Sunday, September 22, 2019

Off Script: Honeymoon

Film: Honeymoon
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I’d like to see more women directing horror movies. There are a number of horror movies that have flown under the radar directed by women, and many of them are too good to have suffered from that sort of ambivalence from the audience. A woman director, at least in my experience, tends to make horror a lot more personal and internal. It may be that women are more attuned to a personalized horror, living (generally) in a society that often downgrades them and their contributions. I respond to that in horror. I’m of the opinion that horror tends to work best when we have a real connection with the characters. Honeymoon is that sort of a movie.

Bea (Rose Leslie) and Paul (Harry Treadaway) are just married and, as the name of the film implies, going on their honeymoon. This will take place at a remote cabin that evidently belongs to Bea’s family. She knows the place well, after all, and the bear skin on the wall in one room was apparently supplied by her father. Bea and Paul seem very much like a happy couple, and like any recently married couple, the honeymoon is at least in part about enjoying each other away from the prying eyes of the rest of the world.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Off Script: They Live

Film: They Live
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Why is it that John Carpenter doesn’t get the respect that he has clearly earned? Sure, some of his movies are terrible, but that’s true of just about every director you can think of. Carpenter has made some incredibly influential and important films as well. Horror wouldn’t be the genre it is without Halloween and The Thing, and movies like Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China are rightfully cult classics. That’s the position of the film The Live, a relatively low-budget science fiction/horror film that can be easily referenced by just about anyone with any knowledge of either of those two genres.

It’s also worth noting that the story itself is a classic. The film is based on a short story called “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson, but it’s not an uncommon theme. There’s a little bit of Invasion of the Body Snatchers here, for instance. Stephen King fans might know a short story of his called “The Ten O’Clock People” that is a slightly different version of the same story—enough that it almost feels like plagiarism. Even The Matrix has its roots set at least partly in They Live. Its influence is in many ways all out of proportion to the film that we have.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Off Script: Blade II

Film: Blade II
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

If I were to make a Mount Rushmore of Guillermo del Toro films, Blade II would not make the cut. In fact, of his 10 films that I’ve seen, Blade II ranks 8th. However, it’s the best of the Blade movies by far. Part of that comes from the inventive direction of Guillermo del Toro, who is my favorite working director, so I admit to some potential bias here. Some of it comes from a really good story, one that is frankly the best of the three films. Part of it comes from some action set pieces that are as good as you’ll find in horror movies or action movies.

Blade II picks up a couple of years after the first film. Blade (Wesley Snipes), a half-vampire who has all of their strengths and none of their weaknesses, is still spending his time hunting vampires. This time, though, he is also hunting his mentor, Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), presumed dead at the end of the first film, but actually turned into a vampire and regularly tortured by the vampire nation. Blade is now assisted by a mechanic who calls himself Scud (Norman Reedus). The film opens with a confrontation between Blade and some vampires, culminating in him learning the location of Whistler. One rescue later, and Whistler is back on team Blade.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

I Want It All

Film: Bohemian Rhapsody
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve gotten a bit of pressure from a number of people around me to finally get around to Bohemian Rhapsody. I’m not always a fan of biopics and while Queen was a great band, they’re one of those bands that, as much as I like a lot of their songs, I never thought to buy any of their albums (and yes, I’m old enough that I can say “albums”). I was also a bit disturbed at the bizarre prosthetics that Rami Malek was evidently forced to wear in his role as Freddie Mercury. I realize that Mercury had big teeth, but Malek spends a good portion of this film looking like a Dr. Seuss character.

Anyway, I finally got around to this and I’m still kind of formulating an opinion on it. I think, in the main, that I liked it, but there are some problems that I have with it. We’ll certainly get to that by the end of this, but I want to start by saying that I was probably wrong as a young’un to have not bought any Queen discs. One of the better features of Bohemian Rhapsody is a reminder of just how good a lot of their songs really are, and how many of them they had.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Film: Halloween III: Season of the Witch
Format: DVD from Manteno Public Library through interlibrary loan laptop.

