Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hippie Hippie Shakedown

Film: Inherent Vice
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I knew that Inherent Vice was going to be trouble. I’ve read a little Thomas Pynchon and he’s not an easy author to understand. I knew there would be shades of Naked Lunch here since Pynchon is pretty close to unadaptable. Inherent Vice at least has something like a plot, but it goes in a million directions at once. Since all of the characters are heavily drug fueled, there’s a sense of altered reality throughout. It’s impossible to really know what is going on and what might simply be paranoia. That’s a part all a part of Pynchon. Some of the paranoia is justified and some of it is just the drugs.

I’m not going to attempt much of a plot summary because I don’t know if I could come close to doing it justice. At its heart, Inherent Vice is a film noir told from the perspective of Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a pot-soaked private investigator given a trio of interlocked and intertwined cases. The first comes from Shasta (Katherine Waterston), Doc’s ex-girlfriend. Her boyfriend Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) is in trouble. Specifically, Wolfmann’s wife and her boyfriend want to have him committed so they can take his wealth created from housing developments.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Doctor, Doctor, Please

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

I tend to be ambivalent to medical dramas as a rule. I know virtually nothing about medicine, so there’s a part of me that always feels like I’m playing catch up with any drama that turns on medical knowledge. This is often less true of older medical dramas like Arrowsmith. Based on an earlier novel and dumbed down for a general audience, I didn’t have any real issues following the plot of Arrowsmith, which is a nod in the film’s favor.

We essentially fast-forward through the medical education of Dr. Martin Arrowsmith (Ronald Colman), learning only that he is smart and is more interested in research than in actual medical practice. We also get a meet-cute between him and nurse Leora (Helen Hayes) which soon blossoms into a romance. In fact, it blossoms into such a romance that it immediately alters the course of his life. Offered a research position by his mentor Dr. Gottlieb (a suitably wizened and foreign-y A.E. Anson), Martin declines. Instead, he marries Leora and the two move to South Dakota near her parents. Why South Dakota? Because in Leora’s old home town there is no doctor.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Cherie Amour

Film: Silver Linings Playbook
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Silver Linings Playbook has been sitting on one of my DVD shelves since before I started focusing on Oscar films. Actually, that’s not quite true; it’s actually been sitting on the shelves shared by my daughters. My older daughter was mildly obsessed with this movie for a short time in part because she was also a huge fan of Hunger Games, and thus loved everything Jennifer Lawrence did. However, when I decided to finally watch it, it was nowhere to be found. Streaming, here we come.

As one of the last people in the country to see this, I’m likely covering known territory when I talk about the story, but that’s what I do here. Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is being released from an 8-month stint in a mental institution caused by his complete breakdown when he found his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) with another man in the shower. Pat has used his time in the institution to get back in physical shape and to try to work on his anger issues, some of which he seems to have inherited from his father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro).

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Asylum's Nemo

Film: Shark Tale
Format: DVD from Putnam County Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

I knew when I added Best Animated Feature to my list of categories that eventually I would have to sit through Shark Tale again. I really do try to be as upbeat and open minded as I can be when it comes to this project, but this is a movie I’ve seen before and it’s a movie I know that I really hate. There is nothing I find appealing in what comes off as a combination of The Godfather and Finding Nemo. I don’t like the story, the characters, or the artwork, and with an animated movie, there’s not much left.

Let’s get this over with. Oscar (Will Smith), a wrasse, works in the underwater equivalent of a car wash as the guy who scrubs the tongues of whales. What he really wants is money and fame, and so he has a variety of get rich quick schemes that he finances by borrowing heavily from Sykes (Martin Scorsese), his pufferfish boss. Angie (Renee Zellwegger), an angelfish who also works at the whale wash, carries a torch for Oscar for, frankly, unknown reasons.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Planned Obsolescence

Film: The Man in the White Suit
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I was a kid, I knew who Alec Guinness was because of Star Wars. Now that I’m older, I can appreciate Guinness for who he really was. A lot of that is his roles in the classic Ealing comedies like The Man in the White Suit. Whenever I watch one of these films from the earlier part of Guinness’s career, I’m always a little surprised. It’s not that Guinness couldn’t do comedy. He could and he was great at it. What surprises me is that half a decade after a fun little goof like The Man in the White Suit, he pulled off one of the greatest acting performances in history in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Proof, if it was needed, that the man was a real talent.

