No Concessions: Fun and Games

Management informs me that as of today we’re off until the new year. I can’t promise that I won’t sneak back into the building from time to time, but to tide you over I have a couple of movie-related diversions. Fun for the holidays — or more fun, anyway, than Reese Witherspoon in a Christmas movie.

I found this one at the Blog Cabins site. It’s a simple, or simple-seeming, alphabet game. What you do is match your favorite film to its letter in the alphabet, with a few provisos: Articles like “A” and “The” don’t count toward a title, and numbered titles correspond to the first letter of the number (1984 under “N,” for example). I don’t get hung up on series entries: If you prefer Return of the Jedi over Star Wars Episode IV: Return of the Jedi, fine by me, but maybe limit yourself to one entry in a series. (If Return of the Jedi is your favorite Stars Wars movie, you have more than just nomenclature problems.) And try to draw from your memory banks rather than a reference source, not that I can enforce it. To paraphrase Albert Brooks in the film I’ve decided to use for my “R” entry, “What can I do? Send you to movie jail?”

So here goes. It gets tougher with the letters that don’t yield a lot title-wise:

Aliens (1986)
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Chinatown (1974)
Dawn of the Dead (1979)
The Earrings of Madame De… (1953)
From Here to Eternity (1953)
Gojira (1954—that’s “Godzilla” to you)
Halloween (1978)
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
King Kong (1933)—I miss Channel 9’s Kong Thanksgivings here in New York. Better than football, CW programming, or infomercials.
The Long Goodbye (1973)
M (1931)
Notorious (1946)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Quiz Show (1994)
Real Life (1978)
Schindler’s List (1993)
Tootsie (1982)
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
The Vanishing (1988)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
Z (1969)

Feel free to post your own. I’ve finally found a use for all those horror movies and foreign films I’ve consumed.

Right around the time my daughter was born, Neil Sarver at The Bleeding Tree tagged me to this meme, which came about when Diablo Cody (remember her?) was tapped to choose 12 movies to be shown at the New Beverly Cinema in L.A. I’d love to be a guest programmer somewhere, and appreciated that Neil was giving me an imaginary chance to play God with celluloid—but real-life everyday things with the little one and this-and-that-other-thing kept intruding. Well, now’s my chance, and yours. (What I would do with Film Forum in Manhattan for a week, or Turner Classic Movies for a day…what I dreamed of doing at the long-defunct Varsity in Evanston, IL, before it closed as a rep house freshman year at Northwestern…)

The Heiress (1949) and Spartacus (1960). No reason, except I love them, and might have made them my “H” and “S” pictures above if I had thought of them quicker. Spartacus is a great epic, with a convincing all-star Rome; The Heiress an exquisite showcase for its performers.

Metropolis (1927) and Walkabout (1970). I twinned these for the juxtaposition. Fritz Lang’s sci-fi landmark is a fever dream of eye-popping studio sets; Nicolas Roeg’s outback-set drama a harsh poem to the great, unknowable outdoors. The contrast might burn your eyes.

Black Narcissus (1947) and The Devils (1971). Crazy nun movies, the former a riot of repressed emotions in glorious Technicolor, the latter a Ken Russell picture its distributor, Warner Bros., is still too nervous to put out on DVD. It’s anything but restrained.

The Gunfighter (1950) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). No one really appreciates Westerns anymore. I’d teach audiences to like them again. There’s nothing not to admire about the terse Gregory Peck film and Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, for openers.

It’s Alive (1974) and Inside (2007). Scary pregnancy pictures were on my mind this year. The “monster baby” movie It’s Alive is ludicrous, queasy-making, and finally touching; it’s a cinch the upcoming remake won’t get past the first quality. Inside, from France, is about an insanely covetous woman who preys on a first-time mother-to-be. It’s a movie no expectant parent should go near. None.

Man on the Flying Trapeze (1935) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Because, after all this, you need a few laughs. Meet Frankenstein was one I never missed when I was a kid and I think Flying Trapeze may be W.C. Fields’ finest hour.

Life is Beautiful (1997) and Life Stinks (1991). I’ve always wanted to see these paired on a marquee. You’re driving by, and “like, wait a minute, what was that again?” A perfect “whoa,” or at least, “hmmm,” moment. I wouldn’t ruin it, though by showing the blah movies, maybe just the trailers, followed by a double bill of Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), a warm and wonderful “beautiful life” film, and the French-made (again!) geek show Irreversible (2002), the stinkiest stinky life movie I can recall.

It’s time to plan your Christmas viewing, and I have just the movie for this, or any, Yuletide. You Better Watch Out (1980), a favorite of John Waters, eluded me till 2006, when it was released as a special edition DVD under an alternate title, Christmas Evil. (Waters chats with its one-hit writer-director, Lewis Jackson, on a commentary track.) I immediately fast-tracked it for my movie-watching group (20 years old in 2009) for that Christmas and was the hit of the season. I like pro-Christmas pictures (It’s a Wonderful Life and the 1951 A Christmas Carol) and anti-Christmas ones (Die Hard or the original Black Christmas); this sort-of slasher film is both, and is tied to Xmas traditions. Brandon Maggart (the actor father of singers Fiona Apple and Maude Maggart) is delightfully committed as a Santa-obsessed toy company worker who takes it upon himself to determine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice…permanently. This ho-ho horror is a whole lot better than the better-known but humorless and poorly made Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) and has a madly upbeat finish that will restore your faith in the holidays. Stuff it in your stocking.

For more movie reviews and essays, visit Between Productions.




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    Fritz Lang’s sci-fi landmark is a dream of fascinating studio sets in the previous years. I wonder if its still an in-demand shooting sets in this contemporary time?