Thursday, November 30, 2017

Ship to Shore

Film: Cinderella Liberty
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

Once again, I’m presented with a movie that I completely didn’t expect. Cinderella Liberty has the sound of a happy movie about a breezy romance. It’s anything but. This is a movie that goes to some horribly dark places and sits there and never lets up. That it ends with a slight uplift is forgivable here—this is a film that needs it. I’m not entirely sure of my final take on it, but that’s par for the course for a film that digs deeply into the sort of petty, selfish wickedness of people.

John Baggs Jr. (James Caan) is a sailor during peacetime who checks himself into the medical facility at the Seattle Naval base. He has a minor medical complaint, but it turns out he needs some tests, and the tests won’t be complete before his ship sails again. This means that, like it or not, he’s on shore until he can be placed on another ship. He’s given what is called a “Cinderella liberty,” which means he is free to leave the base, but the liberty ends at midnight, much like Cinderella’s magic. On the leave, he wanders into a bar and encounters Maggie Paul (Marsha Mason), who is a prostitute and pool hustler. John loses a couple of games to her, then ups the bet to more money than she has. The bet then becomes, more or less, for her services, and he wins handily.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Scanners

Films: Scanners
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on rockin’ flatscreen.

Scanners, which contains an early scene in which a man’s head literally explodes, has one of the most-paused film moments from the entire decade of the ‘80s. It ranks somewhere up in the neighborhood of Phoebe Cates removing her bikini top in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, although clearly for different reasons.

The high concept of Scanners is that there are people who have the ability to “link up” their own nervous system with those of other people. These “scanners” are people who are often pushed to the fringes of society because they don’t really have the ability to control this “gift,” and thus are almost always assaulted by the thoughts of other people. This is certainly the case with Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), who encounters some prejudice in a mall food court since he looks like a derelict. The woman making these comments soon suffers an attack that looks like an aneurysm, and Cameron is quickly hunted down and tranquilized by a gang of what seem to be quasi-government agents.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Rinse and Set

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

Once upon a time, there was a world were all everyone thought about was sex. Oh, sure, they might have done other stuff and worked for other stuff, but based on a lot of the movies, there was a great deal of free love happening everywhere. Surprisingly, I’m not talking about the ‘60s, but the mid-‘70s. Shampoo comes out of that period, and while there is a plot here, that plot and everything about it revolves entirely around sex. This isn’t a judgment on the film; it’s just a statement of fact.

George Roundy (Warren Beatty) is a successful hairdresser in Beverly Hills. He’s been able to use this position to meet and bed dozens upon dozens of women. What he’d really like to do is open his own salon, but he doesn’t have the funds to do it. While he is clearly the creative talent in the salon, he’s under the thumb of the salon’s owner, Norman (Jay Robinson). Of more pressing concern to him is his trio of relationships. He has a girlfriend, Jill (Goldie Hawn); he has an ex, Felicia (Lee Grant); and he has a customer with whom he frequently sleeps, Jackie (Julie Christie). This trio of relationships is made more difficult because George is actively soliciting backing money from Lester Karpf (Jack Warden), who happens to be married to Felicia and is having an affair with Jackie.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Terminal Relationships

Film: Up in the Air
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Up in the Air has been sitting on a shelf in my house for a long time. It’s a weird bit of reality that I find it sometimes difficult to pull the trigger on movies on my list that I own. The reason is simple: it’s a movie I don’t have to look for, which means other movies are more pressing concerns. The availability of the movies I own isn’t limited in anyway. Still, I do need to watch them, and it was time for this one, about which I knew nothing. Honestly, I bought it in a group of movies at a sale a few years ago and bought it specifically because I knew I’d have to watch it eventually.

The selling point of Up in the Air is that we’re given a main character who is almost unique in certain characteristics. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) works on the road more than 300 days a year. His job is being called into companies in some sort of transition and firing people because the various bosses in those companies don’t want the direct responsibility. So, Ryan flies from city to city, lives in a series of hotel rooms, and spends his days firing people and attempting to move them through at least the initial transition into unemployment.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

There's No Business Like Show Business (Thank God)

Film: When My Baby Smiles at Me
Format: Internet video on laptop.

