Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of Year Five

This closes out my fifth year blogging movies. On the one hand, that feels like a really long time. On the other hand, it feels like I’ve just gotten started. I put up something like 300 reviews this year and averaged a touch over a movie/day for the year (367 movies watched total).

There are a few changes planned for 2015. The major change is the addition of a new category of Oscar films. Best Original Screenplay felt lonely, so I’ve added Best Adapted Screenplay, a category that puts an addition five-and-a-half dozen or so films onto my list, which translates to about three months’ worth of reviews. As a bonus, though, I’ve already completed about 10 full years of this category, so there’s that.

I enjoyed doing a series of films from Nick Jobe this year, so I’ve decided to expand on that. Instead of just having Nick select films for me in 2015, I’ve brought in the entire team at Your Face. Nick, Nolahn, and Jason have each chosen four movies for me, and I’ll rotate their reviews month by month. Your Face Picks Movies will appear on the third Monday of every month.

I’ve also got a set of films from Chip Lary at Tips from Chip. Having seen me review Nick’s choices from last year, he wanted to do the same. I’ve given him a set of 12 and he’s given me 13—one month will be a double-feature. Picks from Chip will show up on the second Monday of every month.

The Oscar Got It Wrong! posts will continue on Fridays. I’m having too much fun with them to stop.

Here’s to 2015!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet

Film: San Francisco
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Spencer Tracy was nominated for Best Actor for San Francisco, so it would be understandable from my perspective to think that perhaps Tracy would be the central character of the film, or at least one of the central characters. Imagine my surprise when it turns out that the leading players here are Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald. Tracy, at best, is the fourth player in the film and is only on screen for a small percentage of the running time. This is a weird episode with the Hays Code, I think. Since Clark Gable, by all rights the main actor in the film, plays a scoundrel, it’s almost as if he didn’t deserve to get the nomination.

Our film starts a bit before the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. We’re introduced to Blackie Norton (Clark Gable), who runs the Paradise Club in the Barbary Coast section of the city. It’s a rough part of town, filled with clubs, drinking, and illegal gambling, and Blackie is very much one of the kings of the area. Into this mass of humanity, sin, and depravity wanders Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald), an opera singer from Colorado looking to make her way in the city. She winds up at Blackie’s club because her building has burned down and she needs a singing job. After a tryout and a quick ogle, Blackie hires her.

Monday, December 29, 2014


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

The early years of the Oscars tend to plague me not because I have trouble watching the films but because I have trouble locating them in general. Turner Classic Movies proves to be invaluable in locating some of the films from the first couple of years, and my DVR is a testament to this. With the DVR nearing capacity, though, I thought it was high time to get a few films out of the way to make room for what is coming in the next few months. Since those early years are a problem, Romance from 1930 made sense. It didn’t hurt that this was one of the shortest films I had on the entire Oscar list.

Romance is one of those movies that is told almost entirely in flashback. Young Harry (Elliott Nugent), the sone of a wealthy family, plans to marry an actress despite the social problems that this will cause and the embarrassment his family will suffer. He is granted an audience with his grandfather Thomas Armstrong (Gavin Gordon), expecting that this will be a long tirade against his impending marriage. Grandfather Tom, after all, is a minister and appears to have a reputation for demanding a high moral code from his relatives. And, after all, actresses don’t have the purest reputation.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


Film: Alice, Interiors
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

My experience with Woody Allen films is that I tend to like them. There have been a few Allen films that I haven’t enjoyed much, but usually I look forward to watching one of his movies. NetFlix, however, seems to dislike Woody Allen, since a surprisingly large number of his films aren’t available either streaming or on disc. When a couple of these unavailable films showed up streaming for a short time, I figured I should get them watched. Alice was among these. This film is described as Woody Allen’s take on Alice in Wonderland, and I see the connection, even if that connection is tenuous. This is very much a film that lives in the world of magical realism.

Alice Tate (Mia Farrow) is a vapid socialite housewife living in New York. Her day consists of getting manicures, buying stuff that she doesn’t need, and instructing the nanny on how to deal with her children. Her husband Doug (William Hurt) makes a lot of money and generally ignores his family. Alice is more or less there to make him look good and host parties for him. As the film begins, Alice has more or less started to realize that her entire life is an afterthought. At this same time, she meets Joe (Joe Mantegna), a divorced saxophone player whose child goes to the same pre-school as Alice’s. She’s immediate attracted to him, which manifests in guilt and back pain.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Grace Under Pressure

Film: The Country Girl
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

It’s always a little bit of a surprise to me that I like Bing Crosby as an actor. I do, though. Crosby is easy to like, especially when he’s playing a nice guy priest or a lovable rogue across from Bob Hope. This made The Country Girl an interesting experiment for me. I like Crosby, but I’ve only seen him in musical and light comic roles. How would he fare in an actual drama acting alongside Grace Kelly and William Holden?

I didn’t expect a drama, honestly. This is the only straight drama I know of in Crosby’s career, although I’m sure there are others. I know him from films like High Society, Going My Way, and the “Road to…” movies. Playing a washed-up alcoholic actor feels out of his wheelhouse, and yet that’s where we are. In a sense, there’s an interesting parallel between the film’s story and the film’s reality. In the film, a Broadway production depends almost entirely on the performance of this has-been actor while The Country Girl itself hangs entirely on the performance of a guy best-known and most comfortable crooning over a piano and cracking jokes at the camera.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Comes but Once a Year

For the last few years, my traditional Christmas post has been to suggest 10 new additions to the 1001 Movies list. Sure, I’ve finished the list and finished it again this year (and let me tell you, having to watch 13 films was a lot easier than the first 1154). But I see no reason to change this tradition. There are plenty of films that should be on the 1001 Movies list that have never been there. There’s too much chaff and some wheat that’s been tossed out. While I know I have no pull with the editors and my opinions and a couple of dollars will get you a coffee at Starbucks, it makes me feel better to suggest some things that need more love.

The following films are offered in no specific order other than, more or less, the order that I thought of them.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

17 Will Get You 20

Film: The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I make no secret of my love of Cary Grant. I don’t feel a need to, really. There’s no shame in enjoying the work of one of the great actors of his era. The thing I like the most about Grant is not that he could pull off an action role or do a serious scene, but that he had nearly perfect comic timing. Given good material, Grant was capable of comedic genius. I’ll say the same thing about Myrna Loy, who I think was underrated in general and that it’s close to criminal that she never got an Oscar nomination. So what a joy to discover that The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer features both of these actors. Without knowing it, I was looking forward to this.

