Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Fight or Flight

Film: The Fugitive
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m not going to play here: I really like The Fugitive a lot. It’s an easy step to call it an action movie, and while there’s plenty of action here, I wouldn’t qualify it as one, or at least not as simply an action film. No, it’s one of the finest crime thrillers since the heyday of the noir era. It’s also one of the few properties that successfully transitioned from the television screen to the big screen. I still have trouble believing that this didn’t make the 1001 Movies list and cannot for the life of me understand why it wouldn’t. Along with horror and science fiction, movies heavy on the action are underrepresented on the big list. If any pulse-thumping film deserves to be given this sort of accolade, The Fugitive ranks just behind Die Hard for me.

Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) attends a fundraiser with his wife Helen (Sela Ward). On their way home, he is called into emergency surgery. When he gets home, his wife has been murdered. A great deal of circumstantial evidence serves to convict him and put him on death row. When he’s being transferred to his new prison, a bungled escape attempt by other prisoners causes the bus to end up wrecked on railroad tracks with a train coming. Kimble saves the life of one of his guards and escapes a few seconds before impact.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Round Trip

Film: Voyage of the Damned
Format: DVD from Bourbonnais Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

When Voyage of the Damned showed up from at the library, I didn’t really know what I was getting. And then I looked at the cast list. This is a cast that, and I say this with only slight hyperbole, made me pee myself a little. Now, admittedly, a great number of the notables only appear in a couple of scenes. Denholm Elliott, for instance, has about half a dozen lines in the first couple of minutes and never appears again. Seriously, though, the cast is astonishing. Voyage of the Damned also happens to be Jonathan Pryce’s first film and Oskar Werner’s last film. Just to name drop more of the cast, it features James Mason, Faye Dunaway, Max von Sydow, Orson Welles, Malcolm McDowell, Michael Constantine, Jose Ferrer, Julie Harris, Wendy Hiller, Ben Gazzara, and Lee Grant (the only person here to earn a nomination). Seriously, I peed a little.

Voyage of the Damned is a “message” film in that we’re going to be getting a big, important story about the sort of thing that filmmakers love to deliver messages about. In this case, the main theme is one of anti-Semitism in Europe and the world before the outbreak of World War II. In a sort of public relations stunt, the German government has loaded a collection of close to 1000 Jews with the intent to ship them off to Havana. It’s a sort of goodwill gesture/refugee dump with an ulterior motive. Captain Schroeder (Max von Sydow) is a noted non-Nazi, which is why Otto Scheindick (Helmut Griem) is placed on board to make sure that there’s no seditious behavior going on.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Off Script: Hardware

Film: Hardware
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

Budget science fiction from the 1980s and early 1990s is always interesting to me. In the case of Hardware, we have an interesting premise that suffers from some significant issues. The first issue is the $1.5 million budget for a film that has a great deal of ambition. Particularly for a film that wants to show off a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the budget just wasn’t there. A bigger issue is that the plot has holes big enough to drive a train through. I can live with the small budget. The bigger issue is that this really needed to spend another couple of weeks in rewrites.

We’re thrust into a post-apocalyptic world where, at least for the first few minutes, everything is red. A scavenger finds what looks to be a robot of some type, but he is unaware that the robot was moving slightly before its discovery. He picks it up and drags it back to what passes for civilization where he sells it to Moses “Hard Mo” Baxter (Dylan McDermott). Mo keeps the head of the robot and sells the rest as scrap to Alvy (Mark Northover). He gives the head to Jill (Stacey Travis), his reclusive artist girlfriend, who incorporates the head into a piece of art.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Film: Corpse Bride
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I first saw Corpse Bride in what could not have been better circumstances. The local theater ran it as a double feature with The Nightmare Before Christmas, which made for a great double bill. In retrospect, I think less of Corpse Bride now than I did 10 years ago. There’s quite a bit to like in this film, but it has a massive flaw that prevents me from liking it as much as I want to.

Corpse Bride in a way feels like the culmination of many of Burton’s themes. There are elements of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Sleepy Hollow in this film, and I like two of those movies pretty well. It also has the look and animation style of The Nightmare Before Christmas, which Burton produced (and is frequently credited with directing, although he didn’t). We start with a marriage of convenience. Young Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) has had his marriage to Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) arranged by his parents. This is an important move for both families. The Van Dorts are nouveau riche fishmongers looking to move up on the social ladder. The Everglots are aristocracy rich in land and tradition but poor in cash. The wedding, then, will give both families something that they either desperately want or desperately need.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Three's a Crowd

Film: The More the Merrier
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Screwball comedies/screwball romances are kind of hit-and-miss with me. There are some that I adore and some that I’m supposed to like that I really end up disliking. I approach them with a certain amount of caution as I did with The More the Merrier. I don’t even trust a cast implicitly. I didn’t think a ton of Bringing Up Baby, and it has one of the great casts of its era. But I do generally try to go into each film I watch expecting to like it. Preconceived notions have a way of invalidating a review.

Movies like The More the Merrier are why I try to stay positive, because this one is worth it. It’s appeal is almost entirely based on the presence of the great Charles Coburn, who won a Supporting Actor Oscar for this role. I can’t say he didn’t deserve it because he’s clearly the best thing in the movie. That’s not a put down. Coburn is funny all the way through and displays a genius for comic timing and some great physical comedy. It’s all the more impressive coming from an overweight man in his sixties.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Off Script: The Blob (1988)

Film: The Blob (1988)
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of the things I love about the original version of The Blob is that it’s the first major starring role for Steve McQueen. It’s also a really fun idea. So what do you do when you have a fun monster movie idea and the ability to update it with more modern sensibilities and especially with gore? Well, you change a few things, figure out a way to make the horror that ensues the fault of the government, and do your best to gross people out. In this case, the result is the 1988 remake of The Blob. It has some plot holes and plenty of goofiness. But so what? This is a movie made to be a carnival fun house with some scenes of 1980s-level gross-out.

The plot is only mildly different from the original version. In the original, an organism that is essentially an amorphous splotch of acid-based protoplasm, lands on Earth in a meteor. It then proceeds to devour anything organic (especially people) and grow. The blob is more or less a mobile sack of stomach acid that grows larger as it ingests food. We have the same thing here, with the difference that the consuming protoplasm is actually a biological weapon gone amok.