The Man in the White Suit is a simple little film that touches lightly into the genre of science fiction. We get three roughly equal acts—a set-up, a slow realization of the implications of a discovery, and a conclusion. And, while the film isn’t laugh out loud funny, it escalates into a ridiculous situation very quickly.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Pucker Up!

Film: The Princess and the Frog
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

There was a time when Disney was the gold standard for animated movies. In a way, with Pixar as a part of their stable, they still are, but the titles that come out specifically under the Disney label are more hit or miss. There are great modern Disney films, of course, but there are some terrible ones, too. So with The Princess and the Frog, I really didn’t know what I was getting. I remember the release of this and the news that Disney was finally getting an African-American princess. There’s a lot of pressure in a situation like this; even an innocent misstep is going to be treated very harshly.

This is the story of the Frog Prince, of course, but since it’s a movie, that fairy tale is going to be taken in a different direction. After a short refresher on the basic story and an introduction to our main character as a child, we jump to the film’s present day of the mid-1920s in New Orleans. Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is a hard-working young woman juggling two full-time waitressing jobs to save up for her dream of opening a restaurant. This is a dream she shared with her father (Terrence Howard), a man we see in the opening scenes of the film but who has died in the meantime, most likely a casualty of World War I.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Paint Me a Picture

Film: Holy Matrimony
Format: Internet video on laptop.

If you think of a proper English gentleman from the ‘30s and ‘40s, you’re thinking of Monty Wooley. This is true if you know who Monty Wooley is or you’ve never heard the name mentioned before. I mean, look at that mustache in the picture above. Wooley made his living as a light comic actor in films that weren’t really laugh-out-loud funny but more sweet and charming, generally with Wooley playing a crusty old man who actually has a heart of gold underneath his imperiousness and blustering. He's the angry version of Edmund Gwenn. Such is very much the case with Holy Matrimony.

Priam Farll (Wooley) is an acclaimed painter who is also a notorious recluse. For a quarter of a century, Priam has moved from remote location to remote location accompanied only by Henry Leek (Eric Blore), his manservant. So, while Priam happily paints away, Henry handles the day to day affairs. These 25 years of happiness come to a sudden end in 1905 when Priam is summoned back to England to be knighted, a ceremony he takes in poor grace.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dear Diary

Film: Notes on a Scandal
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve been focusing heavily on Best Actress performances for some time because switching from movies on the 1001 Movies list to Oscars left me vastly behind in that category. I’ve been catching up slowly but surely, but it’s still the category where I have the furthest to go. So, because that’s where I’m trying to catch up, my NetFlix queue is currently heavily skewed toward that award. Thus we have Notes on a Scandal, since I’m also a little behind in that decade compared with the others.

This is a film I knew nothing about other than that it starred Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, both of whom I love. It’s always fun to go into an acclaimed film with great actors and little to no background, and in this case, it was absolutely worth it. Notes on a Scandal is a movie with a simple premise and excellent execution. For something this simple, it’s surprisingly tense.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Film: Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library/Internet video on laptop.

In the more than five years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve had surprisingly few technical problems. Sadly, that was not the case with the 1950 version of Cyrano de Bergerac. Somewhere before the 30 minute mark, the DVD flatly stopped playing. It just wouldn’t get past that point. Thankfully, the film was completely available on YouTube. I think, though, this is one of the only times I’ve been forced to watch a film on multiple formats. It’s all to the good, though. The YouTube video turned out to be of much better quality than the DVD. Then, due to internet connection problems, I had to switch back to the DVD. The things I go through for this blog.

Cyrano de Bergeracis, at least in my mind the quintessential tragic romance. I know the traditional choice is Romeo and Juliet, but Cyrano is a better story in my mind. The bulk of the reason for that is the character of Cyrano himself. Cyrano (Jose Ferrer) is in many ways the perfect tragic hero. He’s everything a hero should be and has a single tragic flaw: his nose. Cyrano is smart, witty, courageous, filled with panache, and is cursed with a nose three or four times larger than that of the average man. That nose is in fact the reason for Cyrano’s courage and flair. Only the bravest or most foolhardy would dare tease him about his nose.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Your Face Picks Movies (Jason): Undefeatable

Film: Undefeatable
Format: Internet video on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is the seventh in a series of twelve films suggested by the guys at YourFace. This is Jason’s third pick.