We’re given a very unusual meet-cute for our two principle characters. Judge Margaret Turner (Myrna Loy) presides over a case of a small melee evidently caused by the presence of a man named Richard Nugent (Cary Grant). It seems that Nugent, an acclaimed artist, was less a participant in the altercation and more the catalyst, but he has a reputation. Specifically, Nugent has come up on the radar of assistant district attorney Tommy Chamberlain (Rudy Vallee). Nugent is let off, but sternly warned by Judge Turner that she does not want to see him in her court again.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Lust in the Dust

Film: Duel in the Sun
Format: DVD from Mt. Morris Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

Anyone who has worked on a group project knows that there’s often a benefit to having the suggestions of other people. Sometimes, though, other people turn out to be much more of a hindrance than a help. In the case of Duel in the Sun, King Vidor is give the sole directorial credit, but there are six uncredited directors on this film. Six. I can only imagine that at some level, this led to a “too many cooks” situation.

This is exacerbated, at least for me, by the fact that this film stars Jennifer Jones, who tends to leave me cold. This is balanced by it also featuring Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck, Lillian Gish, and Lionel Barrymore. Still, I specifically watched this because Jones was nominated for Best Actress for this film, so she was the main reason I spent time with Duel in the Sun in the first place.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Snitches Get Stitches

Film: The Informer
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Every now and then, I run across a film that I struggle mightily to understand. That’s absolutely the case with The Informer. The story itself isn’t that difficult to understand. But for a movie as short as this one is (it clocks in at just a touch over 90 minutes), there doesn’t seem to be nearly enough story to fill the time. It’s so simple, in fact, that I kind of don’t understand why it wasn’t over at the 40-minute mark.

Gypo Nolan (Victor McLaglen, who beat most of the cast of Mutiny on the Bounty to win the Oscar) is a down-on-his-luck Irishman. He’s down on his luck because several months earlier, he was summarily dismissed from the Irish Sinn Fein rebels for refusing to kill a man in cold blood. Since that time, he has lived from hand to mouth. He sees a wanted poster for his old friend Frankie McPhillip (Wallace Ford) with a 20-pound reward. As it happens, he also runs into his streetwalking girlfriend Katie (Margot Grahame), who is “looking for work” since she’s also out of money and owes on her rent. As it happens, the reward money for turning in Frankie is exactly the amount needed to get both Gypo and Katie to America.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Number One Fan

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

Watch enough movies, and eventually you’ll see some stuff that you just don’t want to see again. Usually, that means a film that I don’t want to watch again regardless of what I thought of it. I don’t plan on watching Salo a second time, for instance, because there are things I don’t want to sit through again and because I think it’s an affront. A film like Idi i Smotri, though, I think is one of the great films of its year but I don’t think I have the emotional capacity to see it a second time. Misery is unique in this respect. I love this film, but there is a single scene I have never been able to watch a second time. If you’ve seen Misery, you know the precise scene I am talking about.

Aside from that one scene, Misery is most notable for being the film that made the nation aware that Kathy Bates existed, and we have to give the movie its props for that. Before this, who knew who she was? After this, who didn’t? Bates’s performance as Annie Wilkes is one of the all-time great out-of-nowhere performances in film history. Bates may have been around before this film, but once she was seen here, she was everywhere.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Film: Of Mice and Men
Format: DVD from NetFlix on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

When I wrote up The Grapes of Wrath some time ago, I mentioned the arguments between my brother Tom and my dad about Tom’s reading habits. Dad never failed to push classics on Tom while Tom was much more attuned to reading pulp novels. The book dad pushed the most was, in fact, The Grapes of Wrath. Of Mice and Men is arguably the Steinbeck story that is more famous than the one Dad constantly wanted one of us to read. I’ve still never read The Grapes of Wrath, but I’ve read Of Mice and Men.

Of course, it’s been years since I’ve read it, but I remember the basics of the story. I also remember the Bugs Bunny cartoon with the Abominable Snowman who was based completely on one of the characters from this. This isn’t a story I enjoy much because of where it goes, but I can’t disagree with it being a true classic of American literature.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Eleanor Powell

Film: Broadway Melody of 1936
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Line up the Best Picture winners end to end, and one the bottom in my opinion is The Broadway Melody, the second winner ever. That being the case, I can’t say I was excited to sit down and watch Broadway Melody of 1936. However, the DVR is getting full, which means I need to get through some of the older stuff to make room for what I want to record in the next couple of months. And so, Broadway Melody of 1936 it is.

What I didn’t know going in is that this would be my first exposure to Eleanor Powell, who had a terribly short film career. There’s a pretty strong case to be made for the idea that Powell stopped getting work because she was something like a threat to many of the other dancers of the time. Oh, I don’t mean she came at them with switchblades or anything, but Eleanor Powell was a real talent. Gene Kelly once said that when Fred Astaire danced with Ginger Rogers, it was the only time you watched the man. Well, I’ve seen clips of Powell dancing with Fred Astaire…and when they’re on stage together, you watch her. She’s as good as he is. Maybe better, because she’s doing exactly what he does and doing it as fast, as on the beat, and in heels.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Nick's Pick: Love Actually

Film: Love Actually
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

This is the twelfth in a monthly series of reviews suggested by Nick Jobe of YourFace.

Love Actually bills itself as the ultimate romantic comedy. Everytime ad copy or promotional materials use the word “ultimate,” a part of me hopes its used in the sense of “last one ever.” Rom-coms aren’t my favorite genre of film, mostly because they end up being formulaic. They aren’t generally so much about what ending we’re going to get, but how we’re going to get to the ending we want. Good rom-coms are worth seeking out, and I’ve heard enough good about Love Actually that I was hopeful.

