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View From The Couch

I Married a Monster from Outer Space, Murder on the Orient Express, more


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I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE (1958). The notion that a person can never truly know his or her spouse is elevated to a disturbing degree in this popular cult film that, like I Walked With a Zombie, has the unfortunate distinction of being a quality picture saddled with a wretched title. Far from a sensationalistic cheapie, this solid "B" flick benefits from imaginative direction by Gene Fowler Jr. (who shoots this as if it were a film noir), fine visual effects by two-time Oscar winner John P. Fulton, and an empathic performance by Gloria Talbott. She stars as the newlywed who's alarmed to discover that the man she married is nothing like the man she dated; what she doesn't realize (at least at first) is that many of the town's males -- including her husband -- have had their bodies taken over by aliens hoping that the earthwomen can help their kind ward off extinction by producing baby E.T.'s. Tom Tryon is a bit stiff in his line delivery as the possessed hubbie -- he would eventually give up acting and earn his keep as the best-selling author of Harvest Home -- but his physical intensity works in the story's more threatening moments (as when he strangles a puppy that has uncovered his secret). Incidentally, production designer Henry Bumstead (now 89) would soon emerge as one of the greats in the business, earning Oscars for To Kill a Mockingbird and The Sting and forging a lengthy relationship with Clint Eastwood (11 pictures together, including the upcoming Rope Burns). There are no extras on the DVD.

Movie: ***

MEAN GIRLS (2004). Like Heathers and Clueless, this box office hit turns out to be that rare teen flick that refuses to be pigeonholed as a teen flick. Even more remarkably, it also turns out to be that rare Saturday Night Live-sanctioned comedy that's actually funny. SNL guru Lorne Michaels is prominently plugged as the film's producer, yet clearly the guiding light behind this project is Tina Fey: The TV show's "Weekend Update" co-host elected to bring Rosalind Wiseman's best-selling Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence to the screen, along the way turning a nonfiction book into a fictional screenplay spiced up with her own pithy, piercing observations. Lindsay Lohan stars as a naive teen who makes her public school debut after a lifetime of home-schooling; a cultural and social blank slate, she finds herself befriended by both the outcasts and the bitch-goddesses. Incidentally, this is the second picture that director Mark Waters and Lohan have made together; the first was 2003's enjoyable Freaky Friday remake. Mind you, I'm not quite prepared to elevate the team of Waters-Lohan to the level of Kurosawa-Mifune or Scorsese-De Niro, but they've clearly got a good thing going. DVD extras include audio commentary by Waters, Fey and Michaels, deleted scenes, three making-of features, and a blooper reel.

Movie: ***

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974). A year after helming Serpico, director Sidney Lumet returned with a different type of crime flick: an engrossing adaptation of the Agatha Christie novel which proved so popular that the ensuing years saw other filmmakers helping themselves to Christie properties. In this one, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) finds himself surrounded by 13 murder suspects after a vulgar American millionaire (Richard Widmark) gets stabbed to death in his train compartment. Could the assailant be the victim's nervous assistant (Anthony Perkins)? The quick-tempered military man (Sean Connery)? The meek missionary (Ingrid Bergman)? Or did the butler (John Gielgud) really do it? Nominated for six Academy Awards (though not Best Picture, despite Lumet's claim in the making-of documentary included on the disc), this snagged the Best Supporting Actress statue for Ingrid Bergman, surely one of the most blatant examples of the award being given for career longevity rather than quality of performance. She's not bad in the film -- and the prize made her the first actress in history to win three Oscars -- but she's no better than any of the other supporting luminaries in the cast (most notably Lauren Bacall). The real knockout performance comes from Finney, deservedly nominated for an eccentric turn that's unlike anything else he's ever attempted. Besides the making-of feature, other DVD extras include a piece on Agatha Christie and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ***


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