Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 at the Trylon Microcinema: A Devotee's Year in Review

Guest post by Ian Lueck, a good friend of Movie Matrimony and a regular patron of the Trylon Microcinema, the best little theater that could in the Twin Cities.

My name is Ian Lueck.  I’ve been a movie lover for, well, pretty much all my life.  So when Dave, friend and co-worker, clued me in on a theater in the Twin Cities which shows films from virtually every time period (not just the new stuff that AMC shows), I had to check it out. 
It's the best.
The theater in question was The Trylon Microcinema, a modest theater in an unassuming, nondescript building in Minneapolis.  Heck, the first time I went there, I drove by it at first because it didn’t have the typical “look” of a theater.  But as they say, never judge a book by its cover, and the same applies to the Trylon.  What the theater lacks in large amounts of seats (there are about fifty), it makes up for in its friendly (mostly volunteer) staff, great presentation (they try to get the original 35mm whenever possible, but in the few times they don’t, they show the next best thing, Blu-ray), and a wide variety of films.  Because of these reasons, I’ve been a frequent visitor to the Trylon in 2012 and 2013, and it’s given me the chance to see movies I missed out on.

So, you might be asking, what movies did I see at the Trylon in 2013?  Settle in, because by my count, there were about forty.  That’s almost one movie a week!

Spring 2013

8 ½ (1963):  This screening was special because it’s Dave’s favorite movie, so he had a big filmgoing party where most of the theater that night was filled with Dave’s friends, including myself.  To be honest, I have more fond memories of the pre-movie party (mmm, jerk chicken…) than I do of the film itself.  That’s not to say the film was bad; the whole movie, about a director who is unable to think of what his next project should be, feels like a dream, with bizarre set pieces that don’t really lead anywhere, symbolism that is up to the audience to decide its meaning, and some odd imagery.  When I left the theater, I did enjoy the experience but wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  It felt like a movie I hadn’t seen before, which I obviously give it points for, but I couldn’t really get into the characters because they more existed as props for the elaborate (and at times, surreal) sequences.  Still, I’m glad I saw it, especially since I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Stanwyck and Cooper
Ball of Fire (1941):  This is a good example of a film which starts out GREAT, with a wonderfully whimsical premise, but feels conflicted about what it wants to be.  It also runs out of steam way too early.  The premise is basically a live action, modern day parody of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, with the dwarves in this instance being stuffy, upper crust bookworms who are writing the encyclopedia.  Problem is, they don’t know what to write about modern customs, which is where Barbara Stanwyck’s character comes in.  She agrees to teach the group “hip” talk (much of which isn’t in use today, making the film rather dated).  That part of the film works, and is quite funny, even if the various brainiacs are more caricatures than fleshed-out characters.  What doesn’t work so much is Stanwyck and co. escaping the Mob.  That felt like it belonged in another movie, and didn’t really fit into the “Snow White” motif, I felt.

Lots of suggestive fruit,
a distinct lack of bellybutton.
Gang’s All Here, The (1943):  A Busby Berkeley musical with lots of tall fruit hats and elaborate dance choreography and camerawork.  As with many musicals of the time period, the story isn’t really anything special; it’s just a love triangle situation amidst the backdrop of the war homefront.  The highlight is the soundtrack; I love “old-timey” music so the songs were appealing to me.  One cosmetic thing bugged me, though:  As this was the ‘40s, showing your bellybutton was considered risqué, so they covered up all midriffs with flesh-colored tape.  So what you’re left with are a bunch of anatomically-incorrect dancers, like they’re all Eve.  Or hatched from eggs.  Or aliens.  Other than that distraction, this was moderately enjoyable.

Utterly chilling.  I'm frozen with fear.
Makes your blood run cold.  Etc.
Jack Frost (1996):  Unlike other films I have seen in the Trash Film Debauchery series, this entry managed to stay engaging all the way through.  The premise alone is hilarious:  A killer snowman.  But the film manages to avoid the cult film trap of starting off good but getting monotonous because of three aspects:  The quirky townspeople who the snowman picks off one by one, the creative snow-related methods that the snowman uses to decimate his prey, and the surprising amount of comic relief for a slasher flick.  I think that was the right decision; you can’t take a film about a serial killer snowman seriously, so why not be goofy about it?  Just don’t go in expecting anything like the poster.  It’s a perfect example of false advertising.

