Monday, October 31, 2016

Ten Days of Terror!: The Orphanage (El Orfanato)

Film: The Orphanage (El Orfanato)
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

Last year, Chip Lary and I traded a list of 12 films for each other just as we did this year. One of the wild cards I picked for him in 2015 was The Orphanage (El Orfanato). I was nervous about the selection even though I genuinely love this movie because Chip wasn’t a horror guy. He wasn’t a fan of blood and gore, and while there’s only a touch of that here, this is clearly a film in the horror genre. As it happened, it was the only movie he gave five stars to from my list last year, and Chip didn’t hand out a lot of five-star reviews. I was genuinely pleased that he liked it as much as he did—it validated the choice and validated what I saw in the film.

The Orphanage, if it has a weak point, ticks all of the boxes in terms of horror movie clichés. There’s a big, spooky, old house that used to be an orphanage (hence the title). There are things that happen in the house that defy explanation. We have a child who has invisible friends who may be real and may not be real. There are paranormal investigators as in Poltergeist. There are also ghost children who are absolutely terrifying.

Ten Days of Terror!: Splinter

Film: Splinter
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on the Nook.

One of the reasons I enjoy low-budget horror films is that in the hands of the right person, wonders can be worked. A good, inventive director, willing actors and a creative team can do a lot with a little. It’s why I love little movies like Pontypool. A good premise is created and a lot is done to ramp up tension, with a little bit of practical effects used to heighten the realism, and there’s your movie. Splinter is like that. I can’t imagine that this was made on much more than a shoestring, but it’s got an earnestness that really works for it. It’s creative and inventive and has a truly brutal scene near the end that I found difficult to watch.

Splinter is also a movie that doesn’t screw around, and it can’t at only 82 minutes including the final credits. Fifteen minutes in, and we’ve established that there is a horrifying creature, we’ve got main characters trying to have a romantic camping weekend, and a couple of criminals who happily carjack our campers. Our couple is Seth (Paulo Costanzo, immediately recognizable if you’ve ever seen the show Royal Pains) and Polly Watt (Jill Wagner). When they accidentally destroy their tent on their one-year anniversary camping trip, they return to the road to be carjacked by wanted fugitive Blake Sherman (Charles Baker) and his junkie girlfriend Lacey (Rachel Kerbs). Blake and Lacey just want to get to Mexico to elude the police, and Seth and Polly are their ticket there. Unfortunately, they hit an animal in the middle of the road.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Ten Days of Terror!: Aswang

Film: Aswang
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I often wonder what it is about making a low budget film that pairs so often with the horror genre. I understand that you can’t do a fantasy or science fiction blockbuster with a shoestring budget, but horror often requires a great deal of makeup and physical effects. Wouldn’t a drama be cheaper? Seriously, plenty of dramas require nothing more than sets and actors and have a higher budget only for name actors. Is it because people are more forgiving? Is it because ultra-low budget horror films like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity have such a massive potential upside? Whatever the reason, Aswang was made with a budget of about $70,000, which isn’t much for a feature-length film.

One also has to wonder where the idea for this came from. Aswang was evidently made in Wisconsin, but the title creature is a mythical monster from the Philippines that feeds on the unborn. The film takes place somewhere in the States as well. I think we can safely assume that it was actually filmed in Wisconsin, but the real location is never really mentioned that I can remember. A great deal of this film is done in the Sam Raimi/Evil Dead style, which is appropriate, given the genre and the basic subject matter.

Ten Days of Terror!: Single White Female

Film: Single White Female
Format: Starz Encore on rockin’ flatscreen.

I like Bridget Fonda. When I first started becoming interested in movies, she was one of the first actors I gravitated toward. Now that she has retired from the business—14 years without a movie—watching a Bridget Fonda movie comes with its own set of emotional experiences for me. There’s a wisp of nostalgia, a small bit of joy at seeing someone I like, and the realization that I’m old. One of the Bridget Fonda films I’d never caught up with until now is Single White Female. I’m not sure what that is, frankly. It’s certainly one that I knew about.

