To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) A confession: this was my first viewing of William Friedkin’s balls-out masterpiece. It will not be my last. Soaked with both an 80s neon slickness and a timeless grit and featuring one of the best and most intense car chase sequences I’ve ever seen, To Live and Die in L.A. is a crime thriller of the first order, with dirty good guys and poetic bad guys and a whole lot of bad things happening to bad people. It’s brutal and sharp with a haunting flair for the melodramatic. Willem Dafoe makes as great a villain as ever, but don’t let that overshadow the nuances of William Petersen, as the dirty fed, and John Pankow, as his not-so-dirty partner. This movie floored me.
Thunderbirds Are GO (1966) More than the TV series before it, Thunderbirds Are GO is pretty much WTF Puppets!, and not just for the psychedelic dream sequence where a puppet version of Cliff Richard shows up. There’s an insanity to seeing a marionette-filled swingin’ sci-fi spy thriller played out with such seriousness (which is why, I suppose, Team America still makes us giggle). The puppetry and model work is quite impressive, especially when framed for widescreen, but that only emphasizes the weirdness of it all. It’s a good weirdness, but still.
Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) Look, there comes a time when a man has enough of thinking about the Republican National Convention and just wants to watch a Roger Corman flick about mutant crabs. Don’t judge me.
Miss Representation (2012) So how horrible am I for not liking this movie? A documentary about the dangers created by media perceptions and treatment of women – which, as an argument goes, should be a slam dunk. But the film is so flimsy in its presentation, from the wooden narration by director Jennifer Seibel Newsom (who tries at times to turn the film into a first person journey, which only adds a shallowness; “hey, because of my pregnancy, I just now figured out these models look too thin!” is not your best starting point) to points that circle around themselves endlessly (rather than discuss each notion in depth, the interview soundbites just end up echoing each other without adding anything) to easily disproved inaccuracies (sorry, movie, but the E! channel came long before the Telecommunications Act of 1996, not “immediately after”). While some points are covered nicely (mainly the rise and fall of the ERA) and while it’s certainly justifiable in its anger, there’s nothing in the discussions about Photoshop and rap videos and eating disorders and media conglomeration most astute viewers haven’t heard – or even figured out for themselves – before. It will likely play better with younger audiences who might be aware of the sexism surrounding them but aren’t so sure where it comes from.
Not of This Earth (1957) As we come to expect from our Roger Corman movies, Not of This Earth doesn’t quite measure up to the poster. Just look at that thing, will ya? A masterpiece of drive-in art, with a killer tagline, a mysterious alien thingie, and a look of panic for the ages. Then there’s the movie, a sluggish but occasionally entertaining cheapie where Paul Birch runs around stealing blood for his dying alien race and Beverly Garland grows suspicious as his live-in nurse. It’s kooky enough to throw in Dick Miller as a door-to-door salesman, but not kooky enough to really play with the lunacy of the set-up. Fans of Corman’s bottom-bill filler will appreciate the rubber space bat, though.
War of the Satellites (1958) Now we’re cookin’. My final Corman picture of the week is by far my favorite, a thriller that makes up for its tiny budget with big ideas and a tone built on a creeping paranoia. The story is split in two, the first half set on Earth as the United Nations (well, an empty room with some tables and a handful of extras) deals with threats made by a mysterious alien force warning them against venturing into space, the second half on board a spacecraft as the trusty Americans (Dick Miller!) fight sabotage by an alien posing as scientist Richard Devon. It’s unbridled Cold War commentary (the script rants against “abstract ideas”) that recycles plenty of late-50s tropes, but it does so with surprising earnestness (minus a tongue in cheek prologue involving necking teenagers, a scene that’s out of place yet wildly fun) and a handful of impressive matte shots. (The rest of the effects, not so impressive. Oh, the strings you’ll see!) War of the Satellites is yawned at by many Corman fans, but it hits everything I want in a 1950s rocket to the stars flick, and it does so with flair.