It is, as the song says, beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Around here anyway. The tree is up, stockings are hung, presents are piling around the room. We don’t have a fireplace and there is no snow, but Christmas is certainly coming. This means two things for me and this little column.
This time of year means the prestige, Oscar-hopeful films are all in the theaters and the big boxed sets and designer blu-rays are being released in hopes of catching all that Christmas money. I’ve spent the last week or so watching numerous films in a couple of those sets and they shall fill my five cool things. I’ve got a stack of about a dozen other films that are coming out in the new week or so that all need to be watched and reviewed. You’ll see those reviews popping up as I get to them, and no doubt they will be filling future cool columns.
It also means family gatherings and travel. We’ve got no less than three Christmas parties, at least one New Year party, and about 2,000 miles of road to drive between now and 2020. Between that and all the review watching and writing, I have to do I’ll be taking the next couple of weeks off from cool things. I’ll be back in 2020 flush with things to talk about. Until then I hope you find plenty of your own cool things to discover and enjoy.
The Fly (1958)
The 1950s were a boom time for science-fiction films. The end of World War II and the advent of the nuclear age brought an incredible amount of new science and technology to the world and with it more anxiety and fear. The movies tapped into this bringing about all sorts of new nuclear-made monsters and cautionary tales about playing God by tinkering with science man wasn’t meant to tinker with.
Most of these films were crap and have rightfully been forgotten, but The Fly is just about perfect. If you haven’t seen the film, you know the story as it has been remade and parodied countless times. A scientist invents a machine that will teleport matter from one pod to another. At first, it will only do inanimate matter but eventually, he does small animals and even himself. When he finally transports himself an innocuous fly accidentally lands in the pod with him and when they transport together they wind up mixed together - a man's body with a fly head and vice versa. The effects are surprisingly good and the cast (especially Vincent Price who plays the scientist's uncle) handles the material well. It is a bit hokey but it works perfectly as a Saturday afternoon popcorn movie.
Return of The Fly
The original film was a huge success and so naturally there was a sequel rushed into production. Only Vincent Price returns as a cast member (and he returned on the basis of a script that was subsequently thrown out). The story is basically the same. The original scientist’s son gets interested in his old man’s experiments, recreates them and yet another fly finds its way into the pod just as he’s transporting himself for the first time. He gets an even bigger fly head on his body and wreaks even more havoc. It makes for an even sillier film, but this actually works in its favor.
The Fly (1986)
David Cronenberg remade The Fly with his own grotesque sensibilities. The story remains mostly the same but the filmmaking is much, much different. Jeff Goldblum plays the scientist this time around and he’s once again making transporter pods, once again has to figure out how to transport living matter, and once again accidentally takes that pesky fly along with him during his first transportation of human life. But instead of instantly becoming a dude with a fly head his transformation into the monster is much slower and much more gross.
Cronenberg, the king of body horror, turns this simply horror story into a metaphor for dying of slow, debilitating, and ultimately lethal diseases (it was made at the height of the AIDS crisis and you can see how it easily fits into that metaphor). Goldblum is terrific and his transformation is utterly grotesque. The special-effects crew won an Oscar and they still hold up beautifully even in this age of CGI everything. It is definitely not a film for everyone, my wife would run screaming out of the room if she ever tried to watch it, but for horror fans it is a must-see.
Scream Factory recently released a boxed set of these The Fly films which include two other films as well. You can read my full review of it here.
The Pumpkin Eater
A very odd and very ’60s film, The Pumpkin Eater follows Jo Armitage (Anne Bancroft), who has a breakdown when she discovers her husband has been cheating on her for years with numerous women. She then looks back over her life thinking about the happy times and the bad ones. The structure of the film is splintered, jumping from different points of her life without much warning and Jo is such a neurotic character it is difficult to have sympathy for her even though she clearly deserves at least a little. It is anchored by an incredible performance by Anne Bancroft who makes it well worth watching. Peter Finch playing her husband is no slouch either. And keep an eye out for a young Maggie Smith who shows up briefly.
84 Charing Cross Road
The movie version of an epistolary novel. Anne Bancroft plays a funny and kind New Yorker who one day writes a letter to a bookseller in London hoping to find some books unavailable in the States. Anthony Hopkins writes her back and the two become pen pals for several decades. Most of the film has them reading their letters aloud while we see their separate lives unfolding on two different continents. This may sound quite dull but it is an utterly charming film. The two leads are wonderful, and the writing is funny, witty and moving.
Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft’s husband of many years, recently put together a boxed set of her films and you can read my full review of it here.
Wonder Woman 1984
Wonder Woman was easily the best film in the DCEU. By like a hundred miles. I am automatically on board for the sequel, but place it in 1984, right smack in the midst of my nostalgic sweet spot, and I’m there opening night.