Single White Female is perhaps the last great pre-internet stalker film. We’re a few years before everyone had an email address and about three or four years before everyone had a cell phone. Single White Female is very much about identity as well. This is the sort of film that works on a number of different levels of fear. It’s the kind of thing that just barely scrapes by on the level of possibility, the sort of thing that makes a good thriller. We’re given a premise that is just on the edge but manages to still be completely believable.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Ten Days of Terror!: The Exorcist III

Film: The Exorcist III
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

The Exorcist was one of the most important horror movies ever made. So, naturally, a sequel was planned and made as well. The Exocist II: The Heretic is widely considered one of the worst sequels in film history. It’s the kind of thing that would typically end a series of films. It was that bad. So it’s actually a little surprising that 13 years after the disastrous sequel that a third movie was created. The Exorcist III does exist, though. Fortunately for all involved, it managed to attract no less a star than George C. Scott. It’s also surprisingly good, although nothing close to the original film.

The third film takes place 15 years after Georgetown was plagued by a serial killer known as the Gemini. Lieutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott) worked on the Gemini case in which the victims each had the index finger of his or her right hand removed and the Gemini symbol carved into the left palm. These details were incorrectly leaked to the press to prevent false confessions. Eventually, the Gemini killer was caught and executed. Now, however, a new series of killings is plaguing the town, each following the Gemini killer’s exact pattern, including each victim having a name that begins with a K.

Ten Days of Terror!: Flesh for Frankenstein

Film: Flesh for Frankenstein
Format: Internet video on laptop.

It was not without trepidation that I came to Flesh for Frankenstein. There’s a single reason for this: it’s sometimes known as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein. I get why Warhol was important in the art world even if I’m not generally a fan of his work. That said, Andy Warhol’s Vinyl is the single worst movie I have ever seen. There are certainly movies that I’d want to watch again less than Vinyl, but I genuinely can’t think of a film that I’ve seen that was worse. That stays with you. It’s hard to trust again after one has been that badly burned.

Knowing that I had a mindset going in to dislike the film, I prepared myself for the worst. And, well, it’s not the worst film I’ve seen and not even the worst horror film I’ve seen. It’s not even the worst horror film I’ve seen this month. That doesn’t make it any good, though. It might well be that it was impossible for me to actually like Flesh for Frankenstein with as much of a negative set against it as I had. But I tried. I really did try.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Ten Days of Terror!: Hard Candy

Films: Hard Candy
Format: DVD from NetFlex on laptop.

I try not to drop a lot of f-bombs on this website, but there are times when it becomes absolutely necessary. Hard Candy is fucking hardcore. This film is an emotional rollercoaster, one that plays with all of the expectations of the audience. We sympathize in with each of the two main characters in different ways and at different times. This is a film that works through a series of levels, a cat and mouse and cat game that builds relentlessly until it finally concludes. I can’t stress this enough—if you haven’t seen Hard Candy, it’s a film that will stay with you for a very long time.

We start with an internet conversation between an as-yet unknown man and woman who have been flirting with each other. They agree to meet, and it becomes evident that the woman is actually a girl, needing her sister to drop her off at their meeting place. So we know from the opening moments of the film that we’re dealing with pederasty at the very least. In this opening conversation, things are already uncomfortable.

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1957

The Contenders:

Alec Guinness: The Bridge on the River Kwai (winner)
Anthony Franciosa: A Hatful of Rain
Marlon Brando: Sayonara
Anthony Quinn: Wild is the Wind
Charles Laughton: Witness for the Prosecution

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ten Days of Terror!: Dead Alive

Film: Dead Alive (Braindead)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Horror comedy is its own thing. While it’s not always the case, many a horror comedy is also filled with gross out material. Much of that may stem from the seminal Dead Alive (also called Braindead. Dead Alive is the bloodiest movie ever made, at least for its time. It’s entirely possible that something has taken over that title, but it would require a staggering amount of stage blood to overcome the amount of blood and body parts on display here.

What makes this more entertaining is that this was done by Peter Jackson, who would go on to do the Lord of the Rings movies with such class. Jackson is obviously capable of creating films that are serious and meant to be taken seriously. But Dead Alive is not that film in any way, shape, or form. This is a complete bloodbath, something that needs to be seen to be believed. This is Evil Dead ramped up to an astonishing degree. We don’t get an arm with a chainsaw attachment here—we literally get…well, I don’t want to say if you haven’t seen it. If you have, you know the balletic bloody ending. If you haven’t, I don’t want to spoil it.

Ten Days of Terror!: Martin

Film: Martin
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

When I think of George Romero, I think of zombies. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. After all, the various Dead movies are where Romero made his name, even if all of them haven’t really lived up to the promise of the first trilogy, and the first two especially. He did other things, though, including Martin in the mid-‘70s. In fact, Martin was produced before Dawn of the Dead, so this comes from a time before Romero was pigeonholed into being the zombie guy.

