Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Norma Jeane

Film: The Goddess
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

Kim Stanley had a very strange movie career. Evidently the bulk of her acting work was on stage, so she was only in movies infrequently. Despite this, she still managed a couple of Oscar nominations, and with The Goddess, she may well have been snubbed for a third. In this film, Stanley runs the gamut of emotions including a couple that lean toward the insane.

The Goddess is a sort of fictional biopic of Marilyn Monroe. At least the story seems very much based on her in a lot of ways. Young Emily Ann Faulkner (Patty Duke as a child, Kim Stanley as an adult) is born a few years before the Depression. Her mother (Betty Lou Holland) wants to give her away to relatives because she’s still young and wants to find another man to shack up with. But she bears down on it and gets a job and raises her child, who she completely ignores.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Trials of Job

Film: Leviafan (Leviathan)
Format: DVD from netFlix on laptop.

There’s a feel to Russian movies that I don’t think can be duplicated by anything but a Russian director. Even a short Russian film feels like an epic, and all of them feel like stories about how terrible things happen to average people. That’s absolutely the case with Leviafan (Leviathan). It’s long, and nothing good happens to any of the main characters here. Any happiness is fleeting, comes before something terrible, and usually comes out of a bottle.

Don’t forget that; alcohol is a theme in Leviafan. Evidently, the actors actually drank in a number of the scenes and frequently the takes used were after multiple attempts at the scene, so they were actually inebriated. This is certainly why they seem to be exemplary at acting like drunks. They really look the part.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Murder Most Foul

Film: Mystic River
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I’ve seen a lot of movies. Mystic River is the 292nd movie I’ve watched this year alone, and of those movies, 233 (including this one) were new to me. This is not an anomaly. Because of this, I’m not that easy to surprise. I was pretty sure I knew where Mystic River was going to go in the first 15 minutes. Then the movies spends the next two hours showing me that I was wrong. This is a film that doesn’t go in the direction I expected. It might start like a cliché, but it certainly doesn’t follow through. That’s always a good thing.

We start with a trio of kids playing hockey on the street in a Boston neighborhood. Their ball goes down a sewer, which forces them to give up the game. They spot some drying cement, and two of the boys scratch their names into it. The third is halfway through his name when he’s accosted by what looks like a police officer. He’s the only one of the three who doesn’t live on the street where the boys are playing, so the “cop” drags him off. It turns out this wasn’t a cop, and Dave, the young boy, is sexually abused for a few days before he escapes. This drives a wedge between the three boys.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

We've Sprung a Leak

Film: Citizenfour
Format: Streaming video from HBO Go on rockin’ flatscreen.

Watching movies off a list means watching a lot of older films. This means that I’m frequently behind the times when it comes to more recent films. When I get the chance, I do try to catch up on newer films. I cooked all day yesterday, so I had the opportunity to watch a couple including Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In that movie, the evil organization Hydra has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. in an effort to locate and neutralize direct threats to itself.

This is a roundabout way of saying that the new 1001 Movies list is out and it includes Citizenfour (sometimes written CITIZENFOUR), the documentary about Edward Snowden and the release of data on NSA spying. It wouldn’t be difficult to see The Winter Soldier as a fictionalized, somewhat jingoistic version of Edward Snowden’s story. It’s interesting that a lot of the people who would cheer for Captain America in the one movie will happily brand Snowden a traitor for in many ways doing a less action-packed version of the same thing.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Grecian Formula

Film: Never on Sunday
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

Some time ago, when I reviewed Zorba the Greek, I said that if you think of Greek music, you’re thinking of the music from that film. I was only partially right. There’s actually a very good chance that you’re thinking of the title song from Never on Sunday. This is a film I knew nothing about going in, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m extremely happy that it appeared on my Oscars lists. I liked this a lot more than I’d have thought based on the premise.

Homer Thrace (director Jules Dassin) is an American tourist in Greece. He’s been brought up by a father who loved all things Greek, convinced that Greek culture at its height was the height of human civilization. Homer loves Greek philosophy more than anything. He’s come to Greece to figure out what happened—what made Greek civilization fall? How did the flower of human culture and society fade?

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Film: Magnificent Obsession
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Douglas Sirk’s films were always packed to the gills with melodrama, but none that I’ve seen are as filled with maudlin syrup as Magnificent Obsession. This was evidently based on a book, and that must be the glurgiest, drippiest book that was ever written. I’ll go through the plot as usual here, and in about three paragraphs I will imagine all of you reading this rolling your eyes hard enough to strain a muscle. Keep in mind as you read this that I tend to like Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, and I’ve also liked every Douglas Sirk movie I’ve seen to this point.

Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson) is a millionaire playboy of the type who does whatever he wants because he’s got the money to do it. He’s out racing around on his speedboat when he dumps it and needs to be rescued. The rescue involves a resuscitator, which means that the equipment wasn’t available locally. Normally this would not be an issue, except that the local doctor has suddenly had a heart attack and drops dead. With no resuscitator around, there’s no bringing him back.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wealth Porn

Film: That Touch of Mink
Format: Retroplex on rockin’ flatscreen.

Yogi Berra passed away yesterday. By chance, I happened to have DVRed a movie in which he makes a cameo appearance, so it seemed like a natural choice for today. That it also happens to feature Doris Day, Cary Grant, Gig Young, Audrey Meadows, Dick Sargent, and John Astin is just a bonus. It was Yogi’s world and all of us just lived in it. So That Touch of Mink was on the docket for tonight, even though Yogi only has a single line.

Staggeringly wealthy Philip Shayne (Cary Grant) is on his way to work in his Rolls limo when his car splashes Cathy Timberlake (Doris Day) with a puddle. The car drives on and Philip goes to work, but is bothered by what happens. Meanwhile, Cathy has a depressing day at the unemployment office, particularly because she is the object of desire for Beasley (John Astin), who works behind the counter. Philip tells his assistant Roger (Gig Young) about what happened, and when he spots Cathy walking into an automat, he sends Roger to apologize for him.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pity Party

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

Not that long ago, I watched Shirley Valentine, a film in which a housewife decides she wants more out of life, leaves her husband for Greece, has an affair, and discovers herself. I enjoyed the hell out of it. I found it surprising, heartfelt, and entertaining. Today I watched The Happy Ending, a film in which a housewife decides she wants more out of life, leaves her husband for the Bahamas, has an affair, and discovers herself. And it’s one of the most cynical, hateful movie experiences I’ve had this decade.

Here’s the quick and dirty: A young woman named Mary (Jean Simmons) leaves college a semester before graduating to marry Fred Wilson (John Forsythe). After 15 or so years of marriage, the two have a daughter (Kathy Fields) and Mary has developed a problem with booze and pills. Based on no real evidence she is convinced her husband is having a series of affairs (later confirmed at least in the singular). After all, a number of the clients for his tax business are attractive divorcees. After a possible suicide attempt and hidden bottles of vodka, Mary decides that she wants out. So, on their anniversary, she pawns a bunch of her jewelry and heads off to the Bahamas.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Your Face Pics Movies (Nick): Man on Wire

Film: Man on Wire
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is the ninth in a series of twelve movies selected by the guys at YourFace. This is Nick’s third pick.

As it happens, I’m putting up a review of Man on Wire about 10 days before the release of a biopic version of the same story. That wasn’t by design; it just happened that this is Nick’s month and the last film he’s suggested for me evidently has a Christmas theme, so I’m saving it for December. It’s a happy coincidence. This also happens to be the only of Nick’s four suggestions that isn’t an animated movie.

Man on Wire is the story of Philippe Petit, a French wire walker who conceived of the dream of walking between the two towers of the World Trade Center. According to the documentary, Petit first came up with this notion when he first heard of the towers before they were built. That may well be true, since it would appear that he fashioned his entire life based around the idea that he would someday walk on a high wire between the two buildings.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Stop the Presses!

Film: Absence of Malice
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

My wife and I met when we both worked on a college newspaper together. After college and for a bit after we were married, Sue was an editor for a small town newspaper. During those years, she wanted to watch any movie that involved or was about newspaper reporters. We watched a lot of them, including Absence of Malice. Sue also doesn’t tend to remember movies that well, so when this showed up in the mail, I reminded her that we’d seen this together years ago. She didn’t remember, not that I was surprised. She hasn’t worked for a newspaper in a couple of decades, so she doesn’t have the same fondness for reporter-based films anymore.

Absence of Malice is gets into the moral issues of news reporting in a way much deeper than most films of a similar bent. The movie asks the question of how far someone should go for a story and what moral responsibilities that reporter has for the people affected by that story. In a world of the 24-hour news cycle and tabloid journalism, it’s a question that doesn’t seem to be asked much anymore, and it’s one worth asking.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Off Script: Rampage

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

The three lists of horror movies I’m watching are a mixed bag in almost every respect. Some of these horror movies are among the best movies ever made. Others have proven to be badly made, ridiculous, and not really worth my time. Another way these are a mixed bag is that while many of them really are horror movies, a number of them are not. Rampage is one of these. I’ve classified it in the tags for this post as a horror movie simply because it’s on one of the horror lists. In any sane world, though, this would never be classified as horror despite some truly horrific elements.

