Saturday, July 1, 2023

What I've Caught Up With, June 2023

I don't have a ton to say about June. With the kitchen remodel finally done, we've put the house back together and are now going through the 20+ years of stuff we have accumulated in this house. That's taken a lot of my focus right now because there's just so much to do. I also managed to get through the latest season of Black Mirror, which has taken a turn toward straight horror and away from vicious cyberpunk. I have so many holes in my television viewing!

What I’ve Caught Up With, June 2023:
Film: Dual (2022)

Dual is a masterclass in writing a film with a fantastic premise and then allowing ruining it with stilted, weird acting and dialogue. Sarah (Karen Gillan) is diagnosed with an illness that will prove to be fatal. To ease the loss for her loved ones, she arranges a clone to take her place, but then has a complete remission of her illness. By law, she and her clone have to duel to the death in one year. It’s such a great premise, and for whatever reason, all of the actors here (including a nice role for Aaron Paul) have bizarre lines and read them like a grade school pageant. There’s such potential here, and aside from the downbeat ending, it’s all wasted.

Film: Gaslight (1940)

You’ve seen the story more than likely, but probably not this version of it. This earlier version of the story—and it’s the same story—has a lot less star power since we have Anton Wahlbrook, Diana Wynyard, and Frank Pettingell rather than Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, and Joseph Cotten. It’s also much pared down, running a good half an hour shorter than the more famous version. It’s a solid run at the story, and it benefits from Diana Wynyard being immediate and entirely pitiable. Wahlbrook is menacing as the man slowly driving his wife insane, especially as it relates to the gaslights in their house. A reminder that the term “gaslighting” comes from this story—watch and you’ll understand.

Film: The Bounty (1984)

There was a time when you could count on Mel Gibson to be a draw, and putting him shirtless in a movie filled with high adventure was a good way to get a return on your investment. This latter-day version of the story of HMS Bounty is a good one, if perhaps not a great one. Honestly, the mutiny isn’t that interesting to me. It’s Bligh and his loyalists making the open boat trip across miles of ocean that always feels like it gets short shrift. There’s a nice supporting cast in this, but it’s Anthony Hopkins and Gibson who take the spotlight, along with a lot of topless Tahitian women.

Film: Beat Street (1984)

In a very strong field of potential contenders, Beat Street might be the most ’80s movie ever. A group of urban kids mix beats, break dance, and tag trains as forms of expression. We’re going to spend most of our time with dancer Lee (Robert Taylor) and his older brother Kenny (Guy Davis) who works as a DJ. A lot of this concerns Kenny’s budding romance with Tracy (Rae Dawn Chong), but this is a coming-of-age story for everyone involved. Made very much to appeal to (honestly) my age 40 years ago, Beat Street isn’t Hamlet but it absolutely nails a generation and a culture. It’s worth saying that star Guy Davis isn’t known as an actor, but as a two-time Grammy winner. It does feel like a weird time capsule—this is early rap, the sort “My name is X and I’m here to say…” lyrics, which do sound funny today.

Film: The Summit of the Gods (Les Sommet des Dieux) (2021)

A few months ago, I watched 14 Peaks and last month, Clouds of Sils Maria. It looks like once again mountains are on the menu with The Summit of the Gods, also known as Le Sommet des Dieux. Based on a manga, this is the story of a journalist for a mountain climbing magazine hunting for a story about what may have been the first actual successful ascent of Everest, from a pair of climbers who were never seen again. The journalist’s path leads him to a climber who has disappeared from the world for years and who may have a piece of evidence regarding that effort from 30 years before Hilary’s and Norgay’s successful ascent. Contemplative and sad, it does significantly question the “because it’s there” rationale of mountain climbing. It handles the Mallory expedition question the right way.

Film: Bunny Lake is Missing (1964)

Tonally, this film reminds me a great deal of something like The Collector or Séance on a Wet Afternoon. Anne Lake (Carol Lynley) moves to London with her young daughter Bunny, and when she goes to pick Bunny up from her first day at school, discovers that she is gone. Worse, no one has seen her. In fact, literally no one has seen Anne’s daughter despite her insistence that Bunny actually exists. This is backed up by her journalist brother (Keir Dullea)…or is it? Laurence Olivier plays a sharp but seemingly blasé police detective in this psychological thriller that perhaps gives up the ghost a little early, but is nonetheless fascinating all the way through.