When I took on watching movies picked by the Your Face crew I knew there would be movies that were more difficult than others. I won’t lie; I was more scared of Jason’s picks than of Nick’s or Nolahn’s. Jason and I operate in very different ends of the cinematic swimming pool. We both dredge up some rarities now and then, but that’s really where similarities stop. Where I concern myself with Oscar nominees, Jason tends to look more favorably on those films that are forgotten for a reason. So it is that Jason awarded me with Undefeatable. At less than 10 minutes in, I wondered exactly what I had done to make Jason this mad at me.

Undefeatable comes right in the heart of the career of Cynthia Rothrock, pint-sized cinematic asskicker who is long on martial arts skills and short on acting talent. That said, she’s Meryl Streep compared with the rest of this cast. Like plenty of martial arts films of the era, Undefeatable operates only because of a plot that absolutely defies description and believability. Seriously, I’ve watched some really dumb movies in my time, but Undefeatable has one of the dumbest premises ever.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Off Script: Immortality

Film: Immortality (The Wisdom of Crocodiles; Wisdom of the Crocodiles)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

My boss loves Jude Law in the way that I love Penelope Cruz, so now and then I’ll watch a Jude Law movie to see if it’s one that she’d like. With Immortality (also known as both The Wisdom of Crocodiles and Wisdom of the Crocodiles), I think it’s better off to avoid the mention. It’s not a terrible movie, but it’s not one that I think would be in her wheelhouse despite the Jude Law sexy time and even a couple of frames of full-frontal. This is a difficult movie to recommend because it’s so tonally strange.

Immortality is only vaguely a horror film in that Steven Grlscz (Jude Law) is something like a vampire. He’s not anything like the normal sort of vampire, though. He can go out in sunlight and eat food and he doesn’t need to sleep in a coffin or the earth of his burial. He does, though, need blood about once a month. While the blood is important to him, what he actually feeds on is the emotions in the blood. Positive emotions like love work better for him while negative emotions work but make him ill. Because of this, Steven romances women, gets them to fall in love with him, and then kills them. It is his belief that if he can truly get a woman to fall for him, it will cure his condition.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Wild Horses

Film: Wild is the Wind
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve played around a little bit with Amazon Prime, but I haven’t used it much. It’s something my wife got a subscription to, and she and my kids use it pretty frequently. Me, not so much. There are maybe a dozen and a half movies on my Oscar list that I can only find on Amazon Prime, though. I’m loathe to watch them, since sometimes those movies eventually show up somewhere else and I can watch them for free. Then again, movies like Wild is the Wind sometimes show up on Amazon Prime for free and I can watch without concern about the additional cost.

Wild is the Wind is one of those films that can be summed up in a sentence or two. A Nevada sheep rancher named Gino (Anthony Quinn) misses his late wife terribly, so he sends to Italy for her sister Gioia (Anna Magnani) to marry her. There is some initial tension after she arrives, and much more tension later when Gioia falls in love with Gino’s adopted son Bene (Anthony Franciosa) instead of her husband. Sparks fly, there are wild horses, and passions run high.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Rinse Cycle

Film: My Beautiful Laundrette
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

One of the things I love about having this as a hobby is that every now and then I come across a movie that is substantially ahead of its time in one respect or another. Such is the case with My Beautiful Laundrette. A 1986 movie that features a homosexual romance would normally be about that romance. That’s not the case here. It’s certainly a part of the story, but this is a film that is much more about racism in Thatcher’s Britain. It was refreshing to see a film that didn’t specifically focus on what would even today often be the central idea.

The other noteworthy thing about My Beautiful Laundrette is that it’s one of the breakout roles for Daniel Day-Lewis. According to IMDB, this movie was released on the same day as A Room with a View in New York, and featured Day-Lewis in two completely opposite roles. In A Room with a View, he plays an upper class, emotionally stifled man while in My Beautiful Laundrette he is a working-class gay former skinhead. Shades of the man’s talents to come, no?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Oh, Deer

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

The Yearling is a coming of age story about a young boy living in the Florida wilderness with his parents. Pretty much since this blog has started, I’ve made the observation that coming of age stories come in only two varieties. When it’s a story about a girl, the coming of age happens specifically when she gets introduced to sex, often at the hands of an older man, and sometimes against her will. For girls, it’s all about procreation. When it’s a story about a boy, coming of age happens when the boy in question faces up to his own mortality. This means something has to die before the film ends. Since The Yearling is about the boy adopting a young fawn, it’s not difficult to figure out what’s going to happen.

