Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of Year Six

My goal in terms of movies this year was to watch 400 different movies. As I write this, I have, in fact, watched 400 different movies this year, and since the day is still young, it’s likely that I’ll get one or two beyond that. I may not have reached all of my other goals this year, but I did hit that one.

Among all of those movies were 25 I watched because I was challenged to. Here’s how those broke down:

Picks from Chip

Chip Lary at Tips from Chip was supposed to give me 12 movies to watch. He cheated a little and gave me 13, because two of these movies are tied together and really needed to be done as a double feature. Hey, who am I to complain about an extra movie? Here’s how I rank Chip’s collection top to bottom:

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hero Worship

Film: Hail the Conquering Hero
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

A couple of weeks ago, the Library of Congress announced the latest crop of films to be preserved in the National Film Registry. Among the honorees are Ghostbusters and Top Gun. While there are some odd additions (like a 1946 Disney film called The Story of Menstruation), the one that seems like it’s the furthest afield is Hail the Conquering Hero. Why? Because it seems completely forgotten.

Let’s get this out of the way straight off--Hail the Conquering Hero, for a screwball comedy from the war years, is the ballsiest thing you will see for a very long time. Preston Sturges could have easily sullied his reputation entirely and driven himself out of the film industry and possibly out of the country had this been tilted a couple of degrees one way or the other. This is very much a spoof on wartime society and it would have been very easy for this to be so completely offensive to the general public that Sturges would have literally needed to flee for his life. But it all works.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Not the Television Show

Film: The Odd Couple
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

If some of your formative years were in the 1970s, you remember The Odd Couple on television. When I was a kid, it ran in syndication on WGN out of Chicago in the early evening, and over the course of however many years, I saw every episode as far as I know. I can’t say that I’ve resisted watching the movie version of The Odd Couple based on Neil Simon’s play, but I also haven’t really sought it out. My worry—and it’s a worry that seems to have come true in some respects—was that I already knew the characters well enough that the movie wouldn’t have anywhere to take me.

And that’s the problem with The Odd Couple. It’s not that we’ve got different people playing the main roles than I’m used to. Sure, I grew up on this being Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, but both of them were essentially doing versions of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau from this movie. It’s more that I knew where the characters got to in the show, and the movie is more or less the origin story. Origin stories don’t always interest me that much. Nevertheless, The Odd Couple leaves streaming soon enough, and so I figured I might as well get it watched.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Bataan Love March

Film: So Proudly We Hail!
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Sometimes I don’t pay attention to my NetFlix queue, and what shows up is something I don’t expect. Thus it is that So Proudly We Hail! arrived the day after Christmas. Well, these movies don’t watch themselves, and I was going to watch it eventually anyway, right? I can’t say I was particularly in the mood for a medical drama, a war film, or a military romance. I also wasn’t really in the mood for a romantic film with Claudette Colbert at this point in her career. The elfin cuteness that defined Colbert in films like It Happened One Night had worn off at this point in her career. One of the main objections I had to The Palm Beach Story from the year previous to this release was the Colbert couldn’t pull off being the epitome of desirable womanhood. Still, I was interested to see Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake in their prime.

Now, if I’m completely honest (and I always try to be), I went into this completely cold. I expect this to be a straight happy propaganda film. I half expected it to be a musical. It’s not. It’s really, really not. This may be told from the perspective of nurses, but these are nurses who are on the front lines in the Philippines. There are battle sequences here that are as close as you’re going to find to the real thing for 1943. It’s pretty impressive, even if to modern eyes it’s easy to tell when we’re on a sound stage.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Normally, I post my list of ten necessary additions to the 1001 Movies list on Christmas. Christmas falls on a Friday this year, though, and the Oscar Got It Wrong posts take precedence over everything else I do here. That being the case, Santa’s showing up a day early this year with some suggestions for the keepers of The List. I have a hope that one day one of them will deign to visit this humble site and perhaps consider my opinion when it comes to adding some sadly forgotten films for an upcoming edition.

So here’s this year’s 10, many of which I saw for the first time this year. There’s no order other than the order I decided to go in.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Off Script: Black Christmas (1974)

Film: Black Christmas
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Bob Clark made two classic Christmas films. The first is perennial favorite A Christmas Story, which (along with Die Hard) is one of my favorite holiday movies. The other is Black Christmas, a film that in many ways helped define the slasher genre. Sure, Halloween is the one that made the genre viable and Bay of Blood was probably the first in the genre, but Black Christmas set much of the tone for what the slasher genre would become. There’s not a lot of gore, which may make it less exciting for the modern crowd, but what it lacks in blood it makes up for in being flat-out disturbing. It's worth noting as well that it's a rare film that appears on all three of my horror lists, but Black Christmas joins that rare company.

There isn’t much of a plot here, as the genre doesn’t demand one. A psychotic (who we never really see) breaks into a sorority house over the Christmas holiday and slaughters half a dozen people one by one. As far as it goes, there’s not really anything more than that. Oh, there are a few characters with traits and events in their lives and because of this we have a suspect or two, but really, Black Christmas is about a psychotic stalking young women and, for the bulk of the film, them not realizing that they’re really even in danger.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Beverage Service

Film: Flight
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

There was a time when Denzel Washington could do no wrong. He’s always been good, able to handle an action film or a straight drama as the film needed, and while not all of his movies are good ones, he’s generally pretty watchable at worst and magnetic at best. And while I like a few of his movies from the last decade or so, his “great performance/movie” output seemed to have dwindled. Flight, then, is something of a return to form.

I can only imagine that the impetus for the screenplay started with the incident of US Airways flight 1549, landed by pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger on the Hudson River in 2009. By all accounts, Sullenberger was a magnificent pilot and something of a boy scout. Flight takes the premise of a miraculous airplane landing but posits the question of what might happen if the heroic pilot was quite a bit less of a straight shooter than Sullenberger.

Monday, December 21, 2015

YourFace Picks Movies (Nick): Tokyo Godfathers

Film: Tokyo Godfathers (Tokyo Goddofazazu)
Format: Streaming video from Crackle on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is the twelfth in a series of twelve movies selected by the guys at YouFace. This is Nick’s fourth and final pick.