Film: Flux Gourmet (2022)

If you told me that there was essentially a companion piece to Crimes of the Future, I wouldn’t have believed you, and yet here we are. Darkly comic, Flux Gourmet uses food and the sounds of food preparation instead of surgery as its performance piece, and this is very much a piece of performance art. A group of “sonic caterers” make a sort of music while creating and interacting with food in a performance art sense while at an artistic retreat, all while being written about by a flatulent journalist. It’s incredibly difficult to explain, but for all of its weirdness, it really does feel like it belongs on a double bill with Cronenberg’s film. Weirder than it is good, but worth seeing.

Film: Point Break (1991)

Advertised as “100% pure adrenaline,” it would have been understandable if people at the time thought that was the name of the film. Featuring Keanu Reeves as an ex-football star turned FBI agent, Gary Busey as his burned-out mentor, and Patrick Swayze as a bank robbing surfer, Point Break is so completely ridiculous that it actually kind of works. Reeves isn’t believable as a fed (nor is Busey), but it’s fun, and the bank robbing scenes are good. It’s also a good reminder that Lori Petty looked good with a punk haircut. John C. McGinley shows up as the stereotypical angry cop boss. It’s impossible to take this seriously, but so what?


  1. I have seen half of these, and I’ve been meaning to see Beat Street forever but always forget about it when I’m casting around for something different to watch.

    Of the ones I’ve seen I’d say Bunny Lake is Missing is by far the best of the bunch. My hopes were not too high when I started the film since Carol Lynley was never an actress I though of as being particularly talented but even she was quite good in this. Perhaps it was working with Laurence Olivier and Preminger’s strong hand. Anyway, a vivid and compelling film and I found Olivier delightful.

    This version of Gaslight isn’t bad but in comparison it comes across as a weak sister. I don’t know if it was the shorter run time or the lack of Ingrid’s presence, but it was missing something. I thought Anton Walbrook best in show, coming close to matching Boyer’s work.

    The Bounty was colorful and Anthony Hopkins quite good as Bligh, but it will never make me forget the Clark Gable/Charles Laughton film. I did happen upon it a while ago and my main takeaway was how stacked the supporting cast was with at the time obscure actors (Daniel Day Lewis, Liam Neeson etc.) who went on to big careers.

    Point Break is so utterly ridiculous that if you’re in the mood to switch off your brain and have several “Oh come on!” moments it is made to order. My guess is that without it Keanu would never have been cast in “Speed” which he and Sandra Bullock so effortlessly make the propulsive thrill ride that it is so I suppose it isn’t a complete waste of celluloid.

    1. To be fair, Dual, Flux Gourmet, and probably Beat Street aren't necessary viewing. Beat Street is most interesting as a sort of time capsule of when it was made. The Summit of the Gods is quite good, though--I was surprised at how affecting I found it.

      I agree with you on this version of Gaslight. It's fine, but it doesn't hold a candle (or a gaslight) to the remake. The Bounty was fine as well, but kind of forgettable in general.

      I was quite surprised by Bunny Lake. I think it could have kept up the mystery just a little longer, but it's a solid thriller and quite smart to boot, although the end does sort of spiral out of control a bit.

  2. Point Break is a masterpiece. It is just one of these films that is just so fun to watch and it never takes itself seriously. Something the remake failed to do. I don't remember seeing Beat Street as there were a lot of movies around hip-hop at that time as I don't remember many of them. The rest of the films in that list I haven't seen yet.

    1. Point Break is a ridiculous mess, but it's the right kind of ridiculous mess to be wildly entertaining. You're right that it doesn't take itself seriously, and that's exactly what makes it worth watching. I have less than no interest in seeing the remake.

  3. Dual does sound like it has an amazing premise. Now I'm torn lol

    1. It's not terrible; it's just not nearly as good as the premise.