Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Opera

Film: Opera
Format: DVD from NetFlix on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

So I think it’s something I can say now officially—I don’t like Italian horror. It’s something I’ve struggled with in the past. There are a few gialli that I like, but even those have issues with not being that coherent all of the time. Films like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, for instance, are interesting and have some good parts, but even those are movies that I’m not convinced I want to watch again any time soon. Even the really celebrated ones like Suspiria are ones I like for reasons beyond the disjointed plot. So Opera, another Argento film, is one that has gotten a great deal of praise. I gritted my teeth and hoped for the best.

Now that I’ve seen it, I have a new hypothesis about a lot of Italian horror films. I don’t think the plot comes first. I think instead that the director or the screenwriter gets an idea or two for particular scenes that would look really interesting. For Suspiria, for instance, the first death scene, the barbed wire room, and the blocks of primary colors were probably the initial thoughts. For Blood and Black Lace, it was probably the fashion, and shots like the model being drowned. For Opera, it’s probably the ravens and the needles. Once those visuals have been thought of, the director/screenwriter tries to figure out a way to connect all of those different scenes into a narrative. Typically, this is done with…varying results of coherence.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Project Runway

Film: Phantom Thread
Format: Blu-Ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

With Phantom Thread, there is really a single story to be told. Star of the film and three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis went on record as saying that this would be his last film and that he will be retiring from acting. That is reason enough to watch the film. Day-Lewis is, I think I can say without much fear of contradiction, the most accomplished male actor of his generation. I have no idea who will step up to replace him, but for the last 30 years or so—since his break-out performance in My Left Foot (but really since a few years before that), Day-Lewis has always been worth watching. And yet despite this, I can’t say that I was really excited about this despite being a one-time fan of Project Runway and a constant booster of the wonderful Tim Gunn.

Phantom Thread is something of a love triangle, kind of. It’s a little more complicated than that, really. Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a respected dress designer in London about a decade after World War II. His business is thriving for his upscale clients and at least some of this comes from the constant assistance of his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville, who was nominated in a supporting role). It’s soon evident that Reynolds has something like a recurrent series of infatuations with women; early in the film, we see him more or less get rid of one live-in girlfriend when she no longer inspires him. Shortly after this, he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress. She becomes his new infatuation and his new favorite dress-up doll. Soon enough, Alma has moved into Woodcock House and functions as muse and model for Reynolds.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Film: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

While I love a good horror movie, I can’t admit that I’ve been a huge fan of slashers. The truth is that most slashers seem kind of pointless to me. There’s a guy, there are victims. The guy kills them in a variety of ways. There’s just not a great deal there beyond that visceral slice-n-dice, and I’m not that interested. I don’t mind gore, but I prefer it be there for a good reason. If it’s just there to fill up space, I don’t really care that much. That makes Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon an interesting choice for me.

The truth is that I like this movie quite a bit. The reason is that this is the best send-up of the slasher genre since Scream, and it’s better in a few respects. Scream, brilliant as it is, is really a self-conscious slasher. It’s a movie that plays with genre conventions while clearly being a part of the genre. Don’t get me wrong; I love Scream and I love what Wes Craven did with it. The genius of Behind the Mask is that it takes the next logical step, presenting the behind the scenes look at the life of a supernatural killer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Dickens of a Story

Film: David Copperfield
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

My mother is a big fan of the work of Charles Dickens. I’m not; I think it’s evident when you read Dickens that he was paid by the word. I don’t appreciate his wild coincidences and I tend to hate the ridiculous names of his characters. To that end, I’ve delayed the watching of David Copperfield until now. It wasn’t so much fear as an assumed dislike. I don’t like the author in general, so I likely won’t like a movie based on one of his overwritten novels.

That’s not quite the case. There are a number of things that are really going for David Copperfield. However, it is the case in the sense that the story isn’t really one of the things going for the movie. David Copperfield is less a plot-driven tale than it is a sort of biography of the title character, taking him from his birth to the approach of his second marriage.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Obligatory Shocking Blue Reference

Film: Venus
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Frequent readers of this blog will know that one of the things I take a stand on is the May/December romance situation that Hollywood seems to love. That situation is taken to an extreme with Venus, which presents us with a couple consisting of a 74-year-old Peter O’Toole and a 24-year-old Jodie Whittaker. On the surface, it’s unconscionable.

But, and this is important, Venus is a smarter film than that. The romance that we’re going to get here is far more theoretical than actual. There are still moments that come across as genuinely creepy, especially since O’Toole is playing older than his actual age. But, for the most part, there’s a sort of sweetness here because the romance isn’t really serious and, thanks to medical conditions, something that can’t be taken to fruition.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Off Script: The Creeping Flesh

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

It’s hard not to love Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee films from the ‘50s through the ‘70s. They’re campy and silly and loaded with cheese, and our two heroes always play things so seriously. It takes a certain kind of actor to be able to say ridiculous lines and work with ridiculous props without becoming ridiculous himself. These two could do it. They elevate the material they are given to work with. In the case of a film like The Creeping Flesh, that ability to elevate the material is going to be important.

This is a typical early-mid 1970s British horror film in a lot of respects. We’re going to jump back in time to the late Victorian period where so much Brit horror seems to be centered. There’s something very interesting about those just post-industrial years where, with a little bit of tweaking, we could have all been living in a steampunk future. Anyway, The Creeping Flesh is right there at the crossroads of the early stages of modern technology and the end of more barbaric eras of medicine and mental health care.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Wednesday Horror: The Mummy (1999)

Film: The Mummy (1999)
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

Brace yourself, folks; I’m going to get effusive here for a few minutes. I really, really like The Mummy from 1999 and I’m not ashamed of who might know it. I like how adorably gorgeous Rachel Weisz is before she got all serious and Oscar-contender-y. I love Brendan Fraser’s Doc Savage-style heroics. I love John Hannah’s smarmy charm and Kevin J. O’Connor’s weasely joy. I love just how much of a badass Arnold Vosloo is and Omid Djalili’s pitch-perfect comic relief. I love the quiet heroism of Oded Fehr and every single curmudgeonly moment of Erick Avari. The Mummy does exactly what it wants to do: it entertains from its opening moments to the close and does it just about as well as you could ever hope. If you haven’t seen this, your life is much less for it.

