Friday, September 30, 2016

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Plea to My Readers...

Somehow, things got messed up here, and I lost my blogroll. I have no explanation for this.

Over the last few years, I built up quite a list of sites that I visit, but, being lazy, I relied on my blogroll to see those sites and visit for new posts.

PLEASE contact me--respond here--with a link to your site. I'd like to put you back on the blogroll.

Thanks!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Genealogy

Film: The Emigrants (Utvandrarna)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

I’ve written a lot of reviews on this site, so I’m never really sure what I’ve mentioned before or not. For The Emigrants (Utvandrarna), a story of a family emigrating from Sweden to the United States, I feel like I have something close to a personal connection. My grandmother, Anna Hansen, was not Swedish, but Danish. She came to America by herself in 1910, claiming to be 16, although the family story is that she may have been 14. It’s a staggering thing to consider, moving across an ocean alone to a country where she didn’t know the language at such a young age. I have a reproduction of her arrival documents from Ellis Island and a picture of her ship. It’s an interesting connection to my family’s past, and certainly something that connects me in some ways to this movie. Okay, the movie concerns Sweden and she was from Denmark, but there are a lot of similarities.

The Emigrants is a good three hours long, and for a film that is about emigration, it’s an interesting choice that the first half takes place in Sweden and only the last quarter or so actually takes place in the United States and consists of our Swedes getting from New York to Minnesota (of course). Primarily, we are concerned with the Nilsson family. Karl Oskar (Max von Sydow) has inherited his family farm from his father and is soon married to Kristina (Liv Ullmann) and raising a family. The farm appears cursed, though, with crops ruined by heat and weather. Meanwhile, Karl Oskar’s brother Robert (Eddie Axberg) takes work as a farmhand under an exceedingly cruel master. It is here that he meets Arvid (Pierre Lindstedt), who is a little slow, but a good friend. Eventually, after a fierce beating, Robert runs away despite having agreed to work the farm for a year.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Spiritus Mundi

Film: Boy and the World (O Menino e o Mundo)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen

There are times when I wish that my interests in film were different than narrative and similar ideas, because a film like Boy and the World isn’t really about the narrative. Oh, there’s something like a narrative here, sort of, but that’s not the thrust of the film. This is much more about the experience and the art, and while the actual narrative is important in the sense of what the movie actually means, the actual story is very much secondary.

Boy and the World (which also goes by its Brazilian name O Menino e o Mundo) is a very simple story. A young boy named Cuca lives in a world that, through his perceptions, is filled with wonder and a sort of magic. He loves nothing more than listening to his father playing the flute. Cuca and his family live in the country, and for Cuca, this is idyllic. However, reality intrudes. Needing money, Cuca’s father leaves to go find work in the city. Cuca is distraught over his father being gone, and while his mother attempts to console him, eventually he packs a picture of his family and heads off to the city himself to find his father.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Off Script: Beyond the Door

Film: Beyond the Door (Chi Sei?)
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop

Success breeds imitation. That’s true in business, in literature, and in any media. When a film like The Exorcist, arguably the greatest horror movie ever made, gets as much hype and press as it did, there are bound to be imitators. Films like The Exorcist seem even more prone to this sort of imitation, since a great deal of that film’s hype came from protests against it. Enter Beyond the Door (Chi Sei? in Italian), an Italian-made Exorcist clone that very much wants to play in that same ballpark.

The truth is that imitators fall into a couple of general categories. Some manage to be pretty good; most are terrible. Others attempt to significantly rewrite the original in new ways to differentiate themselves. Beyond the Door more or less attempts to use the very same formula as its formative film, adjusting only in the details. Instead of a young girl being possessed, we have an expectant mother being possessed—presumably giving us a possessed fetus as well. In a sense, this is a blending of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, attempting to take the most shocking and provocative elements of both films and put them in one place.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Dance Dance Revolution

Film: Isadora
Format: Internet video on laptop

I’ve mentioned here before when I thought it was relevant that both of my daughters are dancers, and very serious dancers. My older daughter, at 18, is a year away from her college degree in dance performance, when what would have been her high school graduating class is fininshing its first year of college. My younger daughter spent this past summer at the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, much to the detriment of my bank account. When I come to a movie like Isadora (sometimes called The Loves of Isadora), I have certain expectations and preconceptions. This is, after all, the story of the dancer Isadora Duncan.