I’m not going to do my typical summary for this one, though, because there’s just too damn much. There are nine or ten intertwined plots here, with connections that go from story to story. It’s complicated enough that the Wikipedia write-up contains a flow chart that manages to get a couple of the connections wrong. There are a couple of main stories and a larger number of secondary, or at least smaller ones that aren’t as central to the various major narratives.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

You May Already Be a Winner

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

Fulfilling the new movies placed on the 1001 Movies list has meant frequently taking breaks from my regular Oscar posting, which is kind of frustrating to me. I set particular goals for myself monthly, and deviating from that makes it harder to hit those goals. So, a film like Nebraska that appears on the new 1001 Movies list and also knocks out some Oscars for me is a good thing, which is why I saved this one as the last of the new 1001 additions. So, once again, I’m done with the 1001 Movies list, all 1167 of them.

I imagine that Nebraska tells a story that many people with aging parents can relate to. I am fortunate in that this is not something that reflects my life at all. My father will be 80 in January and my mother is a couple of years younger than he is. Both of my parents are in good physical and mental health. Neither seems to have lost a step mentally, and from what I remember of my dad’s parents and what I absolutely know of my mom’s, the same was true of them up to the moment they died.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Please Fasten Seat Belts

Film: Airport
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Genres and sub-genres start somewhere. In the 1970s (and yes, I know this from having lived through them), it seemed like every year came with a disaster picture, many of which were produced by Irwin Allen. As it happens, though, the original disaster pic, Airport, was not an Irwin Allen movie. This is the film that started the sub-genre that gave us films like Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, and The Poseidon Adventure. That’s either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your point of view.

Basically, this is a film that has the central conceit of giving us a typical day in the life of a major Midwestern airport. In this case, that means a blizzard, closed runways, and angry board of directors, protestors, an elderly stowaway, and a guy with a bomb in a briefcase. We also get a couple of failing marriages, a couple of affairs, and a grizzled maintenance man. In addition to serving as more than the daily suggested allowance of melodrama, Airport also serves as enough of a love letter to the 707 airplane that I suspect Boeing may have had a hand in the financing.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Love Hurts

Film: Sense and Sensibility
Format: DVD from Rasmussen College Library on laptop.

I was asked at work recently to go through our library’s movie collection. Going through it, I encountered Sense and Sensibility, which I knew I needed to watch. It would be a lie to suggest that this was a film I was looking forward to seeing. As I mentioned yesterday, I’m not always the biggest fan of costume dramas, and if I’m completely honest, that goes double for dramatic romances. It feels like there’s so much posturing in so many of these films. People have such blatantly obvious emotions and are forced by propriety or custom to hide them. I find them frustrating. Still, this is one I need to get through, and I learned in doing the 1001 Movies list that it’s often better to rip the Band-Aid off than to let opportunities like this one linger.

Surprise, surprise, Sense and Sensibility is not the tepid little romance I expected, but a film with real depth and with characters that are more than simple cut-outs to hang fancy clothes on. Put bluntly, I expected a slog through drippy romance, and got something far more entertaining than I could have thought possible.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Victoria Regina

Film: Mrs. Brown (Her Majesty Mrs. Brown)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I don’t always do so well with period dramas. Sometimes I like them but they frequently leave me cold. The Merchant-Ivory style of film doesn’t do a lot for me in general. With Mrs. Brown (sometimes called Her Majesty Mrs. Brown), I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into. I knew nothing going in, really, other than that it stars Judi Dench, who I tend to like, and Billy Connolly, who I tend to think is one of the coolest human beings currently on the planet. Call it a wash going in.

This is the story of Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her period of mourning after the death of her husband, Prince Albert. Their marriage, which spanned something north of 20 years, was apparently a very happy one, which is a rare thing for monarchs. The death of Albert sent Victoria into a spiral of depression that lasted for a long time. In desperation, John Brown (Billy Connolly) is sent for. Brown was a loyal servant to Albert, and the hope was that he would help draw her out again.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


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

Film nerds have their pet directors. There are Christopher Nolan nerds who will forgive him any sins (like The Prestige, yes, I know I’m in the minority on that) until he does something so terrible that it’s not worth defending. Quentin Tarantino is another director who has a legion of fans who will watch anything he produces. Back in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, the film director that nerds tended to choose to geek over was Tim Burton, a love affair that lasted until Burton’s wretched remake of Planet of the Apes. Anyway, back in those dark days, anyone who knew Burton also knew that one of his first projects was a short film called Frankenweenie about a boy who brings his dog back from the dead a la Mary Shelley’s story. So when an animated version of the story headed by Burton was announced, it was evident that this would be a labor of love.

And that is the basic story here. Young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is something of a social outcast in school, but he seems perfectly happy working on weird projects and making home movies with his dog, Sparky. When the school science fair comes around, he wants to participate, but his father (Martin Short) cuts a deal. Victor can participate in the science fair if he also plays baseball. Given no other options, Victor agrees. Tragically, in his first at-bat, Victor cranks a home run and Sparky runs after the ball, only to be killed when he runs into the street.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Dim Sum

Film: Tian Zhu Ding (A Touch of Sin)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m not precisely sure how to react to Tian Zhu Ding (A Touch of Sin). It is, essentially, a drama anthology, which makes it sort of a rare beast. The four stories we are given here are evidently ripped from the headlines of Chinese newspapers. While not interconnected by anything but the tiniest of threads, the four stories all concern life in the new, capitalist China. More specifically, the stories deal with people who have been pushed to the margins in this new society. In each case, our protagonists are driven to violence of one sort or another.

The film opens with a man driving a motorcycle down a lonely highway. He is accosted by a trio of men holding axes and demanding money. The man takes out a pistol and shoots all three before driving away. Soon after, he passes a wrecked truck being observed by the police and, at least temporarily, drives out of our consideration.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jiro Dreams of Flying

Film: The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

When the subject of film animation comes up, there are a few legendary names that are mentioned immediately. Walt Disney, Ralph Bakshi, Ray Harryhausen, and these days studios like Pixar and Aardman come to mind immediately. But perhaps no name is as well beloved by modern audiences for animation than that of Hayao Miyazaki, and with good reason. Miyazaki’s films are well loved for the same reasons that people love Pixar films. They are made not merely with care and passion, but with a genuine love of storytelling and a sense of wonder. Miyazaki’s announced retirement in 2013 upset a great number of people, which makes The Wind Rises, his last film, something special.

