Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sunflowers

Film: At Eternity’s Gate
Format: Blu-Ray from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I watched At Eternity’s Gate last night and, while there was more than enough time for me to write and post a review (these normally take me 20-30 minutes), I couldn’t bring myself to do it. One of the main reasons for this is that I fell asleep in the middle of the movie. This is a rare thing; I don’t often fall asleep in a film, especially when I’m not particularly tired. This is one of those strange cases where my falling asleep isn’t necessarily a negative. There’s something about this film that lends itself to that sort of reaction.

The film is more or less a version of Vincent Van Gogh’s (Willem Dafoe) last several years. It covers his meeting Gaugin (Oscar Isaac) and their strange bromance, as well as the most productive period in Van Gogh’s life. The film also puts forth a controversial idea regarding Van Gogh’s death, which I will not spoil here. It seems to…not quite whitewash, but put a very different spin on the man’s life.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Skeleton Key

Film: The Skeleton Key
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

There’s something I find particularly interesting and effective about the sort of horror that plants itself firmly in the middle of the bayou. Voodoo often gets a bad rap in films. There are a lot of movies that portray Voodoo as a sort of evil black magic whose practitioners are wicked people bent on controlling the will of others. That’s not true, of course. Voodoo is a religion with rituals just like any other. I think it’s that bayou—the swamp, the alligators, the feel of a brooding evil that makes the connection for people. The Skeleton Key looks like it’s going to go down that path, but it doesn’t. Rather than painting Voodoo as a sort of dark and sinister religion, this instead veers into the practice of Hoodoo.

And really, therein lies the problem. A lot of the Voodoo in movies is actually Hoodoo, or Hudu. Both are prevalent in Louisiana and Haiti, and both seem to have come to the Western Hemisphere via the slave trade, but they are substantially different. Where Voodoo is a religion, Hoodoo is more a sort of folk magic, a series of spells and incantations that can give the practitioner great power. For us, it’s easy to get them confused, since a great deal of what we associate with the religion is actually the folk magic.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Off Script: Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight

Film: Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight
Format: AMC on big ol’ television.

I was never a huge fan of the Tales from the Crypt television show. It always seemed to me like a cheap knock-off of The Twilight Zone, albeit one that focused a lot more specifically on horror. Episodes were bookended by an appearance of the Crypt Keeper (voiced by John Kassir), a skeletal puppet prone to terrible horror-based puns. I can’t speak for the episodes, but the Crypt Keeper sections were pure camp, and it was never really something that interested me. Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (also called Tales from the Crypt Presents Demon Knight) follows the same pattern, albeit in a feature-length format.

In this case, we’re led to believe that the Crypt Keeper is directing a film. The opening sequence shows something typical of the television show—a woman has killed her husband and is apparently talking to her lover while the husband’s body dissolves in a bathtub of acid. Of course the husband (an uncredited John Larroquette) wakes up and starts to stalk the murderous wife. Just as he’s about to attack, we hear, “Cut!” and we get our CK intro, who tells us he’s already finished a movie that he calls Demon Knight. So in the opening sequence (and again at the bookend close), we’re very much in the realm of meta.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

Film: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

I’ve gone on record as saying that I like the Universal monsters as a general rule. Of them, I’d have a hard time picking a favorite between Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man. I like the monster because he’s probably the most sympathetic of all of the Universal monsters. He’s the one most easily misunderstood. Frankie is sort of the poster child for anyone who’s ever felt a misfit in this life. The Wolf Man, though, is the most tragic of the creatures. He is, at heart, a good man who has been cursed by something he didn’t ask for and didn’t deserve. Having them both in one movie? I couldn’t wait to watch Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man when I bought a set of Frankenstein movies recently.

Despite his top billing, though, this is far more a vehicle for the Wolf Man, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.). Of course, with any monster sequel from this era, we need to start by resurrecting the monsters. The Wolf Man is first, as a pair of vagrants break into the Talbot family tomb to steal the jewelry they heard Larry was entombed with. They find a surprisingly preserved corpse instead of the bones they were expecting, and when they remove the branches of wolfs bane from the body, he reanimates. And of course it’s a full moon, so he goes lycanthrope on our hapless thieves and wakes up miles away in a hospital having been allegedly dead for four years.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Martyrs

Film: Martyrs
Format: DVD borrowed from a friend on The New Portable.

