Hidden Netflix Gems – Earth Girls Are Easy

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

In an oddball blend of ’50s science fiction classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Day the Earth Stood Still, combined with much stronger elements of beach musicals and screwball comedy, director Julien Temple‘s Earth Girls Are Easy explores interplanetary sexual politics with a light and infectiously fun touch. This is one of those ’80s movies, much like The Lost Boys, that is objectively silly and perhaps unimportant to the history of cinema, but is nonetheless one of my favorite movies of all time.

Valerie (Geena Davis) is a sort of ditzy manicurist who works at beauty parlor in San Fernando Valley with her gloriously superficial and oversexed friend Candy (co-writer Julie Brown). After discovering her physician fiancée, Ted (Charles Rocket), attempting to cheat on her with a nurse he brings home, she kicks him out and wrecks most of his belongings in a musical montage of destruction and bittersweet flashbacks of the better times they spent together. Of all the film’s musical numbers, this is the weakest, but still great visual fun and prime ’80s nostalgia, as when Valerie shoves a box of Ted’s cigars into the VCR, or when she sends a bowling ball crashing into his Commodore 64 computer. As if her relationship troubles aren’t bad enough, the next morning a spaceship full of furry, horny aliens lands in her pool, and Valerie has to figure out how to keep them secret until they can fix their flooded ship and head back to their home planet.

The aliens are Mac (Jeff Goldblum), Zeebo (Damon Wayans) and Wiploc (Jim Carrey), and of course the solution to the problem of how to hide their alien identity is a makeover. Candy assists, removing the aliens’ colorful fur and revealing “three major cute guys” underneath. Valerie falls for Mac in particular, becoming enamored with his innocent, childlike ways, a result of the culture clash experienced by all three aliens, which is a major source of the film’s comedy. In perhaps the funniest scene in the movie, Zeebo and Wiploc, en route to a beach trip with Valerie’s aging surfer pool cleaner, Woody (Michael McKean), take his suggestion that they pick up “bread and junk” for sandwiches very literally. Brandishing a realistic toy gun accidentally stolen from a child earlier, they tell the frightened cashier, “Give us bread. We need junk.”

Though Earth Girls Are Easy could fairly be labeled predictable and certainly inconsequential, it has an undeniable charm, and only the severely humor-deficient will be unable to find something to like about it. For whatever reason, this movie is actually something of an addiction for me, a film I have to rewatch at least once a year or so in order to feel that all is right with the universe, to remind me that even with all the problems of the planet earth, at least its female humans don’t play too hard to get.

  

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Hidden Netflix Gems – The Man Who Fell to Earth

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

For all of his musical influence and his famous/infamous turn as Jareth the Goblin King in the Jim Henson production Labyrinth, my original introduction to the cultural phenomenon that is David Bowie came from a strange, somewhat disjointed British science fiction film from the 1970s. The first film in which Bowie ever appeared as a leading actor, The Man Who Fell to Earth is a surreal, satirical, and ultimately very bleak look at American values, as seen through the eyes of a visitor from another world. In much the same way that the Martians in H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds find themselves vulnerable to Earth’s diseases, Bowie’s alien finds himself far from immune to the destructive allure of earthly pleasures like alcohol, sex and television.

Thomas Jerome Newton, as Bowie’s alien calls himself while on Earth, lands in the New Mexico desert in search of water to bring back to his home planet, Anthea, where his wife and children are in danger of dying from a sever drought. Using the advanced technology of Anthea, he gains incredible wealth and a great deal of notoriety by patenting various inventions and becoming the head of World Enterprises Corporation, a technological conglomerate he forms with the help of patent attorney Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry). Newton’s ulterior motive with the company is to construct a space vehicle with which to ship water back to Anthea, but he soon becomes distracted from this purpose by a dalliance with Mary-Lou (Candy Clark), a hotel chambermaid who introduces Newton to alcohol and sex, and with whom he eventually moves into a house in New Mexico.

Meanwhile, Nathan Bryce (Rip Torn), Newton’s confidante at World Enterprises, suspects that Newton is not of this world and manages to find proof via an X-ray photo he takes without Newton’s knowledge. As Bryce considers what to do with his newfound knowledge, Newton sinks deeper into an alcohol-fueled haze of despair, doing little more with his days than drinking and watching multiple television screens at once and finally driving both Bryce and Mary-Lou away from him as his true, alien self is revealed to them. It is not that Newton is portrayed as an evil alien, however, but rather that the temptations of earthly existence have corrupted him and his original, purely good intentions.

