Saturday, May 27, 2017

Paint by Numbers

Film: Pollock
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Ed Harris is someone I trust as an actor. This doesn’t mean that I immediately trust his characters, since Harris has played a few nasty, evil people. But I trust him in the roles he’s been given. I feel confident that Ed Harris will do good work and that he is capable of being brilliant, as he has been many times in his career. For me, Ed Harris will always be Gene Kranz in Apollo 13, and that might be a part of the reason I trust the man to handle any role he’s given. With Pollock, Harris joins a select company as someone who directed himself to an Oscar nomination, which makes me wonder why he hasn’t directed more films.

Pollock is the biography of artist Jackson Pollock, who caused a massive revolution in the art world and died far too young in his mid-40s. Harris had evidently been fascinated by the man’s life for years and bears a passing physical similarity to him. The film starts at a gallery showing in 1950, flashes back to his early career and his early relationship with fellow artist Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden, who won for a supporting role) and the beginnings of the movement he started in the art world thanks to the patronage of Peggy Guggenheim (Amy Madigan) and influential art critic Clement Greenberg (Jeffrey Tambor).

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Off Script: Constantine

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

Constantine is the sort of movie that I really want to like. It’s more or less The Matrix with overt theology rather than implied theology. Constantine has a clear position in terms of the spiritual world. Like many a film that deals with demons not just as monsters but as actual characters, we’re dealing with a more or less Catholic world view. The world of Constantine purports that God and Satan have essentially a pact that Earth is off limits. They can’t use direct influence on the world but can influence the world through agents that exist in the world, people who are angelic or demonic half-breeds.

Our hero is John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), a man with the ability to see these half-breeds in their true form. Constantine has always had this “gift,” and when he was a young man, these visions forced him to commit suicide. Technically, he didn’t survive the suicide attempt and was dead for two minutes, which he spent in Hell. As a suicide, Constantine is forever damned despite anything he might do in this life. Either in spite of this or because of it, he spends his days finding demonic agents and sending them back to Hell, knowing that it might be the right thing to do and similarly knowing that because of his motivations, it will do nothing to save his soul.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Dark Waters (Temnye Vody)

Films: Dark Waters (Temnye Vody)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

A lot of horror movies get a good amount of mileage through the use of religious imagery. I’d love to say that started with The Exorcist, but it certainly comes from earlier than that. I think there are plenty of possible reasons for this. Horror movies frequently deal with overt evil, and for many religion is the opposite. Even if it isn’t the idea of a god is frequently taken to be the opposite of evil. But I mean the idea of using religion and religious trappings in a much more significant way. In American culture, the church in question tends to be the Catholic church. Half the time, the church is the savior while the other half of the time, the church is corrupted or complicit in the evil. With Dark Waters (also known as Temnye Vody), it’s a little bit of both, but really, it’s the second option.

Elizabeth (Louise Salter) arrives on an isolated island that contains a secluded convet and not much else. Her backstory is that 20 years earlier, she was born on this island and in this convent and that her mother died in childbirth. Her father took her away soon after, and has given a yearly bequest to the nuns to keep the place running. When the film starts, Elizabeth’s father has just died and has charged her to maintain that yearly stipend. She has arrived to check the place out and see if it’s worth funding.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sticky Situation

Films: The Big Pond
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Finding movies on the internet, particularly those from the first few years of Oscar, is always a mixed bag. I’m never entirely sure I’m getting the whole thing. For instance, The Big Pond is listed at a spare 72 minutes but the only copy I could find ran just under 68 minutes. Are there really four minutes missing from the copy I found? Are those four minutes important? When you add to this the fact that my notes (yes, I keep extensive notes) list this film as being available only in an incomplete form, the anxiety grows a bit. That said, the movie did get to an actual conclusion, so my guess is that if I am missing something, it’s not critically important to the film.

We start in Venice where the fabulously wealthy Billings family is on vacation. Mr. Billings (George Barbier) is the sort of person who had movies made about him during the Depression. He owns a chewing gum factory, which essentially makes him the Wrigley of this fictional film world. His wife (Marion Ballou) is pretty much a non-entity in the film the follows, essentially here so that we have a wife one of our potential foils. Daughter Barbara (Claudette Colbert) is out when the film starts, much to the consternation of Ronnie (Frank Lyon), who has just arrived from the States. Ronnie works for Mr. Billings and is sort of engaged to Barbara. However, Venice has changed Barbara’s perspective on the world. She has been surrounded by businessmen (and chewing gum) her entire life. She wants romance.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Crazy

Films: Frances
Format: DVD from Mokena Community Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I don’t know why I haven’t really warmed to Jessica Lange as an actress. You don’t get six Oscar nominations with two wins without being good at what you do, though. It’s strange, because I tend to like her when I see her in films. I just don’t really think of her that often. I’ve said before that I thought Sweet Dreams was her best work on camera, but that was before I saw Frances.

Frances is a biopic of the life of actress Frances Farmer (Lange), who was the definition of a troubled star. The film opens with Farmer as a junior in high school winning a contest for an essay about believing that God is dead. Since this is in the ‘30s, this naturally causes a great deal of controversy, putting her in the crosshairs of some of the locals in her native Seattle. She finds herself back in the news a few years later by winning and accepting a trip to Moscow to visit the Moscow Art Theater. This is before the Cold War (before World War II, in fact), but still raises some eyebrows. After all, people already have her pegged as an atheist, and she’s apparently doubled-down by visiting the godless communists.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sisters are Doing It for Themselves

Films: Hidden Figures
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I first heard about Hidden Figures, I knew it was going to be a movie that I really wanted to see. As I’ve said multiple times on this blog, I’m a sucker for anything involving space and NASA, and space race stuff is what gets me the most excited. A story I knew nothing about? Involving the early days of NASA? I’m all in. That it also happens to be a civil rights story and feature the work of American treasure Octavia Spencer is just added bonus. Seriously, it had me at “space race.”

Hidden Figures follows the stories of three African-American women working for NASA as “computers,” which really was the term before people actually had computers. Their jobs were to more or less work on doing calculations for various aspects of the space program. Without trying to be too maudlin or sappy, the story depicts the struggles that these women face in accomplishing their jobs in a world where segregation was still in force and where a lot of people thought that a woman’s place was in the kitchen. That’s a lot to unpack, and there really are three different, fully-realized stories here.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Dubliners?

