Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Favorite Film Critics Series #1: Kim Morgan

For me, nothing is more exciting--and occasionally upsetting--than discovering another writer who not only thinks as I do and writes similar to my style, but does it better, and started doing it earlier. The writers who inspired me in high school caught my eye because they could convey their love for movies in an infectious manner: Robin Wood writing about Howard Hawks or Stephen King on horror films; Pauline Kael on Taxi Driver and Last Tango in Paris; Michael Weldon's Psychotronic Encyclopedia. The love these writers felt was conveyed with far more punk rock energy, film history savvy, and intelligence than any of the tired reviews I read in my dad's newspapers and old Times. By comparison, the self-satisfied wit of the bourgeoisie mainstream critics seemed stuffy, stale and far less intelligent than it thought. Manny Farber and James Agee were next for me, as manly men writers of the American abstract 1950s style, showing how criticism could sing with a poetry and zing that was almost macho. But they weren't around in book form yet, that I knew. It took a long long while... and then Kim Morgan.

She is the best and most fearless of them all... and my favorite. It's especially vexing (in a good way) that she's, by all accounts and photographs, a smokin' hot blonde babe in the grand noir tradition who drives a Gran Turino, but she'll turn around and champion a film like IRREVERSIBLE or stick up for a media whipping boy like Nic Cage, and do so with a trenchant alacrity and snappy journalistic rhythm (explained perhaps by her origins as a film critic at The Oregonian in Portland). Compared to Kim, most film writers--and certainly editors--are completely unconscious of their own subtextual motivations, dutifully doling out what they think writing "should" be about and not daring to say what they really feel, down in their dark heart of hearts. Kim's heart of darkness is wide open... just follow her breadcrumb trail yellow highway dash words straight through it.

There's some unwritten expectation that once a woman breaks "free" -- ala Thelma and Louise and Camille Paglia--she can't survive and thrive in our sleepy mall society. She has to crack up, overdose, become, as they derogatorily put it, a Suicide Girl (tm) or Grrl worse, a Stepford mom. Any female not safely contained in labels and square holes is a genuine threat to the ensconced bourgeois patriarchal journalist status quo. They want their female writers to dye their hair black and wear glasses --how else can we know they're intelligent? To use VERTIGO as a template, the Jimmies of the world want Midge in one corner and Madeline far away in another, quiet and remote. Give them the beauty and style of Madeline matched to Midge's sharp two-fisted intellect and they start getting defensive.

I love that Kim loves Camille Paglia and isn't afraid to talk about the appeal of primal rape fantasies in film. I'm the kind of guy who will never see IRREVERSIBLE, for example, but I'm thrilled that Kim Morgan sticks up for it, that she gets Gasper Noe, that she doesn't let Laura Mulvey's male gaze hysterics ruin her appreciation, that she's tapped into the primal masochism of the original pre-code female movie viewer, the Great Depression-era sweethearts who wanted their women suffering and bleeding from their stigmata one minute and wearing dynamite fur wraps and seducing Clark Gable the next. It's the sort of evolved, Batailles-style sex and violence okayness that sends half of liberal arts academia running for the torches and pitchforks and the other half mistaking it for a come-on and then getting pissy when you turn them down. Kim can swoon over Burt Reynolds or Clint Eastwood like a rabid fan yet stay a damn good woman writer and ass-kicking chthonic feminist and bring both things infectiously together with far less words than I would use, to mean twice as much. Through her journalistic concision, intellectual cajones, and rock and roll daring, cinematic lust is alchemically transformed into prosaic gold, enabling her to venture deep into the void without dimming her wattage. Take her sympathy for the twisted car fetishists in Cronenberg's CRASH:
Though the novel's relentless descriptions of bodily fluids and organs coalescing with twisted steel ("his semen emptying across the luminescent dials that registered forever the last temperature and fuel levels of the engine") are rendered less graphic by Cronenberg, J.G. Ballard's vision of the "liberation of human and machine libido" remains potently intact. In both novel and film form, Crash takes a non-moral and non-celebratory approach to its subject matter, creating an alternative perception of the physical world that is as beautiful as its is horrific.
Not unlike the characters in CRASH, Kim Morgan creates a strange beauty out of the sometimes repulsive cinema she discusses. Being a woman is inherent in her style and we realize in reading her site Sunset Gun that we don't really know too many women who tell it like it is in such a no hold barred but colossal way. For most feminist academes, for example, REPULSION (pictured below) is perhaps a disturbing study of patriarchy's damaging effect on a mentally ill vixen. But Kim isn't going to be hung up on dogma; her eye can find poetry in places most of us are terrified to even look:
Deneuve's loveliness makes Carol's madness more palatable (her unfortunate suitor thinks she is odd, but he can't help but "love" this gorgeous woman), but eventually it becomes horrifying. Carol is not simply a Hitchcockian aberration of what lies beneath the "perfect woman," she is the reflection of what lies beneath repressed desire -- in men and women.