What soon becomes evident is that unlike Miyazaki’s previous films, The Wind Rises is only moderately based in the world of fantasy, and even here, the fantasy elements exist only in the dreams of the principle character. We begin with young Jiro Horikoshi (voiced in the American version by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in the early part of the last century. Jiro wants nothing more than to be a pilot, but his poor vision and thick glasses prevent him from doing so. In his dreams, he converses with Italian airplane designer Caproni (Stanley Tucci), who tells him it is much better to create planes of true beauty than to fly them.

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Film: The Song of Bernadette
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

The Song of Bernadette opens with the quote, “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible.” To me, this is nothing more than an excuse to claim bullshit as real as long as people believe in it. And boy, is that what we’re going to get with this one. The Song of Bernadette starts with mummery, continues through with mummery and ends with the same. The opening quote is absolutely correct. For the religious, the story will be accepted without evidence. For the skeptical, the evidence provided is ludicrously thin.

So, shoes off because we’re jumping into the deep end of Catholic dogma with both feet, and I’m going to keep this short and sweet (unlike the film itself). The film is about the “discovery” of the healing properties of the waters of Lourdes. It’s worth noting that the Catholic Church recognizes 69 official miraculous healings thanks to the waters of this particular shrine. That sounds pretty amazing until you realize that about 200 million people have visited since the shrine was created, meaning the chances for a miracle cure are about 1 in 3,000,000. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Off Script: Near Dark

Film: Near Dark
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I first started blogging, I made the decision to rewatch everything I was going to review. That’s resulted in some pain more than once, of course, but it’s a decision I stand by. While plenty of my opinions have remained the same over the years, a number of my opinions have shifted one way or the other. With a film like Near Dark, I’m happy to have maintained this position of rewatching before reviewing, because this is a film that has not aged as well as I would have liked it to.

The premise is appealing on its face. Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar), a young red-blooded Oklahoman, encounters a drifter named Mae (Jenny Wright). The two spend the night together, mostly with Mae acting oddly and Caleb attempting to get something going with her. As dawn approaches, Mae panics, demanding that he get her home. He stops a mile or so from where she is staying and demands a kiss. She agrees, and finishes the kiss with a bite on Caleb’s neck, because as we’ve known all along, Mae is a vampire. And, now that the sun is up, Caleb’s flesh starts burning in the sunlight, so he rabbits home, but is picked up by Mae and her drifter family just as he nears his house.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dia de los Muertos

Film: Under the Volcano
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

There’s a certain reality when I find a film like Under the Volcano. This is a film I’d never heard of before compiling my Oscar list and it was nominated (in terms of awards I care about) only for Best Actor. Generally speaking, what that means is a fairly average movie with a singular stand-out performance. That’s almost the case with Under the Volcano. The most pressing and singular reason to pay attention to this film is the performance of Albert Finney. However, unlike many films with a single acting nomination, there are some other reasons to watch this one as well.

The story is both simple and nearly impossible to follow. Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney) is the ex-British Consul stationed in Cuernavaca, Mexico. His wife Yvonne (Jacqueline Bisset) has left him, but has continued to write him letters, none of which he reads. It’s obvious from the first moment we see him that Geoffrey has been drinking for a very long time. It’s evident soon after that that Firmin hasn’t just been drinking on this day. Geoffrey is more or less a professional drunk, the sort of a man who is so used to constantly fueling himself with alcohol that he can no longer function without it.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Kissing Cousins

Film: Cousin, Cousine
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

There’s something immediately icky about the premise of Cousin, Cousine on first blush. A pair of cousins meet at a family wedding and, essentially, become infatuated with each other. It’s far less that in actual practice. Yes, our two principle characters are cousins, but are related only through marriage. And, for the bulk of the film, that relationship is completely platonic. I admit I was a little leery of the film until it became evident that these two people aren’t directly related in any way.

Cousin, Cousine is a sex comedy in the main and right at home in the mid-1970s. Marthe (Marie-Christine Barrault) is the daughter of the woman getting married to Ludovic’s (Victor Lanaux) uncle. They meet at the reception, both having been abandoned by their spouses. As it happens, her husband Pascal (Guy Marchand) and his wife Karine (Marie-France Pisier) are off having sex with each other. And, as it happens, Pascal is quite the womanizer. When Pascal and Karine return to the reception, quite obviously having had an afternoon of each other’s naked company, they find Marthe and Ludovic dancing. Pascal immediately comes over jealous and breaks off all of his affairs, which number about half a dozen. He then admits this to Marthe, planning to be faithful from then on.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gotta Wonder How They'll Name the Sequel

Film: Big Hero 6
Format: Sycamore Theater.

We took the girls to see Big Hero 6 Friday night. The original plan was to hit the film on Thanksgiving, but the day got away from us. We spent the bulk of Friday cleaning and putting up Christmas decorations, and then figured we’d catch the film. I don’t go out to the movies that often, partly because I don’t always have the time and partly because I don’t like crowds of other people around me. But, now and then, it’s worth it to take the girls and have a little family time.

Big Hero 6 is a superhero origin story, although it takes us a long time to actually get to the superhero part. We start by being introduced to Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), a 14-year-old robotics expert who is competing in illegal robot fights (and winning). His older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) is a student in robotics at the local university. Wanting to get Hiro on a more productive path, Tadashi takes his younger brother to his lab, introduces him to a number of people, and essentially gets his brother excited about the possibilities for cool new inventions that he and his friends are working on. In Tadashi’s case, the invention is Baymax (Scott Adsit), an inflated robot that acts as a personal medical service.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

There's a Joke in this Title Somewhere...

Film: The Farmer’s Daughter
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I’m a sucker for Joseph Cotten. Put him in a movie and I’ll watch it pretty much every time. In my continuing quest to get the Best Actress nominations under control (stupid 1001 Movies List), I came across The Farmer’s Daughter knowing only that Loretta Young won the 1947 Best Actress Oscar for the role. What a happy surprise to discover that her costar was the great Joseph Cotten. The minute his name came up on the screen, my interest in what was to come increased dramatically.