Films: Ulysses
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I don’t claim to be a genius, but it’s a rare film where I don’t have something to say. It’s entirely possible that what I have to say might be completely insipid, of course, but at least I’m bringing something to the table. A few times a year, though, I get a film like Ulysses where, at the end, I have no idea what to say and no idea where to start. And yet, here we go; the film is watched and on the Oscar list, so I’m more or less committed.

I should probably come completely clean at the top on this as well. Despite the fact that I have a degree in English literature I can’t really call myself a huge fan of the work of James Joyce. I’m not opposed to Joyce; I just haven’t read a great deal of his work. Ulysses is based on his book of the same name, so while I know the book by reputation, I’m essentially going into this completely cold.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Cannibal Holocaust

Films: Cannibal Holocaust
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

Watching from a list means opening yourself up to a lot of possibilities. In the case of Cannibal Holocaust, I was prepared for nastiness. The legend of the movie is that director Ruggero Deodato was arrested and charged with murder of several of the lead actors who he had demanded stay hidden for a year to build up the legend of what happens on camera. He had to produce the actors themselves to avoid facing life in prison.

Cannibal Holocaust is a legendary horror film because of the brutality of the footage. It’s also more or less the progenitor of the found footage concept, since a good portion of the last chunk of it is exactly interspersed with scenes of characters discussing the footage that they have seen. The footage itself is of those four filmmakers heading into the Amazon rainforest to encounter cannibal tribes and learn about them. Naturally, the four filmmakers, director Alan (Gabriel Yorke), script girl Faye (Francesca Ciardi), and cameramen Jack (Perry Pirkanen) and Mark (Luca Giorgio Barbareschi) have disappeared. Anthropologist Professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) has decided to follow their expedition to discover what has happened to them.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

You Ain't Nothing but a Hound Dog

Films: My Life as a Dog (Mitt Liv som Hund)
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

In the last few months, I’ve gone on a tear about Holocaust films wearing on me a bit. I’ve said the same thing about coming of age films in the past, and it’s still true. My problem with coming of age films is that about 90% of them fall into two specific categories. Coming of age films about boys mean encountering and dealing with mortality. This means that something or someone in the boy’s life will die before the credits roll. If it’s about a girl, it will be about sex, and before the film is over, our heroine will have sex, quite probably with someone inappropriate. Yes, there are notable exceptions (the teen sex comedy tends to be about everyone coming of age through sex, for instance), but the bulk are exactly this. So I can’t say that I genuinely looked forward to My Life as a Dog (or Mitt Liv som Hund if you prefer it that way).

The film concerns the life of Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius), a 12-year-old Swedish boy. He lives with his brother Erik (Manfred Serner) and his ailing mother (Anki Liden). Imgemar isn’t a bad kid, but he could be best described as “misadventurous,” a sort of classic schlimazel on whom misfortune simply happens. Case in point, while talking with a young local girl, the two shelter under a railroad trestle. Her father finds them, assumes the worst, and chases Ingemar away, who decides to run away and live on his own. He builds a fire to keep himself and his pet dog warm, and the fire gets out of control. In short, his intentions tend to be good, but the results are not generally that favorable.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Math Majors Hate Him! Click to Find Out Why!

Films: Good Will Hunting
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

So I finally caught up with Good Will Hunting. It’s only taken my 20 years to get there. The first thing to say about it is how strange it is to see Matt Damon and Ben Affleck this young. Good Will Hunting is one of those movies that fully entered public consciousness, the sort of movie that can be referenced by just about anyone old enough to remember its release whether they have seen it or not. I knew the basic story before I watched it, needing only the details.

Because of that, I wonder about the necessity of the sort of serious plot rundown I normally offer. The basics are pretty simple. Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is an orphan and former abused foster kid who works as a janitor at MIT. As it happens, he’s also a genius of the sort that seems to exist about once a generation or so. Math and some scientific topics seem to come to him intuitively. When a professor (Stellan Skarsgard) posts a difficult proof on a hallway chalkboard, it is Will who solves it despite not being a student and never getting past high school.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Off Script: Wes Craven's New Nightmare

Film: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I love Wes Craven’s work. I think even now, two years after his death, we’re still figuring out just how much of a genius the man was. He created a bunch of really pivotal and important horror movies and franchises, not the least of which is A Nightmare on Elm Street. Let’s not forget, though, that he also made The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, The Serpent and the Rainbow, and the Scream franchise. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is one that seems to have slipped under the radar of a lot of people. I think it’s one of his best films. What Craven often did was create things that were completely new, things that took the genre in new directions. New Nightmare is a film that is both firmly in the heart of the horror genre and is also a smart commentary on the genre itself.

What I especially like about New Nightmare is that it does something that few films that are a part of a larger series can do: it stays completely within the established mythos of the series and also does something entirely new. This is what was attempted with Halloween III, and it took years for people to figure out that that movie was actually pretty good. Aliens did some of this, making a film that still had horror elements but was much more a science fiction action movie than the almost straight horror of the original. New Nightmare weaves a complicated story that exists both in the film world of Freddy Krueger and also with the film world of the actors who played in the original film.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

She's So Modern

Films: Bridget Jones’s Diary
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve never really cottoned to Renee Zellweger. This has been a problem for this blog because I’ve avoided a lot of the movies that feature her specifically because I’m not a fan. I’m not precisely sure what it is. Bridget Jones’s Diary even comes from before the time she looked continuously like she had been sucking on lemons. There’s just something about her that strikes me as off. I can’t place it, which makes a movie that stars her problematic for me.

Bridget Jones’s Diary is the story of Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger), of course, but it’s also a significant throwback to Pride and Prejudice. It is, in fact, very much a reworking of that story put in a modern setting. Bridget works at a publishing house but feels that her personal life is in a shambles. At her mother’s (Gemma Jones) yearly New Year’s Eve party, she is reintroduced to Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), who she evidently knew as a child. Her mother, constantly trying to set her up with someone, has zeroed in on Mark. Things go poorly, though, when Bridget admits that she drinks and smokes too much and later overhears Mark telling his own mother that he has no interest in a woman who drinks too much, smokes too much and dresses like her mother (leaving off the fact that he is in a ridiculous reindeer-emblazoned sweater).

