Monday, July 6, 2020

Wait...He Wrote More than Dracula?

Film: Shadow Builder (Bram Stoker’s Shadow Builder)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

When I first put up the horror movie lists, I’m not sure when that was, but it was a considerably long time ago, I knew there would likely be a few that were hard to find. This was particularly true of the Fangoria list, since it was specifically a list of movies that were underseen in general. A couple of those movies have proven very difficult to track down, but I did finally manage to locate Shadow Builder (also known as Bram Stoker’s Shadow Builder). If you thought Stoker only wrote “Dracula,” you’d be wrong. But the short story of “Shadow Builder” is an odd one, reading in a lot of ways like the work of H.P. Lovecraft. But I was excited to see this, not the least of reasons being that it features Tony Todd and has Michael Rooker starring as a bad-ass priest.

We start with something along the lines of a satanic ritual that brings forth a demon set to destroy the world. A priest named Jacob Vassey (Rooker) breaks up the ritual, but not before it is completed—the creature has been summoned. Soon enough, the creature begins killing—and it does so by turning its victims into something like a solid shadow. Any victim of the creature touched by light is essentially dispersed. The creature itself, eventually called Shadowbuilder (Andrew Jackson), is also damaged by light, but as it acquires more and more souls, it becomes less able to be damaged by light sources. The goal of the creature is to sacrifice a particular child on an altar during a solar eclipse.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Lady with the Dog

Film: Dark Eyes (Oci Ciornie)
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on rockin’ flatscreen.

I watched Dark Eyes (Oci Ciornie) a couple of days ago, and it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about it. I dislike reviewing movies like this one because there’s very little to actually talk about here. Dark Eyes is 136 minutes, a nice performance from Marcello Mastroianni, and nothing resembling much of a plot. Sure, it’s pretty to look at, but it’s not a hell of a lot more than that.

In truth, it’s a very long film version of Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog.” I’ll offer you the quick run-down on the story, and you’ll get a very good sense of what the film is, with some minor issues. A man who is dissatisfied with his wife has numerous affairs. One day, while on vacation, he encounters a young woman with a small dog. Over the course of a week, the two strike up a friendship that turns into an affair, something for which she feels guilty, although he does not. Her husband (the reason she feels guilty for the affair) calls her home. He feels like the memory of the affair will fade over time, but it turns out it does not—he’s really fallen for her, so he goes to her home town to track her down.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Strike Two Count

Film: The Angry Silence
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I’m not shy about my politics in general, but I tend to keep them off this blog as not being really a part of what I write about. But movies, like a great deal of art, are often political. It’s impossible to write about some of them without dipping into the political spectrum. The Angry Silence is such a film. There are plenty of films that deal with issues of labor unions and working people in conflict with their bosses. Most, like Norma Rae, North Country, or even Silkwood and Erin Brockovich are clear in siding with the people over the business. The Angry Silence is not nearly this clear, which makes it both frustrating and interesting, and for the same reason.

This is the story of a particular factory and a particular strike that doesn’t go the way that everyone wants. Tom Curtis (Richard Attenborough) works in a factory and has two children with his wife Anna (Pier Angeli) and as the film starts, we learn that they have a third one on the way. Because of this, when an unofficial strike is called at the factory, Tom decides not to participate, which is his right. The goal of the strike, which has been arranged by an outside agitator named Travers (Alfred Burke) and more or less enforced by the shop steward, Bert Connolly (Bernard Lee). The goal of the strike is to demand that the factory become a closed shop, which would give the union more power.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

More Like the Stiff and the Stupid

Film: The Bold and the Brave
Format: Internet video on laptop.

War movies are always interesting to me in some respects. They are a way to gauge the particular view of the world of a given time, or at least of the people making the film. Since it seems like we are constantly at war somewhere, the motive for making a war film seems rarely to be about the war itself and more about the attitude of the filmmakers toward war. With a film like The Bold and the Brave, filmed after the Korean War and before American involvement in Vietnam, the purpose is perhaps cloudier, especially with the mission that ends the film. Is this a heroic story or one that wants to put forth the idea the war has no real winners? Sadly, it’s probably the former, especially when there’s a sense of glorifying combat and the film taking place in the Italian campaign of World War II—playing to some of the country’s greatest military hits tends to skew the perspective.

We’re not going to get a lot of war for the first two acts of the movie. Instead, we’re going to be introduced to three soldiers. The first is Fairchild (Wendell Corey), who we learn soon after the film’s opening has serious qualms about pulling the trigger on his weapon. The second is Dooley (Mickey Rooney), quick with the girls despite being married and always up for a game of craps. Third is one nicknamed Preacher (Don Taylor), who sees the world in black and white ways, with anything that isn’t capital-G Good being capital-E Evil.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Is This a Synonym for "Martyr"?

Film: The Valiant
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

There is a sense that, when viewing an older film like this one, that I need to take into account the time in which the film was made. That’s always a good idea. As a film fan, it’s sometimes difficult to address older films with a more modern lens. We’ve seen that recently with the reaction against a film like Gone with the Wind, that has racial views that belong in the past but are tied up in understanding the story and the era of film in which it was made. The Valiant doesn’t have that kind of problem; it’s just a very early talkie and evidence that it took some time before people really figured out the medium of talking film.

What this means is that The Valiant is filled with the sort of acting that feels like it belongs on a stage, perhaps fitting for a film from 1929 that was adapted from a one-act play. We’ve got some very wooden line readings and some very ham-handed melodrama to deal with here. But at the same time, we also have the film debut of Paul Muni, who proved to be not just one of the first chameleons in talkie pictures, but one of the greatest forgotten actors of the modern age. Muni’s career included one Oscar win over five nominations that spanned 30 years—as his debut, this was clearly his first nomination; has last came for The Last Angry Man in 1959.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Bounty Law

Film: Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood
Format: Blu-ray from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I learned when doing the 1001 Movies list that there was a real benefit to watching the longest films I could get my hands on first, at least psychologically. I’ve been sitting on a Blu-ray of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood since the middle of March but really haven’t had the opportunity to watch it. I’ve also been dreading it slightly; I have a strange relationship with the films of Quentin Tarantino. I’ve said for a long time that I think he’d be a lot better if he stopped trying to be awesome and instead tried to be just good.

Not surprisingly, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a film that tries very hard to be awesome and ends up being merely self-indulgent. For starters, it runs 161 minutes long, and, judiciously, I think I could knock out half an hour of it without losing a great deal. And that’s going to be the theme here. I know that I’m in the minority when it comes to Tarantino; everyone seems to like his films more than I do, or to casually overlook his flaws in the interests of bread an circuses. In a lot of ways, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood feels like he wants to break away just a touch from that habit of showing off, but he can’t quite get there. There’s still a lot of excess here that seems to serve no other purpose than servicing Tarantino’s ego.