Monday, August 31, 2015

The Giving Tree

Film: The Illusionist (L’Illusionniste)
Format: Blu-ray from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I first heard about The Illusionist (called L’Illusionniste in France), I was interested in seeing it. In fact, I was interested enough that when the local remaining Blockbuster went out of business, I bought the Blu-ray. Tonight I finally got the chance to watch. My interest in the film stemmed not from any relationship it has with the 2006 film of the same name (there’s no relationship at all), but this film’s pedigree. The Illusionist is based on a screenplay written by the great Jacques Tati. I like Tati and wish that he’d done more films, so The Illusionist, originally intended as a live-action film, is special.

It’s also immediately evident that this is based on the Tati, or at least done in the style of Tati. We are introduced to Tatischeff (marginally voiced by Jean-Claude Donda), a stage magician working in France in 1959. Tatischeff has a good act and a cantankerous rabbit, but the world is passing him by. As his audience fades, he makes the decision to take the act to England, where he plays following a raucous rock band. Dissatisfied, he heads north to Scotland.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Mid-Life Crisis

Film: Shirley Valentine
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

There are a number of movies on NetFlix that are available streaming but not as discs. That means that getting this movies watched is at a premium for me; there have been a few that have moved from “available on streaming” to “shit, now where do I find it?” status for me. Shirley Valentine is one of those films. So, just to make sure that it doesn’t happen here, I watched Shirley Valentine today, not expecting much but a check in another box and one more movie off the list.

Imagine my surprise when Shirley Valentine turned out to be one of my favorite new-to-me movies of this month. This is a movie about a middle-aged Liverpudlian woman having a spiritual rebirth and discovering who she really is. It sounds incredibly dreary and dreadful, but it’s actually quite good. Not the least of the reasons for this are the engaging screenplay (based of a one-woman play by Willy Russell) and the truly masterful performance by Pauline Collins.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nuke 'Em 'Til They Glow

Film: Silkwood
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Intellectually, I know that Silkwood is based on the real life of Karen Silkwood. That doesn’t stop the film from feeling like it was written specifically to punch a hole in the nuclear power industry. This movie is Norma Rae with drawn weapons. It’s a film that benefits greatly from a script handled by the great Nora Ephron and a couple of gritty performances including the most understated performance of Cher’s career. It’s a hard movie not to like even if it constantly feels manipulative.

Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) works at a nuclear plant in Oklahoma. It should be a place of high security, but it seems to be essentially a factory. The plant is a fuel fabrication site where she makes plutonium fuel rods for nuclear reactors. The plant is behind schedule, forcing everyone to work double shifts, and corners are being cut on almost every aspect of safety. The constant threat of exposure to radiation leads Karen to become involved in the union, much to the consternation of her live-in boyfriend Drew (Kurt Russell) and her other live-in friend, Dolly (Cher).

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Like a Rolling Stone

Film: Tumbleweeds
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I don’t really know Janet McTeer as an actress, so I was curious about the rare film Tumbleweeds. Mostly, I was curious about why it’s evidently so rare. I couldn’t find this on NetFlix or at any of the libraries I use, and even interlibrary loan wasn’t enough to locate the film for me, which forced me to resort to the internet. The version I found had a couple of strange gaps in the sound, but you take what you can get. With Tumbleweeds, this is what I could get.

The film opens with a fight between Mary Jo Walker (a nominated Janet McTeer) and her fourth husband. Early-teen daughter Ava (Kimberly J. Brown) has evidently seen this before, because she’s already packing her bag while the fight goes on. In fact, she’s just about fully packed when Mary Jo walks in and tells her to pack because they’re leaving. She’s got better places to be than here. We soon learn that this is Mary Jo’s typical life choice. She shacks up with the first guy who looks promising and bolts when the going gets rough.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Off Script: Mother's Day (1980)

Film: Mother’s Day
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Back at the dawn of home video, it seemed like about half of the movies available for rent were cheap slashers, horror movies, and exploitation films. I remember seeing the box for Mother’s Day at the Video Bug when I was a kid. Imagine my surprise when I saw the same image staring up at me from a library shelf. The box has changed, though; there’s a blurb now proclaiming this treasure as Eli Roth’s favorite horror film. That doesn’t do much for me since I’m not a fan of Eli Roth. I figured this would be a rough ride. It doesn’t help that three of the principle stars used pseudonyms. In fact, that’s pretty much an indication that they wanted to distance themselves from schlock.

