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.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Off Script: Friday the 13th Part 2

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Thing (2011)

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

What a Difference a Year or Two Makes

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

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

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

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Do Not Call List

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Jaws 2

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Idioglossia

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

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

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

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Atari no Inu

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

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

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

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Ride the White Horse

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The 'Burbs

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Annual, Physical

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

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

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

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Growing Pains

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

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

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

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Off Script: The Ruins

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Lost Boys

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

And Baby Makes Four

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Wednesday Horror: A Quiet Place

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Really Deep Cover

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

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

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

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Yippy Ki-Yay

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Fear

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

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

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

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Fait Accompli

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Wolf Creek

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

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

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

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Left Hook

Film: Creed
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on The New Portable.

I haven’t really decided what I’m going to do with this blog in the future. I mean, I’ve still got 18 months of Oscar posts to go, but I don’t have a ton of movies left to review on the lists I’ve committed to. There are, of course, other potential Oscar categories for me to add to the list. Or perhaps I’ll just review whatever I feel like reviewing. That’s sort of what is happening today with Creed, which is sort of like Rocky VII in certain respects, even if Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is no longer the main character.

We start in the past with a young man named Adonis (Alex Henderson) who appears to be troubled. In and out of foster homes and juvie, Adonis is visited one day by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), who tells him who he is. While his name is Adonis Johnson, his father is Apollo Creed, the late heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Adonis is the product of an extramarital affair, and Mary Anne has decided to more or less adopt her late husband’s illegitimate child.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Tropic Thunder Reference

Film: I Am Sam
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

I’m not sure where to start with I Am Sam (or i am sam as it is written in the film and on the DVD case). It’s a movie that is simultaneously heartwarming and terribly disturbing. It’s one of the high points of Sean Penn’s career and also the sort of film that, once you dig below the clear emotional manipulation of the story, is nothing but problems. It’s a movie where the emotional pull is very clear, and at the same time so obviously wrong that it’s difficult to understand how the film was made.

Even if you haven’t seen I Am Sam, you almost certainly know at least one of the major plot points; Sam Dawson (Penn) is mentally challenged. We’re told early on that he essentially has the mental capacity of a seven-year-old. Coincidentally, Sam has a daughter named Lucy (Dakota Fanning) who is about to turn seven. Sam was abandoned by Lucy’s mother, a homeless woman, when Lucy was born. He works at Starbucks and raises Lucy with the help of his equally challenged friends and Lucy’s piano teacher (Dianne Wiest), an agoraphobic who lives across the hall from him.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Thir13en Ghosts

Film: Thir13en Ghosts
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

The things I do for this blog. Seriously. I’d seen Thir13en Ghosts before, and I knew it was a movie that I didn’t like much. It’s a shame, too, because there is a great deal of potential here. Part of that comes from the very loose association it has with the William Castle film 13 Ghosts. There’s also some really interesting ideas for those ghosts. The problem is that the execution isn’t that good. There’s a movie here that could be made, and be interesting, but it’s not this one. This could also be a very interesting miniseries, but that’s not this movie, either.

So we’re going to have two important events at the beginning of the film. In one, Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham), with the assistance of Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) captures an extremely powerful ghost who seems to have the ability to kill people in the real world. During the attack, Cyrus himself is killed. We also get a little insight into the lives of other people in the Kriticos family. Specifically, we’re looking at Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) and his wife and kids. His wife Jean (Kathryn Anderson), we learn, is killed in a fire.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

That Darn Cat

Film: Harry and Tonto
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

It’s mildly shocking when you look at Harry and Tonto, to realize that Art Carney was only 58 when playing the first of the two title roles. Carney’s character, Harry Coombes, is a widower in his 70s, and Carney does not look out of place at all. Some of that is going to be the cosmetics, of course, but a great deal of that is Carney himself. He did, after all, win the Oscar for this performance.

It’s worth saying at the start here that Harry and Tonto is much more a character study than it is a film with a serious plot. Harry is a widower living in New York. The building he has lived in for years has been bought and sold, condemned so that a parking lot can be put up. Harry doesn’t want to move, though, and is eventually forced out of his apartment. He and his cat Tonto move in with his older son, Burt (Philip Bruns) and his family. But bickering seems to be the norm here, in part because of Harry’s presence. He decides to go to Chicago to visit his daughter.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Foster Portfolio

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

“So,” I hear you say, “you’ve still got a few movies from 2017 to finish up and the next set of Oscar nominations is around the corner.” I nod because this is true. Like I said a couple of days ago, I’ve been finding it more and more difficult to get myself to review the last three dozen or so films on my Oscars list, and pretty soon, that number is going to bump up 75% or so. That being the case, it behooves me to get as much done before Oscar nominations are announced as I can.

“You’re finally getting around to Coco,” you say, and I nod. There are times when I like to wait on the movie that actually won the Oscar. I’d hard a great deal of good things about Coco. I have to admit that I was curious about how the story was going to play out. This is a story that is very much about a Mexican holiday and Mexican culture that was not written by someone from that culture. I mean, I appreciate the fact that there’s a serious attempt at providing diverse protagonists in the modern world, but having a white guy write a Mexican story does feel a little strange.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Village

Film: The Village
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

It is not without some trepidation that I enter into a film with M. Night Shyamalan’s name attached to it, especially with him as the director. His movies are hit or miss for me, and even the ones that hit (particularly Signs and The Sixth Sense) I like less than just about everyone else. Even if I liked The Sixth Sense especially more than I do, I’d have some issues with Shyamalan based solely on The Last Airbender, which is an absolute travesty of a film, especially considering just how damn good the source material is. So I can’t say that I went into The Village with an entirely open mind.

The problem with a lot (read: pretty much all) of Shyamalan’s movies is that they rely on a twist. At least that’s the knock against him. That twist ending is what worked for him in both The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and it’s what has more often than not been the cause of much of his downfall. We expect the twist from him now, so it’s much harder for that to work. The Village does have a twist moment where everything suddenly becomes clear and perspective changes, and, true to form, it’s this twist that damages the way the movie is ultimately perceived.