The Slime People (D). This first-season offering just isn’t very good. The movie is horrendous, about a handful of humans trying to survive an attack on Los Angeles by subterranean slime people. Tedious in the extreme, and the riffing isn’t all that great either. The highlight of the disc is actually a short interview with a woman who was in the movie, reminiscing about the experience and how horrified she was when she first saw the finished product because it was so bad.
Rocket Attack U.S.A. (C). This second-season effort is not great but at least it’s better than The Slime People. The 1961 film is a Cold War relic mainly about a spy sent to Moscow to figure out if the Soviets are planning to launch a nuclear attack. Answer: Yes. The first half of the movie features some pretty funny riffing by Joel and the robots, but they seem to lose steam towards the end.
Village of the Giants (C). This okay episode features an old movie starring a young Beau Bridges (The Fabulous Baker Boys), a very young Ron Howard (TV’s Happy Days), and a timeless Toni Basil (the 1982 hit song “Mickey”). Howard is a brainiac kid in the little town of Hainesville. He accidentally invents a substance that, when eaten, makes the consumer grow to enormous size. Unfortunately, Beau and his gang of unpleasant punk teenagers get a hold of the growth formula and proceed to terrorize the town. Expect lots of unconvincing special effects and lots of whining from Beau’s gang about how adults are always pushing young people around with their rules and such.
The Deadly Mantis (B). My grade may be slightly inflated because of the weakness of the other movies in this collection. This is a 1957 creature feature about a giant praying mantis that was frozen in arctic ice millions of years ago. Somehow it gets defrosted and runs amok killing people. There is very little plot beyond finding and killing the mantis, which seems to take an unduly long time. The riffing is pretty good. The two extras are an introduction by Mary Jo Pehl and a short documentary about Mantis producer William Alland, neither of which is of any special interest.
La La Land (B+). To me, musicals are like Westerns—it’s such a novelty when a new one gets made, you just have to go see it. But when I set out to see this new musical from the director of Whiplash, I had no idea it was getting so much love from the critics. Apparently it has lots of Oscar buzz, especially for star Emma Stone (Magic in the Moonlight). It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. It hearkens back to the glory days of the movie musical, with a few big, show-stopping song-and-dance numbers, and with the simplest of plots. Aspiring actress Mia (Stone) and jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling, Crazy, Stupid, Love) meet in Los Angeles, sing some songs, fall in love, sing some more songs, and hit complications in their relationship and their careers. Stone and Gosling aren’t natural-born singers, but they have charisma and chemistry to burn, and they really make the show work. If Rogue One is sold out, why not give La La Land a try?
Nocturnal Animals (D). I knew this movie was supposed to be dark, but it stars all-American girl next door Amy Adams (Arrival), so how dark could it really be? Very dark, as it turns out, and disturbing as well. The opening scene is grotesque and disturbing. Then we dig into the real story–Susan Morrow (Adams) is a miserable Los Angeleno in a loveless marriage. Then she gets a package from her long-ago ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal, End of Watch). It’s the manuscript of his new novel, Nocturnal Animals, and we see the novel play out on the screen as Susan reads it. In the novel (and on the screen), a mild-mannered husband (also Gyllenhaal) and his wife (Isla Fisher, The Great Gatsby) and daughter (Ellie Bamber, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) are terrorized by a trio of west Texas rednecks who run them off the road in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. After this sequence, which is suspenseful AND disturbing, the husband turns to a laconic lawman (an excellent Michael Shannon, Midnight Special) to help him get justice. Is Susan’s ex-husband trying to tell her something with his novel? I’m not usually very attuned to subtext in movies, but it seems like director Tom Ford is beating us over the head with one here. Anyway, this movie was too dark and disturbing, and ultimately unconvincing, for me. Rated R for violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language — and they mean it.
Moana (B). First we have a short–a cute little story that dramatizes the battle between an office drudge’s fearful brain on the one hand and his excitable heart and stomach on the other. It’s kind of like a radically shortened and simplified Inside Out. The main feature is set in a Polynesian South Seas-type milieu. Moana is the high-spirited daughter of an island chief, and she thrills to her grandmother’s ancient stories of Maui, a trickster demigod who stole a gemstone from an island goddess, only to lose it in a battle with a lava demon. Could the tales be true? Lo! The Ocean itself brings the gemstone to Moana, and she must go on a quest to find Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson, San Andreas) and force him to return the gemstone to its rightful place, lest a looming wave of darkness overwhelm her people. I give Moana high marks for beautiful visuals, enjoyable musical numbers in the early going, and an appealing heroine. The adventure plot is a little pedestrian, so I wouldn’t put this movie in the same category as first-tier Disney like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, or Zootopia. Nevertheless, it’s a solid, family-friendly effort.