ned has already put his name on it, they need to fake one of them being the real Ned and hope that the lottery officials don’t discover the ruse. Funny and heartfelt, Waking Ned Devine (or just Waking Ned) is a joy of a movie, and there are times the actors themselves can’t help but laugh. Remember when people made movies that were economical and ran 90 minutes and still told a complete story? They should do that again, and they can start here with how to do it.
Film: The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)
One of the early revenge pictures in the talkie era, The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic tale of bad actions, lost love, and adventure. This really is one of the prototypes of a classic adventure story. An innocent ship captain (Robert Donat) is imprisoned because his presence is in the way of three unscrupulous men. He escapes after years of imprisonment and returns with a fortune in lost treasure to enact his revenge. This is fun stuff, and while Donat feels too nice to be truly vengeful, he has the panache and style to pull it off. Very entertaining.
Film: The Street Fighter (1974)
It's hard not to see The Street Fighter as an attempt to make Sonny Chiba the next Bruce Lee. An overly complicated plot puts Chiba’s Takuma Tsurugi as a sort of freelance operative, assisted by his wacky sidekick Rakuda (Goichi Ramada). There are Yakuza, attempted kidnappings of an oil baroness, and a hell of a lot of fighting. Not a lot of this makes a great deal of sense, of course, but this is not a movie you watch for the plot. This is a movie to watch to see Sonny Chiba play whack-a-mole with a bunch of bad guys. Ridiculous, but a must-see for the Kung Fu Theater crowd. This got an X rating on its initial U.S. release, both for attempted rape and some substantial violence including a man having his junk ripped off by hand.
Film: 14 Peaks (2021)
Also known as 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible, this is one of those “triumph of the human spirit” movies, but it’s also one that really works. Nepalese mountain climber Nirmal “Nims” Purja decides that he’s going to scale the world’s 14 tallest mountains—the 14 that are taller than 8,000 meters. Previously, the record was completing this in less than eight years, but Nims makes the goal of scaling all 14 in seven months. Political issues, like getting permission to climb in Chinese-controlled Tibet and family issues plague the attempt. I’m happy to be thought of as a misanthropist in a lot of situations, but sometimes, humans are pretty damn amazing.
Film: Ice Cold in Alex (1958)
As someone who grew up watching films about World War II, Ice Cold in Alex was the film that I’d heard of in nothing but glowing terms but had never seen, so finding it streaming meant watching it immediately. Essentially, an alcoholic captain of a British ambulance corps (John Mills) is forced to take an ambulance through the desert. He’s accompanied by a pair of nurses, a sergeant major, and eventually a South African soldier. Along the way, they’ll deal with mines, bombers, tanks, and more. The name comes from Captain Anson’s desire to have an ice cold beer in Alexandria. There’s a great deal in common here with The Wages of Fear, and I mean that only in the most positive way. I’m very pleased to have finally seen this.
Film: Liar Liar (1997)
Made in the sweet spot of Jim Carey’s comedy career, just before he started dipping his toes into legitimate drama, Liar Liar puts Carey in the role of a sleezy lawyer who constantly lies, often to his young son Max (Justin Cooper), who nevertheless idolizes him. Disappointing his son one more time on Max’s birthday, the boy wishes that for one day his father will not be able to lie, and the wish comes true. Hilarious consequences and Carey’s brand of overacting follow. It’s mostly harmless and features a stellar cast (Carey Elwes, Moira Tierney, Jennifer Tilley, Amanda Donohoe, Jason Bernard, and Swoosie Kurtz among others). The very end is potentially troubling, though, especially for children who have lived through a divorce.