Thursday, March 15, 2018

It is Balloon!

Film: The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge)
Format: Various media on multiple players.

DVDs are a lot like sports officials and autocorrect in one important respect: we don’t really notice them until they screw up badly. As I get closer and closer to the end of these Oscar lists, I’ve discovered that, outside of last year’s nominations, there are a few spots where I still have a couple of movies in the same category and year to watch. I’m trying to get rid of those as much as I can. That’s why I requested The Red Balloon (or Le Ballon Rouge if you prefer) from NetFlix; I still had two 1956 nominees for Best Original Screenplay to watch. So imagine my frustration when about 10 minutes in the disc got stuck and started glitching. Fortunately for me, I found it streaming on Kanopy and finished watching it that way.

It would be fair to ask why, since I watched only 10 minutes off the DVD, I didn’t just say at the top that I watched this on Kanopy. Well, in many instances I would. In the case of The Red Balloon, though, watching 10 minutes approaches a third of the film’s running time. This runs under 35 minutes total. It remains the only short film to win an Oscar outside of the short film category. You read that right—this short film about a six-year-old boy being followed around Paris by a balloon won this Oscar despite having almost no dialogue and being shorter than an episode of Matlock.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Bug

Film: Bug
Format: DVD from Manhattan-Elwood Public Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

Bug is one of those movies that I think you either really appreciate or really don’t. At least that’s sort of my impression of it. It’s the sort of film that would have really strong advocates on the one hand and people who were either upset by it, hated it, or were at least mildly traumatized by it. It says a lot that this was based on a play written by Tracy Letts, who also wrote Killer Joe. That should give you some idea of the sensibilities.

Bug is a paranoid fever dream, the sort of film that starts out looking like a potentially strange little romance and increasingly becomes more and more deranged over time until it devolves into a full-blown shared schizophrenic hallucination. It also does something so subtle that I didn’t catch it the first time I saw it and didn’t really catch it this time until I was close to done watching. I really like it when a film turns out to be smarter than I thought it was.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Off Script: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

Film: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s something oddly reassuring to me about sliding into a film like the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I know what’s going to happen in general. I’ve read the story and seen the story depicted on the screen enough to be more than passing familiar with the basic run of events. The big switch here is seeing Spencer Tracy in the role of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. Tracy was so often a warm, paternal presence on the screen that seeing him as a sadistic monster is surprising and kind of fascinating.

This is the pretty standard story with which you are almost certainly familiar. Dr. Henry Jekyll believes that both good and evil exist in every man. Through experimentation, he discovers a formula that more or less enhances his own evil side, which names itself Edward Hyde. When he drinks the formula, the mild-mannered, decent Jekyll becomes the brutish and sadistic Hyde, who more or less lives out the dark fantasies of the good doctor.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

She's Got a Good Personality...or Two

Film: The Three Faces of Eve
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin' flatscreen.

Posting this review today is something of a milestone for me. The full list of movies on my various Oscar lists runs a little more than 1400 total films. As of this point, with the posting of this review, I’ve hit the double-digit mark. There are 99 movies left unreviewed. It feels like I should have a couple of streamers or something, but there are still a dozen or so movies I’ll likely never get to see, so the celebration is admittedly a bit muted.

So, this is where we’re going to be for the length of this film: we’re going to be investigating the world of multiple personality disorder, specifically in the case of a woman who will be known to us as Eve White (Joanne Woodward). Naturally, she’ll have some other names, too. The first of these other personalities is Eve Black; the third is known eventually as Jane. The film purports itself to be based on reality, and is in fact based on a book. I have no idea how closely the film follows the text nor do I know how accurate that text is to any real case. I guess what we have to do is just assume that we’re at least in the reality ballpark.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Really Junior Executives

Film: The Boss Baby
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the latest internet machine.

When The Boss Baby was nominated for Best Animated Feature, I knew that eventually I would have to watch it. Since it is streaming on NetFlix at the moment, I figured that I could knock it out quickly and therefore not have it hanging over my head for too long. After all, this is the nomination that caused raised eyebrows around the country (at least) since once again a LEGO movie was left off the nominations. No LEGO Batman Movie. Instead, we get this.

The truth is that The Boss Baby, while almost certainly much less of a film than The LEGO Batman Movie, isn’t terrible. It’s also, sadly, not that great. I’ll admit it comes with sort of a cute idea, but it’s taken to some really ridiculous places that don’t really work. It feels like it started with a good voice cast (and it is, top to bottom) and cobbled together a plot to use them. It wasn’t fully developed enough to avoid some pretty strange plot holes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Red Eye

Film: Red Eye
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

I’ve been a Wes Craven fan for a long time. I have nothing but respect for the guy who created some of the most legendary horror movies, franchises, and characters in existence. I love that one of the clauses in his contract for directing Scream was that he got to direct Music of the Heart, and that Wes Craven has directed a scene shared between Meryl Streep and Itzhak Perlman. I was curious when it came to Red Eye; it’s clear right away that this is going to be lesser Craven. It could still be a good or even great film, but it’s never going to rise to the Scream or A Nightmare on Elm Street.

