Saturday, July 22, 2017

Camelot Has Fallen

Film: Jackie
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on various players.

I can’t say that I was overly excited about the prospect of Jackie, a feeling that was intensified the moment Natalie Portman opened her mouth. It’s worth noting that I honestly have no idea what Jackie Kennedy actually sounded like. It’s such an unusual intonation, but it is evidently quite accurate. It’s just so strange, breathy and with words pronounced so oddly that it was difficult to get my mind around initially.

Jackie is, of course, less the story of Jackie Kennedy than it is the story of her experience after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The film does jump in time a bit, although in the main it follows her life in those days after Kennedy was killed in Dallas. The frame of the film’s narrative is an interview she gives to an unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup). Scenes take place that come across more or less as her memories of those days, either being explained to this interviewer or in her own memory as he asks questions. I don’t mean to say that it’s dreamlike, but that it plays something like a flashback.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1944

The Contenders:

Billy Wilder: Double Indemnity
Leo McCarey: Going My Way (winner)
Otto Preminger: Laura
Alfred Hitchcock: Lifeboat
Henry King: Wilson

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Father Figure

Film: About a Boy
Format: HBO Go on rockin’ flatscreen.

I still have a large number of movies that I need to watch, but the number is getting smaller and smaller. What this means for me is that availability at any given time is far reduced from what it used to be. I used to have tons of available movies to watch on NetFlix, but that’s no longer the case. What this means is I need to find targets of opportunity when I can. As it happens, I own a copy of About a Boy, but scrolled past it tonight, and didn’t have a host of other options. Nothing against the film; it’s just not what I was in the mood for, but I persevered.

Actually, it’s kind of a sweet movie. Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) lives the most carefree life that can be imagined. His father, years before, wrote a Christmas song that turned out to be incredibly popular, and Will has more or less lived off his father’s royalties that he has inherited. He has no job because he’s never needed one. What he’s really interested in is women, and even then he’s interested for just a few months before wanting to move on. Through the auspices of some friends, he’s set up on a blind date with a woman who turns out to be a single mom.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Other

Films: The Other
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you see the poster for 1972’s The Other, it comes as no surprise that we’re going to be diving into the “evil child” subgenre of horror film. We will be treading much the same ground as in films like The Bad Seed or Village of the Damned. This is a member of another odd little subgenre, though: the evil twin movie. Yep. Two subgenres for the price of one.

Our twins are Niles and Holland Perry (played respectively by Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, neither of whom ever made another movie). We learn quickly that Niles is the good twin and Holland is the, well, initially mischievous twin and eventually the evil, murderous one. The two boys live in a farmhouse with their infirm mother (Diana Muldaur), their Aunt Vee and Uncle George (Norma Connolly and Lou Frizzell), the boys’ pregnant older sister Torrie (Jenny Sullivan), her husband Rider (John Ritter!), and their grandmother Ada (Uta Hagen). Also in the house is their cousin Russell (Clarence Crow), who they call Piggy Lookadoo. There’s no love lost between the twins and Russell.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

White People (Solve) Problems

Film: Grand Canyon
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Grand Canyon earned some immediate cred from when in an early scene, Kevin Kline was driving down a street in Los Angeles singing along to “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.” Another Warren Zevon song (Searching for a Heart) shows up later in the movie. Any movie that’s going to favorably showcase a couple of Warren Zevon songs can’t be all bad. It can be mostly bad, but it can’t be entirely bad.

Grand Canyon wants desperately to be an “issues” movie. What it turns out to be is a lite version of Crash a decade and a half before Crash. The comparison is a completely natural one, and had Grand Canyon been released after Crash, no one would have bought it for a second. We’re going to get a number of disparate people thrown together and we’ll see what happens a little more than two hours later, and all of our characters are going to end up at our title destination at the end.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Living in Django's Shadow

Film: Sweet and Lowdown
Format: DVD from Franklin Grove Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of Sweet and Lowdown, I feel like I should go through my own history with Django Reinhardt, who plays a significant part of the plot. Back in my college days, my roommates and I lived under a quintet of nursing students. They kept weird hours, which included them blasting metal at 2:00 in the morning. In retaliation, one of my roommates and I used to turn our speakers toward the ceiling and blast Django Reinhardt and similar music in the middle of the day. Petty, sure. But funny.

Anyway, Sweet and Lowdown is a fictionalized version of the life of guitarist Emmet Ray (Sean Penn), who considers himself the second-best guitarist in the world, second only, in fact, to the fabled Django Reinhardt. He also considers himself one of the greatest pool players in the country as well as one of the best poker players around. In fact, in Emmet’s mind, there is nothing that he can’t do. The truth is that he can’t keep to a budget, show up to a gig on time, or sober, or sometimes show up at all.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bus Stop

Film: Central Station (Central do Brasil)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I complain a great deal on this blog about plots that follow a very specific, outlined plan that is obvious from the outset. A film that has a plot that I’ve seen before is working at a disadvantage from me since seeing the same thing over and over isn’t something very interesting. There are exceptions, of course. There are movies that follow a plot where I know all of the emotional beats and have a very good idea of what’s going to happen and the film still works. Central Station (Central do Brasil) is such a film. There’s not much here that you haven’t seen before, but the film itself is well-made with a great deal of heart, and that solves a lot of problems.

