What I’ve Caught Up With, November 2023:
Film: Gatlopp: Hell of a Game (2022)
Paul (Jim Mahoney) is going through a nasty divorce. His friend Cliff (John Bass) calls in friends Samantha (Emmy Raver-Lampman) and Dominic (Sarunas J. Jackson) to help cheer him up. They start playing a strange drinking game called Gatlopp that turns out to be a game that requires them to honest and follow all of the rules or face actual punishment…and if no one wins, they are cursed to play eternally. Comparisons to Jumanji are obvious, but it’s closer to Stay Tuned. Hard to say it’s a great film, but the concept is a fun one, handled well enough.
Film: Lightyear (2022)
There was a lot of stink from the political right about Lightyear when it came out. Part of that was that the title character was voiced by Chris Evans rather than noted ultra-conservative Tim Allen. Most of it, though, was for a same-sex kiss in the first 10 minutes of the movie. The truth is that there are real problems with Lightyear, and it’s not a girl-on-girl smooch or the voice actors. The problem is that this plays out like a video game. While there’s a long-term plot, there’s no real rising action. It’s obstacle, solution, new obstacle, solution. Buzz Lightyear deserved better, and so did the fanbase.
Film: How to Survive a Plague (2012)
Younger generations don’t remember what it was like to live through the AIDS years. We lost an entire generation of homosexual men because of AIDS and because of the lack of interest from the U.S. government under Reagan—a lack of interest that was duplicated in other countries. There are any number of films and documentaries about the AIDS crisis that are worth seeing. How to Survive a Plague is specifically about the organizations ACT UP and the Treatment Action Group. An entire generation is owed an apology from anyone who supported Reagan, and this film makes a good case for that. Seriously, if you look at any social problem in the U.S., you can trace it getting worse or starting in the Reagan years.
Film: Monkey Business (1931)
Essentially plotless, this film puts the four Marx Brothers as stowaways on a cross-Atlantic ship. There are rival gangsters on the ships who have wives and daughters to be romanced, and captains and ship officials to be bamboozled along the way. Like many of the Marx Brothers movies, this is really about the different gags that can be dropped into the film, which include Groucho and Chico fast talking, Harpo mugging for the camera, a few musical numbers, and Zeppo Marx playing the handsome romantic. Everything comes out all right in the end, because of course it does; it’s a Marx Brothers comedy.
Film: Cop Land (1997)
With all of the garbage he put out in his career, it’s easy to forget that Sylvester Stallone has some real talent in front of the camera when he’s given good material. Cop Land, where Stallone plays a small-town sheriff of a town where a number of New York cops live, is good material. Sheriff Freddy Heflin is unable to be a cop himself because of an injury and he idolizes the men who wear the uniform in New York. When it starts to come to light that a lot of the cops are on the take, Freddy finds himself in a dangerous position. In addition to a solid story, this has a hell of a cast, including Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta, Edie Falco, Michael Rapaport, Harvey Keitel, Cathy Moriarty, Robert Patrick, and a ton of other notable names.
Film: The Strange One (1957)
If Tennessee Williams had decided to write a psychodrama set in a military school, he would have written The Strange One. Cadet Jocko (Ben Gazzara) rules the school through fear and intimidation with the assistance of his friend Harold (Pat Hingle). He enlists a couple of freshmen (George Peppard and Arthur Storch) to help scam a fellow classmate, but when caught by the son of the school’s headmaster, they arrange to have him expelled. Like any conspiracy, it spirals out of control from there. This is dark and devious and is all about exposing the darkness of the human heart. Good performances all around—the biggest distraction is that all of the actors look about 10 years older than their characters…because they were. It’s the screenplay that makes it.
Film: Super Size Me (2004)
Morgan Spurlock’s documentary got a great deal of attention, and did so by scaring people with just how unhealthy the American fast food business really is. Essentially, he spent 30 days eating nothing but McDonald’s food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There were specific rules he had to follow—super-sizing when asked, eating everything on the menu at least once, and only eating food from McDonald’s. The results are disturbing. Spurlock’s film has sadly faded over the past few years, in large part because Spurlock himself was “Me-too’d,” something that has significantly affected his credibility. Still, in the context of when it was made, this was industry changing. Sounds like he was just filled with bad decisions.
Film: Stargate (1994)
To be honest, Stargate is probably not good enough to have spawned a television show let alone three shows, an animated series, and more, but the idea is a fun one. Down-and-out Egyptologist Daniel Jackson (James Spader) helps translate an ancient Egyptian device that is actually a doorway to another world. A military team headed by Colonel Jack O’Neil (Kurt Russell) investigate and find a world of slaves based on what we would think of as ancient Egypt and headed by Ra, or an alien creature calling itself Ra. This is ridiculous science fiction that hearkens back to the crazy days of Science! from the 1950s movies, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It's also one of the rare films that includes a performance from Jaye Davidson.
Film: No Way Out (1987)
The Kevin Costner rule is that his movies generally suck unless they are Westerns or sports movies, with The Untouchables and JFK as notable exceptions. Given that, we might want to include films where Costner plays a cop or equivalent in the rule. No Way Out puts Costner in the role of a Navy Lieutenant Commander turned assistant to the Secretary of Defense David Brice (Gene Hackman). He starts an affair with a woman named Susan Atwill (Sean Young), who turns out to also be having an affair with Brice, who kills her in a fit of rage when he finds out she’s seeing another man. This plays a lot like a noir, and the cast is pretty solid, but the ending is a slap in the face to the entire audience.