Here are four films I’ve recently revisited or seen for the first time. I bet you can guess which ones I watched on Halloween.
A EDtv (1999), DVD
Near the end of the 20th century, two comedies foretold the concept of reality television. The first, The Truman Show, got all the praise. But the second one, Edtv, was the better movie. For one thing, it was much more realistic; you could almost believe it could happen.
Ed (Matthew McConaughey) agrees to live his life on television, with a camera crew following him 24/7. But the simple act of becoming a celebrity, and one with no privacy whatsoever, produces unexpected changes. Just one example: The father who deserted him as a child suddenly shows up (Both John Lennon and Preston Sturges experienced this). And the fact that all these things are happening on national TV amplifies them and makes them worse. A very funny and dramatic comment on our media society, and one that never got the praise it deserved.
I saw EDtv soon after its release, and soon afterward bought a used DVD. This was the first time I’d seen it in at least a decade.
B+ Cat People (1942), FilmStruck
In the 1940s, Val Lewton produced several stylish, psychologically-themed, low-budget horror movies for RKO. This was the first and one of the best. A fairly normal American guy (Kent Smith) and a strange woman from Serbia (Simone Simon) fall in love and marry too soon. They haven’t even kissed. In fact, she won’t kiss him, or let him sleep in the same room. She believes that if she experiences strong feelings of anger, jealousy, or lust, she’ll turn into a panther and kill the object of her emotions. And she just might be right. The movie sports two classic suspense sequences that can knock you out of your seat without really showing anything.
I’d seen it once before, long ago at the UC Theatre.
B+ Irma Vep (1996), Pacific Film Archive
Maggie Cheung basically plays herself in this light French comedy about making a movie (her character is named Maggie, and her career seems identical to the real Cheung’s). The director, played by the great Jean-Pierre Léaud, appears to be crazy. He’s remaking a 1915 silent serial called Les vampires (it really exists), and he wants to make it in black and white and silent. Maggie, a Hong Kong action star, is to play the main character – Irma Vep. Maggie can’t speak French, so most of the dialog is in English (the only language everyone knows). There are language problems, sexual misunderstandings, an absurdly aggressive interviewer, financial issues, and a suspicion that they’re making a very bad movie.
I saw Irma Vep Saturday night at the first screening of the PFA’s new series, In the Mood for Maggie Cheung.
B The Body Snatcher (1945), FilmStruck
Another Val Lewton thriller, this one set in early 19th-century Scotland. Henry Daniell plays a brilliant doctor and medical professor who needs dead bodies for research. Boris Karloff (in one of his best performances) plays a carriage driver who robs graves on the side. When he can’t rob a grave for the not-so-good doctor, he has other means of attaining dead bodies. Russell Wade plays the handsome medical student with scruples. There’s a crippled child, as well. Good fun.