Martin is interesting for a number of reasons beyond being a non-zombie Romero film. This is his take on the vampire story, and it’s very different from the typical vampire tale. Martin (John Amplas), our title character, is evidently completely human, but believes himself to be a vampire. Martin thinks he is 87 years old despite looking 19. He’s fascinated with blood, and has figured out the best way to get the blood he believes he needs. His method is to knock his victims out with a syringe and then use a razor blade to drain the blood from his victims. While all of this is happening, in Martin’s mind the world is reduced to black-and-white, and the reality of a struggling victim is transformed into a Gothic romance.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ten Days of Terror!: Green Room

Film: Green Room
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I don’t go to the movies that often, but I do pay attention to the movies that are released. After all, a chunk of them are going to show up on my various Oscar lists and the 1001 list every year. Green Room isn’t that sort of movie, of course, but I kept my ears open about it because the buzz on it was very good. So, when I came across it at one of the libraries I frequent, it was a no-brainer to check it out. I’m not about to call Green Room the second coming of horror movies, but I’m pleased to report that it’s a tight thriller that skimps on nothing.

The members of the band the Ain’t Rights wake up one morning in a cornfield, having driven off the road the night before. A pair ride a bike toward the nearest town and siphon off some gas to get back on the road and continue on their way. Eventually they reach their destination and are interviewed by Tad (David W. Thompson) for a local college radio station. He’s also promised them a gig that has fallen through. He lines up another one for them. The upside is that it will pay them $350. The downside is that it’s at a neo-Nazi club in the middle of nowhere in Oregon. Needing the money, the bad accepts the gig.

Ten Days of Terror!: Luther the Geek

Film: Luther the Geek
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

Well, I’ve been taken to some dark places on the Fangoria movie list before, and I’m sure I’ll go to some dark places again. Luther the Geek is the sort of film that makes me feel like I need a shower after watching it. This feels like a step above a snuff film, the sort of movie that feels like there’s some kind of grease on the actual film stock. It’s very much made in the same mode as a film like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I have to say that with it coming from Troma I expected a lot more camp and some nastiness, but I didn’t expect to come out the other side feeling like I’d been covered in oil. That this was filmed within about an hour drive of my house just makes that worse.

Here’s the premise: in the past, Luther Watts (Edward Terry as the adult version) was fascinated by a carnival geek. When he grew up, he became obsessed with killing people and drinking their blood. Naturally he’s tossed into a mental institution, but is eventually paroled despite speaking only in chicken clucks and having fashioned a set of metal dentures for himself. So, when he’s out, he naturally starts killing again.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ten Days of Terror!: Ginger Snaps

Film: Ginger Snaps
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Some movie monsters come with very specific, unusual tropes. The monsters created by Dr. Frankenstein, for instance, tend to be sympathetic. Vampires tend to be romanticized. The strange trope that goes with werewolves is that the people who become werewolves are typically innocent and undeserving of their terrible fate. We get that from the very first film of the subgenre. What does the gypsy woman say to Larry Talbot? “Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night/May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.” That’s a trope that going to be played for all it’s worth in Ginger Snaps.

We have two sisters who are about a year apart, but are in the same grade in school. These are Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte Fitzgerald (Emily Perkins). The Fitzgerald girls are very much the social outcasts in their high school. They’re also both obsessed with death, and whenever possible will turn school projects toward the macabre. One evening with their parents out, the two decide to kidnap the dog belonging to Trina (Danielle Hampton), their high school rival, they are attacked by…something. As it happens, dogs around the town have been turning up mutilated. And, as it happens, Ginger has just entered menarche (look it up) despite being 16. This means that Ginger gets mauled by whatever it is (c’mon…it’s a werewolf). When the thing gives chase, it’s killed by Sam (Kris Lemche) who hits it with his truck.

Ten Days of Terror!: Pet Sematary

Film: Pet Sematary
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

There was a time in my life when I read a lot of Stephen King. One of my brothers and one of my sisters did as well. I haven’t read close to all of his work and I haven’t read any in some time, but for a few years, Stephen King was probably 50% of my reading material. One of the reasons I stopped reading a lot of King is that he often has problems with his endings. Sometimes he really punks out on the end. When he gets an ending right, though, it’s pretty special. Pet Sematary is one of those times. As a book, Pet Sematary is slow, almost dull for the first several hundred pages. When King finally gets us to where we know he wants to get us, it becomes a freight train. The movie is exactly the same way, almost certainly in part because King wrote the screenplay.