Central Station is a road movie and an odd couple movie, and it follows those conventions in the main. We start with Dora (Fernanda Montenegro), a former school teacher who now set up a small stand at the central train station in Rio de Janeiro. What she does here is write letters for the substantially illiterate Brazilian population, charging a couple of dollars for the service. Honestly, that’s what the subtitles say. My guess is she’s probably charging 5-10 reals. Anyway, at the end of the day, Dora returns home and reads through the letters she has written with her friend and neighbor Irene (Marilla Pera). Some she sends, some she stores to potentially mail later, and some she decides to tear up.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Have Makeup Case, Will Act

Film: Man of a Thousand Faces
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When you know the name of the movie Man of a Thousand Faces, there’s no shock what it’s going to be about. Lon Chaney was a fascinating actor. While the silent era wasn’t specifically defined by him, there’s no question that his influence on early film was massive. Man of a Thousand Faces is naturally going to explore some of those early films, especially those that he was the most famous for. We’re also going to get a great deal of his home life, much of which is going to be very messed up.

We’re not going to get a great deal of Chaney’s early life. We learn really only that his parents were both deaf-mutes and that he went into show business. Chaney (James Cagney) works in a vaudeville show with his wife Cleva (Dorothy Malone), who is a singer. She’s also perpetually angering the owners of various shows and theaters by never being ready in time. When she’s late again, Lon covers for her, but she is still fired from the show. Lon quits, too. Cleva tells him that she’s aware he was contacted for a show in California, and that she is pregnant.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Uninvited (1944)

Film: The Uninvited (1944)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s something about classic horror movies that I love. There’s no need for the people involved to feel like they need to up the ante on the gore or the shock moments, so they instead concentrated on the story in plenty of cases. The Uninvited is exactly that sort of movie. It would be wrong to suggest that this is really scary, because it’s not. This is not the sort of film that is going to give anyone nightmares unless they are very young or very na├»ve. However, it would be similarly wrong to write this off as a trifle or a silly little spook show. There are some great moments here, and an engaging story that almost dips as much into film noir as it does into the supernatural.

Set the Way-Back Machine to 1937 in those years before World War II when the rumors of war were still swirling but the fighting hadn’t yet begun and people could think about things other than bombs. On the coast of England brother and sister pair Roderick “Rick” Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and Pamela Fitzgerald (the underrated Ruth Hussey) are ending their vacation before heading back to London. They encounter an old abandoned mansion on the beach when their dog chases a squirrel inside. Pamela falls in love with the place despite a studio on the top floor being oddly cold and forbidding. She convinces Roderick that if the two of them pool their money, they can buy the place and live there, with him returning to composing music as a source of income. He confesses that the newspaper he works for would like him to do a series on great musicians, and that that will give them enough to live on.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Side Dishes

Films: The Facts of Life
Format: DVD from Mokena Community Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

Infidelity has long been a plot point in plenty of movies, but I’m not sure how often it was used specifically as a point of comedy in the formative years of Hollywood. The Apartment, which trades a great deal on infidelity and is at least partially a comedy came out in 1960. In this case, though, it wasn’t the main characters who were cheating or being cheated on (okay, one character was a part of a relationship like this, but she wasn’t married). I’m sure I’m wrong in this, but it feels like in creating main characters who are cheating on their spouses in a comedy might have started with The Facts of Life, which also came out in 1960.

Like I said, I’m sure I’m wrong. It feels so strange, though. Comedy infidelity moments happen in movies all the time these days, often as a way to move one character forward in his or her (but generally it’s “his”) personal journey. But it still feels like a rare thing to have the characters we are supposed to like and want to spend time with being the ones doing the cheating in a comedy. There are examples (A Fish Called Wanda springs to mind), but still feels rare.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Free at Last?

Films: 13th
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

A few days ago, fellow 1001 List completer Adolytsi posted news that the next version of the book, while not available, is listed on Amazon and all of the new movies can be seen. The 2017 edition looks to add 12 movies; one is from 2015 and the other 11 are from 2016. As it happens, I’ve seen four of them and two others are on my Oscar list and planned for the next couple of months. That means I had to add six movies to my NetFlix queue. Of those, four are streaming and a fifth is available on disc, leaving only one that might be a problem in the months ahead. I’m always down for getting a jump on things, so today I decided to watch 13th.