That’s a little surprising since this comes from William Friedkin, who is most famous for The Exorcist. Rampage is tangential to horror in that it covers several gruesome, senseless crimes and dives heavily into ideas of insanity. For me, though, it’s hard to call something a true horror film if it’s based (or could be based) in reality, and Rampage is definitely centered in the real world.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Just Desert(s)

Film: Rango
Format: DVD from Schmaling Memorial Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

A bit more than a year ago I watched Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson’s animated film. My issue with that movie is that I have no idea who it was made for. The closest I could come to a potential audience for it is the children of Wes Anderson fans. I’m running into a similar issue with Rango. This is an animated movie about a chameleon who appears in town that’s an odd throwback to the ancient West, but a lot of it seems far more adult than a children’s movie. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this isn’t a children’s movie despite all of the trappings that make it look like one. I’m not bothered by the instances of “hell” or “damn” in the dialogue or the occasional sexual reference that kids might actually pick up on. No, I’m just not sure that there’s much here for a younger audience. At the same time, I’m not sure that a lot of adults would voluntarily choose to watch a film about an animated chameleon.

Anyway, our unnamed chameleon (Johnny Depp) lives in his own little terrarium world where he evidently writes and produces plays of his own design, using the other elements of his cage (including a partial Barbie doll and a wind-up fish) as his other actors. As it happens, his owners are evidently moving. The car hits a bump, the terrarium goes flying, and the chameleon finds himself stranded on a desert highway. The only thing he has to talk to is his wind-up fish and an armadillo (Alfred Molina) that is somehow still alive despite being almost bisected by a passing truck.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

It's a Gas!

Film: I Want to Live!
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I Want to Live! is a polemic. As it happens, it’s a polemic that I happen to agree with in terms of its ultimate message. That unfortunately doesn’t change the fact that I Want to Live! gets at its ultimate message by playing significantly with the underlying story we are being told. This is a film that evidently fudges the truth to tell a better story. How much does it fudge the truth? Frankly, it apparently reverses events completely.

Barbara Graham (an Oscar-winning Susan Hayward) is the ultimate good-time party girl. She’s been booked for a number of misdemeanor charges including solicitation, but that hasn’t done anything to change her ways. At one point, she is asked by a couple of associates to lie for them on the stand to prevent them from going to prison. Not only do the two cons end up spending hard time, Barbara gets a year for perjury. Once she’s out, she decides to go straight. She marries Henry Graham (Wesley Lau) and attempts to enter the regular world.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Picks from Chip: The Man from Earth

Film: The Man from Earth
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

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

I’m not allowed to take gifts from my students because it creates a conflict of interest. However, after said student graduates, I don’t see much of an issue with it. I was given a copy of The Man from Earth by a student a number of years ago and was told that I should really watch it. I just never got around to it. So when Chip put it on my list, I figured that I’d get to it this year.

Here’s the elevator pitch: A man named John Oldman (David Lee Smith) is leaving his position as a professor at a small university. A few of his friends show up to see him off and to question why he’s suddenly decided to leave. John spins a tale about his life, claiming to have lived for more than 14,000 years. John claims that he began life as a Paleolithic cave dweller, lived nomadically from tribe to tribe for centuries, spent millennia as a Sumerian, and influenced history in a number of significant ways. Meanwhile, his audience decides whether or not he is believable or has gone completely insane.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Off Script: Hellraiser

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

I’ve read some Clive Barker although it’s been years. I haven’t loved his novels much, but some of his short stories are incredibly memorable. “In the Hills, the Cities” is the kind of story that stays with a person, or at least it was for me. Hellraiser was both written and directed by Barker, based on his novel “The Hellbound Heart.” The film created one of the most enduring horror icons in history. Pinhead is as much a part of horror lore as Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers. Hellraiser is a classic of the genre for a reason and very much in spite of some epically bad special effects.