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Sleepy Hollow

Films: Sleepy Hollow
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I’m not what anyone would mistake for a Tim Burton apologist. I like plenty of his movies, sure, but there are a bunch that leave me pretty cold as well. It seems sometimes that he is too focused on the look of the film and not enough thinking about the content. There are notable exceptions, of course. One of these is Sleepy Hollow, which suffers a little from being a Burton gothic/steampunk fantasy but manages to transcend most of its problems with good storytelling and a lot of visual pizazz.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a classic American fable. In the story, a schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane competes with local tough guy Brom Van Brunt for the hand of the richest farmer in the area. Eventually, Crane is run out of town by the appearance of an evidently headless man on a horse, a legendary figure in the apparently ghost-addled area. After this encounter, Crane is never seen by the townsfolk again, leading to a legend that he himself was spirited away by supernatural means, although the most likely case is that his headless attacker was a disguised Brom.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Off Script: The Stone Tape

Film: The Stone Tape
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

We live in a golden age of television to be sure. Shows now have actual budgets, for instance. In the past, a television show had enough for the actors and the sets, which meant that shows needing a larger budget—science fiction and fantasy in particular—made do with crap effects. With The Stone Tape, made for the BBC in 1972, we’re very much dealing with that problem. The Stone Tape because of when it was made and how it was made has the same sort of effects as old Doctor Who episodes. That comes into play at the end of this. Fortunately, we have a strong enough base here that it doesn’t matter much.

An electronics company called Ryan Electrics has taken possession of an ancient Victorian mansion called Taskerlands with the intent of setting up a new research facility. The goal of the team, under the direction of the brash Peter Brock (Michael Bryant) is to develop a new recording device, hopefully beating the Japanese to the technology. Brock is hopeful, but is distressed to learn that the men called in to refurbish the old house have refused to work in a back room. While it’s not stated overtly, it’s hinted that the room may be haunted. Since this is a horror movie, it’s a safe bet that that’s the case.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Conscientious Objector

Films: Hacksaw Ridge
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I can’t say that I was really looking forward to Hacksaw Ridge. Mel Gibson has demonstrated in the past that he can be an effective director, but he’s also demonstrated that he’s not unwilling to go over the top in terms of violence. I haven’t seen The Man without a Face, but I have seen his other four major releases, and all of them involve a great deal of bloodletting. Mel likes his violence a lot, and while I’m not shy about it, it can be overwhelming when it’s non-stop the way he seems to like it.

Hacksaw Ridge is the story of Desmond Doss, who was the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The film starts by showing us Doss as a young boy with his brother Hal. The two are fighting and Desmond smacks his brother in the head with a brick, nearly killing him. We learn eventually that it was not this particular act of violence that swore him off the use of firearms, but it will suffice for now. After this opening sequence, we see Doss (played through most of the film by a nominated Andrew Garfield) rescue someone trapped under a car and take an interest in the medical field.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Off Script: Bone Tomahawk

Films: Bone Tomahawk
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I’d heard about Bone Tomahawk and that it was a grueling horror movie worth seeing. Imagine my surprise when I found it at a local library. This isn’t the kind of film that libraries normally carry in my experience. It’s easy to find dramas in the library, not nearly so easy to find horror, particularly horror that hits the gore factor hard. But, as I say, I’d heard about it, and figured it was worth a watch.

Bone Tomahawk is very much two different films. There is the Western part of the film, much of which feels like a pretty standard film in the genre. Then there is the cannibalistic troglodyte part of the film that is anything but. In a sense, writer/director S. Craig Zahler has updated the Italian cannibal films like Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox and put a decidedly American spin on them. Or, if you prefer, it’s a Wild West version of The Hills Have Eyes.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Human Sextipede

Films: La Ronde
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

I don’t particularly like writing two less-than-enthusiastic reviews in a row. In fact, I don’t love writing less-than-enthusiastic reviews. Oh, I admit they are fun and cathartic, at least for me. Honestly, though, I’d rather write a glowing, if milquetoast review and really enjoy the movie. My bitterness and agony might be entertaining for other people, but I’d genuinely rather enjoy my time with a film. It’s for this reason that I try to go into every film with as much of an open mind as I can. I’ve been surprised before and loved films that I was leery to watch. With La Ronde, a Max Ophuls, well, sex comedy, I had high hopes. At the very least, I knew it would be pretty.

Here is where I typically talk about the plot of the film. The problem with La Ronde is that it doesn’t really have much of a plot to speak of. It’s not a character study, either. Instead,m it is a chain of events that link up different people in different sexual partnerships, and by the time we get to the end of the movie, we’ve come back to one of the people we started with. That’s literally it. Slightly more than 90 minutes of watching people imply that they’ve just had a great deal of sex before one person in the couple moves on and has sex with someone else. This is literally the film. I am not embellishing this or exaggerating.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Lighthouse (Dead of Night (1999))

Film: Lighthouse (Dead of Night (1999))
Format: Internet video on laptop.

When a list of movies—any list—is put together by committee, I imagine there is some negotiation that happens. I give in on a movie you want that I don’t so that you’ll give in on a movie I want that you don’t. With the Fangoria list of under-seen horror movies, I imagine that happened quite a bit. Sure, there are some good movies on this list, some that are really worth seeing and truly are more unknown than they should be, but there are some real stinkers, too. That’s why I’ve put myself in a position to have to watch things like Lighthouse (sometimes known as Dead of Night , a name that is not uncommon for horror films in general).

I’m not going to hedge here: Lighthouse is intensely stupid. For a movie that’s supposed to be one of the best horror films I’ve never seen, it manages to play on every possible trope that exists in the genre. It’s unimaginative, derivative, and clunky, and looks 10-15 years older than it actually is. There’s very little to recommend it. I can imagine what the conversation about putting it on this list went like.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Celine and Jesse Go Through Life

Films: Before Sunset; Before Midnight
Format: DVD from personal collection (Sunset) and Sycamore Public Library (Midnight) on laptop.

Years ago, former blogger Nick Jobe ran a review contest. I made it to the third round, which means I made it to the final eight, and I lost to the eventual winner. I lost with a review of the movie Before Sunrise. That contest took place in a world where the sequel, Before Sunset had been released years before and a year or so before the third film in the trilogy, Before Midnight was released. Today, I decided to finally complete the trilogy, deciding that maybe I didn’t need to wait nine years for each installment.

