Sunday, May 19, 2019

Off Script: Paranormal Activity 2

Film: Paranormal Activity 2
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

The They Shoot Zombies, Don’t They list was just updated, which means that all sorts of things moved around. When this happens, it means that I have to make a bunch of changes, too. I have to update the website (which I still have to do) and I have to renumber the reviews that I have written and simply haven’t posted yet. Doing that, I discovered that the review I thought I had written of Paranormal Activity 2 evidently didn’t save and is missing. What that means is that I have to rewrite it. So I’m not just pissed off that I watched this stupid movie, I’m doubly pissed off that I have to write about it a second time. The shit I do for this blog.

So, Paranormal Activity 2 turns out to not be a sequel of the first film, but a prequel. What this means is that we’re going to get a great deal more of the backstory of Katie and Micah (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat) from the first movie. This is not going to be about them, though—it’s going to be about Katie’s sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden) and her husband Daniel (Brian Boland). When the film starts, the couple, along with Daniel’s daughter from a previous relationship Ali (Molly Ephraim) bring home their new son Hunter (William Juan Prieto and Jackson Xenia Prieto) from the hospital. Shortly thereafter, things start acting strangely around the house.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The House of the Devil

Film: The House of the Devil
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.

If you were alive in the United States in the 1980s, you probably remember the Satanic Panic. Out of nowhere (it seemed), everyone thought that Satanists were everywhere. They were in the music industry and the movie industry, attempting to control the thoughts and ideas of impressionable children everywhere. Kids who played Dungeons & Dragons (as I did) were at risk of being captured by demonic forces, according to respected church leaders. Even my mom had concerns about D&D, and my mom is light years distance from religious fundamentalist. The 2009 film The House of the Devil plays on the ideas of the Satanic Panic. Essentially, the plot is “what would it be like if what people believed about Satanists were true?”

The House of the Devil, while made in 2009, takes place in 1983 and the attempt is to make the film look as close to coming from 1983 as possible. The film uses technology and techniques from the early 1980s, and the credits look exactly like they come from a made-for-television movie from 1981. The font looks like it belongs one of those white t-shirts with the red or blue sleeves.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Busy Making Other Plans

Film: Mr. Holland’s Opus
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Of the movies I have left to get through, Mr. Holland’s Opus was the only one still on the list that I had already seen. I can’t say that I was looking forward to going through it again. There are a couple of issues with this movie that bother me a great deal. The first is a smaller problem: it’s far too long for the story it tells. Mr. Holland’s Opus approaches 2 ½ hours for a movie that is essentially about a music teacher teaching music. However, as Roger Ebert once said, no good movie is ever too long, so this is a problem that I can live with. The bigger issue is one that we’ll get to eventually.

The plot isn’t much more than what I just said. Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfus, who manages to age 30 years over the course of the film) is a musician. At 30, he and his wife Iris (Glenne Headly) have decided to settle down. No more touring clubs and playing late nights. It’s time for Glen to get to his real desire: writing music. To help make this a reality, Iris picks up work when she can and Glenn has agreed to teach music at the local high school. The plan is that Glen will need to do the job only for four years before the two can live the lives they want.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Viral Videos?

Film: Ralph Breaks the Internet
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.

When Wreck-It Ralph came out, I was incredibly excited for it. It was very much one of those films that felt like it was made for me. It was a huge chunk of nostalgia for me, something that felt like a chunk of my past put on a movie screen. It was a big enough hit that a sequel was almost guaranteed to happen. And the closer that the reality came to fruition, the less I was excited about it. So, while I knew I was going to have to watch Ralph Breaks the Internet.

We can start with the name. I realize that “breaks the internet” is the saying that gets used, but seriously, they couldn’t call this Ralph Wrecks the Internet?

Thursday, May 9, 2019

It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp

Film: Hustle & Flow
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

As I get nearer and nearer to the end of my Oscar lists, it seems to get harder and harder to get a movie watched. I still watch half a dozen or so movies every week; it just seems like a struggle to cross movies off the diminishing list. With Hustle & Flow, the reason is simple: I don’t like rap, so a movie about someone trying to break into the rap game doesn’t interest me that much. Honestly, it’s the same issue I had with Altman’s Nashville when I was finishing the 1001 Movies list: I don’t like country music, so a movie about the industry really didn’t interest me.

Hustle & Flow concerns DJay (Terrence Howard), a pimp, trying to survive the mean streets of Memphis. This is not a case where he’s a pimp in the sense that he’s trying to hook up. He’s an actual pimp with a stable of three women. Those women are Shug (Taraji P. Henson), who is pregnant; Lexus (Paula Jai Parker), who works a strip club; and Nola (Taryn Manning), his white hooker who he has working the street. DJay also deals weed, often in a club run by Arnel (Isaac Hayes). Arnel tells him that former Memphis rapper Skinny Black (Lucacris) is coming back to town for the Fourth of July, and DJay needs to bring his best product to the party. Around the same time, DJay accepts an old Casio keyboard from a junkie in exchange for some drugs.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Brides of Dracula

Film: The Brides of Dracula
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

I hate to be the one to say things like this, but there are times when movies just blend together and don’t leave much of an impression on me. The Brides of Dracula is one such movie. I like Hammer horror films, and I like the ones that deal with the classic monsters, but there’s a massive hole in The Brides of Dracula. That hole is named Christopher Lee, who decided not to reprise his role for this. In fact, the movie starts with the statement that Dracula is really dead, but that’s not going to stop us from having vampires galore in this one. After all, even though the “Dracula” in the title is misleading based on the vampires we do get, we’re told that there are going to be multiple brides.

