Weekend Double Feature – Featuring Barenaked Ladies! And their Cats! (or, in other words, It’s All Been Done Before…)

Yeah, I know I threw some of you yesterday when I said I was going to do a follow-up to that post on Saturday, which is usually when I post the Double Feature, but that’s because I knew (and y’all didn’t yet) that the DF was moving to Friday.

df1So, the way the Double Feature usually works is that I pick a movie that’s opening this weekend and pair it up with a movie from the past (I like to generally go 80s or before, but that’s variable, especially now that we’ve moved into 2020 which means that even movies that came out before 2000 are older than this year’s crop of college freshmen) that relates to it in some way. It could be thematically, it could be an actor or director, it could even just be something that the title reminds me of. The main point is just to hopefully introduce some folks to movies that they may not know about or perhaps just re-contextualize things a bit.

But, here’s the thing. January is pretty well known as a dumping ground for the studios. They’ve saturated the market with their Oscar hopefuls, trying to get them qualified with December screenings, and at the same and at the same time they’ve dropped the last of their blockbusters trying to get all the folks bored with their families and the holidays or who have extra time off into the theaters to get that nice big year-end boost of cash. So that doesn’t leave much for January, and this year is starting off as no exception, with the only movie opening wide this week being the latest take on The Grudge, and honestly, that just left me kind of uninspired.

c1So, I seriously considered just skipping this week and re-starting the column next week until I realized that there was a big flick that came out recently that I hadn’t done a column on, and once i gave it a little thought, i realized that I knew the absolute perfect film to pair it with.

Which brings us to… Cats. Yeah, the nightmare musical. The CGI monstrosity that should never have been made (or at least not made this way). Okay, yeah, I know it’s got singing cockroaches with human faces, and you might think that would redeem it some, but in the end even that can’t save it.

It wasn’t until I was listening to somebody talk about the “plot” of this movie that it occurred to me that it was… extremely familiar.

Okay, so the way I understand it, the main “story” of Cats is that each year, this particular group of “jelly-bowl cats” has to get together and perform a song and dance routine to introduce themselves to the group (even though they do this every year) and to try to please the main high-father cat, Old Dootybooty, and if they do, then they get to… umm… die and go to the afterlife? live and go to the afterlife? eat a can of Afterlife Flavored 9 Lives cat food? I dunno, but apparently it’s something that they all want to do even if they’re only on, say, life three of their supposed nine.

c5
(I’m posting this instead of an actual picture from the movie because it’s far less disturbing than anything I could find,)

Maybe it’s one of those karmic reincarnation things where actually having nine lives is a punishment and they’re supposed to be learning from each one, and once they hit the 9th they’re stuck unless Ol’ Geteroffame says they’re worthy? But only one gets chosen each year, so what happens to the ones already on their ninth that die before the next round of Jenitals Got Talent?

Oh! I gt it now! That’s where the roaches come from! Okay, see all you unbelievers out there? It does make perfect sense after all!

Anyway, like I was saying, I was listening to someone describe this and it suddenly struck me that I had seen this exact same plot before. A group of creatures gets together, has to perform for their king, and if they please him enough, they get to move on to the afterlife?

Yeah, I know that movie.

Ed Wood Jr. made it 54 years ago.

c3Only he called it Orgy of the Dead.

Oh, and instead of filling his movie with some kind of hybrid (or possibly inbred) cat creatures from outer space, he filled it with women from the local burlesque show who strip down to their panties and don’t even try to sing – they just have to do an interpretive dance that relates to who they were in life.

Other than that, and the fact that the person they are dancing for is the “King of the Night” (played with his usual gusto by Wood regular Criswell) and instead of cats, the ones looking to move on to a more positive afterlife are the spirits of the dead who killed their lovers or committed other crimes, meaning their motivation actually makes more sense than what we are given in the “respectable” movie, it’s almost exactly the same “plot”.

Oh, and Wood also inserts a slight subplot about a writer’s-blocked author and his wife who are driving at night, have a wreck, stumble upon the proceedings, are eventually discovered, are then forced to watch, and are threatened with being dispatched before the end of the night, meaning there’s actually some extra tension beyond just who can give the king a boner worthy of the afterlife (and apparently I could be talking quite literally about either movie here, since that’s what they both seem to boil down to).

c6Oh, and did I happen to mention that Wood throws in a mummy and a werewolf and a Vampira knockoff just for good measure?