We begin our tale in the company of Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), a manager at a swanky, upscale Miami hotel. Lisa is boarding a plane to return to Miami from Dallas after attending the funeral of her grandmother. The flights are all delayed, though, and Lisa is dealing as well as she can with that and with current issues at her hotel. Her coworker Cynthia (Jayma Mays) is dealing with a number of issues, the main one being the arrival of Charles Keefe (Jack Scalia), the Deputy Chief of Homeland Security. As she is waiting for her flight to finally board, Lisa makes the acquaintance of Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy), who is also on her flight.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Children of Divorce

Film: The Squid and the Whale
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

This is going to be painful. I’m a child of divorce and The Squid and the Whale is about divorce. It’s not just that, though. This is a movie that hits home for me in a lot of respects. The film is a mere 81 minutes long and it took me all day to get through because I needed to stop and process it. My parents’ divorce started when I was 15, so it was multiple decades ago, but The Squid and the Whale hit me very hard in a couple of places and erased those years very quickly. Not in a good way, but in a real way.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Falling for Flying

Film: Crazy Heart
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

So it’s Oscar night and while I watch and live-tweet the awards (something I’ve literally never done before), I’m writing up Crazy Heart during the commercials. For a blog like this one that focuses on a few Oscar categories, tonight is akin to Super Bowl Sunday. I’m hoping that I’ll finish this before the end of the ceremony. Since I don’t care a great deal about the musical numbers, I might write through those as well.

Crazy Heart feels like a movie I’ve seen before, and when Robert Duvall shows up near the end of the film, I realized it was because Crazy Heart is a hell of a lot like Tender Mercies. In Tender Mercies, Duvall plays an aging, alcoholic country music performer on the outs desperately looking for love and meaning. In Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges plays an aging, alcoholic country music performer on the outs desperately looking for love and meaning.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Art Imitates Life Imitates Art

Film: In Cold Blood
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on The New Portable.

I’ve put off watching In Cold Blood for a few reasons. The first was that I wasn’t sure of how well it would hold up to Capote and the non-fiction novel written by Truman Capote. This is one of those instances where I’m familiar with the source material, and in this case, that source material has earned all of the acclaim it has gotten. The book is staggering and brilliant. But I’ll admit that a part of this comes from the odd story of Robert Blake. Do I really want to spend time watching a movie starring Blake as a murderer when he may well be a non-convicted murderer in real life?

That is the entirety of the movie, though. In Cold Blood is essentially the story of the murder of the Clutter family in Kansas by Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) and Perry Smith (Robert Blake). Where it differs is the focus. While Capote’s book takes a more clinical and omniscient perspective and the film Capote sits entirely in the world of the author’s struggle, the film version of In Cold Blood is significantly focused on the story of the criminals. We won’t spend the entire film there, but we do spend a great deal of the film’s running time in the company of Dick and Perry.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Wrestling with a Problem

Film: Women in Love
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Women in Love was one of those movies that has been unfindable for me since I started the Oscars lists. No library in my network has it; NrtFlix doesn’t have it. It’s not on any streaming service I can find. Because of this, I was thrilled when it showed up on TCM. When I finally track down a rarity, I tend to watch it right away. In the case of this movie, I have to wonder why it was so hard to find.

This is not because Women in Love is a great or even a good movie. It’s overlong and filled with the kind of excess that can only exist in a Ken Russell film. No, it’s about this film’s unique place in film history. It is the first time an actress won for a role that included nudity. It was Ken Russell’s only nomination. It was also one of the first mainstream movies to feature full-frontal male nudity. I don’t get why films with multiple nominations—and a win—get so lost. Sure, it’s not a great film, but it has history.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Raising Cain

Film: Raising Cain
Format: DVD from Peotone Public Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

There was a glorious moment of time in the 1980s and early 1990s when it was a legitimate casting choice to have John Lithgow as a heavy. Movies like Ricochet and Cliffhanger had Lithgow playing a vicious, scowling bad guy, a psychopath or sociopath who reveled in the pain and degradation of others. Y’know, the guy from Third Rock from the Sun, the actor who has put out multiple CDs of children’s songs. Toward the end of that wonderful moment in history comes Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain, which has the lovable Lithgow playing a man who is truly malevolent.

Carter Nix (Lithgow) is a child psychologist who has taken a few years off from his practice to study the early development of his daughter (Amanda Pombo). But we learn quickly that there’s something really off about Carter. In the first 10 minutes of the film, Carter has blown some sort of dust into the eyes of a woman and chloroformed her so that he can kidnap her child. Oddly, Carter’s twin brother Cain (also Lithgow) shows up in the middle of nowhere to help him deal with the woman. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but Cain claims he will deal with the woman and take the child to their father, Dr. Nix (Lithgow again).

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Now That's a Busy Day!

Film: Training Day
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

One of the greatest television shows ever made was Chapelle’s Show, and one of the greatest episodes of Chapelle’s Show was the one involving Wayne Brady. I didn’t realize until tonight that at least a part of that sequence is a direct reference to Training Day. This movie has been sitting in my collection for a long time. One of the truths of pursuing a giant list like I have been is that it’s easy to overlook watching a film I own because I know I can always watch it. It’s the ones where my access is potentially limited that often take precedence. Still, eventually you’ve got to get to all of ‘em, and Training Day wasn’t going to watch itself.