The Farmer’s Daughter is a baby step away from being a Capra film; in fact, it’s not much of a stretch to call it “Miss Holstrom Goes to Washington.” Young Katrin “Katie” Holstrom (Loretta Young) is heading off to the city to enter nursing school, a trip she had to delay when her brothers went off to fight in the war. Rather than take the bus, she’s offered a ride from Adolph Petree (Rhys Williams) who has just finished painting the family barn. It’s evident that Petree wants more than Katie’s company on the drive, and he conspires to put her in some compromising situations, which she ignores. However, when he damages his vehicle, he forces her to pay for it, and pay for separate motel rooms that night. And then, of course, he ditches her the next morning.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Off Script: Let's Scare Jessica to Death

Film: Let’s Scare Jessica to Death
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

The unreliable narrator is one of the classic dodges in storytelling. Most of the time, the audience doesn’t know the narrator is unreliable until a good way into the story. It ends up being a shock moment that everything we have seen up to this point might be nothing more than a figment of someone’s imagination. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death does that one better by telling us straight up that the character we are following through the film is potentially as crazy as a shithouse rat.

Jessica (Zohra Lampert) sits in a rowboat talking to herself. We then flash back to the last few days to see what has brought her to this state. We discover that she, her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman) and their friend Woody (Kevin O’Connor) have moved to a little island on the East Coast to help Jessica recuperate from her recent stay in a mental institution—we never learn why she was there.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Up Where We Belong

Film: An Officer and a Gentleman
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m sure a lot of people have a different takeaway from An Officer and a Gentleman than I do. Some might come away thinking that Richard Gere was a sexy beast in the early part of his career or that Debra Winger had a great start to her career. Some might even come away thinking that there’s something special about power ballads from the 1980s. For me, An Officer and a Gentleman is all about Lou Gossett Jr.

The story here is pure Hollywood. Zack Mayo (Richard Gere) is the unwanted son of a Navy man stationed in the Philippines with a mother who has committed suicide. Zack grows up with virtually no contact from his father (Robert Loggia) and graduates from college almost to spite the old man. And then to truly spite him, he signs up to be a Navy pilot, wanting something more than his father’s life on a ship punctuated with nights of sex with Filipino prostitutes.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Horse is a Horse, of Course of Course

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

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it here, but I’m mildly terrified of horses. That might be overstating it. I’m just more comfortable with horses the farther I am away from them. In the distance, horses are beautiful, but up close, they are large, strong, and have giant heads and big teeth. They’re a lot stronger than I am, so I don’t really trust them much. So I might be slightly biased against a film about a horse. But that’s what we’re in for with Seabiscuit. It’s worth noting, though, that the film gains points because of what they call the horse. Throughout, those who know the horse call him “Biscuit,” which happens to be what I’ve called one of my girls since she was barely old enough to walk.

While Seabiscuit is very much the story of a horse, it’s more the story of the three men most concerned with the horse: the owner, the trainer, and the jockey. It’s an underdog story that occurs during the Great Depression, which makes the story something of an allegory for the country at the time. The film starts by introducing us to the three men and their own struggles, leaving the horse out of it until we know the men.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Searching the Past

Film: Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia for the Light)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that of all of the films on the latest 1001 Movies list, Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia for the Light) was the one I was most excited about seeing. I had never heard of this film before the 11th Edition was released, but as soon as I looked into it, I was interested. I’m a space geek, and a big chunk of this film is about astronomy and the telescopes in the Atacama Desert in Chile. I am convinced that no other science contains the potential for beauty like astronomy does. There’s a portion of this film that is also akin to archaeology, another interest of mine. Put two of my out-of-field academic interests in the same place, and you’ve got my attention.

But, of course, Nostalgia de la Luz is about so much more than just astronomy. Forty years ago, Chile was the site of one of the most brutal and terrible regime changes in modern history. Thousands of people were rounded up into concentration camps for political reasons and many of them were killed. It is the Atacama Desert that is key to both of these stories.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Good Queen Bess

Film: Elizabeth; Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Format: DVD from NetFlix (Elizabeth) and from Rockford Public Library (The Golden Age) on laptop.

There are some interesting and weird coincidences when you look at the Oscars in a given year. For instance, both The Devil and Daniel Webster and The Devil and Miss Jones were nominated in the same year. Similarly, two of the Best Picture nominees from 1998 involve Queen Elizabeth I as a character. Judy Dench won an Oscar for her portrayal in Shakespeare in Love and Cate Blanchett was nominated for the title role in Elizabeth. It’s one of those things that strikes me as odd.

Elizabeth, for a film that is essentially about 400-year-old political maneuverings, is surprisingly engaging. It’s also wildly historically inaccurate, evidently. I admit that my personal knowledge of various claimants to the English throne in the middle of the 16th century. I’m not going to go into the reality here; I’m going to instead stick with the film as it is presented to us. The situation at the start is that Mary I (Kathy Burke) sits on the throne but has no heir, leaving Elizabeth (Cate Blanchett) as the next in line. The problem is that Mary is fiercely Catholic and demands that all of her subjects submit to the Catholic Church but Elizabeth is a Protestant, making her and anyone who supports her is a heretic.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Pit Stop

Film: Cars
Format: DVD from personal collection on various players.

For a number of years, it was a given that whatever Pixar movie came out would be nominated for Best Animated Feature and had a better than average chance to win. The award has been handed out 13 times and Pixar has won seven of them from nine nominations. So the chances are good that if I’m reviewing a Pixar film, it’s a film that won an Oscar. That, however, is not the case with Cars, one of the two Pixar films to be nominated and not win.

Part of the reason for that may be that in a lot of ways, Cars tells a story that we already know; it just does it with animated cars. The story at the heart of this film is little more than Doc Hollywood with a racing theme slapped over it like a new coat of paint. Essentially, a hotshot is trying to get to California and gets sidetracked in a backwater, falls in love, and figures out what is really important to him. And in the end there’s dancing, songs, and smiles.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cat Perhaps, but Declawed

Film: Cat Ballou
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

If you put a six-shooter to my head and asked me to rank various genres based on how much I enjoy them, musicals and Westerns would both rank near the bottom and comedies (since so many really aren’t that funny) would probably not rank in the top half. With Cat Ballou, we have a comedy Western with significant musical breaks, which would put this on a list of films that shouldn’t particularly appeal to me. Fortunately, Cat Ballou is surprisingly fun because as goofy as it is, the whole thing works in its own strange way.

We start with a song performed by Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole. These two appear regularly throughout the film as a sort of Greek chorus to tell us what is going on and what has happened to connect the scene we just saw to the scene we’re about to see. What they tell us is that Catherine “Cat” Ballou (Jane Fonda) is about to be hanged for murdering a man. The rest of the film, then, is flashback until the final couple of minutes.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Nick's Pick: The Raid: Redemption

Film: The Raid: Redemption (The Raid)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

This is the eleventh in a series of monthly reviews suggested by Nick Jobe at Your Face.