So, true to the Hammer ideals, The Brides of Dracula is going to be set in roughly the Victorian era. Also, we’re not going to be in London this time, but actually in Transylvania. Young French schoolteacher Marianne Danielle (Yvonne Monlaur) is coming to Transylvania because she has accepted a teaching position at a school there. But, of course, as she nears the place of her new employment, many of the locals appear to be wary of outsiders and terribly superstitious. She is abandoned at an inn by her coach driver. Shortly after this, Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt) arrives and offers Marianne a place in her castle for the evening.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Off Script: Trilogy of Terror

Film: Trilogy of Terror
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.

Trilogy of Terror is one of those legendary little horror movies that everyone has heard of for a specific reason. Right now, you’re almost undoubtedly thinking of that Zuni doll that is the feature of the third story. And that’s just it—there are two other stories in Trilogy of Terror. I mean, of course there are; it’s Trilogy of Terror, after all. The question that needs to be answered by the viewer of this movie is why everyone remembers the Zuni doll. Is it because the third story is really that great or is it because the first two stories are just that weak?

The answer is a little bit of both. Our third story is the only one that is a true horror story. It’s also an odd choice that all three of the stories aren’t so much named after what happens in them and aren’t given clever titles. They’re just named after the character played by Karen Black.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Personal Shopper

Film: Personal Shopper
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on The New Portable.

There has to be a substantial amount of freedom in being the focus of a huge cinematic series. Plenty of actors have, after starring in something huge, retired and done something different (Jack Gleeson, for instance, retired from acting in his early 20s after playing Joffrey Baratheon on Game of Thrones). Others have used that fame and the lack of need for money to do only projects that interest them. Daniel Radcliffe and Elijah Wood are great examples of this. They’re now doing arthouse films and unusual projects. And now, the same can be said of the stars of the Twilight movies. Robert Pattinson has started doing work like Good Time and Kristen Stewart, after being the butt of endless jokes, has started directing. She’s also started doing movies like Personal Shopper that are everything the crass materialism and bullshit romance of Twilight is not.

Personal Shopper is something like a horror movie in the sense that it deals with spirits and the afterlife in some respect, but this is not anything like a traditional horror movie. There are a few supernatural-style scares, but most of the unsettling things happening here have a source that is ultimately unknown. While there is always a sense of there being something unsettling happening, it’s a much more vague feeling of dread than it is anything else.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

All About Abigail

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

Based only on my prior knowledge, I was surprised at the nomination of Olivia Colman for The Favourite. This is nothing against Colman, who I have loved in television roles for several years. I know her primarily from her work on sketch comedy shows with David Mitchell and Robert Webb, as well as from Hot Fuzz. And thus my surprise; Oscar seems to not so much dislike comedy as not really care that it exists. While I love Colman’s work, she seems like a terrible fit for Oscar’s typical Best Actress category. It was even more surprising to me that she won, and for the same reason.

Well, I’ve seen The Favourite now, and I have to say that there’s a part of me that is still surprised that she won. Again, this is nothing against Olivia Colman. It has everything to do with what feels like category fraud. The Favourite notched three acting nominations—Colman for Best Actress and both Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz for Best Supporting Actress. The problem is that Stone is clearly the main character of the film and gets the most screen time. While it’s true that Colman’s Queen Anne is the emotional and narrative center of the film, she’s not the main character nor does she have the main character arc.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Hannibal

Film: Hannibal
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

So let’s talk about sequels for a moment. Typically, sequels are a disappointment, although I have to admit that they’ve gotten a bit better in recent years. But they still don’t have the best of reputations when it comes to movies. I hadn’t heard a great deal good about Hannibal going in. It’s ten years removed from The Silence of the Lambs, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but can be. It also replaced Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling with Julianne Moore. Far be it from me to complain about Julianne Moore, but Clarice will always be Jodie Foster to me, especially since Moore spends a good chunk of the film attempting to recreate Foster’s patois.

Hannibal kind of picks up where the previous film left off. Lector (still played by Anthony Hopkins) has escaped and is somewhere in the wider world. Clarice is continuing to work at her job with the FBI, and is in charge of a drug bust that goes badly. She’s saddled with the responsibility and blame for this despite it clearly being the fault of another person. As it happens, a considerable amount of Hannibal concerns her relationship with the bureau, being particularly antagonistic. I honestly don’t remember this from the first film; here, all of her interactions with others at the FBI are hostile, particularly with Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta).

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Was Scarlett Johansson Cast?

Film: Crazy Rich Asians
Format: Various media on rockin’ flatscreen.

My viewing of Crazy Rich Asians took a week. It’s not the fault of the movie itself. Sue and I watched about half of it a week ago, but she started to fall asleep, and it took us a week to both have the opportunity to finish it up. This is a movie I’d heard a great deal about, so I was interested to see it. Now that I have, I’m a bit torn. I get that it’s a good movie, and I certainly understand the wealth porn aspects of it. What I don’t understand is that no one else seems to see that this is really a very standard rom-com in a lot of ways.

