Monday, September 15, 2014

Nick's Pick: Naked

Film: Naked
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

This is the ninth in a series of monthly reviews suggested by Nick Jobe at YourFace.

I went into Naked with some amount of trepidation. I know this is a film that Nick has a great deal of respect for. Were I a bigger bastard, I would suggest that Nick’s main reason for liking this film is the presence of David Thewlis, who was a major part of the Harry Potter films. In truth, Naked reminds me of a great number of films I’ve seen in the last few years. This is a film that is more or less about nothing. It’s a character study, and the entire thing turns on the performance of the actor in that role. As it happens, in this case that one role is played by Remus Lupin the aforementioned David Thewlis.

I’m not being glib when I suggest that this film is essentially without a plot. Loser Johnny (Thewlis) starts the film in the most unpleasant way possible—the film opens with Johnny in the middle of a sexual assault. This is a theme that will come up multiple times in the film—it’s not the only time that we see him demonstrate his penchant for violent and unpleasant sex. To avoid any potential legal problems with what was, essentially, a rape, Johnny heads off to London to look for his ex-girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharp). He doesn’t find her right away—instead, he finds Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge). The two spend the afternoon having sex, at least until Louise gets back.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Upper Class Twit of the Year

Film: The Ruling Class
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

There are few movies that set a tone as firmly and completely as The Ruling Class does in its opening 15 minutes. In those first minutes, we are introduced to the 13th Earl of Gurney (Harry Andrews), a judge, who proposes a toast to the awesomeness that is England at a large gathering. He then returns home and speaks to Tucker (Arthur Lowe), his butler, while tossing aside his clothing. We learn here that all of the Earl’s sons have been killed one way or another overseas, which means he must remarry despite his more advanced years, thus providing an heir. Then, out of nowhere, Tucker provides the Earl with a silk noose, which he hangs over the bed. The Earl dons an admiral’s uniform and a white tutu and proceeds to asphyxiate himself in a piece of sexual oddity, but eventually slips off the ladder and hangs himself accidentally. It’s dark, it’s funny, it’s twisted, and it sets up the rest of the film as well as can be imagined.

The sudden death of the 13th Earl leads to the introduction of Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney (Peter O’Toole), the 14th Earl of Gurney. The problem is that Jack is completely insane, having been institutionalized for the last eight years. Specifically, Jack believes he is the human incarnation of Yahweh, he is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Upon becoming the Earl, he trades out his coarse monk’s robes for a white suit, but keeps the Van Dyke and the flowing locks and sleeps standing upright on a cross, his hands firmly gripping a pair of nails.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Off Script: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie

Film: Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

I love Italian-style horror movies from the 1970s in part because they all have a ton of different names. In the case of Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, there are a whopping 15 additional names for this film, most of which are Italian. The version I found on Hulu had the title The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue as a title a couple of minutes in. This is despite the fact that the Manchester Morgue never appears in the film. Anyway, this is classic mid-‘70s zombie horror and it’s surprisingly entertaining and contains a fun amount of carnage.

How to explain this? George (Ray Lovelock) is on his way from Manchester to the Lake District in the UK to work on a vacation home. While filling up with gas, a woman named Edna (Cristina Galbo) backs into his motorcycle, damaging the front wheel. Fortunately for George, she’s headed to roughly the same area. So while his bike goes in the shop, she gives him a lift (actually, he drives) to where they’re going. They get lost, and while George tries to get directions, Edna is attacked by a man who disappears when she runs for help. Importantly, the place where they stop for directions is a farm testing out new equipment. This new equipment creates ultrasonic radiation that makes insects attack each other, thus nullifying their effect on the crops. Yes, I know this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Bear with it.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Ocean Blue

Film: Finding Nemo
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Maxine, my 11-year-old daughter, hates Finding Nemo. Hates it, and she’s never really given me a reason why. Frequently, when I watch something more attuned to kids, I invite my kids to watch with me, but I knew that it wouldn’t be worth asking this time. I don’t get her objection. This isn’t one I would rank among Pixar’s greatest achievements—it’s no Toy Story or The Incredibles, but it’s got all of the elements of really good family film. There’s humor, adventure, and a nice message at the end. Kids, right?

Anyway, my guess is that pretty much everyone reading this has seen Finding Nemo at least once, and anyone with kids between two and 18 has seen it a couple of dozen times (unless your kids hate it like mine does). We start with the classic Disney trope when we’re introduced to Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Coral (Elizabeth Perkins), a pair of clownfish living in an anemone somewhere in the ocean. They are expecting their first clutch of 400 or so eggs to hatch any day, but their marital and impending bliss is interrupted by a wandering barracuda. Marlin tries to fight it off but is knocked unconscious. When he wakes, Coral is gone, along with all of the eggs but one, which hatches into Nemo (Alexander Gould). So, we have a traditional Disney one-parent family.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lady Day

Film: Lady Sings the Blues
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

In my head, I have a tendency to mix up Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker. I’m not sure I’ll do that again after seeing Lady Sings the Blues, the biopic of Billie Holiday. This is a film that reminds me a great deal of La Vie en Rose, but only because I saw that one first. Both films cover the meteoric career of a supremely talented but ultimately tragic singer. I have to admit, I was nervous about a film featuring Diana Ross in a dramatic role. My nerves were unjustified. Ross is tremendous, both as a singer (duh) but also playing a woman torn apart by her talent and her evident unending appetite for heroin.

The film opens with Holiday in a padded cell, strapped in a straitjacket, and raving from crushing heroin withdrawal. What follows comes in flashback, starting with young Billie when she was still named Eleanora (but is still played by Diana Ross). As a young girl, Eleanora works in a brothel cleaning, and before we get too far, she is raped by one of the customers. Her mother packages her off as a maid to a woman who mistreats her, and before too long, Eleanora is working in a brothel herself.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Film: Min and Bill
Format: Streaming video from TCM Watch on laptop.

More than most films, comedies are a product of their time. What one generation finds funny, the next generation scratches its head at. Such it is with Min and Bill. Listed as both a comedy and a drama, the comedic elements of the film are the broad slapstick style that actually work better in silent films than they do in early talkies. The initial comedy scene, which involves one of our title characters hijacking a boat, is the sort of thing I’m talking about here.

We establish our three major characters right away. Bill (Wallace Beery) is a fisherman who lives at a dockside boarding house operated by Min (Marie Dressler). The two have a comically antagonist relationship, but it’s evident within a few moments that the two are extremely fond of each other. While Min loves her boarding house and Bill, too, the real joy in her life is Nancy (Dorothy Jordan). Nancy was abandoned by her mother as an infant and has been raised by Min to assist around the boarding house. Nancy’s age is indeterminate; all we know is that she’s very young; 14 or 15 would be a good guess.