When Nick gave me Tokyo Godfathers (Tokyo Goddofazazu) to watch this year, he suggested that I save it until December since it takes place at Christmas. Make no mistake—this isn’t really a Christmas movie even if it has something like a Christmas miracle in it. It’s just something that takes place around Christmas. Nick likes making me watch anime because he knows that it’s an area of film where I am less familiar. I tend not to like fantasy and sci-fi-based anime because I always feel lost in it. Tokyo Godfathers features astonishing coincidences and strange events, but it’s based in the real world. It’s got that going for it.

Three homeless people, the drunk Gin (Toru Imori), the former female impersonator Hana (Yoshiaki Umegaki) and young runaway Miyuki (Aya Okamoto) discover an infant abandoned in a dumpster on Christmas Eve. The baby comes with a note that instructs the finder to take care of the child. There are also a few photographs that serve as clues to the child’s parents. While Hana immediately decides to raise the child, Gin and Miyuki want to turn the child over to the police. Hana eventually agrees, but instead decides to reunite the child (dubbed Kiyoko) to her parents. Thus sets off the chain of events that lead on a very circuitous route to the film’s resolution.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Surfin' Bird

Film: Surf’s Up
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

My local public library is undergoing a massive expansion and renovation. It’s close for the next month, which means that a couple of movies I had ordered through interlibrary loan were instead shunted to the public library one town over. When I went to pick them up, I discovered that I have the ability to check out anything from that library using my regular library card. Well, it was a nice surprise, as was finding Surf’s Up, the last nominee for Best Animated Feature I had left to watch…at least until the next Oscar nominations are announced.

In a more perfect world, I’d have left Song of the Sea until the end so that I could wrap up this category on a high note. Instead, I’m wrapping it up not on a sour one, but on a mediocre one. Surf’s Up isn’t a bad movie; it’s just a movie I’ve seen before. This is, beat for beat, the same thing as Cars except with surfing penguins instead of with NASCAR vehicles. It’s as if Sony took the money-making potential of the previous year’s Pixar film (the aforementioned Cars) and combined it with the previous year’s Best Animated Feature winner (dancing penguin extravaganza Happy Feet) in a quest for the best of both worlds.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Too Much Money

Film: Holiday
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

There are a few early films that focus on the plight of the poor, but once we hit the Great Depression, it seems that movies were more or less escapist entertainment from crushing poverty. Holiday, released in the latter half of 1930 and thus eligible for the fourth Oscars, is made up of purely white people problems. Rich people complain about being rich and, in something actually feels a few decades ahead of schedule, two people attempt to “find themselves” despite and in spite of their available fortune.

We begin with the whirlwind romance of Johnny Case (Robert Ames) and Julia Seton (Mary Astor). Johnny doesn’t have a great deal of money, but he’s aggressive and ambitious. He’s worked his whole life to put himself through law school and has managed a position with a good firm. Julia comes from big, big money. We catch them at the end of their 10th day together, a time when they plan to announce their engagement. The biggest stumbling block in view is Julia’s father, Edward (William Holden…no, not that William Holden).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Urban Love Story

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

I’m not really sure how to classify Claudine. Is this a Blaxploitation film? It kind of feels like it in one sense, except that only the fact that it deals with a virtually all-black cast and discusses social problems traditionally considered to be relevant to the urban black population. None of the other Blaxploitation hallmarks are here. Is it a social conscience movie? It deals pretty strongly with not just the welfare system but with the serious issues involved in getting off welfare. It deals with absentee fathers, teen pregnancy, and dealing with poverty. But it’s also a romance. I’m not really sure what Claudine is. However, Claudine seems to be pretty sure of what it wants to be; it’s not suffering from the multiple personality disorder of many films that attempt to cross or blend genres.

Claudine Price (Diahann Carroll) is a single mother living in Harlem with her six children from two failed marriages and two “almost marriages.” She is getting government assistance to make ends meet, and frequently hides a number of things around her house when someone shows up to check on her. She also hides her job, since being employed would reduce her benefits. As the film starts, she begins a relationship with Rupert “Roop” Marshall (James Earl Jones), a garbage collector. Her children are opposed to the relationship mainly because they figure that he’ll eventually leave her like all of the other men in her life have left her.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Picks from Chip: Brick

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

This is the twelfth in a series of twelve movies selected by Chip Lary at Tips from Chip.

A few years ago when I had a podcast with Nick Jobe at YourFace, we ran the show in a series of seasons. The idea was that our guest would pick a genre of film, Nick would pick a film in the genre he knew that I hadn’t seen, and I would pick a film in the genre he hadn’t seen. At least that was how it worked in theory. We did film noir every season, and every time we did, Nick toyed with the idea of having me watch Brick. When a Half Price Books had a massive movie sale last year (I got more than 50 movies for $30), I bought Brick figuring that I’d get to it eventually.

That eventually turned out to be sometime this year, since Chip put it on my list of 12 movies. Since I owned it, Brick was my insurance—if there was a planned film I couldn’t get, I could always fall back on watching this. Fortunately, that was never necessary, so Brick turns out to be movie #12. It’s a movie I’ve heard about from a lot of people, which means that, essentially sight unseen, I’m going into this with some expectations.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Day with Woody

Film: Broadway Danny Rose; Mighty Aphrodite
Format: MGM HD Channel (Danny Rose and DVD from Princeton Public Library through interlibrary loan (Aphrodite) on rockin’ flatscreen.

I tend to like Woody Allen. I’m not always sure why I like his films, but I often do. Allen isn’t always great, but he often is, and often is at least entertaining. When his writing is on, there are few people that can match him. I’ve liked almost every one of his films that I’ve seen. His dramas are tremendous and when his comedies are clicking, he’s among the best there is. In fact, one of Allen’s biggest problems is often Allen’s nebbish-y performance.

Broadway Danny Rose begins with the conceit that the entire story is going to be told in flashback as a story being told by a third-party observer. A number of old vaudeville-style and club performers are sitting around a New York deli discussing their pasts and the people they’ve known in the business. Eventually, the topic turns to former performer and eventual agent Danny Rose (Woody Allen). The men swap stories about him for a few moments until one says he’s got the ultimate Danny Rose story. This story will be the basis for the film.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Waiting Game

Film: Wing and a Prayer
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Watch enough propaganda films and eventually you start to discern interesting shades of difference between them. There are the out-and-out jingoistic propaganda films. There are those who try to assert their message more subtly, and there are those that attempt as much as possible to depict war as the brutal necessity is sometimes is. Wing and a Prayer (also called The Story of Carrier X) is that sort of film. The movie used real war footage—not a rarity—but uses it effectively. In a lot of ways, Wing and a Prayer is pretty standard fare for a war film made during wartime, but it attempts to be more and sometimes succeeds.

