Spaceflight IC-1: An Adventure in Space (1965) File under What the Hell Did I Just Watch?, preferably toward the back of the cabinet, behind the box of rubber bands. Spaceflight IC-1 is a dementedly dippy sci-fi soap opera from producer Robert L. Lippert’s British period, featuring some nonsense about a future (the year 2015!) where a totalitarian government rules the planet and has launched a spaceship full of married couples (the wives are either teachers or secretaries to their important, authoritative husbands, natch) to have babies and raise them on the ship and colonize “Earth 2,” and one year into the twenty-five year mission, somebody gets sick and there’s an attempted mutiny and one of the people in suspended animation wakes up wrong and oh my god there’s a holographic clown who entertains the kids at night, because gaaaaaaahhhh. Oh, and one of the characters is a cyborg, which means he’s a head in a fishbowl on a table. The future!
Local Hero (1983) I have a tendency to react to horrible news by retreating into the comfort of a quiet movie, preferably one about smart people who do good things. And so I follow news of the Boston Marathon bombing with a viewing of Local Hero. I’ve written often of my growing preference for gentleness in cinema – there’s something wonderful about gentle movies about gentle people – and Bill Forsythe’s whimsical classic is about as gentle as they come. What wonders this film holds, what joys it finds in its setting, what delight it has in spending time with its characters. This is a movie about goodness, just when I needed it.
Once (2007) Speaking of gentleness. Once gets better with every new viewing, and more crushing, too. Here is a film that leaves me awash in a sea of delight and sorrow, its ending one of the best in movie history, with an emotional complexity few films dare to reach. There’s not much about this movie I haven’t said before, although this time around I was struck by how beautifully it depicts the creative process and the joy of collaboration. And, of course, I was struck by the depths of the performances (musical, yes, but dramatic, too) and the richness of character – these are people we want to hug tightly and never, ever let go… and maybe buy them a piano.
Code of the Silver Sage (1950) A dusty but never rusty oater from Republic Pictures and their workhorse director Fred C. Bannon, this one has a brisk pace and some solid action to make for some fine afternoon entertainment. The typical white hat/black hat stuff is peppered with a fun plot in which a nasty gang leader plans to assassinate the President. At just under an hour, the whole thing whips by in a breeze.
Beware, My Lovely (1952) The title says noir, but the action says slow burn one-set thriller based on a play. Robert Ryan plays a drifter who talks his way into Ida Lupino’s home, then traps her there over the course of a day, and will this visit from a neighbor or that attempt to break through a window be her chance to escape? It’s a solid nailbiter, and while it doesn’t make as much use of the restrictive setting as it could (a sense of claustrophobia is missing here), Ryan’s blank-stare villain makes up for it plenty; the character’s mental unbalance (he’s presented as a schizophrenic who switches from nice guy to walking terror, never remembering his actions as the other) is a clever gimmick that adds to the suspense.
42 (2013) It’s tough to hate on a movie with such good intentions, but earnestness alone can’t forgive storytelling this sloppy, this hackneyed, this dumbed down, this bad. The trouble is noticeable from the start, with an ADD prologue meant to give a history lesson of postwar racism; its’ admirable in its efforts to teach, but totally ill-fitting, with rapid visuals at odds with the smoother, more traditional tone of the rest of the film. (Plus, there’s nothing viewers unfamiliar with history couldn’t have figured out without this opening, which means the movie starts by assuming we’re all idiots – not the best first impression.) The bulk of the story is saddled with laughable cornball anecdotes (the kid who saw Robinson play grew up to be a Major Leaguer!) and too-obvious inspirational moments (the guy we think is racist makes a surprise speech supporting Robinson!), padded with clumsy editing (there are several scenes that literally go nowhere and add nothing, making their inclusion baffling to me) and a thick layer of schmaltz that annoys far more than it endears. All of this is in service of a biography that reveals nothing about the people beyond a rote retelling of the key beats of Robinson’s rise to the Majors. The script reads like a third grader’s report on the guy: “And then Robinson’s wife had a baby and then Robinson played for Montreal and then he played for Brooklyn and then some other players were mad and then other players weren’t mad and then the Dodgers won the pennant and then Robinson’s wife was happy.” Oh, and can we, as a nation, please start making fun of Harrison Ford’s demented performance as Dodgers owner Branch Rickey? The low-key star can’t pull off a larger than life figure like Rickey, and he comes off as a goofy combination of John Huston and Yosemite Sam as played by a stroke victim. Some of Ford’s co-stars, including Chadwick Boseman as Robinson, plus Alan Tudyk and Christopher Meloni, do their best with the limp material and create some decent personal character moments as a result (plus, there’s John C. McGinley as Red Barber, which is as fun as it sounds), but these successes are rare. 42 is a mess, a hokey sub-movie-of-the-week embarrassment.