It has been a crazy week for me work-wise. I have been busy, busy, busy, most of which kept me in my truck driving from town to town all over the county. I probably put a 1,000 on the odometer while never going more than 40 miles from my house.
This meant when I finally got home I was exhausted. Luckily there was TV and movies to provide their endless comfort. Here’s what I watched and enjoyed.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
I watched the Phillip Kaufman remake of this science fiction classic a few weeks back and decided I really ought to watch the original. I’m so glad I did.
The plot is essentially the same - a man and his group of friends slowly realize that the people in their town have been turned into emotionless pod people by aliens from outer space - but the execution is quite different. Both are thrilling in their own way, but where the Kaufman film fits squarely into the 1970s paranoid thriller genre, the original comes from the 1950s science fiction b-movie land.
In the original, Kevin McCarthy stars as Dr. Miles Bennell, a small town doctor. He sees several patients whom all claim that members of their family aren’t really themselves. They look, act, and sound like themselves but something about them is off. Miles at first figures it's some weird mass delusion and writes them off. He’s just come back to town and his girlfriend Becky is waiting for him so he’s got better things to do than figure out why everybody has gone a little crazy. But then some friends rush him to their house where they show him a the body of a man who looks just like one of them. The body doesn’t seem to be alive but its features are all strange. The skin is smooth and it seems slightly unformed. They don’t know what to make of it and Miles and Becky go on home. Becky’s father acts a little strangely but they are too tired to much care.
Once at his home, Miles plays that scenario over and decides Becky may be in trouble. He rushes to her house, breaks into the basement, and finds another doppleganger that looks just like Becky. Soon, more and more doubles show up and they discover they are all growing out of these plant pods. It is an alien invasion and it's up to the four friends to stop it somehow.
Though director Siegel always denied it, the film seems to be a warning against the encroaching McCarthyism of the era. As a metaphor, that works pretty good as more of more people became blind sheep bleeting against the communist threat without factoring in its implications. But even if it isn’t a political movie, it is a terrific little thriller. Siegel’s style is full of economy, moving the plot along from instance to instance, ratcheting up the fear and isolation of its main characters. The budget is clearly small but you don’t feel it. It doesn’t need fancy special effects to be both thrilling and horrifying.
I’d still say the remake it a better film, but the original is really quite something.
This FX series has been a favorite of mine since it first aired in the mid-2000s. I’ve not watched it since then but having received the new Mill Creek set of the entire series, I’ve had a lot of fun revisiting it. Created by Shawn Ryan, it follows the men and women of a police district in one of the most dangerous sections of Los Angeles. Its (anti)hero is Vic Mackey, a rough and tumble detective who isn’t above taking bribes, knocking heads, and committing murder all in the name of keeping the streets safe.
It came in early in the prestige-TV era that we are still in and as such it definitely feels dated. It was one of the first original series airing on the FX network and you can just see the writers constantly coming up with waves to be edgey and push the envelope. All of which is now fairly tame. But underneath all that posturing is a really entertaining and exciting show that still (mostly) holds up.
You can read my review of the first three seasons here.
Mission:Impossible - Fallout
I gave up on action movies many years ago. They rarely keep my attention anymore. I don’t need to see CGI-incorporated stunts, CGI-created explosions, or CGI-anything that involves a lot of loud noises and actors in front of green screens running for their lives. At some point, that became boring to me.
There are exceptions and the Mission:Impossible franchise stands at the front of them. The films understand that a good action sequence doesn’t need to involve shaky camera work that leaves you feeling nauseous. That to really understand an action sequence, you need to have a feel for the geography of the scene, to have an understanding of where the characters are and what they are doing.
Mission:Impossible - Fallout is a fantastic action film. It is lean, mean, and really well directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who also helmed Mission:Impossible - Rogue Nation. There is a plot involving nuclear weapons and rogue agents, and according to Mission:Impossible rules, it is hard to follow, but McQuarrie knows that you aren’t coming to these films for the story. He gives you enough plot to hang his action scenes on and then he gets right to it.
Set piece after set piece just rocked my face off. It is exciting and thrilling. It kept me on the edge of my seat and never left me bored (or nauseated for that matter). I really wish I had been able to see it on the big screen.
The Silence of the Lambs
For several years as a teenager, The Silence of the Lambs was my favorite movie. It also made me a life-long reader. Let me explain. It was released in January of 1991. I was fourteen years old. My older brother went to see the film with his girlfriend. They came back raving about it. Somehow, I talked my mother into letting me see it though it was exactly the sort of film she normally wouldn’t let me watch. I loved it.
I’m not really sure now if I loved it based on its own merits or because I looked up to my brother and wanted to ape his opinion. I wonder had I seen it before him would I have felt the same. However that opinion was shaped, it solidified very quickly in my brain. I saw it at least once more in the theaters and bought in on VHS. Later, it became the very first Criterion Collection I ever purchased on DVD.
That Christmas my mother bought me a copy of the Thomas Harris novel. Up until that point, I wasn’t really a reader. I would read my assignments in school and that was it. There was too much TV and too many movies to watch. There were too many games to play. I devoured that book. I think I read it four times over the break.
I had always been interested in serial killers and that feeling was at its peak in 1991. That summer is when Jeffrey Dahmer had been caught, and I was utterly fascinated with him. What I loved about the book and the movie was its attention to the behavioral sciences. They weren’t just interested in the gruesome crimes, but why serial killers behaved like they do. To this day, I remain interested in that psychology.
I haven’t seen the film in at least a decade, but after listening to the podcast Unspooled and their episode on the film I decided to revisit. It still holds up perfectly. It runs right at two hours but there isn’t a moment of filler and I’m never bored. Anthony Hopkins is just brilliant at Hannibal Lecter. He had been acting for a long time but this is the role that made him a huge star and it will no doubt be the lead in his obituaries. He is so chilling, so memorable, and yet he’s only on screen for just over 16 minutes. Jodie Foster is terrific as well and this film made me a lifelong fan.
Even though I haven’t seen it in years, I found myself quoting so many lines as they played on the screen. I remembered nearly every detail, but was still enthralled. I noticed some new things too. Like how Clarice is framed when she is in the room with other men. There are the obvious bits of sexism, like Dr. Chilton suggesting she will turn Dr. Lector on, but throughout the film, you see men glare at her or push her aside in one way or another. But Clarice stands up to it all. She even gives her boss Jack Crawford push back when he insinuates to the redneck cop that the murder of a woman is too much for a young lady to hear about.
Through it all, Jonathan Demme is crafting not just a great thriller or horror film, but a first-rate film that has much more nuance and grace than a genre film usually even thinks about.
Grateful Dead - All the Years Live
The Grateful Dead are one of the most well-documented bands in existence. There are over 2,000 of their concerts recorded on tape. Most of those are audio recordings but a large number, especially in their later years when they were playing large venues and using giant monitors to display their selves to audience members in the nose-bleed sections, have video recordings as well. Over the years, the band have released quite a few of these videos on home video and now they are letting YouTube get into the act.
In a video chat, Grateful Dead archivist David Lemieux announced that going forward the Dead will be releasing full shows, one song at a time, through YouTube on their official channel. First up is a monster version of “Morning Dew” from a performance at the Hinterland Arena in San Francisco during their Fare Well show in 1974. I can’t wait to see what else they will release.
Doris Day (1922 - 2019)
The legendary actress who starred in such films as Pillow Talk and The Man Who Knew Too Much and was known for her frothy comedies and squeaky clean image, passed away on Monday. She was 97.