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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wednesday Horror: John Dies at the End

Film: John Dies at the End
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

Every now and then, I watch something that almost completely defies description. That is very much the case with John Dies at the End, a film that that psychoactive drugs watch when they want to get stoned. I realize that a large part of this blog is going through narrative structure and looking at why films and stories work the way they do. That’s one of my main interests in movies, after all. I like looking at the whys and wherefores of stories, figuring out what makes them tick, and whether or not they actually work. John Dies at the End has a narrative and it’s something that can be easily followed despite the number of twists and turns it takes. The problem is that I think I’m almost completely incapable of explaining both what it is and how it works.

The framing story has David Wong (Chase Williamson) sitting at a table in a Chinese restaurant speaking to a reporter named Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), telling his story. This story involves the ability to read minds, tell specific facts about the past and future, the ability to slip in and out of time, alternate dimensions, a massive sentient computer, and a drug called “soy sauce” that gives those who take it unique abilities and also frequently kills the people who take it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Suspension of Disbelief

Film: Tall, Dark and Handsome
Format: Internet video on laptop.

You’re going to have to give me a little license with what I’m about to say here: Tall, Dark and Handsome requires more willing suspension of disbelief than I have in me. Like I said, you need to give me some license here. We live in a world where we have movies with guys flying around in powered armor and where schools of wizards take classes in how to cast spells and make potions. I buy those, though, because they are internally consistent. Tall, Dark and Handsome is anything but.

We start with a shakedown racket gone wrong. A couple of thugs walk into a local store in Chicago and demand money from the proprietor, who instead responds with gunfire. All three wind up dead. Moments later, Frosty Welch (Milton Berle) enters the establishment, sees what has happened, and puts cigars in the mouths of all three dead men. The police show up, see the cigars, and determine that the killer, or at least the person who ordered the hit, was local crime boss J.J. “Shep” Morrison (Cesar Romero), who happens to be Frosty’s boss.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

More Like Weepin' Through

Film: Smilin’ Through
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I like Norma Shearer and I make no apologies for it. When I think about the classic actresses I love, I often forget her, though, because her career was voluntarily cut short. Any actor, actress, or director can swing a nomination with a good performance, but you don’t get six of them without having something on the ball. What impresses me the most about Norma Shearer is that she looks modern, like she could be plucked out of many of her films and dropped into something just going into production. With Smilin’ Through, that’s especially the case. Everyone else looks like he or she is in a film made in 1932. Shearer looks like a modern actress doing a period piece.

Smilin’ Through is a classic weepy romance of the early talkie years. Aging bachelor Sir John Carteret (Leslie Howard) sits by the grave of a woman who died at 19. Here he communes with her spirit, and we learn that the improbably named spirit, Moonyeen (Norma Shearer) is his lost love. Shortly after this introduction, we learn that the late Moonyeen has a niece named Kathleen (Cora Sue Collins as a child, Norma Shearer as an adult) who has been recently orphaned because of a shipwreck. Sir John’s friend Dr. Owen (O.P. Heggie) suggest that John take her in, which he eventually agrees to.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Manuscript Blues

Film: Wonder Boys
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I first finished the 1001 Movies list, as I got to the end I realized that there were certain aspects of the List that I had ignored. Now that I’m under 250 movies left on my various Oscars lists, I’m seeing the same thing. Specifically, this refers to year of release; there are years that I’ve ignored more than others for some reason. In an effort to not end with a bunch of movies from the same year, I’ve started planning my viewing more carefully in that respect. This is literally the reason I requested Wonder Boys from NetFlix a couple of days ago.

Wonder Boys is based on the book of the same name by Michael Chabon, and for once, it’s an author I know. I haven’t read this book in particular, but I have read some Chabon in the past. Honestly, I think I was supposed to like “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” more than I did, and I wasn’t aware of the authorship of this one going in.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sonny Boy

Film: To Each His Own
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve seen a lot of melodrama in the last seven years or so because a lot of early dramas are of the melodrama variety. I didn’t think I was done with them, of course, but I’m always a little surprised when one shows up. To Each His Own is melodrama of the highest order, from the initial moments to the end. The entire film is designed to tug on the heartstrings of anyone watching it, something that it almost certainly did in 1946.