So yeah, I’ve just put the review up front because I’m not going to beat around the bush here. There are a lot of things I could say about The Mummy and why it shouldn’t be taken that seriously. None of that matters. The highest praise that I can give this movie is almost shocking—it reminds me of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It has the same feel of grand adventure and of supernatural danger. It has the same, wonderful sense of constant adventure and the sort of story that could have easily been serialized in 10-minute segments with a cliffhanger at the end of each one. It would not feel out of place in that sort of environment.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

My Wild Irish Rows

Film: The Field
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.

I think it’s easy to think of Richard Harris as his last roles. Specifically, I’m thinking of him as Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films and as Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator. In all of these cases, Harris was staggeringly old and frail, a man who looked like he could be blown away with a stiff breeze. He was a far cry from the man he was in the 1960s in films like This Sporting Life. So where was he going to be in 1990 in The Field? Would he be the physical specimen of his early years or would he be the wizened man who could be snapped like a twig?

It’s a little bit of Column A and a little bit of Column B. Harris looks like an old man, far older than the 60 years he actually was. But once you see him move and talk, he behaves like a man half his age. This is a vibrant performance in the body of an older man, and because of it, it’s interesting. It’s also interesting in that it is Harris’s second of two nominations. His first came in 1963 and this one came a full 27 years later. Is that the biggest gap between nominations? Probably not, but it’s got to rank pretty high.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Off Script: American Mary

Film: American Mary
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

I am a fan of the horror genre and have been for decades, but there are things that bother me. Eye stuff bothers me a lot, for instance. I’m also really bothered by surgical stuff. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but it definitely is the case. Seeing someone go through surgery will get me to leave the room. Because of this reason, I wasn’t really looking forward to American Mary, which is about both surgery and extreme voluntary body modification, which also tends to freak me out a bit.

Regardless of that, I made it through the film, and while there were a couple of spots I found very difficult to watch, for the most part, I enjoyed it. There is a part of the film that I found ridiculously dumb, though, and I promise we’ll get there before we’re done with this review. A film that has this much going for it that so spectacularly shits the bed at one point is not going to escape my review unscathed.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Fly Away (from) Home

Film: Lady Bird
Format: Blu-Ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of this blog’s pet peeves along with romances between men and women half their age is coming-of-age movies. My contention has long been that when the main character is a boy, the story will be about coming to terms with death. Coming-of-age from the male perspective (at least in Hollywood) means coming to terms with mortality. For girls, coming-of-age films tend to be about sex, and in many cases, about sex with someone completely inappropriate (and often twice the girl’s age). So, while girls aren’t forced to deal with their impending deaths, they are forced to deal with their ability to create life. So how would Lady Bird fit into this? I was keen to find out.

Make no mistake; Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a senior at a Catholic high school. It’s the early 2000s and the McPherson family lives in Sacramento, a place Lady Bird (she gave herself the nickname) is desperate to leave. She’d like to go to college somewhere on the East Coast where she believes culture exists, but the family is struggling financially and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) tells her that the family can’t afford it and that she doesn’t really warrant it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Two Thousand Maniacs!

Film: Two Thousand Maniacs!
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

What can be said about Herschell Gordon Lewis that hasn’t already been said? Probably nothing. I mean, I can give you my opinion of Lewis and what I’ve seen of his work, but there’s almost certainly someone who has said virtually the same thing. Lewis’s work is, of course, sleaze cinema with very little in the way of redeeming qualities. However, it’s also true that without Lewis, a great deal of the modern horror might not exist, or at least wouldn’t exist in the same way. Lewis was a gorehound and so much of his oeuvre was really just an excuse for as much blood and viscera as he could get on the screen. And with that, we’ve got the blood-soaked Two Thousand Maniacs!, complete with axe-wielding, dismemberments, and death by giant rock.

Before we get too far into discussing this movie (and believe me, there’s not a great deal to discuss here), it’s worth taking a moment to look at Herschell Gordon Lewis’s career. He’s remembered as the guy or one of the guys who introduced real gore into American films. This started with Blood Feast, and Two Thousand Maniacs! came the following year. Lewis got his start in nudie cuties, though, films that depicted naked buxom women in a variety of situations. These are the sensibilities that we’re going to be dealing with here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Acting Out

Film: The Quiet One
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

There are times when I regret the average length of a review that I seem to have gotten into the habit of writing here. A film like The Quiet One is important in a lot of ways and unique in several ways as well. And yet, I’m not convinced that there is a great deal to say about it. There’s a strange sense of propaganda about the film that seems unintentional, but a natural adjunct to the way the film is made. The film feels both entirely relevant despite being 70 years old and equally dated.

The Quiet One is unique in Oscar history as the only documentary film to ever be nominated for a screenplay Oscar of any type. It’s only “mostly” a documentary in that some of the events of the film seem very much to have been staged. It’s likely, or at least possible, that these events were based on real life, but it’s also possible that they were dramatically heightened or created as something that was intended to be representative of the truth. In any event, it’s incredibly unlikely that a camera crew would have gotten this footage naturally, and a number of the events have a staged feel to them.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Retirement, Kinda

Film: Tribute
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

As this project winds to a close, there are now only a couple of years (not count 2017) where I have more than one movie still to watch. Since the goal is to not do a bunch of movies from the same year right in a row, there’s got to be an effort on my part to get through as many of those doubled-up years as possible. Thus I watched Tribute today, a film that has been sitting on a flashdrive, downloaded off YouTube for a couple of years. I can’t admit to a great deal of anticipation for this. I like Jack Lemmon, and his nomination is the reason I watched this. But it also stars Kim Cattrall and Robby Benson. The last time I saw a movie with Kim Cattrall and Robby Benson, it was an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 called City Limits, and it’s truly wretched.