When I added the first three horror movie lists to this blog, I knew there were going to be some that were hard to find and some that were going to be extremely unpleasant. Martyrs is both of those things wrapped up in one grisly package. I’ve been dreading watching this, and have been kind of relieved that I hadn’t been able to get it through NetFlix. It’s the last movie on the Time Out London list, though, and so I knew I had to get to it. I requested it through interlibrary loan, when one of the librarians at a local library handed me the film—her youngest owned a copy. I’ve had it for two weeks, and it’s taken me until now to finally gut my way through it.

I’m not going to go into a great deal of plot here, because there isn’t a great deal of plot in the film. At the start, a young girl (Jessie Pham) seems to escape from somewhere terrible. We’re told eventually that it was a former abattoir-cum-torture chamber. The young Lucie grows up (and becomes Mylene Jampanoi) in the company of Anna (Morjana Alaoui). Lucie is never quite normal, though, and has frequent encounters with an emaciated and terrifying creature (Isabelle Chasse).

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Driving Doc Shirley

Film: Green Book
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Oscar has a race problem, and Green Book, while not a symptom, is evidence of that problem. Oscar and the Academy loves to talk about race and about the dangers and problems of racism, and yet Oscar can’t quite overcome its own biases. Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture for 1989 in part because it was a movie about racism and in part because it was a safe movie about racism. The audience knew when to smile and when to be outraged and when to be angry on behalf of the characters and when to be angry at the characters. Do the Right Thing from the same year asked better and more interesting questions. It was dangerous. It asked a lot of questions and didn’t provide answers for most of them, and all of the characters were simultaneously in the right and terribly wrong. Almost 30 years later, Oscar managed to reward the same sort of safe racism movie with another Best Picture award in giving it to Green Book.

Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Viggo Mortenson) works as a bouncer at the Copacabana in the early 1960s. When the Copa is closed for renovation, Tony finds himself in need of a job for a couple of months. He is asked to interview for a job as a driver for Doctor Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a pianist planning a tour through the the Midwest and the Deep South. Given that this is from before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, there are parts of the South that would not have been safe for a black man.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Wednesday Horror: A Cure for Wellness

Film: A Cure for Wellness
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

There are a handful of movies that I have checked out from a library any number of times and haven’t pulled the trigger on watching. There are probably at least half a dozen that I have checked out in the double digits and simply haven’t watched. Until today, A Cure for Wellness fell into that category. I’m not sure exactly what prevented me from watching the film aside from the fact that it’s long and I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend that much time on a movie that got such mixed reviews. I don’t live and die by what critics or audiences have to say about a movie, but sitting for nearly 150 minutes for a movie that racked up a 41% on Rotten Tomatoes is a hard sell.

But, knowing that I had once again check the movie out and that it was due in the morning finally lit the fire underneath me that I needed to sit down and watch it. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m not entirely sure what to think of it. I hate to say that I need to watch it again, but that might be the case. Standing in the way for me is the presence of Dane DeHaan front and center. There’s something about DeHaan that I find upsetting. I’m not sure if it’s the giant eye bags that make him look like he wandered head-first into a wasp nest or the fact that his head is shaped like a garlic bulb, but there it is.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Power Corrupts

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

I’m going to warn you off the bat here: this is a political movie and I have political opinions. If you were a fan of George W. Bush or the current American president, you’re going to have problems with this review. This isn’t because I’m going to go on some kind of rant (I hope), but because Vice shows a precise template for exactly how, over the last 20 years, the American right has done everything it can to damage the democracy that we still enjoy. If you’re going to have a problem with me saying exactly that, the door is over there. If you’re going to go on a screed in the comments and use words like “libtard” and “cuck,” I’ll be deleting your comments. You’ve been warned.

Vice is more or less the biopic of Dick Cheney, who hovered around the halls of power during multiple Republican presidential administrations. While I can’t be sure, my guess is that Christian Bale was selected to play Cheney because he was able to slightly modify his Batman voice to be a little more understandable. Bale looks staggeringly like Cheney in a good portion of the film as well, something that can be mildly said for Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush and not at all for Steve Carrell as Donald Rumsfeld.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Mediocre White Men

Film: The Wife
Format: DVD from Rock Island Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

How do we live in a world where Glenn Close doesn’t have an Oscar? Seriously, this is someone who has had such a substantial career playing virtually anything conceivable, and doing it so well as to be believable no matter what the role. In that respect, her role in The Wife is perhaps the one that she has been destined to play. This is a story where her character has lived her entire life in the shadow of her husband, always in the background and always overshadowed.

