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.