Training Day gives us a young cop named Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke, nominated in a supporting role) attempting to join the narcotics squad. He’s going to be put to the test by highly-decorated narcotics officer Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington). While Harris is highly decorated, he’s also known to be extremely dirty, and that’s going to be perhaps the biggest test for young Jake. As his day goes on, Jake is going to find himself forced to take narcotics—specifically PCP-laced marijuana, have guns pointed at him multiple times, get into a few fights, come close to death multiple times, and be involved in a variety of illegal activities.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Unbearable Length of this Movie

Film: The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Sometimes I look at the list of movies I still have to watch for my Oscar categories and I figure it’s time to knock out the longest one. That spot has been occupied by The Unbearable Lightness of Being for months, so I figured it was time to remove it and move on. There’s something supremely satisfying in removing the longest remaining film. Sadly, in this case, it was about the only satisfying thing.

That’s a shame, too, because the cast is so good. The main characters are played by Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, and Lena Olin, with smaller roles for Donald Moffat and Stellan Skarsgard. That should be enough to get this not just over the hump but into the realm of must-see. The issue is that The Unbearable Lightness of Being wants to tell a lot of stories. It wants to be a sexy, erotic drama and a domestic drama and a political drama all at the same time. Because of that, the film runs just under three hours. There’s no reason for it to be that long aside from some artistic decision. The word is that Kaufman presented a two-hour confusing version for the studio to force the three-hour version he wanted. It’s clever, but I have to wonder if it was really worth it.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Familiar Territory

Film: The Breadwinner
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the latest internet machine.

I bought a Chromebook today because there are new restrictions that have been placed on my laptop. I suppose those restrictions are fair; the laptop I generally use is owned by where I work. But streaming sites in general have been made no-fly zones, as have some game-related sites that I like to go to. So I bought myself a Chromebook and christened it today with The Breadwinner, which has just shown up as a streaming option on NetFlix. It wasn’t a film that I was leaping at the chance to watch, but Best Animated Feature is the only one of the latest set of Oscar nominations I hadn’t hit yet.

The first thing that struck me here was that this felt very familiar. Then I realized that I had kind of already seen this before. Osama, released in 2003, is very much the same basic story as The Breadwinner. In both films, a young girl and her family are more less left without a man in the household in Taliban-dominated Afghanistan. Since women are not allowed to leave their houses when not in the company of a man, this sets them up to slowly starve to death, unable to even set foot outside their home without the fear of immediate reprisal. In both cases, the daughter—still young enough to possibly pass for a boy—disguises herself in an attempt to find work and buy food. In the case of Osama, this goes tragically, terribly wrong. In the case of The Breadwinner, that’s much less the case.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Girlfriend in a Coma

Film: The Big Sick
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

The most interesting thing going into The Big Sick for me was Kumail Nanjiani, who I’d seen before here and there. I realized as well that I’d Zoe Kazan as well. I was less excited about her, though, because Zoe Kazan starred in and wrote Ruby Sparks, which I hated. Still, the demand of the list being what it is, I knew I had to watch it. Also, not wanting to end this with a bunch of 2017 movies, and having not many available at this point, it seemed like The Big Sick was a natural.

I’m delighted to say that The Big Sick is difficult to classify. It’s not really a dramedy and it’s not a rom-com even though it has all of these elements. It’s a slice of life story about the real Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gardner—how they met, fell apart, and came back together, mostly because of a near-fatal illness that struck Emily.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Off Script: The Satanic Rites of Dracula

Film: The Satanic Rites of Dracula
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

Christmas money is a wonderful thing. Give me a $50 gift card and a used DVD store and I’m a happy man. I’m even happier when I locate a two-disc set of something like The Satanic Rites of Dracula for a good price (I got And Now the Screaming Starts! and a few others, too). I’m of the opinion that you can’t have enough Hammer horror, Peter Cushing, or Christopher Lee in one’s personal collection, so I snapped it up.

I can’t say I’m having buyer’s remorse, but it is certainly one of the oddest films in my collection. Yes, it’s a vampire film as the name would suggest, but this is not one of those Hammer films that tries to get all gothic on things. It takes place in the time it was filmed, so it’s a modern Dracula with modern henchmen and modern detectives working a case. Oh, there are certainly some acknowledgments of the source material beyond Dracula being the main foil and being played by Christopher Lee. After all, you can’t have a Dracula film starring Lee without putting Peter Cushing on the cast list as Van Helsing, can you?

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Film: The Rose
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

There are a few important things I need to say before I delve too far into The Rose. The first is that I am an unabashed fan of Bette Midler as a human being; I think she’s aces. The second is that I’m not a huge fan of Bette Midler as a performer. Her style on stage as a singer doesn’t do a lot for me. Third, since that this is more or less an unofficial biopic of Janis Joplin, I should come clean on the fact that I genuinely dislike Janis Joplin as a singer. This means there are going to be some pain points for me here—we’ve got someone I don’t love as a performer acting as someone I don’t like as a performer, and she performs a lot.

So, yeah, this is an unofficial Janis Joplin biopic, which is clear pretty quickly. In fact, the only reason it’s not an official biopic is that Joplin’s family wouldn’t allow it. This is how the name of this movie went from Pearl to The Rose in the first place. And, unlike a true biopic, The Rose covers a very short period of time, a period that is awash in bad behavior, drugs, and alcohol.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Off Script: The Thing from Another World

Film: The Thing from Another World
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I have a huge soft spot for science fiction from the 1950s. There’s something wonderfully naïve and goofy about it, a charm that really doesn’t exist in any other combination of time and genre in film history. Science fiction from these years contain the promise of galactic exploration and the danger of alien civilizations, often tinged with hints of Cold War politics. There’s nothing quite like them. When The Thing from Another World popped up on TCM, I jumped at the chance to record it and rewatch it.