The film begins a few months after Pearl Harbor with the premise that the American people are desperate to figure out why the American Navy has not retaliated against the Japanese. The truth is that the attack weakened the Americans and the desire is to prevent the Japanese from learning the extent of the damage. To this end, a plan is developed. A single carrier, the one that we’ll be spending time on for the length of the film, will be sailed around the Pacific to make it appear that the American fleet is dispersed throughout the ocean. The goal of the plan is to get the Japanese to commit their forces to Midway, allowing the Americans to strike at a large part fo the Japanese fleet with the element of surprise.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Fair Pygmalion

Film: Educating Rita
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

In the original story of Pygmalion, a sculptor who turns the heads of all the ladies makes a statue that is so perfect that he falls in love with it. When George Bernard Shaw wrote the play of the same name, he had a character “make” a woman from the streets into a lady of society, with love blooming along the way. Toss in music and you’ve got My Fair Lady. Hell, turn the man into a millionaire and the woman into a hooker and you’ve got Pretty Woman. In the case of Educating Rita, we keep the professor, but the woman who is to be turned into something more is a much more willing recipient of her education. In fact, it’s she who starts process.

Susan White (Julie Walters in her big screen debut) is a hairdresser who, based on her accent, is from Liverpool. She’s definitely blue collar and she and those around her have very low expectations of her, life, and the rest of the world. She wants more, though. She dubs herself “Rita” and decides to enroll in courses at Open University in the UK. Open University was doing distance learning before it was cool. The idea is the students would meet with a tutor once a week, do assignments on their own, and eventually test through their courses. Rita’s assigned tutor is Frank Bryant (Michael Caine).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

May/December Yet Again

Film: Murphy’s Romance
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

Those who remember James Garner tend to remember him much more as a television star than as a movie star thanks to Maverick and The Rockford Files, or possibly in his role as the spokesman for beef. However, he did have a film career and earned a single Oscar nomination for Murphy’s Romance. Garner’s most obvious quality is that he is immediately likable on camera. I’d have loved to see him play a real villain (if you know of a case where he did, please let me know) instead of a lovable cad or mildly immoral but endearing rogue. Murphy’s Romance is that sort of movie, although he’s less a rogue and more just a “character.”

Despite the movie being named after Murphy Jones (Garner) and being Garner’s only Oscar nomination, we’re actually focused on the subject of Murphy’s romance—Emma Moriarty (Sally Field). Emma has just arrived in a small Arizona town with her son Jake (Corey Haim, yes, one of the Coreys) after a recent divorce. Looking to start over, Emma has purchased a ranch and intends to start a business caring for and training the horses of the locals. She first meets the titular Murphy, the local pharmacist, while putting flyers out to advertise her new business.

Monday, December 7, 2015

An Accounting Ledger for a Heart

Film: The Wings of the Dove
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

When I see a movie like The Wings of the Dove, I remember that there was a time when Helena Bonham Carter was the darling of Merchant/Ivory. There was a time when she seemed to be central in just about every costume-y movie there ever was. And then I realize two things. First, The Wings of the Dove is not a Merchant/Ivory film. Second, Helena Bonham Carter almost always seems to be in costume-y things regardless of who is directing or producing.

Nonetheless, The Wings of the Dove takes place at the end of the Edwardian period. Young Kate Croy (Helena Bonham Carter) lives at the behest of her stern and judgmental aunt Maude (Charlotte Rampling). Kate’s father (Michael Gambon) is an opium addict, something that assisted Kate’s mother into an early grave. Maude has dedicated herself to preventing such a fate for her niece. Instead, she devotes herself to correcting Kate’s behavior and getting her introduced into good society.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Lying in the Gutter You Can See the Stars

Film: Seventh Heaven
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Despite the fact that I’ve watched a bunch of them, I still tend to find silent films difficult. Silent horror films are interesting and plenty of silent comedies are still funny. But silent dramas? They’re a whole different thing. There’s always a little part of me that dreads them a little when they show up. This might be only the second new-to-me silent drama I’ve seen this year. Seventh Heaven showed up from NetFlix only because I forgot to rearrange the queue when I sent the last film back, so I can’t admit that I was looking forward to it or actively chose it. But I’d have to watch it eventually, right?

Straight off, there are going to be issues here for me. One of our two main characters, Chico (Charles Farrell) admits early in the film that he is an atheist. That’s a huge red flag for me that we’re going to be mired at least some of the time in religious foofaraw. Not many atheists maintain that position in a Hollywood film, and that was far more true back in the day than it is now. So I can guess where Seventh Heaven is going to go eventually within the first couple of minutes.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Wild Wild West

Film: The Professionals
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I record a lot of stuff off Turner Classic because there are a number of movies that aren’t available on NetFlix. I get a lot of these from libraries as well, but it’s hard to pass up when they just show up waiting to be recorded. The Professionals is one I recorded because it’s NetFlix unavailable. I went into it cold, knowing only that it sounds like an action film with that name. What a joy to discover that not only is it a badass action film, it’s also a film that has a “holy shit” cast list. Seriously—Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Woody Strode, Jack Palance, Claudia Cardinale, and Ralph Bellamy.

What makes The Professionals interesting is that it’s clearly a Western, but it’s just as clearly a couple of other things, too. It’s a Western in that it takes place in the American West and features horses and gun battles, but it’s a much more modern story. It takes place either during or just after World War I during the tail end of the Mexican revolution. It has similarities to film noir. It’s a rollicking action film as well. It’s also not too dissimilar from war movies that feature a small band of men assaulting a much larger force.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Emotional Baggage

Film: Random Harvest
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Melodrama has fallen out of favor. Okay, that’s kind of misleading. Melodrama fell out of favor a long, long time ago, but there was a time when movie dramas could almost always be counted on to be highly melodramatic. Take a star-crossed romance, a case of amnesia multiplied by two, and a love that apparently worth living in constant pain for, and you’ve got all of the makings of a melodrama for the ages. In this case, that melodrama is called Random Harvest.