It’s important to understand Before Sunrise going into the second and third movies in the trilogy. I won’t do a full review here, because it’s not necessary, but a quick run-through of the plot will be helpful. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is a young American on a train in Vienna. He meets Celine (Julie Delpy), who is returning to Paris. Jesse has to spend the day in Vienna before his flight leaves the next day, and he doesn’t have enough money for a hotel room. His plan is to simply walk around and see the city before he leaves. He convinces Celine to leave the train with him and spend the day in Vienna. Over the course of the day, before sunrise, to coin a phrase, the two kindle something much like a romance. But lives call them; Jesse must return home, and so must Celine. They agree to meet again in Vienna in six months.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Book Learnin'

Films: The Reader
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

In the past, I’ve taken a stand on what I think about Holocaust dramas. I get why they are made and I get why this is a period in history that needs to be continually brought up and discussed, but I find it harder and harder to get worked up these days after seeing so many of them. It’s an interesting moral position to be in. I don’t want to say that I don’t care, because that’s not the case. I just wonder how much real-world horror I can handle. So, naturally, it seems like every other movie still on my Oscar lists to watch is a Holocaust drama. Enter The Reader.

At the very least, The Reader gives us a story that, while it certainly involves the terrible events in Europe, does so only tangentially. In truth, we’re not even aware that this is a film that touches on this period in history until we are a good way through it. It starts more as a romance than anything else, although it might be the least romantic romance of the last ten years.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Getting Lost in a Part

Films: A Double Life
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I didn’t know anything about A Double Life going into it. What I discovered soon after starting is that I have a couple of very loose connections to it. First, it’s about an actor, and believe it or not, I did a little acting in college (a very little, mind you). Second, it concerns a stage performance of Othello. I have a degree in English literature, so I tend to sit up and take notice when we’ve got Shakespeare on tap. Even better, A Double Life is all about the crazy. Let me tell you from experience, a film about an actor also being about severe mental illness is not a stretch.

Anthony John (Ronald Colman) is an acclaimed stage actor who, as often seems to be the case with artists in general, isn’t satisfied with his life or his career. He has proposed to several people a stage production of Othello with him taking the title role. He’d like to put actress Brita (pronounced like Rita with a b and not the water filter) Kaurin (Signe Hasso) in the role of Desdemona. Brita is his ex-wife; the two are still very much in love with each other but can’t seem to live with each other. This is because Anthony tends to very much live the roles he takes. When he plays in comedies, life is good. When he plays in heavier fare, he becomes moody and difficult. Othello, then, bodes ill.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

For Art's Sake

Films: The Horse’s Mouth
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

Alec Guinness was one of the great cinematic chameleons. Paul Muni could play just about any role, but so could Guinness, who was equally comfortable in comedy or drama and left an indelible impression on millions of childhoods in science fiction. His performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of the greatest acting performances in cinematic history in my opinion. He plays a role as far from that in The Horse’s Mouth as possible in many ways. He also happened to pen the adapted (and nominated) screenplay.

Gulley Jimson (Guinness) is an eccentric and Bohemian artist who, as the film begins, has just been released from a month’s stint in prison after harassing one of his patrons via telephone. He’s greeted by Nosey (Mike Morgan), a young man with a stutter and the desire to be an artist himself. Gulley is alternately encouraging and cruel to the young boy. In fact, hoping to get away from him, he sends Nosey on an errand and steals the boy’s bike.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday Horror: X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

Films: X (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I do love good science fiction and I always have. I think we’re often guided by the things that are most formative to us. Both of my brothers loved science fiction and many of my earliest film loves were in this genre. There are, of course, plenty of truly great science fiction films with large budgets—the sort of summer tent pole films that are plenty popular. I love the ones from the ‘50s and ’60s, too. Of these, one of my favorites is X, more formally known as X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.

The worst of science fiction takes a stupid premise and does what it can. The best of science fiction takes an interesting premise and offers a view of what might happen. With X, we’re more in the second category by way of the first. What would happen, the film asks, if a man could discover a way to see more than just the visible light spectrum? What horrors might await us with the ability to see below the surface?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Anytown, USA

Films: Our Town
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Our Town is based on a stage play, and it manages to do something that many films do not: it doesn’t specifically look like it was based on a stage play. That in and of itself is noteworthy. The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by Thornton Wilder. I don’t always like stage transfers to screen because they tend to look like someone staged the play and then filmed it. That’s definitely not the case here, and it works very much to the film’s credit.

The drama that takes place happens in the town of Grover’s Corners, NH. We’re introduced to the town by Mr. Morgan (Frank Craven), a local resident (maybe) or perhaps something like a guiding spirit over the town. It’s a little down just over the border from Connecticut and it seems to be pretty much normal in every way. People are born, live, get married, have kids, and die in the town, often never really travelling far from the confines or from the 3000 people or so who live in the immediate area.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Shirley Valentine's Patient Zero

Films: Summertime
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

When you think of David Lean, you probably think of epic films, but those films are from the end of his career. Lean’s last five films were epic in terms of length and most of them were epic in scope as well. Lean’s career contained smaller films, too; Brief Encounter stands out as a prime example, but the strength of The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, A Passage to India, and especially Lawrence of Arabia (and to a lesser extent Ryan’s Daughter) are what causes him to be remembered as a director of epics. Summertime is the last of his smaller, shorter movies, but with its exotic (for 1955) setting, it serves as a bridge between Lean’s earlier career and his later movies.

Summertime, based on a play called “The Time of the Cuckoo,” seems to have been tailor-made for Katherine Hepburn. Much like Lean is associated with epics, there is a particular kind of role that is easily associated with Hepburn. For a movie from then 1930s-1950s, any female character who has a strong independent streak, often living life on her own terms despite not being married (unusual for the time), Katherine Hepburn was your go-to. So, that’s exactly what we’re going to have here.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Who's Version is Better

Films: The Kids Are All Right
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve said before that I always do my best to go into every movie I watch with hope. I hope it’s good. I want to enjoy it. Some movies have a higher initial hurdle in that respect, admittedly, but there are plenty of films that clear it. Fried Green Tomatoes is a great example—I expected to be bored and ended up enjoying myself watching it. With The Kids Are All Right, the opposite happened. We have a good cast (a great cast in terms of the adults) and I’m not opposed to domestic dramas. I walked out the other side of this not wondering why it was so acclaimed but wondering if we as a society are really that easy. I don’t like bagging on a film that got this much positive attention, but I don’t get it.

