Tuesday, December 31, 2013

True Grit (1969)

Film: True Grit
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I had hoped to put up a review of Driving Miss Daisy today, since it’s the only Best Picture winner I haven’t reviewed. Alas, the vagaries of NetFlix delivery and the USPS have prevented me from getting a copy until later this week. Ah, well. But there’s still time for a last review before the year turns.

When you talk about John Wayne films, eventually someone will get around to True Grit. It certainly ranks in the pantheon of Wayne’s performances, but for my money, it’s not anywhere close to his best film. The Searchers is one of the two or three greatest Westerns ever made, and it would be hard to discount Stagecoach and The Shootist. And yet, True Grit is the film for which Wayne won an Oscar.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Take the High Ground!

Film: Take the High Ground!
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

For most people, the best part of a film like Full Metal Jacket is the first half, the part concerning basic training. I’m not sure what it is about training sequences that we find so fascinating, but there is no doubt that we do. Take the High Ground! is that sort of film; we start with a collection of misfit, ragtag recruits and a little more than 90 minute later, we leave with a platoon of well-trained men thanks to the efforts of our tough-as-nails drill sergeant.

The drill sergeant in question is the awesomely named Thorne Ryan (Richard Widmark), who is almost a caricature of what a drill sergeant is. Ryan wants nothing more than a transfer to the shooting war in Korea but is stuck training raw recruits with the assistance of Sergeant Laverne Holt (Karl Malden). While the traditional drill sergeant puts on an act of hating the men under his command, Ryan seems to genuinely hate them while Holt is far more willing to give the men a little leeway when they need it.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Last Emperor

Film: The Last Emperor
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

One of the things I love about historical dramas is that I frequently learn about something I’d have otherwise never known. The Last Emperor is a case in point. I know a very tiny bit of Chinese history, mostly connected to World War II. Even so, I knew very little of the history of the Chinese monarchy before seeing this (and I remembered very little before this rewatch). The problem with historical dramas is that any deviation from actual history becomes canon.

Pu Yi (played as a toddler by Richard Vuu, as a child by Tsou Tijger, and as an adult by John Lone) is named as the Emperor of China at the tender age of three. He is moved into the Forbidden City and is forever unable to leave it. While is power is complete and supreme, he is a prisoner of his own position. Additionally, unknown to him because such things are kept from him, China has become a republic, and the position of emperor is nothing more than an elaborate figurehead.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Frances Ha

Film: Frances Ha
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

The goal of a movie review is, at least in part, to define the movie in question. With something like Frances Ha, that’s a difficult proposition, because Frances Ha is at least in part indefinable. This is a film that needs to be felt more than understood consciously. It takes on the entirety of the hipster generation, and the fact that the hopes and dreams of that generation are already fading, leaving yet again a collection of 20-somethings in exactly the same position of the previous generations—we’re all convinced that we’re important and going to change the world, and we’re going to do this by essentially standing still.

All of this takes place through the lens of Frances (Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote the script with director Noah Baumbach). Frances wants to be a professional modern dancer, and is in the way that most people who want that profession are—she’s an understudy/trainee for a dance company and she teaches ballet to children. Her world is wrapped tightly with her friend and roommate Sophie (Mickey Sumner). Frances even breaks up with her boyfriend Dan (Michael Esper) when he asks her to move in with him, opting instead to stay with Sophie.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Film: The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I would love to know how Charlie Kaufman’s mind works. He creates the strangest and most compelling worlds in his scripts and fortunately manages to get equally visionary people to then film them. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a case in point. In this case, though, I have a strange indicator of where the idea may have come from: cartoonist Carol Lay. It’s possible that this was an entirely independent idea, of course, but Lay created a comic called “Repeat Performance” in which couples repeatedly go to a service to have their memories wiped only to get back together afterward.

And that is the story here. Joel (Jim Carrey) has had a relationship with a woman named Clementine (Kate Winslet). After a few years and a bitter break-up, Joel discovers that Clem has gone to a company called Lacuna which eliminates him completely from her memory. For Clementine, her relationship with Joel no longer exists. In pain, Joel decides to do the same thing to her. He meets with Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkenson), the creator of the process, and arranges for the erasing to happen that night.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Beautiful Mind

Film: A Beautiful Mind
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

It’s been some time since I’ve seen A Beautiful Mind. Depending on how you look at it, I’ve either been saving in for close to the end of watching/rewatching all of the Best Picture winners or I’ve been avoiding it. Avoiding it might be closer to the truth. I don’t dislike this film, but I don’t love it, either. I know the license it takes with the actual history of John Nash. More to the point, I know where the different beats come in the story. This is one of those films that works once. It doesn’t carry over nearly as well to a second viewing. This is a film that requires spoiling to really discuss, so consider the rest of this review under a spoiler tab.

We’re shown the life of John Nash (Russell Crowe), who won a Nobel Prize for his work on game theory. The film shows his triumphs and his personal tragedies, namely his struggle with schizophrenia. The real John Nash suffered from auditory hallucinations. This version of Nash has visual ones as well. I imagine this is because giving us visual hallucinations gives us something to look at.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Gifts for Everyone!

Every year since this blog has been around, I’ve posted a list of films that I think should be added. Except for the first year, before I actually posted reviews, it’s become a Christmas tradition.

This year, though, the Listmakers opted for a major overhaul, going back to the beginnings of film and adding a ton. Technically, they re-added three, switched out another 47, and stuffed two more Toy Story films into a single entry and called it 50 new films. In that spirit, I’m going to suggest a bunch.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Crimes of the Heart

Film: Crimes of the Heart
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

At my core, I am a practical person. I can’t say I was looking forward to watching Crimes of the Heart based on the name alone, but again, I’m practical. When it’s about to vanish from streaming on NetFlix and I discover that NetFlix doesn’t have physical copies, it’s time to buckle down and get through it. I survived Terms of Endearment, after all. How much worse could this be?

Well, I knew it was trouble in the opening credits. While a tinkling piano plays soft and low, we see the names of our three stars appear in slow succession: Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange, Sissy Spacek. As the pseudo-romantic piano tinkles along, a pink heart shape falls from the top of the screen and replaces the “A” in the last name of each of the three stars. This was going to be a rough ride.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tom Jones

Film: Tom Jones
Format: DVD from Rockford Lutheran High School/Jr. High Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

For whatever reason, Tom Jones was really difficult for me to track down. NetFlix doesn’t carry it, and I couldn’t find it in a local library. Of all the Best Picture winners, only Cavalcade was harder to pin down. Well, I found it in a high school library of all places, mildly shocking due to the racy nature of the film. Oh, there’s no nudity and no language, but there’s plenty of sauciness and implied sex.