I should come clean at the start here and admit that the version of this that I could find—no library in my state seems to have a copy to lend and NetFlix certainly doesn’t have it—had some problems. The primary problem is that the film seems to have been cut off a bit at the sides and a little at the top. Whenever I’m faced with a situation like this in which the copy of the film I am reviewing has particular deficiencies, I try not to let that affect my final opinion. It’s worth bringing up, because it would be easy to suggest that had I seen this in a different format, I may have liked it more.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ice, Ice Lady

Films: 45 Years
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

One of the things I love about movies is that they can present us with a story that perhaps couldn’t be real and yet still presents a very human story. That’s certainly the case with 45 Years, where we get a story that is just on the edge of being believable, but uses that fantastic tale to present us with something that is very real and surprisingly affecting. The audience needs to come to this with a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief. Once we’re willing to do that, the story can play out in front of us.

In 45 Years, we have a couple approaching their 45th anniversary. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) didn’t really celebrate their 40th anniversary because Geoff was ill. Now, they are planning a party that will involve a great deal of their small town. While Kate continues to prepare for the celebration, Geoff gets a letter that changes everything. This is the suspension of disbelief part.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Off Script: Cherry Falls

Films: Cherry Falls
Format: Internet video on laptop.

You know the basic horror movie tropes. One of the basic tropes is that for all of their blood and guts, horror movies are incredibly conservative in terms of sexual politics. Anyone who has sex dies. Cherry Falls turns that basic trope on its head. In this film, the opposite is true. Our killer is targeting virgins. It’s a hell of a fun spin on one of the basic rules of slasher movies. In a sense, it’s a bit like Scream in that respect, although it lacks the overall cleverness of Craven’s franchise.

Aside from that change, though, Cherry Falls follows the basic horror movie story. A young couple gets killed, sending shockwaves through the small town of Cherry Falls, Virginia. Meanwhile, life in the high school seems to go on as normal. Jody Marken (Brittany Murphy), daughter of the local sheriff (Michael Biehn) breaks up with her boyfriend Kenny (Gabriel Mann) and mourns the loss of a couple of fellow students. Of course, the killings aren’t going to stop there. Another student is killed brutally, and the police let slip that all of the victims have had the word “virgin” carved into them.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Nick's Picks: Party Monster

Films: Party Monster
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

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

When Nick gave me a list of 12 films this year, he had pretty much free rein, provided that the film in question was one I hadn’t seen before. Sometimes, Nick likes to throw me something weird and difficult to explain. In the past that has included films like Ink, The Battery, and yes, even The Room. He could have gone with surreal weird like Hausu (which I’ve seen, but this year) or gone to hurt me emotionally with something like Dead Girl or A Serbian Film. Instead, he graced me with Party Monster.

I understood immediately why Nick wanted me to watch this. In the first 10 minutes we get more fourth-wall breaks than I normally see in a month. Nick is a sucker for a broken fourth wall. In this case, those fourth wall breaks come from the people Party Monster is about: Michael Alig (Macaulay Culkin) and James St. James (Seth Green).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Police on My Back

Films: Alibi
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

I try to keep things loose as much as I can with what movies I watch. What I mean by that is that I try to be varied in terms of what nominations I’m looking at and what decade I select from. I don’t want to watch a string of films from the same couple of years one after the other in general. If I’m honest, though, I’m pretty lax on watching things from the earliest years of my Oscar categories. It’s been ages since I’ve seen something from the ‘20s. Part of the reason is that quality can be a real issue. Part of it is that of the movies that are missing, lost, or unavailable are pretty heavily concentrated in those first few years. Regardless, I came across Alibi online today, so I figured I may as well knock it out.

Where Alibi is kind of interesting in terms of early talkies is that we don’t really have a main character. Well, we kind of do; we have Chick Williams (Chester Morris), who has just been released from prison. Chick protests his innocence, even though he probably was guilty. Now that he’s out, he’s ready to get back into his crime life, and he’s more than ready to cover himself as much as he can. He’s got an in; he has the romantic interest of Daisy Thomas (Mae Busch), who happens to be the daughter of the local police chief.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Picks from Chip: Ruby Sparks

Films: Ruby Sparks
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is the ninth in a series of twelve movies suggested by Chip Lary.

Chip and I had different tastes in movies, as is evidenced by the fact that we sometimes didn’t like a movie that the other person selected. This year has had a few close calls for me on Chip’s films, but nothing that slid below the “3 stars = like” criterion I use on Letterboxd. Well, there’s a first time for everything, and Ruby Sparks is that first time. I went into this expecting something very different than I got, because what I got was a clunky, mean-spirited version of the rather charming Stranger than Fiction.

Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) was a writing phenom who took the book world by storm at the tender age of 19. Since that time, and after great acclaim and endless groupies, Calvin’s output has been a few short stories and a long chunk of writer’s block. Calvin also struggles on the personal front. His introverted nature keeps him from developing new relationships and his relationships with women tend to be more about sex with fans, who see him as an idealized version of himself instead of as the person he really is.

Monday, September 12, 2016

You Can Use the Penny for Therapy

Films: Penny Serenade
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

So I should start by saying that yes, this should be one of Chip’s remaining four movies. I had planned for NetFlix to deliver one to me, but NetFlix (or the USPS) has not delivered. What this means is that the review of one of Chip’s movies will be a day or two late. Mea maxima culpa.

Instead, I decided to continue working on knocking out the giant backlog I have on the DVR. I decided to go for Penny Serenade in part because I’ve had it recorded for something like a year. The most noteworthy aspect of the film is that it’s one of the only two films for which Cary Grant earned an Oscar nomination. Truthfully, Grant deserved plenty more nominations in his career, and I was curious regarding this one. I’ve been told in the past that Grant never really got a nomination he deserved and deserved plenty of nominations he didn’t get. Having seen Penny Serenade, I understand precisely why he earned the nomination. We’ll get to that.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Immigration Reform

Films: A Better Life
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I think making a drama about a current, real social issue is potentially fraught with peril. It has to be easy to slide into melodrama or to be so polemic that the plot of the film becomes something immediately accepted by one side and immediately dismissed by the other. A Better Life, which in its own way looks at immigration in the United States, certainly had the opportunity to walk over that line. It manages not to cross that line in most cases for one simple fact: it tells a believable, good story of which the idea of illegal immigration is a driving part, but which is not the real focus.

Carlos Galindo (Demian Bechir) is an undocumented alien in California working as the assistant to a landscaper named Blasco (Joaquin Cosio). Blasco has made his money and is ready to go home to Mexico and is hot to sell off his truck, tools, and all of his contracts to Carlos. Carlos, lucky to have a regular job and knowing that he’ll lose that job if Blasco leaves, isn’t really sure he wants to buy the truck and the contracts. Eventually, he contacts his sister Anita (Dolores Heredia) to borrow $12,000 in the hopes of building the business up and moving to a better neighborhood.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Who's Your Daddy?

Films: Fanny
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

A film like Fanny being nominated for Best Picture shows just how clearly things have changed in the public’s expectations of films in general. I’d be hard-pressed to suggest that Fanny is one of the five best films of 1961 in general, but today, it wouldn’t even make it into the crowd. Oh, I’ve no doubt that it’s well-made. Fanny, more or less, is a musical without the singing. I’d say it’s reminiscent of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which it is, except that this movie came first by three years.

So here’s the story. Young Marius (Horst Buchholz) works as a bartender in his father’s Marseilles bar and dreaming of the sea. The only things keeping him back are his father Cesar (Charles Boyer) and Fanny (Leslie Caron), who turns 18 on the day the film begins. Marius’s crazy friend who is called The Admiral (Raymond Bussieres) tries to push Marius to the sea, and Marius wants to go; he’s even packed and has his papers in order. Even better, a scientific expedition is getting ready to sail on a five-year voyage, and Marius is accepted as crew.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Southern Comfort?

Films: Raintree County
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I keep a fairly extensive database of the movies that I still have to watch on my various Oscar lists. One of the things that I track is movie length, because I don’t want to get to the end of this with nothing but three-hour epics left to watch. For whatever reason, I had the 168-minute Raintree County listed as a movie of about half that length. This is also a movie I have had DVRed for well over a year; there were too many aspects of it that made me not want to spend all of that time with it. Still, I had to watch it eventually, and since I had the house to myself for a large part of today, I figured this was as good a chance as any.

I’m not kidding when I say that there’s a lot here that I typically don’t like. American Civil War dramas don’t really do a lot for me. This is also the part of Montgomery Clift’s career of which I am not much enamored. There was a chunk of his career where he came across as more whiney and wimpy. That works in films like The Heiress, but not in a film where he is being put forth as a paragon of moral virtue and a standard of decency. Raintree County is also a straight-ahead melodrama complete with the sort of overacting that the style requires. Even a solid cast that includes Eva Marie Saint and Lee Marvin couldn’t make things happier for me. Not even the presence of a young DeForest Kelley could rescue it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Blood is Thinner than Water

Films: Avalon
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

I find slice of life movies difficult to review. They’re difficult because in many cases, they don’t really go anywhere. We get a chunk of somebody’s life, or several somebodies’ lives. And then it ends. I realize that this is certainly a lot closer to the way the real world works. We don’t all have storylines with a beginning, middle, and end. But movies do. That’s one of the things that’s great about them. So, when I get a movie that just takes a chunk out of a life and puts it on the screen, I feel like I don’t get a complete story. This is exactly the case with Avalon.