Just as enduring a horror image is that of the puzzle box, which has a central place in the film. Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman, but played by Oliver Smith in his eventual undead state), looking for the extreme in sensual pleasures, finds the signature puzzle box in a shop. He purchases it and solves it, unleashing a series of hooked chains that sink into his flesh and rend him into pieces. The puzzle box, however, remains. Shortly thereafter, Frank’s brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) moves into his childhood home with his second wife Julia (Claire Higgins), not knowing that this is the very place where Frank was torn to bits or that the puzzle box is still in the house.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

At the Movies

Film: Life Itself
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

It’s not a stretch to call Roger Ebert an inspiration. For anyone who keeps a movie blog, Roger Ebert is in some way the cause of that blog. Ebert democratized film criticism. He made it something that everyone could do, opening up the conversation on what film is and what film means to everyone. People have probably talked about movies since the movies began, but with their television show, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel made seriously discussing films something we could do. So when I found Life Itself, a film about Ebert’s last days streaming on NetFlix, I knew it was something I would watch. I also figure there’s a 50/50 chance of it appearing in the next edition of the 1001 Movies because of how much of an impact Ebert had on film criticism.

I’m not, however, going to discuss the film that much here. It isn’t exactly a warts-and-all biography, although there are plenty of warts on display. It is an honest look at the man’s life, though, looking at his faults and failures and his triumphs. Like any good biography, it’s filled with quotes from the man himself as well as from friends, colleagues, and admirers and a great deal from his wife Chaz. It’s also a frank look at his last days, his battle with cancer, and his how, despite losing his ability to talk in his last years, how he continued to be a part of the conversation, continued to be vital to film and film culture, and his own reflections of a life lived sitting in the dark and staring at a screen.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Film: Equus
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Often when it comes to an adapted screenplay, I’m not familiar with the source material. That’s not the case with Equus, which I have read. I’ve never seen the play performed, but a reading of this play is the sort of thing that stays with a person. Equus is not an easy read or an easy watch, but it is completely unforgettable. The 1977 version features the master of overacting, Richard Burton doing exactly what he does best. A drama like this one is built for someone prone to Burton’s particular brand of ham.

Equus is an unpleasant story. We start with Dr. Martin Dysart (Burton), a psychologist who is currently going through his own crisis while he treats children under his care. He is given a new case by Hesther Saloman (Eileen Atkins). This case is that of Alan Strang (Peter Firth), a young man who, for no evident reason, blinded six horses with a spike at a stable where he worked. It’s obvious that there is something going on with young Alan, and it’s Dysart’s job to figure out exactly why he did what he did.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Disney Princess

Film: Brave
Format: DVD from Coal City Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve seen almost everything ever produced by Pixar, and I’ve gotten one step closer now that I’ve watched Brave. I’ve been sort of warned about Brave, that it’s not of the same quality as other Pixar films, or at least that there are a number of Pixar films better than this one. It’s unfortunate to go into a movie with a preconceived notion, but when it comes to movies from this branch of Disney, it’s hard not to know what almost everyone thinks right away.

So, as the last person in North America to watch Brave, I’ll be quick with the recap. Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is a young Scottish princess who chafes at the role she is forced to play. She’d rather shoot arrows and run about. She clashes frequently with her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) about her behavior and seems to be otherwise tolerated by her father King Fergus (Billy Connolly).

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Romance with Schnitzel

Film: A Foreign Affair
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Once upon a time, someone told Marlene Dietrich that she could sing. Because of this, I’ve now watched three movies where Dietrich plays a torch singer. I didn’t get it with Der Blaue Engel, I really didn’t get it with Destry Rides Again, and I don’t get it with A Foreign Affair, either. I like Dietrich in general and I genuinely like her in a lot of movies, but I can’t stand her when she’s standing on stage. With A Foreign Affair, at least we don’t have to deal with too many numbers.

This is a Billy Wilder film, though, which means a number of things. It means that we’ll get some comedy here, and it means that the comedy we get will be tinged black. It also means that while this is a comedy and a romance, there’s going to be something else going on. A Foreign Affair is absolutely a romantic comedy, but it’s also about people trying to survive in post-war Germany, dealing with the black market and terrible shortages. There’s a desperation that works as an undercurrent for the story it tells.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

Film: Divorce American Style
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Norman Lear was responsible for a lot of edgy television in his day. Lear’s shows were ostensibly comedies, but often had a much harder edge to them especially for the time. So it’s not much of a surprise when a Lear-written screenplay turns out to be edgy, too. Divorce American Style is a comedy, but not the sort of comedy that causes a lot of laughing. This film is like trying something to eat that you don’t quite like by keep trying to see if you’ve acquired the taste. Lear had a way of getting an audience to smile, but smile uncomfortably.