MinnAnimate (various):  I had the pleasure of going to what will hopefully be a long-running film festival devoted to local Minneapolis/St. Paul animation.  It ran about two hours; the first hour consisted entirely of shorts, while the second hour was a feature.  While I can’t say all the films were enjoyable or well-made, I’m just happy to see such an anthology exists, and I hope it does well.  I would love to submit something of mine at a future showing.

Poor, poor George.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969):  Oh, poor George Lazenby.  He only got one Bond film before his agent convinced him that spy movies were on the outs.  As such, this remains an “oddball” entry in the series.  The plot, about Bond investigating a Swiss Alps clinic where Blofeld is secretly brainwashing his female patients into doing his evil deeds, is pretty thin, and doesn’t allow for as much globe-trotting as your typical Bond entry.  I also didn’t care for the editing in the fight scenes, which tried to look dynamic and arresting by using a lot of jump cuts, but just ended up looking sloppy and lacking in visual continuity.  Telly Savalas was a rather weak Blofeld, not nearly as visually memorable as Donald Pleasance’s portrayal in “You Only Live Twice”, nor as snobbishly curt as Charles Gray’s version in “Diamonds Are Forever”.  And (spoiler!) while I had a general sympathy for Bond losing his new bride, we never really got to know her all that well (heck, she’s absent for most of the movie until she abruptly shows up in the last twenty minutes!), so her sudden assassination didn’t have the impact it could have.  After all that, you might think I hate this movie, but I don’t.  It actually has a lot going for it:  While the plot is lean, it’s more focused and easy to follow as a result.  The Alps setting is gorgeous.  The chase sequences (such as the village car case, or the bobsled finale) are quite exciting, and is one area where the hyperkinetic editing works in its favor.  The score is one of John Barry’s best.  Perhaps most importantly, this was one of the first instances of giving a Bond movie some emotion, making the series more than just a secret agent delivering smarmy one-liners while kicking bad guy butt and bedding the ladies.  A mixed bag, but certainly not a disaster like some claim.  And it fared much better on the big screen than on DVD.

Now this is a Bond villain.
Spy Who Loved Me, The (1977):  This is easily in my top five James Bond flicks.  It has memorable set pieces; a villain with a plan that, strangely enough, sounds plausible (that is, the future of civilization lies at the bottom of the sea); some grin-inducing Bond one-liners (“Oh James, I don’t have the words!” “Let me enlarge your vocabulary.”); exotic locales (Egypt being a major one); a heart-stopping ski jump in the opening sequence (helped by the music stopping when it occurs); and one of the most menacing henchmen ever:  The towering, metal-mouthed Jaws.  It also puts a twist on the Bond formula, in that Bond killed his female partner’s fiancée, and it’s interesting how that works itself out once she finds out.  Oh, and one of the best opening theme songs, “Nobody Does it Better”.  Only flaws?  The tanker scene feels a little protracted, the villain’s death is pretty abrupt, and Barabara Bach’s acting is pretty flat.  Otherwise, I always have a good time watching this.

Summer 2013

All the President’s Men (1975):  The timing of this movie was serendipitous, having been shown around the time the NSA surveillance scandals began to hit the press.  So watching this movie in 2013, it has held up extremely well.  Unfortunately.  Watching Woodward and Bernstein (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) take seemingly unimportant details and follow those clues from one big break to another is exhilarating, both from a directorial and acting standpoint and also because its theme resonates with everyone in the audience:  The people desire (and deserve) the truth, so we root for these underdogs to uncover it against all odds.  Easily one of the top five movies I saw at the Trylon this year.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004):  While I didn’t embrace this movie as a comedy classic like some, there are quite a few genuinely hard laughs in this Will Ferrell comedy.  Things go awry at a San Diego news station when a woman dares to be a reporter, sending sleazy anchor Ron Burgundy’s man-centric world upside down.  There is a plot here, but it mostly exists to hang lots of gags and set pieces off of, most of which work.  I especially loved the “gang” fight between competing news stations, and Burgundy’s accidental F-bomb to San Diego in his sign-off.