A man called John Smith (Ronald Colman) is living in an asylum in England. He’s in the asylum because he has returned from the First World War shell shocked and without his memory. The shell shock has also made him self-conscious and virtually unable to speak. On the night of the armistice, “Smith” wanders out of the asylum because the guards are too busy celebrating to keep track of him. He’s more or less lost and terrified, and is taken in by a woman calling herself Paula (Greer Garson—the character’s real name is Margaret), which is really just her stage name. She realizes “Smithy” is harmless and decides to add him to the traveling troupe. Eventually, the pair run off and get married.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Film: The Citadel
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Every now and then, a movie surprises me. The Citadel turned out to be a pretty big surprise. I expected on thing based on the blurb for the film on Turner Classic Movies, or at least on the recording I had on the DVR. According to that blurb, The Citadel was about a doctor attempting to help mine workers and be thwarted in his research. That certainly happens during the course of the film, but it happens in the first act and is then pretty much forgotten.

This is, though, the story of a doctor. Andrew Manson (Robert Donat) has newly qualified as a doctor and takes a job in Wales. There are a number of obstacles to overcome, not the least of which is that in the world of The Citadel, the Welsh are completely backwards, hidebound, and fearing of any change. Manson realizes that many of the locals are sick because of problems with the local sewage system. With the aid of his friend Dr. Phillip Denny (Ralph Richardson), the two blow up the sewer with dynamite, forcing the British government to rebuild it. The tyrant of a wife of his boss forces him to quit, and he takes a job as a doctor for a mining company. The position requires that he be married, so he awkwardly proposes to the local schoolmistress, Chris (Rosalind Russell), who accepts.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

You Never Forget Your First Girl

Film: Summer of ‘42
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Every time watch a coming-of-age story, I seem to end up talking about the same thing. There are really only two coming-of-age stories in the world evidently. Either the protagonist learns about death because someone close dies or the protagonist learns about sex. Usually, the story for a guy is the death story. When a guy comes of age in the movie, it’s about confronting his own mortality. For women, it’s usually the sex story. Coming of age for a woman is about coming to terms with her ability to create new life. It changes up now and then, though. Sex comedies, for instance, tend to be about guys coming of age through sex. And so we have Summer of ‘42, which is going to be that sort of film.

Hermie (Gary Grimes) is 15 and spending the summer with his family on a beach in New England. His friends Oscy (Jerry Houser) and Benjie (Oliver Conant) are there as well. Like most 15-year-old boys, the trio is obsessed with girls and the idea of sex. They don’t really know what sex is (although Benjie steals a book from the house his family is staying in), but they’re obsessed with it nonetheless. For Hermie, things change when he encounters Dorothy (Jennifer O’Neill) a young bride who is living on the island with her husband.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Get Along, Little Lamb Chops

Film: The Sheepman
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are a few classic Western plots. The first is that the railroad is coming through town and people fight over whether or not the railroad will be a good thing or a bad thing. Generally speaking, someone is buying up all the land in the area to make money off the railroad and the peaceful and good ranchers will end up getting screwed by the landholder when the train comes through. The second classic plot pits cattle ranchers against sheepherders. With a title like The Sheepman it should be obvious which of these two plots is going to take place here.

Jason Sweet (Glenn Ford) rolls into a fairly stereotypical town (you know, one hotel, a saloon, lots of cattle ranchers) and immediately starts making waves. It’s not long before he has demonstrated to the people in town that he gets what he wants whenever he wants it and takes no guff from anyone. In fact, within those first few minutes, he has managed to bamboozle the local merchant into giving him a saddle at a steep discount, bought the livery stable owner’s personal horse for a pittance, and picked a fight (and won) against the toughest man in town.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Come Sail Away

Film: The Long Voyage Home
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

John Ford was one of five Hollywood directors who went to war in the 1940s. Of the five, Ford essentially joined up before the U.S. entered the war under the assumption that we’d be there eventually. He was also the only one to enlist in the navy. Ford’s main concern initially was figuring out how to film in wartime conditions. The Long Voyage Home, adapted from a series of Eugene O’Neill short plays, was Ford’s first attempt at this. This is tangentially a war film, since we’re dealing instead with the Merchant Marine, but it’s taking place in wartime conditions, and has a plot updated from the plays to include real events of the ongoing conflict.

So, while this is a war film, we’re not going to see or hear a single shot fired. Instead, we’re going to spend time both at sea and in port with the crew of a tramp steamer called Glencairn. It’s a diverse crew of Americans, British, Irish, and Swedes who seem more or less to get along and who are happy to live under the sway of Aloysius “Drisk” Driscoll (Thomas Mitchell). Drisk likes a good scrap and loves a good drink, and so as he goes goes the crew of Glencairn. On board with him are Smitty (Ian Hunter), a taciturn Brit with upper-class tendencies; Cocky (Barry Fitzgerald), a man who has seen too much to go back to land; Yank (Ward Bond), who’s happy to be wherever he is; and Ole Olsen (John Wayne), a Swedish farmboy taken to sea and longing to get back home.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

She Wears Seal Coats by the Seashore

Film: Song of the Sea
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

There are plenty of times that Oscar nominates the wrong film, but there are times when a nomination brings attention to a film that would otherwise be missed or ignored. This is what happened in 2009 when The Secret of Kells was an unheard of film that managed a nomination. Filmmaker Tomm Moore earned another, similar nomination in 2014 with Song of the Sea, which uses some similar animation to tell another story based in Celtic mythology. This time, the story is centered more in the modern world, although one pre-cell phones.

Ben (David Rawle) is a young child awaiting the birth of a new sibling. He’s helping his mother Bronach (Lisa Hannigan) prepare a room for the new child by helping paint scenes of Celtic myths on the nursery walls. Ben goes to sleep, with his mother giving him the gift of a seashell horn. That night, the child comes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Beginnings and Endings

Film: Marriage Italian Style (Matrimonio all’Italiana); Divorce Italian Style (Divorzio all’Italiana)
Format: DVD from NetFlix (Marriage) and streaming video from Kanopy (Divorce), both on laptop.

