Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Bad News Bears (1976)

The intent was to watch classic old films I hadn't seen, not rehash movies from my youth. So much for good intentions.

I saw The Bad News Bears when I was young. I don't know if I saw it in the theater, but I certainly saw it when it was still fairly new. I saw the sequels and the TV series. I was a baseball nut as a kid and still am to a point. I saw it as an adult, maybe ten years ago. I don't remember. I watched it again with fresh eyes, perhaps tainted with nostalgia.

Walter Matthau performance was amazing. He embodied the broken down drunk. But when he starts caring about the kids a slow transformation happens. His eyes, dim from cheap beer and whiskey, become observant. He sees the effect of his actions, and those of others. Unless you pay attention, you will miss it.

Tatum O'Neal was unbelievable. She all but stole the movie. The interaction between her character and Matthau's was classic. Great stuff. You can't not fall in love with her.

The Bad News Bears was the precursor of all youth sports films (Mighty Ducks, Ladybugs, etc.) but this was hardly a family film. Drinking, language, and provocative dialogue from pre-teens. One kid smokes through much of the film. Released today it would be PG-13.

I'll be seeing this movie again. The tired jokes are like old friends. My mature eyes found more to enjoy. I didn't expect to like it as much as I did. Very surprising. AMRU 4.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Thing from Another World (1951)

Remade in 1982 as John Carpenter's "The Thing", this is the story of a UFO that crashes to Earth near a remote Arctic outpost. The frozen body of an alien is captured, melts, comes to life, then rampages. James Arness (Gunsmoke) plays The Thing, a role he was so embarrassed by, he refused to attend the premiere.

The Thing is a plant-like life form. Yes, they were being attacked by a giant carrot. Everybody is trying to kill it except a crazy scientist who wants to study and befriend it. Damn scientists! Won't they ever learn? Of course wiser heads prevail and they choose the saner plan of extermination. This, I understand, was the first time a full body burn was performed in a major movie.

Our main character is Captain Patrick Hendry, played by Kenneth Tobey. His love interest is the monstrous Margaret Sheridan. I guess there were no hot chicks in Hollywood during the week of casting. I liked this movie. You really got a feeling of the remoteness of the location, and the Thing was wonderfully menacing. Having said that, I can't see watching it again. I give it an AMRU of 3.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Utopia (1951)

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy inherit an island in the South seas. After most of their inheritance is lost to taxes, they are eager to live a life beholden to no one. They team up with a man who has no legal citizenship and find a stow away with a checkered past, land on a radioactive atoll, find a girl, form their own nation, deal with an uprising ... you what? This sucker doesn't deserve the effort. It blew.

My first impression was, damn, Laurel and Hardy look old. I tried looking up "Utopia" and had difficulty finding it. Come to find out, It's original title is the captivating "Atoll K". Stan was rather ill during filming, and Oliver, obese by modern standards, was on his last leg. He died six years after the movie was filmed. This was the last film for either of them.

Another strange thing was that the voices of all characters other than Laurel and Hardy appeared to be dubbed. This film was apparently an Italian effort, so maybe Laurel and Hardy's voices were filmed in English, dubbed for the Italian release, then the reverse was done for the American. It was distracting, at any rate. The production value as a whole was rather low. I originally thought it was filmed in the early 30's.

I've always known Laurel & Hardy by their images and mannerisms. I was very familiar with their "another fine mess" catch phrase, but I wonder how much of them I actually watched as a kid. Apparently enough, but maybe, like Charlie Chaplin, more so by people impersonating them. I found the comedy bits tired, unoriginal, and unfunny. My 13 year old son watched a bit of it with me and he laughed at some of the physical bits, but I'd seen them before. And done better. By the Stooges, for one.

Stan Laurel was embarrassed by this movie and I see why. I'm glad I watched a Laurel & Hardy film, but I wish it wasn't this one. It was watchable, but there was little to distinguish it. I might be being generous by rating it AMRU 2.5.

On the same DVD were a few shorts. I saw their first together, called "The Lucky Dog (1919)", a PSA called "The Tree in a Test Tube (1943)", then something called "The Sawmill (1922)", during which I fell asleep. I believe there were three or four more. Maybe I'll watch them before I return the disk.