Of all the films that Nick picked for me this year, none was so gleefully anticipated by me as The Raid: Redemption. I waited as long as I could to watch it to give me something to keep striving to. Since next month’s film has a Christmas theme, it made sense to leave it for last, so The Raid waited until I could no longer hold back from watching it. I sort of knew that if I watched it in February (when I originally planned to), I’d have hit the highest point right off the bat and would be mildly let down the rest of the year.

Why? Well, based on reputation, The Raid: Redemption is the kick-assingest action film ever made. Having seen it, I can only say that it was definitely worth the wait. This is a film I’m certain I would have gotten to eventually, again based on its reputation. It’s a few minutes of set up and pretty much solid action from that point forward. In fact, in a lot of ways, I’d already seen The Raid because I’ve already seen Dredd, which is very much a science fiction remake of this film.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

G'Day, Mate

Film: Crocodile Dundee
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I own a copy of Crocodile Dundee, but it’s currently streaming on NetFlix. It was easier to just watch the stream than hook up the BluRay player and insert the disc and deal with all of that. I was in the mood for something light and simple today, something I knew and would be happy to watch. Crocodile Dundee fit the bill across the board. This is a little pastry of a story, light and fun and entertaining all the way through. It’s a film I know I like, and after the past week in the real world, I wanted something I knew that I liked.

Sue Charlton (Linda Kozlowski) is a reporter for a New York paper currently on assignment in Australia. She’s prepared to come home, but she wants to track down one last story, that of a man named Michael J. Dundee, who was alleged to have had his legs bitten off by a crocodile and then crawled across 100 miles of outback to return home. Seeing a solid human interest angle, she contacts Dundee’s business partner, Wally Reilly (John Meillon) about arranging a meeting, which turns into a two-day outback safari.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Trouble in River City

Film: The Music Man
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I tend to be a little twitchy when a musical shows up from NetFlix because it means I have to turn it around quickly to continue to get anything like value from the account. And I’m not really in the mood for a musical that often. It’s also a time thing—classic musicals are all about the bang for the buck for the audience, which means we’re always going quite a bit over the two hour mark. That’s absolutely the case with The Music Man, so I was leery and more so because it’s a period piece, set about 100 years ago. However, this is one of those musicals that comes complete with a bunch of really good and well-known songs, so I had some hope.

The Music Man is the musical story of a conman whose particular con involves “creating” brass bands of young men in towns across the Midwest. Professor Harold Hill (Robert Preston) has been the curse of traveling salesman across the state of Illinois. Thanks to his scams, even reputable salesmen can’t get the time of day before people are threatening tar and feathering. Having exhausted Illinois, Hill moves into Iowa and River City, just over the Mississippi, where he plans to run the exact same scam again.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fine China

Film: The Good Earth
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I’ve spoken of the acting prowess of the great Paul Muni before. He’s a forgotten actor these days, and it’s a damn shame. The man was, in addition to being a commensurate actor, a chameleon. This quality worked against him during his career because he was difficult to market. It works against him now, because he is frequently unrecognizable. In 1937, Muni had three movies released. One, The Life of Emile Zola, won Best Picture. Another, The Good Earth (the subject of this review), was nominated. It was a good year for Muni.

The Good Earth is an oddball of a film for 1937. It’s an epic, but it takes place in China, a world that would be completely alien to the majority of Americans. Once Muni was tagged to play Wang, the lead character of the film, the Hays Code required that any actress playing opposite him in the role of O-Lan, his wife, would need to be white as well. The role was filled by Luise Rainer, who became the first person to win back-to-back acting Oscars thanks to this role. It does feel like an odd film, though, especially these days with white actors in, for lack of a better word, yellowface. Some Chinese actors were used in other roles, but having white actors play foreign roles was hardly unusual for the time.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Junk Mail

Film: The Letter (1929)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve watch this story before. In situations like this, I probably should see the original version first, but I watched the 1940 version of The Letter with Bette Davis a couple of months ago. I didn’t have a ton of time today, though, and this one is nice and short, so it fit into my schedule nicely. As it turns out, I’m pretty happy it’s a short one because I’m not sure I would have wanted to watch it for much longer. When I say I’ve seen this story before, I mean that precisely—this is a pared down version and the ending is different, but there’s not a lot different between the two versions. I’m going to spoil this one, but believe me, that’s no big loss.

Leslie Crosbie (Jeanne Eagels, who was the first ever posthumous Oscar nominee for this role) is the bored wife of a rubber baron in the South Pacific. While he spends his day dealing with all of the problems of owning a rubber plantation, she finds a man named Geoffrey Hammond (Herbert Marshall) to spend quality time with. Eventually, the two fall apart and Hammond takes a Chinese lover named Li-Ti (Lady Tsen Mei). Desperate one evening, Leslie sends a litter to Geoffrey and demands to see him.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Off Script: House of Wax (1953)

Film: House of Wax
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s a suspicion among some that NetFlix is attempting to move more and more people to streaming because the disc service is a cash loser, or at least not much of a cash cow. It does seem more and more that every month or so, films on my queue slip into longer and longer wait categories and one or two per month slide down into being no longer available. That’s not terribly surprising for certain films, but when the film is the 1953 House of Wax, the first horror role for Vincent Price, I start to get suspicious. This is not a film that should become unavailable on NetFlix, but it has. So when it showed up on Turner Classic Movies on Halloween, I recorded it.

House of Wax is one of those special movies that, like a lot of the great Vincent Price stuff, is like a roller coaster ride. It’s not really scary, but fun-scary. We know we’re not going to see anything too terrible or awful. It’s going to be pretty gothic and likely have something like torture scenes. There will be a couple of murders, and in the end the bad guys will be killed or detained and the good guys will come out on top.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Better than the Shroud of Turin

Film: The Robe
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at the number of Biblical epics that appear on the Oscars lists. There was a time when anything set in that era could almost guarantee a nomination or two, it seems. In that respect, The Robe’s presence shouldn’t be too shocking. There are even a few Biblical epics I like unabashedly. I enjoy Ben-Hur, for instance, and The Ten Commandments is surprisingly entertaining, even for a heathen like me. It seems like there’s one every other year in the 1950s.