Tom Jones is marginally a romance and very much a comedy. It’s worth noting at IMDB also calls it an adventure film, something with which I disagree. It is, more or less, a Georgian Don Juan tale. Our titular character (Albert Finney) is irresistible to women. That he’s also a presumed bastard child of a servant makes no difference. In fact, Tom’s alleged mother is kicked out of the service of her employer, as is the supposed father. Tom is raised in the home of his purported parents’ former employer, Squire Allworthy (George Devine).

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Grifters

Film: The Grifters
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I really like The Grifters. I’ve always considered this to be the movie where John Cusack graduated from teen comedies (even some pretty good ones) into adult fare. The Grifters is a film that doesn’t pull any punches. It’s a brutal film. What it reminds me of more than anything is a film like The Sting, but run through a very gritty, ugly filter. This is neo-noir at its finest, featuring not one, but two femmes fatale and a host of characters, all on the take from somewhere.

Our three main characters start with no connection, but are soon united. First is Roy (John Cusack), a commission salesman who supplements his income liberally with short con games, such as showing a bartender a $20 bill and paying with a $10. He tries this once too often and gets a slug from a baseball bat in the gut. Second is Lilly (Anjelica Huston), whose job is to go to racetracks and bet heavily on longshots to reduce the odds, making the payouts far easier to handle. Third is Myra (Annette Bening) who uses sex as liberally as possible to get what she wants. It’s not too long into the film that we discover that Roy and Myra are not quite an item but are frequently in each other’s company and that Lilly is Roy’s mother.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Film: Oliver!
Format: DVD from NetFlix on various players

Much like Going My Way, which I watched a couple of months ago, I had seen Oliver! before this viewing. This was another film that played regularly on the local station on Sunday afternoons. It would be unfair to suggest that I remembered much of it, though. It’s seriously been more than three decades since I’d last seen it. I remembered a couple of the songs, but that was it. Oliver! is the last Oscar gasp of Old Hollywood, the final clinging bit of glory before everything changed the next year—it’s also the last family (read: G-rated) film to win Best Picture.

Now that I’ve said that, it is the damnedest film to place in its intent. I mean, this is a film about an orphan who is terribly abused and mistreated his entire life, and yet it’s filled with jaunty musical numbers. I won’t say that Oliver! glamorizes the plight of our poor wretch Oliver Twist (Mark Lester), but it certainly makes light of it. It’s bizarre to watch hungry waifs singing and dancing. It’s worth saying that I’m not a fan of Charles Dickens, who wrote the original story. I think it’s evident that Dickens was paid by the word, and the term “Dickensian coincidence” exists for a reason.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Trader Horn

Film: Trader Horn
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes I decide to do something, and it seems like a great idea when I think of it. Then something like Trader Horn happens, and I wonder what the hell I was thinking about. Trader Horn was nominated for Best Picture in 1931, evidently one of the weakest Best Picture classes in Oscar history. This is evidenced by the fact that I’m not terribly upset that this film lost to Cimarron. Trader Horn, while no doubt impressive for its time (it was the first film shot on location in Africa), is aggressively racially and sexually offensive and even in the most generous and understanding opinion, is average it best, and even that is with giving the film as much benefit of the doubt as possible.

This is allegedly the story of African trader Aloysius Horn (Harry Carey) and his adventures in discovering a missing “white goddess” living among a savage tribe. Horn is joined by Peru (Duncan Renaldo), who is notable for both his thick accent and his hat, which deserved its own screen credit. Seriously, Peru’s hat is a pith helmet made for Andre the Giant. It extends a foot in front of his face and ends touching his shoulder blades and looks for all the world like a three-tiered beehive. Had there been a hat party during the course of the film, his would have been awarded as the grandest of all. Horn is also joined by Rencharo (Mutia Omoolu, the only African in the film treated with any respect), his gun bearer.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mona Lisa

Film: Mona Lisa
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I find it difficult not to enjoy the performances of Bob Hoskins. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was (I think) my introduction to him as an actor. He always seems like the sort of guy it would be cool to know. Hoskins often plays men with a gruff exterior and a heart of gold. It’s difficult for me to not find that appealing, especially when it’s done as well as Hoskins tends to do it. That’s definitely the case with Mona Lisa, a crime/romance film that has managed to slip under my radar until today.

We start by learning a little bit about George (Hoskins). There’s tension between him and his wife, caused by George spending seven years in prison. Now that he’s out, he’s looking for some payback from Mortwell (Michael Caine), the man he used to work for. He’s given a job he doesn’t much want: driving a high-class prostitute named Simone (Cathy Tyson) to and from her appointments. There is immediate friction between the two, of course, and eventually, they come to both like and trust each other.

A Quick Note on the Poll

I've changed the focus of this blog toward mainly Oscar nominees. As you can see on the right, I've created categories for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, and Best Original Screenplay.

I've been considering adding a few other categories as well, but I can't decide which to use, hence the poll at the top right. Here are the four (kinda five) new potential categories, as well as the pros and cons of each.

Best Foreign Language Feature: adds 225 films to the list
Pros: Continues to expose me to the best non-English films the world has to offer.
Cons: Adds 225 films, many of which are difficult (if not impossible) to locate.

Best Supporting Actor/Actress: adds 197 films to the list
Pros: A natural addition to Best Actor/Actress.
Cons: Adds a lot of films, many of which may have little to offer save the one performance.

Best Adapted Screenplay: adds 77 films to the list
Pros: Covers the entirety of Oscar history and fits in naturally with Original Screenplay.
Cons: It's difficult to tell the quality of the adaptation if I'm not familiar with the original source material.

Best Animated Feature: adds 38 films to the list
Pros: Beefs up a sadly neglected area of film on this blog, and doesn't swamp me with new, hard-to-find films. Cons: Feels like a lightweight category compared with the others.

So, please take a moment, consider, and vote. Thanks!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Off Script: Sisters

Film: Sisters
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

For a guy who has made some pretty important films, Brian De Palma doesn’t seem to get a lot of credit. Who remembers Dressed to Kill, for instance? Folks remember Scarface, but even that film’s once-stellar reputation has faded a bit. Sisters is an early De Palma film, and one of his first successes, but it too seems to be all but forgotten. That’s a damn shame, because this is a film that belongs in a special class of horror thrillers. Like Jacob’s Ladder and Altered States, Sisters is the sort of film that plays merry hob with what it presents to the viewer, making it difficult to determine what is reality and what is delusion.