What poor Deneuve in REPULSION really needed, of course, was her own blog and something that she was passionate about, a place to vent and express the twisting serpents of her mind (perhaps Polanski is expressing what the nightmare of life without movies would be). Because Kim trusts her own equilibrium, rather than leaning on feminist dogma's ropes, we finally begin to understand the Svengali-like powers of artists like Roman Polanski and Roger Vadim, as in her praise of IF DON JUAN WERE A WOMAN:

(Bardot) let herself age without surgery. And now everyone thinks she's nutty. And some even recoil at her face, even though it was that very lifestyle men so desired -- bikini on the beach, ciggies, wine, sex and song, that lined it so. Again, this is a feminist -- not whiny Naomi Wolf and her boring "Beauty Myth," or all those sensitive men who lust on and on about Helen Mirren (who is hot, don’t get me wrong) but to the point where they simply want women to pat them on the back for digging an older gal. Mirren’s easy. Tell me you want some Judi Dench action and I’ll give you credit. And like Ms. Dench (though never a raving beauty and one whose career flourishes) in that bathtub scene during her genius performance in Notes on a Scandal, BB says, fuck you, this is me.

In a single paragraph she takes feminism past the tired materialism of the third wave and out into the desert on a vision quest; she swoops down like an angel to pluck Thelma and Louise from their falling cadillac. She's the redeemer of rock and roll noir, the return of all the great stuff we lost when the 1970s ended. She's freedom, love, and speed, deliverance from bourgeois dogma and PC sexism. She's the Amelia Earhart of the desert roadside attraction. Visit Sunset Gun, and dig the cool crazy glamor, exhaustive film knowledge and high octane wit that is my beloved Kim Morgan.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Welcome to New Grenada: Now DIE!

I just read an amazing piece by Valdez on his Distracted Globe site about the amazing OVER THE EDGE (1979). He's got great images including this chilling poster (left) which shows you just how hard it was to nail down the genre of the film.

Now that its spring/summer here in NYC, one's thoughts turn to OVER THE EDGE and its sunny New Mexican desert clime. And then of course, the film's supposed to be set in southern California, and when thinking southern California, I think LA, and when I think LA, I think of my inspiration and fellow EDGE lover, the mighty Kim Morgan who tackles this film on Sunset Gun here.

How sad that when I did a google search of Over the Edge the most results I got were for "Over the Hedge." KILL! KILL! KILL! (excuse me while I go watch this movie again, instead of playing out in the sun like a good boy). You can also scroll down towards #9 of my favorite character meme for a clip of Claude "flashing" in class.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

10 Favorite Characters Meme

 1. Elle Driver - Darryl Hannah (Kill Bill)
She's gorgeous and amazingly even more so now all these years after SPLASH. With the eye patch the nasty boots and perfect tailoring, her entrance into Bud's shitty little alky scrub trailer domicile is like James Bond entering your little brother's freshman dorm. In fact, Bud reminds me of my brother more than I'd like to admit - and reminds me of me too, though I fancy myself the Bill type, for various reasons. 1) I'm a killer, 2) well, a killer of bottles. 3) well, damn, there are other reasons. Anyway, Hannah seems super tall and elegant here and has the perfect way with Tarantino's prosaic kung fu dialogue "That's right, I killed your mastah" she says, relishing every syllable. Even her comeuppance is fitting and leaves hope for a Zatoichi-style series but with a blind bitchy blonde bad girl instead of bald Asian hero. This should have been Hannah's big moment ala Travolta's in PULP or Forster in JACKIE... but maybe the two part film is just too episodic for her part--coming as it does in the middle of the second part of the party--to register beyond the immersive scenario around it.

