Saturday, February 18, 2017

Denver Hillbillies

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

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

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

Best Original Screenplay 1981

The Contenders:

Absence of Malice
Arthur
Atlantic City
Chariots of Fire (winner)
Reds

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Today's Special

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day, Mom

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

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

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

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Sting Lite

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

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

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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Cowboy Noir

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

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

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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Back in the U.S.S.R.

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Leopard Man

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

I’ve not been shy on this blog about my love of Jacques Tourneur and especially the work he did with the great Val Lewton. As pure horror movies, they don’t work based on what the world thinks of as horror movies now, but that’s okay. Their work was low budget by definition, and so the scares and thrills had to be done with movie cleverness, with shadows and sounds rather than leaping monsters and gore. It’s great stuff when it works, and every one of their movies (at least the ones that I’ve seen) have at least a few places where that creepy vibe comes out and works like a charm. The Leopard Man is no exception.

It all starts innocently enough. Singer Kiki Walker (Jean Brooks) is stuck in New Mexico with her manager Jerry Manning (Dennis O’Keefe) and is having trouble getting the locals to appreciate her act. The main problem she’s having is that she doesn’t have the immediate sex appeal of castanet-wielding dancer Clo-Clo (Margo). Jerry comes up with the brilliant idea of having Kiki walk into the club with a black leopard on a leash during Clo-Clo’s act. She does, and Clo-Clo reacts by startling the panther and causing it to run off.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Drawn Butter

Film: The Lobster
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on rockin’ flatscreen.

Author James Morrow wrote a book called “City of Truth” in which the characters are unable to lie. Every conversation is brutally frank and honest because even the smallest lie has been conditioned out of people. The main character of the book must learn to lie in order to save his seriously ill son. I thought that The Invention of Lying was the closest approximation to that story in the world of film, and it probably is. However, I would not be surprised if the writers of The Lobster were familiar with that book, since the conversations that happen in this film are about as close to Morrow’s book as I’ve ever seen.

The Lobster, much like Being John Malkovich or Jasper Fforde’s “Grey” series, trades on its inherent weirdness. This is a film that is really all about premise more than it is about anything else. If you can buy into the obviously allegorical premise, the movie is an interesting one, but there will be a percentage of the population that simply can’t get past the incredibly strange premise that we’re given.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Westeros, North Carolina

Film: Cold Mountain
Format: HBO Go on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m not sure what compelled me to watch Cold Mountain today. It might be that it was one of the longest movies still on my list of films and it was available. It might be that I’m not a fan of Renee Zellweger and there are still too many of her movies I have yet to see. Maybe I’m just a masochist. Cold Mountain isn’t a bad movie. In fact, it’s very well made. But it’s one of those movies where nothing good happens to anyone and everything is terribly tragic. It’s like Game of Thrones, American Civil War edition.

It’s also very oddly cast. Don’t get me wrong here; the cast is an excellent one. It’s just a strange one for a film that takes place during the American Civil War. It stars Brit Jude Law romancing Australian Nicole Kidman and features major roles from Irishman Brendan Gleeson and Brit Ray Winstone. There are also small roles for Canadian Donald Sutherland and Irishman Cillian Murphy. All of them but Murphy play Southerners; Murphy plays a Yank.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Hard to Shoot 'Em Like That

Film: Broken Arrow (1950)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I always forget that James Stewart was a legitimate Western star. He did enough of them, and enough of them were pretty good that I probably shouldn’t forget that so easily. Westerns are a big genre, of course, and there are enough of them that anyone can find a few that fit with their other film sensibilities. That said, Westerns have trouble getting the natives right. Early films painted them (often literally painting white actors) as savages who only existed to be threatening and get shot. Many a later Western (see Dances with Wolves, for instance) paint them as noble savages who were callously abused and slaughtered. The truth, as with many things, probably lies somewhere in between. Broken Arrow is interesting in that regard, because that’s the course it tries to set for itself.

Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) is out panning for gold in Apache territory when he discovers a young boy who has been wounded. Tom nurses him back to health, and after a few days, the boy is healthy enough to return to his home. At this time, Tom and the boy are set upon by Apache, but Tom is spared because of his kindness and because he did not take part in the attack that wounded the boy in the first place.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Reckless Endangerment

Film: The Accused
Format: Starz on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve complained in the last few weeks about the number of Holocaust movies I’ve watched and of being a bit burned out on them. That’s sort of an unpleasant thing to admit, because I’m also of the opinion that movies about that are the sort that we should keep front and center. I’m about to say the same thing about another genre of film. I wonder about how often rape is used as a plot device. There are plenty of times when it’s simply an unpleasant part of the film that is there to motivate someone or move the action along. In the case of a movie like The Accused, it’s the entire point of the film. This is a movie that starts with the rape and spends the rest of the movie revisiting it.

Yes, this is going to be as unpleasant as it sounds like it’s going to be. While the film starts with the rape, it really starts with the aftermath, with victim Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster), clothes torn, running out of the bar where the rape happened. It’s not until the end of the movie where we actually see the events in question. According to the trivia page on IMDB, the filming of the rape sequence caused one of the male actors to vomit, and Jodie Foster herself claims to have no memory of it despite frequent rehearsals.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Pontypool

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

I’m pretty sure it was Nick Jobe who alerted me to the joy that is Pontypool. This is an odd little horror movie that is far better than the acclaim it’s gotten in the wider world. Mention Pontypool to almost anyone, and they look at you like you’re an idiot. This is a case where the knowledge of the film in the film viewing community is directly correlated to the name of the film. The name of the film doesn’t conjure up any particular image, which means it relies on marketing to get the word out. It’s possible for a film like this to become better known—look at Cloverfield, which has the same issue. But Pontypool is all but unknown, cursed by a non-evocative name and a lack of budget.

Like many good horror movies, the idea that drives Pontypool is a good one and a simple one to understand. This is a riff on zombies in the same way that 28 Days Later played with the basic concept by giving us monsters that aren’t truly undead ghouls but have a great deal of similarity to them. This is also an infection film, but—and this is where Pontypool gets interesting—it’s more or less a case of infection of the meme in the way it was originally meant when the term was coined. People don’t get infected physically; they get infected mentally through language.