The Robe, though, is completely overwrought as a film. I put it on a par with a film like Quo Vadis, a few good performances, but a very odd depiction of Christianity. A film like The Robe seems to have been made in no small part as a way to play in to the idea of Christian persecution. While plenty of Christians don’t live a life of paranoia, there is a set of them who like to think of themselves as under the threat of constant oppression.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Yellow Journalism

Film: Five Star Final
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes I think it’s a shame that Edward G. Robinson made the movie Little Caesar. No matter how often I see him in something, my first thought when I know he’s going to be in something is of that character. It’s not fair to Robinson, who was a hell of a good actor and better than most of us remember. So, when a film like Five Star Final shows up, it’s unfair for me to think he’s going to be a gangster.

Then again, in Five Star Final, he plays something akin to a gangster. He plays Randall, the managing editor of a trashy New York City newspaper. Circulation is falling for the paper (slightly), and the owner Hinchecliffe (Oscar Apfel) is concerned. His decision is to make the paper a paragon of moral virtue by essentially doing prurient stories about the terrible crimes and placing the angle on the moral failings of the people involved. To get things going, he decides to reopen a murder case from 20 years earlier. A stenographer named Nancy Voorhees (Frances Starr) killed her boss, who had gotten her pregnant and then refused to marry her.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

And Hello, Guacamole

Film: Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
Format: DVD from Mount Carroll Township Public Library on laptop.

I tend to pick movies more or less at random and according to availability these days. I did the same thing with the 1001 Movies list, not wanting to spend too much time in any one era or year. When I switched over to Oscar films, I was left with a number of years in which I had seen most of the relevant films and other years where I had seen only a couple. One of those years where I’ve seen most of the films on my Oscar lists is 1939, widely considered one of the greatest years in Hollywood history. It’s hard to argue that point, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips only adds to that year’s luster.

I seem to say the following a lot: this is actually a pretty simple story, a plot that isn’t really much of a plot. Goodbye, Mr. Chips is much more a character study and the story of a man’s life than it is an actual plotted tale. And really, that’s all it is. Mr. Chipping (Robert Donat) begins the film as a newly hired Latin teacher at a British boarding school called Brookfield. We learn that Brookfield has a long and storied history, having been established at the end of the 15th century.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Butcher Holler

Film: Coal Miner’s Daughter
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I come to the penultimate Best Picture of the 1980s with some measure of trepidation. The actual story of Loretta Lynn, depicted here with some measure of accuracy, is almost legend. Loretta Lynn was a mother at 15 or so (the legend says 13) and a grandmother at 29. Knowing that, knowing that this was going to start with her being a child bride left me with a great feeling of unease. And, true to form, there’s a very strong child molestation vibe in the first half hour of this film that it’s difficult to get away from.

This is because we don’t start with Loretta Lynn and we aren’t going to experience this in some sort of flashback. No, we start with young Loretta Webb (Sissy Spacek), just shy of turning 14, living in a houseful of her brothers and sisters. It’s hardly a shock, based on the title, that her father Ted (Levon Helm) works in a coal mine while his wife Clary (Phyllis Boyens) raises the massive brood of children. She soon meets Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn (Tommy Lee Jones).

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sister Christian

Film: Elmer Gantry
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I had interesting, mixed feelings about watching Elmer Gantry. I make no secret about my lack of religious beliefs; in fact, I pretty much mention them every time a movie with significant religious overtones or themes shows up on this blog. I have a fairly regular readership, so those of you that read this blog regularly are likely thinking, “Here we go again.” Yeah. Sorry about that. It’s worth bringing up for films like Elmer Gantry, because it’s entirely possible that this might be someone’s first visit here. My lack of belief and skepticism almost certainly colors anything I have to say about a film that treads this heavily onto the territory of religion. For what it’s worth, I prize intellectual honesty.

There’s a lot to like with Elmer Gantry, starting with our title character, played by Burt Lancaster. When we first meet him, Elmer Gantry is a charming rascal, the kind of guy who could sell freezers to Inuit. He’s quick with a drink and an off-color joke as long as it keeps the sales rolling in. But it’s a depressing life, moving from place to place, living in dirty hotel rooms and picking up women without their husbands knowing.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

World Party

Film: Ship of Fools
Format: DVD from Mokena Community Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

The “Noah’s Ark” film has a long history in Hollywood. Films like Grand Hotel and Stagecoach are representative of the style. Ship of Fools, recipient of a whopping eight Oscar nominations and winner of two is exactly this sort of a film. It’s a sadly forgotten film for being one that had this much acclaim 50 years ago. This seems to happen pretty regularly with a lot of films. They get a great deal of acclaim in the moment but become less and less relevant for one reason or another. Ship of Fools is perhaps damaged by being a film not about World War II but the years half a dozen previous when the war was just a threat on the distant horizon.

Our ship contains quite the motley crew, as befits a Noah’s Ark film. We’re given a collection of personalities that would otherwise not be seen together in any other situation to see what happens when they are forced together. The ship is traveling from Veracruz to Bremerhaven in 1933, just at the beginning of the Nazi rise to power. Our collection of people include a group of Spanish dancers who have been hired as relatively uninspiring entertainment; an American couple (George Segal and Elizabeth Ashley) who have relationship problems based on his failure as an artist; an aging divorcee (Vivien Leigh) who drinks too much and flirts with every man in an effort to claim to be younger than her actual age; a failed baseball player (Lee Marvin); a countess (Simone Signoret) being taken to prison, an anti-Jewish businessman (Jose Ferrer); a Jewish salesman (Heinz Ruhmann); a dwarf shunned by proper German society (Michael Dunn); a ship’s doctor with a heart condition (Oskar Werner); and a collection of 600 workers in steerage being sent back to Spain from Cuba. It’s quite a mix.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Cat Fancy

Film: Inside Llewyn Davis
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I fully expected to love Inside Llewyn Davis. The fact that I didn’t, that I merely appreciate it and think it’s a well-made movie, makes me feel like something of a bad film geek. Mostly this is because virtually everyone I know who has seen it and every review I have read subsequent my viewing has raved about the film. I admit it’s a well-made film. I like the soundtrack a lot. It strikes me, though, as just another version of A Serious Man, which in my “I’ve seen 11 of the 16 Coen Brothers films” world ranks on the bottom. From what I know of it, I’m guessing that I might well have the same opinion of Barton Fink when I finally get around to it.