On to the plot—Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is an economics professor at NYU and is successful by all standards of American society. Her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), needs to return home to Singapore for the wedding of his best friend, and naturally Rachel is going to come along as his plus-one. Nick has kept a great deal of his family history a secret from Rachel, telling her only that the family is comfortable. Rachel is excited to go, for the wedding itself, to meet Nick’s family, and because her college roommate Peik Lin (Nora Lum using her stage name Awkwafina) lives in Singapore.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Off Script: Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary

Film: Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

Long-time readers will know that both of my daughters are heavily involved in ballet. Kid #1 has her degree in dance performance and is a couple of months away from auditioning for full-time positions at companies around the country. Kid #2 also dances, commuting into Chicago a couple of days a week. Why is this relevant? Because Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary is a version of Bram Stoker’s story performed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and directed by Guy Maddin.

Maddin is an artistic director, which in this context mostly means that a lot of his work is dense and hard to understand. Maddin frequently manipulates the film itself, or changes film stock to achieve particular visual effects, and much of what he does is heavily symbolic and doesn’t seem to have any easily discernible meaning. I have to admit that I found this interesting when it came to this film. After all, I know the story. I’ve seen umpteen versions of Dracula in cinematic form, have seen it performed on stage, and have read the book once or twice. It’s also worth noting that Dracula has been performed as a ballet before. Maddin didn’t create the idea and had nothing to do with the choreography.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Let Me In

Film: Let Me In
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

A movie like Let Me In puts me in a very difficult position as a reviewer/critic and as a movie fan. The original version of this movie, Lat den Ratte Komma in has been regularly (and rightfully) hailed as one of the great horror movies of the current century and one of the better takes on the vampire myth in general. The problem with it in the eyes of American film companies is that it wasn’t an American movie. Watching it meant dubbing or reading subtitles while listening to the original Swedish, and what sort of American wants to do that? And so, a mere two years later, Let Me In, a version of the movie that appears to change only the names of the characters and the location of the story, was produced.

Here’s the quandary: Let Me In is a good movie. It genuinely is. It’s well cast and acted throughout. The story is a good one that has seemed to survive its translation from the Swedish into English without much loss. Kodi Smit-McPhee is a great choice for the bullied young boy (he looks like a professional victim), and this also features Chloe Grace Moretz early in her career. There’s also a good role for Richard Jenkins, who is a damn fine actor. And yet I still feel like this has the scent of reheated leftovers in a large way.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Bridge of Sighs

Film: A Little Romance
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Every week I get a little bit nearer completing the massive list of Oscar movies, or completing the list as much as I ever will. Today is noteworthy in one important respect: A Little Romance is the final movie I needed to watch from the 1970s. I’m officially done with every movie from 1970 through 1986. It’s strange to be done with a decade, but it also feels like a long, slow exhale. I could have only wished for a movie I ended up liking a little more than this one. In truth, I liked this ultimately in spite of itself.

It is at the very least aptly named. Our romance here is between 13-year-olds, and while it is something reads very much like an idealized romance between kids, it’s also pretty chaste (as it should be, honestly). It’s also going to take us a long time (roughly half the movie) to get where we’re going. The quick and dirty is that Lauren (Diane Lane in her first role), an American living in France and Daniel (the awesomely-named Thelonious Bernard) meet cute and fall for each other. In their outings, they run into Julius (Laurence Olivier), who takes a shine to them both and tells them stories, including a legend that a couple who kiss in a gondola under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice while the bells are ringing will be forever in love. When Lauren’s mother (Sally Kellerman) decides that Daniel is a bad influence, Lauren and Daniel decide to run away to Venice with Julius’s help, which naturally leads to the authorities believing Julius has kidnapped the kids. And all of this happens because Lauren’s step-father has decided to move back to the States.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Second Verse, Not the Same as the First

Film: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library at Cortland Public Library.

A lot of the movies I’ve been reviewing lately have come from the Cortland Public Library. This is a tiny little library one town over from where I live. Despite its size (it’s considerably smaller than my house), it has a great movie collection. But, any collection can always be improved. I’ve teamed up with one of the librarians to create a movie club. Once a month, we host a movie showing, ask for a $1 donation, and, eventually, will use those donations to buy additional movies for the library. We premiered the group last night with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

And holy shit. I’d heard it was good, even groundbreaking, but I was not prepared.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Dead Silence

Film: Dead Silence
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

There’s something unsettling about dolls. I think it’s the eyes. Because of this, dolls are a natural choice for horror movies. Dead Silence plays off that idea, upping the ante slightly by using not simply dolls but ventriloquist dummies. Since these are a step further into the uncanny valley—articulated jaws, movable eyes, etc.—they’re just that one more step creepier. Make them capable of moving on their own or being possessed and you’ve got a premise for a pretty standard horror movie with potential for some good scares.

We’re going to start with a scare, of course. Jamie (Ryan Kwanten) and Lisa Ashen (Laura Regan) receive an anonymous package one day. It turns out to be a ventriloquist dummy named Billy. Jamie goes out for take-out Chinese and Lisa plans a joke on her husband. But, of course, she’s attacked, and when Jamie returns home, he finds his wife dead with her tongue missing. Jamie, of course, is the main suspect, but police detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg) doesn’t have enough evidence to hold him.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Daniel Striped Tiger

Film: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Most of my reviews on this site run between 750 and 1000 words. I have a feeling that Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is going to be a lot shorter than that. This is not because I don’t have something to say about the movie or because it isn’t worth talking about. Instead, it’s because this is the sort of movie that you’re either going to be drawn to or you are not, and there’s not going to be a great deal of middle ground. You’re either going to be enamored of Fred Rogers and the philosophy he seemed to live with every fiber of his being, or you’re not.