Nicole “Nic” (Annette Benning) and Jules Allgood (Julianne Moore) are a married couple living around Los Angeles. Nic is an obstetrician while Jules has more or less been a housewife, raising the couple’s two children, both of whom were conceived through the same unknown sperm donor. Older child Joni (Mia Wasikowska), who is Nic’s biological daughter has just turned 18, meaning that she can now legally ask for information about that sperm donor. She’s not interested, but her 15-year-old brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson), Jules’s biological son, desperately wants her to. She finally relents, and the pair discover that their biological father is Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the owner of a local restaurant.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Off Script: Bedlam

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

If you like horror movies at all, you have to at least respect the work of Boris Karloff. The man was a true master, and like many a horror icon, was evidently kind and sweet in real life. Karloff was typecast as a madman and a monster early in his career, a casting that was only enhanced by his gaunt features and creep-inducing voice. Sure, he made plenty of stinkers but I’m of a mind to suggest that he was never at fault for a movie being bad. With Bedlam, he’s one of the main attractions and with right. This is the sort of low-budget, not-very-scary creep show that Karloff was meant to bring to life.

Bedlam is set in the mid-18th century in London, in and around the neighborhood of St. Mary’s of Bethlehem Asylum, typically called “Bedlam.” As the film opens, we see an inmate fall from a high window of the asylum to his death. A passing nobleman named Lord Mortimer (Billy House) and his constant companion, actress Nell Bowen (Anna Lee) are riding past in a carriage and stop to see what the fuss was all about. It turns out that the dead man was an associate of Lord Mortimer, and the man had been paid for work that had not yet been completed. This angers Mortimer and he demands an audience with the asylum’s keeper, George Sims (Boris Karloff).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Midnight Meat Train

Films: The Midnight Meat Train
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

What can I tell you about The Midnight Meat Train that you can’t get from the title? No shock that this is going to be a horror title and that there’s going to be a good amount of blood in it. What may not be known from the title is that this is based on a Clive Barker story from “The Books of Blood.” I like quite a bit of that collection, and I’ve always thought that “In the Hills, the Cities” would make a dandy short film. Based on the stories in the collection, I suppose I’m not terribly shocked that this one was picked. Good, nasty title and potential for quality gore? How could you pass it up? Throw in Bradley Cooper’s first starring role, and you’ve got the makings of at least a cult film on your hands, right?

Enter Leon (Cooper), a photographer who wants to break into the art world. His goal is to photograph the dirty, gritty underside of the city. He meets with a gallery owner named Susan (Brooke Shields(!)) who tells him that while he’s got some talent, he seems to shy away from staying at a place long enough to get the real, meaningful shot that tells the whole story. That night he heads to the subway where he sees a woman being threatened by two thugs with knives. He stops them, and the woman gets on the train. The next day, he discovers that the woman has gone missing.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Not Another Holocaust Movie

Film: The Man in the Glass Booth
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

I’ve said, ever since watching Son of Saul that it’s getting harder and harder to work me up over a story that concerns the Holocaust. There are, of course, millions of stories to tell about the Holocaust, but there are only so many one can take in one lifetime. Having seen Shoah and Night and Fog, it feels like I’ve hit my limit for how much inhumanity and true horror I can handle. The Man in the Glass Booth managed to do something I thought might be impossible. It presented a completely new Holocaust story.

We are presented with Arthur Goldman (Maximillian Schell), a wealthy Jewish industrialist living in New York. Goldman is highly eccentric and extremely paranoid, particularly about a blue Mercedes that he sees outside of his apartment again and again. He gives very strange commands to his servant Jack (Henry Brown) and his assistant Charlie (Lawrence Pressman). He is also surprisingly anti-Semitic. He is prone to saying completely outrageous things and shocking everyone around him.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Original Cast Away

Film: Robinson Crusoe (Adventures of Robinson Crusoe)
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

Daniel Defoe’s book about Robinson Crusoe is one of those stories, much like Robin Hood, that pretty much everyone knows but that pretty much no one has read. I’m guilty of that myself, although I did once try to read Robin Hood. Anyway, it’s hardly surprising that someone would make the story into a movie. I’m a little surprised it took until 1954, and I’m equally surprised that the person in charge of it was Luis Bunuel. No matter. Robinson Crusoe, also known as Adventures of Robinson Crusoe awaits.

We learn right away that our hero, Robinson Crusoe (Dan O’Herlihy) has gone to see against the wishes of his father since, as a third son, he has few prospects. What we also learn is that our hero Robinson’s first gig away from home is on a slave ship hoping to transport captives from Brazil. We’re off to a rip-roaring, wholesome start for the whole family. A storm forces him to abandon ship and he swims for a nearby island. The next day, he discovers his ship floating and abandoned in a nearby cove. He swims out to it, collects supplies as well as the ship’s cat and dog, and returns back to his island laden down with food, firearms, and other supplies. Sadly, the ship soon sinks, meaning that everything he’s found is all he has, and aside from his pets, he’s now alone.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mistaken Identity

Film: General Della Rovere (Il General Della Rovere)
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

I always find it interesting when a director appears as an actor in another director’s film. I don’t mean this in cases where someone has made a name for him or herself first as an actor, did some directing, and continued to act. No, I find it fascinating that someone who is known specifically as a director is cast as an actor by someone else. In the case of General Della Rovere (or Il Generale Della Rovere in the Italian), the director-turned-actor in question is the great Vittorio De Sica, one of the towering figures of the Italian neorealist style. The director in question is equally important neorealist Roberto Rossellini. That this is more or less just after the great neorealist period is of no importance.