The Creed family, Louis (Dale Midkiff), Rachel (Denise Crosby), daughter Ellie (Blaze Berdahl) and baby Gage (Miko Hughes) have moved from Chicago to rural Maine because Louis has just been hired to work at the University of Maine. Their new house is large and comes with a nice bit of land, but is also on a major, truck-infested highway. Across the highway is Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne), who warns the family about the highway. He also introduces the family to the pet cemetery down the path beyond their house. According to Jud, many of those pets are in the cemetery thanks to the road.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Ten Days of Terror!: Wendigo

Film: Wendigo
Format: DVD from Wilmington Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

Different cultures and different indigenous groups have their own monsters and myths. Some of them seem strange to us simply because the mythic monsters we grew up with are what we grew up with. It makes them seem normal, and other cultures’ versions are weird in comparison. The wendigo myth—an ancient cannibalistic spirit that invades the bodies of men and corrupts them—is a purely American myth, and one that has been variously handled by filmmakers and authors in the past. In the case of the film Wendigo, we’re losing the cannibalism aspects of the classic monster here along with just about everything else it would seem.

Wendigo is clearly a horror movie, but it also doesn’t seem to know that until the final 12-15 minutes. Oh, there are a few moments where we get hints of horror movie, but nothing really happens that puts us all the way there until the end. And even then, we’re never sure that what we’re seeing is real. It could just as easily be the dream of one character or the hallucination of another. I know I’m tipping my hand here, but there are typically two possibilities for something like this. One possibility is a mystery to ponder. The other is an unsatisfying conclusion. We’re in the realm of the second possibility in this case.

Ten Days of Terror!: Duel

Film: Duel
Format: DVD from Seneca Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of the things that I find interesting about movies is how many acclaimed, award-winning directors started out doing thrillers and horror movies. Counted in that number is Steven Spielbeg. Jaws wasn’t his first horror-themed movie; the made-for-television Duel was. Duel is based on a Richard Matheson story and a Matheson script as well, so he started from a good place. Duel may not show the polish of Spielberg’s later efforts, but it’s a hell of a good place to start from. This is a tight thriller that uses solid camera work to ratchet the tension for the full 90 minute running time.

David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is a traveling salesmen heading out to make a sales call. On the way, he gets caught behind a dirty big rig going well under the speed limit. David passes it, and a few moments later, the rig passes him and slows down again. David goes around again and when the truck starts to approach him again, he speeds off down the highway.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Ten Days of Terror!: Hell Night

Film: Hell Night
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

I’ve said this before, but sometimes it bears repeating: watching movies off a list can be a real mixed bag with what you get. One needs to wade through a good amount of crap to get to something good in a lot of cases. Each time I watch something off the Fangoria list of 101 Best Horror Films You’ve Never Seen, I’m never sure what I’ll have on the other side of it. Will it be a hidden gem or will it be just another film I have to wade through? Sadly, Hell Night is much closer to the second variety than the first. It’s true that this was a horror movie I hadn’t seen before, but if this is one of the 101 best, I need to pick a better genre to be a fan of.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: at a college, a group of kids are pledging various Greek organizations. One of those organizations makes a part of its Hell Night a requirement to spend a night in a spooky, haunted mansion near the campus. Of course the house has a terrible history of grotesque monsters and horrible murder. And, of course, there are rumors of some of the former occupants having never been found after the killings. Think that this year those occupants are going to show up? Think that the terrible rumors might turn out to be at least in part true? Congratulations—you’ve seen low budget horror before.

Ten Days of Terror!: Baby Blood

Film: Baby Blood
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m not really sure how film movements start, but things become in vogue at certain times and in certain places. One such movement is the New French Extremity. While the style didn’t really become a thing until about a decade or so ago, it feels like it got its start with Baby Blood from 1990, which has a lot of the same elements. Lots of gore, lots of blood, and a good amount of body horror. I’m not saying that this belongs in the genre, but that it’s one of those films that seems to presage the genre and pave the way for it.