The biggest issue with The Thing from Another World is something that isn’t its fault. The film was reimagined in 1982 by John Carpenter, and Carpenter’s version is just about perfect. Unless you’re already a fan, it’s hard to get really excited about a version of the story that isn’t as good as the one you’ve already seen. Still, it’s sometimes nice to see where it comes from, and in this case, The Thing from Another World paved some ground that Carpenter later used to his own great advantage.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1965

The Contenders:

William Wyler: The Collector
John Schlesinger: Darling
David Lean: Doctor Zhivago
Robert Wise: The Sound of Music (winner)
Hiroshi Teshigahara: Woman in the Dunes

Highland Flung

Film: The Hasty Heart
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ televison.

There are plenty of times I go into a movie without knowing a great deal about it. With The Hasty Heart, I didn’t even realize that this was a film with a military angle to the story. In fact, there’s not so much a military angle to the story as this is a very strange military story from front to back. In that respect it reminds me a bit of Tunes of Glory, except that this one is weirder in almost every regard.

The Hasty Heart earns some big points right away for placing itself in the most obscure and least-known corner of World War II: Burma. We’re also going to be not in combat for the most part, but in a makeshift British hospital. The war ends right at the start of the movie, a fact that is going to set up the premise for the rest of the film.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Predator

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

I’m often a little nervous going into a movie that was important to me in my past. If you grew up roughly when I did, you knew Predator when it was new. You loved it for Jesse Ventura and Arnold saying, “Get to the choppah!.” The predator itself was cool and the effects were like nothing anyone had seen before. It wasn’t Citizen Kane, but it was crazy and had cool effects and lots of explosions and paramilitary garb. It was absolutely the sort of movie you grabbed for a weekend from the local video rental place.

But when a movie like this is 30+ years old, whether or not it really holds up is a real question. There are plenty of movies from this era that do, of course. Ghostbusters is still funny, for instance. But not all of them do. I rewatched Stripes a couple of years ago and spent most of the running time waiting for it to be funny at all let alone as funny as I remembered it. So what about Predator? Does it still pass muster more than 30 years on?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Off Script: Goodnight, Mommy (Ich Seh, Ich Seh)

Film: Goodnight Mommy (Ich Seh, Ich Seh)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I remember seeing the trailer for Goodnight Mommy (Ich Seh, Ich Seh in the original German). I was on vacation with my family in North Carolina, still having to do a little work, and it popped up somewhere on social media. The trailer makes it look like the greatest horror movie ever created. Trailers have that power, of course, and once again, what I got was substantially less than the trailer seemed to offer. Don’t take that as my saying that Goodnight Mommy isn’t worth a look. It is, but it’s not the second coming of horror film.

A woman (Susanne Wuest) returns to her isolated home after cosmetic surgery, her face completely bandaged. At home are her twin sons, Lukas (Lukas Schwarz) and Elias (Elias Schwarz). Immediately, things are strange. The woman only seems to interact with Elias, telling them that they know why she won’t talk to Lukas. She is also extremely angry about things, losing her temper quickly. Additionally, she demands that the house be kept quiet with the blinds drawn while she recuperates.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Withdrawal Symptoms

Films: Dunkirk
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

It’s that time of year once again. The Oscar nominations have happened and, as I posted a few weeks ago, there are a bunch more movies on my lists. Dunkirk is one of the more heavily nominated films, even if it’s not hugely represented in my pet categories. It’s hardly a shock that it garnered a bunch of technical nominations and the tremendous Hans Zimmer score was almost certainly a lock for a nomination. It’s also worth noting that as of this writing, Christopher Nolan is the smart-money bet for winning Best Director. It’s also worth noting that despite Nolan’s storied and critically-acclaimed career, this is his first nomination.

Anyone with even a little bit of World War II knowledge will be able to guess quickly that Dunkirk is the story of the mass exodus/retreat by the British Expeditionary Force in 1940. Having been pushed back literally to the coast by the Wehrmacht, the British and French troops stood waiting to be evacuated while the German military squeezed ever tighter. It remains one of the more curious military decisions that the German army allowed so much of the BEF to successfully get back to Britain.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Not the Paper Chase Guy

Films: The Great McGinty
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Every now and then one encounters a movie where the story of its creation is as or more interesting than the story the film wants to tell. Rocky almost didn’t get made because Stallone insisted that he be allowed to star in it. Children of Paradise was made in Nazi-occupied Paris with a significantly Jewish crew. And Preston Sturges sold the script of The Great McGinty to Paramount for $10 with the condition that he be allowed to direct. Considering that this won the 1940 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, I’d say that Paramount got its money’s worth.

We start in a bar in some unnamed third-world country where a man named Tommy (Louis Jean Heydt) is lamenting the fact that a single moment of weakness in an ethical life has led him to this bar to avoid jail and extradition. His career as a bank employee was ruined by a sudden moment of embezzlement. While he is comforted by the bar’s dancing girl (Steffi Duna), he is told a story by the bartender. That bartender claims to be Daniel McGinty (Brian Donlevy), a former bum turned mayor of a major city, then governor, then criminal, then escaped convict. In his case, he’s ended up tending bar in the dive because of a single moment of honesty in a life of corruption. The bulk of the film will be McGinty’s flashback.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Out of Iowa

Films: The Bridges of Madison County
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Sometimes, a filmmaker takes an odd turn in his or her career. Wes Craven made Music of the Heart, after all, and Clint Eastwood made The Bridges of Madison County. Those have more in common than being different from their directors’ respective normal genres. Both of them feature an Oscar-nominated performance from Meryl Streep. Given just how many times Streep has been nominated, though, that’s something that apparently can be said of a definable percentage of films.