When My Baby Smiles at Me is one of those movies I haven’t been able to find for the last few years. When it popped up on YouTube, I jumped at the chance to watch it, not knowing how long it might stick around. Based on the title, I expected a musical comedy, It’s not. It’s a drama, sort of a romance (because there’s always a love angle in films from this era), and a bit of a musical. It also treads pretty heavily on the boards of The Lost Weekend from a few years before. If you think that means we’ll be dealing with both show business and alcoholism, you’re more right than you know.

We’re going to be firmly enmeshed in the lives of Bonny Kane (Betty Grable) and “Skid” Johnson (Dan Dailey), a married pair of Vaudevillians dancing and clowning their way across stages in the 1920s. Bonny is a decent showgirl, able to knock out a song well enough and with the legs to make the audience enjoy it more. Skid is a comedian/comic dancer and is the true star of the show run by Lefty Moore (James Gleason). All seems well and good, except that, of course, off stage things aren’t that great.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Film: Go for Broke!
Format: Internet video on laptop.

So what’s a country to do when it claims to be founded on freedom for all and has a track record of being exactly opposite that? Well, beyond attempting to change as much as possible in the right direction, it starts to produce media of various types to help spur that change. Go for Broke! is a post-World War II propaganda film, this time dedicated not to hyping up the victory or even promoting the armed forces in general, but to highlight the service of a specific group of American citizens. Specifically, this is a film about Japanese-American soldiers fighting in Europe. That it gets only part-way to the message it wants to have and still contains a sizable dollop of racism is unfortunate. But hey, baby steps, right?

What this means in terms of the actual film we are presented with is that we’re going to be spending a good amount of time among the men of the 442nd, but we’re going to be concerned in no small part with their white and initially racist lieutenant, Michael Grayson (Van Johnson). Grayson is a Texas boy and a “90-day Wonder,” meaning he was pushed through officer training. When out, he is assigned to the 442nd in charge of a group of Japanese-Americans from both Hawaii (known as Buta-heads) and the mainland (called Katonks), and Grayson is not pleased with this arrangement.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Open Water

Film: Open Water
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

It takes a certain kind of balls to make a shark movie these days. I get it, but it’s a massive risk. The minute you put people in the water and have sharks in the area, you’re going to be compared with Jaws on some level. Let’s be honest: most movies are not going to compare well with Jaws in general, and even a good shark movie is going to pale in comparison. When it comes to the sharks, Open Water is a bit of a bait and switch. There are sharks here, but they’re just a small part of the total story.

Prepare for a bit of a slow open. Susan Watkins (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel Kintner (Daniel Travis) have busy lives and demanding jobs, which means they don’t get to spend a great deal of time together. Hoping to improve their relationship, the pair takes a vacation to the Caribbean to go scuba diving. Thanks to the magic of movies, the two are quickly on an island and then on a dive boat heading out to deep water. Rather than staying with the group, the two go off on their own. Thanks to a mix-up involving another passenger, the count of divers gets mixed up and Daniel and Susan are left behind in the open ocean.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Girl Week 2017: Frida

Film: Frida
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

Dell over at Dell on Movies is hosting his third annual Girl Week, featuring only movies that have female protagonists. I don’t do a lot of blogathons. It’s not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t generally have a way to fit them into my normal posting schedule. In this case, though, all I needed was a film with a female protagonist. That’s not hard, and it just so happened that Frida was sitting on my desk.

Frida is the biopic of surrealist artist Frida Kahlo, most famous for endless self-portraits and her unibrow. As is often the case, I went into this knowing very little. I knew that Salma Hayek was nominated for Best Actress for the role. I knew Kahlo was a painter, and pretty much that’s where my knowledge stopped.

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Film: Dirty Pretty Things
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I go into a lot of movies pretty cold. As I get closer and closer to finishing my Oscar lists, I set moderate goals for myself each month. One of those goals right now is to close out a few films from years where I still have too many films remaining. I don’t want to end this with a bunch of films from the same year, so at least some of my decisions are based on filling in gaps on years that I have neglected. That’s literally the only reason that Dirty Pretty Things showed up in the mail. Thus it was a bit depressing but hardly shocking when, about halfway through, there’s a clear instance of sexual misconduct. I promise, we’ll get there eventually.