Bringing Up Baby (1938):  If there was ever a movie which defined “farce”, it would be this vintage comedy, which put a big smile on my face.  The basic plot is that Cary Grant’s character is engaged to be wed, but he gets tangled up with a free-spirited woman (Katharine Hepburn) and her pet leopard.  To describe any more than that would be pointless, as not only does the story go in one crazy turn after another, but I’d hate to give away all the jokes.  But the movie is never dull to watch, as the madcap pacing keeps things moving at a brisk rhythm.  And I love how virtually every character in the film aside from Grant is a kook; the director Howard Hawks thought that was a mistake, but I loved it because you’re grinning watching Grant’s patience repeatedly tested.
The Blues Brothers (1980):  This was on a double-bill with “Animal House”, another John Belushi vehicle.  Of the two films, I prefer “Blues”, not only for nostalgia but because it still holds up as an entertaining musical comedy epic.  And “epic” is the key word here, not only due to the crazy car chases and large-scale physical destruction, but the very idea that the sunglasses-donned duo are on a “mission from God” (that is, saving an orphanage where they grew up from being closed).  It really makes the whole ordeal larger than life, yet it’s juxtaposed nicely with the taciturn, low key reactions from the pair.  Top it off with some of the catchiest songs in the last thirty years, and you have a movie that’s a lot of fun.  I might’ve shaved a few minutes here and there, but considering that the original screenplay by Dan Akroyd was –hundreds- of pages long and virtually unfilmable, we should put the film’s length into perspective.
Cronos (1993):  The first of the Guillermo Del Toro-directed movies.  Of the four I saw, it was my least favorite, though it wasn’t awful or anything.  The plot concerns an old man who is bitten by a mysterious mechanical bug, whose bite causes him to regain his youth.  The downside?  He now craves blood.  Meanwhile, another old man wants the bug for himself and uses his brutish aide (played by Ron Perlman, one of the few English-speakers in the film) to steal it.  I don’t really remember much about the film, other than its visual style and distinct Spanish “feel”.
Giant, stony justice.
Daimajin (1966):  A Japanese movie about a giant stone statue which comes to life and wrecks havoc on a village which has a corrupt, tyrannical leader.  Admittedly, this movie is a slow burn; the first hour or so is pretty boring.  But when Daimajin awakens, the movie redeems itself.  Seeing Daimajin destroy buildings representing the evil villains is highly satisfying, considering all the crap they put the villagers through for the whole movie.  There’s a sense of justice being laid down.  In particular, there’s one point in the climax when some villains taunt Daimajin, and he just does this ominous slow turn to face them.  That put a big ol’ grin on my face.  My advice is, if you watch this movie, just be aware that it starts off slowly, but don’t worry, because it builds to a satisfying conclusion.

Gamera 3: The Revenge of Iris (1999):  I’m not really a giant monster movie fan; part of that is due to the hit-and-miss English dubbing, which makes it hard to get into the story, but also because the special effects are… not good.  So imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed “Gamera 3”.  Now I had seen all five “Gamera” flicks that had been lampooned on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”, but this was leagues better than those.  You really got a sense of scale in the battle scenes, the special effects are actually pretty decent, and it has some themes that are executed well, particularly sacrifice and hatred (specifically, how deep-seated grudges can manifest into negative ways).  Not bad.

Looks great, and... yeah, we'll stop there.
Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012):  Kind of a letdown.  Which is a shame, because the trailer made it look stylish and quirky.  This musical love letter to ‘50s B-movies and culture (with an emphasis on sci-fi and zombies), shot entirely in black-and-white (on Eastman Plus-X film, the last of its kind!) should be more engaging than it is.  I’m not sure if it was the editing or the performances or the thin plot, or all three, but it just doesn’t come together.  It looks great, and that’s the biggest compliment I can give it; the director clearly knew how to make shots look interesting and dynamic, whether that be through the staging or the lighting.  It’s a shame it couldn’t have been put to use on a better script.

Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001):  Of the two “Godzilla” movies at the Trylon this year, “All-Out Attack” was the better film.  The battles (and special effects) were better, the storyline had a more interesting character to follow (a plucky reporter who wants to cover the mayhem), and there was even a little symbolism in there.  Of the three giant monster movies I saw, I still liked “Gamera 3” the best, though.