This becomes less surprising when you realize that director Charles Kaufman is the brother of Lloyd Kaufman, the creator of Troma. Mother’s Day isn’t a true Troma film—this isn’t truly intentional camp, but it is low-budget, poorly acted, and exploitative. This isn’t a good movie and it’s not intended to be one. This is shock cinema, and there’s no surprise that it’s coming from the sewage-y end of the cinematic lake.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

I'm Your Mutineer

Film: Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)
Format: DVDs (two of ‘em!) from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

It’s a rough go when a movie shows up on two DVDs, because it’s a guarantee that it’s going to be a long one. A few minutes into the film, I was convinced it was going to be even longer: I heard Marlon Brando’s effete and nasal British accent. Three hours of Brando aping an Etonian. On the other hand, at least Mutiny on the Bounty is a big, ballsy adventure film featuring wooden ships and iron men. I’m a sucker for those.

This is the same basic story as the film that won Best Picture in 1935. A crew of men sail away from England and head to Tahiti. Their mission is to take a cargo of breadfruit trees to Jamaica with the hope of establishing the crop there to feed the slaves. The two most prominent and important personalities on deck are 1st Lieutenant Fletcher Christian (Marlon Brando) and the ship’s captain, William Bligh (Trevor Howard).

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Crash and Burn

Film: Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours and 11 Minutes
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

Once I saw the full title of tonight’s film, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours and 11 Minutes, I decided I’d type it once at the start of the review and refer to it as Those Magnificent Men every time after that. Seriously, it’s as if the filmmakers decided that having a really long title would make the film funnier. This is intended to be a comedy, after all. I’m also sure that in 1965, it was funny. But now it’s 50 years later and the things that were funny 50 years ago don’t always hold up.

Those Magnificent Men is a farce of a sort. It’s a film made in the same vein and spirit of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. However, instead of a cross-country race for treasure, it’s an airplane race from London to Paris in 1910, just seven years after the invention of powered flight. Airplane enthusiast and British officer Richard Mays (James Fox) is determined to improve the state of British aviation. To do so, he enlists the support of his girlfriend, Patricia Rawnsley (Sarah Miles). Patricia is the daughter of Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley), a newspaper publisher. Intrigued by Richard’s idea, Lord Rawnsley sponsors a race from London to Paris, with a $50,000 cash prize for the winner.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sharpen Your Claws

Film: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

It seems funny that after more than five-and-a-half years of blogging that I needed to somehow kickstart myself back into doing a review. Oh, sure I’ve had reviews up for the past week or more, but with one exception, I wrote those before my vacation. I just haven’t been feeling the Oscar lists lately, and with work to catch up on, movies definitely took a back seat. I figured the best way to jump start myself was to watch a true classic, a movie that I could almost guarantee that I would like. I wanted something with a lot of critical acclaim and that I’d heard only good things about. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, nominated for five of the seven awards I care about seemed like a good choice. And let me tell you, I chose well.

Like pretty much every other Tennessee Williams play or movie based on a play I can reference, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is all about the South and all about the messed up relationships in a family. The Pollitts certainly qualify as messed up. The occasion of the story is the 65th birthday of Harvey “Big Daddy” Pollitt (Burl Ives), a self-made man who has made a fortune and built himself a plantation encompassing tens of thousands of acres of farmland. Big Daddy has returned home after a stint in the hospital, where he was told that he has only a spastic colon. In truth, he has terminal cancer, a fact disclosed several times in the film by the doctor (Larry Gates), but hidden from the man himself.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Help Me Out

I'm doing something a little different tonight. Despite not having seen more than a movie or two for the past 10 days, I'm still catching up with work and a movie isn't in the cards.

So, instead of a review tonight, I'm asking for suggestions.

One of the problems of watching movies off a list is that I tend to overlook a lot of movies that are worth my time but never make it to one of the lists I'm pursuing. I've put up a list on Letterboxd for suggestions of non-Oscar and non-listed horror movies that are worth my time.