When Halloween III: Season of the Witch (hereafter referred to just as Halloween III) was released in 1982, it was a huge disappointment. That’s kind of a shame, because it really is a cool idea. John Carpenter’s original plan was to create a new Halloween movie every year telling a completely different non-Michael Myers horror story. The fans of the original two films weren’t having it, though, making this a box office disappointment and forcing the return of the Shatner mask in subsequent movies.

In that sense, Halloween III was perhaps a little ahead of its time, or perhaps simply the wrong idea that the wrong time. Creating something like an extended anthology that would be a series of unrelated films under the same umbrella name is a pretty great idea. It’s a shame that this underperformed so much and the basic idea had to be scrapped.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Wednesday Horror: I Sell the Dead

Film: I Sell the Dead
Format: DVD from Mokena Community Public Library on laptop.

I think horror comedy is probably not that easy to do well. To make a good horror comedy, you have to do more than just have a horror movie with some jokes in it. I Sell the Dead is a movie that is clearly aware of this. It wants to have a real horror connection here, but also doesn’t want to take itself that seriously. It would be easy to call it a throwback to more classic horror films, but that would be selling I Sell the Dead short. It’s not a throwback to older movies; instead it feels very much like a cinematic homage to old EC comics like The Vault of Horror.

This is going to be a film told in flashback. A man named Willy Grimes (Larry Fesenenden) is led to the guillotine and has his head neatly removed. We switch to a cell in the prison where Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) is awaiting his own slicey end. Before he is lead to his execution, he is visited by Father Duffy (Ron Perlman) to provide something like a confession that can be used as a cautionary tale for others who might want to take up his life of crime.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Off Script: The Devil's Advocate

Film: The Devil’s Advocate
Format: DVD from Lasalle Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I went into The Devil’s Advocate having seen it before, but not really remembering a lot beyond the basic plot and the fact that it starred Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. I had forgotten or never realized that Charlize Theron, Tamara Tunie, Jeffrey Jones, and Craig T. Nelson were in this as well. The plot is one that, upon hearing it, I wondered why it hadn’t been done this fully before, or at least done to this extent. Put simply, a lawyer discovers that the guy he is working for is literally Satan. This is a big reveal at the end of the film, but I honestly don’t feel bad putting that in the opening paragraph here. First of all, the movie is called The Devil’s Advocate, and second, if you don’t realize this pretty quickly, you’re not really paying attention to the movie.

Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a high-priced criminal lawyer currently working a case where a middle school teacher has been accused of sexual abuse of one of his students. While the young girl is on the stand giving testimony, Kevin notices his client more or less jerking off, and in this moment, he realizes that the man he is defending is guilty. He asks for a short recess and retreats to the bathroom, where we learn that this might well be the first case that he ever loses. But no, despite the horror of his client and the clear guilt, Kevin goes back into the courtroom and gets the man cleared of charges. He’s just that good.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Off Script: Scary Movie

Film: Scary Movie
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who comes to this website that I haven’t really been that into putting up reviews lately. This is despite the fact that I have probably six dozen or so written and just waiting to be posted. My heart hasn’t been in it lately, and it’s been a struggle to even put up the Oscar posts on Monday and Friday. Don’t worry—I’m not shuttering the blog. In fact, I’m going to try to do the opposite and posting regularly again. It’s been a tough few months, and I want to feel like this is important to me again. That being the case, a mostly-comedy horror comedy like Scary Movie, a genre that is more often miss than hit, was probably not the best idea. But it was better than a 150-minute epic tonight. Baby steps, right?