Clare Quilty - Peter Sellers (Lolita)
I wanted to figure out a way to name check Sue Lyon in this list because she needs more recognition. But when it comes to Lolita, the film really belongs to Peter Sellers who simply shows up and steals the film from James Mason whenever he pleases, deadpanning his way through one hysterical impression after another. My favorite incarnation is the above, as the dashing drama critic who hits suburbia like the X-ray vision king in the land of the blind. Feigning, perhaps, a moral interest in protecting Lolita from her obsessive drag of a "father," Quilty wants to whisk her away to a much safer future: making stag films in a continual drug-drenched orgy at a western dude ranch, and in Kubrick's unflinching eye, his Satanic shadiness is more honest, moral and true than the righteous, violent hypocrisy of Humbert and "normal" society.

Shanghai Lilly - Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Express)
Dietrich is at her most luminous and morally ambivalent in 1933's Shanghai Express, my favorite of all her Sternberg collaborations, which mean favorite of all her films, and maybe all film, period. First of all, her crazy black feather dress fulfills the promise of all the "bird girl" femme fatale costumes that Edith Head was showing the public since the silent era. Then there's Shanghai Lilly's incredible coolness. What better place to ride from Peking to Shangai than in a first class train compartment with two high-rent courtesans like Lilly and Anna May Wong? There's great business with Dietrich turning the tables on the old Professor Henry Davidson type and counter-snubbing an old lady who runs a boarding house ("What kind of a house did you say?"), but even better is her teasing treatment of the brooding British military doctor hero. When he tells her he tried to forget her she replies, eyes wide like a child's, "Did you try, very hard?"

Peter Lorre - Mr. Moto (Think Fast, Mr. Moto, etc.)
James Bond is cool, Charlie Chan is okay when number one son and racist comic relief aren't hogging spotlight, but the combo thereof is a master of disguise and judo in the form of a humble little Japanese gentlemen perfectly embodied by  Weimar-era nutcase Peter Lorre. Best moment comes in the first film: Think Fast, Mr. Moto, wherein after behaving through the whole first forty minutes like a shy Japanese tourist, Moto calmly advances on a shady ship's steward he's seen steal a letter. "The letter, please," Moto says in a tone so melodically dead it would chill Hannibal Lechter. "The letter." The steward pulls out a knife as Moto advances. As inexorably steadily as a cobra advancing on a shivering mouse, a faint glimmer of a smile crosses Moto's face. Next shot: the steward flying overboard to certain death at sea. Moto isn't even fazed. Lorre's always great and if you haven't seen it, track down THE FACE BEHIND THE MASK, but the Moto series is a rare instance of a great character actor getting a well-deserved steady gig, and acing it every time.

Captain Patrick Hendry - Kenneth Tobey (The Thing - 1951)
When people think of the title The Thing nowadays, they think of the Carpenter "remake," which I too love. BUT it can get shrill. It's not quite as riveting and soothing as Hawks' original, which plays on TV in Carpenter's Halloween, and which barely bothers with special effects and focuses instead on rapid fire overlapping dialogue and camaraderie with the air force team under Hendry's command. First of all, I love any film that takes place in cold, windy desolation; such environs soothe my savage Nordic melancholy, and Tobey's character is someone you can see yourself proud to serve; witty, sharp, warm, open to suggestions but never wishy washy, and sometimes "making like an octopus."