The school I work for has recently signed up for a new movie database called Kanopy. I did a quick check of what it has, and there are a few I’d really like to see lurking in tis corners. When Marriage Italian Style showed up from NetFlix, I knew it was time to take Kanopy on a test run as the back half of a double feature. As it happens, of these two movies, Marriage Italian Style was released second. However, it only makes sense to have the marriage before the divorce.

The premise for Marriage Italian Style is entertaining. A wealthy businessman named Domenico Soriano (Marcello Mastroianni) is summoned to the home of his mistress. She has collapsed and is near death. We get a long flashback from him to tell us the story of him and his mistress. The two met during a bombing raid in World War II. Domenico finds a young girl in a brothel who refuses to leave because the public will see her and know where she works. This is Filumena Marturano (Sophia Loren), and it’s the start of a long relationship.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Afterlife Delight

Film: Ghost
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

The biggest shock in revisiting Ghost was not that Demi Moore can and Patrick Swayze could act. It’s that this was directed by Jerry Zucker who is far more famous for directing films like Airplane! I say “revisiting” in the sense that I think I’ve seen all of Ghost at one point or another, but I’m not sure I ever watched it start to finish. There’s a lot here worth recommending, and that comes from someone who doesn’t generally choose romances and who also has no supernatural beliefs. Obviously, they did something right here.

Chances are good that you’re already familiar with Ghost, so I’ll keep the plot summary to a minimum here. Banker/financier Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) and his artist/pottery wheel aficionado girlfriend Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) have decided to move in together in a big old loft that they are refurbishing. Naturally, since Sam pulls down bank at the bank and Molly is evidently successful enough to get pieces in galleries, their place is pure moviedom fantasy.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Off Script: Angel Heart

Film: Angel Heart
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on various players.

By the time it wraps up, Angel Heart has gone through almost a half dozen gruesome and grisly murders and has moved from New York to New Orleans. But the film could have essentially been a short feature. We as the audience jump through a lot of hoops and have to keep a lot of plates spinning to get to the final sequence that finally reveals what many of us will deduce from previous scenes. Ultimately, we realize that a great deal of the film could have been handled by extending an early scene instead. Because of this, Angel Heart is about the journey rather than the destination.

Downtrodden private investigator Harold Angel (Mickey Rourke, back when he still had his own face) is contacted by a lawyer named Winesap (Dann Florek) to meet with a client. This client, Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro) is an imposing gentleman with a full beard, immaculate black suit, and long, pointed fingernails that intentionally look like claws. Cyphre tells Harry Angel that a singer who was starting to make a name for himself a dozen years previous during World War II has backed out on his contract. He wants Angel to track the man down.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Not Another Alzheimer's Movie

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

There are times when I get frustrated with my Oscar lists. The biggest personal issue I have is that the genres that I tend to like—action, science fiction, horror—are rarely represented in the categories I am watching. In a sense, that’s sort of why I started doing this. It’s a way to further expose myself to films that I would otherwise miss. What that often means, though, is that a lot of what I watch ends up depressing me. Such is the case with Away from Her. I can’t say I’m ever really in the mood for a movie about Alzheimer’s disease.

One thing I’ll say for it is that it doesn’t take long to get started. We’re introduced to Grant (Gordon Pinsent) and Fiona Anderson (Julie Christie). They have been married for more than four decades, and now Fiona is starting to fade. It’s evident that she has an early-onset form of Alzheimer’s. She has started to forget where things are and forget what she is doing. As she begins to fade, she makes the decision (and it is her decision) to move to a care facility.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

I'll Sue for This!

Film: Libeled Lady
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s a joy going into a film completely cold. Based solely on the title and the year, I figured Libeled Lady was probably a melodrama starring someone like Bette Davis. What a joy to discover that this is a William Powell/Myrna Loy screwball comedy with Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow. Libeled Lady was one of at least three Powell/Loy films from 1936; both After the Thin Man and the Best Picture-winning The Great Ziegfeld were released the same year. I like Powell and I love Myrna Loy, and I especially like them both together.

Like many a screwball comedy, there’s a large romantic subplot here and the plot turns on the functions of a newspaper. Warren Haggarty (Spencer Tracy), managing editor for the New York Evening Star is pulled away from preparing for his wedding to deal with a serious problem. A report has come in from Europe accusing Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy) of breaking up a marriage. Connie’s father (Walter Connolly) is a long-time enemy of the paper, making the story extra-juicy. The problem is that Connie wasn’t at the event in the story and is completely innocent. While the Evening Star attempts to recall the papers, a few get out, and Connie files a $5 million libel suit.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Secret Service Man

Film: In the Line of Fire
Format: DVD from Polo Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

Certain genres follow certain formulas. We all know this. It’s what allows writers and directors to play with those very conventions. I get frustrated by movies that play so closely to an established formula for story. I’m always a little disappointed when a film lands so closely to the formula that I can predict where it’s going to go or that I know what major events are going to happen during the running time. In the Line of Fire is a movie that adheres pretty closely to a given formula. I didn’t predict every moment of it, but there weren’t a lot of surprises here.

Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) is a Secret Service agent. In fact, he’s the only active agent who has ever “lost” a president; Horrigan (a digitally inserted, much younger Eastwood) was in Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas. These days, Horrigan is still working the field. As the film starts, we’re introduced to Al D’Andrea (Dylan McDermott), his new partner. The two bust a drug operation, a bust in which D’Andrea is almost killed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fame at Any Price

Film: Love Me or Leave Me
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve always liked James Cagney. Like a lot of the classic Golden Age actors, Cagney got roped into a particular type. Think of Cagney and you think of a tough thug, his character from White Heat or The Public Enemy, or even Mister Roberts. It’s easy to forget that Cagney was a unique song and dance man as well, as evidenced by Yankee Doodle Dandy. With Love Me or Leave Me, we get both of those worlds. Cagney doesn’t dance here, but this is definitely a musical, and Cagney gets to go back to his thuggish roots. It’s also, according to IMDB, only the second time since he became a star that Cagney settled for second billing, ceding the top spot to Doris Day. It’s also evidently Cagney’s last gangster role, which makes it noteworthy.

