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 na├»ve 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.