Lt. Melanie Ballard - Natasha Henstridge (Ghosts of Mars)
Great name, great movie, great character. No matter what everyone else says, I'll champion this movie until I die, and maybe after that. I dig that Melanie is a hot chick on a Mars who likes to pop psychedelics while dealing with bad guys, doesn't give a shit if she lives or dies, and is meanwhile as cute as a button. A sci fi comedy so deadpan people still haven't realized it's not a straight-up action drama. Maybe it is and I'm wrong, I just love everything about this movie. Melanie's role could be played by Kurt Russell, then it would be easier to guess it's funny, only Henstridge is much prettier and the comedy is thus even deadpanner. She has a way of taking a bad piece of dialogue and somehow transforming it into gold. That's alchemy, mister! And her rapport with Ice Cube is built on grudging respect--a hilarious and poignant, even racially healing touch-as opposed to some trite "chaste romance" as is so often the result of mixed race couples in big budget movies. If Hawks saw GHOSTS OF MARS, I bet he'd think it was brilliant.

W.C. FIELDS as himself (Never Give a Sucker an Even Break)

His final starring role, Fields has a permanent drunken nasal whine, a nose like a Dario Argento special effect, and a languid sense of resignation. He's the real thing, LEAVING LAS VEGAS-style. Universal saddled him with little Gloria Jean, an ingenue they were trying to promote, and against all odds, a believable bond forms between them. Highlight, Fields singing "Chickens have pretty legs in Kansas" while in his upper berth as the stewardess, Gloria Jean, and others all smile and look up to the heavens in agog rapture; it's a cozy, hallucinatory alternate reality airplane that has a "open air rear observation compartment" which Fields later dives over to "retrieve a bottle of golden nectar." (full)

Gino Rinaldo - George Raft (Scarface - 1932)
As Tony Camonte, Paul Muni is hilariously over the top, but it's George Raft who rings the truest (and with good reason!) as the Beta Male, Gino. Rinaldo doesn't light Tony's cigarettes or go "Aw Gee, Boss" but he never gets greedy or ambitious either. His constant poker face and ease in his own skin insures no boasting or showmanship; he just quietly flips a coin over and over, shoots a guy, then walks away with your kid sister. I love the scene where, just after almost being killed, Tony tries to call Rinaldo from the restaurant hang-out, and has to ransack his memory for a list of Rinaldo's girl friends' phone numbers before he tracks him down. It's late, late in the evening and there's Raft, a tall coil of smoke all you see of him at first, rising from a couch, with some flapper hottie gazing down at him in quiet rapture. This is the kind of gangster who knows how to live and doesn't have to make a big show of it. Once he learns Tony's in trouble, he beats it out of there, but not hastily or otherwise blowing his cool. Naturally he'd be the only one who can handle a female panther like Ann Dvorak, and wisely waits until Tony's out of the country before giving into her seductive wiles.

The whole bit with the coin also echoes marvelously in SOME LIKE IT HOT ("Where'd you pick up that cheap trick," Raft says as he grabs a flunky's coin in mid-air.) As a tough guy, Raft's a great role model, not as high-strung as Cagney, as blustery as Eddie or as dead-eyed as Bogart, but who else could pull off the hat trick in NIGHT AFTER NIGHT of being sweet like a schoolkid as he learns to read with tutor Allison Skipworth one second, then go toe to toe with a gang trying to take over his speakeasy the next?

Claude - Tom Fergus (Over the Edge)
The world of after-school specials is awash in unconvincing druggie behavior, but Tom Fergus and his deadpan approach to the borderline Spiccoli-esqueness of Claude is spot on, the benchmark. This kid guzzles whiskey from the 1.75 liter, drops acid in class (he thought it was speed!) and takes a set-up from his drug dealer with aplomb before throwing the rat into the pond. Matt Dillon is the older more verbose stoner in the group, but it's Claude who is the shaman, the heart and mystic soul of New Grenada. Like Rinaldo, he's too busy making the best of life to be showy or grand-standing... no wonder he makes it through the finale unscathed.

Fah Lo Suee - Myrna Loy (Mask of Fu Manchu)
Anna May Wong would have been my first choice, but there's something irresistible about Loy's cute little gamin face all squeezed up in menacing hisses as the kinky daughter of Fu Manchu. The code would soon disallow vamps to get this vampy, but when we see her slithering over the hunky shirtless surface of our hero--having heard Fu's concern that if she's allowed to have her way, the man would soon be a gibbering, pain-wracked wreck--we can't help but convulse in sadomasochistic delight because we just don't know what she would have done with him, given the chance. We do get to see her yelling "faster! faster!" as her flunkies flog him, it's a little beak-whetter. For better or worse, she's my dream girl.