Our main couple here is the Castlemans, Joe (Jonathan Pryce) and Joan (Close). As the film begins, Joe Castleman is nervous and restless. The reason is soon evident—the phone rings and he receives the news that he is being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, and suddenly their lives are thrown into a strange and surreal moment of turmoil. People naturally come out of the woodwork to congratulate him, and to a much lesser extent, his almost cliché-level long suffering wife. We also learn that their daughter (Alix Wilton Regan) is pregnant and their son (Max Irons) is beginning his career as a writer.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Films: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

I’ve discussed the problem with horror comedies before. The biggest problem with them is that they tend to push the comedy over the horror. What this means is that they generally aren’t scary, often opting for gore instead of actual horror. And, they aren’t that funny most of the time, which means they fail in every aspect. There are good movies in this subgenre. There are even good movies that push the comedy and go for real horror instead of cheap gore. Such a movie is Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Well, that’s true at least in terms of comedy.

Many a horror movie uses the trope of uneducated, essentially feral hillbillies attacking our more civilized heroes. That’s the basic plot of Deliverance and The Hills Have Eyes and a couple of dozen other films. The difference is that in this case, our two heroes are the hillbillies themselves. Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are uneducated backwoods crackers, but they aren’t dumb. They’re just awkward when presented with attractive young college students. Especially Dale, who doesn’t do well with women.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

You Can't Pick You Family, but You Can Pick Your Anime

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

There have been 74 movies nominated for Best Animated Feature at this point in Oscar history, 73 of which I had seen before yesterday. Of those 73, I like 65 of them, or almost 90%. Mirai is going to bring that average down—so of the full 74 films nominated, I still like only 65. I didn’t know if I would find a nominated animated picture that I disliked on the same level as I did Brother Bear, Shark Tale, or Happy Feet, but here we are.

Mirai is the story of an entitled little kid named Kun (voiced by Jaden Waldman) who is blessed/cursed with a baby sister named Mirai. Kun is obsessed with trains and doesn’t like his sister, which means that Kun is going to attempt to hit his sister with his toy trains multiple times. When Kun is not attempting to hit Mirai with a train, he is yelling, screaming, crying, whining, or sometimes whimpering. There’s a lot of whimpering in this movie. A lot of it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Child's Play 2; Child's Play 3

Film: Child’s Play 2; Child’s Play 3
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When people talk about great horror properties, eventually, they’ll get to the Child’s Play series. There are at least seven films in the series, which gives it some considerable staying power, especially considering that the series has existed for more than thirty years and the seventh film was released in 2017. The first Child’s Play is a true classic. True to the way most horror series work, Child’s Play 2 came out a couple of years after the first film and picks up pretty much directly after the first film, give or take a few months.

Actually, it is a few months along. Our hero from the first film, young Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent) is now in the foster care system because his mother is under psychiatric care for backing up Andy’s story about a killer doll. As the film starts, Andy is placed in the Simpson home with parents Joanne (Jenny Agutter) and Phil (Gerrit Graham). The Simpsons have evidently taken a number of kids over the years, and are currently fostering Kyle (Christine Elise), who is just about old enough to be out of the foster care system for good.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Inside and Out

Film: If Beale Street Could Talk
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Typically, I write a review of a movie on the same day that I watch it. While that’s not 100%, it’s common enough that it’s more or less my standard process with this website, even if I end up storing the review to post at a later date. As it happens, I have dozens of unposted reviews that will show up here someday. In the case of If Beale Street Could Talk, I’m writing this review almost 24 hours after watching the film. This has nothing to do with my schedule, and everything to do with the fact that, once I was done, I realized that I had nothing to say about it.