This is an unusual film in a lot of respects. Clint Eastwood has demonstrated that he is a capable director over and over again. While some of his films are not the macho cop dramas or westerns that one might think based on his filmography, a lot of his movies have a violent element to them and many play on that end of the moral scale. Mystic River, for instance, isn’t a film that has a lot of happy or satisfying endings for anyone involved. With The Bridges of Madison County, though, we’re in very new territory. This is a straight romance without a great deal else around it. It’s slow and almost meditative, even peaceful. I don’t want to imply that Eastwood’s skill set doesn’t include movies on the softer edge thematically, but his romantic moments don’t tend to be the main focus of his films.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Wednesday Horror: It Follows

Films: It Follows
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

Horror movies tend to reflect the fears of the time in many ways. There’s been a resurgence in horror movies over the last few years with some that have not just been critically acclaimed by people who love the genre but by a more general audience as well. Such is the case with It Follows, a film that dives deep into ideas about sex in the modern world. It’s kind of a coming of age story with a very macabre and nasty twist. It’s sex that’s going to condemn our characters and it’s sex that conceivably is going to save them as well.

The film opens with Annie (Bailey Spry) who suddenly dashes out of her house, ignoring offers of help. We later see her on a beach tearfully calling her parents and telling them that she loves them. Cut to the next morning and the film’s one gore shot of Annie’s brutally mangled body lying on the sand. It’s a good starting point.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Young (Cough) Love

Films: Romeo and Juliet (1936)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Strap in, folks; it’s going to be one of those reviews again. I knew that as soon the disc showed up in the mail today. The 1936 version of Romeo and Juliet wasn’t at the top of my queue, but it was close to the top, and that meant there was a decent chance that it would be the one that showed up. And, well, here we are. I knew I’d have to get to it sooner or later and I suppose at this point I’ve put it off about as long as I could.

So why my reticence? This had a couple of things going against it right from the start. First, it’s Romeo and Juliet, perhaps my least favorite of Shakespeare’s well-known plays. Oh, sure, I enjoyed it well enough when it was done with zombies as Warm Bodies, but generally speaking, it’s not a story I like. Even West Side Story and its glorious color and choreography are merely a beautifully-realized version of a story I dislike. The second hurdle is nearly as big: Leslie Howard. I’ve liked Leslie Howard exactly once (Pygmalion), and tolerated him a couple of times. Otherwise, I find him to be about as interesting as dry toast.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

...It Still Looks Like Surrender

Films: White Banners
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I’ve learned a few things in doing this blog based on large lists of films. One of the things you learn quickly is that when you locate a film that’s been difficult to find, the best thing to do is watch it as quickly as you can. Frequent commenter Joel posted a link to White Banners the other day, and while I had plans to start my 2017 Oscar films today, I knew that I’d have to change those plans. It turns out that the same website has a couple other difficult-to-find films, so I’ll likely be hitting those soon enough.

Before I jump into the movie, it’s worth talking about a little bit of Oscar history here. It’s not often that you encounter a movie that changed the way that Oscars are nominated and voted on, but White Banners is such a movie. Fay Bainter was nominated for Best Actress for this role, and was simultaneously nominated for Supporting Actress for Jezebel, which she won. I’m not entirely sure how the rules were changed—I’m going off what IMDB tells me here on Bainter’s trivia page (if you know, please—use the comments below). It’s also worth noting that it was Bainter who handed Hattie McDaniel her Oscar the next year.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Blinded by the Light

Films: Bright Victory
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

Sometimes Turner Classic Movies comes through. Bright Victory is one of those movies I haven’t been able to find since I started the Oscar lists. There are a few movies that I’m having trouble finding, some of which I know I’ll never properly locate. Those films that are missing, have rights issues, or exist only in a single archive somewhere will likely be forever lost to me as well. But then there are movies like Bright Victory that simply seem to be missing and forgotten. I can’t see a reason that this should have been so difficult to find, and yet here it is, the start of my fifth year focusing on Oscar films, and it’s the first I’ve been able to see it.

It’s a shame, too, because Bright Victory has its moments. It’s notable not because it’s about a disabled soldier, nor is it specifically notable because it has a through-line about racism. No, this is the only time in Arthur Kennedy’s illustrious but sadly overlooked film career where he was nominated for Best Actor. He chalked up another four nominations in supporting roles (no wins for any of them), but as a man relegated to support roles more often than not, he rarely got the chance to shine as the lead. In this case, he got that chance, and shine he damn well did.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Hostel; Hostel Part II

Films: Hostel; Hostel Part II
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

The things I do for this blog. No, seriously. I’ve gone to some dark places here and I knew when I signed on for this that I would be going places I didn’t want to and that I’d come out the other side with some scars. When I started this project, there were places I hoped I wouldn’t have to go. As the project expanded, some of those darker corners of the cinematic experience came closer and closer. And so, now I’ve gone where I said I wouldn’t. I watched Hostel. Once having done that, I figured there was nothing to lose in watching Hostel Part II.

