My Week in Movies: Dec. 2-8

Goldfinger (1964) I have a tendency to whine about Goldfinger, a knee-jerk reaction caused by its reputation as The Best Bond Movie Ever clashing against my lesser opinion of it. Which is, I must admit, rather ridiculous; this is a tremendously entertaining and sharply made film whose fandom is well deserved. (If nothing else, it contains a top contender for best piece of movie dialogue ever written*.) And yet I keep getting hung up on the utter goofiness of the whole mess. Following the cluttered blitz of From Russia with Love‘s storytelling, Goldfinger is practically a mosey, so casual in its plotting that it stops to let us watch the hero and villain play golf for eight minutes. Even the tight time constraints of Goldfinger’s Fort Knox attack – the second half of the film takes place within a day and half, give or take – fail to add much urgency to the proceedings, with Bond just sort of poking about the Kentucky horse farm, while Felix Leiter seems to do nothing but eat fried chicken all day. (Granted, the laser scene is plenty urgent, especially if you happen to be Sean Connery’s groin, but still.) The whole thing has a thinness to it when compared to the earnest seriousness of its predecessor and the silly bombast of its successor, and I suppose that’s why I get a little defensive when it’s praised so highly, and I should probably just relax. Best Bond Movie Ever? Hardly. Good movie anyway? You bet.

Quatermass and the Pit (1967) The Quatermass series is, for the most part, everything I want out of science fiction: idea-driven adventure based around intelligent characters and big, challenging concepts. It’s this reason I give so much of the third movie a pass. The limited budget is overly visible, the shaky effects and smallish production unable to help the film deliver on its epic notions of psychic alien resonance, city-wide panic, evolution, and the origins of evil. But with leeway given, Quatermass and the Pit is a highly involving mental thriller worthy of the franchise.

Bringing Up Baby (1938) I’m not as taken with this one as much as most folks, but it’s not an issue with quality so much as nerves. Bringing Up Baby is a cringefest, Hepburn’s unstoppable force driving me to a point of discomfort. However, her lunatic nature and Grant’s growth from doormat to snarkball (“I just went gay all of a sudden!”) also keeps me giggling throughout. I’m pretty sure Howard Hawks would approve of both reactions.

The Twonky (1953) No relation to the Jimmy Neutron alien thingies. Arch Obler brings his wit and a dollop of lightness to this camp comedy, which rarely moves beyond its early-50s “let’s all roll our eyes at this new fangled thing called ‘television'” set-up. (If nothing else, the movie’s worth a peek for its time capsule-ness.) The script, in which a TV comes to life and controls a panicky professor’s life, remains fairly limited in scope and would’ve played well as one of Obler’s radio plays – which is probably why we don’t mind the simplicities of the plot, as Obler’s an old hand at making this kind of story click. Obler lays it on thick with the bug-eyed farce, but there are enough solid yuks to make it all work. Fun stuff.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983) An odd remnant of my youth – I caught snippets on cable as a grade schooler and fell instantly in love with both Molly Ringwald** and the bizarre look of the film, which stuck deep enough in my brain to create some strong nostalgic vibes three decades later, yet I never bothered to see the movie in its entirety. Now that I’ve finally corrected that, I can’t quite decide what to think. On one hand, it’s a massive pile of too-dated schlock whose Star Wars-meets-Mad Max elements are often embarrassing in their cheapness, whose plot doesn’t really go anywhere, and whose characters range from dull (Peter Strauss, as a Han Solo wannabe, isn’t the rogue the movie thinks he is) to unbearable (sorry, Molly, but the script takes you past “scamp” and right to “brat”). On the other hand, director Lamont Johnson doesn’t take any of the cheese seriously, a carefree attitude which rubs off on cast, crew, and viewer, leaving me to find plenty of fun in the pulpy derring-do. Visually, Spacehunter is extremely exciting, offering both grungy Lucas-esque adventure and post-apocalyptic steampunk (a piece involving a sort of sailboat on railroad tracks is a doozy), and the innovation more than makes up for the budget limitations. Also, we get Ernie Hudson (!) and Michael Ironside (!!). I suppose I’d limit my recommendations to those with a soft spot for low-rent early-80s sci-fi nonsense.

ParaNorman (2012) Third viewing, this one at home on Blu-ray. I suddenly find myself in need of a bigger television, one that can let me bask in the visual detail of every paused frame. I figure a 500″ monitor should do the trick.

*(In case you couldn’t guess it: “You expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” That’s thirteen words of screenwriting perfection.)

**(It never wore off.)

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