Sunday, January 14, 2018

Superman Who?

Film: Wonder Woman
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

There are a lot of different ways that I could approach Wonder Woman. Do I look at this as just another superhero movie? Is this the first salvo in a world where women are actually going to be taken seriously as filmmakers? Is this yet more evidence that moviegoers care more about story than they do about specifically having a male character at the center of the film? All of these are probably true—and with the last possibility there, it’s a position I’ve held for some time. While not everyone looks at movies the way I do, there is plenty of evidence that the majority of the general movie audience are interested in story and character and far less interested in things like gender and sexuality. A good story well-acted is just that, and for most people, that good story could be about anybody—any gender, any ethnicity, etc.—and the good story will still play. That, more than anything, is the success of Wonder Woman, and the idea that people everywhere were shocked by its success is kind of sad.

The chances are pretty good that you’ve already seen this, so I’m not going to go into a great amount of detail on the plot. A group of essentially immortal warrior women live on an island shielded from the rest of the world. These women were created by Zeus to act as a guard against the treachery of Ares, who sought to destroy mankind. Among the Amazons is young Diana (Lilly Aspell), who wants to train as a warrior, but is prevented by her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Diana (Gal Gadot as an adult) trains with her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), and it’s a good thing she does, because eventually, the rest of the world is going to crash in on the hidden island of the Amazons.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Think They Work in Queens?

Film: Prince of the City
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Prince of the City comes on two discs. Since the film is under three hours in length, I’m not entirely sure why it ships on two discs, nor do I understand why roughly two-thirds of the film are on the first disc and less than an hour on the second. I don’t understand why this couldn’t have been done as a double-sided DVD, nor do I understand why films that are as long or longer manage to squeeze everything onto a single DVD when that simply couldn’t be the case here. But what do I know, right?

All of this would suggest that Prince of the City is a long film, and it is, stretching just under three hours (roughly 167 minutes total) on its twisting way through a tale of dirty cops, cops who are only dirty in the sense that it allows them to get even dirtier players, and just simple dirt. Sidney Lumet’s original desire for the film was to have an unknown in the main role (Treat Williams, in this case, and he did qualify in 1981) and for the film the cross the 3-hour barrier. He got close enough to that one, because I’m not sure what more there is to say about this topic in the film.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

iLife

Film: Steve Jobs
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I have a mixed marriage in the sense that I am and have long been a PC guy and my wife is a dedicated Mac user and has been since before we were married. I’ve certainly used my share of Macs—you don’t work in publishing without spending time on a Mac, or at least you didn’t years ago—but my original connection to computers was gaming, and that was all about the PC. Because of this, I was never really that interested in the Steve Jobs cult of personality. My wife and kids all have iPhones; I have a Galaxy. Steve Jobs is a pseudo biography of Jobs. It’s more a trio of memoirs, seeing Jobs in the moments before three product launches: the Macintosh, the NeXT, and the iMac.

What this isn’t is a nice picture of Jobs as a person. While this may not be a “warts-and-all” biography, it is one where at least some of the warts are not merely included, but are featured. These include his tremendous ego and his evident need for complete control over everything he touched. The film doesn’t really explore the technology or the innovation; instead, it explores a set of relationships that Jobs had over the course of his career.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Saw II

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

I don’t have a great deal of interest in torture porn as a concept. The original Saw was tagged as a torture porn film, but it really wasn’t. It was a hell of a lot smarter than that, and for all of the nastiness and grue in the film, it had a surprisingly positive and interesting message. When it became a thing, there wasn’t much surprise in it suddenly becoming a franchise, and Saw II went into production probably the moment the original started to make money.

The premise here is essentially the same. A killer named Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) traps people and puts them into life-or-death situations. These people are all failing to live their lives to the fullest in some significant way—they are predators, junkies, or people who prey on society in some way. Their test (or “game” in Jigsaw’s parlance) is to demonstrate that they have the will to live, often by doing something painful and bloody to themselves or someone else to free themselves from a deathtrap. Saw II gives us a reminder of this, putting an informant (Noam Jenkins) in a situation where he more or less has to remove one of his eyes to save his life. He can’t and the trap is sprung.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Dien BIen FUBAR

Film: The Quiet American
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I do not understand the career of Brendan Fraser. This is going to sound strange, but the career that I’m most reminded of is that of Hilary Swank. Swank has two Oscars, but seems just as much at home in absolute cinematic garbage like The Core and The Reaping. Fraser is probably best known for The Mummy and its sequel, fun and entertaining action films, but he’s had his share of films like Furry Vengeance and Dudley Do-Right. And yet, every now and then, he has a prominent role in a film like Gods and Monsters or The Quiet American. While Michael Caine is arguably the star of The Quiet American, it is Fraser playing the title role. How the hell do you switch gears between an adaptation of a Graham Greene novel and Monkeybone?