By this I mean that there is a strong streak of Kafka running through this film as well as with A Serious Man. There is very much the sense, a sense that the film go to great lengths to provide, that everyone knows what the score is and what is going on with the exception of our main character. There is a great deal of similarity between those main characters. Each is the type who, when told he is responsible for something, takes responsibility for it, whether he should or not. There is a feeling that the world makes sense to everyone but the character with whom we are to empathize. That character lives in a world that cannot be understood, in part because everyone else seems to understand it so well that they find no need to explain it. In truth, Brazil does the same thing.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ten Days of Terror!: The Devil's Backbone

Film: The Devil’s Backbone (El Espinazo del Diablo)
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

The Devil’s Backbone is one of those rare movies that appears on all three of my horror movie lists. It’s also a film I’ve avoided reviewing for some time. The reason for that is simple: I love The Devil’s Backbone like it is one of my own children. From the first time I saw it, this film rocketed into my all-time top-5 and has stayed put. What the hell do I say about it more than it’s damn close to perfect and everybody should watch it? Glowing, effusive, ridiculously positive reviews aren’t that much fun to write or read, but that’s what we’re in for here. I love everything about this movie.

For those who have seen Pan’s Labyrinth but not this one, we’re in similar territory. Pan’s Labyrinth is, in many ways, the younger sister of this film. Change the girl to a boy and change the fantasy aspects to a ghost story and you’ve got the basic idea. We’re still in the Spanish Civil War and we’re still in a film where the story works as a metaphor for the war and the war works as a metaphor for the story.

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1990

The Contenders:
Kevin Costner: Dances with Wolves (winner)
Francis Ford Coppola: The Godfather Part III
Martin Scorsese: Goodfellas
Stephen Frears: The Grifters
Barbet Schroeder: Reversal of Fortune

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ten Days of Terror!: Brain Damage

Film: Brain Damage
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Sometimes, I just don’t know where to begin. With a film like Brain Damage, there are a lot of places I could go, but I have no idea if any of them are the right place to begin. Is this a horror movie? Yes. Is it a comedy? Yes. Is it an attempt at a psychedelic freakout? Yeah, it’s that, too. Brain Damage manages to be funny, stupid, and incredibly offensive all at the same time. It honestly feels a bit like this film was created, at least in one part, to up the ante on the oral sex gag from Re-Animator. I’ll do my best to make sense of this film, but I’m not entirely sure it’s possible.

We begin with an older couple who seem pleasant enough despite the fact that the husband (Theo Barnes) has just brought back a large collection of brains from a butcher. His wife (Lucille Saint-Peter) places one of the raw brains on a plate with a sprig of parsley and walks into the bathroom and suddenly begins freaking out. Something, obviously the something that was soon to be snacking on brains, is missing. The couple panics and starts ransacking their apartment in search of whatever it is.

Ten Days of Terror!: Dead of Night

Film: Dead of Night
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

As a horror fan, I’d heard of Dead of Night before today, but had never had an opportunity to see it. Looking at films of this vintage, it’s easy to talk about influence, and Dead of Night certainly has had a great deal of influence on horror movies in general and on horror anthologies in particular that have followed it. For all of its cinematic heft, Dead of Night is probably the only horror movie to ever advance science, however temporarily. The story goes that Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold, and Hermann Bondi developed the Steady State idea of the universe as an alternative to the Big Bang model after seeing this film, and specifically due to the ultimate nature of the framing story presented here.

Like any anthology, we start with a framing story that pops in regularly between the stories of the film. There are five internal stories put together smartly—rising tension through the first three, a comedic spin on the fourth and then the hammer drop of scares in the fifth, only to wrap up the frame. Anthology films don’t always work because they don’t give their shorter tales enough room to breathe. Dead of Night solves this by putting most of its effort into both the frame and the fifth and scariest story. The first three tales are appetizers; the fourth is a palate cleanser, while the fifth and the frame are the main course.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ten Days of Terror!: The Abominable Dr. Phibes

Film: The Abominable Dr. Phibes
Format: Internet video on laptop.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes is a film I know only by reputation. For whatever reason, this film is incredibly difficult to find, but the sequel is surprisingly easy to locate. Anyway, when I found this online, I knew it was one I would watch right away. Part of this was from fear of the film vanishing and part because this was a film I very much wanted to see. I tend to like Vincent Price. Even if the movie is crap, Price is always worth watching.

Like plenty of horror movies of the era, The Abominable Dr. Phibes doesn’t waste lot of precious time with a convoluted plot. No, this is as simple as they come. Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) was allegedly killed in a car accident. No such luck, as it turns out. Instead he’s just incredibly disfigured. Phibes is powered by revenge, not for himself but for his dead wife. He is convinced that his wife was taken from him too soon by the incompetence of a cadre of doctors and a nurse. Now, working in the shadows, Phibes plans to enact his revenge by killing each of the doctors in turn, each on killed by a murder themed as reminiscent of one of the plagues of Egypt. Sort of—there are a few that are more tangential to the actual plagues.

Ten Days of Terror!: Humanoids from the Deep

Film: Humanoids from the Deep (Monster)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

Ah, Roger Corman brings such joy to the movie screen, doesn’t he? You pretty much know what you’re going to get with a film that Corman either directed or produced. You’re going to get some monsters, lots of nudity, and a running time under 90 minutes. With Humanoids from the Deep, also released under the title Monster, that’s what you’re getting. It’s Corman-style rapey sea creatures in a film that is either a highly-sexed version of The Creature from the Black Lagoon or a nudity-laden version of The Horror of Party Beach. There’s even social commentary, ham-handed as only Corman can do it.

Let’s keep this really simple. In Noyo, California, the main industry is salmon fishing, but the salmon are going away. A canning company called Canco (points for originality in the name) has plans to put a new facility into Noyo and also promises to increase the salmon catch dramatically. There are a few people in the town opposed to Canco, primarily Johnny Eagle (Anthony Pena), the local Indian guy and our unofficial stand-in for biological and ecological sanity. There’s a great deal of tension between Johnny Eagle and many of the drunk redneck locals, primarily Hank Slattery (Vic Goddam Morrow).