Like many of the great neorealist films, General Della Rovere is without question a war film. It’s also sort of a prison film, at least for the second half of its running time. We begin by concerning ourselves with Vittorio Emanuele Bardone (De Sica), who is something of a hustler and a compulsive (and unlucky) gambler. Bardone is desperate for money, having gambled away everything he had. He already owes a great deal of money to a German officer in occupied Milan. Convinced that he has nothing else to lose, he attempts to sell a piece of fake jewelry with no success.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Public Enemy Number One

Film: Dillinger
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

There’s something fascinating to me about early crime films. In truth, 1945’s Dillinger doesn’t really qualify as being that early, since it’s right in the heart of the noir era. It’s an interesting Oscar nomination, since it was produced by Monogram, considered one of the better poverty row movie studios, which is sort of like the best looking person at a school for the blind. Like many movies of the era, it’s almost ridiculously short, clocking in at a spare 70 minutes. To its great benefit, though, it packs those 70 minutes with as much as it can, which very much includes a lot that doesn’t really seem to have much to do with the real John Dillinger.

In that respect, Dillinger is more of a spiritual biography of John Dillinger than one based in fact. It would seem that only his name is accurate in terms of the people in his life. Some of the broad sweeps—early imprisonment and learning the craft of crime from other criminals while in prison—seem to be accurate as well, but it would seem that none of the details are the real thing.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Film: Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Format: IFC on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m generally a little leery of remakes. Sure, there are some that are good and a rare few that transcend the original version, but most of the time, they fall short. This seems to be especially true of horror movies on both ends of that spectrum. They tend to be either great (The Thing, The Fly) or horrible (The Wicker Man and a couple hundred more). So it was probably natural that I went into the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead with some trepidation. Toss in the fact that it was the directorial debut of costume fetishist Zack Snyder, and I was concerned.

The Dawn of the Dead remake is pretty short on plot. Essentially, the zombie holocaust happens and a group of people find themselves locked inside a shopping mall that they barricade to keep out the living dead. More people show up, people die of bites and come back and are killed again. Eventually, the people inside the mall decide that they need to get out and since one of them has access to a boat, they decide to go out into Lake Michigan to a more or less deserted island. There’s a breakout attempt in fortified shuttle busses through thousands of zombies. It’s all about the spectacle here as well as a couple of signature horror moments.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

With More Strings, He'd Have a Ukulele

Films: Kubo and the Two Strings
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

If you read this blog and live in the U.S., you almost certainly have a NetFlix streaming account. If that is the case, you should know now that Kubo and the Two Strings is now streaming and has been for a few days. Stop what you’re doing. Stop reading this. Go watch Kubo and the Two Strings. Do it now. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. This review will still be here when you’re done.

Back? Good. I’ve now seen two of the movies nominated for Best Animated Feature for last year, and I can tell you right now that Oscar did not get this pick right. I know this because I have seen the winner (Zootopia) and I have seen Kubo and the Two Strings, and the former barely deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as the latter, unless that sentence is, “Zootopia should never have won over Kubo and the Two Strings.” Seriously, who does Laika have to have sex with to win an Oscar? All four of their features have been nominated, three of them were deserving, and two either should have won or had a legitimate shot at winning, and yet the company is 0-4.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Oh, Those Little Rascals

Films: Skippy
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

A few years ago when I was starting to get into the short strokes on the 1001 Movies list, Chip Lary made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Send him a flashdrive, he said, and he’d fill it with movies that I couldn’t otherwise find. There’s no way I would have finished the full list without Chip’s assistance in finding those movies for me. Chip also included a few rarities and some hard-to-find Oscar movies. With my viewing of Skippy today, I’ve watched everything that Chip sent me for this blog. It’s a little sad, the end of an era.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when diving head-first into Skippy. Old movies, especially those from those first few years of sound, can be rough. When kids are the main characters, that problem can be compounded. Kids frequently can’t act, and back then, directors hadn’t really figured out how to get kids to act. Things are pretty amateurish much of the time. Since Skippy not only features kids but is focused on them as the main characters, that can mean some rough going.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Born on the Bayou

Films: Passion Fish
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

There are plenty of movies on my Oscars lists that I watch specifically because they are on the lists. I wouldn’t normally watch something like Passion Fish, which screams “women’s movie” from the cover to the cast to the description. The cast is good, though. I like Mary McDonnell well enough, and I love Alfre Woodard, Vondie Curtis-Hall, and David Strathairn. I went into this with some reservations, but also with the hope that I’d like it.

Passion Fish starts with an inciting incident that we don’t see. Soap opera actress May-Alice Culhane is struck by a car while getting out of a taxi and is paralyzed. After gritter her way through some physical therapy and with nowhere else to go, she returns to her family home in bayou country in Louisiana. Angry and bitter, May-Alice begins drinking heavily and entertaining herself more or less by driving away all of her nurses.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Guadalcanal

Films: Pride of the Marines
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I like John Garfield, and I think it’s one of the real tragedies of classic Hollywood that he died so young. Had Garfield lived even into his 40s, we’d be talking about someone who won at least one and probably multiple Oscars. He was versatile and always compelling on screen. I didn’t know that Pride of the Marines was one of his films, so I was immediately interested when I discovered this fact.

It’s also worth noting that the genre of men returning home from war is one that crops up immediately after we finish fighting a war. The classic of the genre from the World War II era is The Best Years of Our Lives, but Pride of the Marines may well be the first. It was released a couple of weeks before VJ Day, meaning that this was a movie that concerns the plight of wounded men returning home from battle while the war was still going on.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Cronos

Films: Cronos
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

The school I work for has an extensive online library that recently has included a film library. If only this had shown up a few years ago! Still, better late than never, right? There’s plenty of interesting films in the Kanopy library, including Guillermo del Toro’s first film, Cronos. This is an auspicious debut. While it’s unpolished in certain ways, it also shows a lot of the themes that del Toro will hit on for pretty much his entire career. One of his main themes is that for del Toro, the worst monsters are always human. Sure, there are monsters in his films, but many of them are just doing what they are more or less programmed to do. While they can be terrible and frightening, they are no more evil than a shark or a hungry lion. People are always capable of the greatest good and the worst evil.

Cronos is something like a vampire story. It’s very different from the traditional vampire tale, though. This isn’t a grand Gothic romance. In fact, it’s far closer to a tragedy, where the people we are going to be following are caught up in events that they have no control over, and that will change them terribly through no fault of their own. We start with a little bit of voice over that tells us of a 16th-century alchemist who wanted to extend his life. He created a device he labelled the Cronos device. He disappears, only to be discovered in 1937 in the collapse of an old building, his heart pierced by a piece of the debris.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Really Dangerous Liaisons

Films: Elle
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I have to wonder what is in the water. In Elle, Isabelle Huppert believably plays a woman in her mid-40s. She’s actually in her mid-60s. When I discovered this, the first thing I did was wonder about the woman who plays her mother. It’s one of those fun little Hollywood games—finding places where a pair playing parent and child are actually very close in age. That’s not the case here. Judith Magre was 90 when Elle was made, and she can easily pass for early/mid-70s. I started to wonder if everyone in the film was actually 20 years older than his or her role.