Godzilla battles plantzilla.
Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989):  The “Godzilla” movies frustrate me, because even this late in the game, the Japanese military keeps trying to destroy the monster with conventional firepower, which we all know doesn’t work.  Those sequences just feel like filler, because you know the big guy’s going to get away unscathed.  Such is the case here.  Now to be fair, this time they do eventually attempt a different way to subdue Godzilla; that is, shoot missiles into certain parts of his body which contain a lethal injection.  But it feels like an afterthought at times, and doesn’t arise until much later in the film.  And I was disappointed by the villain, Biollante, a giant plant-esque thing.  The first time they fight, it’s pretty boring because Biollante barely moves.  The second fight fares a bit better, because Biollante changes forms into something more formidable.  But it’s still not very exciting because the special effects aren’t that convincing and you know Godzilla will win.  Also, the whole “mercenary” subplot could’ve been explained better, and at times these “Spy vs. Spy”-esque scenes felt like they belonged in a different movie.

Hellboy 1 & 2 (2004, 2008):  These two films could be technically be classified in the “superhero” genre, though compared to the likes of Batman and Superman, Hellboy certainly doesn’t feel like your typical superhero.  But I think that’s what makes these films so fun; it follows standard superhero movie tropes while playing with them at the same time.  Of the two films, I liked the second better; not only does it not have to worry about exposition and origin backstory, but it ditches the human male lead from the first film (who didn’t really do much aside from almost taking Hellboy’s girlfriend away from him), and is quite a bit funnier.  I also enjoyed the final battle scene more than the first, with Hellboy and the villain fighting amidst a bunch of rotating gear floors.  Del Toro has a thing for gears, I find, but he put them to good use here.

National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978):  While I had seen this previously, it was still a lot of fun to watch on the big screen.  John Belushi steals the show in any scene he’s in.  The second half isn’t quite as strong as the first (and there’s a “road trip” scene to a black bar that goes nowhere), though the chaotic ending (with a main street parade sent off the rails by Delta House) makes up for it.  John Vernon plays a great part as the no-nonsense dean.  My all-time favorite scene in the movie is when Delta House is on trial for all their shenanigans, and one of the DH members gets the audience on their side by spouting patriotic statements that are noble but ultimately irrelevant to the trial.  I love it.

Network (1976):  This is still one of my favorite movies.  The mad dash for TV ratings, no matter the cost (whether it be journalistic integrity, taste, and even a person’s life) is skewered in this dark comedy.  I know it’s an overused line, but this film really does get more relevant (sadly) with each passing year.  The performances?  What can I say, they’re all fantastic.  William Holden is at the top of his game, and paired with the (comparatively) younger Faye Dunaway yields great chemistry, both positive and, later, negative.  Peter Finch as the ranting anchor Howard Beale is similarly dynamic, with diatribes that are funny AND insightful at the same time, deriding how much our political and cultural societies have been bastardized.  And of course, even though Ned Beatty only has one scene, it’s a highly memorable one, as he harshly lambasts Beale for daring to criticize the monetary NWO.  If you haven’t seen “Network”, what are you waiting for?

The inside of a changing world.
Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011):  A fascinating documentary about the slow death of the print medium, with the long-running New York Times’s lifeline in constant jeopardy.  A good chunk of the movie also explores NYT’s coverage of the WikiLeaks scandal, which is made engaging despite the fact that it occurred almost three years ago.  One moment in the film which I had to smack my hand on my head in annoyance:  When one of the veteran reporters was reading a digital version of the NYT on their iPad, and touching the screen so that they’re turning virtual pages like an actual newspaper.  What’s wrong with this picture??