We start in World War II London on New Year’s Eve. Rather than partying, Jody Norris (Olivia de Havilland) has volunteered to be on fire watch in case of bombing raids. She finds herself working with Lord Desham (Roland Culver), who is just as prickly as she is. He tosses off a bunch of orders to her and corrects her on almost everything. When he almost falls off the roof and she rescues him, the relationship gets a bit easier. The two share a drink and Lord Desham asks her about what led her, an American, to London. Cue the flashback.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Tenant (Le Locataire)

Film: The Tenant (Le Locataire)
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

Yesterday, a great deal of what I wrote about was the problem of effusive praise for someone who may be morally repellent. In that review, I referenced something I wrote years ago about Chinatown. We’re heading into the same territory here, since The Tenant is Roman Polanski’s third film in his loose “Apartment Trilogy,” following Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. .In some ways, as is the case with many trilogies, the third film is the weakest. This is not a Godfather III situation, though. In a lot of ways, The Tenant (Le Locataire) is as good as anything Polanski ever did.

In a lot of ways The Tenant explores the same themes as Repulsion, only this time from a male perspective. A man named Trelkovsky (Roman Polanski himself) needs an apartment in Paris and discovers one that is suddenly empty. He more or less bargains his way into the apartment with Monsieur Zy (Melvyn Douglas) and takes up residence despite what seems to be a certain level of hostility from the people around him, particularly the concierge (Shelley Winters). Trelkovsky also learns that the former resident of the apartment, an Egyptologist named Simone Choule has left the apartment vacant because of an attempted suicide. She threw herself out of the window and through a glass awning several stories below.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Art vs. Artist

Film: Manchester by the Sea
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Way back in February of 2010 I reviewed Chinatown. I love Chinatown; I think it’s the best movie of 1972. But reviewing it and praising it put me in a difficult situation as a new blogger. How fiercely do I praise a film made by someone who literally cannot return to this country because of statutory rape charges? Where is the separation of the man from his art? I had a similar problem with Birth of a Nation. Decades ago, the same problem came up when looking at the poetry of Ezra Pound, who was both a genius and a Nazi sympathizer. I find myself in the same position again with Manchester by the Sea and the performance of Casey Affleck.

Manchester by the Sea is the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a handyman working in Boston. Lee seems to be an emotional cipher, someone who essentially has zero affect because of severe depression. This is increased when he learns that his brother Joe (played in flashbacks by Kyle Chandler) has died from the congestive heart failure that he was diagnosed with some time in the past. Through these flashbacks, we learn a few important things. First, Joe has a son named Patrick (Ben O’Brien as a child, Lucas Hedges as a teen). Joe’s wife Elise (Gretchen Mol) is an alcoholic who has left the family.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Immigration Problems

Film: Green Card
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I seem to be complaining about a lot of the movies I’ve been watching lately. I’m saying this up front because that’s not going to stop today. The case for Green Card says “If you liked Pretty Woman, give Green Card a try.” Well, I didn’t like Pretty Woman. I thought it was financial porn and cheap fantasy, so I didn’t have really high hopes for this one. The one thing it seemed to have going for it was the presence of 1990-era Gerard Depardieu, the same year he was nominated for Cyrano de Bergerac. He was the one thing I had my hopes riding on.