If you get the chance, please offer me suggestions either here or there. Since Fridays are Oscar days, I often watch something not attached to one of my various lists. What have I missed? What's worth my time on an upcoming Friday?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Your Face Picks Movies (Nolahn): Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris

Film: Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris
Format: Blu-ray from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

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

So I’ve been gone for more than a week on a family vacation. The reviews from last week were pre-written to keep the blog running while I was gone and had less access to the internet. It feels like ages since I’ve sat down and watched a movie, let alone reviewed one. But it’s that time of the month when I need to get through something not of my own choosing. I bought Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris months ago because the Blu-ray was only a couple of bucks and Nolahn had assigned it to me. Also because this wasn’t available to me any other way. I can’t determine if it’s kind of sad or kind of awesome that Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris is one of less than a dozen Blu-rays that I own.

Anyway, this is another film in the series of Gamera movies, featuring the giant atomic flying turtle of the title. Anyone who has watched one of the old Gamera movies knows that Gamera is a friend to children, but this incarnation, evidently the third of the most modern trilogy of Gamera films, is much more violent and destructive. The giant turtle might well be trying to protect Japan, but his protection causes thousands of casualties every time he shows up.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

It's Greek to Me

Film: America, America
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

It’s not often that a director breaks the fourth wall him- or herself, but America America opens with director Elia Kazan speaking to the audience. He tells us that this is the film of his family and how his ancestor came to the United States. While it’s not stated overtly, with any story like this, there is certainly a mixture of fact and fancy, of unvarnished truth and unrepentant elaboration and truth stretching. None of that makes the film any more or less compelling, but for Kazan, this story was evidently family legend.

It’s worth noting that America America is about the journey that took Kazan’s ancestor to the United States, which means that the bulk of the film takes place elsewhere, the bulk in Turkey. We start in Anatolia, spend a great deal of time in Constantinople (now it’s Istanbul), and eventually get to a ship that heads off to America.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Off Script: The Dead Zone

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

The Dead Zone is one of those movies that tends to be classified as horror but isn’t really a horror movie. My opinion is that the main reason for this classification is that it was made in the ‘80s by David Cronenberg. This is out of Cronenberg’s wheelhouse in a lot of respects. Typically, especially in this part of his career, he’s all about the body horror. There are a few elements of that here, but The Dead Zone is far more psychological thriller than it is anything else. This style frequently gets tagged as horror as well, so that might explain the label.

Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken in one of his more memorable roles) is an average guy, a teacher at a local school. He is engaged to Sarah (Brooke Adams) and planning to marry her. After a night at a carnival, she invites him to stay the night, but he heads for home instead. On the way home, Johnny is involved in a freak accident and spends the next five years in a coma. When he awakens, he has an unexplainable psychic gift. Physical contact with another person allows him to see events in that person’s past or future.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Every Parent's Nightmare

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

There’s a moment in Changeling that, through no fault of the movie, pulled me out of it completely. It happens in the first half hour and it was completely unexpected. It is one of the first moments on screen of Police Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan). He tells Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) that her son has been found outside of DeKalb, Illinois. Why does this mean anything? Well, I live in DeKalb, Illinois, and my older daughter in particular is a huge fan of Jeffrey Donovan thanks to Burn Notice. So for just a moment, it was Michael Westen talking about my home town.

Changeling takes place in the early 1930s during the Depression. Christine Collins lives with her young son Walter (Gattlin Griffith). One day, picking up an extra shift at work, she comes home to find Walter gone. Eventually, the police return her son to her, but it is obviously not her boy. This replacement Walter, who insists that is who he is, has been circumcised and is three or four inches shorter. He also looks nothing like Walter. Christine is naturally insistent that the police have returned the wrong boy, but Captain Jones and doctors on the police payroll insist that he is.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


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

I’ll come right out and say this off the top: I have a pet rat. His name is Captain Guacamole. We used to have Mr. Chips, too, but we lost him in February. I’m a pro-rat person, so in some ways, the success of Ratatouille doesn’t surprise me. I think the little guys are lovable and a lot of fun to have around. Guac likes being held, he’s surprisingly smart and affectionate, and an all-around awesome pet. I’ll probably always have rats because they’re fun critters. But I also realize that I’m in the minority, and that making a movie about a rat seems like a stretch to most people despite Flushed Away from Dreamworks the year before.

Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a rat living in France and like most rats, he loves food. But Remy isn’t content to eat garbage; he wants to eat good food and wants to cook like his hero Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett). This puts him at odds with the rest of his huge rat clan, but his highly developed senses allow him to detect rat poison in food, making him the official food tester for the family. When the family’s lair is discovered, they are forced to flee. Remy is separated from the rest of the family and ends up in Gusteau’s restaurant, a paradise of food.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Picks from Chip: POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Film: POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

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

I like Morgan Spurlock. He’s sort of that smart ass friend who makes fun of everything including you and himself, but he’s funny enough to make it work. I like him because he takes on difficult topics and does so with a sense of fun. I especially like him because he’s a more palatable and personal version of Michael Moore without all of the baggage. So of all of the movies Chip picked for me, one of the ones that was already on my list of movies I wanted to watch was POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (which, thanks to the length of that title will be called PWP: TGMES from this point forward).

With PWP: TGMES, Spurlock is taking on the advertising industry. I feel like I have a minor connection to this. One of my brothers is in advertising and has been for years. He runs his own agency. And I don’t think it’s bragging on my part to suggest that he runs a pretty above-board advertising firm. He’s rejected clients because he doesn’t like their business practices or their products. So, despite what this film might suggest, it is evidently possible to work in the advertising industry and maintain a soul.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Paging Dr. Freud

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

Directors, at least the ones who are interested in more than money, often want to take on difficult subjects. The Mark is certainly that sort of film. I knew very little about this going in except that it was about a criminal looking to make a new start in life and encountering a series of difficulties. What I didn’t know is that this is not merely a film about a criminal. This is a film about a sexual predator that has evidently reformed and is weighed down by the enormity of his past crimes.

We’re introduced to Jim Fuller (an Oscar nominated Stuart Whitman), our ex-con, as he begins his first day on a new job. His boss Andrew Clive (Donald Wolfit) is aware of Jim’s past but has decided to give him a chance, thanks to the assurance of Jim’s therapist, Dr. Edmund McNally (Rod Steiger). Jim frequently goes to talk to Dr. McNally as a part of his continued therapy and treatment. McNally is convinced that Jim has his troubling past behind him and that he deserves this new lease on life.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1978

The Contenders:

Hal Ashby: Coming Home
Michael Cimino: The Deer Hunter (winner)
Warren Beatty & Buck Henry: Heaven Can Wait
Woody Allen: Interiors
Alan Parker: Midnight Express

Coup d'Etat

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

I’m not sure if I should label the movie Dave as a guilty pleasure or just a pleasure. I mean, it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay but as experience has shown, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a guarantee of quality. I like it, though. Aside from a couple of more serious moments, I think Dave is (and I use this word rarely) sweet. It’s also funny and is a nice reminder of when Kevin Kline could be really fun to watch.

Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) runs a temp agency and makes extra money impersonating sitting president Bill Mitchell (also Kevin Kline), who he happens to look exactly like. This turns out to be a lucky break for Dave when he is tapped to be the president’s stand-in at an event. Although told not to speak, Dave can’t help himself. Then, when the limousine taking him home turns around after a phone call to his secret service point man Duane (Ving Rhames), Dave gets a bit nervous.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Take It Like a Man

Film: Albert Nobbs
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

As always, I’m a slave to my Oscar lists, and I’m also a slave in one respect or another to what is available on NetFlix. Albert Nobbs is scheduled to vanish from streaming in a couple of days, so I figured watching it would more or less keep another movie off the huge list of discs I need. It seems that a lot of what I watch on streaming I end up watching because it’s about to disappear. What can I say? When possible, I try to avoid low-hanging fruit.

I didn’t realize that Albert Nobbs was based on both a novella and a play, and that speaks well to the way in which the film was directed. It’s not obviously based on a play. What I knew going in was that Glenn Close plays a woman who masquerades as a man. Additionally, the film has one of the most misleading NetFlix blurbs I have ever encountered. Read the blurb if you wish, but realize that it’s only tangentially related to the real story here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


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

With films like Rope and Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock demonstrated his absolute mastery over creating massive amounts of tension in a very small space. While both of these are master classes in how to use a claustrophobic set as a benefit, both of them came after Lifeboat, Hitchcock’s first (at least to my knowledge) film that really reduced his characters’ ability to get away from each other. As the name implies, the film takes place in its entirety on a lifeboat with survivors from a recent torpedoing in the Atlantic. As the film plays out, tensions develop between the survivors for a variety of reasons until the film almost repeats the opening at the end to bring the action to a close.