Tribute is going to start by jumping up and down on one of my pet peeves. Scottie Templeton (Jack Lemmon) works in the theater community as a press agent. While he seems to have a lot of friends, he’s divorced and has almost no relationship with his son. Scottie is in the hospital for some tests, and before the tests can happen, he sneaks on a doctor’s surgical gown and more or less attempts to pick up a patient named Sally Haines (Kim Cattrall), who is about 30 years his junior. And, we’re going to find out that this works—she goes home with him because that’s the way Tribute is going to work.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Off Script: Scream and Scream Again

Film: Scream and Scream Again
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’d love to tell you that Scream and Scream Again was a ton of fun for me to watch, but that would be a lie. It’s not, despite featuring a cast that includes Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing. In fact, it’s an incomprehensible mess. While this was based on a novel and apparently sticks pretty close to the source material, it also seems like virtually every horror and science fiction trope from vampirism and golem creation to random vats of acid lying around have been cobbled together with something akin to a narrative to hang all the scenes together. It feels like a film that wants to hit every touchstone of the genre in the hopes that there will be something there to please any fan. And, as normally happens when someone tries to tick off all the boxes, it ends up a poorly-conceived mess.

And that’s kind of the problem for me. This is a film that is almost impossible to summarize in any way that is remotely coherent. There are murders that involve people being drained of their blood and people having limbs amputated, and there’s a whole weird subplot that happens in something like a communist country with a strange symbol. There’s also Vincent Price as an eccentric doctor who literally has a vat of acid on his property. Our evil killer jumps into it at one point, after escaping from the police by more or less snapping his hand off to escape his handcuffs.

Thursday, May 24, 2018


Film: Another Year
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.

Sometimes, what makes a movie interesting isn’t so much the story as it is the perspective from which the story is told. That’s absolutely the case with Another Year, a film that is, on its surface, a pretty standard slice of life drama that takes place over the course of roughly a calendar year. What makes this film interesting isn’t the stories it tells, since these stories are pedestrian and normal. It isn’t the people the stories are about, since they are not particularly unique or special in anyway. It’s that the stories are more or less told from the perspective of two people who are essentially tangential to everything that happens.

Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are a happily married couple who have a comfortable and happy life together. Yes, their names are Tom and Gerri, and yes, this comes up in conversation at least once. Tom works as a geologist and Gerri works as a counsellor. The two of them are the more or less stable center of a world of people experiencing a variety of problems and pains. Where Tom and Gerri are happy, pleasant, and caring, their friends are lonely, despairing, and emotionally torn apart.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Warm Bodies

Film: Warm Bodies
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I’ve never been shy about the fact that I don’t much like Romeo and Juliet as a story. It’s what prevents me from really enjoying a movie like West Side Story no matter how objectively good it might be. That stood in the way of my watching Warm Bodies for the first time, since it’s so clearly a take on Shakespeare’s play with the additional twist of involving the undead. Still, nothing ventured, right? It turns out that I liked it more than I thought I would, so I was happy to revisit it here.

And really, that is the conceit with Warm Bodies. This is a version of Romeo and Juliet with a zombie Romeo. We start with our zombie, R (Nicholas Hoult), a hoodie-wearing 20-something zombie who wanders around the airport with a group of other zombies. R is a little different from the norm in that he collects things, which he stores in an abandoned airplane. These things he collects perhaps remind him of his former life or at least his former humanity. Periodically, he meets with his friend M (Rob Corddry), and the two wander off toward the city in the hopes of finding something to eat.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Shut Up and Deal

Film: Molly’s Game
Format: Blu-Ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

If you look back at all of the reviews I’ve put on this site, there are plenty where I got the movie from one library or another. Tons of those have come through interlibrary loan, but there are four libraries I use personally. My hometown library, DeKalb Public Library, doesn’t have a great movie collection, although it is slowly improving. Suddenly, out of nowhere, they have tons of current movies. I’m always a little surprised when something like Molly’s Game, a movie that almost no one has heard of, shows up. Okay, I realize that a lot of you reading this have heard of Molly’s Game, but we’re a self-selected audience of movie nerds. Mention this movie the next time you’re at work and almost everyone will look at you like your dog does when it hears a noise it can’t comprehend.

Molly’s Game is the story of Molly Bloom, a former world-class mogul skier who, thanks to a freak accident, was unable to fulfill her Olympic aspirations. Left with the sudden loss of a career that had taken up virtually her entire life, Bloom (Jessica Chastain) decides to put off law school for a year and instead head to L.A. and live on the couch of a friend from the U.S. Ski Team for a year. While here, she gets a job as a hostess at a high-priced club, and from here gets a second day job as more or less an office manager of a real estate developer (Jeremy Strong) who talks a good game but is actually hemorrhaging money. One way that he attempts to deal with that is with high-stakes poker games. As his essentially abused office manager, Molly is suddenly in charge of his poker game.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Not-So-Dangerous Liaisons

Film: The Affairs of Cellini
Format: Internet video on the latest internet machine.

There are plenty of actors in the world who seem to do little more than simply play themselves. That could come from several different factors. It might be that the person in question is being typecast and is just getting more or less the same role over and over. In some cases, though, it seems like the actor just doesn’t have much in the way of actual range. I think, for instance, of someone like Edward Everett Horton—an actor I enjoy quite a bit—but someone who more or less played the same guy over and over in the same sort of movie over and over. Based on his Oscar-nominated performance in The Affairs of Cellini, I can say the same thing about Frank Morgan.