The movie’s plot rests on a poorly-established initial premise. When the movie begins, we see the wedding ceremony of Bronte Parrish (Andie McDowell) and Georges Faure (Gerard Depardieu). This would be where most romantic comedies end. In this case, Bronte and Georges don’t even know each other; the marriage is one of convenience. For Georges, it’s a way to stay in the States since his visa has run out. Bronte needs the marriage to secure her dream apartment, since she is a horticulturalist and the apartment comes with a greenhouse. The two marry and go their separate ways and Bronte gets her apartment, telling the people vetting her that her husband is in Africa working on musical compositions.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Off Script: Burnt Offerings

Film: Burnt Offerings
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes you have to wonder just how a movie happens. In the case of Burnt Offerings, that’s a completely honest appraisal on the surface. This is a haunted house movie, but it features Karen Black, noted ham Oliver Reed, Burgess Meredith at his absolute campiest, and Bette Goddam Davis. Bette Davis! How the hell did this movie get made? And why didn’t they make more of them?

The Rolf family—father Ben (Oliver Reed), mother Marian (Karen Black), and son David (Lee Montgomery) are planning a full-summer vacation by renting a huge but ramshackle house in the middle of nowhere California. The house is a bit run down, but Marian falls in love with it immediately. Ben isn’t so sure, especially when he meets the owners, Roz (Eileen Heckart) and Arnold Allardyce (Burgess Meredith). These older siblings are plenty weird, but they offer the Rolf’s the house for the entire summer—Fourth of July to Labor Day—for just $900 total. The only catch is that their mother lives in the upstairs room—they’ll have to bring her a tray of food three times a day since she never leaves the house. That Allardyces promise that she’ll be no bother.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Comedy of Terrors

Film: The Comedy of Terrors
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are times when you find one of those movies that just begs to be watched. The Comedy of Terrors was like that for me. I didn’t expect this to be a great movie or something that I would want to rush out and find a copy of for myself, but based on the cast and crew, I went into this with some expectations. The Comedy of Terrors was directed by the great Jacques Tourneur based on a script by no less a luminary than Richard Matheson. Our cast includes such horror luminaries as Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and Boris Karloff. Knowing all of this, how could a self-respecting movie nerd/horror geek not want to spend roughly an hour and a half in front of the screen?

For a film that promises “terror,” though, The Comedy of Terrors doesn’t really deliver. Then again, it also doesn’t really try to deliver. This is a comedy film with horror movie trappings, and that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. All of the characters are broad stereotypes, the situations are ridiculous, and it doesn’t really matter, because no one is really going into this film expecting to be scared.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Not-So Brief Encounter

Film: Ryan’s Daughter
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m going to do my best not to beat up on Ryan’s Daughter too much, but I gotta say that it’s a difficult temptation to resist. I consider myself a fan of David Lean in general in that I tend to like his films, even the really long ones. Ryan’s Daughter is going to be an exception, though. This is a movie that could have easily been told in the space of Brief Encounter that instead clocks in more at the length of Lawrence of Arabia. Including the intro and outro music as well as the entr’acte, Ryan’s Daughter runs just shy of 210 minutes, and this story could be told in 90 without too much difficulty.

That, more than anything, is the problem with the film. A film like the aforementioned Brief Encounter showed that Lean could tell a real story in a limited scope, since it runs just under 90 minutes. The nearly-four-hour Lawrence of Arabia demonstrates that Lean, when given the right material, could make a true epic that entertained for its entire length, incorporating the landscape as a character in and of itself. Ryan’s Daughter, on the other hand, is a story that is told in that grand epic style for which Lean became known despite being something much better told on the scale of a much smaller film, a problem Lean repeated about a decade and a half later with A Passage to India.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Calculus and Chilaquiles

Film: Stand and Deliver
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Years ago, before I was a teacher, I worked as a freelance writer and proofreader. It was a pretty cool job, but I wanted to do something more and different with my life. That’s relevant when today’s movie is Stand and Deliver. This is one of those “inspirational teacher” stories that says right in the beginning that it’s based on a true story. Fair enough. Good teacher, underprivileged kids and underserved community, Hollywood ending. Sometimes that’s what I need.

