Thursday, June 21, 2018

By My Age, They Tend Toward Bitter.

Film: Sweet Bird of Youth
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

I have, in a sense, painted myself into a corner with the length of the reviews that I write. While there are a couple that are relatively short, I feel like if I don’t at least cross the 700-750 word mark that I’m selling the movie short. With a movie like Sweet Bird of Youth, that’s kind of a problem because I don’t have a great deal to say about it. This isn’t to imply that the movie is a bad one. It’s not at all, but it feels like I don’t have a lot to say about yet another movie based on a Tennessee Williams play. What can I say here that I haven’t said about A Streetcar Named Desire, Baby Doll, or Suddenly, Last Summer?

And yet, I feel the need to soldier on. Once this gets going, there’s no surprise that this is based on something penned by Williams. We’ve got all of the trademarks of a Williams narrative—booze and drugs, sex, illicit relationships, threats, messed up families, and Southern gentility. And, of course, there’s going to be a sense of terrible events that have happened or will happen, secret shame, and immorality. Makes you want to watch it, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Opera

Film: Opera
Format: DVD from NetFlix on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

So I think it’s something I can say now officially—I don’t like Italian horror. It’s something I’ve struggled with in the past. There are a few gialli that I like, but even those have issues with not being that coherent all of the time. Films like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, for instance, are interesting and have some good parts, but even those are movies that I’m not convinced I want to watch again any time soon. Even the really celebrated ones like Suspiria are ones I like for reasons beyond the disjointed plot. So Opera, another Argento film, is one that has gotten a great deal of praise. I gritted my teeth and hoped for the best.

Now that I’ve seen it, I have a new hypothesis about a lot of Italian horror films. I don’t think the plot comes first. I think instead that the director or the screenwriter gets an idea or two for particular scenes that would look really interesting. For Suspiria, for instance, the first death scene, the barbed wire room, and the blocks of primary colors were probably the initial thoughts. For Blood and Black Lace, it was probably the fashion, and shots like the model being drowned. For Opera, it’s probably the ravens and the needles. Once those visuals have been thought of, the director/screenwriter tries to figure out a way to connect all of those different scenes into a narrative. Typically, this is done with…varying results of coherence.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Project Runway

Film: Phantom Thread
Format: Blu-Ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

With Phantom Thread, there is really a single story to be told. Star of the film and three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis went on record as saying that this would be his last film and that he will be retiring from acting. That is reason enough to watch the film. Day-Lewis is, I think I can say without much fear of contradiction, the most accomplished male actor of his generation. I have no idea who will step up to replace him, but for the last 30 years or so—since his break-out performance in My Left Foot (but really since a few years before that), Day-Lewis has always been worth watching. And yet despite this, I can’t say that I was really excited about this despite being a one-time fan of Project Runway and a constant booster of the wonderful Tim Gunn.

Phantom Thread is something of a love triangle, kind of. It’s a little more complicated than that, really. Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a respected dress designer in London about a decade after World War II. His business is thriving for his upscale clients and at least some of this comes from the constant assistance of his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville, who was nominated in a supporting role). It’s soon evident that Reynolds has something like a recurrent series of infatuations with women; early in the film, we see him more or less get rid of one live-in girlfriend when she no longer inspires him. Shortly after this, he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress. She becomes his new infatuation and his new favorite dress-up doll. Soon enough, Alma has moved into Woodcock House and functions as muse and model for Reynolds.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Film: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

While I love a good horror movie, I can’t admit that I’ve been a huge fan of slashers. The truth is that most slashers seem kind of pointless to me. There’s a guy, there are victims. The guy kills them in a variety of ways. There’s just not a great deal there beyond that visceral slice-n-dice, and I’m not that interested. I don’t mind gore, but I prefer it be there for a good reason. If it’s just there to fill up space, I don’t really care that much. That makes Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon an interesting choice for me.

The truth is that I like this movie quite a bit. The reason is that this is the best send-up of the slasher genre since Scream, and it’s better in a few respects. Scream, brilliant as it is, is really a self-conscious slasher. It’s a movie that plays with genre conventions while clearly being a part of the genre. Don’t get me wrong; I love Scream and I love what Wes Craven did with it. The genius of Behind the Mask is that it takes the next logical step, presenting the behind the scenes look at the life of a supernatural killer.