The title comes from the condition of Danielle and Dominique Blanchion (Margot Kidder), formerly conjoined twins who were separated as adults. Danielle is a model and actress who spends a night with a man she meets in the course of a television acting job. The man (Lisle Wilson) contends with Danielle’s former husband Emil (William Finley) and ends up spending the night. The next morning, he overhears Danielle in conversation with her sister and discovers it is their birthday.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Quiz Show

Film: Quiz Show
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I really like Quiz Show. I like it because first of all, it’s a really well-made film with a fantastic cast. There were some fabrications and changes from real life to the filmed version, of course, but I’m not that upset by it. Quiz Show is a really simple film, and that’s very much the point here. The story itself is so compelling that it needed only a little massaging in places and nothing else to make it worth seeing.

The film is based around the real quiz show scandal of the late 1950s where particular contestants on game shows were fed answers to make them media stars and boost ratings. Specifically, this is the case of the quiz show “Twenty One.” The basics of the show were pretty simple and completely fascinating. Two contestants are placed in separate isolation booths and race to 21 points. The more points they go for, the more difficult the question. The catch in the game is that the contestants don’t know the other person’s score.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Sarah and Son

Film: Sarah and Son
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Sometimes, when one watches a very old film, the idea crops up that it might be worth remaking. Such is not the case with Sarah and Son. This is a painfully stupid film, one that hurt to watch frame by frame. I admit that a part of this is that the print I watched was bad—fuzzy and with pretty wretched sound, but I do my best to overlook that. Had Sarah and Son been a perfect print, though, I’m not sure it would have been much better. In fact, there’s a good chance that with additional clarity I’d have liked it less.

We have our titular character Sarah (an Oscar-nominated Ruth Chatterton), who is a Dutch immigrant longing for a career on stage. She’s teaching herself to dance and is working as best she can with her partner, Jim Grey (Fuller Mellish, Jr.), who is lazy in a way that only melodramatic movie characters can be. Sarah’s real talent is singing, though, where she miraculously loses her thick accent. Eventually, Sarah and Jim end up on the stage and have something like a beginning career. When Sarah gets news of her sister’s death back in the old country, she collapses in Jim’s arms. Before you can say, “Doodly-doodly-doop!” they have a baby.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hamlet (1948)

Film: Hamlet
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When I look at ranked lists of Best Picture winners, I tend to see 1948’s winner, Hamlet near the bottom. I wonder why this is. A part of me thinks it’s a way for the critic in question to assert “regular viewer” status. Hamlet is the epitome of highbrow, after all. If you admit to liking it, you’re instantly a snob. If you denigrate it, it means you’re more likely to be the sort of person who will drink beer out of the can and enjoy watching movies so bad they’re good. I’ll freely admit that I prefer Kenneth Branagh’s version of the story, but dammit, I like Hamlet, unfavorable opinions or snob status be damned. And more to the point, one of the greatest (if not the greatest) film actors of the last century won his only performance Oscar in this film. If for no other reason, it should be respected for that. I mean, if you want to forget that the play is considered the greatest drama ever penned, that’s on your head.

A film like West Side Story is a hard sell for me not because it’s a musical, but because I don’t care much for the source material. That’s not the case here, and because Olivier’s adaptation is very dedicated to the source material, it would be difficult for me to dislike it much. Toss in the fact that it’s Olivier, and you’ve got something worth watching.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Broadway Melody

Film: The Broadway Melody
Format: DVD from Galena Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

So I was warned about The Broadway Melody. It was going to take a complete stinker to take the place of Gigi on the bottom of my personal rankings of Best Picture winners. And yet here I am in a quandary. This is objectively a worse film than Gigi, but I’m not sure I liked it less. It’s a worse film, but Gigi is morally objectionable, but it’s really well made. The Broadway Melody is silly, stupid, maudlin, melodramatic, and annoying. The film runs 100 minutes. It feels like 1,000.

This is a pretty typical “behind the scenes” style of musical, the sort that seemed to be popular as all hell through the ‘40s and crop up now and again. Everyone we see is connected to show business in one respect or another. We start with Eddie Kearns (Charles King) who has just penned a new song called “The Broadway Melody,” which would be a snappy name for a new picture. Anyway, he’s giving it to a sister act called the Mahoney Sisters. These are Harriet “Hank” Mahoney (Bessie Love), the older and smarter sister, and Queenie Mahoney (Anita Page), the younger and prettier one. As it happens, Eddie is engaged to Hank, and has promised them big things if they come to New York. He’s sold his new song to Francis Zanfield (Eddie Kane) for one of his new stage shows, and he wants the girls to sing it with him.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Doctor Dolittle (1967)

Film: Doctor Dolittle
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I was little, I had a Doctor Dolittle book that I read pretty frequently. I liked the idea of Doctor Dolittle perhaps more than I liked that particular story. I was feeling nostalgic, and since the 1967 version of Doctor Dolittle, which follows the story with which I was familiar was streaming, I decided it was worth watching. I didn’t realize just how long this film is, but once I’d started I was too far into it to turn back.

In the early part of the Victorian era, Doctor John Dolittle (Rex Harrison) is a physician turned veterinarian since he’s decided that he genuinely likes animals and simply doesn’t understand people. He does understand animals, though, in a very literal fashion. Dolittle can literally speak to animals, and is fluent in hundreds of animal languages. These have been taught to him by his parrot, Polynesia (voiced by an uncredited Ginny Tyler). Dolittle frequently goes on jaunts around the world to help animals or to discover new ones. As the film starts, his dream is to find a legendary giant pink sea snail. The problem is that the doesn’t have the money to go, and as a doctor who treats animals on their own terms rather than dealing with any humans who might own them, he’s not likely to get any more.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Great Ziegfeld

Film: The Great Ziegfeld
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I haven’t heard a great deal of enthusiasm for The Great Ziegfeld, the winner for Best Picture in 1936. Because of this, I can’t admit to going into it with a great deal of excitement. That lack of excitement cooled even further when I realized that it clocks in somewhere north of three hours. This was countered by the realization that it stars William Powell and features an appearance from Myrna Loy. I like Powell and I like Loy, and I particularly like them together, so I had hope. I didn’t realize that Myrna Loy doesn’t show up until well into the final hour of the film.