Before I get into this, and I’m going to tell you now that this is going to be a relatively short pair of reviews, I should make a few admissions. The first is that I don’t like the idea of torture porn, let alone the reality of it. The idea that it’s somehow entertaining to witness gratuitous and meaningless pain is unpleasant to me to say the least. The second admission is that I genuinely dislike Eli Roth. He just looks like such a poser, like a guy who thinks he’s got street cred because his dad bought it for him.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Neil Simon's Grand Hotel

Films: California Suite
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

Neil Simon must’ve hated when the ‘70s came to an end. He had 12 plays turned into movies in the 1970s, which is kind of amazing. One of those was California Suite, which was unusual for Simon-penned screenplays in that it has a substantial cast list rather than a couple of major stars in big roles. I can’t say that makes the film more or less than any other Neil Simon script; it’s just something that happens to be true.

California Suite is a title with a double meaning. It takes place in the main in a Beverly Hills hotel in a series of suites. In that sense, the title is literal. It’s also, though, a “suite” of four stories that take place in that location at roughly the same time. At least that’s my assumption. Since the stories don’t really interact with each other at all and the characters from one story don’t appear in the other three, it’s possible that they could be taking place at different times and even at different hotels. In truth, this is one of the weaknesses of the film.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Completed Once Again

Films: I, Daniel Blake
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

There is a genre of film—not a very American genre in this case—about how much it sucks to be poor. There’s a vast swath of American politics that sees the poor not as people to be helped or even pitied, but as people to be denigrated. It’s why poor people in American movies are often not that poor. In an average ‘80s teen movie, for instance, the “poor” kids still live in decent-sized houses and often have cars that their parents have bought for them. Middle-class qualifies as poor for Hollywood in many cases. Cross the ocean (or the southern border), and you’ll find films about people who are on the fringes of society, barely able to survive. England is great for films like this, so it’s not much of a surprise that I, Daniel Blake falls firmly into this genre.

I, Daniel Blake is one of the modern darlings of U.K. cinema, evidence by the fact that it was released in 2016 and has already shown up in a Criterion edition. I have to say I’m a little bothered by this sort of instant “it’s a classic” acceptance for any film. I enjoyed the hell out of a bunch of 2017 films, and I’d look sideways at a Criterion edition for any of them. It’s too damn soon, too forced. I, Daniel Blake is a fine movie for what it is, but to be given this sort of treatment? It feels premature.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Birth of a Communist

Films: The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios di Motocicleta)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I did the 1001 Movies list originally, I made a massive effort to remove foreign language films at a regular clip. I haven’t really done that with the Oscar lists. A big part of that is that there aren’t a substantial number of non-English films on my Oscar lists. Because of this, I find myself nearing the end of this part of this project with a relatively substantial number of foreign language films still to see. I should probably do something about that, which is one of the reasons I watched The Motorcycle Diaries (or Diarios de Motocicleta if you prefer) today.

Depending on your political persuasion, The Motorcycle Diaries is either a terrible tale of the creation of one of the greatest enemies of freedom to ever exist or it’s a superhero origin story. Why? Because this is the story of Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) and a formative journey he took with an older friend named Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna) from Buenos Aires up along the Pacific coast of South America on an old, dilapidated motorcycle (hence the name of the film).

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Don't Wait too Long

Film: Heaven Can Wait (1943)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve enjoyed the films of Ernst Lubitsch that I’ve seen in general, so I was curious about Heaven Can Wait. What I knew going in wasn’t much. The main thing I knew was that the 1978 movie of the same name is actually a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan and not this movie. In fact, this film, while there are similar themes, is almost the opposite in where our characters take the narrative.

But, like both Here Comes Mr. Jordan and the 1978 Heaven Can Wait, we’re going to be dealing with someone who has died. Our corpse is Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche), who wanders into a large, impressive entryway where he meets a man known as His Excellency (Laird Cregar). It’s soon clear that we are at the entry to hell, and Henry is of the opinion that this is where he belongs. His Excellency is not convinced, though, so Henry is forced to tell his life story to justify his entry into Perdition.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Zodiac

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

It seems strange when looking at a list of horror films to be watching a film that is essentially a straight crime drama. Zodiac is based on the actual case of the Zodiac killer in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I’ve said before in regard to the They Shoot Zombies list that when you get down toward the bottom of the list, you get three things—underknown horror movies, horror movies that aren’t really that good, and movies that aren’t really horror. That’s clearly the case with Zodiac. There are horror elements here, but this is a crime drama more than it is anything else.

Zodiac is also a film that makes a turn in terms of genre at some point, and I’m not exactly clear where that happens. The opening part of the film is very much a serial killer movie. In fact, the film opens with an attack on a couple (the guy survives), and another follows not too long behind. There’s a vague feeling of a film like The Silence of the Lambs in this part as we deal with the murders and slowly start to get a feel for both the police investigation and the pursuit of the story by the San Francisco Chronicle. As the film continues and the mocking letters from the killer to the press change and slow down, it becomes much more about the investigation.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Oscars I Care About

So, Oscar nominations have been released, and in terms of the awards I care about, there were 21 additions to my lists. Three of those (The Shape of Water, Logan, and Get Out) I have already seen. The complete lists, again, for those seven categories that matter to me here, are as follows:

Best Picture
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director
Christopher Nolan: Dunkirk
Jordan Peele: Get Out
Greta Gerwig: Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson: Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro: The Shape of Water

Best Actor
Timothee Chalamet: Call Me by Your Name
Gary Oldman: Darkest Hour
Daniel Kaluuya: Get Out
Daniel Day-Lewis: Phantom Thread
Denzel Washington: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Best Actress
Margot Robbie: I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan: Lady Bird
Meryl Streep: The Post
Sally Hawkins: The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Adapted Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Molly's Game

Best Original Screenplay
The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Animated Feature
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

So, here are a few things worth mentioning.