Yanka (Emmanuelle Escourrou) is an abused woman working in a carnival as a part of a lion taming act. One day the carnival gets a leopard, but the leopard is infected with a parasite that, we’re told in voiceover from the parasite itself, has essentially been around since the very beginnings of life on Earth billions of years ago. Eventually, the parasite explodes out of the leopard and crawls into Yanka. Since a great deal of this film is going to focus on sex, I’ll leave it to your imagination where the parasite enters her body.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Ten Day of Terror!: The Night Flier

Film: The Night Flier
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Normally, when a horror movie doesn’t show the monster until the very end of the film, I wouldn’t spoil that by showing that monster in the picture, but the creature in The Night Flier appears on the cover of the DVD case. It seems like a really bad choice, honestly, and it was almost certainly out of the control of the director of the film. I guess in that respect I’m piling on to Mark Pavia’s problems with The Night Flier. It’s a bit of a shame. The Night Flier does some things really well and other things demonstrate just how much of a beginner effort it is. Pavia hasn’t had much of a career, and that’s a shame. Sure, this is an unpolished movie in a lot of respects, but it shows some real promise.

The Night Flier is based on the Stephen King short story of the same name, and while it’s been some time since I’ve read the story on which this is based, it would seem that the entire story is pretty much included here. In fact, the script takes a good deal of license with the story, adding quite a bit. Some of those additions are good and some come across as really unnecessary. Still, the premise is a good one for a 90-minute horror movie, and sometimes a good premise is really all you need.

Ten Days of Terror!: Deep Red (Profondo Rosso)

Film: Deep Red (Profondo Rosso)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

My viewing of Deep Red (Profondo Rosso) comes with a number of caveats. The first is that I initially tried to watch it on one of the weird little channels I have access to on the Roku. It was Midnight Movies or Drive-In Classics, or something like that. I actually got through a pretty good portion of it that way, but I found the experience frustrating. On whatever channel that was, the film stopped for commercials every 10 minutes on the dot regardless of what was happening on the screen. Middle of a conversation, right at the moment of someone being killed. Hell, in the middle of a word sometimes. So, eventually, I went to a version I found online which was of lower quality, but was ultimately shown without breaks.

The other caveat here is that Deep Red occurs in multiple versions. The original release is slightly over two hours long, but the American release is about 101 minutes. The excised portions are evidently comedy and romance portions and were never dubbed into English. So, while I may have missed some of the movie, I’m at least convinced that I watched the entire American release of the film.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Real Lawnmower Man

Film: The Straight Story
Format: DVD from Moline Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I tend to like David Lynch’s films, but I also tend to want a long time between them. Lynch is great in small doses, not so much as a constant diet. The Straight Story is one that I wasn’t sure how to approach. On the one hand, this is a Lynch film distributed by Disney and given a G-rating. On the other hand, this is the film that Lynch declares is his “most experimental.” When someone like Lynch says that, there are a couple of possible reactions. If he’s telling the truth, we’re in for a rough trip. Then again, there’s always the chance that he’s just messing with us.

The Straight Story is one of those titles that has multiple meanings. It is, in fact, a straight story. There’s no rising action here, no complications on the basic plot. There’s something set in motion at the beginning of the film, and the rest of the film gets us from that to the end. It’s also the David Lynch film that is the most direct in terms of its narrative. And it’s also the story of Alvin Straight (played here by Oscar nominee Richard Farnsworth).

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Women of a Certain Age

Film: Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is going to be tough. Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams is a short movie about a woman’s mid-life crisis. That’s not an immediate deal breaker for me, although I admit that it’s hardly a step in the correct direction. More specifically, this is about the mid-life crisis of the sort of woman whose life appears to be entirely about herself. Her children are grown, her husband is kind of a stranger, and she is suddenly emotionally adrift.

The mid-life crisis genre isn’t necessarily one that I dislike. In fact, there have been movies like Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine that come from almost the same place as Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams that I have liked quite a bit. No, the issue here isn’t the story, but the character. Rita Walden (Joanne Woodward) is an awful, self-absorbed woman who clearly isn’t worth the 87-minute running time of the film.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Nick's Picks: Perfect Blue

Film: Perfect Blue (Pafekuto Buru)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

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

The 1001 Movies list is responsible for my knowledge of a number of directors, directors of whom I would know nothing without having pursued the list. I kind of expected that. In the case of Satoshi Kon, though, I am entirely reliant on Nick Jobe. I’ve seen three of the six films that Kon has directed--Millennium Actress, Tokyo Godfathers, and now Perfect Blue (or Pafekuto Buru) at the behest of Nick. Nick’s various selections for me are entirely responsible for my having seen anything Satoshi Kon is connected to.