Again, I want to go on the record as saying that I like Frank Morgan. The moment he walks on screen in The Affairs of Cellini, though, you know immediately who he is even if you don’t know who he is. In this film, he’s playing Alessandro, the Duke of Florence, but if you saw him, heard him speak, and immediately thought that Oz the Great and Powerful somehow ended up in Renaissance Florence, I would forgive you. Aside from the costuming and the facial hair, there’s not a molecule of difference between Oz and Alessandro. What this also means is that while there are moments of drama in this film, we’re not going to get a great deal in the way of seriousness.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Misty and Water-Colored

Film: The Way We Were
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

So here we go again. I clearly left the Barbra Streisand to the end of this set of films with two left to the last hundred. With The Way We Were, I thought I knew what I was getting into, but there’s a great deal more here than I figured there would be. In fact, I thought this was little more than a romance that dies over the course of the movie. What I didn’t know was that this is kind of a period piece, taking place at the end of World War II through the McCarthy era.

World War II is in full swing when we start, and Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand) is working at a radio station and constantly clashing with the government censor. That night, out at a club, she encounters the WASP-ishly named Hubbell Gardiner (Robert Redford), who she knew at college, and it’s flashback time. We jump back to those college days at an unnamed college that is almost certainly somewhere on the East Coast and also very likely Ivy League.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Viva Cuba?

Film: Before Night Falls
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Because my job involves a great deal of reading, I don’t read for pleasure a lot. It’s one of the reasons I watch movies. Movies are a break from reading for me, and these days (and for the last decade or more, really), reading has been associated with work. Because of this, a lot of my “reading” comes in the form of audio books. The problem is that my local library’s collection is packed to the rafters with biography and autobiography, and I find that those genres leave me pretty cold. The same is kind of true with movies, which made Before Night Falls a hard sell for me. But hey, I’m getting to the point where I can’t keep putting off movies that I’m not particularly interested in watching. And this one at least stars Javier Bardem, and actor I really like.

Before Night Falls is the story of Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem), a Cuban author who was writing during the Cuban revolution. Arenas, in addition to being something of a counterrevolutionary and of a talent that made him dangers to Castro and his minions, he was also homosexual, which made him a threat in very different way. Eventually, Arenas managed to get out of Cuba and wound up in the United States, essentially living in exile until he died of AIDS. What this means is that despite being based on a true story and likely following the story as cleanly and accurately as possible is going to be very paint by numbers in a lot of respects.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday Horror: I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House

Film: I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

A great deal of modern horror is about putting as much blood on the screen as it will take. I’m not generally a fan of gore for its own sake. When it is used well as a legitimate part of the story, it can be extremely effective. When it shows up just for shock value or as fan service, I think that it generally fails. Because of this, I find it really interesting when a film takes the opposite path. The epically-named I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House is a movie of the second stripe. The goal here is to produce an atmosphere of dread without covering the screen in blood.

We are presented with hospice nurse Lily Saylor (Ruth Wilson), who has just been hired on as the live-in help of horror author Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), who is slowly descending into dementia. The house in which the two live is old and, as befits the genre, both creepy and gifted with a strange, mysterious history. The original owners of the house never lived in it; they vanished on their wedding day. Iris has lived in the house for ages, and as Lily continues to live there, she begins to suspect that at least one of Iris’s books may have been relayed to her by a ghost that resides in the house.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Finishing the AFI Top-100

Film: Sophie’s Choice
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on The New Portable.

For the last several years, I’d seen 99 of the AFI Top-100 movies. I avoided and avoided that final movie (film #91 on the list, if you’re curious) for no reason other than the fact that I knew what the story was and didn’t want to subject myself to it. In truth, I never really set out to watch the AFI Top-100; I’d seen the 99 that I had by watching the 1001 Movies list and then seeing virtually every Best Picture nominee as well. The one that seemed to sneak past and that wasn’t on either of those two massive lists is Sophie’s Choice. So it’s yet another Meryl Streep nomination (and win) and yet another Holocaust story.

Sophie’s Choice takes place a couple of years after World War II. A young Southern man with the unusual moniker of Stingo (Peter MacNicol) arrives in New York with the goal of penning his first novel. He moves into a gigantic pink house, painted that color because the late husband of owner Yetta (Rita Karin) got a deal on the paint in question. Stingo takes the room and is soon introduced to Zofia Zawistowski (Streep) and her live-in paramour Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline). As good new neighbors, Zofia (who goes by Sophie) and Nathan invite their new neighbor to dinner, an invite that gets spoiled when Nathan has a manic episode of jealousy and storms out of the house. This is going to be something of a theme.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Return of the Living Dead

Film: Return of the Living Dead
Format: On Demand on big ol’ television.

One of the most enduring ideas concerning movie zombies is that they love to eat brains. That trope didn’t come from Romero’s films, where the dead started mindless and eventually started to evolve and ate anything they could from their victims. No, the common idea that zombies love brains comes from 1985’s Return of the Living Dead, a movie where the zombies talk, can use tools and think, and eat brains because, as we’re told by one highly decayed corpse, they are the only thing that deal with the pain of being dead and feeling one’s body rot.

We start in a medical supply warehouse where Freddy (Thom Mathews) is being shown the ropes by Frank (James Karen). After a quick tour of the warehouse and a look at the variety of skeletons, dogs divided in half for anatomy study, and other things, Frank decides to impress his new coworker by bringing up Night of the Living Dead. According to Frank, it was based on a real outbreak, and the zombies (and yes, he actually says the word) were accidentally shipped to this Louisville warehouse by the army and are in the basement.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Coupling and Uncoupling

Film: Lovers and Other Strangers
Format: Internet video on the latest internet machine.

As the saying goes, dying is easy; comedy is hard. I’m certain that good comedy is incredibly hard to write, and I’m not going to pretend that I’m any good at it or that I have advice for people who write comedy. To me, though, the thing that would be the most difficult in terms of comedy is not so much the comedy, but making it funny for longer than a couple of years. Comedy doesn’t last in a lot of cases. Watch early episodes of Saturday Night Live, for instance, or SCTV. As much as you want it to, it just doesn’t hold up. That’s exactly the position we’re in with Lovers and Other Strangers.