First, Oscars are far less white this than in a few previous incarnations, although Best Actress is entirely white this year. I'm a little surprised in terms of genre to see Daniel Kaluuya nominated (pleasantly surprised, mind you--I've said for years that Oscar is unfairly prejudiced against horror). In fact, the number of nominations for both Get Out and The Shape of Water is nice to see, since both are of genres that Oscar typically shuns.

Speaking of that, I'm a little disappointed but not surprised at the lack of nominations for Wonder Woman. I had hopes for it, but superhero movies are routinely ignored--the fact that Heath Ledger was nominated let alone won for a performance in a superhero movie is a huge anomaly. Evidence for this is the fact that Logan earned a nomination for just its screenplay and Patrick Stewart was ignored for what is probably the greatest performance of his career. Wonder Woman's lack of nominations speaks more about the genre than it does about a woman-fronted movie or a major film directed by a woman.

To that point, it's nice to see Greta Gerwig nominated for Best Director. But herein lies a serious problem for the Academy. With this award, there is no win for them. I haven't seen Lady Bird (I'm very much looking forward to it), so I can't say if she deserves to win or even deserved a nomination at this point. I can say that my heart will always be with Guillermo del Toro here, but that's beside the point. If Gerwig wins, there will be a contingent of people who will say that she only won because of everything that happened in 2017 and that she didn't really earn it--she won because she was a woman in the right place. If she doesn't win, there will be a contingent of people who say that her nomination was the Academy providing lip service to the #metoo movement. They're damned if they do and damned if they don't--and this would have been a good case for nominating Patty Jenkins as well. A second woman on the list would alleviate this problem, and it's incredibly easy to make a case for Jenkins here despite genre issues.

There is a point in the Academy's favor, though. Four of the five Best Actress nominees are in films that were also nominated for Best Picture. That may not sound like a big deal, but it could well be the start of an important trend. Last year, only one nominee (Emma Stone for La La Land) was nominated for a performance in a Best Picture nominee, while four of the five Best Actor nominations were. This is not uncommon. I'll go back a few years to show you what I mean. In each of the following, I'm listing the number of nominated performances that were in films nominated for Best Picture.

2016 Oscars: 4 actors, 1 actress
2015 Oscars: 2 actors, 2 actresses
2014 Oscars: 4 actors, 1 actress
2013 Oscars: 5 actors, 3 actresses
2012 Oscars: 3 actors, 4 actresses (an anomaly!)
2011 Oscars: 3 actors, 1 actress
2010 Oscars: 4 actors, 3 actresses
2009 Oscars: 2 actors, 3 actresses (another anomaly!)

Yes, there are a couple of anomalous years here, but on average, 3.375 Best Actor performances are from films also considered important enough and good enough to be considered for Best Picture compared with an average of 2.25 for Best Actress performances. This is significant--it's under half for women and well over half for men. That list above only goes back to years where the Best Picture category has been expanded--it's true as we continue back in history. From 2000-2008, 42.22% (19 of 45) of Best Actor nominations are in Best Picture nominations with no common nominations in 2006. A mere 22.22% (10 of 45) of Best Actress nominations are in Best Picture nominated films, with no common nominations in 2003 and 2005. In seven of those nine years, two or more Best Actors nominations qualify, something true of only three years for Best Actress nominations. Best Actresses have more Best Picture-related nominations in only two of these years (2000 and 2006), while Best Actors have more Best Picture related nominations in five of those years (2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2008).

And that trend continues the further back we go. In fact, it gets worse. Almost half (24 of 50) Best Actor nominations in the '90s are from Best Picture nominations while just over a quarter (13 of 50) Best Actress nominations are. Best Actors have six years where these nominations outnumber those of Best Actresses, and the other four years are tied. There are no films in common for Best Picture and Best Actress in 1990 and 1994, and that's never true for actors. This holds true in the '80s (26 Best Actor nominations vs. 19 Best Actress) and the '70s (24 to 20).

So what does all of this mean? It means that traditionally, the Academy undervalues actresses. Those performances most worthy of note from actresses tend to happen (in the eyes of the Academy) in films that are not important enough or good enough to be considered for Best Picture. It's the old idea that pictures about women and women's issues attract women while pictures about men and men's issues attract everyone. Perhaps this is changing, but we've had years like this in the past. It's something to watch, and we can hope it's the beginning of a trend.

As always, I'd love any comments. Please, let me know what you think and what you think got snubbed.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Seems a Bit More Like Hell

Film: All This, and Heaven Too
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

When I first started reviewing films seriously here (at least as seriously as I’ve reviewed any films on this site), I was non-committal about Bette Davis. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. All This, and Heaven Too is my 15th Bette Davis movie, and by now, I’ve gotten it. Davis was a force of nature on the screen. Something of a beauty in her earlier films, Davis, by the time her career truly kicked into high gear, could not be called a classic Hollywood beauty by any real standard. No, Davis’s appeal was how forceful and dynamic she could be on the screen. All This, and Heaven Too falls in that strange middle place in her career, after her temptress roles (as in Jezebel) and before her less glamorous but meatier roles (like in Now, Voyager). What this means is that Davis is playing a romantic character while not having the traditional looks that might be expected.