Perfect Blue is almost certainly the most influential of Kon’s films, at least in how these are reflected in the work of Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky has cited Perfect Blue as an influence on Black Swan, and he references shots from this film in Requiem for a Dream. The Black Swan connection is definitely here, although the two films go to different places and get there in different ways.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Admittedly, Other Letter Shapes Would Be Strange

Film: The L-Shaped Room
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve made no secret on this blog that I’m not a fan of Leslie Caron. I don’t mind her in An American in Paris where she is pretty harmless. The same is true of her role in Chocolat and I actually don’t mind her at all in Father Goose. But I genuinely dislike Gigi and Lili and I didn’t think a great deal of Fanny. With The L-Shaped Room, I think I’m officially done with any movies she’s in as they touch on my Oscar categories. I have to say I’m relieved. I think I understand why a certain generation seems to like Caron, but I really don’t understand the fascination. There was far too many instances of her playing much younger than her real age and too much effort to pitcher her as the essence of womanhood, something she wasn’t really capable of being. It’s sort of the same opinion I have of Claudette Colbert, although I think Colbert had more acting chops.

With The L-Shaped Room, at least Caron is playing something close to her age, and this might actually be the key to me not disliking Leslie Caron. In Fanny, for instance, she was 30 playing 18 and it falls apart. Here, she’s about 32 playing 27, and it’s close enough to work. Caron can past for 27 here, so I’m not immediately pulled out of the plot. That seems to be a big part of my immediate dislike of Caron on screen, so we don’t have that problem here. The other problem—the fact that she often looks like she’s just smelled something unpleasant is something that seems to follow her wherever she goes.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

I'm Telling My Girls to Elope

Film: Father of the Bride
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I like Spencer Tracy pretty well, so I’m always at least interested when I encounter one of his movies that I haven’t seen. It feels like I’ve seen a ton of them, but I’m sure I haven’t hit half, or even a quarter of everything he was in. Father of the Bride is one that was at least well enough thought of that it was remade not that long ago. In fact, even the sequel got remade. With a name like Father of the Bride, there’s not a great deal of shock or surprise where this one is going to go. If you don’t know what you’re going to get here, go back to that title and read it one word at a time.

Father of the Bride is one of those movies that starts at the end, with Stanley Banks (Tracy) sitting in the aftermath of his daughter’s wedding reception, trying his best to come to terms with the fact that his daughter Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) has gotten married and is off on her honeymoon. While Banks speaks to us in voiceover, we flash back to a few months before when Stanley and his wife Ellie (Joan Bennett) discovered the existence of one Buckley Dunstan (Don Taylor), the latest young man in Kay’s life. After Kay speaks gushingly of Buckley, Stanley asks her (almost joking) if she’s planning on marrying the guy, and she says that she supposes she is—they’ve talked about it, evidently.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

First Amendment

Film: Trumbo
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

Any country and every country have dark days in their past. For the U.S., you don’t have to look too hard to find things lie centuries’ worth of slavery or the Japanese internment camps. The time of HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee certainly exists as one of the most shameful from a civil liberties perspective. During this time, people were jailed for their beliefs, a version of Orwell’s thought police trying to restrict what went on between someone’s ears. One of those jailed was screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who is naturally the focus of the film Trumbo.

Flash back to the war years where Dalton Trumbo is one of the most successful Hollywood screenwriters in history. The man had a golden typewriter and was a natural for the film industry, having come from a world of writing fiction (the man had previously won a National Book Award). But, as was not uncommon at the time, Trumbo joined the Communist Party during the war. The U.S. was allied with the Soviet Union, after all, and no one was more anti-fascist than the communists. While certainly not what anyone would call patriotic, there was far less stigma attached to the idea of communism in the early 1940s.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

An Indie's Indie

Film: Tangerine
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I was in a unique position coming at the latest crop of films from the 1001 Movies list this year. I’d seen and reviewed seven of the 10 new films already, and had also seen the seven longest films of the ten. That meant for an easier completion this year, even if two of the films I hadn’t seen were foreign, and thus subtitled. My original goal was to save Tangerine for last, it being the shortest of the three remaining films. However, I had to return Son of Saul to the library before I had a chance to watch it, meaning that if I wanted to finish by the end of the month, I needed to watch Tangerine today.