This is supposed to be something like a sex comedy, sort of. At least a great deal of what we’re going to be dealing with is a variety of sexual relationships, each one more or less stereotypical in some way and each one different from the others. All of these relationships circle around the central story, the upcoming marriage of Mike Vecchio (Michael Brandon) and Susan Henderson (Bonnie Bedelia). Now, because this is exactly this sort of movie, what we’re going to get is a bunch of relationships, all with problems of one sort or another, crashing into each other.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Off Script: The Tingler

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

I love William Castle. I truly do. I’d be hard-pressed to call any of his movies great, but I also find them all completely appealing. There’s such a strange earnestness that comes in the work of Castle. No matter how strange and silly the premise, Castle really wants to have fun with the movies he’s making. He was also the absolute king of goofy promotions. With Macabre, he arranged for theater-goers to each have a $1,000 life insurance policy in case they died of fright and staged nurses in the theater with a hearse waiting outside. That’s genius. For The Tingler, he had seats in theaters running the film hooked up with vibrating devices that, at certain points in the film, would jiggle the person sitting in the chair. Castle dubbed this technology “Percepto!” and once again used this goofy idea of giving people something new in the cinema. He also allegedly planted people in the audience to faint at certain times in the movie.

For a movie with an 82-minute running time, The Tinger has far too much going on for any of its various plots to really reach fruition. Pathologist Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) is performing an autopsy on a man just executed by electric chair. Oddly, the autopsy is being observed by Ollie Higgins (Philip Coolidge), the dead man’s brother-in-law. Warren discovers that the man’s spine is broken, almost as if it was crushed in some way. This is something he’s seen before, but not specifically in someone executed. According to Warren, the man was scared before he died; this is a condition he only sees in someone who has died while terrified.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Where There's a Will, I Want to Be in it

Films: Sudden Fear
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

NetFlix is a lot like an umpire or autocorrect. When it does its job well, you don’t notice it. It’s only when it screws up that we really pay attention to it. Umpires, autocorrect and NetFlix all take more crap than they should because of that. What this means is that yes, I have a complaint about NetFlix. Sudden Fear has disappeared from its available discs. What this means is that I looked for it online and found it at DailyMotion. I appreciate it being there; I didn’t appreciate the ads every five minutes for much of the running time.

Sudden Fear feels like a movie I should have seen years ago. It’s a film noir, and I love film noir. It’s also a damn good film noir. It’s stylish and slick, and while there are certainly elements like a good femme fatale, this is very much a “woman in danger” film. In fact, since our main character is being threatened with death over the contents of her will, it’s entirely about her being in danger and finding a way to survive it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Children of the Corn

Films: Children of the Corn
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the latest internet machine.

It’s not a surprise that stories written by Stephen King would be frequently adapted into films. Certainly it’s something that King himself appreciates. In fact, he offers a bunch of his stories as something he calls “Dollar Babies.” Film students and new filmmakers have the right to adapt these stories into films, provided they aren’t commercially released and that King gets a copy, for the princely sum of one dollar. And, of course, there are dozens of commercial films based on King’s work. Sometimes you get classics like Stand by Me or The Shawshank Redemption. Sometimes you get complete turkeys like The Mangler. Sometimes you get films that have literally nothing in common with the original story beyond the name, like The Lawnmower Man. And sometimes you get Children of the Corn.

Children of the Corn, sometimes known as Stephen King’s Children of the Corn, is a not so terribly accurate or faithful adaptation of the original story by King. Oh, it gets the broad strokes of the story, but it avoids the completely downbeat ending and the incredibly disturbing coda, opting instead for something that is, I have to admit, a lot more cinematic. What’s odd here is that the vast majority of the killing in Children of the Corn happens in the opening few minutes. There are a couple of deaths further in, but this is much more about the atmosphere than it is about the gore or the deaths.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Education, After a Fashion

Films: Charly
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Charly seemed very familiar to me. I realized at some point while watching that I’d seen part of this before. I’m pretty certain I hadn’t seen the whole thing, but there are a couple of moments that were shockingly familiar to me. If I have seen the whole thing previously, it was so long ago that this was not unlike a first viewing of the film. There are a lot of odd things about Charly and its Oscar journey. Cliff Robertson won this Oscar in what would be his only nomination and the only one for the film. It’s also an odd nomination in the sense that this is at least nominally a science fiction story, and Oscar tends not to like that genre for acting nominations.

Charly Gordon (Cliff Robertson) is an intellectually disabled man who wants to be smarter. While it’s never overtly stated in the film, it is implied that Charly’s deficiencies stem from a childhood illness that involved a very high fever. However, he is high enough functioning that he lives in his own room at something like a boarding house and has a job at a local industrial bakery. He also attends night classes with Ms. Alice Kinnian (Claire Bloom), where he works hard but struggles even with basics like writing his own name.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The (Very) Slow Passage of Time

Films: A Ghost Story
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

Sometimes, this hobby is a frustrating one. I don’t expect to love every movie that I watch, but I’m not always game for a film that is going to more or less be work. A Ghost Story, for much of its 92-minute running time, is work. This is one of those films where nothing happens for a very long time. Sometimes, like with the films of Robert Bresson, that can work for me. Other times, that becomes not unlike sitting through Jeanne Dielmann and I want to pull my own head off. Oddly, A Ghost Story is both.

