The Time Machine 1960 Based on the novella by H.G. Wells. Directed by George Pal. Victorian England. H. George Wells (Rod Taylor in his first feature role) has built a time machine in his basement. He tells assembled peers that he’s traveled to 1917, 1940, and 1966, relating his adventures. In 802,701 near the Sphinx, he rescued a (scantily clad) girl called Weena (Yvette Mimieux) from what we presume to be the Nile.
She and her people, the primitive Eloi, fear the murderous Morlocks who only come out at night. They are all that’s left after a 326 year war. The hero discovers the relationship of Eloi to Morlocks. (Shudder.) He helps the Eloi to defend themselves but falls for a trap when attempting to retrieve his ship, escaping just in time. No one present believes him. When one man returns later in the evening, Wells and the machine are gone. Pacing lurches and it’s dated, but innocence may appeal. Rent on Amazon Prime.
La Jetée 1962 French with English Subtitles. 28 minutes. Written and directed by Chris Marker. An extremely unusual black and white film predominantly made of optically printed photographs with no dialogue aside from small sections of muttering in German, people talking in an airport terminal, and voice over. In the aftermath of WWIII, scientists experimenting with time travel choose a subject (Davos Hanich) who seems to be able to withstand innate pressures. He has an obsessive childhood image of a woman and vague memory of having seen someone killed.
Sent back in time as an adult, he eventually develops a romantic relationship with the woman. Scientists then transport him to the future during which he’s given a gift to regenerate contemporary society. Aware he’ll be eliminated for his knowledge, people from the future offer to bring him forward again, but the man decides instead to go back to the woman in his past. Things don’t happen as assumed. Strange and evocative. Editing is creative. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Angel Levine 1970 Based on a short story by Bernard Malamud. Directed by Jan Kandar. Elderly tailor Morris Mishkin (Zero Mosel) lives poor with his bedridden wife (Ida Kaminska) in an apartment they’ve had since being newlyweds. Mishkin is not well himself. Entering his kitchen, he finds Alexander Levine (Harry Belafonte), a black man who claims to be his guardian angel. Levine has been assigned to boost the old man’s flagging faith in order to earn his wings. There’s nothing angelic about the mouthy, street smart ghetto man who won’t be politely thrown out.
Mishkin and Levine get entangled in one another’s “lives” – the angel as manifest seems to still have one. Mrs. Mishkin experiences a brief otherworldly revival. Doctor friend (Milo O’Shea) comes several times to see her, but misses both her cooking dinner and the angel. Nothing but the ending happens as one might expect. Acting carries this. And the unlikely celestial being. Free with Amazon Prime.
The Last Wave 1977 Directed by Peter Weir. Weather in Sydney, Australia is out of control. During one of many freak rainstorms, a pub fight breaks out among Aborigines resulting in a death. Four are arrested for homicide. Oddly, the National Legal Aid Society conscripts corporate tax lawyer David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) to defend the men – and he accepts.
Questioned Aborigines are reticent to talk and the lawyer starts to have strange dreams. He’s visited at home by the spirit of a shaman with whom he seems to have a mystical connection. Additionally, Chris Lee (David Gulpilil), one of the accused, relates to Burton as if they have something intrinsic in common. Research leads him to believe the incident was a tribal killing accomplished by cursing someone whose faith was sufficient for him to die.
Burton learns about the Aboriginal belief of Dreamtime, the beginning of knowledge dictating laws of existence/connection by which the tribes live. Dreams intensify, he meets the shaman face to face, Chris shows him ancient drawings indicating an apocalypse. Thoroughly ‘other’ and unnerving. Weir has you from the start and holds fast. The end is terrific (not in a Hollywood way). Rent on Amazon Prime.
Big 1988 Directed by Penny Marshall. A charming fantasy about 12 year-old Josh Baskin (David Moscow) who asks the wish of being “big” of Zoltar, a fortune-telling machine and wakes in his 20s (Tom Hanks). With only best friend Billy Frances Kopecki (Jared Rushton) aware of what happened, he’s at loose ends. One minute he’s a data entry clerk at the MacMillan Toy Company, next Josh inadvertently impresses his boss (Robert Loggia) so much, he’s made head of product development. This is the film with an FAO Schwarz giant piano on which Josh and MacMillan dance.
Now successful, the man/boy also awkwardly embarks on a relationship with Susan Lawrence (Elizabeth Perkins) who, attracted to rather than put off by his naiveté, ditches her snarky, ambitious boyfriend Paul Davenport (John Heard). Meanwhile Billy searches for Zoltar. The time comes to decide whether to go back or stay. Sweet and poignant. Hanks is completely credible, the film refreshing. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Witches of Eastwick 1987 Based on the John Updike novel. Directed by George Miller. Lavishly produced and great fun. Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer are independent, single women bffs in a picturesque Rhode Island town. All have lost their husbands one way or another. One night, at a weekly get together, they play at being witches and accidentally summon Daryl Van Horne = the devil (Jack Nicholson having the time of his life).
