My Week in Movies: July 8-14

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) Let’s get small! My latest revisit to one of Universal’s finest 1950s sci-fi offerings left me struck by how sharply divided the film is in terms of tone. The fondly remembered “land of giants” adventure is lumped entirely into the movie’s second half and is, if you’ll pardon the pun, “small picture” stuff – the story is condensed into a handful of days, reducing the action to a string of exciting (and excitingly filmed) episodes in the title hero’s life as he attempts survival while trapped in his basement. The film’s first half is noticeably different, offering up what’s almost a domestic drama while taking a big picture approach not only to the plot (the time frame for this half covers a year, give or take) but to the theme, which allows the story to unfold as metaphor for feelings of isolation and insignificance. The memorable final scene (which has always been too upbeat for my own tastes, but I still love the hell out of it) returns us to the theme, and the cellar adventures, by showing our hero struggling to reassert his dominance, manages to keep the metaphor in mind.

Innerspace (1987) Let’s get smaller! You can never go wrong with Joe Dante, especially when he’s given the chance to jumble genres like he does here, thanks to a screenplay that blends sci-fi adventure with broad, ridiculous comedy. Innerspace still works splendidly on both levels, which is impressive, since the feel of one genre would suggest the other should be in the way, yet Dante achieves a fine balance. The movie truly belongs to Martin Short, who (like Steve Martin in All of Me, and it’s a shame critics didn’t connect the two performances back in ’87 and praise Short more) uses his physicality to punctuate the humor but places the core of his performance around more honest, realistic emotion. He’s both spastic and sweet here, a tough fine line he walks beautifully. Dennis Quaid’s performance is trickier than it looks because all his connection to the other characters is done through editing; he performs 90% of his role alone, in a capsule, yet he brings so much energy to the role we never notice the separation.

The Major and the Minor (1942) It’s one of the oogiest comedy premises I’ve encountered: Ginger Rogers, through a pile of circumstances too ridiculous to recount here, gets stuck impersonating an eleven-year-old (“twelve next week!”), which lands her as a guest at Ray Milland’s military academy. The boys fall for her, she falls for Milland, and everybody in this movie should be sent to prison just out of principle. Despite the statutory insanity of it all, Rogers’ charms, Billy Wilder’s comic knack, and a screenplay that’s much better than it has any right to be keep things light and, unbelievably, a heap of fun.

Nevada (1944) Passable bottom-bill filler, notable mainly for its star: a young Robert Mitchum in an early starring role (credited as “Bob Mitchum”). The story, adapted from Zane Grey, is pretty straightforward – Mitchum plays a wandering cowboy framed for murder, and in fighting for justice he uncovers some shenanigans involving a silver lode – and there’s so little filler here, the plot barely makes it past the one hour mark. The action is agreeable enough for a matinee time killer.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) I was never a fan of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy – no, not even the beloved second film – so I had little reason to complain when this too-soon reboot was announced. In fact, while I’m tired of origin stories and wish The Amazing Spider-Man would’ve avoided it, I was eager to see what kind of spin (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) the filmmakers would bring to the mythology. The result is a definite mixed bag. Mark Webb is definitely more comfortable with the intimate character moments than with the big action set pieces (although he covers those well enough), and it’s here the movie works splendidly; despite both being far too old for their roles, the interplay between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone is golden, as is anything involving Sally Field and Martin Sheen, whom I want to hire to follow me around and dispense cozy advice upon request. But then there’s the shambles of a screenplay, which never quite finds its footing story-wise because it’s too busy trying to shoehorn in too many elements. Hitting all the familiar origin beats while making them different than before and giving Peter Parker’s parents an added level of mystery and setting up the villain’s own backstory and wiggling in plenty of superhero action and… well, it gets awful cluttered without offering any urgency, so the pacing’s all off, and the whole thing’s littered with plot holes, rushed motivations, and incomplete story arcs. The dramatic and the fantasy elements work well separately, but the movie never quite manages to blend the two. We’re left feeling entertained and frustrated at the same time.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) I’m fascinated by the Americanized re-edit of Godzilla as an experiment far more than I am entertained by it as a movie. It’s a peculiar filmmaking game that’s always been of interest to me: take a movie, then rearrange it to fit an entirely new story, with an entirely new character. (Imagine taking, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark and having to figure out how to rework it so it looks like a cab driver named Jerry was Indy’s best friend.) Godzilla barely works as a standalone film, the impact of the original diluted to extreme by the cheapness of the American footage and a retooling of the storyline that’s blunt and artless. But as a companion to Gojira, it’s oddly intriguing, a chance to see the story from a different perspective, so to speak, and to see how editing can make or break any film.

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