On the surface, Fred Rogers would seem to be anathema to me. I am open about my lack of religious belief and falling away from the church; Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. Where I can have a temper that does me no credit, Rogers was a man of calm and peace. He appears by all accounts and by everyone who knew him to be a genuinely good man as well as someone overflowing with true kindness. I recently told someone that, while I strive to be a good person as much as I can, I find that I am frequently not a nice one. I don’t always “person” very well, and Fred Rogers may well have been the best at personing in the last century.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Blue Collar, Red Neck, Pink Sequins

Film: I, Tonya
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

If you were sentient and aware in 1994, you knew about Tonya Harding. Everyone knew about Tonya Harding. She was a punchline in every comedian’s stand-up routine, a topic of conversation around every water cooler. You couldn’t get away from her. That being the case, it’s almost surprising that it took nearly a quarter of a century for her story to reach the big screen. I, Tonya essentially admits at the beginning that it is rife with unreliable narrators. This is the story of the entire saga of Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, and a hell of a lot more coming from three different people, all of whom have good reason to lie and to implicate each other.

Of course, to tell the full story, we’re going to have to start at the beginning, with a young Tonya Harding (played as a young child by Maizie Smith, then Mckenna Grace as a pre-teen, and ultimately by Margot Robbie) becoming a viable figure skating competitor. We are introduced to her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney, who won the Oscar for Supporting Actress for this role). LaVona is a harsh woman who seems to be devoid of any real compassion or genuine emotion outside of contempt. She is most easily recognizable in the film by her ever-present cigarette (which honestly looks more like a cigarillo). What we learn is that despite her evident talent (Harding was the first American woman figure skater to successfully land a triple axel in competition), she never placed well in competition. Why? Image.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Off Script: From Dusk till Dawn

Film: From Dusk till Dawn
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

Readers of this blog should know by now that I will go out of my way to avoid watching a lot of Tarantino films. I get tired of him very quickly, and I’ve said for years that Tarantino would be a lot better if he stopped trying to be awesome and instead tried to be good. So what do I have to say about From Dusk till Dawn, which features him not as the director, but as screenwriter, executive producer, and featured actor? I’ll say that Tarantino is a better director than he is actor, although that’s hardly a shocking opinion.

Anyway, From Dusk till Dawn is from the early years of George Clooney’s movie career and long before he started to get serious about the movies he was making. This is from his pre-Batman & Robin days, when he was just a good-looking actor on his way up. And since this is a vampire horror/action movie, that’s probably not surprising.

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Film: First Reformed
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

I find it important, now and again, to remind both myself and readers of this blog about the function of the Oscar posts on Monday and Friday. These are not a celebration of the best of the Academy, but a reckoning of just how poorly the Academy has done historically at both nominating and awarding prizes to films. When I finally catch up with something like First Reformed, which came with huge buzz when it was released, I’m reminded of that mission statement.

First Reformed is far from the first movie of 2018 that I have liked, nor is it the first I’ve seen from last year that I think was worthy of Oscar consideration. It’s not even the first that I consider important from last year, nor is it the one that I found to make the greatest artistic statement. It is, however, the first film I’ve seen from 2018 that made me really want to sit and think about what I had seen for a chunk of time after it ended. Not a lot of movies strike me that way, and so, when it happens, I find myself surprisingly moved.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

John Wick, Taxi Driver

Film: You Were Never Really Here
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

I didn’t watch the Oscars this year for the first time in a good half decade. The main reason I couldn’t really be bothered to worry about it is that, while I am always months behind in my viewing, I do pay attention to what is out and what people are talking about. You Were Never Really Here got a huge amount of buzz in the movie nerd community when it came out, and a lot of people expected that it would be completely snubbed come Oscar time…and it was. This is another reminder that my Monday and Friday Oscar posts are not intended to be a celebration of Oscar, but a reckoning.

Now, having seen this, I get the frustration of many people. There’s not a clear reason that Lynne Ramsay should have been ignored for Best Director, even if the Academy didn’t feel like You Were Never Really Here deserved recognition in the Best Picture category. What Ramsay has made here is a pared-down roller coaster, a film that doesn’t waste a frame on anything it doesn’t immediately impact the story. This is the opposite of the self-indulgent filmmaking that seems to come into vogue every few years, with films bloating into longer “experiences” that frequently have a 20% fat content.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Urban Legend

Film: Urban Legend
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

When someone reinvents a genre or part of a genre, it’s inevitable that there will be copycats. The first successful slasher begat more and more slashers. Some of these were good, many more were terrible, and a lot were simply mediocre. When Scream reinvented the slasher into something post-modern and self-aware, it naturally had its imitators as well. One of those is Urban Legend, a film that gives us a group of college students who know the legends in question and who will die in droves because of them.

We start with a bang, with college student Michelle Mancini (Natasha Gregson Wagner) driving back to campus one night and having a scare from a stuttering gas station attendant. What she doesn’t know is that there is someone in her back seat, who soon rises up and beheads her with an axe. And the urban legend parade begins.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


Films: Unsane
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

One of the realities of the horror genre is that if you look hard enough, you’ll find something that will really play on the fears of just about anyone. Being locked in an institution wrongfully is, I would guess, a pretty significant fear of a lot of people. Being locked in an institution with your stalker would be hundreds of times worse. And that’s exactly where we are going with Unsane. Don’t worry—this isn’t a spoiler. All of what sounds like it should be revealed over the course of the film is in the trailer.

Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) has moved from Boston to escape a stalker named David Strine (Joshua Leonard), who attached onto her when she took care of his father during his hospice care. The experience has left her scarred enough that she sees David in places where she is sure he can’t be. Deciding that she could use a little help, she books an appointment for herself at a place called Highland Creek Behavioral Center. She fills out a number of forms and is then taken to an examination room where it is revealed that she has just voluntarily committed herself for 24 hours.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Style over Substance

Film: Fellini’s Casanova
Format: DVD from Quincy Illinois Veterans Home Library OCLC Interlibrary Loan on The New Portable.

Years ago, when I was working on a BA in English, my brother sent me something about how to be a really good English major. It was a joke, of course, a piece of satire that naturally included a great deal of truth. One element of it was that you should pick a particular author and hate all of that author’s work. I suppose the film equivalent of that is to pick a director that is widely acclaimed and hate all or most of that director’s output. For me, that director is Federico Fellini. I know he is lauded and well-loved, but I find virtually all of his work completely self-indulgent and navel-gazing. I didn’t have a great deal of hope that Fellini’s Casanova would be any different.

And…it’s not. Fellini’s Casanova is a riot of mise-en-scene and enormous, elaborate costumes desperately in search of being something more than just a series of events connected by a single character. I know that there are people who like this stuff. I know that Fellini has people who adore his work. I’ll I see, though, is a whole lot of style and virtually no substance.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Wednesday Horror: In the Mouth of Madness

Film: In the Mouth of Madness
Format: DVD from River Valley Public Library through OCLC WorldCat on The New Portable.

I didn’t realize until In the Mouth of Madness started that it starred Sam Neill. It’s at this point that I consciously realized that Sam Neill has been in some freaky shit. He was in Possession, which is a serious head trip and he was in Event Horizon, which never gets the love it deserves. And he was in In the Mouth of Madness, which also goes by John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness if you were wondering who directed and scored it.

There is a loose connection to the work of H.P. Lovecraft here, much more tangential than full-on homage. There’s a sort of feel to the story and the location that knock on Lovecraft’s door. It’s probably a good thing that this doesn’t really go any further because there aren’t a lot of directors who could come close to producing something that would work for Lovecraft. The only one I can think of off the top of my head is Guillermo del Toro, although Carpenter moved in that direction with The Thing. Still, I’m not entirely sure that Lovecraft really translates to film well, so “inspired by” is probably more than enough.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Off Script: The Mothman Prophecies

Film: The Mothman Prophecies
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

I always, or at least often, appreciate it when a horror movie really attempts to do a lot with its atmosphere. The Mothman Prophecies is entirely about the atmosphere. The entire movie is really a long series of events that are all designed to get the audience to buy into a feeling that something going on in the world is just slightly off. There’s no gore here and no real jump scares. Instead, what we get is a slowly building sense of dread. It’s done pretty well, and I’m always happy when that works.

Washington Post reporter John Klein (Richard Gere) and his wife Mary (Debra Messing) make an offer to purchase a house. On the drive afterward, Mary sees a huge apparition and their car skids off the road. John is fine, but Mary ends up in the hospital. A few tests later and she’s been diagnosed with glioblastoma, and she succumbs to it soon after, leaving John alone.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Off Script: Friday the 13th Part 2

Films: Friday the 13th Part 2
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the slasher subgenre. There’s simply not enough to the films (my opinion) to warrant a lot of excitement about them. More or less they are just an excuse for a bunch of different extreme death scenes, and while I freely admit that some of them get pretty inventive, most of them aren’t. That being the case, I’ve never been a massive fan of the Friday the 13th series, because these are in many ways the quintessential slasher films. It’s easy to forget that they start slow. Jason isn’t the killer in the first movie. In that respect, Jason’s debut as the movie monster he would eventually become starts with Friday the 13th Part 2.

Because there isn’t a great deal of plot here, there’s a particular freedom that the movie has to tie up old business. To that end, about 1/7th of the running time is taking up by a preamble that concerns Alice (Adrienne King), the final girl from the first movie. Once she is taken care of, we’re going to get a great deal of set up for the new collection of victims. The story is that it’s taking place five years after the original story despite this movie coming out the next year. There’s a new camp opening up just down the road from where Camp Crystal Lake was located. Sure, the new group of camp counsellors knows all about “Camp Blood,” but no one cares. After all, the new camp is far enough away from the old one, right?

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Thing (2011)

Films: The Thing (2011)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

When I first heard that there was going to be something like a remake of John Carpenter’s 1982 version of The Thing, I wasn’t much interested. Remakes tend to be problematic in the sense that most of them try desperately to capitalize off the success of the original without keeping a great deal of the heart that made the original great. When I heard that it was going to be more of a prequel than a remake, essentially the story of what happened in the Norwegian camp before the creature made it to the American outpost, I was mildly more interested, but not enough to watch the film until now.

With the story of this film being what it is, it shouldn’t need a great deal of set-up. If you haven’t seen Carpenter’s film, you shouldn’t be reading this review; you should be locating that and watching it, since it’s one of the truly great horror/science fiction films in movie history. That’s not hyperbole. That being the case, this would need to be a truly exceptional film to match it. That would be even more extraordinary in what was the director’s first (and to date, only) feature-length film. It will not be a surprise when I tell you that it’s not that.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What a Difference a Year or Two Makes

Films: Husbands and Wives
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

This is not going to be easy. The world changed in 2017 with the #metoo movement, something that was overdue. But that didn’t make certain aspects of this easy to handle. It meant confronting difficult and ugly truths about people who might otherwise be admired. I can’t help liking the movies of Roman Polanski despite Polanski himself being a human shit. And the same is true of Woody Allen. I don’t like all of his films, but I like a lot of them, and when I watch one I really like (say Radio Days or Midnight in Paris), I’m reminded that sometimes monsters make art. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Husbands and Wives. Now, having watched it, there’s a part of me that wishes I’d seen it three or four years ago.