I may be wrong, but I think this is the first NetFlix film to be included on the List, which makes it noteworthy, if that’s the case. The truth is that it’s noteworthy even if that isn’t the case. 13th is named after the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is the one that outlawed slavery. The gravamen of the film is that while slavery was outlawed, something very akin to a loophole was included in the amendment that allowed for a kind of slavery to still take place. That loophole is that slavery or involuntary servitude is illegal except in cases where someone has been convicted of a crime.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Where You Goin' with that Gun in Your Hand?

Films: Joe
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Sometimes with NetFlix, I play a game I call “What will I get roulette.” The idea is that I stack all of the movies with a wait time at the top of my queue, figuring that even though there’s a wait on them, I’ll get one of them. In this case, I got Joe from 1970, which was not the movie I thought it was going to be. Joe is an ugly movie in a lot of ways. It’s politically ugly, socially ugly, and brutal. It’s also a movie that helped shape the 1970s in a lot of ways.

We start with Melissa Compton (Susan Sarandon), who lives with her drug dealer boyfriend Frank (Patrick McDermott). One fine evening, Frank fixes Melissa up with an overdose that lands her in the hospital. Melissa comes from a wealthy family. Her father, Bill (Dennis Patrick) works in advertising and makes the equivalent of about $400,000/year. Upset at what has happened to his daughter, he tracks down her boyfriend, and during their argument, beats him to death. Bill runs away with Frank’s stash, and a few days later, Frank’s body is found. Since the drugs are gone, it’s assumed that this was a drug hit.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Room Service with a Side of Bullets

Films: Hotel Rwanda
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I’d love to tell you that I’ve not watched Hotel Rwanda before today for some reason other than I didn’t want to watch Hotel Rwanda, but that would be a lie. The truth is that I didn’t want to watch this movie for exactly the reasons that you can guess I didn’t want to watch it. If’ I’ve reached a point of surfeit with the Holocaust in film, why would another genocide be more palatable? Movies like Hotel Rwanda are important; we need to see things like this and like The Killing Fields because if we aren’t regularly reminded of just how terrible the human race can be, we’re more likely to suffer the same atrocities again. That’s absolutely true, but I don’t have to like it.

So, yeah, we’re talking genocide here. Specifically, we’re talking about the attempted genocide that happened in Rwanda between the Hutu and Tutsi people. While the concept of genocide is already something that makes every possible lobe in my brain hurt, the Rwandan massacre is particularly bizarre and incomprehensible because of the similarity between the Hutu and Tutsi people. They are pretty much literally the same. They have the same language, the same cultural background, the same religion. Evidently, the Tutsis are a little taller. But there is no real difference between them. It is almost literally like people with innie belly buttons deciding that the people with outies are evil traitors to everything good and right in the world and need to be slaughtered with machetes. It’s that insane.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Society

Films: Society
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Jeez…where do I begin? I honestly don’t know if we’re going to get anywhere coherent with Society, but I think we’ve got to try. This is body horror on steroids, the kind of thing that David Cronenberg might think up but wouldn’t actual consider putting on the screen in a thousand years. There’s a kernel of a story here, a message that really wants to be understood. The problem is that there are massive gaps in the screenplay that make even the willing suspension of disbelief something that doesn’t cover everything that needs to be taken in by the audience. Society has real problems with the way it all fits together. It’s audacious and monumentally weird and worth seeing for how far it goes, but it’s worth noting at the outset here that coherence is not a strong suit.

The easiest way to explain Society is that it is a riff on They Live without the special glasses and with a lot more body horror. The other movie I’m reminded of here at least in part is Slither, although this clearly would be the influencer in that respect and Slither the one being influenced. If you’ve seen all of these movies, you know exactly what I’m talking about here. If you haven’t, I guess I still need to explain as best I can.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Millennials: The Musical

Films: La La Land
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are times when I give in to a particular perverse urge on certain days of the year. I have, for instance, watched Rashomon on St. Patrick’s Day or an Australian movie like Breaker Morant on Super Bowl Sunday. This year, for the 4th of July, I figured I’d embrace the day and instead look at something truly American in origin: the movie musical. In this case, that means the most highly acclaimed musical since Chicago: La La Land. I had high expectations going into this, as did my wife. In fact, I waited for several days to watch this until she could watch it, too.

I want that on the record, because it’s going to be very easy to write off this review as simply being the fact that I often dislike musicals. La La Land didn’t live up to the hype, and my wife had the same opinion. Not 15 minutes in, she looked over at me and said, “I’m not loving this.”

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Graduate, Part II

Films: Goodbye, Columbus
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

I did not go into Goodbye, Columbus with very high expectations. It’s a story that has been compared with The Graduate in a lot of ways and for obvious reasons. It’s also based on a novella by Philip Roth, an author I haven’t much enjoyed in the past despite giving him several chances. However, it was the last film left on the DVR before we swapped it out for a new one, and since I can’t locate the film any other way, there was nothing to do but watch.

This is where I’m happy to report that Goodbye, Columbus was a hell of a lot better than I was expecting. In fact, it’s a small wonder to me that this hasn’t eclipsed The Graduate for the genre of aimless post-college student looking for some sense of meaning (and a lot of sex) while he figures out what to do with his life. Since that is essentially the plot, the connection to The Graduate is pretty clear.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Probable Cause?

