Cut the Cord: I-Q
May 2023. Volume 2, Issue 5.
Welcome back to our A-Z project for Cut the Cord. This edition is genre heavy, with ridiculous comedies and sci-fi spies and B-movie lizards.
And watch me grapple with finding a movie for the letter Q.
See you next month, for the rest (and hardest part) of the alphabet.
I: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
A group of strangers come across a man dying after a car crash who proceeds to tell them about the $350,000 he buried in California. What follows is the madcap adventures of those strangers as each attempts to claim the prize for himself.
Listen, if you don't like three-hour-long madcap, over-the-top, zany road comedies featuring a roster of '60s character actor icons, keep scrolling because you'll never like this.
But if that is your thing: slapstick, wit, crazy adventures - and you haven't seen this yet, then you're in for a treat. And the cast really contains more stars than the heavens: Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Jimmy Durante, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett, and many others.
If you're watching it on Hoopla, where you're limited in your monthly (free) rentals and that checkout expires after a few days, be warned that you may have to use multiple credits to watch this in chunks. I did.
J: Journey’s End (2017)
Set in a dugout in Aisne in 1918, a group of British officers, led by the mentally disintegrating young officer Stanhope, variously await their fate.
Many war movies of the 21st century are at their best when things go boom. That's not a knock on those movies, I've liked 1917 and Hacksaw Ridge to name a few, but Journey's End is about the in-between moments of war. Based on the 1928 play by R.C. Sherriff (and feeling very literary), the majority of the film takes place in the same location, a cramped and muddy trench, and there are minimal action scenes. Instead, the focus is on character development and the psychological effects of war, which may not be to everyone's taste, sure, but it's a character study above all. And a damn good one.
K: Knightriders (1981)
George Romero’s unusual story of a modern-day Renaissance troupe whose participants follow a medieval code of honor.
Director George A. Romero is best known for his zombie flicks and other disturbing horrors, but in the middle of all that he went out and cooked up this movie made in earnest with strong morals and a clear understanding of goodness. What an interesting guy.
I really love this movie's vibes. It's just some dudes chillin' in Medieval garb and riding around on their motorcycles, saving kitties from trees and stuff. It's more than that of course, but you'll have to check it out to mine your own feelings.
L: Lady Macbeth (2016)
Rural England, 1865. Katherine, suffocated by her loveless marriage to a bitter man and restrained by his father’s tyranny, unleashes an irresistible force within her, so powerful that she will stop at nothing to get what she wants.
Shakespeare's plays were always named after the lead male character. That's just how it was in ye olden days, whether or not it was their story or a female character's story. There's been an attempt to right that wrong recently: for example, the American Shakespeare Center has performed both Cymbeline as Imogen and Henry VI Part II as The Rise of Queen Margaret, renaming and reclaiming those stories.
Macbeth, however, is still Macbeth, despite there being a strong argument that it's Lady Macbeth's story.
Playing homage to that iconic tragic figure, 2018's Lady Macbeth gives her a title character story to chew on. Florence Pugh's Katherine is not Lady Macbeth, per se, but they do share a number of similarities. They're deprived, crazed, and willing to take anyone down to get what they want: even if that means murder.
You almost can't believe that's how the story will go when you see the demure Katherine at the beginning of the film, subservient to her husband and without a voice or a choice. But Florence Pugh has become known for her ability to take characters on such journeys, which she does here with what seems like ease.
M: Miracle Mile (1988)
After 30 years of searching, Harry has finally met the girl of his dreams. Unfortunately, before they even have a chance to go on their first date, Harry intercepts some chilling news: WWIII has begun and nuclear missiles will destroy Los Angeles in less than an hour!
There may be no scarier question than the one asked in this movie: If the world was ending, what would you do? Kiss loved ones, hide in the bunker, try to escape, loot and steal, take matters into your own hands?
What if you weren't sure if it was real or not? From the moment Anthony Edwards' Harry receives the phone call, the film builds a sense of urgency and desperation as he tries to find a way to escape the city before the attack hits. But will it? You'll have to watch to find out. It's worth it for the both the journey and the destination.
N: Never Too Young to Die (1986)
A spy's son (John Stamos) inherits the case of a heavy-metal he-she (Gene Simmons) out to foul city water with a floppy disk. (Rotten Tomatoes)
When secret-agent George Lazenby (yes, that George Lazenby, the one-time James Bond) is kidnapped by Gene Simmons (yes, that Gene Simmons, ridiculous tongue, KISS charisma, and all) playing a Spirit Halloween Frank-N-Furter, it's all up to his son John Stamos (yes, that John Stamos, who even at 22 was so clearly already what he would become) to save the day.
Throw in that Robert Englund and that Vanity, it's a Party City Mad Max that would make Albert Pyun's wallet jealous. Cast aside, it's incredibly '80s, which of course has its charms, but also can make it ridiculously outdated, (Simmons' character is obsessed with being a "he-she" with the best qualities of both genders, strong and beautiful.) Stamos himself once called it "the perfect midnight movie" and he's probably right - cult movie fans can show it to their friends to decide if they still want to be friends with those people.
O: Orphan (2009)
A married couple with a rocky past adopt 9-year old, Esther to fill the void created by a recently-stillborn baby. However, Esther is not quite who she seems.
If you somehow haven’t had Orphan spoiled for you in the past 14 years, run to go watch it now. Follow it up with the strong sequel, Orphan: First Kill. Both are very spoilable, so consider yourself lucky and stop testing fate.
P: Pulp Fiction (1994)
A burger-loving hit man, his philosophical partner, a drug-addled gangster’s moll and a washed-up boxer converge in this sprawling, comedic crime caper. Their adventures unfurl in three stories that ingeniously trip back and forth in time.
What is there to say about Pulp Fiction that hasn't been said in the nearly 30 years since its release? Very little. But I've been doing this newsletter for a year-and-a-half now and this is the first time I've seen this title pop up on a free streaming service, so act now in case it's only temporary.
Q: Q - The Winged Serpent (1982)
New York police are bemused by reports of a giant flying lizard that has been spotted around the rooftops of New York, until the lizard starts to eat people. An out-of-work ex-con is the only person who knows the location of the monster’s nest and is determined to turn the knowledge to his advantage, but will his gamble pay off or will he end up as lizard food?
Like many monster flicks, the stuff with the monster (in this case: a dragon-like flying lizard) is awesome. The opening scene where he wipes out window washers and sunbathers atop buildings is hysterical. It's B-movie best. And coming from director Larry Cohen and producer Samuel Z. Arkoff, you know it'll be tons of fun when the stop-motion serpent is around.
The rest, the human stuff...it's whatever. Worth slogging through to get to the bonkers climax? I'm not sure, but there's pretty slim pickings for the letter Q...
Credit: Each plot synopsis comes from Letterboxd via TMDb.
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