This is the story of Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (William Powell), the frequently-broke Broadway impresario. We go from the start of his career as a carnival barker through his hit and failed shows and his tremendous ups and downs, his two great romances, his failures, his triumphs, and his eventual death. A lot of what we see are bits and pieces of the shows he put on—we get a ton of musical numbers to show us exactly where his money was going and to show us why he was considered a great showman. It would be unfair to suggest that these numbers are a waste of time. There’s some great spectacle with some of them, and just after the intermission, we get Ray Bolger’s first feature film dance performance that is truly one of the great comedy dance routines ever created.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


Film: Cavalcade
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Of all of the Best Picture winners, Cavalcade is the one that is nearly impossible to find. I mean, I located it in nearly a dozen parts on YouTube, but if you want a DVD version, you’re pretty much out of luck. There evidently is a Blu-Ray release, but I’m not dropping $20 on something sight-unseen just because it happened to win Best Picture 80 years ago. I gave it as much leeway as I could; the audio was a touch out of step with the video, so it was a bit disconcerting.

There’s not a ton here in terms of a plot or much to summarize. The film is called Cavalcade because it presents a sweep of world history—30 plus years of it—through the eyes of the Marryot family of London. We get one of the Boer Wars, the end of the Victorian era, the sinking of the Titanic, and World War I, among other events, not as they were experienced by the world, but specifically as they affected the wealthy Marryots and their social circle.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The High and the Mighty

Film: The High and the Mighty
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

The High and the Mighty is a “Noah’s Ark” film. I believe that term came from Roger Ebert. What it means is that the film contains a large collection of varied and different personalities, all thrown into some sort of conveyance and then thrown into peril. While the peril is a big part of the film, another big part of the film is the clashing personalities and all of the different issues and problems they bring to the table. In this case, that conveyance is an airplane. The peril, thus, makes The High and the Mighty something of a disaster film as well.

I’ll be blunt—there are too damn many characters here to go through all of them and all of their foibles. We have a plane with a dozen and half or so passengers and a crew of five heading from Honolulu to San Francisco. Among these passengers is a newlywed couple on their way back from their honeymoon, another married couple returning from a disappointing vacation, a third married couple about to get a divorce, a wealthy ladies man, the husband of a woman who may or may not have been having an affair, an old Italian fisherman, a terminally ill man, a Korean woman, and a former beauty queen. Everyone has his or her own issues and problems and worries.

Monday, December 2, 2013


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

I’m never really sure how to react to substantially religious epics. It’s always interesting to see someone willing to die for the courage of his or her conviction, but when that conviction is something I find so nebulous, I can’t help but ponder what I see as the waste of a life. That’s certainly the case with Becket, a story of warring ideologies and conflicted devotions. Admittedly, this is less a religious epic and more of a film about those divided loyalties and about perceived betrayal, but when so much of the film takes place inside a church and in characters wearing ecclesiastical garb, it’s difficult not to consider the intense religious overtones of the film.

What Becket really is at its core is the story of a friendship gone bad. The difference between a typical story of such a friendship and this one is that Becket concerns men at the height of temporal power. The two men in question are Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) and King Henry II (Peter O’Toole). The friendship is an interesting one. Henry is the heir of William the Conqueror, and thus a Norman in a still-hostile land filled with Saxon peasants. Becket is a Saxon raised to nobility by Henry. This leaves him in a very real sense as a man without a place to go. The other nobles hate him because he is a Saxon and the Saxons hate him because they believe he has willingly betrayed them for his position. This only becomes more the thought on all sides when Henry names him Lord Chancellor.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

New Directions

So I've put some thought into where this blog is going to go over the coming months and years.

The following are how I plan to change things up a bit starting, well, with my next review.

1) I'm done with the goofy titles. I'll bring them back for new editions of the 1001 Movies list, but they're too damn hard to think of all the time. From this point forward, except for 1001 Movies reviews, I'll just be using the title of the film and the year if it's needed to differentiate from remakes or other films with the same name.

2) New lists. At the right, under the title "Pages" you can find a series of lists. There's a link to the main list, of course, but also to five Oscar categories and a trio of horror movie lists. Those will be taking the bulk of my time now, although I probably won't remain exclusive to them. I'll also likely add some Oscar categories in the future.

3) Letterboxd. I have taken the plunge on Letterboxd. My name there is SJHoneywell. I'll be slowly adding reviews in the months ahead. All of my Letterboxd reviews will be in haiku form and will all have the tag "haiku review."

4) New features. Starting in January, I'll be announcing two new features for the blog. One will happen weekly (I hope) and the other will happen monthly. Look for the first around the end of the first week of the month and the other in the middle of the month starting next year.

Friday, November 29, 2013

With Apologies to Poets Everywhere

The following is an embarrassing set of haiku about my favorite films by each letter of the alphabet. These aren't specifically my favorite films on from The List--I picked a representative for each letter of the alphabet as well as one for the films that start with a number instead of a letter. How many can you identify?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Month 47 Status Report and a Brief Look Back

Well, I finished.

For no reason beyond my own geekishness, here are some metrics for you:

Date this blog started: December 28, 2009
Date of first reviews: January 1, 2010
Date of completion: November 25, 2013

Total number of films watched: 1154
Total length of films watched: Approximately 132,208 minutes (roughly 2,203.5 hours, or 11 hours/week)
Busiest month: January, 2010--4,772 minutes
Slowest month: November, 2010--1,893 minutes

Monday, November 25, 2013

All Good Things Come to an End

Film: The Last Picture Show
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

So here we are, at the final film I have yet to watch and review on the 1001 Movies list. It’s a strange feeling to be here, like I won’t know what to do with myself when I’m done. Anyway, I knew some time ago that I would save The Last Picture Show for the end if only for the name of the film. It has a particular resonance to it. While this won’t be the last film I ever watch, it is, at least for this and for some time, my last picture show.