Once I got the film, though, I was pleased and looked forward to watching it. It has two actors I love (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou) in the leads and two more (Sophie Okonedo and Benedict Wong) in supporting roles. It’s directed by Stephen Frears, whose work I have generally liked very much and loved at times. So, off the bat, I was prepared for this to be a film that had a great deal going for it.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Not Another War Movie

Film: Seven Beauties (Pasqualino Settebellezze)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

With the movies that are on my Oscar list that are harder to find, I sometimes have to make some sacrifices. Watching a YouTube version of the film is one of those sacrifices. Another is finding a clearly foreign movie only available dubbed rather than subtitled. There’s not much to be done about that, though. Seven Beauties (or Pasqualino Settebellezze) is a true piece of cinematic history, and you don’t really get those that often. Director Lina Wertmuller was the first woman nominated for a Best Director Oscar.

The film is told in a series of flashbacks from the point of view of our main character, Pasqualino Frafuso (Ginacarlo Giannini), better known as Pasqualino Settebellezze, or Pasqualino Seven Beauties. The name comes from the fact that he has been forced to take charge of his mother and seven sisters, all of whom are fairly homely to downright unattractive. Thus his name is sarcastic at best. What he wants more than anything is to marry his sisters off, something that is nearly impossible because of their looks.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Off Script: Saw

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

I’m probably one of the last horror fans to watch Saw. Out of respect to those reading this, I’ll get all of the puns out of the way. Before this, I hadn’t seen Saw, but now I have seen Saw. Yes, I saw Saw. The next time I see Saw it will be the second time I’ve seen Saw. If someone asks me if I’d like to see Saw I can say that I saw Saw. Sorry for that.

The chances are very good that you’ve already seen this, which means I don’t need a great deal of plot breakdown. I’ll make this quick, something aided greatly by the fact that Saw doesn’t have a huge plot. Two men, photographer Adam (Leigh Whannell) and surgeon Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) wake up in a large, filthy bathroom. They are each chained by an ankle to a pipe on opposite sides of the room. Between them is a corpse holding a microcassette recorder and a pistol.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Crazies (2010)

Film: The Crazies (2010)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

There are a lot of things you can say about George Romero. His ideas are often better than his films, for instance. That’s probably why a lot of his movies end up getting remade. Even some of his less well-known films get that treatment, hence the 2010 remake of The Crazies. In truth, while this is a remake of Romero’s original, The Crazies could just as easily be its own movie. This is not a film that breaks a great deal of new ground.

So let’s take a look at the tropes that we’re dealing with here. A plane crashes in the middle of nowhere (the middle of nowhere, Iowa, in this case) carrying some deadly biological weapon. That deadly biological weapon seeps into the local town’s water supply, and suddenly the residents are becoming infected. A part of the infection is insane, murderous behavior. I’m guess that based on the few sentences above you have thought of at least a dozen movies that follow the same basic idea. That said, it’s important to realize that Romero’s original 1973 version of this story might well be the first that has all of these elements in it, although he certainly borrowed heavily from The Andromeda Strain.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Comment

I didn’t really feel like watching a movie today. That’s not something I say that often.

Over the last several days/weeks/feels like forever, allegations of sexual misconduct/abuse have come out against people in the entertainment industry. Virtually all of these have been verified or admitted. More are almost certainly going to come. Beloved figures are being toppled with likely more pillars of the entertainment industry set to fall as well. As painful as all of this is, it’s necessary. This is something that needed to happen and has been needed, clearly, for a long time.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Family Drama

Film: Little Women (1994)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ll be blunt: Little Women was not made with me in mind. I went into this dreading it for one specific reason. It wasn’t the name and it wasn’t the plot. It was specifically because of my experience with the 1933 version, which I disliked a lot. Much of that was due to an unrestrained and unhinged performance from Katherine Hepburn, who was still early in her career and hadn’t yet learned how to be subtle. The word was that this version of the story was much less flighty than the earlier one, so I had some hope. It also has a good cast front to back, so that was a bonus as well.

But still, this is not a movie made for me. It’s a movie that I fully expected to (and, in fact, do) recognize as good and well-made, but made for an audience very different from yours truly. It is beautifully made and sumptuously costumed, and looks at least in some respects like a Merchant-Ivory production. This is all to its credit. Because of this, a great deal of what follows in this review is almost certainly just me complaining about watching a movie that isn’t the sort of movie that I enjoy watching. Please, take that to heart. Little Women is almost certainly better than I think it is.