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

When you’re dealing with the early era of the talkies, it’s a good bet that you’re going to be dealing with melodrama in a big way. That’s certainly the case with Emma. This is almost the definition of a melodrama, truth be told. We’re going to get a plot and characters here that couldn’t be more melodramatic if you paid them to be. It’s going to go right for the emotional jugular and it’s going to hurt a bit.

Emma Thatcher (Marie Dressler) is the housekeeper for the Smith family. As the film begins, three events happen simultaneously. First, Mr. Smith (Jean Hersholt) receives a check for $5,000 for an invention. This is the equivalent of just north of $80,000 today, so the Smiths are suddenly flush with cash. Second, Mrs. Smith gives birth to the couple’s fourth child, Ronnie. Third, Mrs. Smith dies from childbirth. Flash forward 20 years, and we’re at the main part of the film.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Coffey Break

Films: The Green Mile
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

What can you say about Frank Darabont? He has directed four theatrical releases. Of those four theatrical releases, three are based on Stephen King stories, and two of them have been nominated for Best Picture. Darabont owes Stephen King a massive debt, and that’s true in the other direction as well. Two of best adaptations of King’s work are those two aforementioned films--The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. The thing that has prevented me from watching The Green Mile before today is length more than anything; it clocks in at just north of three hours.

This is going to be one of those movies told in flashback. In the film’s present, we meet Paul Edgecomb (Dabbs Greer in this incarnation), an old man who lives in a retirement home. He likes going on walks by himself and seems to know everyone in the home well. One day, while sitting in the television room, the channel gets flipped to a showing of Top Hat, and Paul breaks down. He is led out of the room by his friend Elaine (Eve Brent), and then proceeds to explain to her why the movie triggered such a reaction in him.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Lord of Illusions

Film: Lord of Illusions
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

Lord of Illusions is one of those films that I’ve probably seen more times than I need to. I think everyone has a movie or two like this that gets put on in the background or they get stuck watching for a fifth time for no good reason. I don’t dislike Lord of Illusions even if I always end up a little disappointed in it. There are some really interesting ideas here, something it has in common with a lot of movies based on Clive Barker’s stories, but it either lacked the budget or the technology or the time to really exploit those ideas well.

Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) is a private detective who apparently has a number of run-ins on the supernatural side of things, at least based on the fallout from his latest case involving a child who was possessed by…something. He’s given a new case, a simple one involving insurance fraud, that takes him to Los Angeles. In the course of his investigation, he comes across what appears to be a ritual murder. He’s soon hired for a new case, tailing a well-known illusionist named Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor). The twist here is that Swann’s wife Dorothea (Famke Janssen) has hired him and there are hints that Swann is something more than a simple stage magician.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Act Without Words

Films: The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

When I hear “Studio Ghibli,” I think of Miyazaki. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. While there are other directors and creators working there, it’s Miyazaki who made the studio what it is in terms of its notable films and generally positive and even rabid fandom. A film like The Red Turtle is a good reminder that they do more than just Miyazaki’s films and that Miyazaki’s films aren’t the only ones that are worth seeing.

The Red Turtle (otherwise known as La Tortue Rouge) is also a reminder that Studio Ghibli’s output isn’t entirely Japanese. While this was certainly produced at least in part by the Japanese company, this is also a French and Belgian production, and the director is Dutch. This is a rare film in the sense that, while not a properly silent film, the only real lines of dialogue are a repeated “Hey” at various times as well as some screaming and shouting. In that respect, the language isn’t an issue at all, and it’s one of those rare films that genuinely requires no translation or various audio tracks for anyone to watch, follow, and understand.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hanging on in Quiet Desperation

Films: About Schmidt
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

About Schmidt has been sitting on my shelf for several years, picked up at a garage sale or library sale, or something like that. The box is covered with half-removed stickers from three or four different places. I got it only because it was something I knew I’d have to watch eventually, and it’s always a good thing to make the process a little easier whenever I can. Seriously, it feels like I spend almost as much time looking for movies as I do watching them, so even one that is relatively easy to find that no longer needs to be found is a good thing.

This is an Alexander Payne film, and I’ve liked or at least appreciated all of the Payne films I’ve seen to this point. In that respect, I had solid expectations. It’s also a movie that star Jack Nicholson, and that’s worth mentioning at the top. I have said multiple times in the past that I really enjoy it when an actor plays against his or her type. Watching Tom Cruise or Albert Brooks play a villain (Collateral and Drive respectively) is something I find endlessly interesting. And that’s the case with Nicholson here. We’ll get to that by the end, since it’s Nicholson’s performance that caused me to watch.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

New York Stories

Films: In America
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Jim Sheridan is a fine director. I’ve liked his movies that I’ve seen in the past, so in that respect, I was looking forward to In America. For some reason, I pegged the time frame of this movie all wrong. I knew that this was an immigrant story, but that’s really all I knew. I expect that this would be similar to most of the immigrant stories that I’d seen and that we’d be somewhere in the late 19th or early 20th century. That’s not the case, though. We’re firmly in the early 1980s with our immigrant clan coming from Ireland through Canada to New York on a visitor’s visa.