This is not a plot-heavy film. A musician (Casey Affleck) and his wife (Rooney Mara) live in a house, evidently in or around Dallas. She wants to leave and he doesn’t. One night, something makes a noise on the piano, but they can’t find a cause. Soon after, he is killed in a car accident. His wife identifies the body. When everyone has left, he sits up, still covered in the sheet. That sheet is going to be important, because our spirit is going to spend the rest of the film wearing it much like the old-school depiction of a ghost, a sheet with eye holes cut into it.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Urban Haute Bourgeoisie

Films: Metropolitan
Format: DVD from Mokena Public Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

In the end of the blogging swimming pool where I swim, the nicest guy around is Dan Heaton. Dan named his blog, Public Transportation Snob, after a line from Metropolitan. The more I think about this, the more I am fascinated by it. Dan is a genuinely good guy and seems like the complete opposite of the smug, entitled douchebags that populate the world of this film. Clearly, Dan is a fan of this film. It seems incongruous; he’s too nice to like these people.

If you think that’s a hint as to where this review might be going, you’d be right. Metropolitan is more or less a series of conversations among a collection of pseudo-intellectual, filthy rich college students home for Christmas. More specifically, these conversations happen at a series of debutante parties and after parties in New York. Even more specifically, this is about the experience of Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) falling in with this wealthy, preppy crowd.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Private Parts (1972)

Films: Private Parts (1972)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

For what it’s worth, not all of these reviews write that easily. Some of them are a real pain in the ass. Private Parts, the weird horror/comedy film from 1972, not the Howard Stern biopic, is of the latter type. I’m honestly not even sure where to begin with this one. I mean, I understand the idea behind it and where it was intended to go, but this is a weird mishmash of things combined to make something really ugly.

Let’s start with the basics. Cheryl Stratton (Ayn Ruymen) is a teenage/early-20s runaway who fled Ohio for California with her friend Judy (Ann Gibbs). The two fight when Judy catches Cheryl watching her have sex, and Cheryl runs again, this time to a Skid Row hotel called the King Edward that happens to be run by her Aunt Martha (Lucille Benson). And, because this is the sort of movie it is, everyone who lives at the King Edward is weird, disturbing, creepy, or awful. This includes a gay priest, a drunk, and most especially photographer George (John Ventantonio), Aunt Martha’s son.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Show Must Go on (and on)

Films: Funny Girl
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

I’m going to be upfront here; Funny Girl is the sort of movie that really isn’t made for me at all. I certainly recognize that Barbra Streisand is a real talent, the sort of performer who, like Judy Garland, can do just about anything and make it work. I just don’t love her. I recognize the talent without being a huge fan of the talent. That puts me in a weird position with a movie like Funny Girl that is very much about Streisand being front and center and on screen for virtually the entire running time that isn’t overture, entr’acte, or closing credits.

Funny Girl is the story of Fanny Brice (Streisand), once and future Ziegfeld Follies girl and a portion of her life. The film doesn’t include her first, short marriage and doesn’t include her third marriage, either. It focuses instead on the bulk of her Ziegfeld career and her marriage to gambler “Nick” Arnstein (Omar Sharif).

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Off Script: Flatliners (1990)

Films: Flatliners (1990)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on various players.

When I started this blog, I made the decision that every review I posted would be a review written based on a recent viewing of the film. There have been cases when I’ve posted a review more than a year after I wrote it, but that writing occurred immediately after the viewing. There are reasons for doing this. The main one, in fact the one that is probably the only relevant one, is that opinions change and people change. The person who reacted to a movie in a particular way in 1992 is not the same person watching it today. With Flatliners from 1990, this rewatching is important, because this is a very different review than I would have written based on memory.

The idea of Flatliners is that a group of medical students decide to experiment into the realm of near-death experiences. In truth, the idea is to go a bit further. Rather than coming close to death and experiencing the “tunnel of light” phenomenon, the goal is to make themselves temporarily brain dead to see if there is anything after death, and then come back. It is, after all, the final frontier in many ways.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Misery Loathes Company

Films: Profumo di Donna (Scent of a Woman)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Al Pacino, someone who almost certainly earned any number of Oscars in his career, finally won for Scent of a Woman. That movie is a sort of remake of Profumo di Donna from the mid-1970s. Pacino’s win tends to be considered one of the clearest examples of someone winning a lifetime achievement Oscar in the guise of a competitive one. Pacino’s performance is all bluster and shouting, and I ultimately kind of liked the movie in spite of itself. I was concerned about this original version, though, and now that I’ve seen it, I think I have clear reason why I was hesitant.

One of the big changes here is that Profumo di Donna has substantially less plot than its later remake. The culmination of Scent of a Woman is the “trial” scene. This doesn’t happen in Profumo di Donna. In fact, all of the elements of the remake that don’t deal overtly with the blind former military guy and his desire to end his life don’t appear in the original film at all. The two most famous scenes from Pacino’s film—the speech at the end and the tango—aren’t here. What this means is that Profumo di Donna is about a young Army cadet (not a student) follows around a blind ex-military man and, to use the advertising copy parlance, learns valuable life lessons.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Everybody Hurts

Films: Rabbit Hole
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on various players.

As I get closer and closer to finishing up the Oscar lists I have set for myself, each movie I watch brings up a particular question: why have I not watched this one yet? For some, it comes down to availability. For others, it’s more about the film’s subject matter. There are some films I just don’t want to watch because of what they’re about. Rabbit Hole is about parents who lost their four-year-old son in a terrible accident. This is precisely why I haven’t seen it until tonight.

I don’t like stories involving the very real grief of losing a child. I mind it far less when this is attached to a horror movie because of the inherent unreality of that situation. With a realistic story involving a child’s death, I end up feeling a lot more vulnerable as a parent. I end up watching films like Rabbit Hole rocking back and forth in my seat. As good as the movie might turn out to be, I know I’m in for a rough ride. At least Rabbit Hole has the decency to not have us live through the child’s actual death. The movie starts eight months after the accident.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Shadow of the Vampire

Films: Shadow of the Vampire
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

When you talk about great silent films, there are a few names that are going to pop up right away. Nosferatu might not be the first film named, but it’s likely to be one of the first five and almost certainly one of the first ten. Shadow of the Vampire explores the making of Murnau’s film with a very interesting twist. In this version, we have a real vampire to give the film a particular authenticity.