The Quiet American takes place in Vietnam at the very start of the war, before serious American involvement. In fact, based on the newspaper headlines we see at the end (and this is not a spoiler), this takes place before the French pull out of Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu. British journalist Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) is in Saigon, reporting on the beginnings of the war. Despite having a wife back in London, Thomas lives with Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), who is more or less a kept woman. This presents a problem for Phuong eventually. Thomas is unable to marry her and because of her relationship with him, no Vietnamese man will have her when he leaves.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Small Tragedies

Film: Sundays and Cybele (Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

2018 has not been kind, and we’re only a week in. On the third, a woman turned directly in front of my wife on the road, causing an accident. We’ll find out tomorrow if our little Fiat is going to be totaled or not, and Sue is battered, bruised and currently on heavy medication. My father’s wife has had a medical procedure with some complications. My mom has pneumonia. Just this morning, an ambulance showed up to take one of my neighbors to the hospital. It’s been a week of tragedy to start the year. Naturally, the film that showed up from NetFlix was Sundays and Cybele (Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray in the French), a movie that more or less defines the concept of tragedy.

I’m of two minds with something like this. On the one hand, a film like Sundays and Cybele fits in with the sort of mood I’m in right now. Sometimes, when it feels like the world is crashing about one’s ears, it can be satisfying to revel in that feeling. In that respect, this was almost the perfect film for me today. On the other hand, sometimes when things seem to be constantly spiraling downward, we want an uplift. Based on that, this was absolutely the wrong choice for today.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Die, Yuppie Scum!

Film: Afterglow
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I have a serious confession to make about the movie Afterglow. I started watching this movie several days ago and stopped about 40 minutes in. There’s a specific reason for this. Every year for the past few years, I have tracked everything I watch on Letterboxd, creating a new list each year. Because I watch a little more than a movie every day, I access this list frequently, and because of how Letterboxd works, I see the top few entries of the list every time I go to it. The thought of spending an entire year having to look at the poster for Afterglow was something I didn’t want to happen because I knew it would piss me off.

Yes, I hate this movie in a way I typically reserve for white supremacists, television preachers, and people who don’t use their turn signals. This is the sort of movie that appears to have been written by people who have too much money and no real problems for people who either want to live in a world of too much money and no real problems or already do and think their non-problems are the most important things in the world. Everyone in this film is hateful, stupid, selfish, and not worth anyone’s time. This is cinematic solipsism, desperate navel gazing masquerading as being meaningful. Sorry for the rant (there will be more later), but sometimes I need to get this kind of thing out of my system.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Vampire (More than a) Weekend

Film: The Transfiguration
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

The last couple of years have been great for horror movies. Living in a world that seems to be constantly and continuously spiraling out of control on many fronts often has that sort of impact on the genre that deals specifically with both the real and unrealistic fears of the world. When a genre gets this sort of creative bump, there are going to be films that are left behind, ignored and overlooked. The Transfiguration is one of those films. Listed as a 2016 release, it didn’t really hit theaters until April of last year, and then made such a small ripple that not many people seem to have heard of it.

It’s also not a particularly easy film to classify. It is very much a film that plays on vampire lore, making it a vampire film in many ways. It is also not entirely clear if it is a film that wants to accept the supernatural aspects of vampirism or instead wants to travel down the road more or less paved by Martin. Are we dealing with a real vampire here or are we simply dealing with a very disturbed and disturbing young man?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Wednesday Horror: XX

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

Say what you will about anthology films like XX, there is a section of the market that likes them. I can go either way with them. On the one hand, I appreciate that in horror anthologies, there’s not a lot of filler, mainly because there isn’t any time for filler. Since the film has at most about half an hour to go from start to finish, we’ve got to get down to it right away. The downside of an anthology is that we never really connect to the characters.

That lack of connection is important. For me, at least, horror works in only a couple of ways. The best horror connects us deeply with the characters, gives us some incentive to want them to be successful or at least survive, and deals with the existential problems of life. True, deep existential horror is difficult, but wonderful when it’s achieved. That takes time, though, and in an anthology film, time is exactly what we don’t have. What that means is that we’re going to get the cheap horror film answers here: jump scares and gore. With XX, there’s a real desire in some of these shorts to attempt that deeper horror. There’s just not enough here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Garbo Speaks!

Film: Anna Christie
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I have gotten into the habit of picking up odd movies now and then when I find them. Most of the time, these are movies that I know I’ll need to watch for one list or another. I don’t just buy indiscriminately, though. Many that I buy are notable in one way or another. That’s the explanation for why I own a copy of Anna Christie. Sure, I knew I’d have to watch this eventually, but I bought it not just for that but because it’s also Greta Garbo’s first talkie. Fans who had desperately wondered what she sounded like finally got their chance.

What this means is that Anna Christie is an interesting piece of film history. It also means that it doesn’t have that good or that interesting because it relied on this gimmick to get people to go see it. What we’re going to get instead is a pretty straightforward melodrama focused on Garbo’s character with some assistance from Charles Bickford, Marie Dressler, and George F. Marion.