Our family consists of four people and the intense baggage of a fifth. Johnny (Paddy Considine) is an actor hoping to make it on stage in New York. Wife Sarah (Samantha Morton) is a school teacher, but can’t find work as a teacher in New York, so instead gets a job at an ice cream parlor near the family’s low-rent apartment in a building filled with addicts and drug dealers. The children are Christy (Sarah Bolger) and Ariel (Emma Bolger, Sarah’s real-life sister). The fifth member of the family is Frankie, the son who has died from a brain tumor. This fact weighs heavily on the entire family, of course, but the hardest on Johnny, who has essentially locked off his emotions so as not to deal with his son’s death.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Suburbia

Films: Little Children
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

It feels like forever since I’ve watched a movie. In a way, it kind of has been. The last two reviews I posted were reviews I had written some time ago to use on days when I didn’t have something new to post. Part of the reason for that is work. Ends of quarters can be tough and I spend a lot of time grading, which means movies are hard. Another part of that is the movie Little Children. I had a very hard time getting through this, and I’m not entirely sure why. Something about it was like surgery for me.

Little Children was directed by Todd Field, who also directed In the Bedroom, a movie I thought was surprisingly good. While there is some similarity here, this felt a lot more like a Todd Solondz movie. It felt like watching Happiness, which was brutally difficult to get through, ugly, and horrible in so many ways. Little Children doesn’t go that far, of course. At the same time, it is oddly reminiscent of Magnolia. There are traces of David Lynch in here as well, with the horror that lies behind the front porches of suburban homes.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wednesday Horror: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Films: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Every now and then, a movie shows up that becomes the flavor of the month. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was one of those movies for a little while, enough that I’d heard a great deal about it almost as soon as it appeared on NetFlix streaming. There are a number of things that make this an interesting film. First, it’s a modern black-and-white horror movie. Second, it’s a feminist vampire movie. Third, it’s a feminist vampire movie that is in Persian and was written and directed by an Iranian woman. Sure, it was filmed in California, but there’s a lot going on here that seems to be aimed at screwing with those in religious authority in a large part of the world.

This is an unusual movie even beyond all of the things that make it an unusual movie in terms of what it is. Since we’ve got a vampire here, this is at least marginally a horror movie and the truth is that it doesn’t ever really get that far away from being marginally a horror movie. It’s a lot closer to social commentary, specifically on feminism, than it is on anything else. There are only a couple of actual vampire attacks, one of which is pretty brutal. Instead, this focuses more on the characters and the lives they live in a place known as Bad City.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Off Script: House (Hausu)

Films: House (Hausu)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on laptop.

This is going to be an interesting 750-800 words. I’ve just watched House (Hausu) and I’m not sure I have a way to react to it. For clarity, I’m going to call it Hausu from this point forward to distinguish it from the 1980s horror movie House and the Hugh Laurie television show. Hausu is a psychedelic drug trip of a horror movie/comedy/fever dream. Things happen and there’s sort of a story, but I have no way to make sense of it at all without looking outside of the movie itself to the life and experiences of its director. I think I need to be chemically altered to even have a shot at it.

So we’re in Japan at a girl’s school, completely with sailor uniforms. We’ll be dealing with a collection of seven students, each of whom goes by a nickname, and each of whom has a defining characteristic rather than a personality. Of primary importance are the fashion and cosmetics-obsessed Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) and Fantasy (Kumiko Oba), who lives almost entirely in a fantasy world. Eventually we will meet the other five: the ready-to-fight Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), the glasses-wearing Prof (Ai Matubara), the nice and genial Sweet (Masayo Miyako), the musician Melody (Eriko Tanaka), and the food-obsessed Mac (Mieko Sato).

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Film: Mary, Queen of Scots
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I can’t say I was overly thrilled at the prospect of watching Mary, Queen of Scots. While it’s clearly a different story from Anne of the Thousand Days, I figured it would roll pretty much in the same basic territory. The story here is of Mary Stuart (Vanessa Redgrave), queen of Scotland and, according to some, the rightful monarch of England instead of her sister, Elizabeth I (Glenda Jackson). I’ve seen bits and pieces of this, of course. Plenty of movies have touched on this subject, perhaps none that I’ve seen as much as the two Elizabeth movies with Cate Blanchett. Regardless, I figured on a lot of flowery language and dry history.