Scary Movie is obviously a parody, mainly of Scream, but also of films like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, The Sixth Sense, and similar hacky-slashy teen horror films. There are going to be direct references to films like The Blair Witch Project as well as more classic horror films like Halloween throughout. Also, because this was made in 2000, there’s going to be a reference to The Matrix, specifically the bullet time sequence.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Off Script: My Name is Bruce

Film: My Name is Bruce
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I figured that My Name is Bruce was going to be a rough ride. I love me some Bruce Campbell, but he’s long stood by the idea that for him, the bigger the movie, the smaller the part. He’s clearly the star here, playing a version of himself in a movie that he is directing. Based on that formula, that makes this a very small movie, indeed.

The central conceit to My Name is Bruce is that Bruce Campbell, B-movie star extraordinaire, is a terrible human being in real life. According to this film, Campbell is hated by everyone he works with, constantly drunk, tries to have sex with every woman he meets, is rude to his fans, and lives in a trailer. It’s a clearly comedic version of Campbell who, from everything I can gather, appears to be generally well-liked by the people he works with. Campbell was obviously good with this version of himself, though, since the film itself is clearly parody.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Thomas Wise's Natural Child

Film: Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Anyone who has done any sort of acting will tell you that comedy is harder than drama. There’s a reason that a lot of dramatic actors fail terribly as comedian on film and why so many comedians are capable of turning in powerful and profound performances in dramas. The history of film is replete with comedic actors who have wowed audiences with a dramatic turn. Recently, Steve Carrell getting Oscar nominated for Foxcatcher was surprising. It’s more surprising that he genuinely earned that nomination, and just as surprising that everyone was so surprised by it. Well, it’s Melissa McCarthy’s turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and the same things apply. It’s surprising she was nominated, surprising just how good she is, and surprising at how much that shocks me.

Before I dive into Can You Ever Forgive Me? there is something I want to talk about. Around the middle of my MA, I took a class in literary research and bibliography. One of the projects we had to undertake was a bibliography of a bibliographer. My pick was a guy named Thomas Wise. It turns out that Wise was one of the most famous literary forgers in history, which explains the title of this review. If you’ve got a few minutes, look him up on Wikipedia (which is fine for this sort of casual research). His biography seems like it could have easily inspired this movie, had this movie not already been based on a real story.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Scream 2

Film: Scream 2
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

When Wes Craven wrote and directed Scream, he made something that worked on multiple levels. It was a completely self-aware horror movie that openly played with the tropes of the genre. At the same time, it was an effective slasher movie in its own right. Scream wouldn’t have been anything like the success it was if it hadn’t been a good slasher itself, and the fact that it literally told the audience the tropes it already knew and had fun with them made it the genre rewrite it was. So what the hell do you do with Scream 2?

Well, what you do is you continue to play with the tropes of the genre, and you also play with the various ideas of sequels. We’re told at one point that the rules of the sequel include a bigger body count and more violent kills all the way through. One of the things that isn’t mentioned but is specifically played with is the fact that at least one survivor from the first film isn’t going to make it to the end of the second film.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Brain that Wouldn't Die

Film: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

As a fan of Mystery Science Theater, I’ve at least seen a version of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Any dedicated fan of the show will tell you that it was Mike Nelson’s first film in the theater, the first episode after the departure of Joel. That’s all well and good, but I’d never seen this without the silhouettes at the bottom of the screen. I also evidently own two copies of it, one on a large collection of mostly crappy horror movies and one on a two-disc set. Why I would need two copies of this is, honestly, beyond me.

I can save everyone a lot of time by just stating that The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is the original recipe version of Frankenhooker, but that doesn’t quite do justice to the insanity of this film. Young doctor Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) is assisting his father (Bruce Brighton) in surgery. The patient dies on the table, but Bill believes he can revive him using unorthodox methods that he has developed in his off-hours research. He does, and while his father disapproves of his methods and the fact that Bill has evidently been stealing body parts to experiment on doesn’t affect his pride in his son saving a life that would have otherwise been lost. It’s also worth noting that Bill’s fiancée Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) works in the ER as a nurse because of course she does.

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.