I’ve been told by a number of people that this is a great film. I think it may well be. It addresses one of those issues that seem to always be at the center of any number of films, and comes at the question with a frankness that seems refreshing in its frankness. This is yet another coming of age film, focused on a group of high school students dealing with their burgeoning maturity and with sex. That seems like the same old thing, of course, but The Last Picture Show deals with a larger and far more serious problem.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

That Thing in the Room

Film: Elephant
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I’m not sure what I should do about Elephant in terms of a spoiler. To talk about it the way I need to, I’m going to have to spoil it, so consider the rest of this review as being under a spoiler tag. I have an unfortunate personal connection to this film, and there’s no way for me to talk about it without bringing that up. If you haven’t seen this, I think it’s probably a good idea to skip this review until you have seen it, because I think some of the power of Elephant is lost if you know what’s coming. Since we get a good indicator of what is going to happen about 20 minutes in, I suppose it’s not much of a spoiler either way.

Because of that, I’m not going to discuss anything regarding the plot until after the jump. You’ve been warned; if you’d rather get 20 minutes into Elephant to see the reveal, you should turn away now. If not, come along for spoilers.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Help! Help! I'm Being Repressed!

Film: Sleeping Dogs
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes I wonder what goes on in people’s heads. With a world of wonderful, meaningful, influential films to choose from the Listmakers opted to give us Sleeping Dogs. Why the hell would they put this film on The List? Where’s the importance of this film? Is it the fact that it was made in New Zealand? Or that it starred a very young Sam Neill? Or that it is yet another example of someone being hassled by the Man? Seriously, I’m coming with nothing here.

Sleeping Dogs makes a huge logical jump pretty close to the start. What we are given is that due to oil embargos and a series of political and social problems, New Zealand is standing on the brink of revolution and civil war. We’re given a further leap in that we are told to believe that the government of New Zealand reacts to this by adopting a collection of fascist policies and martial law and turning the country into a police state. Yeah.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Shoeless Joe

Film: Field of Dreams
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

I should say right off the top that this is not going to be an objective review. I love Field of Dreams. I think I’m justified in this; Field of Dreams is hardly an embarrassing film to love, but it’s not a film I can offer an unbiased opinion on. This is a movie that does almost everything right, and the things it doesn’t do perfectly I am more than willing to forgive.

The biggest mistake people make with Field of Dreams is deciding that it’s a baseball movie. You can’t get away from baseball for too long, but baseball is merely the lens here. Much like The Ox-Bow Incident is a moral drama in Western trappings, Field of Dreams is a story of redemption and reconciliation that uses baseball as the conduit and nothing more. It’s actually possible to watch this and understand it and love it without knowing or caring a thing about baseball.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Learning Experience

Film: Mean Streets
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

If someone told me that he or she thought Martin Scorsese is the greatest living film director, I’d be hard pressed to disagree. He may or may not be my choice, depending on the day and my mood, but he certainly wouldn’t be a bad choice for that honor. The thing about great directors, though, is they all started somewhere, and their beginnings aren’t always what we might hope. Such is the case with Scorsese and his film Mean Streets.

Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is a low-ranking member of a mob family in New York. The bulk of his job is collecting on debts for his uncle. His personal time is spent watching out for his friend Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) and spending time with his girlfriend Teresa (Amy Robinson), Johnny Boy’s cousin. Johnny Boy is a punk and a small-time gambler who owes money to virtually every loan shark in the area. He’s also out of control of his emotions and actions most of the time. Teresa is an epileptic, which makes her something of a pariah, meaning that Charlie needs to keep their relationship quiet, since his uncle and other members of the mob don’t like her around.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Future of Law Enforcement

Film: RoboCop
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

When the topic rolls around to great sci-fi action films of the 1980s, one that seems to get short shrift is RoboCop. I’m not sure why. One could mention a lot of films in Paul Verhoeven’s filmography. A lot of them are good, possibly great, and even the non-great ones are often campy fun. RoboCop is my favorite. It has all of Verhoeven’s signatures: high level violence, over-the-top gore, and camp.

In the not-too-distant future, the city of Detroit is in even worse financial straits than it is now. The city is a hotbed of criminal activity. The city has signed a contract with Omni Consumer Products (OCP), giving the company control of the police force. The company’s overarching plan is to hope that Detroit defaults, allowing OCP to take over and demolish Detroit, allowing them to create their own city of the future. One of OCP’s weapons in the crime war is ED-209, a mechanized police robot that malfunctions spectacularly in a board meeting. ED-209 is the brain child of Dick Jones (Ronny Cox). The failure of the project allows for the advancement of a new type of cop: the RoboCop project advanced by OCP executive Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer). To become operative, the project needs a fresh corpse.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Dance Dance Revolution

Film: Saturday Night Fever
Format: DVD from personal collection on various players.

Sometimes it seems hard to believe that in the late 1970s, John Travolta could do no wrong. He was already a face known to the American public in 1977 when he made Saturday Night Fever thanks to his regular role on “Welcome Back, Kotter.” But it was Saturday Night Fever that turned him into a star. If you had a teenaged sister in the late ‘70s, she had the LP of the soundtrack and probably had the iconic poster of Travolta in the white suit with the black shirt on the dance floor. You couldn’t get away from it; that poster was as common in girls’ rooms as the Farrah Fawcett poster was in boys’ rooms. And the Bee Gees were friggin’ everywhere.

Saturday Night Fever is a relatively simple movie. It’s little more than a standard coming of age story set a bit older in the character’s life than is typical for the genre. Tony Manero (Travolta) is a working class schlub in New York. He spends his days in a paint store and one night a week shaking it on the dance floor at a disco called 2001 Odyssey. It’s on this one night a week that Tony really lives. He’s the king of the dance floor and his friends are merely hangers on for the awesomeness that is Tony.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Drawing Things Out

Film: The Draughtsman’s Contract
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

It wouldn’t be an overstatement to suggest that The Draughtsman’s Contract had an uphill struggle in getting me to appreciate it. The reason is that I haven’t fully come to trust Peter Greenaway as a director. I didn’t much love The Pillow Book and while I liked Drowning by Numbers, I didn’t like it a lot. The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover was visually interesting but ultimately fairly disgusting in a lot of respects. The common thread of those three films is sex (albeit less so in Drowning by Numbers). We aren’t going to stray very far from this topic in The Draughtsman’s Contract, either.

I liked this one, though. I liked it more than I’ve liked any of Greenaway’s other films, and by a pretty good distance. The reason for this is simple: this is a very clever film. A secondary, but just as important reason is that while a great deal of the surface focus is on sex, the sex here is legitimately a red herring for what is really going on. It’s there specifically to draw our attention to the prurience of what is happening and distract us from the larger story that is being told. It’s not often that a film this thoroughly surprises me in this way.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Chasing Its Own Tail

Film: Trois Vies et Une Seule Mort (Three Lives and Only One Death)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on rockin’ flatscreen.