Pan’s Labyrinth (2005):  The final film in the “Guillermo Del Toro” series at the Trylon, and also one of his most critically acclaimed.  While I don’t share the high praise that some critics had for the movie, it definitely has some positive aspects.  The movie has elements of “Alice in Wonderland”; that is, a girl goes down a “rabbit hole” and encounters a world of fantastic creatures, some benevolent, some… not so much.  Unlike “Alice”, though, she ventures to and from the real world a few times, sent on missions to collect things.  The real world, in this case, is post-World War II Spain, where the girl’s stepfather is a ruthless military leader.  While these real world scenes of conflict are done well, it gave the film a disjointed feel.  I suppose you could argue that’s the point, since it’s meant to contrast with the otherworldly feel to the underworld scenes, but at times they felt like two totally different movies colliding.  And since I thought the underworld was more original and creative than the WWII stuff, it was disheartening that more of the movie didn’t take place there.  Oh, and (SPOILER) I really had a hard time suspending disbelief that a villain who is stabbed in the back, through the area where the heart is, and through the shoulder, and has his mouth cut open, would be able to pick himself up and sew himself back together.  I know this is a fairy tale (albeit a dark one), but come on now.

Safety Last! (1923):  I’m not well-versed in silent film (I’ve seen “Sunrise” and “Battleship Potemkin”, and maybe a couple others), but I very much enjoyed this Harold Lloyd comedy, about a small-town guy who gets a job in the big city.  For some reason, he moves there without his wife, but he writes home to tell her what a success he is.  Problems arise when the wife comes to visit him, and hijinks ensue as he pretends to be something he’s not.  Of course, the scene everybody remembers from the film is Lloyd’s character hanging from a clock tower, which has been given homages in many other movies, but there’s plenty more to laugh at here, so long as you don’t mind physical comedy.  And luckily, I don’t.  (Side note:  As with all silent films, a soundtrack was never part of the original film, so those had to be made later.  The music used for this particular print was very appropriate for the time, with ragtime-esque music accentuating the light-hearted tone)

Sweet Smell of Success (1957):  Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis are well-cast in this gritty drama about press agents and the power that their words hold.  The plot is convoluted and tricky, so I won’t type it all out here, but needless to say, it takes a lot of twists and turns, in directions even the characters didn’t anticipate.  While a downbeat film in a number of ways, that’s to be expected from a film noir.  And I thought it captured the “dog eat dog” lifestyle quite well.  Still, it’s lacking something undefinable that prevented it from becoming one of my favorites.  I feel like I need to see it again; this might be one of those movies that you appreciate more and more upon repeated viewings.

To Have and Have Not (1944) [The Heights]:   “You know how to whistle, don’t you?”  One thing I enjoy about some of these old movies is witty banter.  This Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall vehicle has it in spades, almost making this a comedy, despite its serious wartime setting and some near-deaths due to it.  The film has some similarities to “Casablanca” (particularly Bogart being pressured to helping the resistance during WWII) but is able to stand on its own, partially due to Bogart’s character being a fishing boat captain, but also the different dynamic between Bogart and Bacall compared to with Bergman in “Casablanca”.

Yoyo (1965):  Much like “8 ½”, this could be described as an “art house” film, in the sense that it’s in a foreign language and, if made today, would probably not be shown in a mainstream theater.  This French comedy/drama is interesting because it has fun with the film medium in a variety of ways:  For example, the movie begins in the silent era of film, so there’s no music, the sound effects are minimal, and the dialog is spoken through title cards.  Cut to the sound era, and suddenly there’s a narrator, dialog, and music.  That’s really neat how they did that.  The film also plays with the visuals; certain objects will appear to be something, but will change into something else just from how it was shot and lit.  The story is basically a “rags to riches” story in reverse, as a wealthy man loses everything in the 1929 crash, and his son (working as a clown) strives to rebuild his legacy.  I can’t say I loved the film (though a couple people in the audience that night found it to be one of the funniest things they’d ever seen, an attitude which I didn’t share), but it was worth seeing for its visuals and the film’s exclusivity; it has rarely been shown outside of its original release, especially not in America.

Fall 2013

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) [played at The Heights]:  The original “Frankenstein” was good, but this sequel blows it out of the water.  It helps that because it picks up roughly where the first movie left off, there’s action right away.  In the first film, it was kind of a slow burn until the monster was created.  Here, there are a lot more set pieces and it moves faster as a result.  Most importantly, I was genuinely surprised how funny this movie was!  There’s a scene where the monster visits a blind man living in solitude, and the kindly man teaches the monster how to smoke.  It was so bizarre seeing this creature light up that you can’t help but love it.  My only complaint?  Despite the title, the bride of the monster doesn’t appear until the last ten minutes!  Kind of a letdown.  Still, once she appears, she leaves quite an impression, with that crazy tall hairdo that would make Marge Simpson green with envy.  A winner!