Central to the lifeboat is Constance Porter (Tallulah Bankhead), a correspondent and author who has managed to bring most of her possessions from the ship onto the lifeboat. As the film begins, Connie is alone, but is soon joined by John Kovac (John Hodiak), a crewman. Kovac is followed by industrialist Charles “Ritt” Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), then injured crewman Gus Smith (William Bendix), nurse Alice MacKenzie (Mary Anderson), and radioman Stanley Garrett (Hume Cronyn). The next three to board are crewman Joe Spencer (Canada Lee) with Mrs. Higgins (Heather Angel) and her infant child, who has drowned. The last to arrive is Willy (Walter Slezak), who comes from the submarine that sank the ship, but was in turn sunk by return fire.

Monday, August 3, 2015


Film: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I knew very little about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie going in except that it starred the great Maggie Smith and that she won an Oscar for her performance. I’m predisposed to like Maggie Smith. Like many people, my knowledge of her modern work pretty much starts and ends with the Harry Potter movies, but seeing her work from half a century ago is enlightening in a lot of ways. Since she is playing a schoolteacher in this, there’s a bit of foreshadowing of Minerva McGonagall, which will almost certainly be the role for which she is eventually remembered.

Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) teaches at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh where she openly defies what is expected of her in her lessons. She teaches girls at the junior level (roughly 9-13 years old), attempting to instill in them what she feels is important. This includes an appreciation of art, music, and some of life’s finer things. This is in direct contrast to the school’s main purpose of imbuing the girls with facts and skills necessary to be a proper Scottish lady in the 1930s. While the girls are drilled elsewhere in sewing, physical education, and basic science, Miss Brodie instead tries to fill them with culture and romance.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sisters Share Everything

Film: Hilary and Jackie
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

Going into a movie blind sometimes has its benefits and sometimes it ends up making me wonder what the hell I just watched. With Hilary and Jackie, I got about 40 minutes of the former and about 80 minutes of the later. This initially seems like a very interesting story of sibling rivalry and devolves into weird marital infidelity and illness. I have no idea how to come at this movie from any perspective. This is not a case where the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be. Instead, this is a case where the movie knows exactly what it wants to be and I have no idea what that is. This is despite the film being based on the real life of cellist Jacqueline du Pre.

Hilary (Keylee Jade Flanders as a child, Rachel Griffiths as an adult) and Jackie du Pre (Auriol Evans/Emily Watson) are sisters and musical prodigies. Hilary is initially the virtuoso on the flute, and when she feels she is being left behind with her cello, Jackie takes music much more seriously. It isn’t too long before Jackie has eclipsed her sister and is giving recitals and concerts around the world while Hilary struggles in school. Parents Derek (Charles Dance) and Iris (Celia Imrie) encourage both girls, but also seem to favor Jackie because of the full expression of her talents.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Contract Killer

Film: The Paper Chase
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I’m not old enough to remember The Paper Chase when it was a new movie, but I am old enough to recall my mother being a fan of the television show. While the star of the movie is officially Timothy Bottoms and the star of the television show was a guy named James Stephens (which is an alias I’ve used, although not because of the actor), the real star of both was John Houseman. Houseman was a stage actor, the co-founder of the Mercury Theater, and a teacher at Julliard. The Paper Chase was his third film role, one coming in the late 1930s and one uncredited in the 1960s. After this film and the subsequent television show, Houseman was everywhere, and his image was indistinguishable from that of his role in this film.

The Paper Chase is the story of a first-year Harvard Law student named James T. Hart (Timothy Bottoms) and his experience with his classmates in a class covering contract law. That class is taught by Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman), a terror in the classroom, but the sort of man who takes the brightest minds in the room and sharpens them to become the brightest minds in the country. Kingsfield’s class is a trial by fire. He identifies students only by a seating chart and has no memory of any of them beyond the classroeom. No student’s cares or concerns penetrate the icy wall of Kingsfield’s demeanor. The grade they get is the grade they earn with no chance or possibility of favoritism.