The last time I watched a Raoul Ruiz film, I was wildly disappointed. I absolutely hated Time Regained. It’s fair to suggest that most of my problems with it were technical; I couldn’t read the subtitles. It’s also fair to suggest that I didn’t see enough there to bother with it should I find a better copy. No, it was pretty, but there didn’t seem to be much there. There’s a reason I’ve put off Trois Vies et Une Seule Mort (Three Lives and Only One Death) until now. I haven’t trusted Ruiz to want to watch this one again.

What I got was not a confusing mess of poor subtitles, though. Trois Vies is a conundrum of a film, but not an unpleasant one. What we have is four stories, each featuring the great Marcello Mastroianni in one of his last roles…or four of his last roles if you’d rather have it that way. The four stories turn out to all be connected, but the connections are not obvious, and even when they become known, they don’t specifically make sense.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Getting One's Irish Up

Film: The Butcher Boy
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Sometimes I buy a film on a whim. I don’t do it that often, but for the last four years, when I found a film for cheap that happened to be on the 1001 Movies List, I’d buy it. Such is the case with The Butcher Boy, which I bought several years ago when I found a new copy for $3 in a bargain bin somewhere. I knew that eventually I’d get around to watching it. “Eventually” happened to be tonight.

The Butcher Boy is one of those difficult to explain films that is much better experienced than to have described, but I’ll do my best. This is the story of Francie Brady (Eamonn Owens). Francie seems like a normal, if unnaturally high-spirited, boy. He gets into typical trouble with his friend Joe Purcell (Alan Boyle). Much of this involves a local boy named Phillip Nugent (Andrew Fullerton), which makes Francie the problem of the month for Phillip’s mother (Fiona Shaw). What isn’t evident right away is that Francie isn’t merely a high-spirited kid.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Drug War

Film: Drugstore Cowboy
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Anyone who knows me would not be shocked that my connection to the drug culture is an entirely cinematic one. My last illicit drug experience happened in the 1980s, and if I had to guess, chances are good that said experience was underage drinking. It never did a lot for me (although I was a drinker back in the day). I am substantially uncool when it comes to drugs. Sorry, folks; I come at these films with what I’ve got rather than what you might like me to be. Drugstore Cowboy is all about one aspect of the drug scene in the early 1970s. It is to drugs what Boogie Nights is to the porn industry of the same time.

The drug addicted, superstitious ex-con Bob (Matt Dillon) runs a crew of thieves who specialize in ripping off drugstores. We see this happen as the film opens. The four thieves each enter the store separately. Nadine (Heather Graham) fakes a convulsion in the middle of the store, which attracts the attention. Nadine’s boyfriend Rick (James Le Gros) tries to get more people to focus on Nadine by calling for help. Bob’s wife Dianne (Kelly Lynch) further distracts the pharmacist. While all of this happens, Bob jumps behind the counter and makes off with any drugs he can.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sea Cruise

Film: Life of Pi
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin' flatscreen.

I like Ang Lee’s films. There’s even a part of me that sort of appreciates what he tried to do with Hulk. I mean, yes, it failed completely, but I get what he was going for, I think. Life of Pi is one that I’ve been looking forward to for some time. I’m not sure I was as prepared for the spiritual questions it would bring up in the course of the film. What I wanted was visual spectacle. I got that, but Life of Pi is a special enough film that I got more than that as well. When the religious content of the film, the abruptly and plainly stated “make me believe in God” said by one character to another happened, I figured I knew the ending, and determined that much of my overall opinion of the film might well be determined by how that line played out.

What we get is a story told in the present day about the past, meaning that we frequently will get flashes of the current world while we tend to spend most of our time dealing with the story being told. It is told by Piscine Molitor Patel (played in the modern world by Irrfan Khan and primarily in the story by Suraj Sharma). Piscine spends much of his early life with the unfortunate nickname of “Pissing Patel” until he consciously forces himself to memorize hundreds of digits of pi, and rechristens himself Pi. We learn about his swimming lessons from his father’s friend Mamaji and the family’s occupation of running a zoo. We also learn of his spiritual life. Raised a Hindu by his mother, he also adopts both Christianity and Islam, much to his rationalist father’s chagrin. All of this is being told to a writer (Rafe Spall) who encountered Mamaji, who told him to go to Canada and look up Pi.

Monday, November 11, 2013


Film: Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

It’s been a theme lately that the films I have watched have dealt strongly with sex. In its own way, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is both more sexually charged and less sexually relevant than the other films I’ve watched from The List in the past week. There’s no escaping the sex here, much of which is alleged to be real. In fact, writer/director/star Melvin van Peebles contracted gonorrhea during the course of the film and successfully got worker’s compensation for it, since he was injured on the job (and literally “on the job”).

The film contains a simple story, and one that would be duplicated, referenced, or given homage in the majority of Blaxploitation films for the length of the genre. It’s one of the first films to depict a black hero who didn’t conform to white American standards. Here was the sort of man that White America feared. He wasn’t educated, erudite, or polite. He was a hardcore brother who found himself constantly under the boot heel of the Man and who fought back the only way he could.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Not Quite Salo

Film: Turks Fruit (Turkish Delight)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

For whatever reason, I seem to have a great number of sexually-charged films left to the end of this journey. Turks Fruit (Turkish Delight) is yet another film that deals with a great deal of sex. In this case, as with many films that are “about” sex, the sex here is merely window dressing to the deeper story. According to the Wikipedia article about this film, it was voted in 1999 as the greatest Dutch film of the 20th century. I find that fact wholly depressing in so many ways. I’ve had the candy called Turkish delight, and it very much reminds me of this film. It always looks as if it will be tasty or at least interesting. Instead, it’s completely foul.

We start with an artist named Eric (Rutger Hauer) and a good 15 minutes of sex with various women in various configurations. Naturally there is something underlying this desperate need for sex, and we soon discover exactly what that is, as a great deal of the rest of the film is told in flashback. It seems that Eric was once picked up as a hitchhiker by a woman named Olga (Monique van de Ven). After a quick romp in her car and a painful incident of Eric getting his junk caught in his zipper, they have a fairly serious car accident caused by her trying to put on a jacket. Naturally, this makes Eric persona non grata with Olga’s family, who refuse to allow him to see Olga despite his insistence.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Watching Oscar: Mogambo

Film: Mogambo
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of Clark Gable, but I do understand the appeal of the man on the screen. He was a player and a pimp. This may have been best demonstrated in Gone with the Wind, but I might enter Mogambo as Exhibit B. This is very much Gable’s picture because it couldn’t be anyone else’s. There is a strange provincial sense to Mogambo; it’s a boy’s own adventure film, but just as much a romance, and its depiction of both men and women are mildly sexist and offensive by today’s standards. That said, it’s still pretty entertaining.