Love Me or Leave Me is the story of Ruth Etting, and it’s evidently based at least in part on a real story of the real Ruth Etting (Doris Day). I don’t know how true to life it is. I’ll be frank: I’d never heard of Ruth Etting before popping this into the spinner and only know this is based on a real story because of my post-viewing research on the film.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

El Gato con Botas

Film: Puss in Boots
Format: DVD from Erie Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

I liked the two Shrek movies I’ve seen. With Shrek 2, the single best addition was the character of Puss in Boots. I wasn’t really surprised that Puss got his own eponymous film because I was not alone in thinking that he was the best thing in the Shrek sequel. Puss in Boots uses a bit from the movies from whence he came in terms of the style of animation, but this is a movie that is entirely its own. There’s a sense that this wants to be something more than just a spin-off property, although there’s no reason that Puss in Boots would exist or exist in this way as a stand-alone film.

So, we have Puss (Antonio Banderas) who is a fugitive from justice for a crime he claims not to have committed. He hears tell of Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris), two outlaws who have come into possession of three magic beans. The magic beans have been a lifelong quest of Puss and he moves to steal them despite the huge danger posed by the two criminals. However, his attempt is thwarted by another feline thief. Neither of them get away with the beans, and Puss follows the other thief to a club.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Your Face Picks Movies (Nolahn): The World's End

Film: The World’s End
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

This is the eleventh in a series of twelve movies selected by the guys at YourFace. This is Nolahn’s fourth and final pick.

Third movies in a trilogy are often a disappointment. Think of all the trilogies where things punk out in the third film: X-Men, Spider-Man, Alien, The Godfather…the list goes on. So it is that I avoided The World’s End, the third film of Edgar Wright’s unofficial Cornetto Trilogy, for fear that it wouldn’t live up to the cinematic joys of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz. Nolahn wouldn’t let me get away with that, though, so here we are.

Gary King (Simon Pegg) is working on a career as a wastrel and alcoholic finishes what looks like a 12-step meeting where he relates the story of the best night of his life—an attempt to have a pint at all 12 pubs in his home town. This feat, known as the Golden Mile, was abandoned. In an attempt to reclaim that past glory, Gary decides to track down his four estranged high school friends and reattempt the feat.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Song and Dance

Film: Topsy-Turvy
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

Over the past six years, I’ve become much less of a musical hater and have found a number of them that I appreciate. That doesn’t mean that I was especially enthused about the prospect of Topsy-Turvy about the almost break-up of lyricist William Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan and the creation of the comic opera The Mikado. The more than 2 ½ hour length was off-putting as well. But I had to watch it eventually, and today was as good as any other day.

As the movie starts, Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) is seriously ill, but still manages to drag himself to the Savoy Theater to conduct the opera for Princess Ida, the latest Gilbert and Sullivan production. William Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) is unable to watch the opening night and paces the streets of London as usual. Princess Ida receives flat reviews and the general thought is that perhaps Gilbert and Sullivan have run out of ideas. Nothing seems to match the strength of H.M.S. Pinafore or The Pirates of Penzance. Sullivan retires to the continent to convalesce. When ticket sales for Princess Ida dry up in the summer heat and no new production to put on, theater owner Richard D’Oyly Carte (Ron Cook) reprises an earlier work called The Sorcerer.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Original vs. Remake

Film: Cape Fear (1962); Cape Fear (1991)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive (1962), DVD from NetFlix (1991), both on laptop.

When the 1991 version of Cape Fear showed up in the mail from NetFlix, I knew I had the rare opportunity for a perfect double feature. It was only appropriate to begin with the 1962 version of Cape Fear. Sure, it meant that I’d be spending about four hours watching the same basic story twice, but no matter. After all, the NetFlix movie needs to go back, but it only makes sense to see the original before the remake. It would be an interesting opportunity to directly compare and contrast the two films with both fresh in my memory.

The original Cape Fear was evidently a bust in terms of box office, which makes it an interesting choice for a remake. Evidently, it failed so badly that it spelled the end for Gregory Peck’s production company. Since that time, though, it has become something of a classic. It’s an interesting film in the sense that it features the work of high-profile stars Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, but is essentially a B-movie. I guess that makes it a B-movie with A-list aspirations.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Scheming Schemers Scheme

Film: The Lion in Winter
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I’ve had a copy of The Lion in Winter sitting on my shelf for a couple of years but I haven’t gotten around to it until tonight. I knew nothing about the story going in. In fact, all I knew was that it was a period piece taking place close to a millennium ago and that it was nominated for a metric ton of Oscars. I didn’t know that it was based on a play, that at least some of the history of it is accurate (although the details are entirely fictional). It’s also worth noting that I thought I had seen some really hateful families before, but none like the people we meet here. The Lion in Winter almost certainly had some impact on Game of Thrones. At the very least, there’s a lot of similarity in the way the characters interact.

More or less this is a sort of prequel to the story of Robin Hood. What that means is that we’re dealing with the father of Richard the Lionheart and both Richard and John play a significant role in the story. The Lion in Winter is about the various maneuverings for the throne. There are three sons vying for the throne, the king himself attempting to keep his kingdom together and work out a proper succession, an angry young king of France, a woman who holds the key to several territories, and the queen, who spends most of her life imprisoned and is as conniving as everyone else in the story.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Crazy for Feeling this Way

Film: Tom & Viv
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

After I watch a film and write it up, I have a particular process I go through. I post the review, update pages with the direct link, post on Twitter, and then post a haiku about the film on Letterboxd. With Tom & Viv, that particular process was interrupted when I noticed just how few people had actually claimed to have seen this film on Letterboxd; the number is under 60. Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t say I’m surprised. This is one of those films that I wouldn’t have gotten through, save the fact that it’s on one of my Oscar lists.

There are plenty of movies that get forgotten over time. Sometimes, this is entirely justified and the movie doesn’t really have a good reason to be remembered. At other times, a film is simply overlooked or slips through the cracks of cinematic history. With Tom & Viv, I’m not sure which of these is the case. This is not a film that I can say I enjoyed watching. It’s actually pretty awful in a lot of ways, or at least the story is. However, it also contains one of the truly great acting performances I’ve seen in some time.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Picks from Chip: Mary and Max

Film: Mary and Max
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is the eleventh in a series of twelve movies selected by Chip Lary at Tips from Chip.