Clue (1985):  A hoot.  As with the board game, various colorful characters are summoned to a mansion for a dinner party, where various staff is picked off, one by one.  What helps this film are two things:  The harried pace, which enhances the over-the-top performances, and the physical comedy (watching the group hide the bodies from the cops is pretty morbid, but hilarious in how it’s executed).  Tim Curry steals the show as the eccentric butler.  My only real complaint is that I didn’t particularly care who the killer was, which I only felt MORESO when the theater showed all three alternate endings back to back.  But when I had that much fun with the movie anyway, I didn’t mind too much.

Dracula (1931) [played at The Heights] / Dracula (Spanish) (1931):  I managed to catch both of these classic horror movies; one was playing at The Heights theater in Columbia Heights (which occasionally does themed tie-ins with The Trylon), and the other played at a cemetery in Minneapolis.  The latter was worth going to strictly for the atmosphere (I can’t say I’ve ever watched a movie in a CEMETERY before!), but sadly neither version had me truly invested.  Bela Lugosi is, of course, iconic as the titular character, and there are some spooky shots and lighting.  But to a modern audience, the film isn’t scary at all.  Part of this is due to the lack of background music.  This was a film just barely out of the silent era, and it shows in the absence of a score.  Now I’m not one of these people who needs music playing over every second of a movie, and I also can see the viewpoint that a movie doesn’t need unsubtle music to tell its audience how to feel.  But I would counter by saying that a score can create a mood just as much as the visuals; imagine if “Jaws” lacked the memorable “duhn dun…” ditty, for example.  But besides the music, it’s a really slow-paced film, even moreso in the Spanish remake, which is a good half an hour longer despite covering the same material.  It was worth going to for the experience, but I really don’t think it’s held up all that well.

Frankenstein (1931) [played at The Heights]:  Unlike “Dracula”, this classic horror movie has held up a bit better.  For one thing, it has a theme which is still relatable, if not moreso (that is, scientists trying to play God, not to mention science running amok).  But it also gets the creepiness across better than “Dracula”; the first time we see Frankenstein’s Monster alive, with its dead, emotionless eyes, it’s pretty effective.  And to me anyway, there are more iconic scenes in here, like the monster having fun with a little girl until things go awry, the townspeople chasing the monster with fire and pitchforks, and of course, the “lightning bringing the monster to life” scene.  Like “Dracula”, it lacks background music most of the time, but it doesn’t seem as distracting here, probably because there’s just more sound to make up for it.

From Here to Eternity (1953):  Yes, this movie is more than just its iconic “kissing on the beach” scene, which lasts about four seconds.  It’s actually a really well-done wartime drama, tackling some of the same themes as “Sweet Smell of Success”, particularly of feeling “trapped”.  Two of the bigger plots in the film involve Burt Lancaster’s character feeling pressured into accepting a higher-ranking military ranking even though he doesn’t want to (because he doesn’t feel it fits him), and Montgomery Clift’s character daring to defy unfair orders from a jerk of a superior officer, and paying the price.  Frank Sinatra has a memorable role as Clift’s wiry, temper-laden friend.

Hausu (1977):  I actually didn’t see this at the Trylon (long story), but it was playing on Hulu for free, so I just watched it on there the same night it played at the theater.  Boy, am I glad I didn’t pay money to see this.  The premise is really thin, and involves a group of Japanese teen girls vacationing in a haunted house and getting killed, one by one.  I really don’t see what’s entertaining about this genre; it’s not inherently fun, so unless you don’t have the chops for it, it just comes across as unpleasant and sad.  Unfortunately, the sunny, campy ‘60s-esque tone of the first twenty minutes is abandoned for a depressing tone once the gang arrives at the mansion.  It’s a perfect example of mood whiplash.  And there was a haunting, slow piano piece that played so many times in the second half, I almost wished I was deaf so I wouldn’t have to hear it ever again.  I know what you’re thinking:  “But Ian, the charm of the movie is in the cheesy special effects!”  Here’s the thing:  Low budget special effects can be amusing (and even believable) if done right.  But all I could think when watching this is, “This is really shoddy.”  Like, a ten year old could easily make this stuff on their computer.  A huge disappointment, considering the trailer made the film look like hilarious cheese.