Richard (Dick Van Dyke) and Barbara Harmon (Debbie Reynolds) have been married for nearly a dozen and a half years and the spark has left the marriage. Now all they seem to do is fight. They’re both capable of maintaining a good front when they have guests, but on their own, they bicker constantly and tear each other down. Even an evening designed to bring the two of them closer ends up in an argument. Both get advice from friends to empty the joint accounts and safety deposit box and they discover each other in the act. Before you can say “Doodley-doodle-doop,” we’re in divorce court.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

I'm Crazy for Loving You

Film: The Story of Adele H
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Issabelle Adjani has been nominated for two Oscars: one for Camille Claudel and one for The Story of Adele H, which is what I watched today. Three other movies of hers I can name off the top of my head are the remake of Diablolique, the remake of Nosferatu and the psychotic horror film Possession. I haven’t seen the first film mentioned, but evidently in that film, Adjani plays a schizophrenic. What does this mean? It means that virtually every Isabelle Adjani film that I can name has her playing someone with some sort of mental illness.

The Story of Adele H concerns the life of Adele Hugo, the second daughter of Victor Hugo, who wrote “Les Miserables” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” This is a story told in much less of a grand sweep than the tales of Hugo tend to be, though. This is because this is not a grand romance, but a tale of mental illness disguised as a romance.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Meth: It Does a Body Good

Film: Winter’s Bone
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

The only thing I knew about Winter’s Bone going in was that Jennifer Lawrence starred in the film and that it was her first Oscar nomination. Well, I knew that and also knew that almost everyone who had seen it had liked it. In a very strange way, Winter’s Bone reminds me of Eastern Promises. It’s not that the two are similar in plot. It’s just that both of them are the most depressing movies with a hopeful ending I can think of. Nothing good happens to anyone in either film, and yet both end on something like an up note.

Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is 17-year-old with an adult’s responsibilities. Her mother is mentally ill, which forces Ree into the position of tending to her younger brother Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and sister Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson). Ree does the best she can, which really isn’t all that well. She does her best to keep the kids fed and clothed, but having to do everything at such a young age has left a lot to be desired. It doesn’t help that her father is serving time for cooking meth. Jessup Dolly is out on bail, but his whereabouts are unknown. Since he put up the house and woods behind it as collateral, if he misses his court date, Ree and her family will lose the house. The local sheriff (Garrett Dillahunt) is sympathetic to Ree’s plight, but there’s not much he can do.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Film: The Sunshine Boys
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m not a huge fan of Neil Simon. I realize that there was a time (generally the 1970s) when Simon could do no wrong, but there’s something artificial about his plays. Simon was too clever by a half; all of his characters were not merely quirky; they were all quirky in the same way. Everyone always had the right thing to say all the time. Everyone is an emotional train wreck. A little Neil Simon goes a long way with me, so it wasn’t without reservations that I watched The Sunshine Boys.

The Sunshine Boys suffers from the exact same problem as all of the other Neil Simon that I’m familiar with. However, it’s tempered here. First, this really is a well-done screenplay. Second, it contains a couple of truly great performances. Walter Matthau was nominated for Best Actor for this role, and George Burns (in his first movie in more than 30 years) won for Best Supporting Actor. The characters, especially Matthau’s, are extreme, but I can’t fault the performances for a second.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

...Leading the Blind

Film: A Patch of Blue
Format: Streaming video from TCM Watch on laptop.

A Patch of Blue is a film that is very much a product of its time. That’s true of all movies, of course, but in this case, there’d be no reason to ever remake the story. A Patch of Blue is the story of an abused and socially oppressed blind girl who is befriended by a kind office worker. That doesn’t sound like much, but in this case, the blind girl is white, the office worker is black, and this is 1965.

Selina D’Arcey (Elizabeth Hartman in her debut role) is blind and lives almost the entirety of her life within the confines of her tiny apartment. She shares this apartment with mother Rose-Ann (Shelley Winters, who won the Supporting Actress Oscar for the role) and her grandfather Ole Pa (Wallace Ford). Rose-Ann makes something like a living as a prostitute, while her hobby seems to be making life as terrible for Selina as she can. Ole Pa isn’t much better; he is similarly abusive of Selina although not to the same extent, but his alcoholism makes him an ineffectual guardian at best. Selina spends her days stuck in the apartment doing chores and stringing sets of beads for Mr. Faber (John Qualen) as a way to supplement the family income.