And that nobody has to eat tap-dancing cockroaches? (Yes, that’s really what happens… apparently Rebel Wilson strips out of her fur (?!?!) and eats them before they can get away!)

And that Wood even has a dancer that starts out (for reasons I can’t remember at the moment) in a cat costume that is far less disturbing than anything in the newer movie?

Anyway, I know that there are those horror movie fans out there that will opt for the most terrifying thing they can find in to watch, and for you guys it’s going to be a tough choice between Cats and The Grudge, but for me, well the choice of what to watch seems quite obvious.

Here’s your very NSFW trailer:

 

 

Saturday Double Feature: ?? and… ?

(Okay, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

df1This was a very interesting week for this column. My usual procedure when preparing to write it is to take a quick look at the upcoming release schedule over at Box Office Mojo, pick out what looks to be either the most likely to be the big release of the week or, alternately, the most interesting, and then start thinking about what track I want to take to find something to pair it with. Usually the first step is to take a look (or another look if it’s a film that I’m already familiar with) at the trailer to see if that inspires some connection. if not, then I’ll maybe look at what seems to be the theme of the film, or maybe some other aspect of it that stands out. Honestly, it’s usually not a very long or complicated process. Every once in awhile, if I’m really stuck, I’ll ask a friend of mine who might have more knowledge on a particular topic or genre for suggestions, but in the end, the final choice is always the pairing that appeals to me the most.

What complicated things this weekend was that there was no stand-out big hit release this weekend. It almost seemed as if all of the big studios decided to take this weekend off for some reason. Now, of course, it’s become pretty standard for them to avoid each other when it comes to the big movies, to give a bit of lee-way to a film that is almost assuredly going to suck all of the oxygen out of the air (or, more directly stated, suck all the cash out of everyone’s wallets), and sometimes, if there’s a really big blockbuster coming out they’ll give it an extra weekend to make its mark before throwing a challenger out there, but honestly.this isn’t that kind of weekend. Somehow I can;t bring myself to believe that everyone was quaking in terror at the thought of going against the only movie going into wide release this weekend, Playmobil: The Movie, and at the same time, there is nothing that opened last weekend that would cause anyone at the studios to say “Well. we better stay out of the way of that monster”. But still, for some reason, it’s a wide-open weekend.

ptmOkay, so even with that, there’s still the “what looks most interesting to me personally?” option. The problem there is that, though there may be a dearth of truly huge movies opening this weekend, the smaller films that are making an appearance contain a number of movies that look like they could either be truly interesting or at the least quite entertaining. I actually went through a little game with a friend of mine where I had him try to figure out which of the movies on the list i would choose to feature and what I might pair it with, and he went through four of them and a couple of hints before finally figuring it out, and even then he wasn’t sure what the pairing would be.

So what were the candidates? Well, there’s Little Joe, a science fiction flick about the dangers of genetically modified flowers that seem to manipulate the emotions and thoughts of anyone who comes in contact with their “pollen”. That could have been a great one to pair with the original Little Shop of Horrors. (Credit, by the way, to my friend, he was the one who came up with that double feature.)

df2Or, there’s Dark Light, which Box Office Mojo describes thusly: “A woman returns to her family home and discovers it to be inhabited by monsters.” There also seems to be some hullabaloo about her daughter going missing and her being suspected of having done something dastardly. I dunno, but honestly I’m still feeling a bit burnt out on horror, so I decided to give that one a pass though I suppose you could make a case for pairing it up with The Amityville Horror.

Another candidate is En Brazos de un Asesino. or In the Arms of an Assassin, which immediately gave me vibes reminiscent of Leon: The Professional, though of course that movie thankfully didn’t have the “will they or won’t they” vibe that this one seems to be giving off.

Finally, however, I decided to go with a movie whose trailer I had seen a couple of times already at our local art-house theater and which I found intriguing, if not perhaps the most profoundly original concept ever.