Before I get into the actual film, I feel like this is more I need to say about Isabelle Huppert. She is just about unique in the list of actresses I have seen in multiple movies. I think she is always worth watching, at least in the films I have seen her in, and never like the characters she plays. I love her in this, in Amour, The Piano Teacher, Story of Women, and I dislike each of those characters. In I Heart Huckabees, she’s perhaps the closest to being something like likable, except that may just be in comparison with everyone else, since just about everyone in that film is terrible as a person. And yet I like Isabelle Huppert every time I see her.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Off Script: Mad Love

Films: Mad Love
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

In a sense, Peter Lorre is proof that there is a bias in Hollywood. Lorre looks like what you would get if you could turn a pug into a human being. If a woman looked like Peter Lorre, she’d never have a chance at a serious career in Hollywood. Lorre, though, had a fantastic career and even was placed in roles where he played characters with romantic intentions. Of course, in most cases like that, Lorre played a character like he did in Mad Love, where he is completely insane and his love is not merely unrequited but shunned completely.

For a film that runs a mere 68 minutes, Mad Love has a great deal going on. I’ll go through this quickly so try to keep up. Doctor Gogol (Peter Lorre) is a doctor specializing in transplantations and other similar surgeries. He happens to be the greatest such surgeon in the world and works to restore the limbs of children and save the lives of the people of Paris. He’s also obsessed with an actress named Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake), who performs nightly in a sort of Grand Guignol drama in which she is tortured. Gogol is madly in love with Yvonne and is unaware that she is already married to a man named Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive), a concert pianist.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Rest is Foolish, Too

Film: My Foolish Heart
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Some actors fall into particular types of roles. That’s natural. With Susan Hayward, that role was of a woman fallen in some way. Hayward was nominated for five Oscars; she played an alcoholic in three of those roles and in a fourth she played a criminal. My Foolish Heart puts her in one of her most fallen roles of her career. It feels very much like a Susan Hayward role, a tough woman who has been kicked around by life, partly because of her own bad choices. Hayward gave the impression of someone knocked around a lot and still standing, almost by force of her own will. That’s certainly the case here, despite how damaged this character really is.

Before I get too involved in the movie itself, I feel like I need to discuss the problems I had watching it. I jumped at the chance to watch My Foolish Heart because it was on my list of films that I was having difficulty finding. NetFlix doesn’t have it, and evidently no lending libraries in Illinois attached to the database I use has it, either. I just discovered it online. Typically, I download files off YouTube and watch them later. In this case, My Foolish Heart was only available on DailyMotion. I’ll be blunt: DailyMotion is terrible. It’s glitch, required frequent restarts, and ads pop up every five minutes. This is a 99-minute movie that took well over two hours to watch. I do my best not to let things like this affect my opinion, but when it’s this rough, it’s hard not to let it affect things at least a little.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Paperhouse

Film: Paperhouse
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Paperhouse is another one of those movies that isn’t really a horror movie despite being on the Fangoria list of unknown horror movies and in the middle of the pack of the They Shoot Zombies, Don’t They? list of great horror movies. Unlike some of the movies that have wound up on my horror lists, though, there is a section of Paperhouse that is very much in line with horror in terms of how it plays out. In that respect (and in pretty much no other), Paperhouse has some similarity to a film like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This is a fantasy film close to magical realism, but it clearly dips into horror for a section.

Anna (Charlotte Burke, in literally her only role) is a young girl on the cusp of puberty, possibly just starting puberty, since she shows a little bit of interest in boys and cosmetics, kind of. Anna seems like a bright enough kid, but she’s also a little bit of a troublemaker. She gets kicked out of her classroom for fighting with another kid, and then collapses in the hall. She claims to her mother (Glenne Headly) that it was just an act to get out of school, so her mother takes her back. Later, Anna collapses again and is discovered to have mononucleosis, more or less.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Off Script: The Curse of the Cat People

Film: The Curse of the Cat People
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m all for a good sequel, but for something to be a real sequel there has to be a genuine connection to the original film. In the case of The Curse of the Cat People that connection is tenuous at best. We’ve got the same cast who are playing the same characters, which seems like it should be the sort of connection we need. Plot-wise, though, there’s absolutely no connection between the original film and this sequel. Evidently when the story was written there was absolutely no connection, but the studio wanted to build on the success of the low-budget first movie, and so the name was changed to become a sequel.

The Curse of the Cat People isn’t really a horror movie. It’s a lot closer to a film noir with some horror elements. It does a lot of things really well. In fact, it does just about everything well except make a solid connection to the film of which it is supposed to be a sequel. It brings up some very interesting ideas and goes in some fascinating directions even if it doesn’t all work completely.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lyfe, Lyberty, and...

Film: The Pursuit of Happyness
Format: DVD from Rasmussen College Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I don’t really know why I haven’t warmed to Will Smith as an actor, given that Will Smith is more or less genetically created to be warmed to. I think what it comes down to is that I don’t always trust him as an actor. He makes some good movies and he’s capable of doing a solid dramatic turn; witness a film like Ali. But he also has a penchant for giant blockbusters, many of which (Wild Wild West leaps to mind, as does the product placement bonanza of I, Robot) are terrible. And some of his dramatic films are pretty terrible, too. So there’s a reason that The Pursuit of Happyness has been sitting on my desk for months until I finally got around to it today.

As with any biography, we’re going to be dealing with something that is partially true and partially cinematic foofery. In this case, what appears to be the case is that we’re not so much changing history as omitting things that don’t particularly reflect well on our title character. That character is Chris Gardner (Will Smith). Gardner sells a particular piece of medical equipment that is a little better than an x-ray machine but costs about twice as much. According to the film, he sunk his life savings into these machines, assuming that they would revolutionize the way x-rays were taken only to find that the machines were incredibly hard to unload. This is a problem, since he and his wife Lisa (Thandie Newton) and their son Christopher Jr. (Jaden Smith, before he became annoying and bent on convincing Twitter that he is either insane or some sort of prophet) are behind on taxes, rent, and just about everything else.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What the Dog Saw

Film: Reuben, Reuben
Format: Internet video on laptop.