This is nothing if not a unique film and vision. Famously, Tangerine was filmed on three iPhone 5s with an $8 app, not something typically thought of as being real cinema. I think that’s at least part of the point. If nothing else, it’s a solid reminder that there are options open to any of us. Someone with the will and the vision can make a movie anywhere and using just about anything. The success of Tangerine as a narrative, then, is almost secondary to its actual existence. Even if it fails completely, it’s still kind of a success.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Be Our Guest

Film: Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Format: DVD from Moline Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

It’s fair to say that I missed a good portion of the Disney renaissance. For a lot of the classic Disney films, I was in my 20s and married and didn’t have kids, so I didn’t care that much about animated movies. Beauty and the Beast was one that I saw not because of my kids but because of a niece who loved it. So, I knew exactly what I was getting when I revisited it. It’s widely considered one of Disney’s best animated films, one that is frequently thought of as representative of this area, and for a good reason. It’s also the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture, which is a clear indication of just how good it is.

So look, this is a story that you already know. Belle (Paige O’Hara) is the beautiful but oddball daughter of Maurice (Rex Everhart), an inventor in a small French town. Belle doesn’t really care that people think she is odd, but she wants a great deal more out of her life. In fact, aside from her father, the only person in town who has any interest in her is Gaston (Richard White), the hunting-obsessed, most eligible bachelor in the area.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Picks from Chip: Departures (Okuribito)

Film: Departures (Okuribito)
Format: DVD from Moline Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

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

I’m not the sort of person who thinks that everything happens for a reason, or that there is some sort of guiding force behind everything that happens in our lives. No, events just happen, and this means that sometimes we get wonderful little coincidences or confluences that give us insight or that allow us to project meaning on the events that we experience. When Chip and I exchanged movie lists about nine or ten months ago, I had no idea that 2016 would be a year that ended without Chip in it. I also had no idea that he would give me Departures (Okuribito) to watch. It feels appropriate, because Departures is about death and about saying goodbye.

Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is a cellist living and working in Tokyo with his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue). Then, one day the man who funds the orchestra pulls the plug and Daigo is without a job and owing about 18 million yen on his cello. With no prospects and keenly aware that he probably isn’t good enough to land in another orchestra, Daigo and Mika move to his home town where he has a house that he inherited from his mother when she died several years previously.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

BOSUD

Film: Melvin and Howard
Format: DVD from Mokena Community Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve said for years that my ideal job would be being an heir to a great fortune. I’d be really good at that. I’d devote my life to some cause or some scientific study or another. I’d set up foundations. Seriously, if I ever win the lottery, you can expect scientific and educational foundations coming out of my home town with my name on them. Melvin and Howard is sort of the sad fantasy version of inheriting a fortune, kinda. This is the first of what has been called a BOSUD, or “biography of someone undeserving.” That person is Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat).

As the film opens, we see an old man (Jason Robards) riding a motorcycle through the Nevada desert. He has an accident and ends up lying on the sand. It’s not until that night that he’s picked up by Melvin and driven back into Las Vegas. Melvin does his best to engage the old man in conversation, asking him to sing with him to pass the time. Eventually, he does, and he also claims to be Howard Hughes. Eventually, Melvin drops him off at a Hughes-owned hotel in Vegas and drives home to discover that his wife Lynda (Mary Steenburgen) is leaving with their daughter Darcy (Elizabeth Cheshire).

Thursday, October 6, 2016

All Hail Tomainia

Film: The Great Dictator
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Everyone has gaps in his or her viewing. In fact, one of the main reasons I created this site seven(!) years ago is because there were so many gaps in my viewing history. Try as I might, I’m never going to fill them all. There are just too many movies and too many good movies to see to have seen everything. I’ve seen a shit-ton of movies in my life and a shit-ton since I started this site, but I know that there are many people who have seen far more than I have. Even if I watched two or three movies per day, I’d never catch up to everything worth watching. Still, you fill the gaps where and when you can, and for me, the biggest gap I know of has been The Great Dictator. Well, no more.

The Great Dictator is Chaplin’s first all-sound, all-talkie film, and it comes years after Modern Times, his list pseudo-silent. Part of that comes from the fact that Chaplin worked on The Great Dictator actively for nearly two years. When he first came up with the idea of doing the film, a number of people felt that he was taking on Hitler for no good reason. By the time the film was released, there was a shooting war in Europe, the Holocaust had started, and the U.S. was a year away from entering the war.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ward Seven

Film: Captain Newman, M.D.
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I fully intended to watch something on DVD today that I had picked out from a local library. However, when the film started locking up a couple of minutes in, it was time for plan B. Plan B for me generally consists of something saved on the DVR or something I’ve found online. The problem with the online films is that in many cases, these are movies that no one knows. Show of hands—how many of you have even heard of Captain Newman, M.D.? One…two…maybe three. Maybe. And I find that really interesting because this is one of those forgotten films that has a cast that indicates it should be far better known than it is.