In this case, Jaime Escalante (Edward James Olmos) is the teacher in question, who has given up his previous career to teach at the local high school. In this case, the local high school is one that is just about to lose its accreditation because of the failure of a great number of its students. Jaime is supposed to teach computers, but the school no longer has any computers and he’s instead turned into a math teacher.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Oh, Jackie O

Film: Love Field
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Michelle Pfeiffer. When she’s good, she’s very good (a film like The Fabulous Baker Boys comes to mind), but most of the time, I find her kind of forgettable. I picked up a copy of Love Field some time ago, knowing that it would be a film I’d have to get to eventually, but not really thinking it was something I’d look forward to watching. Discovering that Dennis Haysbert is the costar worked in the film’s favor, though. I generally like Haysbert.

Love Field is about a Dallas housewife with the unlikely name of Lurene Hallett (Pfeiffer) and her obsession with Jackie Kennedy. On that fateful day in 1963, Lurene drives out to the airport to see the Kennedys arrive and misses her chance to speak to Jackie. Then, on the drive home, she finds out about Kennedy’s assassination. Having missed the chance to meet Jackie at the airport, Lurene decides to go to Kennedy’s funeral in Washington against the wishes of her husband Ray (Brian Kerwin).

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Simon, Not So Pure

Film: Chapter Two
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve had Chapter Two sitting on my DVR for just over two years. There are a lot of reasons I didn’t want to pull the trigger on it. I’m not in love with the work of Neil Simon for starters. I also generally don’t think a great deal of Marsha Mason as an actress; I find her generally unappealing and frustrating. Still, I had to get through it eventually, and removing the oldest movie has at least a psychological benefit.

Here’s the other thing about Marsha Mason, though. I’ve now seen three of her Best Actress-nominated performances. In The Goodbye Girl, she plays an aging, unsuccessful actress in a Neil Simon romantic comedy. In Only When I Laugh, she plays a recovering alcoholic actress trying to reestablish her relationship with her daughter in a Neil Simon dramedy. Wedged between those two performances is this one, where she plays a relatively successful stage actress in a romantic dramedy penned by Neil Simon. Are you sensing a pattern here? I sure as hell am. I wonder if Marsha Mason can do anything aside from playing a stage actress in a script written by Neil Simon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Game

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

The Game isn’t really a horror film at all despite my placing this as a part of watching horror movies on Wednesday. I’m kind of forced to label it thus, though, because it does appear on one of my horror lists. In reality, this is almost a pure psychological thriller, and it’s a pretty good one. This is something that more or less wants to sit the audience down and screw the viewers’ heads until the final credits roll. That’s pretty much it.

In this case, our main character/victim is Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas), a wealthy banker/investment manager type who has a very specific and regimented life. As the film starts, Nicholas is experiencing his 48th birthday. As it happens, he witnessed his father commit suicide on his 48th birthday, something that has haunted him since that day. His brother Conrad (Sean Penn) offers him a voucher for a game from a company called Consumer Recreation Services, telling him that the company changed his life completely.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nothing Hurts Like Family

Film: The Savages
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

My original plan for the past few days was to watch The Savages last Saturday. I ended up watching The Unsinkable Molly Brown instead because, well, my Blu-ray play crapped out on me. Worse, it wouldn’t turn on or open up, and the disc for The Savages was stuck inside. So here’s what I learned: If this happens to you, unplug the player from the outlet for one minute. Plug it back in, and without turning it on, just hit the eject button. It should pop open. As it happened, my player was fine; it just needed to be reset. So, now that things are working again, I could finally get around to the movie I had planned for three days ago.

I can’t say that I was thrilled with the prospect, honestly. I try to be as neutral as possible for as many films as I can, but there are some things that simply are going to either get me excited or cause me to have some misgivings. In the case of The Savages, my misgivings are twofold. First, I’ve never been a huge fan of Laura Linney. I don’t dislike her in particular; I’ve just never had much of an opinion of her one way or the other. Second, ever since his untimely and senseless death, I’ve been at least a little depressed every time I see Philip Seymour Hoffman. We were supposed to get decades more great movies out of him, and he pissed that away on us. It still hurts.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sapir-Whorf

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

Since one of my degrees is in linguistics, I’ve been asked about Arrival pretty much since it came out. In fact, one of my professors was interviewed about just how closely the film would track attempting to learn an entirely alien language. It’s worth reading that interview, partly because it offers clearer insight on the science than I could offer and because Dr. Birner is awesome. Either go check it out now and come back, or go there as soon as you’re done here. Really.