Mlle. Henriette Deluzy-Desportes (Davis) has just come to America where she is employed at a girls’ school as a French teacher. Sadly for her, scandal has followed her, and the girls in her class are relentless and scandalized by her presence. Convinced to stick it out by young pastor Henry Martyn Field (Jeffrey Lynn), who she met on her crossing from Europe, she goes back to her classroom to tell the story of her life to her students in the hopes that they might better understand and perhaps accept her.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


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

This is going to be one of “those” reviews. Had I had the foresight to watch The Front a couple of years ago, I’d have been able to address it as it stands rather than addressing the elephant still in the room, in this case the sexual abuse allegations against Woody Allen. In fact, I’m kind of happy I am addressing it now, because The Front calls up one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed when it comes to the works of accused filmmakers and actors.

That question is the role of the other people in the film. The Front is a film that specifically focuses on the people who were affected and disenfranchised by the Hollywood Blacklist. On the surface, it’s a mild comedic tale. A blacklisted writer (Michael Murphy) goes to his friend, cashier Howard Prince (Woody Allen) to act as his front. Essentially, Howard will put his name on television scripts and take 10% of the pay. Since Howard has a number of debts and needs the money, he agrees, and soon he’s fronting for a trio of blacklisted writers. But there is a deeper issue here. The Front was written by a blacklisted author (Walter Bernstein), directed by a blacklisted director (Martin Ritt) and features blacklisted actors like Zero Mostel in prominent roles. The Front exists to expose the wrongs that were done to these people. Avoiding the film to avoid Allen seems to cost us quite a lot.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Treading the Boards

Film: The Royal Family of Broadway
Format: Internet video on laptop.

While there are still some beloved and frequently seen movies left in my Oscar lists, I am getting to the point where a lot of what I still have to watch are films that are pretty much forgotten. That’s absolutely the case with The Royal Family of Broadway. Honestly, I’m just happy that there was a version of this to watch on YouTube. This film evidently exists in terms of physical media only in a UCLA vault as a 35mm print. That there are versions that appear online is fortunate, because it would be easy for this to be a completely forgotten film.

The Royal Family of Broadway was evidently based on a stage play, which was itself a rough biography of the Barrymore family. We’re going to be spending a good bit of time with our theatrical family and dealing with all of their different foibles. For what it’s worth, there are going to be four main members of the Cavendish family that we will have to deal with. Fanny Cavendish (Henrietta Crosman) is the family matriarch and absolutely convinced that life in the theater is the right life for the whole family. Her daughter Julie (Ina Claire) is a stage actress as well, but is considering getting married to wealthy financier Gilmore Marshall (Frank Conroy). Julie’s daughter Gwen (Mary Brian) wants to marry Perry (Charles Starrett) and give up the life entirely. And then there is Tony Cavendish (Fredric March), the family’s prodigal, who has gone out west to be in movies and, because of his wild ways and wantonness, has been forced to leave the coast, return to New York, and attempt to book passage to Europe on Aquitania.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Pacific Heights

Film: Pacific Heights
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I’ve never been a believer in the talents of Melanie Griffith. I’m not sure what it is. There’s something about her that simply doesn’t work for me. Most of the time, when I see her, I wonder why the film producers didn’t get someone else. Melanie Griffith seems like the poor man’s Meg Ryan, like the actress you get when you can’t really get the actress you want. Honestly, I think that’s an unfair assessment of her; the truth is that I just don’t care for her that much. This fact has kept me from getting to Pacific Heights for some time—this being the final movie on the original Bravo list of 100 Scariest Movie Moments for me to watch. Completing a list certainly seems like it’s worth a little Melanie Griffith.

Like many a good thriller, the set up here is pretty simple. A young, unmarried couple named Patty Palmer (Griffith) and Drake Goodman (Matthew Modine) decide to purchase an old fixer-upper in San Francisco for more than they can really afford. The idea is that they will live on the top floor of the house and rent out the bottom floor as a pair of apartments. This starts out as a “white people issues” movie—they’re charging a combined $2300 rent for their two apartments, and this doesn’t come close to covering their actual mortgage, which, with the apartments filled, is just slightly less than the combined rents of their original apartments.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

She Drinks a Whiskey Drink, She Drinks a Vodka Drink

Film: I’ll Cry Tomorrow
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

It took Susan Hayward five tries to win an Oscar. Four of those five, including her eventual win, were portrayals of women had fallen in some significant and terrible way. That terrible failing might be alcohol (Smash-Up), booze and a bad marriage (My Foolish Heart), or crime (I Want to Live!). With I’ll Cry Tomorrow, it was a return to alcohol, and many of the same places she went in Smash-Up. It’s also a return to what she did in With a Song in My Heart, in that she’s playing a real person and a real life.

I’ll Cry Tomorrow is the story of Lillian Roth (Hayward), an actress and performer in the early days of the movies. Roth was thrust on stage by her mother (Jo Van Fleet) and forced into a life of performance. It’s never really clear that this was something that Lillian wanted for herself. In fact, when she, out in Hollywood, reconnects with David Tredman (Ray Danton), a childhood friend, she’s absolutely ready to ditch the life completely. David, an entertainment lawyer, gets some solid gigs for Lillian as the two prepare to get married. But David suffered from some mysterious (and never defined) malady, and he dies suddenly while Lillian is on stage.

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


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


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.