Ice Cream Man (1995):  One of the recurring programs featured at the Trylon is called Trash Film Debauchery, where bad films are shown.  The only difference is, unlike Mystery Science Theater 3000, you can’t talk back to the screen.  Which is a shame, because it would’ve been nice to talk back to this stinker.  Clint Howard plays a serial killer ice cream man, and kidnaps one of the kids in the neighborhood.  I will give this movie a modicum of credit for one thing:  No kids in the movie are actually physically harmed.  It’s so cheap to generate sympathy out of an audience for showing kids in jeopardy, and luckily the victims in this movie are adults.  But it’s perhaps because of that that the film doesn’t work; it portrays all adults as idiots, and it’s up to the kids to save the day.  So it ends up feeling like an episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?”, except it’s surrounded by gruesome imagery (like appendages in the ice cream), gory death scenes, and four-letter words.  So what we end up with is a movie made for nobody in particular; it’s too dumb for adults, but too graphic for young children.  I will admit there were some “so bad it’s good” moments, such as how Howard’s character as a child witnesses his own ice cream man getting murdered right in front of him, and laments that nobody will give him ice cream now.  But the casting gag about Clint Howard playing a creepy murderer in an ice cream hat gets old after about twenty minutes, so the movie just drags after that.

Murder By Death (1976):  I know this send-up of murder mystery movies is revered in some circles as a classic, but I honestly was bored by this “comedy”.  I’m not sure if it was because of seeing “Clue” (which was IMO far superior) a mere day prior, but I do know that I wasn’t laughing at most of the antics here.  Which is a shame, because there are some classic actors in the picture:  Alec Guinness as a blind butler (not as funny as it sounds, sadly), Peter Sellers as an Asian stereotype (which was dated even when this movie came out), and Peter Falk as a Humphrey Bogart parody (which puzzled me more than it entertained, because Falk, while he does a decent vocal impersonation, looks NOTHING like Bogart).  This film’s idea of funny is for the butler to say that he’s prepared a fire in the room, and he opens the room to reveal that the bed is on fire.  That’s more groan-worthy than funny.  I walked out after fifty minutes, the first time I’ve ever walked out on a movie in my life.  It was liberating; you should try it.

Professionals, The (1966):  A revisionist Western set in the early 1900s.  Much like “Daimajin”, this gets off to a slow start.  The plot kinda reminded me of “The Expendables”, with the whole “rescue a captive woman in the enemy’s camp” operation going on.  And like that movie, I didn’t really care about the characters or feel they were that well-defined at first, and the villains were pretty one-dimensional.  But what helped is that there were some twists and turns different from what you’d expect, and eventually, the film made its character motives clear.  So ultimately it was worth seeing.  (Sorry to sound vague, but I don’t want to give anything away!)
Rewind This! (2013):  Simply put, I loved this documentary.  It chronicles the VHS format, and explores every facet of the home video medium, from the vibrant collector’s market to the rise of adult entertainment to digital destruction to quirky movies that never would’ve gotten a theatrical release, and a whole lot more.  What I liked most is discovering movies that I’d never heard of, really obscure stuff that few outside of ultra-hardcore film buffs would know about.  The tone to the documentary is just right:  It’s pretty light-hearted, with many colorful people interviewed, but it still gets across the facts and history.  Yet it does so without feeling like a history lesson.  Highly recommended, and who knows, maybe you’ll discover something new.  It’s almost impossible not to.  (Side note:  The showing at the Trylon was memorable in itself, because each person could take home a free VHS tape of their choice from a big box.  I picked out the 1991 film “JFK," on two tapes.)

Rock n’ Roll High School (1979):  This movie acts like one big commercial for The Ramones, but luckily it’s a fairly fun commercial.  The story is a classic “students vs. hard-ass principal” scenario, and while that’s not very original, the female principal is a riot in any scene she’s in, just because of how comically uptight she is.  Every “student rebellion” story needs a good foil, and she fits it perfectly.  While not every gag works, there are plenty that do, like the call back where the principal tests rock n’ roll music on a lab rat, which explodes; later, a life-sized rat tries to get into the Ramones concert, and when told he can’t because he’s a rat, he holds up some ear muffs and it’s all good.  Uneven (and it has some filler, such as a daydream sequence), but has some funny moments and some classic ‘70s rock.

