Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-...Mans?

Film: Spider-Man: No Way Home
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

A couple of years ago, I would have happily told you that I was fully on board with all of the MCU properties, or at least most of them. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but when I watched Avengers: Endgame, some of that ended for me. It felt like we had reached the end of a complete story (which we had, of course), and knowing what I know about comic books, I know that nothing ever really gets resolved. Finishing Endgame felt like a good place to get off the ride. And yet, I think it might be impossible to be fully abreast of modern culture without staying at least a little familiar with the later stories. And so, here I am finishing up the latest Spider-Man troika with Spider-Man: No Way Home.

No longer content with simpler stories of a hero taking on an enemy, or even several enemies, we’re going full-tilt into the Multiverse with this one. At the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, the secret identity of Spider-Man as Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is revealed to the world, and he is held responsible for the death of Mysterio, who was actually the bad guy the whole time. With his secret out, his life becomes a trainwreck; he is constantly harassed, and because of the scandal, he is refused admission to every college he applies for. Worse, the same thing happens to his friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and Parker’s girlfriend MJ (Zendaya).

Sunday, October 1, 2023

Girlfriend is Better

Film: Stop Making Sense
Format: Classic Cinemas Charlestowne 18

A lot of high schools have a tradition, looked down on by faculty, of Senior Ditch Day. All/most of the seniors essentially blow off school for a day, typically a Friday, to get a three-day weekend. For where I grew up, the tradition for many was to spend a day at the Indiana Dunes, about a 2-hour drive from home. My friends and I, though, went to downtown Chicago and saw Stop Making Sense at the Music Box Theater.

Stop Making Sense is a concert film, and it’s nothing more than a concert film. It doesn’t need to be anything more than that, though, because this is a Talking Heads concert, and David Byrne’s style (and less so the rest of the group) is as much about the visuals as it is about the music. It’s about the full experience, something that shouldn’t be too surprising coming from a musical group where 75% of the core members met at art school.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Split Personality

Film: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

The Doctor Jekyll story is one that everyone knows but that almost no one has actually read. It’s sort of like Robin Hood in that respect. We all know the basics—the scientist who discovers a formula that causes a bestial, criminal side to come out. The doctor struggles against his alter ego, torn between his morals and his desires, and is ultimately destroyed by this internal conflict. The Two Faces of Doctor Jekyll decides to have a little fun with the basic story, giving us an alter ego that is not what we’re used to.

In 1874, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Paul Massie) works with deaf children, but is detached in his personal life from his wife. Kitty Jekyll (Dawn Addams) feels abandoned by her husband. They fight about Henry’s friend Paul Allen (Christopher Lee), who is buried in gambling debts. Kitty argues that Henry is supporting his spendthrift friend. In reality, Kitty has run to Paul for affection, becoming his mistress and hiding that fact by pretending to hate him. Meanwhile, Henry has become detached from his wife (and everyone else) because he is attempting to create a chemical potion which he hopes will help him learn the truth of the inner workings of the human mind.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Knock Knock

Film: Them (Ils)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

French Extremity films are generally a tough sell for me. While I tend find them meaningful and worth watching, they are also really difficult to watch a lot of the time. For anyone interested in the harder edge of horror without wanting to risk too much in the way of gore, Them (Ils in French) is a great place to start. This is a film that is very interested in scaring the audience as much as possible without dipping into the gore that tends to mark the style.

Our opening scene gives us an idea of what is ahead of us. A mother and daughter have an accident on a desolate road at night. As they attempt to repair their car, the mother vanishes. The daughter, attempting to keep herself safe soon discovers that who or whatever took her mother has the keys and is attempting to unlock the car doors. After a few more moments, the daughter is strangled from behind.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

J.G. Ballard's Stalker

Film: Annihilation
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

These days, if I watch a newer horror movie, I tend to post a review of it. This is more or less self-defense; you never know when one of those movies might appear on a list that I am pursuing. I didn’t do that the first time I watched Annihilation, which is why I watched it again today. In this case, I’m not really upset by this. Annihilation is a movie that really needs to be watched at least twice to fully grok, and even with that I’m not sure I’m all the way there.

I think that this is intentional. This is not a movie that makes a lot of sense from front to back, but that’s because it is much more a movie about feel than it is about an actual plot and story. It feels alien and unknowable because it doesn’t want to be explained. It wants to be experienced and felt deep in the bones with half-sensed truths and glimpses of things out of the corner of the eye.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Under Wraps

Film: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Mummy movies, starting from the 1932 film featuring Boris Karloff through to all of the current films have essentially one basic story. The mummy gets discovered by intrepid explorers who scoff at the curse of the tomb inscribed on the tomb. Eventually, either through the reading of an inscription or the desecration of the tomb or for some other reason, the mummy comes back to life and starts killing off the people who stand in his way. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb from 1964 is no different in this respect.

That basic plot seems to come in large part from the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922 followed by the mysterious deaths of several of the participants in the discovery. The idea of a curse that destroys the living who disturbed the dead is a powerful one, and even manages to be interpreted in various modern way—at some level, Poltergeist follows this same formula. The formula just adds in the fun aspect of not merely an undead curse, but an undead avatar inflicting the curse.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Dream House Not Included

Film: Barbie
Format: Phoenix Theaters, Dubuque, Iowa

I finally got a chance to go to the theater and see Barbie, the first half of the Barbenheimer double feature that was popular a number of weeks ago. Of course, I went into this knowing some things about the film, but I was surprisingly cold on the actual plot and many of the people involved. I was surprised, for instance, at the presence of Will Ferrell in the film, as I didn’t know he was attached to the project. Barbie became a cultural phenomenon, one that also got a lot of blowback from the political right because, as a film written by and directed by a clearly pro-feminist filmmaker, it’s going to ruffle a lot of conservative feathers.

We start with a 2001: A Space Odyssey parody that was the first point of anger I heard from the right—the little girls playing the parts of the pre-humans destroy their dolls much like the pre-humans smash bones in Kubrick’s film. From here we jump to Barbieland where, with a few exceptions, everyone is named either Barbie or Ken. That makes identifying some people here difficult, as different characters named Barbie are played by dozens of actors, and ditto for Ken.