Another slow week as I wind down a month’s worth of real life priorities. Bear with me, people.
The Electric Grandmother (1982) Thoughts of Ray Bradbury this week eventually turned to a cozy chunk of my youth: The Electric Grandmother, the made-for-TV adaptation of “I Sing the Body Electric.” I hadn’t seen the film in three decades and feared my nostalgia may have been misplaced. There are certainly some problems, namely the noticeably dated production values and a high level of cheese (nothing here, be it the whimsy of the first act or the melodrama of the third, is even close to subtle). But for the most part, it turned out to be as delightful as I remembered – and a little richer, too, with an emotional depth that’s clearer in my older eyes. This is an earnest, heartfelt fairy tale, a study of love and loss that deals with children’s grief in a refreshingly straightforward way, on par with Bradbury’s knack for treating children with respect and intelligence. This is such a sweet production whose heart makes up for its schmaltz.
Prometheus (2012) Let’s see if I can do this with minimal spoilers: My reservations about a semi-prequel to Alien turned out to be deserved, as Prometheus would’ve been far more solid a picture without the connections to Scott’s sci-fi horror classic weighing it down. Most of the links are ignorable – fine, so the same corporation and set design exist in both films – but a few (if you’ve seen it, you know the ones) go too far out of their way to offer bothersome fan-nudging (look! it’s that thing you recognize!) and, worse, unnecessary explanations for the original film’s best mysteries. The irony is that Prometheus works best when creating its own mysteries; here is a work that asks big questions and leaves most of them unanswered, a brave, welcome move in modern Hollywood. Ideas abound in this movie, with the biggest idea – how would humanity handle discovering its actual origins? – leading to some fascinating character moments. Prometheus then surrounds this with cracking sci-fi/horror tension that works as both an eerie mood piece and a creepy as hell monster movie. Some of the plot doesn’t fit together as well as it should (OK, many plot points don’t fit together; while I seldom prefer extended cuts and “special editions,” I’m sure such a thing would help here), other pieces are a little too on-the-nose for my taste (did they really need to name the ship Prometheus… and explain it, too? wouldn’t the title be more poetic without such obviousness?) and the failures of a few other questionable elements pull us out of the picture too easily (why do we need a young actor playing an old man in iffy makeup*? why add in not one superfluous prologue, but two, plus an epilogue that should’ve also been edited out?), but overall, this is a doozy of a flick, a smart, occasionally overwhelming experience that continually captivates in ways too few summer tentpoles are allowed to do. As for the ending? No, not the epilogue, but the ending proper? I loved it. A fascinating loose end meant to remain untied. (For a better take on what works and what doesn’t, check out Scott Weinberg’s mostly spot-on review for FEARnet. It sounds like I liked the movie more than he did but mainly felt the same regarding its ups and downs.)
Lilo & Stitch (2002) A different kind of alien encounter. I remember not quite knowing what to think when I first saw Lilo & Stitch ten years ago; its peculiar sci-fi inventiveness and quirky sense of humor, while most certainly welcome, were unlike anything I had expected from Disney. I think being taken off guard caused me to underestimate it a bit, for it wasn’t until several repeat viewings later that I went from liking the film to loving it. That love still holds up on my first revisit in several years, in which time I had forgotten some of the better aspects of the film – the least of which being Lilo herself, a refreshingly normal kid (in both appearance and attitude) from a studio more familiar with fairy tale princesses built like supermodels. The main plot is good stuff, but my favorite pieces are the scenes before Stitch arrives, where we see Lilo and her sister struggle with everyday life. There’s something about Lilo growling, biting, and licking that’s both funny and, in its own way, more honest about “troubled kids” than a lesser movie would attempt – which helps reinforce the positive impact Stitch has on her, and vice versa, in a manner that gets to the point without overselling it. (Leave the overselling to the pushy “ohana means family” catchphrase.) More importantly, though? This happens. Never not funny.
*(I’ve since read that a scene featuring the character as a younger man was cut. But it’s still frustrating, since it’s so obvious an effect. Even with the deleted scene reinstated, we’d be groaning over the makeup and hammy performance.)