Thanks to Movieman for the tag. Consider yourself tagged just for reading this!

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Travis for our times: OBSERVE AND REPORT

I used to have mixed feelings about Seth Rogen, but those feelings are gone after seeing OBSERVE AND REPORT, replaced by shock, awe and reverence. I like him better than similarly deluded psychopaths played by De Niro in KING OF COMEDY and John Goodman in BIG LIEBOWSKI-- because he's actually laugh-out-loud funny as well as disturbing, while in KING and LIEBOWSKI, you just want to get away from these psychos asap. Sure that's a controversial thing to say, but why not? Who gives a fuck? Not director Jody Hill, who's too busy capturing the  Quixote-meets-Col. Kurz madness of the American mall culture. As mall cop Ronnie, Rogen is like a snail crawling along a straight razor here, at times the Rogen aura completely vanishes in his character's self-absorbed, mutton-headed haze, but the two are inextricable. Forget about KING OF COMEDY, this is Rogen's TAXI ZUM RAGING DRIVER BULLSHOT.

Naturally the critics at large are split down the middle (RT gives it a 51%) but for my money, OBSERVE AND REPORT should be praised as a black comic masterpiece, a satire of masculine character studies, the DR. STRANGELOVE to THE WRESTLER's FAIL-SAFE. The reason it wont be compared that way is because most critics let marketing, set and setting, sway them: THE WRESTLER came out with big Oscar buzz, the Micky Rourke comeback story; OBSERVE AND REPORT comes out with PAUL BLART: MALL COP still in theaters, and all the baggage of the momentarily overexposed Rogen-Apatow hit machine clogging the carousel, so people expect a grungy gross-out comedy with a heart of gold. What they get is a heart of darkness. That it's also brilliant, touching and hilarious doesn't seem much to these critics, who would probably be writing a totally different take were the film, say, British (ala HOT FUZZ) and screened at the art house rather than the multiplex. As the always fearlessly trenchant Kim Morgan puts it on Sunset Gun:
"Which makes this movie all the more shocking than, say, (and I admire the following examples) that junkie epic Trainspotting, and a lot more subversive than anything Michael Haneke hatches up. Because Observe and Report isn't playing at your local art house. No, it's playing right in the belly of the beast: at the mall."
The mall is the emotional and spiritual center of America's bloated consumerist belly, and the one Ronnie works in, almost empty, a little on the rinky dink side, sad with that weekday emptiness malls get in late afternoons. Ronnie is immune to its ennui, seeing this ghost town of middle-America's unconsciousness as his personal kingdom, resulting in a near-Brechtian fantasia for the artistically maladjusted loner who wishes they could just knock slow fat moms with strollers out of their way; punch whom they want to punch when they want to, have confidence even beyond incompetence. This is their moment. OBSERVE AND REPORT is the film that Terry Zwigoff is too inherently decent to make; the highlighted tantrums of his BAD SANTA--a similarly mall-bound film--errs on the side of late inning decency and thus undoes any attempt at genuine subversion. It's one thing to threaten children and then "come around," it's another to bash them into pulp with their own skateboards, as they deserve. In BAD SANTA, we watch a man behave badly, but OBSERVE AND REPORT itself behaves badly. And that has made all the difference.

One must look farther back than SANTA to find an apt comparison to OBSERVE, I would cast my vote on W.C. Fields' THE BANK DICK (1946), wherein Fields gets a job as a bank security officer; there were no malls then so he instead trashes his favorite target: small town Americana and its pinched-faced reformers. Like Jody Hill and Ronnie the Mall Cop, Fields makes films in the zone where we go to push and shove the people who've been oppressing us, the space where we can sock seemingly innocent bystanders on the puss, drink, snort, smoke and flirt with complete obliviousness to how we're perceived, and in the end manage to win all the marbles despite ourselves.