How wrong I was! Mary, Queen of Scots is filled with intrigue, plots and counterplots, murder, and betrayal. There’s also a bit of romance, religious wars, infidelity, and a lot more. It’s backed up with a great cast who all appear to really buy into the roles and the period—no real shock that this was nominated for (among other things) Best Costume Design. It’s a fairly sumptuous film in a lot of respects, and in looking the period, feels authentic in a lot of ways.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 2011

The Contenders:

Glenn Close: Albert Nobbs
Rooney Mara: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Viola Davis: The Help
Meryl Streep: The Iron Lady (winner)
Michele Williams: My Week with Marilyn

Off Script: Stake Land

Film: Stake Land
Format: Blu-ray from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

I promise I won’t get maudlin here. Many of us, even this far removed from the event, still miss the presence of Chip Lary. As it happens, Stake Land was the last review Chip ever posted, and it was a film I asked him to watch. Truthfully, Chip didn’t like the film as much as I do or nearly as much as I would have liked him to. This is a film that I genuinely enjoy. Stake Land isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it gets a lot of things right. It also does a nice job in rewriting many of the tropes of a well-established genre, and also manages to create a believable and interesting post-apocalyptic world.

The monsters in Stake Land are vampires, but these are not the typical blood suckers. The classic vampire has a sense of romance about him. The original Dracula was certainly a romantic character. Even most of the violent and bloody vampires from the films have a certain sex appeal to them. Of course, in the past decade or so, vampires have become genuine love interests. In Stake Land, the vampires are feral. They are classic vampires in the sense that they die when staked in the heart or exposed to sunlight, and they feast on blood. That’s where the similarities stop. These vampires are feral, essentially blood-sucking zombies, operating on instinct and attracted to the scent of blood, but unable to think their way out of even simple traps.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Haunted Palace; The Resurrected

Film: The Haunted Palace; The Resurrected
Format: MGM Channel on rockin’ flatscreen; Internet video on laptop.

You can say what you want about Roger Corman, but the man does have a couple of particular talents. First, judging by the people who made films for him, Corman was a great judge of directorial talent. Second, he was capable of doing a great deal with a limited budget. Third, the man found a tremendous niche with films specifically based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. With The Haunted Palace, Corman stepped a little outside of that comfort zone, making a film that is clearly based on Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” but he made this essentially as one of his Poe films, so that strange connection of making something watchable carried through.

The film starts a few years before the American Revolution in Arkham, MA. Women in the town are mysteriously drawn to the rebuilt palace of Joseph Curwen (Vincent Price). The townspeople have decided that Curwen is a warlock and storm the palace. They drag him out and burn him at the stake, although they are convinced not to attack his mistress, Hester Tillinghast (Cathie Merchant). Before he dies, Curwen pronounces a curse on the town, saying that those who are burning him, their children, and their children’s children will suffer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Finding Your Pride

Film: Lion
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When the Oscars were announced in January, I was surprised that Dev Patel was nominated in a supporting role rather than a starring one. I mean, he was clearly the star of Lion, wasn’t he? It seemed like one of those situations where someone is stepped down in a category specifically to give him a better chance of winning. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I understand the reasoning here. This is clearly Patel’s movie in the second half, but that’s because he doesn’t appear in the first half at all.

Lion is the story of Saroo Brierly (played by Dev Patel as an adult and by Sunny Pawar as a child). At five, Saroo lived in Khandwa, India, where he and his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) steal coal from trains to trade for milk and food. One night, Saroo is to stay home while Guddu goes out and works for the money the family desperately needs. Saroo convinces his brother that he should come along and help, and eventually Guddu relents. But Saroo really is too young and falls asleep. Guddu leaves him on a bench at a train station, telling his brother to stay and wait for him.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Front Page News

Film: Teacher’s Pet
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve never been as entranced of Clark Gable as I’m evidently supposed to be. I don’t mind Gable in general, but I don’t specifically seek his movies out. I’ve got nothing against him, but I’ll sit down to a weak Cary Grant or John Garfield movie in a heartbeat. With Gable I’m somehow less impressed with his onscreen persona. This is probably the reason it’s taken me this long to get to Teacher’s Pet, which I watched today when I finally realized that NetFlix has it streaming but doesn’t have it on disc. What I expected was a creepy rom-com featuring a Clark Gable nearing 60 trying to woo a mid-30s Doris Day. Fortunately, that’s not really what we get here.

James Gannon (Clark Gable) is a hard-bitten newspaper city editor in New York who is convinced that the only way to learn the trade of a reporter is to start at the bottom, get a few swift kicks in the backside, and learn the ropes the hard way, through work and practice. Therefore, he’s not even amused when he is contacted by a local college and asked to come as a guest to a journalism class. He responds with a rude letter and is then upbraided by his boss. It turns out the paper’s publisher is a big fan of this local college, having received an honorary degree from them. Gannon, thus, is forced to go and eat a little crow. This is despite his discovery that the professor for this class is (gasp) a woman.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Off Script: The Twilight Zone: The Movie

Film: The Twilight Zone: The Movie
Format: DVD from Byron Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

If you’re older than about 30, you watched The Twilight Zone on television at some point. This was the television version of M. Night Shyamalan’s career, except that the twists almost always worked on the television show. Weird, creepy little stories that sometimes packed a moral lesson and sometimes just wanted to give people the shivering willies made for good television. Seriously, when I was younger, it was probably the only show I knew of where people my age would voluntarily watch a black-and-white television show because the stories were frequently that good. So, it’s only natural that eventually The Twilight Zone: The Movie was conceived of and released.