Daryl buys an old mansion in the now wary town, seduces and impregnates each woman in turn, and invites them to move in away from prying eyes. Eventually the trio gloriously rebels. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Wings of Desire 1988 In German with English subtitles. Directed by Wim Wenders. A gorgeous film. Damiel and Cassiel (Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander) are two among hundreds of angels who unseen watch over Berlin and listen to the thoughts of its people. When Damiel falls in love with Marion, an aerialist (Solveg Dommartin), he decides to join the few who have given up immortality to become human. Up till now, only actor Peter Falk, himself a fallen angel, has sensed Damiel’s presence and encouraged him.
The angel falls, eats, drinks, and bleeds for the first time. Everything is a wonder. He finds Marion in a punk club and they connect. The idea that angels could read minds apparently led to Wenders considering personal dialogue no one would say aloud. Cinematography is inspired. Rent on Amazon Prime. Don’t bother with the updated remake. It lacks all magic.
Edward Scissorhands 1990 Directed by Tim Burton. Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp), the creation of an elderly, reclusive inventor, is not quite complete. When his “father” unexpectedly dies, the boy’s hands are still scissors. Avon saleswoman Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) comes across him when she rings the bell of his otherwise deserted gothic mansion. Concerned, she takes Edward home to her suburban family: Winona Ryder as daughter Kim, Robert Oliveri as her son Kevin, Alan Arkin as her husband, Bill.
Everything is new and somewhat of a struggle to Edward, including girls-love; he falls in love with Kim. Wonderfully imaginative scenes depict the hero’s carving ice sculpture in the process of which he seems to make it snow, and extravagant topiary. Kim grows to care about the sensitive boy. Her jealous boyfriend Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) tries several times to incriminate Edward, finally coming after him with a gun. Kim gets in the way, Edward reacts to protect her. His legend continues after the film’s climax.
The film is great to look at. Depp is sympathetic taking the first step to break from his teen idol persona. The lead character derived from a drawing made by then teenage Tim Burton who felt isolated growing up in Burbank, California. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Pleasantville 1998 Written, co-produced and directed by Gary Ross. High school-age twins Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) and David (Tobey Maguire) are opposites in nature. While she’s outgoing and popular, he spends his time alone absorbed in the television serial Pleasantville, a 1950s black and white comedy about the perfect Parker family. When the kids break the TV control in a tussle, a repairman mysteriously appears giving them one which transports the siblings to the Parkers’ living room in Pleasantville. (Everything becomes black and white.) They “become” Mary Sue and Bud Parker.
The town is aware of nothing outside its borders and stuck in 50s social values. Though they try to maintain status quo, Jennifer and David inadvertently disrupt things with contemporary attitudes. Jennifer, for example, introduces a friend to masturbation, then has sex with her date – actions literally unknown in the town. An adult couple in love break up a bad marriage to come together. As people change, the environment takes on color bit by bit alarming the mayor and his cohorts. A ban on “colored” people is initiated in public venues. The new reality wins. One sibling stays.
A creative conceit well executed. This was the first time a feature film was created by scanning and digitizing recorded film footage to remove or manipulate colors. “This movie is about the fact that personal repression gives rise to larger political oppression…That when we’re afraid of certain things in ourselves or we’re afraid of change, we project those fears on to other things, and a lot of very ugly social situations can develop. ” (Director Gary Ross) Rent on Amazon Prime.
Michael 1997 Directed by Nora Ephron. Archangel Michael (John Travolta) is ostensibly sent to earth to help small town Iowan Pansy Milbank (Jean Stapleton). She unquestioningly takes him in. The celestial being is a slovenly, ill mannered, glutton who smokes and is addicted to sugar. Nonetheless he has large wings, a perpetually sunny attitude, and smells like cookies (especially attractive to women). Reading local Midwest coverage, The National Mirror sends two staff members and a freelancer to cover what they think may be excellent fodder for their unexplained, phenomena-based, tabloid.
Frank Quinlin (William Hurt) is a complete skeptic. Genial Huey Driscoll (Robert Pastorelli) is preoccupied with possibly losing his job. Dorothy Winters (Andie MacDowell), a poet/ songwriter appears open to the idea. Frank and Dorothy are at the kind of movie odds you know will result in love. Pansy dies and the men decide to take Michael back to Chicago. (The angel has always wanted to see The Sears Tower.) Because of his wings, they have to drive. Unusual things happen both along the way and when the trio reaches home. Undoubtedly due to Ephron, the forula has its moments. In Paradise Lost, Milton described angels as “shapeshifters who patrol the galaxy, leaving a vapor trail of heavenly fragrance in their wake.” Rent on Amazon Prime.
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