Okay, that’s a spoiler, but only if you’ve never seen a movie before. Make a movie about a young boy becoming attached to an animal, and there’s pretty much only one place to go. What’s different here is that in The Yearling, the animal in question doesn’t show up for the first hour of the film. Instead, the first hour is more or less set up, bringing us into the world of the Baxter family. The Baxters are headed by Civil War veteran Ezra (Gregory Peck), who is nicknamed Penny. He is married to Orry (Jane Wyman), and the two are the parents of Jody (Claude Jarman Jr.). Penny and Jody are good friends, but Orry is distant, especially to Jody. It comes out in the first hour that Orry’s emotional distance is likely caused by the deaths of three of her four children. It’s her assumption that if she stays distant with Jody, either he won’t die or that if he does, she won’t be affected by it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I Fall to Pieces

Film: Sweet Dreams
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I do not consider myself a country music fan, although a lot of the music I like does have some country roots. I do make some exceptions for some country music, though, and Patsy Cline ranks pretty high on that scale. It’s not so much the songs themselves. It’s that the woman had the voice of an angel. Seriously, go listen to “I Fall to Pieces.” I’ll wait here until you come back.

Back? Okay. Sweet Dreams is the story of Cline’s life, or at least the relevant and most important parts of Cline’s life—her first and second marriages, he rise to stardom, and her tragic and untimely death in a plane crash at the height of her stardom. It’s fair for those not familiar with Patsy Cline and her career to wonder why she’d be worth a biopic. Cline was one of the first country music artists to experience crossover success, charting on both country and pop and contemporary charts in the early ‘60s. She’s still iconic in music in country music in particular and music in general, and still has tremendous influence. And, of course, her career was interrupted by a terrible car accident and then cut tragically short by her death after a few scant years of recording.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Picks from Chip: Jean de Florette; Manon des Sources (Manon of the Spring)

Film: Jean de Florette; Manon des Sources (Manon of the Spring)
Format: DVD from Reddick Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

This is the seventh in a series of twelve films suggested by Chip Lary at Tips from Chip.

Okay, so technically, Chip gave me 13 films to watch, not 12. Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources (also known as Manon of the Spring) are technically two films, but they’re a single story. I understand completely why both films are necessary; the first film alone is incomplete and the second film doesn’t make sense without the first. So, while these are technically the seventh and eighth films that Chip selected for me, I’m going to consider them as a single film.

That makes sense in another way, too. There was a real issue for me in that there is no way to talk about Manon des Sources without including the end of Jean de Florette. Looking at this as a single story of three distinct acts rather than two stories of three acts each makes much more sense in the narrative as well. Additionally, the two films were released in the same year, and I imagine that they were frequently shown together in theaters. Jean de Florette even ends with the words “End of Part 1.” And so, I’m looking at these as two halves of a whole.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Life of Riley

Film: Inside Out
Format: Sycamore Theater.

Being a frequent customer of one of our local mechanics has dividends. With six oil changes, you get two free movie tickets. With that in mind, I took Kid #2 to see Inside Out last night since Kid #1 is currently in Vermont for a couple more weeks. It’s hard to beat free movie tickets, and since the other choices at the small local theater were the fairly panned Minions and the thoroughly panned Terminator: Genysis, going to see the latest Pixar film was an easy choice.

Like pretty much everyone else on the planet, my expectations are up when I watch a Pixar movie. Inside Out is Pixar’s 15th feature-length film and the 13th one I’ve seen; of those 13, I genuinely like 10 and think the other three are at least worth watching. Inside Out falls into that first 10. The real question is where. Pixar at its best produces the best animated movies of anyone. Mid-tier Pixar is still generally a step above most other animation studios. What that means is that mid-tier Pixar tends to be better than other family-oriented animated films, but still feel like a disappointment because of those high expectations. Inside Out based on that, is somewhat disappointing. This is a clever and narratively complex movie, but there are parts that simply don’t work for me.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

When Irish Eyes are Murderous

Film: Night Must Fall
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Night Must Fall has been sitting on my DVR since last February. It’s one of the dozen or so movies that I’ve had recorded and simply have not gotten to. So why watch it now? I decided to watch it when I realized it was the last movie I had to see to complete 1937 as a year. So it was that I decided to finish off a second year and finally knock this film out. I knew nothing about it beyond the short TCM summary on the recording, so I went in essentially with no preconceptions and not much in the way of expectations.