What I remember most about it from 1983 (it’s release date falls squarely between my sophomore and junior years in high school) is the controversy that surrounded it. Specifically, that controversy was the rather horrifying deaths of actors Vic Morrow, Renee Chen, and My-ca Dinh Le (the latter two being 6- and 7-years-old respectively), who were killed when a helicopter crashed on them while filming the first segment. This accident led to multiple court cases and almost led to the cancellation of the entire project. What I remember most was people being more than a little outraged that the film itself seemed to take no notice of this tragedy, not following the typical pattern of dedicating the film to someone close to the production who had died.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

David and Goliath

Film: In the Valley of Elah
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

While I still have a lot of movies on my Oscar list, I’m starting to hit the point where some of these are getting to be a chore. There are still a few that I’m looking forward to seeing and I’m sure that there are some I am ambivalent about now that I’ll end up really liking. But it’s admittedly getting a little harder and harder to ramp myself up for some of these movies. After all, they’ve been movies I specifically haven’t watched since I started this part of this blog. In the Valley of Elah fits into that category. It’s not a film that I was actively avoiding; it’s simply a film that I didn’t really feel like I had much of a reason to watch.

Ex-military policeman Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) receives word that his son Mike (Jonathan Tucker) has gone AWOL after returning from Iraq. Hank tells his wife Joan (Susan Sarandon) that he is going to find their son. Hank drives off to his son’s location and begins his search for Mike, attempting to enlist the support of the local police. So, when a body turns up dismembered and horribly burned, it’s not a shock for anyone who has ever seen a movie that the body in question turns out to be Mike.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

City of Lights

Film: Midnight in Paris
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

When Woody Allen is on, there aren’t many people who are better. Allen’s stories have a distinctive style to them and a particular flavor. When he’s able to restrain himself from getting too crazy, his screenplays are some of the best in the world. When he doesn’t restrain himself, he’s prone to fall deep into his own navel. The track record is a good one, though, so it’s probably strange that it’s taken me this long to get to Midnight in Paris. It might have been the presence of Owen Wilson that kept me from wanting to watch it. I’m not much of a fan of Mr. Wilson in general. I find him tolerable at best and insufferable at worst.

I’ve said before that Radio Days is my favorite of Allen’s screenplays. What I love about it is just how much it shows Allen’s love for the era he’s writing about. There’s such a wonderful rosy tint to everything in that movie. It has an adult’s knowledge and recollection, but still has a child’s view of the events. I bring this up specifically because where Midnight in Paris takes us is to a realization about that nostalgic view of the past.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Off Script: Wasting Away (Aaah! Zombies!!)

Film: Wasting Away (Aaah! Zombies!!)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Ah, the zombie subgenre. It’s all been done, of course. There have been serious ones, funny ones, and even romantic comedies (zom-rom-coms, if you will). Wasting Away, (sometimes called Aaah! Zombies!!) is a comedy with a touch of romance fully centered on the zombie subgenre of horror films. It’s also a film from the perspective of the zombies themselves. In fact, in this case it’s focused on a group of people who are not just zombies, they’re not aware that they are zombies. It’s a fun idea. Unfortunately, there’s not enough here to sustain an entire film.

The movie starts with a military test of a super soldier serum that backfires, killing the subject and turning him into a zombie. Because the serum is a failure, the military decides to get rid of it, but the men charged with transporting the serum get lost and a barrel of it falls off the truck. This barrel leaks, tainting a batch of ice cream mixture that is then eaten by our four main characters: slacker Mike (Matthew Davis), ambitious Vanessa (Julianna Robinson), bowling alley assistant manager Tim (Michael Grant Terry) and dippy Cindy (Betsy Beutler). Tim has been carrying an evidently requited torch for Cindy for years. Anyway, the four eat the tainted ice cream, which turns them into zombies.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

My Mother Was a Saint!

Films: I Remember Mama
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m actually surprised that I hadn’t seen I Remember Mama before today. This seems like exactly the sort of movie that would have been shown on the old WGN Family Classics show when I was a kid. That was a Sunday morning show that ran old family films like Going My Way, Mysterious Island and Boys Town. I Remember Mama absolutely fits into that. Honestly, it may have been too long for the show.

