The Producers (1967)
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Starring: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn
Man, I hadn’t seen this movie in forever, and it’s really funny. Not one of Mel Brooks’ best necessarily, but it was his directorial debut and he won an Oscar for the screenplay, so it’s not too shabby either. And no, I haven’t seen the remake because I hate both Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick.
A scumbag producer (Mostel) teams up with a nervous accountant (Wilder) to engineer a Broadway play that will be sure to close on opening day so they can scam a bunch of old ladies out of their money. The scheme they use doesn’t hold up to a whole lot of strict scrutiny, but that’s not what the movie’s about. They recruit a Nazi playwright (Kenneth Mars) and put on a show called ‘Springtime for Hitler,’ a rosy-colored musical about WWII from the German side.
The real beauty of this film, from the perspective of someone who grew up on MST3K and who loves watching terrible movies, is that it shows exactly what happens when you try really hard to make something as bad as you possibly can: it becomes hilarious. The Producers is a bit of a thesis statement for my entertainment viewing habits, and because of that it’ll always have a soft spot in my heart. Also, of course, is the performance of Gene Wilder, who is such a phenomenally scary actor at times you worry for the guy. When Gene Wilder flips out, it touches a primitive part of your brain where you can clearly see another human in serious distress and you just don’t know what to do about it.
Ender’s Game (2013)
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Starring: Harrison Ford, Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld
I went into this movie as a fan of the book all prepared to hate it, but it just had to go and be both really faithful to the source material and an entertaining film on its own right. That’s the nice thing about expecting the worst from everything, once every thousand times, you get surprised by something good!
Ender Wiggin is a genius kid selected to enroll in a space school designed to make the best and the brightest space fleet commanders so humanity can finally defeat the Formics, a bunch of alien bug guys. He goes through a lot of hard times, almost all of which are engineered by the old and grumpy Harrison Ford to make him more of a tactical thinker. After graduating from the first school, he goes to a second school where he’s trained by Australian Ben Kingsley with tattoos all over his face.
It’s a pretty nice looking sci-fi story, that’s ACTUALLY science fiction. There are just enough giant spaceships and explosions to keep the average person entertained, or so it seemed to me. I guess the movie only broke even, and is therefore a flop. In one respect, that’s kinda good; it’ll discourage a million movies being made out of the subpar book sequels anyway. As far as this movie goes, it’s great. Good sci-fi plot, sticks close to the book, great twist ending, and no naked kids at all! That’s a thing people were worried about from the books, I’m not just being really creepy out of nowhere.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Directed by: Robert Aldrich
Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono
The last of my “crazy recluse” challenge movies was clearly the best. I love 60’s suspense movies, and this thing feels just like a Hitchcock thriller. Honestly my biggest problem with it was Victor Buono, who I just couldn’t unsee as being King Tut from the 60’s Batman show. By the way, did you know they’re finally releasing those on home video, for the first time ever? It’s completely unrelated, but I’m just excited about it. Nobody reads this site except for the porn reviews anyway.
Two sisters, one of whom used to be a child star and the other who used to be a legitimate actress in her youth until she was crippled from the waist down, live together in a mansion with the one taking care of the other. Well it turns out that the ex-child star (the titular Baby Jane) is jealous of her sister’s success and always has been, and one day she finally snaps and locks her sister up in her room. As she tries to get her act back together, she also has to keep the outside world from knowing that she’s slowly starving her sister while still using her money.
It’s a tense film where you’re constantly unsure of whether the crazy old woman is going to get caught or not, and it even switches it up so at points you’re not sure whether you’re rooting for her to get caught or for her to get away. It’s somewhere between Rear Window and Misery, but the sisterly relationship between the two characters gives it this great extra dimension. I definitely recommend this one when you’re in the mood to spend the evening on the edge of your seat.
Robot & Frank (2012)
Directed by: Jake Schreier
Starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon
I was going to say that Robot & Frank turned out to be my favorite movie from 2013 that I’ve seen so far, but I guess it actually came out in 2012! Sorry 2013, you were still a massively shitty year for movies.
Frank Langella is an old man who’s going senile and his kids decide to take care of him by giving him a robotic nanny. The robot annoys him at first with its attempts to make him healthier, until he realizes he can use it to help him commit robberies, just like he used to when he was young. When things come crashing down, Frank realizes that he’s at least made a friend.
It’s touching, it’s funny, it’s a solid sci-fi plot worthy of Asimov. Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon are great, James Marsden and Liv Tyler kinda show up and yell some lines, and at the end of it all you feel sad for a robot. Basically if you can make an audience do that, you’re doing science fiction right, in my opinion. I highly recommend this movie.
Global Metal (2008)
Directed by: Sam Dunn, Scott McFadyen
Starring: Tom Araya, Ken Ayugai, Rafael Bittencourt
This is the sequel to the documentary Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, which is also good. Whereas the first one is just about the culture that surrounds the metal genre of music, Global Metal is about metal in countries outside of North America and Europe, and it’s pretty damn interesting. Turns out that metalheads are pretty much the same no matter where you go.
Sam Dunn, metalhead and anthropologist, travels the world to other areas outside North America and Europe where metal is popular, like Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, and the middle east. This isn’t some boastful metal journal about how awesome it is that it’s converting the whole world under its banner, though. Instead, the film focuses on how metal affects these people in their different places, most of which are impoverished or oppressed, and metal allows them a way to vent. He also looks at how the local metal bands have altered the genre, making it more their own.
I actually really liked this documentary. He had already covered the mainstream metal community in his first film, leaving him open to explore all these different facets in this movie, and it’s super interesting. It basically comes down to a very simple idea that it’s just a good kind of music for people who feel angry and rebellious, no matter if it’s because you are a 30 year old pizza delivery driver still living at home or a person literally barely scraping by in a dictatorship somewhere where there are volcanoes and hurricanes constantly trying to kill you. Which is pretty metal itself. I highly recommend this film, and if you’re not very familiar with the mainstream metal culture, the first one as well.