Five Cool Things and Don Williams

Cool things this week include two neo-noirs, a classic Doctor Who, Close Encounters, and a Handmaid's Tale.
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Just jumping right in...

Close Encounters of the Third Time

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There is a scene relatively early in Close Encounters where an alien ship has landed outside a farmhouse in rural Indiana.  The mother, panicked, is rushing about the house closing all the windows and locking the doors.  Her son, just a toddler, opens the front door.  We see nothing outside the door, just dazzling bright lights and then it cuts to a shot of the boy's face bathed in light, full of wonder.  

In a sense, that one moment exemplifies the entire film, maybe even Steven Spielberg’s entire career.  His films are infused with family drama and wonderment.  The film focuses on Richard Dreyfuss’ character, a working-class suburban dad who, after an alien encounter, becomes obsessed with them.  

I love that his house is a cluttered mess.  I love that though he clearly loves his family there is also constant bickering, and chaos, and yelling.  I love that unlike so many other alien-invasion movies they are not villainous but the source of unfettered awe.  There’s that boy staring out into the light and a similar scene late in the film when the aliens have finally landed.  Spielberg tracks across the faces of scientists and military men and every one of them stand with mouths open, filled with astonishment.

I just love this movie.  In celebration of its 40th Anniversary, it is showing in movie theaters across the country with a little documentary feature running in front of it.  I got to see it this past weekend and it continues to knock me out.

Stormy Monday

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Mike Figgis’ debut film is a neo-noir set in Newcastle, England.  Sean Bean plays a working-class guy who takes a job at a smoky jazz club run by Sting.  Melanie Griffith is a waitress who sometimes escorts for Tommy Lee Jones' businessman with gangster ties.  Sean Bean falls in love with Melanie Griffith while Tommy Lee Jones is trying to push Sting into selling his club.  Mayhem ensues.  

The plot is pretty standard noir stuff but Figgis gives it a modern, jazzy sheen.  It's loaded with style.  Arrow Video has just released a really nice Blu-ray version of it.  I’ll have my review up soon, but until then you can read what Luigi Bastardo thought of it here.

Body Heat

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Lawrence Kasdan’s debut film is a neo-noir set in Southern Florida.  William Hurt plays a small-town lawyer. Kathleen Turner is married to a rich businessman with gangster ties.  They fall in love and plot to murder her husband.  Mayhem ensues. 

Kasdan’s film is far richer, sexier, and interesting than Figgis’ but it was fun watching them back to back.  It's fascinating to see how different directors, working in entirely different settings, handle very similar material.  The noir stories that they tell date back decades but are updated to modern times (well, modern being the 1980s in both cases) allowing them to handle the material in interesting ways (and infused with a lot more sex than you could get away with in the '40s and '50s).

Body Heat positively drips with heat from both the actual temperature and the two main character’s attraction to one another.  In a famous scene, Kathleen Turner tells William Hurt he needs to leave.  She shuts and locks the door with him on the outside, but stands looking at him through the window.  He bangs on the doors and then, almost as if he’s in heat, throws a chair through the window.  The two then make wild, passionate love on the floor.  The film just pulses with lust.  Later, when they plot the murder, you can totally understand why he’s willing to do anything for her.  

Like Stormy Monday, Body Heat is full of style.  Richard H. Kline’s cinematography is full of dark colors, shadows, and intensity.  It's a great film and highly recommended.

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks

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In 1963, for only its third story ever, Terry Nation created Doctor Who’s longest lasting and most popular villain ever - the Daleks.  Twelve years later with Genesis of the Daleks, he wrote their origin story.  The Doctor and his two companions Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan are asked by a mysterious Time Lord to travel back to the planet Skaro and either stop the Daleks from being created or destroy them outright.  They land at the end of a thousand-year war between the Thals and the Kaleds.  Mad scientist Davros has just created the Daleks, which were originally designed as transportation devices but with a few modifications have become the perfect weapon.  The Doctor attempts to convince the leaders of the Kaleds that if left alone the Daleks will soon become the most destructive force in the universe.  

Obviously, this doesn’t happen as the Daleks continue to be one of the main villains in the New Who series.  But it's a lot of fun watching how they came into existence.

The Handmaid’s Tale

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Based on the novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the near future when fertility rates have collapsed causing a massive civil war in the United States.  A totalitarian Christian-based theocracy rules, subjugating the few remaining fertile women into slaves for the upper class.  I’m only two episodes in but I’m completely mesmerized.  It's not so much cool as terrifying.  Nearly every scene is completely upsetting.  While it is a fiction, realizing how very close we are to such a world is going to keep me up at night.

Don Williams (1938 - 2017)

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