That’s the high concept of Shadow of the Vampire: Murnau’s classic vampire film was made with a real vampire who called himself Max Schreck. It’s a great idea, actually a little surprising that no one thought of it before this. Schreck’s costume as the nosferatu Count Orlock is so strange and otherworldly that it almost makes sense that it truly was an undead creature. The film shifts between the filming of Nosferatu and the cast and crew, shifting from the sepia-toned world of the movie to color as appropriate. Whenever we are in the world of the movie within the movie, it’s made abundantly clear by this small but effective artifice.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

...Burma Shave

Films: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Going into Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (hereafter called simple Three Billboards to save space), I knew only a couple of things. I knew first that it won a couple of Oscars in acting categories. I also knew that of the Best Picture nominees, it was probably the most controversial one. A lot of people really liked it; some people didn’t. What makes this different from normal is that the people who didn’t like Three Billboards really didn’t like it. There wasn’t a great deal of casual dislike for it is what I’m saying, at least in my experience.

Having now seen it, I find myself in the position of seeing both sides. I understand why people like it as much as they seem to (the overwhelming ratings on Letterboxd are four and four-and-a-half stars). I also understand why there are people who are upset by it. Three Billboards is a movie that has grand pretensions and lives up to most of them. It’s also a film that is deeply flawed in serious ways.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Colonizers Gonna Colonize

Films: Indochine
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on various players.

I’m not sure what it is about an epic that makes me a little bit cockeyed going in. Sure, there are epic films that I love. Lawrence of Arabia, for instance, is a true classic, and I’m a huge fan of The Bridge on the River Kwai. But many epics seem to get to that point by some means of unnecessary bloating and padding. You may also notice that the two epics I’ve said I’m a fan of are specifically epics that have no real romance plot or subplot. That’s important, because the romance often seems to be the padding of choice. That’s certainly the case with Indochine.

In fact, Indochine is one of those epics that is essentially a romance set against a huge story. We’re going to get the romance that we (evidently) crave set against the full sweep of history, where the world is changing dramatically and our star-crossed lovers are caught up in those changes and both pushed together and pulled apart by forced beyond their control. I’m not saying anything here that you haven’t seen at least a dozen times. The difference is that this time, that story is happening in what used to be called Indochina (essentially Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) and it’s going to be in French.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Alien Lanes

Films: Starman
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

One of my favorite pieces of Oscar trivia is that Wes Craven once directed Meryl Streep to an Oscar-nominated performance. It’s only fair, then that, it would be equally a fun piece of trivia that John Carpenter did essentially the same thing with Jeff Bridges. In some respects, this is more impressive; it would seem that virtually anyone can direct Meryl Streep to a nomination because she’s Meryl Streep. While Jeff Bridges is a fine actor, his three nominations are far fewer than Streep’s. On the other hand, Craven’s oeuvre is virtually entirely horror movies from stem to stern with Music of the Heart standing out as a weird outlier. That’s less true for Carpenter, who worked in other genres, although typically in those not favored by Oscar. Starman is science fiction, so maybe this is still impressive.

The high concept here is that an alien race has intercepted Voyager and decided to come for a visit. Because humanity is awful, the U.S. military shoots down the probe, which crashes in Wisconsin. Out comes a glowing ball of light. It travels to a nearby house belonging to Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen), a recently widowed woman. The light enters her home and, using a lock of hair from a scrapbook, turns itself into a clone of her late husband Scott (Jeff Bridges).

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Maniac (1980)

Films: Maniac (1980)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

I know I’ve referenced the Video Bug a few times in the past here. For those who might be new to this site (or for whom existence doesn’t revolve around the minutiae of this blog), the Video Bug was the first video rental store of my childhood. Like all video rental places of the early- and mid-1980s, a vast number of their movies for rent (both VHS and Betamax) were on the lower end of the cinematic spectrum. One movie you could guarantee would be available, sitting between The Last House on the Left and Mother’s Day was Maniac. The cover art told you everything you needed to know. On the box, we see a man wearing jeans from the waist down. His right hand grips a large knife. In his left is a mass of hair—it’s not a decapitated head, but a scalp. Scrawled over the title of the film are the words, “I warned you not to go out tonight!” Casablanca this ain’t.

I’m not going to hold back here. There’s not a lot to recommend Maniac. This is low grade exploitation exactly at the level that the box art would suggest. It’s not a complete waste of time or effort. There are some things here that are worth seeing, but overall, Maniac is trash cinema. I’m not saying that to recommend people away from it; I’m saying it because it’s simply true.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Off Script: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Films: 10 Cloverfield Lane
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I was less enamored of Cloverfield than a lot of people. I’m not in love with the found footage “genre” as a whole, and I have real issues with shaky-cam if it goes on too long. The story was interesting once it got started, but I didn’t see it as the sort of revelation that a lot of people did. So, when a spiritual sequel in 10 Cloverfield Lane came out, I didn’t rush off to see it. I mean, I knew right away that it wasn’t going to be the same movie as the first one and that it wasn’t really a sequel at all, but I can’t say I was terribly excited by the prospect.

Things start with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) packing up a few things and leaving her apartment. It’s clear a few moments later that she is leaving her boyfriend/husband/whatever. We’re not sure why; in fact, we’re never sure why. This doesn’t matter. Out of nowhere, a car strikes her vehicle and Michelle is knocked unconscious.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Allegory, Emphasis on "Gory"

Films: mother!
Format: Blu-ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I know roughly where I am starting out with this, but I have no idea where I’m going to end up. I knew going into mother! that writing anything about it wasn’t going to be easy. I didn’t know it was going to be this difficult, though. I’ve put up more than 3000 reviews on Letterboxd, each with a star rating until now. While I will almost certainly eventually post ranking, at the moment I’m not sure what that ranking should or even could be.

