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.