The reason for that is simple—this is the sort of Woody Allen film that tends to bother me in the best of situations. The Allen I tend to like best is when he’s more nostalgic and romantic. When everything is tied up in his own libido, I tend to check out pretty quickly. Husbands and Wives is one of those movies that is entirely about marriages falling apart and people deciding to move on with their lives because their sex lives are terrible. No one is ultimately going to be edified by anything. One marriage seems strong and breaks up. One marriage seems weak and ends up staying intact. Everyone is concerned entirely with their genitals the entire time.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Do Not Call List

Films: Sorry to Bother You
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

The Oscars are this coming Sunday, and for the first time in a few years, I’m probably not going to watch them. The controversy over the host, dropping several of the awards out of the show…it’s all cooled me to the actual ceremony. The biggest issue, though, is that evidently there are a metric ton of movies from 2018 that were ignored or significantly snubbed in some categories. Because of this, I’m making sure to watch and review an increased number of those films on the blog in the coming months. To that end, I watched Sorry to Bother You today, and have found a film that seems to have been snubbed by pretty much everybody.

I don’t know that I can adequately explain everything that is necessary to understand Sorry to Bother You, because this is a movie that goes in about 100 directions at once. This is not a complaint, though, because for as strange as this movie is, it’s completely coherent and understandable at all times. Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield) and his girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) live in the garage of Cash’s uncle (Terry Crews). Cash is behind on the rent and his uncle is on the brink of losing the house, so Cash gets a job as a telemarketer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Jaws 2

Films: Jaws 2
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

There are times when a great movie gets a great sequel. Spend five minutes thinking about it, and you can come up with more than half a dozen sequels that are better than or in the same league as the original film. Spider-Man 2, Terminator 2, Aliens, The Godfather Part 2, Evil Dead 2, The Empire Strikes Back, The Wrath of Khan, and on it goes. Most of the time, though, sequels are something of a letdown. Jaws 2 is one of those. Admittedly, it would have to be one hell of a sequel to match the original summer blockbuster, but it’s still a little disappointing that it’s such a step down from the original.

That said, Jaws 2 is probably better than you remember despite being a clear rehash of the original film. A big part of that is that virtually the entire cast from the first film has returned. Sure, there are other characters here and some new players (and new victims), but it’s still Roy Scheider as Chief Brody, Lorraine Gary as his wife Ellen, Murray Hamilton as the town’s mayor, and even Jeffrey Kramer as Brody’s deputy. Even some of the townspeople are the same. The only surviving main character from the first film is Hooper, explained away by him finally getting on the research vessel he was planning to get on in the first movie.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


Films: Nell
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

Nell is the sort of movie that I should like, since it deals significantly with language. More specifically, it deals with a language spoken by a single person, a sort of private language that has been learned and created through a series of accidents. I love stuff like this. Language creation, and languages like pidgins and creoles are fascinating to me. Based on that, this should be a movie not only that I love, but that I should have seen and loved years ago.

And yet here we are, with this being the first time I’ve seen this, and it turns out I’m not so much in love with it as tolerant of it. There’s a particular bit of…not irony, but something in that neighborhood with Jodie Foster’s nomination for playing Nell, the woman who speaks the unique language and who is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (which, based on her behavior, seems like a very mild diagnosis). Had this been called Neil, there’s a solid chance the role would have won an Oscar. The conventional wisdom is that men win Oscars playing someone who is mentally or physically challenged in some significant way.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Atari no Inu

Films: Isle of Dogs
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

I was leery going in to Isle of Dogs for one main reason. I am a fan of Wes Anderson in the sense that I like most of his movies a great deal. Additionally, with Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, I think he’s only getting better and better, exhibiting tighter and tighter control over his films. But I wasn’t a huge fan of Fantastic Mr. Fox, because I couldn’t figure out who (aside from himself) he made it for. And then there was some controversy about the film, so I wasn’t sure what I would think about this.

Honestly, I shouldn’t have worried. While I still think Fantastic Mr. Fox was a misstep, Isle of Dogs is the animated Wes Anderson film that Wes Anderson fans wanted. More importantly, while it maintains itself as being the quirkiest thing released in 18 months, it’s something that will genuinely work for kids.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Ride the White Horse

Films: Shoeshine (Sciuscia)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

I said recently that there seems to be a reason that I have avoided certain films in the Oscar list for this long. I haven’t always known why, but for the last couple of months, the films have been ones that I haven’t enjoyed a great deal for one reason or another. In the case of Shoeshine (or Sciuscia, if you prefer the Italian), the reason was clear. Vittorio De Sica doesn’t make happy films, and I have to be in a particular mood to want to see a solidly depressing drama. Couple this with the fact that foreign films require a focus and concentration I’m not always capable of providing, and there’s a reason that it’s taken me half a decade to get here.

True to form, Shoeshine is a film that starts well enough but soon devolves into the sort of misery porn that director Vittorio De Sica made his bread and butter. We’re going to be spending the entire film with people who are desperately poor. In this case, we’re also going to get kids who are unknowingly committing crimes, being accused of much more serious crimes, and, while in their early teens, are getting thrown essentially into prison. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The 'Burbs

Films: The ‘Burbs
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

There’s a certain mindset needed to pull off horror-comedy well. This is something I have railed about in the past. Most filmmakers, when faced with the challenge of a film that combines elements of both comedy and horror will side much more on the comedy side instead of the horror side. Even the ones that are well done--Shaun of the Dead, Slither, Dead Alive and a host of others are far more likely to lean harder on the comedy than the horror. What horror we get will often be of the gross-out variety because, well, it’s easy to blend that with comedy. In the case of The ‘Burbs, we’re not getting a great deal of horror and, honestly, not a great deal of comedy.