Well, there are times when having no expectations works out because the film isn’t worthy of expectations. There are other times when having no expectations works out even better because the film is surprisingly good. Happily, Night Must Fall is of the second variety. This is a surprisingly effective and tight thriller that goes to some very unexpected places for a film from 1937. While it’s pretty tame by today’s standards, there are some gruesome implications here and suggestions of murder and dismemberment as well as a the unseen but obvious presence of the first murder victim’s head in a basket.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

It's a Man's World

Film: Boys Don’t Cry
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Someone needs to explain Hilary Swank’s career to me. If memory serves, Boys Don’t Cry is the sixth of her films that I have seen. The two of them that follow the naming pattern of The [Noun] (The Reaping, The Core) are utter shit. The four that don’t (Boys Don’t Cry, Insomnia, 11:14, and Million Dollar Baby) are films that I’ve either liked or at least appreciated. Swank has won two Oscars; she’s obviously got talent. But man, does she pick some truly shit movies sometimes. Maybe she should just stick to dramas and avoid anything that delves into science fiction or horror.

It’s interesting to me that Boys Don’t Cry, the story of a transsexual named Teena Brandon, who has changed her name to Brandon Teena (Swank) who falls in love with Lana Tisdel (Chloe Sevigny) and ends up killed was released less than a decade before Transamerica and Brokeback Mountain. How quickly the discourse changes regarding transsexuality. Mind you, I’m not complaining. Where Transamerica turned out to be in many ways triumphant and accepting of its characters, Boys Don’t Cry is a brutal story of rejection, pain, and various gender and sexual phobias. I have no doubt that while the national and international conversation has changed, that there are large swaths of this country and the world that react far closer to the people in Boys Don’t Cry. This is still a reality for many people, and Boys Don’t Cry is thus still relevant.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Tory, Tory, Tory

Film: The Iron Lady
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I don’t really know where to come at a film like The Iron Lady. It is, as expected, well made. It features the expected great performances from Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent. I’d be lying if I called myself a fan of the film’s subject Margaret Thatcher, though. The Iron Lady is not a warts-removed biopic, but it does seem to depict her as someone who should be more pitied than anything else. I didn’t think that the film would end up vilifying her, and that’s not what I expected to see. But is pity really the right emotion we should have?

The film takes place in more or less the present day, or at least the present day of Margaret Thatcher (Meryl Streep) at the time of the film. By 2011, she had become an old woman, something of a punchline for particular types of aggressive policies in British government, and widowed. Those not familiar with her personal history would not know that last point right away, because her husband Dennis (Jim Broadbent) is materially present in the present of the film. It’s only later that we realize that Margaret is having something akin to a waking hallucination of her husband that we begin to understand her somewhat fragile mental state.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


Film: The Star
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

Like any sane human being, I like Sunset Boulevard. In fact, “like” is far too mild a word for how I feel about it. But one of the things that most people also seem to like is a happy ending. So what do you get when you take one of the greatest films noir ever made and figure out a way to end with everyone alive and happy? You get The Star, the movie that earned Bette Davis her ninety-millionth Oscar nomination (okay, it was her tenth).

Margaret Elliot (Bette Davis) is a former box office queen who has faded into something like obscurity. As the film opens, an auction house is selling off a number of her personal possessions to pay her creditors. She walks past and sees her agent (Warner Anderson) walking out with something that was once hers. They talk, and it’s evident that Margaret is completely broke and wants her career back. It’s just as evident that the movie world, at least the world of starring roles, has passed her by.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Divide by Zero

Film: Her
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

Her scared me a little bit. It scared me because this is a movie I’m very much supposed to like. There’s a great deal of pressure on the film in a situation like this, and pressure on me. What if this highly-acclaimed film that should be right in the wheelhouse of my sensibilities turns out to be complete crap? If I’m one of the only people who turns out to dislike a movie with this much acclaim, I run the risk of being “that guy” who just hated the movie because he wanted to be different from all of the other reviewers. I was very much interested in the film, but it also sat on my shelf for long enough that I had to renew it from the library. There’s that nervousness, almost like the nervousness of a new relationship with a film like this one.

I also figure that I’m probably the last one of my regular readers to see Her, which makes the plot summary far less important than it normally would be. I’ll try to keep this short and basic. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is perhaps the world’s loneliest man. His marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara) is at an end, although he is hesitating on signing the papers to finalize it. His job is writing heartfelt letters for people unwilling or unable to write their own letters. Unable to verbalize his own emotional state, Theodore merely seems to exist, devoid of human contact and experiencing the world entirely through his electronic devices.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Off Script: The Devil's Daughter (1991)

Film: The Devil’s Daughter (The Sect; La Setta; Demons IV)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

One of the things I love about Italian horror and gialli is that the producers are never content with a single title. In the case of The Devil’s Daugther, the film is equally known as The Sect or La Setta. It was also marketed under the title Demons IV. It certainly makes it confusing from the point of view of someone looking to watch the film; which title is the one to search under?

