Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Flattened Out

Film: The Boxtrolls
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

If awards were handed out for weird, The Boxtrolls would certainly win more than its share. It’s movies like this that make me worry for the fate of a company like Laika. They may not have the wholesomeness of Disney or the mass appeal of Pixar, but this is not a company that has ever let a bizarre idea get away. The issue is that their ideas are so singularly weird that I question their mass appeal. The Boxtrolls lost $10 million, which makes me wonder how much longer Laika can put creativity above box office demand.

And now I’m given pause, because I don’t really know how to tackle the narrative aspect of The Boxtrolls. While films like Neco z Alenky are certainly stranger in many ways, this is the oddest mass-market animated film I have ever seen, at least for a film directed primarily at a young audience. I’ll do my best, but if the next couple of paragraphs appear as word salad, forgive me. This isn’t a very forgiving film in terms of plot elements.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Overcome by the Vapors

Film: Summer and Smoke
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s a particular view of femininity that is almost perfectly captured by the work of Tennessee Williams. It’s primarily evident in works like A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie, but that same idea stands front and center in Summer and Smoke as well. In fact, in terms of Tennessee Williams characters, Alma Winemiller is straight out of central casting.

The female idea—I hesitate to call it an “ideal”—is one of a feigned purity, of striving to attain an impossible goal of refinement and culture and of holding any and all in judgment who do not meet or strive to meet those same goals. That is Alma Winemiller (Geraldine Page) in a nutshell. Daughter of the local minister (Malcolm Atterbury), Alma is as close as possible to a spinster as we’re likely to find. She takes part in readings of edifying books, sings and gives voice lessons, and frequently puts on airs to hold herself above the common folk. She is also given to nervous fits and fainting spells, the sort of thing that might be termed “the vapors.”

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Time Served

Film: The Last Detail
Format: Movies! on rockin’ flatscreen.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, which means I probably should post the review of The Last Detail tomorrow rather than today. However, today is when I watched it, and that’s how things work. This is a film I’ve heard of before and knew virtually nothing about beyond the broad strokes of the plot and that it’s a film that features the legendary Jack Nicholson in his prime.

Those broad strokes of the plot are pretty much the whole film; there’s not a great deal of nuance in the story of The Last Detail. Two career Navy men are assigned the detail of taking a prisoner to lockup. And that’s pretty much it. The guts of the movie are that trip, which is far less than the constant escape attempts you might initially think. While there’s certainly some comedy here, this is not a comedy of errors or anything like a chase movie with two swabbies tracking down an escapee. Instead, it’s more of a road movie and a character study of the three men involved.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Oh, Pancho!

Film: Viva Villa!
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Viva Villa! has been sitting on my DVR since last February. I’ve just never quite gotten around to it. I go through periods of recording films and periods of burning through as many of them as I can. At the moment, I’m more or less engaged in both. Movies that are more difficult to locate keep showing up on cable, which means I continually need to make room for them. There was a certain logic in knocking out something that had been sitting around for a good 15 months.

There are a couple of giant problems lurking in the heart of Viva Villa! I’m not sure the film can really be understood fully without addressing these two glaring problems. The first is one that I often complain about on this blog. Viva Villa! is much more than simply a warts-removed biography of Pancho Villa. It is an almost entirely whole cloth fabrication that bears resemblance to the man only on the surface. The film claims, for instance, that Pancho Villa spent time as Mexico’s putative president. Names are changed, as are a ton of verifiable facts.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

More Film Gris than Film Noir

Film: The Late Show
Format: Streaming video from TCM Watch on laptop.

There are few joys in watching a new movie like seeing a septuagenarian character beat the crap out of a guy half his age. That’s one of the perks of The Late Show. This was a “target of opportunity” for me; it was streaming on TCM’s site and it’s a film not currently available on NetFlix. When a movie like this shows up, it only makes sense to save myself the trouble of tracking it down later and to watch it right away.

The Late Show is a very unusual neo-noir. Imagine Sam Spade 30 years older with a bleeding ulcer, living in a boarding house and looking to get out of the detective game. As the film opens, aging detective Ira Wells (Art Carney) is visited by an old friend named Harry Regan (Howard Duff). It soon becomes evident that Harry has taken a bullet and is about to die.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Iran so Far Away

Film: Persepolis
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Persepolis is a film that I’ve been looking forward to since I added Best Animated Feature as a category on this site. It’s also one that I’ve more or less been holding back on to give me something to continue to look forward to. I’ve set getting through all of the remaining Best Animated Feature films by the end of this year as a goal, though, so it was time to watch this. The real question with Persepolis isn’t whether or not it’s any good, though, but whether or not it lives up to the hype.

Fortunately, it does. The disc I got came with both French and English versions, and I watched the English, which I tend to do with foreign animation. There’s no real reason for it beyond the fact that animated films are dubbed by definition. Here, since two of the main characters are voiced by the same actresses in both French and English, it mattered even less.