Mary and Max is a film I’d heard a lot about, almost all of it positive. I went in with great hopes for the story, in no small part because it is surprisingly drab and ugly visually. I’m not saying it doesn’t have its charms, but Mary and Max is almost shockingly ugly. It’s also almost exclusively in shades of brown and black with a few spots of red. It’s also the darkest movie I’ve seen in a long time.

Based on that paragraph, I’m guessing that Chip is worried, so I’ll quell his fears now. There’s a lot to like with Mary and Max, even if the darkness is almost oppressive at times. Our characters are the ultimate outcasts of their respective societies and when anything good happens to either of them, save at the conclusion, it’s only a temporary reprieve for something worse about to happen. Many of the events feel like the worst of all possible worlds.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Assumed Identities

Film: The Talented Mr. Ripley
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Matt Damon was around before 1997, but that was the year he really hit it big. Of the films he did in those first heady years of his fame, The Talented Mr. Ripley is the one that seems not to fit with the others. And yet this is a film that very much plays to his strengths. Matt Damon, like him or not, is blessed with the ability to be both likable and sympathetic. Most people want to like Matt Damon, and in The Talented Mr. Ripley, wanting to like Matt Damon’s character is what gives the film its strength.

Everything starts with a borrowed jacket and a chance meeting. Tom Ripley (Damon), sits in at a cocktail party as the pianist. He is approached by wealthy industrialist Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn), who has noticed the Princeton logo on Ripley’s borrowed jacket. Greenleaf is concerned about the direction his son’s life has taken. Young Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) his bumming around Italy, frequenting jazz clubs and wasting his father’s money. Herbert Greenleaf offers Tom $1,000 (a decent sum in the 1950s) to go to Italy and convince Dickie to return to New York. Tom agrees on the pretense that he knew Dickie at Princeton despite not really knowing him and having never been a student at Princeton.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Horse Tale

Film: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
Format: DVD from Geneseo Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

Of all the films on the Best Animated Feature list, one of the ones that was a complete cipher to me going in was Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. No one I know has seen this. Actually, it’s truer to say that I know of no one who has seen this, since I’m sure that there are a couple of people who have and I’m just not aware of it. I had no idea what to expect with this; with no known opinion, I had no idea of even the critical take on the film.

The story isn’t one that is going to be a huge shock, even based on the cover of the DVD case. We start with an unnamed wild mustang being born and growing up sometime roughly just pre- or just-post American Civil War. This will be our protagonist, who isn’t named until the end of the film. Eventually, our horse friend meets with civilization, both white and Native American and comes to something like an understanding of life in both cultures. Spirit is unquestionably a film that is pushing a particular agenda here, one that will be familiar to any movie that features a “noble savage” sort of culture. Yeah, this one’s not any different in that respect.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Film: The Imitation Game
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Of all the movies that appeared on my Oscar lists from 2014, The Imitation Game was the one that I think I was the most interested in. I knew quite a bit about Alan Turing going into the movie and I find cryptanalysis fascinating. It was a story that I wanted to see, and with a cast like this one, I went in with very high expectations. Alan Turing’s story is important. It was important when it happened and it’s still an important one.

And as sometimes happens, I’m of two minds on the film. On the one hand, The Imitation Game is a compelling story well told. On the other hand, it suffers from the same problems that Zero Dark Thirty does. It takes a story that is already compelling on its face without any need for embellishment and embellishes it anyway, adding drama it doesn’t need and changing reality for the sake of a story that doesn’t need changes to remain vital and interesting. I get why this happens sometimes, but I still find it frustrating, because movies often become our reality even when they don’t actually reflect that reality. I promise I won’t go off on a rant here or delve too deeply into how the film differs from the real history. Know, though, that many of the details of the success of Turing and his team were substantially different than depicted here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

All the World's a Bar

Film: Only When I Laugh
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

The clearing of my DVR backlog continues today with Only When I Laugh, a film I’ve had recorded for some time and just haven’t gotten to. This is a film based on a Neil Simon play. I have a mixed reaction to Simon’s work; sometimes I really like him and sometimes I find it far too clever to be believable. It’s also a film that stars Marsha Mason, and I don’t find that I like her much at all. I’ve more or less dreaded this one, but figured that I might as well knock it out. I had originally planned a double feature today with another Neil Simon movie starring Marsha Mason. That I only got through this one should indicate a lot.

Only When I Laugh does manage to jump on a couple of my nerves when it comes to Neil Simon’s work. Part of this is, well, Marsha Mason, who I’ve determined that I pretty much don’t like. I don’t know if it’s her or if it’s specifically her in Neil Simon’s work. In any case, I’ve seen her in a couple of movies (both penned by Simon) and I like her in exactly neither of them. So there’s a major strike.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Slacker Cinema

Film: I Vitelloni
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are films out there that wield a tremendous amount of influence in the cinematic world. Halloween, for instance, is single-handedly responsible for a number of horror movie and slasher tropes just by way of example. I’d been told that I Vitelloni carries that same sort of responsibility; it’s basically the first movie about young slackers ever made. In that respect, I was curious to see it. On the other hand, this is a film by Federico Fellini, and I’ve almost always been underwhelmed by Fellini in the past. Oh, I see the talent; I just don’t always like the movie. In the case of something like Satyricon, I don’t even really see the talent.

That said, I Vitelloni really is slacker cinema. We have a group of five young men in a small coastal Italian town who spend their days mostly doing nothing but wishing they could do something else. The leader of the group is Fausto (Franco Fabrizi), a womanizer who has managed to get the sister of Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi) pregnant. Most of the film comes from the point of view of Moraldo, or at least he is our narrator, and in the case of this film, the surrogate for Fellini.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Prop Plane Propaganda

Film: Air Force
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I have a strange fascination with World War II propaganda films. I think the main reason for me is that World War II feels like the last time we had a right to make propaganda films in the U.S. Air Force is one with which I was not familiar. As the name implies, we’ll be spending a lot of time in the air with this one, and in the case of this film, it will be with the crew of a single bomber. This was a film made in 1943, right in the middle of the war, and it takes us from the day before Pearl Harbor to the start of air raids on Japan. Actually, based on the timing of the film, it might well be the famous Doolittle raid that is hinted at in the closing moments.