This is one of those “year or so in the life of a family” films where we’re going to see a series of events that happen to a particular family as they (switching into television announcer voice) struggle through the joys and tragedies of life in pre-World War I America. Our family in question is the Hansons, headed by father Lars (Philip Dorn), but really run by mama Martha (Irene Dunne). The Hansons have four children: son Nels (Steve Brown), youngest daughter Dagmar (June Hedin), middle daughter Christine (Peggy McIntyre), and oldest daughter and the storyteller of this film, Katrin (Barbara Bel Geddes). Also in the mix are Marta’s three sisters. These are the unpleasant aunts Jenny (Hope Landin) and Sigrid (Edith Evanson), and the timid but sweet aunt, Trina (Ellen Corby).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hello, I Love You, Won't You Tell Me Your Name

Films: Love with the Proper Stranger
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve been ignoring the DVR lately, and that’s kind of a mistake. The unit I have is nearing the end of its life expectancy, and there are a half dozen or so movies that I’ve had trouble locating stored on it. I’d love to say that there was a good, solid reason why I watched Love with the Proper Stranger today other than that, but there isn’t. Honestly, this is going to be a common refrain for the next couple of weeks as I get rid of the last remnants of what I have recorded. Suffice to say that based on the title I wasn’t too excited and that beyond knowing it starred Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen, I knew nothing going in.

Here’s the set up: Rocky Papasano (Steve McQueen) is a musician looking for work one day at the union hall when he is paged to the front. Here he meets Angie Rossini (Natalie Wood), a woman he had a one-night stand with some time earlier. Angie is pregnant and isn’t expecting Rocky to marry her, but to at least help her locate a doctor to help with the little problem. Rocky is naturally surprised by this and she storms out, but he tracks her down to her job at Macy’s and tells her that he’s located someone for her. What he doesn’t tell her is that he has located someone through the auspices of his some-time girlfriend Barbie (Edie Adams), whose apartment he sometimes stays at.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Dolls

Films: Dolls
Format: Internet video on laptop.

There have been a number of movies that feature creepy dolls. Old movies like The Devil-Doll from the ‘30s, another of the same name (minus the hyphen) from the ‘60s, the ventriloquist segment from Dead of Night, the ventriloquism-based movie Magic, the clown from Poltergeist, and of course the Zuni doll from Trilogy of Terror are all pretty memorable. These days, Chucky and Annabelle are probably the ones that jump to mind, although there’s certainly no shortage of such films. Is it the idea of the corruption of something that should be innocent? Whatever the reason, the modern turn of toy-based horror seems to have gotten its start from Dolls.

The truth is that I went into this prepared for it to be derivative in many ways of Child’s Play or even Puppet Master or Demonic Toys. The opposite is actually true, since Dolls was released before all of these. It’s tamer in a lot of respects. There’s a much bigger dose of fantasy in this film, and while there is a body count, it doesn’t really amp up the gore that much. This came with an R rating when it was released, and it might just struggle down to a PG-13 released today.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Off Script: The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Films: The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I know Roger Corman made a lot of shitty movies, but I’m really getting to the point where I have to admit that I like a lot of them. He didn’t make a lot of loser films in terms of box office, and when he was on, he was really on. He also managed to work with a lot of great people during his career, including making a lot of movies starring Vincent Price, one of the gold standards of ‘50s and ‘60s gothic horror. The Pit and the Pendulum is a film that plays on a couple of important Corman tropes. First, it’s a period piece, which means capes and poofy costumes. Second, this is one of his Poe films, and his Poe films rank among his best.

Another of Corman’s touchpoints in his Poe films is that there’s a lot of material added here. Many of Poe’s stories were really short and might make a dandy short film. To make something of feature length, a great deal needs to be added. In this case, it’s the entire first hour or so of the movie, which was created in service of getting on character strapped to a rack while a bladed pendulum slowly descends toward him with the intent of chopping him in half. Hey, you want ao good scary moment, you need to work for it.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Blood Libel

Film: The Fixer
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I have sat here looking at the base template for my reviews for a good 10 minutes before I typed in anything beyond the why/why not, the tags, and the titles. I honestly don’t know what to say about The Fixer other that it seems like John Frankenheimer found a book based on a real-life case that seems to have been ripped straight out of the mind of Franz Kafka. Going through Oscar movies means spending a great deal of time dealing with the Holocaust, something I’ve complained about before. In this case, we’re not talking about that, but we are absolutely balls-deep in discussing the persecution of the Jews. It seems endlessly fascinating and horrifying to me that we live in a world were a century ago crimes like blood libel and host desecration were taken seriously.

I should probably explain what those two things are, since they are so spectacularly bizarre that I have trouble wrapping my mind around them. Host desecration is easy to figure out once you realize that the host in this case is blessed communion wafers and not someone holding a party. Since in Catholic belief the pasty wafers become the literal body of Christ once they have been blessed, someone doing anything to a blessed wafer is essentially committing a crime against the bodily person of Christ himself. Blood libel is even more staggering. There was a common thought that when the Jews celebrated Passover, they baked their matzos with the blood of Christian children. Because of this, plenty of Jews were accused, tried, sentenced, and punished for the murder of children.

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.