Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of Year Six

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

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

Picks from Chip

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Hero Worship

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2015

Not the Television Show

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

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

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

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Bataan Love March

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

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

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

Thursday, December 24, 2015

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Off Script: Black Christmas (1974)

Film: Black Christmas
Format: Internet video on laptop.

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

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Beverage Service

Film: Flight
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2015

YourFace Picks Movies (Nick): Tokyo Godfathers

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Surfin' Bird

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Too Much Money

Film: Holiday
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Urban Love Story

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2015

Picks from Chip: Brick

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Day with Woody

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

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

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

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Waiting Game

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Fair Pygmalion

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

May/December Yet Again

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

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

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

Monday, December 7, 2015

An Accounting Ledger for a Heart

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

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

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

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Lying in the Gutter You Can See the Stars

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

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

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

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Wild Wild West

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

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

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

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Emotional Baggage

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


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

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

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

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

You Never Forget Your First Girl

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

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

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