Scanners (1981):  While not a bad movie by any means, this David Cronenberg film was disappointing, though it is probably partially due to certain expectations.  Nearly everybody has seen the infamous clip from the film of a bald man’s head exploding.  Sadly, that moment is the only instance of exploding heads in the film.  I went in expecting lots of exploding heads, and I only got one!  The more typical use of telepathy involves slamming people against walls or reading their thoughts, which isn’t nearly as entertaining or over-the-top.  Still, the plot manages to stay interesting, as it involves corporate conspiracies and “the last of his kind” themes.

Shadows (1959):  Unofficially billed as the first independent film, I’m glad I saw this for historical purposes, even if the film didn’t do much for me.  My main problem is that the characters seemed to be living really aimless existences, so I didn’t really care about what little plot there was.  Now I know that’s the point, but it didn’t make for very engaging storylines.  About the only moment that really did anything for me was when a guy wanted to date a woman and her co-worker repeatedly told him to beat it.  That at least had some conflict to it, whereas most of the rest of the film didn’t have the same emotion.  Of note: the movie’s dialogue was improvised.  That’s not exactly a common thing, and did give the movie a unique feel.

He's real and he's alive!
Viva Knievel! (1977):  The first (and only) film to star legendary stunt rider Evil Knievel, this film has “made-for-TV” written all over it, despite being released theatrically.  It has ordinary direction, mostly ordinary stunts, and flat acting from our lead.  Despite those issues, however, this was a watchable flick, with Knievel in the middle of a conspiracy to murder him and smuggle his body back to the U.S. with a bunch of drugs.  I absolutely loved Leslie Nielsen as the bad guy; this is a few years before he had a change of direction with “Airplane!”, but it’s this role association that makes his performance here so amusing.  As RiffTrax said:  “If you’ve seen him in “The Naked Gun” and “Airplane!”, every line he says will sound like a joke to you, and trust us friends, this is a very good thing.”  The film also contains two really silly moments:  Knievel driving his motorcycle through a mental hospital to bust out his friend (who was wrongfully incarcerated), and Knievel’s apparently psychic ability to know the exact location of a semi passing through a tunnel below him so that he can ramp his motorcycle at the exact moment and land on top of it.  Guy’s got skillz.  Unfortunately, the print used at the Trylon was pretty beat up and faded; everything was all yellow.  They can’t all be winners; on the other hand, it could be argued that palette only added to the campy ‘70s charm.

Winter 2013

Paths of Glory (1957):  I loved this film.  People often know Stanley Kubrick for his better-known works like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and A Clockwork Orange, but this World War I film, one of his lesser-appreciated works, is arguably one of his best and deserves more attention.  It involves an unsympathetic General Mireau ordering some troops to secure a hill, a task which is virtually impossible.  But when the soldiers retreat, he’s furious and demands three of them be executed for being cowards.  Kirk Douglas does a fine job as Colonel Dax, who was actually on the battlefield at the time and, thus, perfect for the role of defendant in the trio’s court martial.  What I like about this movie is that there’s a natural flow to it; too many times in war movies, the narrative is pretty loose, just going from one action set piece to another.  But here, you get the set-up, the battle, the fall-out from the failed battle in the trial, and the aftermath of the execution.  It’s extremely compelling.  And unlike some of Kubrick’s films, this isn’t full of weird symbolism; it’s pretty straightforward, but it’s not hampered by that.  Other aspects that work?  The cinematography is, typical for Kubrick, gorgeous. There are some wonderful tracking shots as we follow the soldiers through the cramped trenches.  Also, this is a movie that might not have worked as well in color; it looks so rich in black and white, and gives the violence more gritty realism.  Finally, the film has a bit of dark humor, akin to Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.  The way Mireau plainly describes how many soldiers he expects to lose, without any emotion at all, is really disturbing but strangely humorous in the way it’s delivered.  Easily a top five for the Trylon this year.

Looking back, it was a great year at the Trylon.  Needless to say, I can't wait to see what 2014 brings - I hope to see you there!