What I mean by that in this case is not that this is a Scary Movie-style spoof, but that it is very much a movie comedy before it is anything like the thriller it is pretending to be. Specifically, that means that The ‘Burbs is going to be filled with the sorts of characters that exist only in comedy movies. I might even go so far as to say that the characters here are specific to comedy films of the 1980s.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Annual, Physical

Films: Same Time, Next Year
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

It’s been an odd, recurring thing with these movies that I’ve left to the end on the large Oscar list. So far, in almost every case, there’s been something in this movies that has been like biting on tinfoil for me. It’s as if I avoided certain movies instinctively while knowing virtually nothing about them. That certainly seems to be the case with Same Time, Next Year. I knew the premise of this going in, which is probably why I avoided it until now. Had I known before what I know now, I’d have still avoided it, but for different reasons.

The elevator pitch for this movie is that two people, George (Alan Alda) and Doris (Ellen Burstyn) have a chance meeting at a California hotel in the 1950s. Despite being married to other people, they spend a night of furious passion with each other, and despite the guilt feelings the next morning, decide to meet at the same place the following year. Essentially, they are unfaithful to their spouses with each other for a single weekend every year.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Growing Pains

Films: Incredibles 2
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the new internet machine.

It was not lightly that I entered in to watching Incredibles 2. I am a huge fan of the original, so my expectations going into this sequel were…unsure. On the one hand, sequels frequently don’t measure up, often leaving the fans of the first disappointed. On the other hand, this is Pixar we’re talking about, and Pixar doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, and many of their sequels are at least pretty good. But again, my expectations were hopeful, but guarded.

Incredibles 2 picks up immediately at the end of the first movie. The Parrs, Mr. Incredible/Bob (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl/Helen (Holly Hunter), and kids Violet (Sarah Vowell), Dash (Huck Milner), and baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), along with fellow superhero Frozone/Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson) are attacked by a new supervillain who calls himself the Underminer (John Ratzenberger). They battle, and the Underminer not only successfully robs a bank, he sets his machine against the surface world, causing a great deal of destruction.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Off Script: The Ruins

Films: The Ruins
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Much of the best of modern horror eschews the gross out in the main and instead aims for something truly terrifying. Gore in the best of horror movies is used for a momentary shock that enhances the rest of the film. There’s a single gore moment in It Follows, for instance, and that film is really effective. The same could be said of The VVitch. Green Room uses (mostly) realistic gore in shocking and brutal ways to enhance the claustrophobia and terror of the situation. And then you get movies like The Ruins, where the screenwriters seem to have decided that gore is an appropriate substitute for real scares. Sure, I’ll admit that seeing gross things on the screen will cause a reaction, but for me, that sort of gratuitous gore doesn’t elicit horror. Revulsion is not the same thing as horror.

A group of four American college students are on vacation in Mexico. These students come in the form of two couples: Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Amy (Jena Malone) and Stacy (Laura Ramsey) and Eric (Shawn Ashmore). While hanging out by the pool on their penultimate day, Amy realizes that she has lost an earring. It is returned to her by Mathias (Joe Anderson), a German who is waiting for the return of his brother, who is investigating an ancient Mayan ruin that is not on the maps.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Lost Boys

Film: The Lost Boys
Format: DVD from Cortland Public LIbrary on The New Portable.

There are certain movies that define particular points in time. There are, for instance, movies that feel like they belong to specific decades. With that in mind, I present to you The Lost Boys, arguably the most 1980s film in the history of movies. If it’s not the most 1980s film ever, it almost certainly is the most ineffably 1980s horror film, and I say this as someone who loves both Fright Night and Night of the Comet. Seriously, what other horror movie has a shirtless saxophone player?

Recently-divorced Lucy Emerson (Dianne Wiest) moves herself and her two boys Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) to the California beach town of Santa Carla to move in with her father (Barnard Hughes). The boys are less than enamored with the move, while Lucy starts looking for work on the boardwalk. She picks up a job at a video store (See! Pure ‘80s!) run by Max (Ed Herrmann) while the boys try to figure out how to fit in. For Sam, this means hanging out at the local comic book store where he meets the Frog Brothers, Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander). For Michael, it means pursuing Star (Jami Gertz), who he sees on the boardwalk.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

And Baby Makes Four

Film: Georgy Girl
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Where do I start with Georgy Girl? Lynn Redgrave being nominated for this marks one of those rare occasions where sisters competed for an Oscar; Vanessa Redgrave was nominated this year as well. I could start with it having the sort of cast most directors would kill for. In addition to Lynn Redgrave we have Alan Bates, James Mason, and Charlotte Rampling. Or I could talk about the fact that everyone in this film is a miserable piece of human shit, epitomizing the idea of selfishness to such a degree that I find it difficult to think of an equal in anything remotely calling itself a drama in any form.