This sounds like I didn’t like the movie, and that wouldn’t be an accurate assessment. I literally had nothing to say about it, either positive or negative. If Beale Street Could Talk more or less washed over me as a story I felt like I had seen before any number of times. And so I’m desperately conflicted about it. It’s well made. I love the pace at which the story is told, and the dream-like quality that comes up throughout the film makes the experience all that much more effective. But this is a very simple story of race and injustice, and it’s a story that we’ve all seen before a number of times.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Hereditary

Film: Hereditary
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I admit that sometimes I have trouble getting through a movie on a first try. Hereditary was that movie for me until a few days ago. It wasn’t fear, but a realization of a particular scene that I knew was coming up. Suffice it to say that I have real issues with cruelty happening to children in a lot of films. I don’t know if this is simple empathy or because I am a parent, but when I know something terrible is going to happen to a child, I frequently balk.

However, I recently had the house to myself, and knowing that Hereditary is the sort of film that would force me to kick the rest of my family out of the living room for a couple of hours, I decided it was time to gut through the scene in question and watch the film. Frankly, I’m glad I did. It’s not a movie I would really want to watch again in the near future, but it’s strangely powerful and is an acting class from the entire cast, particularly Toni Collette. I say this with the caveat that I am a big Toni Collette fan.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Oh Hai, Movie!

Film: The Disaster Artist
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

Spend enough time around movies and you’ll run into the people who celebrate the junk side of cinema. In my case, I befriended a number of them, and guested multiple times on the now-retired Lair of the Unwanted podcast where I discussed some truly shit movies with Jason Soto and Nolahn. That was their schtick, and both of them had me watch some serious trash over the years. That’s okay, though. I embrace the entirety of the cinematic universe, or at least as much of it as I can. The Lair boys had a unique relationship with The Room, even doing a script read at one point (with myself as humble narrator). Now, finally getting around to The Disaster Artist, I’m not sure I could get through this without mentioning Jason and Nolahn and talking a little about my relationship with that Titanic of a movie.

While both Jason and Nolahn made me watch movies in the past, neither of them introduced me to The Room. The guilty party there was my former podcasting partner and the third leg of the “Your Face” movie website troika, Nick Jobe. Nick and I gave each other movie challenges, and, years ago, he made me watch The Room. I did, and I had a…unique reaction to it. I mean, I get that it’s truly terrible, that it’s Ed Wood-levels of shit. I understand why people love it, and once I watched it, I wanted to watch it again right away. At the same time, it pisses me off that this lumbering shitgibbon named Tommy Wiseau is lauded for being completely incompetent at movie making. His piece of shit movie reportedly cost $6 million, which could have financed at least half a dozen interesting and unique indie films.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Swing(er) Your Partner

Film: Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Before I delve too deeply into Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, I want to remind long-time readers and inform newer readers of just how much I hated The Big Chill. I say this because these two movies have a significant element in common. The characters here are of the sort who cannot seem to help but indulge in whatever they think is worth indulging in. In a lot of ways, this is sort of The Big Chill for the early part of the Baby Boomer generation. It’s the movie for those people who were just a little too old to fall in with the Hippies but didn’t want to miss out entirely on all of that free love goodness.

We’re going to start in the company of Bob (Robert Culp) and Carol Sanders (Natalie Wood), who are at some sort of retreat where they are being “open” and “honest” about their feelings. They emerge from the weekend with some sort of spiritual awakening of being completely open and honest with each other. They reveal this truth to their friends Ted (Elliott Gould) and Alice Henderson (Dyan Cannon), who find this change in their friends a bit startling.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Film: The Autopsy of Jane Doe
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

I love horror movies, and yet I remain squeamish about a lot of medical stuff. There’s just something about it that really bothers me a great deal. Because of that, I came to The Autopsy of Jane Doe not really thinking it was going to be a movie I wanted to watch. I didn’t relish the thought of spending just under 90 minutes feeling nauseated and queasy. Still, the film stars Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch, so it comes with a solid cast.

We start at a crime scene where the local sheriff (Michael McElhatton) uncovers the body of a young woman apparently buried. This is Jane Doe (Olwen Catherine Kelly), who is clearly dead but has no identifiable mark on her and no apparent cause of her demise. Because of this, she is sent to the local coroner, Tommy (Brian Cox) and his assistant son, Austin (Emile Hirsch). Before we get to the autopsy of our Jane Doe, though, we’re going to make sure there’s plenty of gore right off the top. We get to watch part of an autopsy on someone who was badly burned. Since we want to get our money’s worth here, we need to have a full investigation of various parts of the body because our corpse may have burned, but died another way, which requires poking around in crispy body parts and gooey innards.

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

Cilice

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

Institutionalized

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.