In fact, I initially started watching a made-for-TV movie called The Devil’s Daughter before I realized that it wasn’t the one I was looking for. No, the Fangoria 101 Unheralded Horror Movies list is going to focus more on the gore, which means we’re instead looking at a film from the early ‘90s produced by Dario Argento. Let’s be straight here—the Argento-backed film is going to appeal to Fangoria fans a lot more than something made for television.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Dingos Ate My Baby

Film: A Cry in the Dark
Format: DVD from Bourbonnais Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Give me a movie starring Meryl Streep and Sam Neill and you’d expect me to be excited about seeing it. So why was it so hard for me to get through A Cry in the Dark? Is it that it’s a courtroom drama? It can’t be that; I tend to like a lot of courtroom dramas. Is it the obvious religious connection? I’ve never shied away from films with far more overtly religious themes than this one. It can’t be that it takes place in Australia, because I’ve never had a problem with Australian films, either. For whatever reason, though, I got this movie through interlibrary loan almost six weeks ago and had to renew my checkout. I only watched it because I couldn’t renew it again and feel guilty not watching something I’ve ordered from another library.

A Cry in the Dark, also known as Evil Angels, is the story of the Chamberlain family who lost their young daughter Azaria during a camping trip in the Australian outback. While there are plenty of witnesses to what happens, public opinion almost immediately turns against the Chamberlains for a variety of reasons. Primary among those reasons is the Chamberlain’s religion. As Seventh-Day Adventists, they are significantly religiously “other” from mainstream Australia, and are thus assumed to be something of a cult and thus not above child sacrifice.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Let Them Eat Cake

Film: Marie Antoinette (1938)
Format: DVD from Mokena Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of the most interesting figures of history is that of Marie Antoinette. The film Marie Antoinette from 1938 suggests that she may also be one of the most misunderstood. Of course this is coming from a time and place where history was often bent conveniently to fit the desired narrative. There are other considerations here, after all. This is a film about a haughty, rich, royal-blooded woman who was legendary for her disdain of the poor. The film is from the end of the Great Depression, in a time when public sentiment toward the rich couldn’t have been that positive. Despite this and a massive (for the time) budget, Marie Antoinette was quite the success and garnered Oscar nominations for two of its main stars.

Young Marie Antoinette, Austrian princess of the Hapsburgs (Norma Shearer) is told that she is being sent to Paris to marry Louis, the dauphin and future king of France (Robert Morley). She is overjoyed until she actually gets to Paris and meets her future husband. Louis is blubbery, emotionally weak, and hates being in public. The marriage happens anyway, with Louis telling Marie that night that the only reason the two are married is to produce an heir at the insistence of Louis XV (John Barrymore), his grandfather. But, says Louis, such a thing will never happen. He essentially abandons Marie to a life in court where she gambles and socializes to prevent her from becoming bored.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Unhappy Audience

Film: Happy Feet
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

The shit I do for this website. I grabbed Happy Feet off the shelf at the library today specifically because this was a film that I was dreading. I’ve seen it before and I didn’t like it the first time through. All I remember was a lot of breathy singing and a lot of dancing penguins. Now that I’ve watched it again, the reality is a lot of breathy singing and dancing penguins. This is exactly the worst type of film made for children or a “family” audience. There’s a lot of pandering to kids here, a slap-in-the-face level couple of messages, and nothing deeper than the barest, most obvious, surface-level story. Adults entertained by this sort of thing are the same sort of people who go to amusement parks to see the shows instead of go on the rides. It overdoses on the cute rather than actually trying to do something interesting. Like I said, the shit I do for this website.

In the world of emperor penguins, the goal is always to find something called a “heartsong.” When they are of the right age, the penguins wander around singing at each other until they find someone else singing the same song, or something, and they mate for life. This, such as it is, happens to Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) and Memphis (Hugh Jackman). They produce an egg, which results in Mumble (Elijah Wood). In what will certainly become the entire main point of the movie, it is soon discovered that Mumble is unable to sing but has a natural penchant for tap dancing.