Wednesday, September 2, 2015

...Leading the Blind

Film: A Patch of Blue
Format: Streaming video from TCM Watch on laptop.

A Patch of Blue is a film that is very much a product of its time. That’s true of all movies, of course, but in this case, there’d be no reason to ever remake the story. A Patch of Blue is the story of an abused and socially oppressed blind girl who is befriended by a kind office worker. That doesn’t sound like much, but in this case, the blind girl is white, the office worker is black, and this is 1965.

Selina D’Arcey (Elizabeth Hartman in her debut role) is blind and lives almost the entirety of her life within the confines of her tiny apartment. She shares this apartment with mother Rose-Ann (Shelley Winters, who won the Supporting Actress Oscar for the role) and her grandfather Ole Pa (Wallace Ford). Rose-Ann makes something like a living as a prostitute, while her hobby seems to be making life as terrible for Selina as she can. Ole Pa isn’t much better; he is similarly abusive of Selina although not to the same extent, but his alcoholism makes him an ineffectual guardian at best. Selina spends her days stuck in the apartment doing chores and stringing sets of beads for Mr. Faber (John Qualen) as a way to supplement the family income.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Giving Tree

Film: The Illusionist (L’Illusionniste)
Format: Blu-ray from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I first heard about The Illusionist (called L’Illusionniste in France), I was interested in seeing it. In fact, I was interested enough that when the local remaining Blockbuster went out of business, I bought the Blu-ray. Tonight I finally got the chance to watch. My interest in the film stemmed not from any relationship it has with the 2006 film of the same name (there’s no relationship at all), but this film’s pedigree. The Illusionist is based on a screenplay written by the great Jacques Tati. I like Tati and wish that he’d done more films, so The Illusionist, originally intended as a live-action film, is special.

It’s also immediately evident that this is based on the Tati, or at least done in the style of Tati. We are introduced to Tatischeff (marginally voiced by Jean-Claude Donda), a stage magician working in France in 1959. Tatischeff has a good act and a cantankerous rabbit, but the world is passing him by. As his audience fades, he makes the decision to take the act to England, where he plays following a raucous rock band. Dissatisfied, he heads north to Scotland.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Mid-Life Crisis

Film: Shirley Valentine
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

There are a number of movies on NetFlix that are available streaming but not as discs. That means that getting this movies watched is at a premium for me; there have been a few that have moved from “available on streaming” to “shit, now where do I find it?” status for me. Shirley Valentine is one of those films. So, just to make sure that it doesn’t happen here, I watched Shirley Valentine today, not expecting much but a check in another box and one more movie off the list.

Imagine my surprise when Shirley Valentine turned out to be one of my favorite new-to-me movies of this month. This is a movie about a middle-aged Liverpudlian woman having a spiritual rebirth and discovering who she really is. It sounds incredibly dreary and dreadful, but it’s actually quite good. Not the least of the reasons for this are the engaging screenplay (based of a one-woman play by Willy Russell) and the truly masterful performance by Pauline Collins.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nuke 'Em 'Til They Glow

Film: Silkwood
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Intellectually, I know that Silkwood is based on the real life of Karen Silkwood. That doesn’t stop the film from feeling like it was written specifically to punch a hole in the nuclear power industry. This movie is Norma Rae with drawn weapons. It’s a film that benefits greatly from a script handled by the great Nora Ephron and a couple of gritty performances including the most understated performance of Cher’s career. It’s a hard movie not to like even if it constantly feels manipulative.

Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) works at a nuclear plant in Oklahoma. It should be a place of high security, but it seems to be essentially a factory. The plant is a fuel fabrication site where she makes plutonium fuel rods for nuclear reactors. The plant is behind schedule, forcing everyone to work double shifts, and corners are being cut on almost every aspect of safety. The constant threat of exposure to radiation leads Karen to become involved in the union, much to the consternation of her live-in boyfriend Drew (Kurt Russell) and her other live-in friend, Dolly (Cher).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Like a Rolling Stone

Film: Tumbleweeds
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I don’t really know Janet McTeer as an actress, so I was curious about the rare film Tumbleweeds. Mostly, I was curious about why it’s evidently so rare. I couldn’t find this on NetFlix or at any of the libraries I use, and even interlibrary loan wasn’t enough to locate the film for me, which forced me to resort to the internet. The version I found had a couple of strange gaps in the sound, but you take what you can get. With Tumbleweeds, this is what I could get.

The film opens with a fight between Mary Jo Walker (a nominated Janet McTeer) and her fourth husband. Early-teen daughter Ava (Kimberly J. Brown) has evidently seen this before, because she’s already packing her bag while the fight goes on. In fact, she’s just about fully packed when Mary Jo walks in and tells her to pack because they’re leaving. She’s got better places to be than here. We soon learn that this is Mary Jo’s typical life choice. She shacks up with the first guy who looks promising and bolts when the going gets rough.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Off Script: Mother's Day (1980)

Film: Mother’s Day
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Back at the dawn of home video, it seemed like about half of the movies available for rent were cheap slashers, horror movies, and exploitation films. I remember seeing the box for Mother’s Day at the Video Bug when I was a kid. Imagine my surprise when I saw the same image staring up at me from a library shelf. The box has changed, though; there’s a blurb now proclaiming this treasure as Eli Roth’s favorite horror film. That doesn’t do much for me since I’m not a fan of Eli Roth. I figured this would be a rough ride. It doesn’t help that three of the principle stars used pseudonyms. In fact, that’s pretty much an indication that they wanted to distance themselves from schlock.

This becomes less surprising when you realize that director Charles Kaufman is the brother of Lloyd Kaufman, the creator of Troma. Mother’s Day isn’t a true Troma film—this isn’t truly intentional camp, but it is low-budget, poorly acted, and exploitative. This isn’t a good movie and it’s not intended to be one. This is shock cinema, and there’s no surprise that it’s coming from the sewage-y end of the cinematic lake.