There’s a specific genre of film that seems odd to me. It’s essentially a character study of an unpleasant person. Sometimes, these films merit Oscar nominations. The most recent I can think of is Blue Jasmine, but Reuben, Reuben is a film very much in the same vein. We’re going to spend a great deal of time with a man who is more or less forced to be interesting because otherwise we’d want nothing to do with him.

The name of the film has nothing to do, really, with our main character. That is one Gowan McGland (Tom Conti), a dissolute half-Scots, half-Welsh poet of both repute and disrepute. His poetry has made him famous, at least in circles that care a bit about poetry. Everything else about him has made him infamous. He’s a womanizer, taken to bedding the middle-aged wives who show up at his poetry readings. He’s a drunk. He’s also a leech, sponging off anyone who is impressed by his talent, going so far as to steal the tips in restaurants before leaving. Worst of all, at least in terms of his career, is that he’s lazy and hasn’t written a thing for five years.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

South American Way, Part IV

Film: That Man from Rio (L’homme de Rio)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve been dodging a specific bullet for some time, but today my wife informed me that I’m running out of time. We're due for an upgrade on our DVR, and the one we have is so old that there’s no way to get the saved programs from it to a new one and no way to access our DVR from a computer or other device. What this means is that I have a couple of weeks at best to watch the things I’ve saved that I can’t get via other means. It’s not a massive problem, but it does put a rush on watching the half dozen or so that I have saved. I had plans to watch something different today, but necessity dictates burning through some otherwise unavailable films. The most recent of these recordings was That Man from Rio (or L’homme de Rio in its original French).

That Man from Rio is almost a precursor to the Austin Powers series, perhaps much more closely akin to Matt Helm or Derek Flint. The difference is that in all of these cases, the heroes are actual spies. In this case, our spy-like hero is actually a French airman named Adrien Dufourquet (Jean-Paul Belmondo) on an 8-day pass returning to Paris. He’s there to see his girlfriend Agnes Villermosa (Francoise Dorleac). Since this is going to be an espionage spoof, though, things aren’t going to be that simple.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore)

Film: Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Cemetery Man (also known as Dellamorte Dellamore) is a couple of things at the same time. It’s a bit of a cult film in that it’s the sort of film that film nerds and horror geeks know and not a lot of other people do. It’s also part of the subgenre of horror comedy. So far, so good. Where it hits a roadblock for me is that it’s also Italian horror, and there we have some potential problems. I don’t love Italian horror in general. It’s stylish, but often devoid of substance or even coherence. Dario Argento is the king of this; his films are visually fascinating and frequently make no sense on a basic plot level.

Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) works more or less as the groundskeeper for a cemetery in Buffalora, Italy. He and his assistant Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro) dig the graves, put the bodies to rest and, after seven days, put many of them back in the grave when they rise again. Francesco doesn’t know if this is something happening only at his graveyard or at graveyards around the country or world. What he does know is that he seems to be the gatekeeper against a potentially rising horde of undead.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Helping Hands

Film: Vera Drake
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

There’s a generation or so of British actresses that I love in just about everything. Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, and Joan Plowright come to mind. Imelda Staunton is a bit younger than that group, but she’s just about in the same league. What Staunton can do that the others don’t do as well is play what the Monty Python crew called a “pepperpot,” a stereotypical middle-aged British housewife. That’s absolutely the case in Vera Drake, where, aside from the seriousness of the drama at play here, she could have stepped out of a skit about Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion.

It’s some time into the film before we really get a sense of what is happening. Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) works as a domestic for a number of families in post-World War II London. She also spends a good deal of her time looking after people who need help, including her infirm mother and a neighbor named Reg (Eddie Marsan), who she invites to tea, perhaps surreptitiously hoping that Reg might become attracted to her painfully shy and mousey daughter Ethel (Alex Kelly). Vera and her husband Stan (Phil Davis) live a normal life as much as they can in the still-rationing world of 1950s London, a fact that their son Sid (Daniel Mays) plays to his advantage. His job in a clothing shop gives him access to nylons, which he trades to his friends for small luxuries.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gangster Squad

Film: The Racket
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

First off, please forgive any typos. My left hand is a bit messed up at the moment, so I’m not sure how accurate my typing will be. I may even be more accurate than normal today because I’m aware of it. Anyway, there’s a collection of movies that I’m unlikely to ever see on my various Oscar lists because I just can’t get them. I was excited when TCM scheduled The Patent Leather Kid for its 31 Days of Oscar, but they pulled it last minute. The did run The Racket, though, a film that was thought lost until a single copy turned up in the vaults of Howard Hughes.

The Racket is an old school gangster film that features a couple of different factions butting heads. There are the gangsters, of course. One group of bootlegging thugs is led by Nick Scarsi (Louis Wolheim, who seriously looks the part). The rival gang is headed by a thug nicknamed Spike (Henry Sedley). The only good thing we can say about Spike is that he’s not Nick Scarsi. The only thing good we can say about Nick is that he’s sent his brother Joe (George E. Stone) off to college and wants to keep him out of the rackets.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tell Them I Love My Wife

Film: Loving
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

It’s only been a couple of days since I’ve written up a movie, but it feels like a month. I have several really bad weeks every year with work and I’m close to the end of one of them now. This blog is always the first casualty of these weeks. I did manage to sneak in a viewing of Loving, though, if only because I get jittery if I go too long without watching a movie. I was curious to see this, since Loving is the story of the marriage that ultimately destroyed anti-miscegenation laws in the U.S., which makes it a precursor to Obergefell v. Hodges from a couple of years ago.

And really, I’ve just offered you the entire plot. Taciturn bricklayer Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and mixed-race Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) fall in love, and soon enough Mildred is pregnant. Richard is happy about this—about as happy as he ever expresses in the film, at least, and decides that he and Mildred should be married. He buys a plot of land and decides to build a house on it. However, since mixed race marriages are illegal in Virginia, the two head off to Washington D.C. for the ceremony and return to Caroline County as man and wife.