Captain Newman, M.D. is a mixture of drama and comedy similar in many respects to a film like Mister Roberts despite taking place in a hospital rather than on the deck of a ship. And without as much aggression from superior officers. The titular captain, Josiah “Joe” Newman (Gregory Peck) is the head psychiatrist at a hospital in Arizona during World War II. It’s his job to rehabilitate pilots and air crew who have what we would today call PTSD or something similar. It’s a job he’s greatly conflicted with because he realizes that many of those men that he puts back into the service will eventually come home in a coffin.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Depth of Human Evil

Film: The Look of Silence
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

The Act of Killing was a documentary that I found extremely difficult to watch. That was certainly the intent of the filmmakers. Knowing that The Look of Silence covers much the same territory made this a film that I wasn’t excited to watch. This is not because the first film is bad or poorly made, but because it is a difficult film to watch. It’s hard to see men who conducted and orchestrated the murders of thousands and thousands of people not only discuss these crimes, but speak of them with pride. The Look of Silence goes further than the first film in that it’s far more confrontational and far more personal.

Essentially, we are visiting a lot of the same people who planned and executed the military coup in Indonesia, people who are still in power in many cases and continue to think of themselves as heroes routing out communists. As I say, this is much more personal, though, because here we’re going to follow the journey of one man (someone roughly my age) confronting the men who admit to having killed his brother.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Nick and Nora

Film: After the Thin Man
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.


The Thin Man is my favorite movie of 1934 and one of my favorite movies of the 1930s in general. It’s also got one of my favorite screenplays ever written, containing lines that I’m still a little shocked made it past the censors. A big part of the success of the film comes from the pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy, who were just about perfect on screen together. The two made 14 movies together, six of which featured them as Nick and Nora Charles. The first Thin Man sequel was After the Thin Man, the only one aside from the original to be nominated for an Oscar, at least in the categories I care about.

After the Thin Man picks up a few days after the original movie. Nick (William Powell) and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) have returned home by train to San Francisco just in time for New Year’s Eve. Their intentions for a quiet night at home are first spoiled by a raucous surprise party for them, then by the insistence of Nora’s Aunt Katherine (Jessie Ralph) for them to come to dinner. Nora’s family has never approved of Nick, but in this case, they are prepared to make an exception. Robert Landis (Alan Marshal), the husband of Nora’s cousin Selma (Elissa Landi) has disappeared, and the family would like to make use of Nick’s talents as a former detective to find him.

New Year, New List

According to fellow 1001 Movies blogger Nicolas Krizan at Beyond 1001 Movies, the new edition of The List is out. I haven't seen the book yet and have no idea what was pulled, but there are evidently 10 new additions. These are:

The Look of Silence
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Revenant
Son of Saul
Bridge of Spies
The Big Short
Spotlight
Tangerine
Straight Outta Compton
Mad Max: Fury Road

For a wonder, I've already seen seven of the new 10. Even more interesting, I've seen the longest seven. Two of the three I haven't seen are currently streaming on NetFlix and I've got the third one on DVD next to the television. Looks like I'll be done with this edition pretty quickly.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Through Concrete, Like a Damn Dandelion

Film: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When I was in eighth grade, I had to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I don’t really remember anything about it. I suppose that isn’t surprising, since that was well more than three decades ago. In fact, I really only remember a couple of details here and there and nothing about what the actual story was about. So, admittedly, I’ve been a bit curious about revisiting it this long after when I first encountered it. What I expected wasn’t what I got. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes that’s upsetting. In the case of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, getting something different than I expected was a good thing.

What makes this film work is that unlike a lot of films from the Depression era and the years after, this is the story of people who are very poor and struggling to survive. In a sense, it’s an American answer to the early Italian neo-realism films like Ladri di Biciclette. This is a family where the only luck is bad luck and the only way out is dreaming of the stars while lying in the gutter. While on the surface this is the story of the hard-luck Nolan family, it’s really the story of Francie Nolan (Peggy Ann Garner) growing up and her relationship with her father Johnny (James Dunn, who won a supporting Oscar for the role).