Anyway, linguistics is front and center in Arrival. More specifically, as you’ve read or will read, Arrival is a big fan of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, specifically the idea of linguistic determinism. Allow me to get mildly professorial here for just a moment. The lighter, more acceptable (and much more potentially provable) version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis suggests that the language that we speak affect the way that we communicate—that how we communicate with others is relative to the language that we speak. It makes a certain sense; it’s a hypothesis (linguistic relativity) that I think is at least partially true. The stronger version, and one that Arrival very much wants to put forth, is that our language determines how we see the world, which goes too far for what Sapir-Whorf can support.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Denver Hillbillies

Film: The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Don’t tell me that I don’t make sacrifices for this blog. My Blu-ray player has evidently gone the way of the dodo, which meant that I wasn’t able to watch the movie I had planned today. Instead, I’m stuck pulling something off the DVR. Normally, on a night when I’m alone in the house, it would be a chance to watch something that my family can’t see—films like Blue is the Warmest Color or Last House on the Left come to mind. In this case, I decided on one that I’d be embarrassed to be caught watching by my family for a different reason: The Unsinkable Molly Brown. I put up with some shit for you folks. Please acknowledge that.

Now, I’m not going to get all “I hate musicals” on you here, although that’s certainly a direction I could go. The Unsinkable Molly Brown is clearly a most musical-y musical with everyone on screen playing for the back row. But no, there are other reasons for me to dislike this film that are absolutely more legitimate, although the absolute feast that everyone makes of the scenery at all times does rank pretty high. The Unsinkable Molly Brown features one of the most unpleasant title characters I’ve run across in a long time, at least in terms of characters that I’m supposed to actually like and root for. What press agents and the like would call “spunk” in this case is something I’m more apt to call a painful need for attention.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Today's Special

Film: Fried Green Tomatoes
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Fried Green Tomatoes was a hard sell for me. It’s a movie I tried to watch some time ago and didn’t get past the first 20 minutes. It’s also one I’ve checked out of the library more than once but haven’t watched. Knowing it was due back to the library in a couple of days, I figured I’d grit my teeth and get on with it. I was not looking forward to it, but knew that I had to watch it at some point, and today seemed like a good enough day to get through it.

For what it’s worth, one thing I’m willing to do is admit when I’m wrong, and I was wrong about Fried Green Tomatoes. I’m not precisely sure when it happened, but at some point in the watching, I realized that I was enjoying the story, and by the end, I realized I liked this quite a bit. It snuck up on me. I didn’t expect to enjoy myself, and ended up liking it pretty well.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural

Film: Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve heard of Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (which I’ll be calling Lemora from this point forward until the very end), but I knew nothing more than it was a vampire movie before watching it. It doesn’t start like a vampire horror movie, though. We have a man walking in on what is presumably his wife with another man and shooting them both down. He runs off and gets in an accident. Then, apparently we jump forward in time and are introduced to Lila Lee (Cheryl Smith). Lila is now the ward of a church run by an unnamed reverend (played by director Richard Blackburn). She’s known in the area for her singing voice, and she sings in the church regularly.

Out of nowhere, Lila gets a letter that tells her to come visit her father, who is ill and about to die. She runs away from the church and hops a bus to a town called Astaroth. On the way, the bus (of which she is the only passenger) gets attacked by creatures in a swamp leading to the town. The creatures are vampire-like, but also appear to be mindless. Lila is rescued from the creatures by a woman named Lemora (Lesley Gilb), who takes Lila back to her house. Lila is left on her own for some time, but she eventually seems to catch the fancy of her new host.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day, Mom

Film: Sons and Lovers
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

Author D.H. Lawrence is best known for Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which gives the man a particular reputation. I’m not sure what I expected going into Sons and Lovers, but I think I expected something more explicit than what I got. Don’t get me wrong; Sons and Lovers is filled with a weird sexual tension, but it’s a tension that seems to be sublimated throughout, something that exists mostly under the surface. This is also one of the most Freudian movies I’ve seen in a long time. Oedipal stuff is frequently creepy, and that’s right in the wheelhouse of this one.