The BANK DICK finds Fields--ala Rogen's Ronnie--in a security guard uniform, the guise of authority (the mall cops similarly have no real legal power) but nonetheless wearing detective disguises and pointing his little gun at the mirror. Billy Bob Thornton's Santa costume, by contrast, is a joke from the get-go: the clothes of a saint worn by a slovenly drunk, but the saintliness can't help but come through, like it does for those countless movies wherein gangsters or thieves hide out in nunneries or missions and eventually 'see the light.' There's no legit authority to Santa, mall cops, or security guards, but in the twilight realm between a real cop uniform and the illusion of power implied in the security guard uniform it gets tricky; you can either navigate how far you can bend within the rules or you can deliberately erase them and that goes for the film as well as its narrative. If there's no hint of the Iraq war going on within Observe, for example, it's because the mall could very well be Iraq in an Animal Farm metaphor sort of way, more than just a mall in the same sense Poe's House of Usher is more than just a house or Don Quixote's windmills more than just windmills.

Even if he can't see past his own bullying ego and warped isolation, we can see Ronnie is a good soul. Like the martial arts instructor of director Jody Hill's previous film, The Foot Fist Way, Ronnie's a delusional but forceful alpha male picking up strays from other packs, making his own army of America's runts. He's the first buddy you make when you're the new kid in town, and whom you abandon as you begin to climb the social ladder. You eventually leave your mall cop job, go to college, get married, divorced, promoted, and then years later you go to the mall and he's still there in the same uniform and you try to leave before he sees you. Still, he's a hero because no matter how pathetic you are, he'll always take you back into his fucked-up fold and his own resolve and belief in his warped violent persona is admirable in its purity, the way we admire Travis Bickle, or Robert Duvall in APOCALYPSE NOW.

In truth, Ronnie represents the true American sociopath mentality that our country needs to win the war in Iraq. The whole place could be burning down around them and they'd still be fist-pumping to Metallica, just happy to be there, happy to have at least some Iraqis who like them. You can't tell a guy like Ronnie he's a lost his soul, or that his war can't be won, and that's perhaps the greatest victory any American can have, the victory of embracing in full the Don Quixote madness that bravely and finally makes sense of our fucked-up planet (and in the process destroying it). That's why we like George W., or Sarah Palin... in crazy times, we need a crazy leader. When reality sucks, vote for the sucker. America is a lost Sancho Panza, in search of just such a nutjob to follow over the border of collective "sanity."

It's a hard character to capture and Hill and Rogen nail it so perfectly it goes unnoticed. Thanks to its association as 'the other Paul Blart' it gets little respect. John Goodman in BIG LIEBOWSKI came close to Ronnie's level of insanity but tried too hard and became spittle-flecked; Thornton in BAD SANTA was too busy "trying" to be offensive to register fully as truly bad instead of just a weary middle-aged actor in the midst of delirum tremens; but Hill and Rogen get it juuuust right: Ronnie is every self-conscious young male repressing the urge to punch out rude customers, bosses or co-workers. Unlike most of us, he's touched glorious bottom in the abyss of delusion; he's Dirty Harry times King Arthur, no matter what anyone says. 

In order to appreciate such rampages it helps to have lived some formative years under the weight of deep-seated socially-inflicted repression, i.e. in the suburbs. Watching a superhero punch out a bad guy trying to blow up the world is a cathartic abstraction of teenage rage, but watching Ronnie run down a skate punk and crack him on the back of the head for no real reason? That's catharsis. In 1991, for example, I literally cheered in my seat when Cyberdyne Systems HQ blew up in TERMINATOR 2, because my own place of employment at the time, Ortho Pharmaceuticals, looked just like it. No offense to Ortho (I was a mail room temp) - I loved the people, and got a discount on Tylenol at the company store, but you know how it is - everyone in the theater thought I was insane, but I was beyond caring. I'd been set free, until of course Arnold's body count reads 'zero - killed' and the weird back-end morality undercuts our revelry. But it's characters like Ronnie, on the other hand, whom our big dumb war is meant for, and body count zero is just a dare. Their raging violent streak needs an outlet, and its better to just give them guns and send them far far away. War gets them out of their parent's house... war belongs to them, was made to serve that American muttonheaded drive to chew bubble gum and kick ass, the devil take the consequences and civilian casualties.

