Today in Movie History: October 29

Few films are as original, audacious or flat-out odd as Being John Malkovich Spike Jonez’s surreal exploration of celebrity, narcissism and how to literally get into someone’s head. Age has mellowed people’s responses to it — it might not quite be the instant classic we all thought it was — but it’s a singular vision and for heady discussions after a screening, it can’t be beat. It opened today in 1999.

I’m still not sure whether it’s a good movie or just an elaborate stunt, but there’s no denying how eerily on-the-nose Jamie Foxx is in Ray, a solid but otherwise unexceptional biopic. Foxx won the Oscar for his turn, which gave the actor bona fide credentials as someone other than a comedian. The film opened today in 2004.

The same day witnessed the release of one of our three horror films of note. Saw remains one of those inexplicably popular franchises that never merited the hype surrounding it. The first film gained a huge amount of buzz and became a monster hit, despite its wafer-thin premise stretched well beyond its limits by a series of increasingly shoddy sequels. I never bought into it, but the film has plenty of passionate adherents and remains one of the most notable horror movies of the early 2000s.

It’s not as revered as Saw, but I maintain that the remake of House on Haunted Hill is a much more enjoyable film. Geoffrey Rush slums it up gloriously as a madcap amusement park tycoon who hosts a gala party in a haunted asylum, with millions of dollars going to those who survive the night. It’s a gleeful update of the William Castle original, with the perfect balance of camp humor and gory thrills. (Uniformly great turns from the cast help too, topped by Famke Janssen in full-bore bitch-queen mode.) House on Haunted Hill opened today in 1999.

We’ll close with another personal favorite: It Came from Hollywood, an anthology “clips” film depicting various schlocky B-movies from the 50s and 60s. In and of itself, they’re mildly engaging, but what really makes the film special is the running commentary and connecting skits from the “hosts”: Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Gilda Radner and Cheech and Chong. They turn the entire affair into a proto-MST3K riff, and if you’re looking for Halloween viewing that’s off the beaten track, it’s well worth a look. It Came from Hollywood  opened today in 1982.


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