Monday, November 24, 2003

The Movie I Watched Last Night LXXXIII

Playing catch up on a week-plus or so:

The Devil Commands
In this hour-long 1941 yawner, Boris Karloff plays a scientist who discovers that radio waves can transmit the thoughts and voices of dead people. When his wife dies, his experimentation turns to the macabre -- well, more macabre -- as he and a dimwitted assistant (the Igor to Karloff's Dr. Julian Blair) unearth corpses to power some sort of radio from beyond. Modeled after a medium's session in which people sit around a table and link hands, the transmitter is created when corpses are capped with a monitor helmet of Blair's own making. There's a nice scene in which Blair debunks a medium a la Harry Houdini, but -- just like Houdini -- Blair enlists her in his efforts to reach out to his wife beyond the veil. For the most part, the movie is light on shock or suspense, but the final scene in which the transmitter goes out of control, Blair's wife's voice is the strongest, and the lab is disturbed by a supernatural tempest is well worth building up to. Fine for fans of Karloff, Houdini, and radio. Rather dull otherwise.

American Graffiti
"Where were you in '62?" I was -11 years old, as George Lucas' early work was initially released in 1973. It's a fine film, sort of a '70s-style Dazed & Confused as a circle of high school friends contemplate their next steps following graduation. Richard Dreyfuss' character develops the most as he wrestles with staying at home instead of going to school -- even getting entangled in the Pharoahs, a cartoony gang of hoodlums. Ron Howard and Cindy Williams -- fancy that -- play a cute couple debating breaking up as Howard's character plans to go to school and date other people to prove their love. Even featuring a drag race scene, the movie is a redux of, oh, so many JD films of the '50s and '60s. Good boy goes bad. Nerd becomes lover. Hard-hearted hotrod hunk goes gentle. And in the end, everyone gets theirs. Even a surprisingly cast Harrison Ford. Did this role get him Star Wars? Go figure. Oh, also look for a nice cameo by Wolfman Jack, the mysterious voice behind the voiceover radio show -- and resulting top-40 soundtrack. Weird, another radio movie. Is this a trend?

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
It's made in 1963. It's cast sports such comedy luminaries as Spencer Tracy, Milton Bearle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Stan Freberg, Jimmy Durante, Don Knotts, and Buster Keaton. How can it feel so freaking long at almost three hours? And how can it be so dreadfully unfunny? What a wash! I had such high hopes for this movie, and I had to watch it in two sittings I got so bored and distracted. A shame, really, as the plot's not too bad for the time. A bunch of random people learn of a buried treasure at the same time and then race to discover it themselves -- kind of like Rat Race, which I haven't seen. But for the most part, this movie is dismissable. That said, I did thoroughly enjoy the beach movie-inspired scene in which Dick Shawn and Barrie Chase exhibit some of the most uncomfortable and disturbing go-go dancing I've ever seen. Rent the DVD for that scene alone. While Jack Davis did draw the poster for the movie, this is not a Mad magazine film. That would be Up the Academy, which was so bad, Mad pulled all mentions of its involvement before release.

Shattered Glass
Huh. The Fast Company editorial team went to watch this as a group Friday afternoon because it's a journalism movie. And even though I work in journalism and fall easy prey to films featuring editors, reporters, writers, newspapers, and magazine -- go figure -- I don't think this is a very good movie. It's certainly not a very good journalism movie. The writers and directors don't dig very deep into Stephen Glass' psychosis, and the narrative basically retells his tale and little else. What I liked: Steve Zahn as's Adam Penenberg, who first uncovered Glass' fabrications; Hank Azaria as Michael Kelly, even if he looked nothing like him; the editorial meeting scenes in which Glass pitched his pieces; and the sequence in which Hayden Christensen's Glass asked Peter Sarsgaard's Chuck Lane -- then editor of the New Republic -- for a ride to the airport after he'd been fired. I would have liked more exploration of Glass' inner workings, particularly given his romanticization of high-profile, high-minded, and high-impact journalism. Yet despite that romanticization, he focused on producing a product of high quality while ignoring the process entirely. For a "full" list of Glass' fabrications, check out Rick McGinnis' Tissue of Lies. He even includes the fake Web site Glass created for Jukt Micronics.

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