Fire in the Sky (1993) – Not the defining alien abduction movie that it has been made out to be, Fire in the Sky‘s reputation precedes it. Still, it may be the best alien abduction film ever. The acting in it was somewhat mediocre, leading me to conclude that if any movie was in need of a remake, it would be this one. Yet, the film’s slow build-up ends in a more than satisfying climax with all kinds of really cool special FX. If you find aliens as terrifying as I do, Fire in the Sky is worth checking out.
Five Easy Pieces (1970) – This is Bob Rafelson’s Best Picture-nominated tale of a oil-rig worker (Jack Nicholson), who is forced – after the sudden illness of a close family member – to confront the life and family he left behind in order to pursue an existence in blue-collar America. “Five Easy Pieces” refers to a compilation of piano music for beginning music students and Nicholson’s Robert comes from a family of musicians. Robert himself was a promising concert pianist before going the way of the drifter. Nicholson is in excellent Cuckoo’s Nest form here, playing an extremely conflicted character. Robert seems to reject the trappings of his wealthy, aristocratic family. At the same time, he’s clearly embarrassed with his uneducated, low-class girlfriend – played by Karen Black, who is also a real treat. I enjoyed Five Easy Pieces a lot. It was entertaining, but never condescending. It was dramatic, but never boring. Having never seen the film that beat Five Easy Pieces for the Best Picture Oscar, Patton, I can’t say whether it was robbed of the award – but I have a sneaking suspicious that may be the case.
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) – Coming out on DVD and Blu-ray on the 29th, this homage to the 1980s is stupid fun that should have been a lot more fun and a lot less stupid. It’s not the laugh out loud riot it could have been – and The Wedding Singer is a much better bet if you’re in the mood for a little 1980s nostalgia – but worth the rental if simply for the genius casting of John Cusack and Crispin Glover in a supporting role. Bottom line: If you’re going to make a movie with a title as ludicrous as Hot Tub Time Machine, you better bring the goods. I’m not sure whether this movie did that. This hot tub was lukewarm at best (Har har!)
The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) – Bob Rafelson’s follow-up to Five Easy Pieces is another story of a man, once again played by Jack Nicholson, being forced to confront his past. Nicholson’s David is unlike Robert in Five Easy Pieces. He’s more reserved. The yin to his yang is his older brother Jason, played by Bruce Dern. Nicholson’s acting style is much more reserved – and a lot less fun – than the “tea-kettle about to boil over” he plays in Five Easy Pieces. Fortunately, Dern makes up for this with his over-the-top portrayal of Jason, the so-called “King of Marvin Gardens.” The plot concerns a business proposal that Jason has made to his younger brother David, bringing him to Atlantic City. Eventually the true nature of the proposal is revealed, but before that there is ample opportunity for comparison between David and Jason’s lives. David is a radio talk show host, who relates stories of his life to his listeners. Jason flies by the seat of his pants, wheeling and dealing living off his reputation. The King of Marvin Gardens is not an easy film to watch. It’s slow and you spend a good portion of the movie wondering where Rafelson is heading with the story. In the end, it is satisfying the way it comes together, although the journey there can be frustrating.
Shortbus (2006) – John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) directed this largely-improvised tale of bright young things in post-9/11 Manhattan exploring their sexuality at a downtown sex club called Shortbus. Sook-Yin Lee, a Canadian television personality, plays a woman with the inability to achieve an orgasm. Paul Dawson and PJ DeBoy are a gay couple flirting with a possible polyamorous relationship. Lindsay Beamish plays Severin, a dominatrix. Shortbus’s notoriety stems from its numerous unsimulated sex scenes – some critics called the film pornographic, which is a shame because it’s really not. Don’t be mistaken. The sex is graphic. While there’s no “behindtheballsstraponasscam” shots, “rusty trombones” or a “dirty Sanchez” , for the most part if there’s a sexual act you can think of (gay or straight), it’s in this movie. The parade of carnality begins as early as the open credits, which seems almost like a conscious decision so that later sex scenes don’t take you “out of” the film. I was glad for this, because there’s so much good character development and (non-sexual) interaction in this movie, I’d hate to be suddenly jarred out of the world Mitchell has created by something as ordinary as two people “doing it.” And no, there’s no way this movie could have been made without the explicit sex. Mitchell made a movie about sex and, in his words, why shouldn’t he have been allowed to use all the tools at his disposal to make it?