Thursday, December 8, 2016

Off Script: Popcorn

Film: Popcorn
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

The traditional horror movie puts a group of people in a specific location with someone or something that wants to kill them. Often, the thing that is trying to kill them is what makes the movie different. Every now and then you get something like Popcorn that really tries to do something interesting with the premise. Popcorn is all about the premise, because what follows the premise is pretty standard slasher fare.

We start with Maggie (Jill Schoelen), a film student at a college that has a fledgling film school that frequently gets the monetary short end of the stick from the rest of the school. Maggie has been plagued with strange dreams that she is taking notes on in the hopes of turning it into a film. At school that day, the film professor Mr. Davis (Tony Roberts) and a student named Toby (Tom Villard) have come up with a plan to raise funds for the department. They’re going to stage a triple horror feature at a theater a few weeks away from demolition. The idea specifically is to select films that were marketed with gimmicks (one involves electrified seats as in The Tingler). The work gets easier thanks to Dr. Mnesyne (Ray Walston), who had a long career in theater and a huge collection of old timey props to use to decorate the theater.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Off Script: La Horde (The Horde)

Film: La Horde (The Horde)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook

While it’s not entirely true that if you’ve seen one zombie movie you’ve seen them all, there is a kernel of truth in that assessment. Most of them start with the beginning of the infection where the main characters slowly figure out what’s going on. A few of these people will be bitten at some point to give us the convention that a bite leads to the victim turning into a zombie. A couple of zombies early on will soon turn into a mass of them, and victims toward the end of the film will not be merely bitten but completely devoured. There are a few films that attempt to do something new with the genre. More frequently, there are films like La Horde (The Horde) that offer a different starting premise and follow the same traditional path.

La Horde starts from the premise of The Raid: Redemption. A cop has been killed by a drug lord and now four cops are going for some revenge. This is a completely unofficial raid bent solely on the idea of vengeance. The drug lord, Adewale Markudi (Eriq Ebouaney), his brother Bola (Doudou Masta), goon Jimenez (Aurelien Recoing), and a few others have holed up in a mostly-abandoned and condemned building.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Propaganda, Comrade

Film: The North Star (Armored Attack)
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

I’ve been hitting a lot of internet-available films lately. There are days when it’s easier to watch something in this format than a more typical one. There is a more serious reason, though. Slightly more than one-third of the movies I have left to watch on my various Oscar lists at this moment are ones I don’t own and that aren’t available through NetFlix. That number is a little better if I include libraries that I can use, but there are still a lot of movies that need to be watched in a different way—more than 25%. Thus, The North Star (often shown under the name (Armored Attack) was on the docket for today.

Since this is a war film from 1943, it should come as no surprise that The North Star is a propaganda film. What makes it particularly interesting is that this is an American production, but concerns Ukrainian peasants, not American troops. The movie skirts the idea of being pro-communist, but it’s certainly pro-Russian. Evidently, The North Star was cited as a premiere example of the sort of thing HUAC wanted to root out of Hollywood. In fact, it’s why the film was released under the different title. As Armored Attack, The North Star has all references to Russian and Ukrainian peasantry removed.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Devil's Island

Film: Condemned
Format: Internet video on laptop.

There’s a simplicity to early talkies that is attractive. While movies weren’t new, sound in movies was, and that meant that so much focus was put on that new innovation that plots were often simple, east-to-follow, and entertaining because of it. A single complication, typically associated with a romance, and you’ve got enough for something close to 90 minutes. Sure, they often tended toward melodrama and also had acting that was geared toward the back of the theater, but when they’re done well, there’s a particular charm to them. Condemned, which I found on YouTube today, is one of these movies, and it’s a pretty darn good one.

As mentioned in the paragraph above, the plot here is almost painfully simple. We start by witnessing prisoners being transferred to Devil’s Island, the French penal colony in Guyana. We’re then introduced to our main players. We have the warden, Jean Vidal (Dudley Digges), who is constantly upset with his wife, Madame Vidal (Ann Harding, and no, we don’t get a first name for her). His main problem is that he is ashamed that, as the wife of a prison warden, she demeans herself by doing all of the work around the house and won’t let him conscript a convict to act as combination butler/housemaid.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Head, Body, Head

Film: The Fighter
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I often like Mark Wahlberg in movies, but with the exception of Boogie Nights, I like him in supporting roles like The Departed so much better than when he is the focus of the film. I do always go into movies with as clean of a slate as I can, though, attempting to give every movie a fair shake and always wanting to like what I’m watching. So when The Fighter showed up, a movie starring Wahlberg, I heaved a sigh and dived in, hoping that Wahlberg might rise to the level of his best roles. Thankfully, he does, and he’s got a tremendous supporting cast to help him over the line.

The Fighter is the mostly-autobiographical story of boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his half-brother, boxer Dickie (spelled “Dicky” in the film) Eklund (Christian Bale). This is both a standard boxing story and a very different one in some ways. We’ll get a lot of the boxing tropes that have been around since boxing movies, but there’s also a great deal of social commentary going on here. While the tropes certainly exist in the movie, it’s worth noting that a great deal of this is based on the real life and experiences of Ward and Eklund.