Georgina (Redgrave) is in her early 20s, and while she is cheeky and seemingly worldly when it comes to things like flirting and sex, she absolutely is not. She’s still a virgin, and has never had a boyfriend, something she chalks up to her plump-ish figure and plain looks. She has grown up as the daughter of two servants of James Leamington (James Mason), a man with a loveless and childless marriage to the sickly Ellen (Rachel Kempson). He has long looked upon Georgy as something like a daughter, at least until recently. At his 49th birthday party, he propositions her, offering her a legal contract that would make her his mistress. Georgy, not really ever taking anything seriously on the surface, puts him off as best she can.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Wednesday Horror: A Quiet Place

Film: A Quiet Place
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

One of the problems with being regularly 12-18 months behind on movies is that I run a lot of risk of spoilers. I knew, for instance, the basics of Avengers: Infinity War long before I got around to watching it. I’ve gotten surprisingly good at paying attention to what is getting a great deal of positive attention and then avoiding as much as I can about those movies until I get around to them. I was pretty good in that respect with A Quiet Place.

The word on A Quiet Place was that it was scary and really inventive. I agree that there are some great scares here. As for its inventiveness, it is essentially a new spin on some older ideas. There are elements of films like Don’t Breathe in this. More specifically, this is what Signs could have and should have been. In other words, this is original only in the details. That’s not a complaint in any real sense. It’s essentially the same thing I said about Get Out last year, and I liked that movie a hell of a lot.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Really Deep Cover

Film: BlacKkKlansman
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Spike Lee’s films are up and down sometimes. Some of his films rank as innovative stories almost flawlessly told (Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing). Others (the Oldboy remake, Miracle at St. Anna)…not so much. But when Lee is on and has something to say, I’d be hard-pressed to think of someone better. It’s hard for me to believe that BlacKkKlansman is Lee’s first movie nominated as Best Picture and his first nomination for Best Director.

In this case, BlacKkKlansman has a title that more or less sells itself and serves as the elevator speech for the plot. In this case, it has the added benefit of being based on a true story. In the middle of the Civil Rights movement, a black police officer in Colorado Springs, with the assistance of several other officers, infiltrated the Klan. This is the point where I typically go on a multi-paragraph explanation of the finer details of the plot. I’m not going to do that here.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Yippy Ki-Yay

Film: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Format: Streaming vieo from NetFlix on the new internet machine.

Say what you will about the new “networks” putting together movies and shows, you can’t really say that they’re not going for it. Amazon, HBO, Hulu, and NetFlix are producing television and original movies that are as good or better than the more traditional networks and studios. That these studios are starting to see Oscar nominations is indicative of this, at least in some respects. A better indication is the level of talent working on these projects. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, was written and directed by no less than the Coen brothers, and has a cast of extremely recognizable talent, even in miniscule roles.

What I didn’t realize when I start watching—I went into it completely cold—is that The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology. This is essentially six short films in one slightly-more-than-two-hour package linked together by someone flipping pages in a book and showing us a full-page illustration of the story to come. So, it was quite a shock to me when the first story ended and we move on to a completely new story.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Fear

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

What can I say about Fear from 1996? I can say that it’s interesting to see Reese Witherspoon at this early stage in her career. Same for Alyssa Milano and for Mark Wahlberg. And yet for having three young stars (Milano actually had a substantial number of credits before this—technically so did Wahlberg even if most were as Marky Mark), Fear is a very standard thriller in a lot of respects. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen multiple times, aside from Mark Wahlberg grinding on Reese Witherspoon.

To be more specific about what we’re going to get here, Fear is one of those movies where what begins as an innocent crush/fling/attraction is going to quickly become deadly. It’s also one of those movies where the bad guy is just a little bit smarter or ahead of everyone else and while he’s frequently doing things that are clearly illegal, he’s not quite going to get caught in those things until the very end. Everything is going to build up to a final confrontation, when everything is finally going to get resolved. You’ve seen this before. It’s a hell of a lot like Fatal Attraction for the high school crowd with an ending cribbed in many ways directly from Cape Fear.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Fait Accompli

Film: And Now My Love (Toute Une Vie)
Format: DVD from Frankfort Public Library through OCLC WorldCat on The New Portable.

Sometimes I have to really search for the movies that I need to watch for the Oscars lists. And Now My Love (Toute Une Vie in the original French) is one that I finally managed to get through WorldCat. I have an interesting relationship with these movies that I’ve been hunting for a long time. Even if the movie is as good as it can possibly be, it’s hard not to be at least a touch disappointed. In the case of And Now My Love, it honestly wasn’t that hard to be disappointed.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. And Now My Love isn’t a bad movie; it’s just not that interesting. What this is, and it’s the only way I can put this, is a movie about both fate and love. We’re going to get a story that spans multiple continents and multiple decades. The entire point of the story is to give the ancestry of our two main characters and everything that went into the two of them ultimately getting together.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Wolf Creek

Film: Wolf Creek
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

I’m honestly not sure where to start with a movie like Wolf Creek. This is a modern horror film in every sense it is possible for me to mean that phrase. While it might seem like it has pretensions of being old school in its simplicity. What I mean specifically is that this is a movie that seemed to learn something from films like The Blair Witch Project. I’ll explain that more completely.

In an interview about the movie Scream, Wes Craven said that to make a really effective horror film, you need to hit the audience immediately, and then you don’t need to hit them hard again until the ending. Wolf Creek doesn’t do this. Instead, it’s a good 40 minutes or so before our foil even appears on screen, and almost that long, more than 30 minutes at least, before anything remotely like a horror movie takes place. Almost the first half of this movie is a sort of low-budget travelogue of three young people, Australian Ben (Nathan Phillips) and Brits Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) driving across the Australian outback.