There have been a number of movies, especially period pieces, which have concerned themselves with the concept of the “trapped woman”. Sometimes she is literally trapped, as in locked into a room or a house, but just as often the trap is societal: she is trapped in a loveless marriage or by her station in life or by the expectations of others or some other force or combination of forces.

df3Portrait of a Lady on Fire (the original French title is Portrait de la jeune fille en feu) appears to be another exploration of this idea. the twist this time is that the “lady” of the title is not yet married, merely betrothed. As a matter of fact,she has never even met her husband-to-be and has no real idea of what her life with him will be like. Of course, since they have never met, he also has no idea of even what she looks like, and has refused to go any further with the wedding until he sees a portrait of her. Her family, desperate for the marriage to happen has hired a number of painters, but each of them has quit, because she is so obstinate and hard to work with.

Finally, they hit upon the idea of hiring an “undercover artist” who will pose as a sort of “friend for hire” for the young lady. She will be a companion to her to go on walks with her, spend time with her, get to know her and memorize her features and the paint the portrait in secret.

Obviously, there’s no way this idea is going to backfire at all, right?

Now, I’m going to assume that this is a film that most people will not have heard of, and since i don’t recall seeing the trailer running every fifteen minutes or so in the midst of whatever network programming I’ve been watching lately, why don’t we go ahead and take a look at it now, and while you;re watching it, see if you can pick out the specific shot that made me certain of the movie I would be pairing it with.

Go ahead. Take your time, and I’ll meet you on the other side.

 

There, did you catch it? The scene where the “lady” of the title is running toward the cliff seemingly about to hurl herself over to her inevitable death? Did it remind you of anything? Think way back to the classics. Back to Hitchcock. Back to Manderlay. Back to Rebecca.

df4For those of you unfamiliar with it, Rebecca is the story of a young girl (we are never even told her real name who meets the wealthy Maxim de Winter while she is serving as the paid companion to a friend of his. They are soon married, and she is quickly brought to his cliff-side manor known as Manderlay.

The couple’s happiness is short-lived, however, as it seems that Manderlay is haunted, if not by the actual ghost, then at least by the memory of the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca. There is more than just a touch of mystery about how she died, and many of the people in the house and the surrounding town are having a hard time letting go of her and accepting Maxim’s new bride as the true mistress of the house. Foremost among these is the (honestly quite evil) housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers.

Rebecca was nominated for a total of 11 Academy Awards, and wound up winning two, including Best picture. It stars Joan Fontaine as the second Mrs. de Winter, Lawrence Olivier as Maxim, and Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers.

Here’s your trailer

 

Saturday Double Feature: Knives Out (2019) and…

Okay, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

ko1Ever since I saw his first feature, Brick, I have been a fan of Rian Johnson. For those who may not be familiar with that flick, it’s a pretty great neo-noir set in a high school, that not only hets the trappings of the genre right, but also the atmosphere of desperation and inevitability that, for me, is a hallmark of a good noir.

That’s why I’m truly looking forward to seeing what he does this week when he returns to his mystery roots with Knives Out. All you have to do is look back at some of my previous posts to see how much of a fan I am of the “old dark house” style mystery – you know the kind I mean, where all the suspects are stuck for one reason or another in one setting and it’s up to the detective (sometimes a professional, sometimes an amateur, often just one of the guests) to put all the pieces together and solve the crime before it’s too late and everyone else (or they themself) winds up dead.

As always, there are a few ways to go when looking for a pairing for this double feature. We could go back to the beginning, and the movie which gave the genre it’s name:

We could go the Agatha Christie route:

Or, we could always go with the most popular comedy version

If it fit within the “rules”, I probably would have gone with this one

But instead, I decided to go with an earlier comedy version. 1976’s Murder by Death, written by Neil Simon and directed by Robert Moore is a parody not only of the old dark house style, but also of the various detective tropes that had sprung up over the years.

ko2The movie features Truman Capote in the host role as Lionel Twain, who has invited five of the world’s greatest detectives and their relatives/assistants to his mansion for an evening of “dinner and a murder”. The detectives include Peter Falk as Sam Diamond, a take-off of the hard-boiled detective (the name is just a bit too point-on, but hey… honestly, this ain;t what you’d call a…. ummm… subtle film), Elsa Lanchester as Jessica Marbles, (the Agatha Christie Miss Marples stand-in), James Coco as Christie;s Hercule Poirot… I mean as Milo Perrier, David Niven and Maggie Smith as Dick and Dora Charleston, the Nick and Nora Charles (from the Thin Man series) knockoffs, and…

Yeah, here’s where we get to the problematic part. The fifth detective is Sidney Wang, who is based on Earl Del Biggers’ Charlie Chan. As you’ll see in the trailer, Wang is portrayed by Peter Sellers in full yellow-face and of course full pigeon English, and there’s just no getting around it. It is a terrific send-up of the character type, (one would expect nothing less from an actor as talented as Sellers), but at the same time, it’s definitely a product of its time, and I certainly understand that it will be a deal-breaker for some.