As the film starts, we meet the crew of the Army bomber Mary-Ann, and it is a motley assortment. Our pilot is “Irish” Quincannon (John Ridgely), a former instructor with a wife and young son. He is assisted in the cockpit by Williams (Gig Young) and bombardier Thomas McMartin (Arthur Kennedy). The navigator is Monk Hauser Jr. (Charles Drake), son of a legendary World War I pilot. The ship’s crew chief is Robbie White (Harry Carey), who has a son stationed on Manilla. Rounding out the relevant crew are radiomen Peterson (Ward Wood) and Chester (Ray Montgomery), assistant crew chief Weinberg (George Tobias), and gunner Joe Winocki (John Garfield). It soon comes to light that Quincannon and Winocki know each other. Winocki was washed out of pilot training because of an accident, and Quincannon was the man who pulled the trigger.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Ten Days of Terror: Stir of Echoes

Film: Stir of Echoes
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I started looking through the different horror and horror-related films on my various lists to do the two-posts-per-day thing I had planned for the end of October, I knew that I’d be watching Stir of Echoes on Halloween. I love Stir of Echoes and it’s been ages since I had watched it. This is a movie that benefits from both being remembered as good (it is) and from a long time between viewings so that a lot of the specifics can be forgotten.

I really like Stir of Echoes a lot. This is a film that was ignored in 1999 because it was released about six weeks after The Sixth Sense and it has a great number of plot similarities. Primarily it features a young kid who can see dead people. I contend that if the release dates had been reversed that this might well be the movie that people know. I think it’s a superior movie in pretty much every aspect.

Ten Days of Terror!: Leave Her to Heaven

Film: Leave Her to Heaven
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

For the last two years, I’ve focused on traditional horror movies in the last 10 days of October. I do this because I like horror movies in general, love great horror movies, and because I tend to be so focused on Oscar movies that I don’t leave a lot of room for the scary stuff. There are times when I’ll slide more into thriller territory during these horror binges, but most of the time, I stick with the movies that would be classified by almost everyone as horror. Leave Her to Heaven is my biggest deviation from that typical late-October film. This is sort of a film noir despite being in glorious Technicolor. Rather than a traditional noir, though, this is the story of the coldest femme fatale in cinematic history.

Leave Her to Heaven is a film that’s told almost entirely in flashback, but it’s also a film that we forget is told in flashback almost immediately. As it opens, we’re introduced to Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde), a novelist who has just been released from a two-year stint in prison and has returned to live on a remote island where he did his writing. A few of the locals gawk, and the story of the last few years is revealed by his friend and attorney Glen Robie (Ray Collins).

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ten Days of Terror!: Blood Simple

Film: Blood Simple
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

When the topic of directorial debuts comes up, it won’t go too long before I bring up Blood Simple, the first movie by Joel and Ethan Coen. I freely admit that I’m a Coen geek and so my opinion on this is going to be biased in some respect, but that doesn’t change the fact that Blood Simple would be a noteworthy film from an experienced director. As their first film, this is a strong showing, and they’ve only gotten better (mostly) from here.

Blood Simple has a twisted plot that goes in a lot of different places to get to the ending we eventually reach. Like any good noir, and Blood Simple is a vicious little noir, it starts simply and becomes much more complicated and convoluted as the story goes on. We begin with a simple extra-marital affair between Abby (Frances McDormand) and Ray (John Getz). Ray works as a bartender for Abby’s husband Marty (Dan Hedaya), who suspects that she’s being unfaithful. He’s hired a private detective named Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh) to catch them in the act, which he does easily.

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Animated Feature 2004

The Contenders:

The Incredibles (winner)
Shark Tale
Shrek 2

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Ten Days of Terror!: Night of the Comet

Film: Night of the Comet
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Night of the Comet is one of those movies that separates the horror nerd from the rest of movie fandom. While there will be a few exceptions here, this is a movie that you either love or have never heard of. I don’t know anyone personally who has seen Night of the Comet who doesn’t appreciate it for what it is. This is a spin on a classic end-of-the-world scenario done with humor, some great characters, and a lot of entertaining qualities. I was so pleased to see this show up the other day and couldn’t wait to watch it again.

Let’s get to the horror movie tropes here so we can talk about the fun stuff. The Earth is in the path of a comet that is on an incredibly long trajectory. In fact, scientists estimate that the last time this comet passed near the planet was about 65 million years ago, which just happens to coincide with the disappearance of the dinosaurs. The people of Earth are promised a spectacular light show as the planet passes through the comet’s tail, and for whatever reason, almost everyone in the Los Angeles area is excited by the prospect of seeing a comet fly by.

Ten Day of Terror!: Threads

Film: Threads
Format: Internet video on laptop.

When I was a kid, The Day After was one of the most important television events ever. It was intended to be a realistic depiction of what might happen in the event of a full thermonuclear exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Threads, produced for British television the following year, was the BBC’ answer to the American film. Threads is the logical extension of the 1960s movie The War Game, showing in frightful and horrible detail what could happen in the event of a complete thermonuclear exchange. The film, rather than giving a broad view of the nation as a whole, focuses instead on Sheffield and the progression of events that affect the people in that town. Threads is a film I think needs to be discussed fully, so you can consider the rest of this review under a spoiler warning.

Threads works in large part because it presents the escalation of hostilities in a natural and believable way. When the film start, there is the standard tension between the U.S. and Soviet Russia that was the everyday norm in the 1980s during the Cold War. It’s almost a cliché that the tension takes place over Iranian oil fields. Initially, though, this all happens in the background of the stories of various people in Sheffield. Life goes on as it always did even as the geopolitical situation becomes more and more tense.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ten Days of Terror!: Screamers

Film: Screamers
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

I can’t remember the last time I’d seen Screamers, but it’s been years. I still remembered the basics of it, though. Screamers is a film with a solid pedigree despite its B-movie science fiction/horror sensibilities. It’s based on a story by Phillip K. Dick for starters, and it was adapted by Dan O’Bannon, who is rightly more famous for having written both Alien and Aliens. Seeing it now and knowing what I know, there’s some evidence that O’Bannon took some ideas from this to write Aliens, and then took them back when he adapted this into a screenplay.

Knowing the pedigree here is kind of important, though, because Screamers comes across very much like a movie that wants to be Aliens. There are a lot of the same elements here as in Aliens, although the earlier movie is better in almost every respect. That’s not a knock on Screamers; Aliens is one of the better science fiction movies in cinematic history.