Saturday, November 11, 2017


Film: Still Alice
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

I’ve avoided Still Alice until now for a variety of reasons. The essential plot of Still Alice is the story of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and quite frankly Alzheimer’s terrifies me. There are a few things in the world that truly scare me beyond comprehension. The idea of having my mind slip away is absolutely one of them. If my mind is more or less the essential core of who I am, having that slowly deteriorate bit by bit, like waves lapping at a sand castle is almost incomprehensibly terrifying. Worse, our main character Alice (Julianne Moore) is diagnosed in the film at exactly the age I am right now. That she is also a linguist and a professor hits home, too.

The type of Alzheimer’s Alice has is genetic, and that hits home, too, although not mentally. We discovered a number of years ago that my father carries a genetic blood disorder called factor V Leiden that vastly increases the chances for blood clots. We discovered this when my dad had hip replacement surgery. The surgery went fine; the blood clot that followed almost killed him. He’s subsequently had blood clots in his lungs, although he’s still fine and surprisingly healthy for a man in his 80s. Finding out that there’s something in your body that you can’t do anything about and might kill you is a sobering moment. I’ve been checked—I don’t have it, although one of my brothers and one of my sisters does.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sounds Like a Typical Couple

Film: A Man and a Woman (Un Homme et une Femme)
Format: DVD from Rock Island Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I had mixed feelings going into A Man and a Woman (Un Homme et une Femme in the original French) based on the almost nothing I knew about it. This is a film straight out of the heart of the French New Wave, and while I like some films that fit that profile, there are a lot that leave me pretty cold. On the other hand, the film stars Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant, both of whom I tend to like very much. Still, I can’t say that I was gung-ho to watch this. I got a copy through interlibrary loan and literally waited the three weeks until the film was due to watch it.

Having watched A Man and a Woman, I have to wonder why I waited so long. It’s probably that it’s pretty clear from the name of the film and from the cover of the DVD case that this is going to be a romance. I honestly have nothing against romances in general, except that I find that need to be in the right mood for them. That and there are a lot of very bad romances out there, films that are dead predictable or sappy, and I’m rarely in the mood for that. Still, since this movie is not available from NetFlix, and thus getting a copy of it is more difficult than just putting it at the top of the queue, I figured I’d better watch it to avoid the fine.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wednesday Horror: From Beyond

Film: From Beyond
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Some actors have a particular milieu in which he or she is either particularly known or particularly effective. For Jeffrey Combs, that appears to be movies based on H.P. Lovecraft stories. I should be fair here, because that also seems to be the case for Barbara Crampton, who is in at least three Lovecraft-inspired films with Combs. From Beyond is yet another of these, directed by Stuart Gordon and produced by Brian Yuzna. It’s like old home week for the Elder Gods.

From Beyond is based loosely on the Lovecraft story of the same name. The movie alters the story in significant ways, particularly with the addition of a new villainous character to allow Combs to play something like the hero. Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) is the classic mad scientist. He has created a new, massive device that is designed to stimulate the pineal gland of anyone who stands in its field of influence. His assistant, Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), turns on the machine one night and discovers that it works, at least in one sense. While the machine is active, spectral beings appear and attack him. Crawford turns off the machine and talks to his boss/mentor.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Film: Angels Over Broadway
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I went into Angels Over Broadway completely cold. Based on the title alone, I guessed that this would be a bog-standard Hollywood musical from the 1940s with a few upbeat songs, a romance that goes haywire until it ends up the way we expect, and a couple of dance numbers. That could not be more wrong. Angels Over Broadway is a film that desperately wants to be a film noir. It has almost all of the elements of a classic noir, but it also desperately wants to be a film that has the sort of ending we expect in a classic Hollywood film. It’s so close, though, it’s almost a little sad that it can’t quite get there.

