Paul isn’t dead
Expanding on the deadpan humor of his earlier The Daytrippers (1995), and the Apatow-esque Superbad (2007) and Adventureland (2008), director Greg Mattola combines the road movie with science fiction fandom in the new Paul (2011) DVD. As in his earlier films, it’s an uneven mix of highs and lows, occasionally funny, almost touching in its naiveté, Mattola balancing a meandering spirit with an expected dose of irony. He follows two British SF Pupkins (and Shaun of the Dead alumni), Simon Pegg (‘Scotty’ in 2009’s Star Trek) and Nick Frost, who are on a pilgrimage to the Nevada desert, Ground Zero of yesteryear’s alien sightings. Once there, they hook up with a jittery CGI extraterrestrial named Paul (voice by Seth Rogen), on the lam from his government captors, who takes them on a wild ride that evolves into the de rigueur journey of self awareness. And naturally Paul, influenced by decadent American culture, swears, smokes, and cracks a plethora of scatological jokes than can be quite funny if you’ve had a few drinks. Otherwise, this is strictly a zero-gravity affair, similar in tone to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (2007), also with Frost and Pegg, yellowing from the antiquity of its goofy Star Wars and Close Encounters references, but still inoffensive enough to painlessly pad one-hundred minutes. It also comes equipped with an interesting assortment of characters played by Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor and others, who resuscitate the proceedings in those uneasy moments when you think Paul is about to flatline.
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My relatively extensive knowledge of horror and science fiction films from the 1950s and 60s never included Flight That Disappeared (1961) until I stumbled upon it on Netflix Instant. It’s a threadbare disaster movie-cum-atomic warning, set aboard an airliner ascending to supernatural heights suggesting J’accuse! by way of a Jack T. Chick comic book. Produced by the ‘Harvard Film Corporation’ wing of Robert E. Kent Productions, Reginald Le Borg directs, long past his l’age d’or at Universal Pictures (Calling Doctor Death, Weird Woman, The Mummy’s Ghost, etc., etc.), from a screenplay by Ralph and Judith Hart and Orville H. Hampton, the latter a ‘name’ among genre aficionados for such Camelot-era matinee fodder as The Alligator People, Atomic Submarine, Jack the Giant Killer and The Underwater City. It’s essentially a series of mundane dialog exchanges with a hint of mystery — three passengers have been summoned to the Pentagon for a secret briefing — which seems to go on forever regardless of a running time of seventy-one minutes. We can fault a script that overextends itself, requiring a budget significantly higher than what its coffers can bear, and a cast of characters in need of thespic talent beyond the range displayed onscreen. Heading the ensemble are Craig Hill, Dayton Lummis, Harvey Stephens and John Bryant, a gaggle of no-names despite their long careers in supporting parts. Paula Raymond is onboard as well, better known for The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, playing the fidgety 50s woman, all darting eyes and nervous tics.
The child is the father of the man in the gray flannel suit
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Rifling through record store cut-out bins throughout most of the 1970s, I often came across the soundtrack to the film, Revolution (1968). I never bought the lp, even though it probably cost fifty cents or a dollar, with tracks by the Steve Miller Band, Country Joe & The Fish, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Nor did I ever see the film (don’t recall it playing on TV or at the movies), but found the album’s cover art intriguing with its meditative, John Lennon-esque hippie pondering life’s Deeper Meaning through tea shades (click inset to enlarge). I wondered, could this be the missing link between The Trip and Psych Out?
Flash forward thirty-five years later and I find that Revolution isn’t a drug exploitation flick at all, but rather a documentary that’s currently on view at Netflix Instant (albeit unavailable on DVD). As hippie anthropological studies go, it’s invaluable. Producer-director Jack O’Connell took his camera to Flower Power Ground Zero, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district at the dawn of 1967’s Summer of Love, to capture the vibes of change and idealism already beginning to deteriorate from drugs, filth, disease, poverty and very poor hygiene.
In the free spirit of the times, O’Connell doesn’t bother with conventions like linear construction or identifying subtitles. Themes and locations shift at whim, interview subjects go unidentified. Anonymous faces provide scant commentary on David Smith’s Free Clinic, and The Diggers’ Free Store and free food program, both deserving more time and respect. As does the mystery existentialist envisioning a cash-free future run by computers necessitating the need for a pot-smoking leisure class. But these shortcomings don’t diminish some otherwise perceptive passages in Revolution, the most nostalgic of which concern the reach for a communal utopia, one the counterculture — countering greed, materialism, superficiality — believed would erase ego from the equation, to render the desire for personal reward obsolete… as their priestly rock star heroes drove around in chauffeured limos.
O’Connell makes a halfhearted attempt at using a narrator, a wan young woman who calls herself Today Malone (click inset to enlarge). She’s dropped out of the life her parents offered, the stability and security of the workaday world as outlined by Sloan Wilson in his gruesome novel, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, opting instead to panhandle, eat cost-effective oatmeal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and pig-out on Twinkies when the munchies hit. She and the filmmaker got together twenty-eight years later for The Hippie Revolution (1996), a film I haven’t seen which purportedly combines footage from Revolution with new material. It would be interesting to see what happened to Today, along with their thoughts on how most everything went to shit after the ‘60s.