Monday, May 23, 2016

Off Script: Tombs of the Blind Dead

Film: Tombs of the Blind Dead (Tomb of the Blind Dead; The Blind Dead; La Noche del Terror Ciego)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Two of my favorite movies are Spanish horror movies. The Devil’s Backbone is one of my top-5 movies of all time and The Orphanage is probably in my top-10, although I’ve never made a formal top-10 list. I entered Tombs of the Blind Dead (sometimes called just Tomb of the Blind Dead, just The Blind Dead, or its Spanish title La Noche del Terror Ciego) with some expectations. This is apparently one of the movies that starts a renaissance in Spanish horror films and spawned a trio of follow-up films. Evidently people just can’t get enough of vampire/mummy Templars.

While we start with what appears to be a medieval ceremony involving the torture and death of a young woman, we spend the bulk of the beginning of the film in the present. Gina (Maria Elena Arpon, listed as Helen Harp) and her boyfriend Roger (Cesar Burner) are planning a camping trip when Gina bumps into Betty Turner (Lone Fleming), a friend from school. Betty is quickly invited along on the trip, and while it’s not stated, I think it’s pretty clear that Roger is hoping for a little doubling-up on him under the stars. That is made more manifest when he and Betty flirt on the train. Gina gets so upset that she asks for the train to stop to let her off. When the train doesn’t stop, she jumps off right around an old abandoned monastery.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mothers and Daughters

Film: Autumn Sonata (Hostsonaten)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatcreen.

When I first started this blog, I had never seen a film by Ingmar Bergman, which was certainly a massive hole in my viewing history. Now, while I’m not close to being a completist, I’ve at least seen a lot of them so I know what more to expect when it comes to putting a Bergman film in the spinner. Autumn Sonata covers territory that I’ve seen from Ingmar before. We’re dealing with family drama and family trauma here, and the pain that people inflict on each other both intentionally and accidentally.

Primarily, we are going to be dealing with the relationship between Charlotte Andergast (Ingrid Bergman, in what would be her last theatrical film) and her daughter Eva (long-time Bergman muse Liv Ullmann). The relationships are perhaps a bit more involved; Eva is married to Viktor (Halvar Bjork) and takes care of her severely disabled sister Helena (Lena Nyman). Eva’s relationship with her mother has always been strained, but when the film begins, she has reached out to Charlotte because of the death of Leonardo, Charlotte’s latest partner.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Upstairs-ish, Downstairs-ish

Film: The Remains of the Day
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatcreen.

I like a good period drama now and then, and I have even liked my share of Jane Austen adaptations. That said, one of the issues of I have with British dramas from this era is that a part of me is surprised that anyone actually procreates. Everyone is so scared of his or her emotions and so terrified of physical contact that it’s a wonder the race perpetuated. Okay, I know that’s not actually true, but it is the way that romances especially are depicted from the Regency era through the Edwardian. Lemme tell ya, they ain’t got nothing on The Remains of the Day.

The film’s present is set in the 1950s, and as the film begins, a great English estate is auctioned off to an American buyer. This buyer is Jack Lewis (Christopher Reeve), a former congressman, who visited the home several decades earlier. The estate is slowly reopened after having been mainly shut down due to the death of Lord Darlington (James Fox) who had lived there. With a new family to live in the estate, a staff is again needed; the task of finding and hiring them falls to Mr. James Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), the head butler who has been with the house for multiple decades. Stevens recalls the housekeeper who worked at the Darlington estate in the 1930s and believes that due to her current situation, the former Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) might be persuaded to return.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Little Sheepish

Film: Shaun the Sheep Movie
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatcreen.

Typically with a movie designed for kids, you can expect a number of things. First, there will be a story that kids can relate to, which means that while we might get good characters and even a great deal of complexity, the actual story won’t be that challenging. Second, there will generally be jokes that are there specifically for the parents that the kids probably won’t get. Third and finally, there will almost certainly be a message along the lines of “be yourself” or “you can do anything you set your mind to do.” How interesting, then, that with Shaun the Sheep Movie almost none of this is true and yet we still get a film for children that is wildly entertaining an works on every level.

As the title of the film suggests, Shaun is a sheep. He lives in a small flock at Mossy Bottom Farm where he is the marginal leader, or at least the sheep who comes up with most of the ideas. He and the other sheep are bored by their daily routine, which causes them to concoct a plan to give themselves a day off. The bribe a duck to distract the farm dog Bitzer with a bone and then repeatedly jump over a fence in front of the farmer to make him fall asleep. Once he’s out, they lock him in his little camper trailer and prepare for a day watching movies and eating the farmer’s food. Bitzer figures things out eventually, but when he tries to wake the farmer up, the trailer breaks loose.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

China White

Films: Inn of the Sixth Happiness
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

When a film is based on a real story or on real people, there is always a chance that the truth has been embellished in some way to make the filmed version more exciting or more cinematic. With some stories, this really isn’t necessary. With The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, only a few surface embellishments are made because the real story is pretty astonishing. The film tells the story of several years in the life of Gladys Aylward (Ingrid Bergman), who went from being an English domestic servant to a national hero of China.

As the film begins, Aylward has applied to become a missionary to China, but is rejected because of her lack of education. Taking pity on her since she left a job during a time when jobs are scarce, the senior missionary (Moultrie Kelsall) instead arranges for her to get a job as a maid at the home of a well-known explorer with contacts in China (Ronald Squire). Using virtually all of her earnings, Aylward purchases a ticket for herself on the Trans-Siberian railway in installments, eventually making enough to pay off the ticket and head to China. Her employer sets her up with a contact in China and off she goes.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Nick's Picks: The Battery

Films: The Battery
Format: DVD from NetFlix on various players.

This is the fifth in a series of twelve movies suggested by Nick Jobe.

Some words or phrases, when spoken in the context of being about movies can call up a variety of images. One of these is “low-budget.” Others are “indie,” “indie horror,” and “zombies.” With The Battery, we’re getting all of that. Some people react well to indies and indie horror movie, while I take a wait-and-see approach. I’ve seen some gems, but I’ve been burned. The same is true of low-budget films. Plenty of films are great without much in the way of money while others rather significantly display their lack of a budget like a badge of honor. For many, the zombie genre is played out. Fortunately, films like The Battery show there’s still a little juice left in the…uh…battery.

While this isn’t clearly a zombie movie from the opening scene, it becomes obvious in the title sequence as we see our two characters Ben (writer/director Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (producer Adam Cronheim) dealing with the undead. Ben and Mickey are truly a battery in the baseball sense of the word. Spare, slightly ranging Mickey (pitches right, bats right) was a relief pitcher while bulkier, lumberjack-bearded Ben (throws right, bats left) was a catcher. The two are the only survivors of having been trapped in a house in New England for months and now simply roam the countryside, never spending more than a night in one place and never indoors, per Ben’s paranoia of being trapped again.