What’s interesting about Angels Over Broadway is that it seems like a very early version of a more modern concept in film. We have four individual stories, or at least four very different characters, who come together by chance to give us the story. Aside from its length (it runs a mere 79 minutes), it feels a little Robert Altman-esque in that regard.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Culture Shock

Film: Captain Fantastic
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

A few years ago, the documentary Surfwise showed up on the 1001 Movies list. If memory serves, it vanished the next year. The movie was about an unusual family in the sense of how the children were raised. They were almost feral, destitute, uneducated, and evidently fabulous surfers. Their parents had adopted a strange, communal lifestyle that emphasized the family over attaching themselves to society at large. It was my most common thought while watching Captain Fantastic, a film that concerns a family very similar in a lot of ways.

Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) lives in the forest in the Pacific Northwest with his six children. When I say they live in the forest, I mean that in a literal sense. They have shelters, but they hunt and scavenge food and Ben instructs them in both forestcraft and educates them on virtually every topic. It’s soon clear that the person missing is their mother. Ben and oldest son Bodevan (George MacKay) head to the closest point of civilization to more or less check in. It turns out that Ben’s wife Leslie (Trin Miller) has been hospitalized for bipolar disorder and has, the night before Ben calls in to family, killed herself.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Off Script: Isle of the Dead

Film: Isle of the Dead
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are a few things you know you’re going to get with a Val Lewton-produced movie. You’re going to get not much in the way of budgets, a film that is really atmospheric, and a film that verges on horror without really being that scary. Such is the case with Isle of the Dead, a film that has clear horror elements without really getting that far into horror territory. The films that Lewton worked on were much more concerned with mood and potentially creating a sense of dread than they were with making something genuinely scary. While Isle of the Dead is an interesting film, it doesn’t manage to do much with scares here, except in a single case.

During the Balkan Wars in 1912, General Nikolas Pherides (Boris Karloff with a curly wig) is known as a strict disciplinarian, essentially forcing one of his officers to commit suicide because some of his troops were late to the latest battle. While the men are over-tired, Pherides forces them to deal with the dead because of the threat of typhus and other diseases that have been spreading on the battlefield. Realizing where he is, Pherides takes American reporter Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) to a nearby island where the general’s wife is entombed. Once on the island, he discovers that her grave has been desecrated. He also discovers that there are inhabitants on the island.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Ocean is Pretty Mean, Too

Film: The Cruel Sea
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

While my current genres of choice are science fiction and horror, I grew up on war movies. When I was a kid, I’d watch just about any movie based on a World War II plot that came across the television. I still like a good war movie, and I’d heard some about The Cruel Sea but couldn’t find it. I finally bit the bullet and bought a copy off eBay. I’ve tried to spend as little as possible on this blog, but after this many years, I figured I could spare a few bucks for a movie I really wanted to see.

The Cruel Sea is, as the name would suggest, a naval film. In this case, we’re focused on the battle for the Atlantic in World War II, and specifically the war against the German U-boat fleet. Interestingly, we’re not going to be spending time on battleships or destroyers, but on convoy escorts. Lieutenant-Commander George Ericson (Jack Hawkins), who has had a career in the Merchant Navy has been commandeered into the Royal Navy and placed in charge of a new Flower-class corvette named HMS Compass Rose. He’s given a green crew who have worked their way through training but have no combat experience. Soon on board are his officers Lockhart (Donald Sinden), Ferraby (John Stratton), and Bennett (Stanley Baker). It’s soon evident that Bennett is a martinet who demands respect that he doesn’t particularly deserve. Eventually, the crew is joined by Morell (Denholm Elliott), and their work escorting ships begins.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Night of the Creeps

Film: Night of the Creeps
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When a genre gets to a certain point, a lot of tropes develop for it. There are clichés that are going to work their way into genre films that are hard to avoid. There’s a reason, for instance, that movie funerals so often happen in the rain, or that the minute a guy in a war movie shows the rest of the platoon a picture of his sweetheart, he’s pretty much got a target on himself. Eventually, someone is going to create a film in that genre that attempts to use all of the clichés. Horror is no different in this respect, and Night of the Creeps is that movie.

We start in the 1950s, and oddly, we start on an alien spacecraft. One creature holding a canister is running away from others. Our first alien eventually blasts the canister out an airlock and it eventually comes to rest on Earth. Meanwhile, down on Earth, a lunatic has escaped an asylum after hacking apart four guards with a fire axe. A pair of young lovers from a local college finds both the canister and the lunatic at around the same time. The lunatic kills the girl, while the young man is attacked by something that emerges from the container.