Like a handful of other Barry Levinson films, Avalon is at least semi-autobiographical. In this case, it’s more about Levinson’s family and less about his own personal experience. It appears to be more or less the story of his grandfather and his life in Baltimore starting in around 1914. Using his grandfather’s experience and the experience of his family, Levinson is more or less recounting the story of the Polish Jewish immigrant experience in the United States from around the start of World War I.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Money, Money, Money, Money

Films: The Big Short
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

People say that money is the root of all evil, but that’s not what the actual quote says. The actual quote says that the love of money is the root of all evil. I came of age in the greed-happy Reagan years, so it’s not like these are sentiments that I don’t understand. But, even as those heady years of hostile takeovers went away, the underlying desire for greenbacks certainly didn’t. Billions were made and lost during the dot-com bubble, and still, nothing changed. And then the housing market died and everything changed, except nothing changed. That’s the story behind The Big Short.

This is more or less the story of several groups of investors who virtually simultaneously discovered the dismal truth behind the American housing market and decided to short the various mortgage bonds. I’m not much of a financial wizard here, but understand the basics of what happened. Essentially, these investors bet against the housing market because so many of the mortgages were risky and were defaulting. So, while tons of people lost everything when virtually guaranteed investments went bad, these investors made a killing.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1959

The Contenders:

William Wyler: Ben-Hur (winner)
George Stevens: The Diary of Anne Frank
Fred Zinnemann: The Nun’s Story
Jack Clayton: Room at the Top
Billy Wilder: Some Like it Hot

Repost: The Goddess (1932)

Film: Shen Nu (The Goddess)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

DMCA notices suck.

Three years ago, I posted a review of the 1932 movie The Goddess. As was my habit, I gave the review a goofy title. In this case, since this film was a sort of fable and took place in China, I called the review "Once Upon a Time in Shanghai."

As it happens, that's the name of another movie. It's worth noting, incidentally, that my review was published on September 20, 2013 and the movie of that name was released the following year. Regardless, the film company that owns the rights to that movie decided that I somehow was offering free downloads of their film and slapped me with a DMCA notice.

I'm not a film pirate. I support a film company's right to go after anyone stealing their product to the fullest. But this? This is stupid. Now, anyone who took more than six seconds to actually look at the original review and my site would see exactly what happened. The company cast a wide net and caught me even though I'm blameless here and no one bothered to take those six seconds to see if I'm actually a criminal or if this was just a weird coincidence of me picking a name for something and them picking the same name. The fact that my original post was a year before their movie release should be an indicator. However, not everyone actually does his or her job.

Could I fight this? Sure. But I don't need the hassle and I really don't need the expense. So I'm deleting the old post and reposting the review under a new name. Why? Because this not only retitles the review, but it changes the URL. So, someone else's slipshod pursuit of his or her job has forced me to jump through unnecessary hoops. And because I'm not a film company or fabulously wealthy, I'm taking the cowardly (but also easy and free) way out.

Anyway, DMCA notices suck when they're this unwarranted.

1001 Movies bloggers should be at least passing familiar with Ruan Lingyu, since her life and tragic death are the subject of one of the films on The List. Alternately called The Actress and Centre Stage, that film uses clips from some of Lingyu’s work intermixed with re-enactments of her personal life. Because of this, there’s a particular joy in getting a chance to see a full film of hers in Shen Nu (The Goddess).

Shen Nu tells the story of an unnamed mother (Ruan Lingyu) who makes her living as a prostitute (and because she’s unnamed, I’ll simply refer to her as “Goddess” from this point forward). Naturally, this is a difficult life made much more difficult by the presence of her son, Shuiping. Her need to make money requires her to depend on neighbors to watch after her son, and of course the police are a constant problem. A close encounter with a police officer is what causes the plot to begin. On the run from a cop, she ducks into a house where she meets a gambler (Zhang Zhizhi). Since he has protected her, he claims ownership over her, essentially becoming her pimp by default.