In the early 20th Century in a small mining town, young Paul Morel (Dean Stockwell) finds himself out of place. Interested in art and literature, he doesn’t seem to fit in with his father Walter (Trevor Howard) or his brother Arthur (Sean Barrett), both of whom work in the mines. Paul’s talent for art has made him a favorite of his mother Gertrude (Wendy Hiller). Well, that, and as the youngest of her three sons, he’s the one that she has found the easiest to manipulate. Paul is definitely and completely under the thumb of his mother, who disapproves of pretty much everyone who isn’t Paul. This is especially true of Paul’s attachment to local girl Miriam Leivers (Heather Sears).

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Sting Lite

Film: Paper Moon
Format: HBO Go on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve done a couple of Oscar wrap-ups for 1973 categories, and in both cases, I’ve been told that I should really watch Paper Moon. Well, I’ve finally rectified that omission in my viewing history, and those who recommended it were correct. It’s a lot of fun. It’s interesting that this came out in the same year as The Sting. Both are movies that take place in the 1930s and both are essentially about con artists. The main difference is that The Sting is about an elaborate long con while Paper Moon is about a series of short cons, and also about a relationship that at least mirrors that of a father and a daughter.

A man with the unlikely and obviously fake name of Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) arrives late at a funeral for a woman he knew in the Biblical sense. There are only a couple of mourners, who think that Moze might be the father of the woman’s surviving daughter, Addie (Tatum O’Neal). Regardless, they ask him to take the girl to her aunt, who happens to be her last surviving relative. Eventually, Moze agrees, seeing this as a way to make a few quick dollars. On their way out of town, Moze blackmails the man who killed Addie’s mother in a car accident for $200, about half of which he spends on his car. He then buys the girl a train ticket to her aunt’s home town.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Cowboy Noir

Film: Hell or High Water
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I came to Hell or High Water knowing only the name of the film and the picture on the front of the case. That picture shows Jeff Bridges as a lawman, Chris Pine looking angry and Ben Foster wearing a pair of kick-ass shades and packing a very large weapon. Crime movie? Modern Western? Yes to both. In the watching, it feels very much like a newer version of No Country for Old Men mixed with a classic Western and a large helping of film noir. It’s one of those combinations that is either going to work perfectly almost in spite of itself or end up as a train wreck.

Fortunately, it’s the first possibility. Hell or High Water is a modern Western and a modern crime film that, perhaps specifically because of the setting, feels almost like it could have featured Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. In fact, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is nearing retirement when a string of bank robberies in his area comes to his attention. The bank robbers are brash and very smart. They’ve been hitting branches of a specific bank, going only when the bank is just opening for business to avoid crowds, and taking only the unwrapped money from the drawers so that the bills can’t be traced and there will be no dye packs in the money.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Film: Ballad of a Soldier (Ballada o Soldate)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I don’t always do a good job of monitoring my NetFlix account. I had Ballad of a Soldier (or Ballada o Soldate in Americanized Russian) already DVRed, and I’m having a stressful week at work, so a subtitled film, no matter how short that I already had access to probably wasn’t the best choice to have show up. I’m a slave to the queue, though, and figured that stress or no, I should probably watch it.

This is one of those movies that shows up in nomination lists years after its actual release. Ballad of a Soldier was produced and released in Russia in 1959, but didn’t manage to swing a nomination for Best Original Screenplay until 1961. Honestly, it probably worked in this film’s favor—the 1959 list of nominates included The 400 Blows, so it might have filled the quota for non-English films.