Director Nicolas Roeg tells this strange, slowly paced story with the distinctively mesmerizing visual style and unusual editing techniques he brought to other great films such as Walkabout and Bad Timing. Like these films, The Man Who Fell to Earth is so subtle and contemplative that it may require multiple viewings to parse out all of its meaning, but its bold and daring imagery and quietly menacing, otherworldly atmosphere make it a joy to behold, and well worth more than one viewing.

  

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Hidden Netflix Gems – Project X

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

The 1987 film Project X (not to be confused with this year’s raunchy, over-the-top party comedy of the same name) is a strange but charming little oddity of a movie. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan, who is known for socially conscious films such as The Accused and Brokedown Palace, as well as more conventional genre fare such as Unlawful Entry and Bad Girls, Project X is a blend of these two types of filmmaking. It is a comedic science fiction movie that ultimately becomes a sort of political thriller, taking a stance against cruelty to animals in the name of science. It is also a movie for the Homer Simpson in all of us, because who doesn’t enjoy watching chimpanzees behave like human beings?

Jimmy Garrett (Matthew Broderick) is an Air Force pilot assigned to an experimental project as punishment for illegally bringing a date into the cockpit of a government plane. It turns out that the project involves using chimpanzees in simulated flight scenarios, and that one of the chimps, Virgil (Willie), knows sign language, which he was taught by his beloved trainer, Teri (Helen Hunt). Jimmy is impressed by Virgil’s abilities, but his hard-ass superior, Dr. Carroll (Bill Sadler) doesn’t seem to care. As Jimmy eventually finds out to his horror, this is because the chimps in the experiment are being killed y radiation poisoning, in an effort to determine how long a pilot could survive a nuclear exchange known as the “second-strike scenario.” Jimmy manages to contact Teri, and they team up to try and save Virgil and the other chimps who haven’t been killed yet.

The coolest thing about Project X is how much the chimps themselves become the true stars of the movie. In fact, they are listed first on the film’s IMDb page, with Broderick in a distant 11th place. They each have distinct personalities, too, like a sort of simian wild bunch, with Virgil as the leader and hero, Goofy (Okko) as the comic relief, and Goliath (Karanja) as the grizzled old bad-ass, the type of role Mickey Rourke might play in a movie entirely cast with human actors. This successfully makes the audience root for Jimmy, Teri and their primate friends over the mean old military scientist baddies, and the film’s climax is a triumphant, feel-good adventure sequence made all the more joyful by the aforementioned Homer Simpson factor.

 

  

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Midweek movie news

Regular readers might have noticed that I’ve taken a couple of days off, and with the TCM Film Festival kicking off tomorrow night, and some other things possibly brewing, I might not be following my exact usual schedule for the next several days, though I’m sure I’ll be posting stuff, but we’ll have to see.  In the meantime, there’s plenty going on and I’m sure I’ve missed something.

Chloe Moretz smashes face* We eventually did get a clear, but narrow, victor in the weekend box-office battle, but nobody’s too excited about the performance of “Kick-Ass.” The film will make money, $19.8 million is not bad for a $30-40 million dollar movie, and it should help everyone’s career, but I wouldn’t bet on a sequel unless it holds really extremely well and also cleans up in home video. Also, it should be noted that the superhero comedy had a slightly unfair advantage because of its late Thursday night opening getting included in the take — at least I think it was. Steven Zeitchik, who thought the film would break out in a major way, offers a post-not-quite-mortem.

* James Cameron‘s new interview with the L.A. Times will annoy conservative anti-environmentalists and climate deniers as well as fans of contemporary written science fiction. (It’s too complicated and self-referential to make a movie out of, Cameron states, apparently unafraid of the sweeping generalization.) However, “Avatar” fans will be delighted to know that two more movies appear to be in the offing along with that extended August 3-D/Imax re-release. Cameron’s cast and crew will be, I imagine, much less happy to learn that “Avatar 2” will involve water, and lots of it. What is it with this guy and moisture? (H/t the Playlist.)

Titanic 1996

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