Victor Marswell (Gable) runs a hunting/safari/trapping camp in East Africa. He collects game animals and ships them back to zoos in the rest of the world and takes people out on various expeditions. He is assisted in this by a number of native workers as well as John “Brownie” Brown-Pryce (Philip Stainton) and the crude and unmannered Boltchak (Eric Pohlmann). I mentioned that it’s a bit provincial, and that may be the wrong word for it. I can’t identify the guys who work at Marswell’s compound because they aren’t listed individually in the credits.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sex Sells

Film: Sex, Lies and Videotape
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I don’t have a vast amount of experience with the work of Steven Soderbergh. I’ve seen a few of his films and generally liked them, but I can’t say I’ve seen enough to know whether or not I’d rank him as one of the great directors I’ve encountered. Sex, Lies and Videotape is his first feature film. I didn’t see this when it came out (I didn’t see it until today, in fact), but I remember when it came out, because it create quite a stir. This is one of those difficult films for me to judge, mainly because I don’t really like the characters we are presented with in the film. These aren’t nice people or good people. They’re certainly broken, but for many of them, the fact that they are unlikable has nothing to do with their brokenness.

What we have is an odd relationship set here. Ann Mullany (Andie MacDowell) is in therapy for undisclosed reasons as the film starts. She’s got a nice house and a husband with a great job, but she is concerned with garbage. She’s also rarely intimate with her husband and doesn’t have much of a relationship with him. In her world, sex is overrated and she doesn’t miss it that much. This is probably a good thing for her, because her husband John (Peter Gallagher) is currently having a fairly torrid affair with her sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). We discover that John has invited a friend from college to stay with them for a few days and didn’t bother to tell Ann. She’s upset with that because he didn’t consult her.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

No Femme More Fatale

Film: The Last Seduction
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Linda Fiorentino needs to work more. I say this because her IMDB profile lists only two films after 2000 for her. I have a tendency to like Linda Fiorentino in films, and I also have a tendency to like film noir. I like noir because it’s a great style and always deals with the seamier side of life. I like Linda Fiorentino because she has a great, smoky voice. It’s what makes her such a damn good femme fatale in a film like The Last Seduction.

This is a straight-up noir, too. I suppose technically it’s a modern noir, but eliminate the few moments of nudity and the sexual content and there’s very little in this film that wouldn’t be at home with something luridly titled from 1952. All of the noir points are hit and hit hard here. We’ve got an attractive woman with a heart of stone, criminal enterprises, sex, detectives, an amateur in way over his head, and a dedicated sense of moral ambiguity. If only it had been filmed in black-and-white, it would slide into the canon of the period without question.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Off Script: Evil Dead II

Film: Evil Dead II
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I had a birthday recently. My family bought me a Nook. The new Nooks are essentially tablets; they still have the e-reader capabilities of the old ones, of course, but the new ones are all about tapping in to that tablet market. The other night, I downloaded the NetFlix app and watched Double Indemnity as a test. It worked great. Today, I thought I’d go with a classic of a different sort. When I saw Evil Dead II appear on the streaming menu, I knew what I was watching today. I have holes in my personal collection. I don’t own Casablanca, for instance. If you pushed me, though, I’d say not owning a DVD copy of Evil Dead II is a bigger miss.

Evil Dead II is less a sequel of the original Evil Dead and much more a remake with much more slapstick and comedic sensibilities. It doesn’t so much pick up from where the first film left as retell the first story quickly and with far fewer characters and then spin off from there. In this version, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and his girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) retreat to a secluded cabin in the middle of nowhere. As it turns out, the cabin was being used by a professor and his wife to translate an ancient book called the Necronomicon. Reading the passages aloud causes a demon to escape and possess the wife of the professor. Ash and Linda know none of this, of course, but when Ash finds the professor’s tape recording and plays it, Linda is possessed. Ash kills here and then is prevented from leaving the cabin, meaning that the terrible events may well play out again.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Perfect Victim

Film: Faustrecht der Freiheit (Fox and His Friends)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Faustrecht der Freiheit (Fox and His Friends) is an unpleasant film. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a bad film, but it’s not a very nice one. This has nothing to do with a number of aspects many people will have problems with. The characters are uniformly gay, for instance; the same sort of person who hated Brokeback Mountain on moral rather than cinematic grounds will have trouble getting more than a few minutes into this one. There’s also a surprising amount of cock. At one point, in fact, there is cock that appears to be entirely decorative, laying languidly flaccid in the background of a scene filled with conversation.

Franz “Fox” Biberkopf (director Rainer Werner Fassbinder) is a gay man without a lot going for him. He works at a carnival as a “talking head,” an allegedly severed head that can speak. As the film opens, the carnival owner and his lover, Klaus (Karl Scheydt) is arrested for tax fraud. Suddenly jobless, homeless, and penniless, Fox desperately attempts to play the German lottery, convinced (as he is every week) that he will win. As it happens, this time he does, pocketing a cool half million marks. This makes the slow, tactless, and somewhat unattractive Fox a sudden catch for a few elegant gay men with expensive tastes. Most notable, Fox becomes enamored of Eugen (Peter Chatel), the heir to a printing company that has fallen on hard times.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Window to the Past

Film: Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I have long had an interest in archaeology. It’s not something I advertise, but it’s true. When I was in grade school, I had the chance to spend a week one summer at the Koster dig in Kampsville, Illinois. It was pretty damn cool, and while we didn’t do anything that really affected the dig, it was an experience that I won’t forget. When I went to grad school, my original major was in the Department of Anthropology. I find this stuff fascinating. When I saw that Cave of Forgotten Dreams was added to the list, I knew it was one I’d look forward to seeing.