Which brings me to the third closest auteur to Hill's level of subversive deadpan comic savagery: horror icon John Carpenter, particularly in THEY LIVE (1988), with Rowdy Roddy Piper [pictured above] which brings us to THE WRESTLER. And of course, the promo for the National Guard with Kid Rock singing "American Warrior!" (Read my take on that here). Fascism's just another word for nothing left to lose! Time to shoot the mirror and set your reflection free!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Welcome to the Brotherhood of Planets! THE 27TH DAY (1957)

TCM recently aired this obscure sci fi film and it actually had me crying at the end, with the (SPOILER ALERT) entire United Nations joined in peace and brotherhood, inviting an alien race to live on earth, and said race in turn welcoming them to the inter-stellar brotherhood of alien life (after first magically killing all our evil people). It's easy to cautiously imagine us all one day reaching this pinnacle level, but the way things are going, frankly, I just don't see it. I don't even see other people seeing it.

But it's comforting to remember a time when at least some of us dared to hope.

The plot involves the dissemination of five little pillboxes each containing three capsules with enough power to kill all human life on any 3,000 square mile area of the earth (but leave the trees and wildlife). The aliens entrust these boxes to five apparently randomly selected Earthlings, but then they also broadcast who they gave them to, on every channel in the world. They do this because their planet is dying but they're non-violent so they can't take over Earth; they can only give us the means to speed up our own demise. If we hold out from using any of the capsules for 27 days, we win; they die.

Naturally it all boils down to one set being in the hands of the Russians, one in the hands of the states. But what happens next you'll never guess and you shouldn't. You should just keep an eye out for when this next comes on TCM and set your timer.

Gene (War of the Worlds) Barry stars as one of the pill box inheritors. He hides out with the British representative, a middle-class bird played with striking understatement by Valerie French. They're both good in their clinches, but it's not the kind of movie that stresses characterization or romance or acting or writing. It's Stanley Kramer-esque in that it's about moral "ideas" but it works because it eliminates Kramer's humorless sermonizing. The script is by William Asher, a TV writer, based on his novel-- it has both sci fi novel and Twilight Zone-ish tropes about it, without being either campy or overly concerned with trick endings and Big Ideas. The special effects are interesting, cheap but interesting, with the alien a clear inspiration for Dudley Manlove in Plan Nine from Outer Space. There's not a lot of action, per se, but it stays riveting through to the end. I like it much better than the similar and technically superior Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

 Fans of The Dark Knight will recognize in the five capsule alien gambit some of the Joker's old tricks, but in this case the murky cesspool of humanity is actually something more than a mere polemic pawn to let poli-sci majors feel they're not wasting their time being all nerdy obsessed with Chris Nolan. Maybe if we saw more movies where everyone stops fighting and starts being nice and peaceful, then we could be that way too, and then the aliens who walk among us in "real life" would make themselves known? It's something to contemplate.

That of all of the 1950s sci fi movies I've seen ad nauseum since the UHF TV days, the 27th Day-so hopeful and open-hearted--wasn't on the radar til just now, should be the one to move me, is surely no accident. The world might have been a completely different place if this little sci fi butterfly hadn't been trampled on by the steel-tipped boot of time and indifference all these decades. It's the happiest ending to any politically-savvy film I've ever seen since Viva Maria! It may not have Brigitte Bardot, but then again who does? (read that last line in the voice of James Edward Olmos in Bladerunner). Let us pray that one day our kindness will be rewarded by having our garden finally and at last weeded so wisely and well that even that douche in class who has to argue every last point in some misguided hope of getting an A and or a girl, will finally get what he really deserves -- an incineration feedback overload of his own leftist self-regard until his head explodes... and then at last, and only then, can we all move on... as one... and the Baradot shall then appear unto us all, as it is written in the tolling of the Louis Malle belles!

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