Let’s start with the fact that mother! is clearly allegorical. There is not much of a way to view this as a straight story without the allegory. You’re going to be preached to at some level here, an interesting thought since Aronofsky is an atheist. This is despite the fact that both mother! and Noah have clearly religious themes.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Prime Minister's Speech

Films: Darkest Hour
Format: Blu-ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

For the next 800-1200 words I’m going to talk about Darkest Hour, but I’m also going to address what I see as a significant problem with the Oscars and the nominations. The reason for that is that Darkest Hour is one of those movies that serves as an excellent example for what I see as a continuing and continual problem. Oh, there are plenty of other potential examples. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is perhaps the best example I can think of in the last 10 years. Because it’s how my mind is currently working, I think I’m going to address that first.

The problem is that Oscar, or Oscar voters perhaps, don’t seem to know the difference between a movie being good and a movie being important, or at least about an important topic. I fully understand why many people in the film industry seemed to think that Darkest Hour was an important film. Depending on your political persuasion, this could well be seen as an inspiring story of someone standing up to face off against fascism when it appeared that fascism was taking over the world. I get that some will call it rousing. I understand this more or less memoir taken from Churchill’s life is something that people thing demands to be seen. But did it really need to be nominated for Best Picture?

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Come on Baby, Light My Fire

Films: Joan of Arc
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

As I get down to the last few dozen movies on my Oscars lists, I’m starting to find more and more movies that I avoided for one reason or another. With Joan of Arc, my avoidance happened because the movie wasn’t available anywhere I looked. Oh, I found a shortened version on YouTube that cut something like 45 minutes out of the theatrical release. I’d have watched that if I got desperate enough. But lo! and behold, suddenly NetFlix is carrying the film once again. I have to say this is one that, had I not had it on a list, I’d have walked away from partway through.

Joan of Arc isn’t a bad film; it’s just not a great one, or even a very good one. It’s long and talky and it doesn’t pull this off that well, which means that it’s also long and boring. It suffers as well from putting a mid-30s Ingrid Bergman in the role of a French teenager. We’ll get to that soon enough.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wednesday Horror: The Strangers

Films: The Strangers
Format: DVD from Franklin Grove Public Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

The home invasion horror movie has been around for some time and almost certainly gained a lot of teeth in the aftermath of the Manson Family. One of the premier versions of this story is The Strangers from 2008. The big strength of the movie is also one of the biggest problems with it. We get a home invasion story of three people attacking two people in a home for literally no reason. We’re even told that at the end of the film—this happened for no real reason except that it happened. The randomness is scary and that works for the film. But it also makes this really nihilistic and ugly. Of course, that may be part of the point, too.

So like any movie that is going to eventually feature mindless destruction and chaos for no reason other than the fact that it happens, we’ve got to spend the first chunk of time dealing with our two protagonist characters. To make us care about what is going to happen, we need to care at least a little about them. So, to that end, we’re going to get a fair chunk of time with James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler), who have returned from a wedding reception. Through flashback, we learn that at the reception, James has proposed to Kristen, and she has turned him down because she is not ready for that level of commitment. As they try to keep their relationship working, there is a knock on the door. A voice asks for someone who doesn’t live there. Kristen asks for James to go get her a pack of cigarettes (the house is in the middle of nowhere), and the terror starts as three people wearing masks begin terrorizing Kristen and then to two of them when James returns.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Starry Starry Night

Films: Loving Vincent
Format: DVD from Dekalb Public Library on The New Portable.

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I’m mostly interested in story. The reviews that I write more often breakdown the narrative of what I’ve watched. I like narrative. I like understanding what makes a story work. Once in a while I get a movie where all considerations of story go out the window. Russian Ark, a film without much plot but that runs just over 90 minutes as a single shot involving massive crowds and orchestras is one such film. The Adventures of Prince Achmed, simplistic in plot but gorgeous in style is another. Loving Vincent now joins this group of films. It’s not about the story for me, here; it’s entirely about the spectacle.

If you follow the Oscars at all, you’ve heard of Loving Vincent almost certainly. If you haven’t, allow me to explain why this is about the spectacle rather than the story. This is a movie that runs just over 90 minutes, and every frame is an oil painting done in the style of Van Gogh. Think about this—95 minutes times 60 seconds per minute times 11 or 12 frames per second adds up to the roughly 65,000 paintings made to generate the film. This is not computer animation made to look like oil paintings—these are actual oil paintings generated from the actors being filmed and rotoscoped. It is ambitious to the point of insanity.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Flip and Flop

Films: House of Sand and Fog
Format: DVD from personal collection on various players.

I’m going to go far afield to introduce the idea of House of Sand and Fog because there’s something incredibly important about this movie that needs to be addressed. As will likely surprise no one, I am a huge gaming nerd; it’s possible that I’m a bigger tabletop RPG nerd than I am a movie nerd. One day several years ago during a gaming session, my friend Doug said something that stuck with me that is surprisingly relevant to House of Sand and Fog. For Doug, contemplating a good vs. evil battle wasn’t that interesting. For him, in D&D terms, the most terrifying conflict he could imagine was between two good societies, and specifically between two lawful good societies. Why? Because each of them would have clear reasons to believe themselves to be in the right and to have the moral high ground. Because of this, each would be more likely to fight to the bitter end for those moral principles.

How is that relevant to a film about a house in California? Because it’s kind of the situation we find ourselves in. There are two sides in the conflict we see, and both sides are clearly in the right. So often in a film we’re given good guys and bad guys. Even when the bad guys make sense (see Black Panther from a week ago), they’re still almost always clearly bad guys. That’s not the case with House of Sand and Fog. The two sides in conflict in this film are both very clearly in the right, and we are in a position where at best only one will give what they want or deserve.