The film concerns the discovery of the oldest cave paintings known. Located in what is now called Chauvet caves, the paintings are deep inside and perfectly preserved thanks to a rockslide that covered the entrance for tens of thousands of years. Because of this, the artwork was initially considered a possible forgery and only the thick deposits of minerals over the paintings verified their age of roughly 32,000 years.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Movie Cool Isn't Real Cool

Film: Diva
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Is it wrong of me to root for the bad guys? I don’t often want the evildoers to come out on top in a film, but it does happen now and then. It happens when the bad guys are particularly appealing or when the people I’m supposed to find interesting and appealing aren’t. In the case of Diva, it’s a little bit of both. I don’t find the people we spend the most time with at all interesting or likable, and one of the evil assassins happens to be played by an actor I really like. It’s a dilemma, I tell you.

Jules (Frederic Andrei) is a postal worker who delivers mail from his moped. He is also obsessed with opera diva Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Fernandez, in one of her only non-stage appearances). Hawkins has never consented to have her voice recorded—live performance is the only way to hear her sing. So, naturally, Jules smuggles a recording device into her recital and tapes it. On the way out, he steals one of her dresses.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Fog of War

Film: Csillagosok, Katonak (The Red and the White)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

It’s immediately understandable why a film like Miklos Jancso’s Csillagosok, Katonak (The Red and the White) is important in film history. It’s also soon apparent that this is a film that will be infuriating to try to describe. Hell, it’s infuriating and frustrating to watch. It’s a bloody, painful version of Slackers, even if it’s more apt to suggest that Slackers borrowed from this. There’s not so much a cast of characters here or a plot, but a series of events that occur in the same general area. We get very little time with any specific people, and that time that we do get is generally ended by death.

The film is essentially the short, pointed history of a particular spot overlooking the Volga River during the Russian Revolution. Local Hungarians fight for the communist (Red) side, battling the Tsarist (White) soldiers. Originally intended to be a film about the birth of the Bolshevik state, this is instead an anti-war film that depicts no winners or losers and no heroes in the conflict that erupted. Everyone here is a victim in some sense, even those who are clearly aggressors and morally repellent.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Month 46 Status Report

October was a heavy month, folks. A heavy, heavy month. But it was a damn fine one, too. I knocked out 27 films, leaving me with a mere 20. Finishing in November now looks to be a real thing, and it's something well within my sights.

Of the remaining 20 films, 10 can be found on NetFlix as DVDs, two are streaming, there are three remaining on the flashdrive, and the final five are in my collection. All of that is good news--I have access to all of the films I need. My biggest worry is broken discs through the mail, something that seems to happen at the worst possible times. Honestly, that's the only thing I see preventing me from finishing in November.

Semper paratus!

Off Script: Session 9

Film: Session 9
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I like good horror movies. I don’t like it when I see the scare coming from a mile away, because what happens might be disturbing or disgusting or nasty, but it’s rarely scary. In many respects, horror movies are the most stylized genre of film. Certain moments are set up in certain ways to elicit a certain reaction from the audience. Since the desired reaction is, in general, fear, there are specific horror movie tropes that get repeated. I enjoy it greatly when a film plays with those tropes and either does things in a new way or does things the old way with a different result. The real issue is that so many of these tropes are so ingrained in the genre that tweaking just one or two of them is often seen as a win or as masterful filmmaking. Session 9 tweaks a few horror movie ideas, but it also falls into a lot of the same pitfalls. That’s both encouraging and disappointing.

In that respect, it reminds me a lot of Paranormal Activity. The two films have very little outside of genre in common, but there is a similarity at the core. Both of them are more or less movies about really dumb characters by really smart filmmakers. Director Brad Anderson sets up some nice scares that don’t come through. Rather than being disappointing, these serve to increase the tension in those scenes. Sadly, those scenes also rely on one or more characters being painfully stupid to be in the situation in the first place.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Off Script: Jack's Back

Film: Jack’s Back
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

Horror is a subjective genre. What scares one person leaves another one cold. I remember my brother telling me that The Blair Witch Project was one of the scariest films he’d ever seen while other people complained about how disappointed they were in it. To work at all, horror requires a certain amount of buy-in from the audience. If you don’t buy the premise, it’s not going to scare you, no matter what. Often, what makes the difference between a horror or thriller movie that works and one that doesn’t is how much tension it creates in the audience. Where Jack’s Back starts with a great premise, it fails in creating a great deal of tension, which ultimately makes it something of a disappointment.

In the Los Angeles of the time (late 1980s) there has been a rash of killings that almost precisely mimic the Jack the Ripper killings. The current victims match the original victims completely. The police (played by a number of people, and most relevantly by John Wesley and Chris Mulkey) aren’t dumb. This means that they are sure that the next victim will be not only a prostitute, but a pregnant prostitute.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Watching Oscar: Wait Until Dark

Film: Wait Until Dark
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Wait Until Dark puts me in a difficult position. I like to include a summary of at least the basics of a film’s plot when I discuss it. I do this for a variety of reasons. One reason is that aspects of story are some of the things that really interest me when it comes to film. It’s also a really convenient way for me to talk about the elements of the film that I like and dislike within context. Saying that a particular scene is a problem is difficult when there is no context for that scene for the reader. It also helps readers determine whether or not a film is worth seeing regardless of my opinion. At least that’s what I tell myself.

With Wait Until Dark, though, I don’t want to do that. This is a film that benefits greatly from as cold a viewing as possible. Know too much going in, and all of the wonderfully intricate twists and turns will be spoiled, and this is not a film to be spoiled. This is a story to see play out as it happens with no direct knowledge of what will happen next. With a number of films these days, it’s easy to forget that there’s some great suspense tales that really work all the way through. We give up a lot when we reward filmmakers for not making us work at the movies we watch. Wait Until Dark makes us stay with the story and work at what everything means. It rewards us with one of the truly great film climaxes ever produced.

Monday, October 28, 2013

His Word is Bond

Film: Skyfall
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you play around with a legend, you always run the risk of losing a big part of your audience. Look at what happened with the Star Wars prequels. Look at what happened with the fourth Indiana Jones film. With Skyfall, the umpteenth James Bond film, the final product takes the entire franchise in a new direction. Risky, that. And yet, if it’s done well, the results are fantastic, as is the case here.

Skyfall is the 23rd official James Bond film, not counting the television and spoof versions of Casino Royale and the unofficial Never Say Never Again. As a film this far in the franchise would be, there are plenty of expectations from the viewers. Skyfall plays with many of these, and does so perfectly. In doing so, the film modernizes the franchise in substantial ways, opting less for traditional James Bond gimcrackery and gadgetry and more for modern reality and geopolitics.