If it’s not, however, then I do highly recommend Murder by Death. It’s not the best of its kind, (look above to see the two that I think are), and some of the laughs may not land if you’re not familiar with the characters being parodied, but it is entertaining, and at just over 90 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Here’s your trailer:

Saturday Double Feature – Ford v Ferrari (2019) and…

Okay, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

ff1When I first heard the title Ford v Ferrari, I have to admit I had no idea at all what the movie was about. Probably some kind of Fast and Furious rip-off was my first thought.

As it turns out, the movie is about the rivalry between Henry Ford II, Lee Iacoca, and Enzo Ferrari. It seems that in 1963, Ford tried to buy Ferrari, a move which might have happened, except that Ferrari didn’t want to let go of his Formula 1 racing team, which held complete domination of the sport at the time.

Enraged by the rejection, Ford became determined to build a car which would knock Ferrari out of the top spot, and he hired Caroll Shelby and Ken Miles to design the car. I’ll let you guess how the movie progresses from there, but it all ends with a big showdown at the 24 hours of LeMans race in 1966.

So what older movie would provide a good double feature with FvF? Well, the obvious choice would be 1971’s Le Mans starring Steve McQueen as a driver in the ’71 version of the race depicted in FvF, however, as a friend pointed out while we were discussing it, that might be just a little too obvious. For the record, though, I highly recommend seeing LeMans if you haven’t. Hey, it’s Steve McQueen in a car flick… can you really go wrong with that?

Okay, so with that one out of the running, where do you go? Well, if there’s one thing I know to be true in this life it’s that you can never go wrong turning to the late, great James Garner.

gp1With John Frankenheimer in the director’s chair shooting in 70mm Super Panavision, 1966’s Grand Prix may not be the best racing movie ever made, but no one can deny that it is full of stars and spectacle. The cast includes Eve Maries Saint, Brian Bedford, Yves Montaud, Jessica Walter, Antonio Sabato, and Toshiro Mifune, along with cameos from real-life race drivers such as Phil Hill, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, and Jack Brabham. It also features footage that was shot during actual races on the F1 circuit.

Grand Prix had a unique road to the screen as Frankenheimer was able to leverage his connections to various real-life drivers to get permission to shoot at the races even though it meant disrupting many of the drivers’ usual schedules and training days. he even went so far as to stop production after shooting at Monte Carlo, cut together a 30 minute prodution reel which was shown to Ferrari management, and they were so impressed that they subsequently allowed him to even shoot on their production floor and helped  him gain even more access to the races and drivers.

Frankenheimer has stated (and I’m paraphrasing here) that there were really two ways he could go with the movie, focusing either on the more technical aspects of the racing or playing up the behind-the-scenes almost soap-opera aspects of life on the circuit, and he eventually decided to go the latter route. Whether that was the right choice I think really depends upon the viewer and what they want from this type of movie.

The plot of the film basically follows four main drivers through an entire season of the Formula One season, focusing not only on them, but also on the people such  as their wives and lovers and team members as they risk life and limb in these races. Thos focus does not, however take away from the stunning race footage that Frankenheimer and his cinematographer, Lionel Lindon, were able to capture, as you’ll see in the trailer.

And speaking of the trailer, here it is now. Enjoy! And then go check out the whole thing,

 

Saturday Double Feature – Midway (2019) and…

Okay, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

mw1News Flash! The Japanese have launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor!

Flashier! The US Navy has launched a valiant attack on Japanese forces seeking to take the island of Midway, in a battle that is hoped will turn the tide of the war in the Pacific!

More Flash! Roland Emmerich has spent $100 million dollars on a two- hour plus movie telling this tale!

Still Flashing! There’s little hope that this film will be any better than the original film about this battle which was just as star-studded, just as long, and apparently just as middle of the road.

Yes, it’s true. For this week’s double feature, I’m going with a pretty obvious pick, but after last week’s nobody-coulda-guessed-it selection, I thought I’d go a little easier on you this week.

So, yeah, back in 1976, director Jack Smight (here’s where I would usually give you some of his other credits that you might recognize, but… yeah…) assembled Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Ed Nelson, Hal Holbrook, Toshiro Mifune, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, Robert Wagner, James Shigeta, Pat Morita, John Fujioka, and Robert Ito in an attempt to bust the block with the story of this largely forgotten battle.

Let’s look at the trailer, shall we?

Saturday Double Feature – Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) and…

tdfI really don’t know how much I need to say about this we’d opener. Terminator: Dark Fate is the 437th film in the Terminator franchise, and marks the return of Linda Hamilton and Arnie’s beard to the franchise. If that excites you, then obviously both your friends will know where to look for you this weekend.

I do find it interesting that what started as a truly low budget affair has ballooned into such bloated effects-driven extravaganzas. Of course this really started with T2 and the introduction of the T-1000 and its morphing abilities which put another tool in the toolbox for filmmakers to way over-use for the next few years.

And it’s in that same spirit of movies which moved special effects forward in a truly groundbreaking way that I chose today’s film. As you’ll see in the trailer, 1953’s Robot Monster brought to the screen a creature the likes of which has never been seen before, and which, honestly has never been duplicated since.

Okay, I’m gonna get out of the way on this one and just let you be dazzled and amazed by the technological marvel that is the Robot Monster…

Saturday Double Feature: Black and Blue (2019) and…

Okay, let’s start with the obligatory recap of the rules, shall we?  The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the before the year 2000. (Yes, this is a change from the original rules, which said the movie had to be from 1980 or before, but let’s be honest, at this point even 2000 is ancient history to a lot of the younger readers out there, so while I’m most likely still going to go for older movies whenever possible, since the real reason for this idea is to introduce my readers to movies they may not be familiar with, I think the rule change works.) Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

bnb1So this week we get a gender-swapped version of the old trope of the police officer who sees something they shouldn’t involving their colleagues and then has to go on the run and find some way to bring the bad cops to justice. In the case of this week’s movie Black and Blue, it’s Naomie Harris who sees fellow cops murder someone (and since it’s 2019, the crime is caught on her body cam) and who has to somehow stay alive long enough to bring the crime to the attention of someone who will do something about it.

Yeah, like I said, we’ve seen this story plenty of times before, but that doesn’t mean this won’t be a good movie. Just because a story isn’t original doesn’t mean it can’t be told well. I just hope it has something to say beyond “it’s even harder for her because she’s an African-American woman.” I’m not saying that’s not true, but I’d just like to see the movie go a little deeper.

So what older movie do we pick for a double feature with Black and Blue? How about what is probably the ur- example of the genre, 1973’s Serpico. An obvious choice? Maybe, but only, I suspect for those of a certain age, and since part of the reason for this whole exercise is to introduce some of my younger readers to films they may not know, it seems like this is the perfect choice for today.

Al Pacino In SerpicoSerpico is based on the true story of Frank Serpico, a straight-shooting New York cop who quickly rises from patrolman to detective, but he soon discovers that beatings, bribes, and corruption are a way of life in the precinct and that he isn’t trusted by his fellow officers because he won’t participate in the wrongdoing. His partners even fo so far as to put him in deadly situations hoping that he will either change his mind and play ball or, just as well for them, be killed. When his superiors turn a blind eye to everything that is going on, Serpico finally decides he has no other choice but to go public with his allegations.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, Serpico stars Al Pacino who was fresh off The Godfather, and who delivers a relatively restrained performance here. (Well, restrained compared to his more recent work where he is AL F@#$ING PACINO BABY!!!) The two would team up again just a couple of years later for Dog Day Afternoon – another film from the era which, if you haven’t seen I highly recommend.

In the end, Serpico is, in many ways a portrait of another time, and it gives us a glimpse of a New York that really doesn’t exist anymore. But, at the same time, just as these “one good cop against the corrupt force” movies are still being (and probably forever will be) made, let’s be honest, corruption among those with power will never really be gone either.

Here’s your trailer: