Sunday, December 31, 2017

End of Year Eight

I set a movie goal for myself every year of watching 400 different movies. Last year, I averaged a movie per day. This year, I got a little closer, but fell just short, even with a huge push in the last couple of weeks to try to hit 400. Yesterday, I was at 392, meaning I needed another eight movies in two days. I made an effort, but I’m pretty much done at 398. Close, but no set of steak knives for yours truly. You can see what I watched this year here: Everything I've Watched in 2017. Of the 398 movies I watched this year, only 65 were rewatches, so 333 of them were new to me.

In many of my year-end posts, I have an announcement or two. I suppose I kind of do this year as well. The reality of my Oscar lists is that I have a mere 112 movies left not including 20 or so that will be added in a couple of weeks for the next round of Oscars. Since there are probably a good dozen and a half that I can’t locate no matter how much I try, it puts me at needing to review only 9 or 10 per month to finish. So, I guess that means that I’ll be completing those lists as far as I can in 2018.

Where do we go from there? Unknown, although the They Shoot Zombies, Don’t They? list has been calling me. And with several hundred more Oscar Got It Wrong! posts to go, I think we’ll be here for some time yet.

Let’s hope for a better 2018 than we had a 2017. Peace, prosperity, and good cinema to all.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants

Film: The Shape of Water
Format: Classic Cinemas Charlestowne 18.

I would be lying if I suggested that I didn’t have high hopes for The Shape of Water. I always have high hopes for anything touched by Guillermo del Toro, and that’s especially true when he’s sitting in the director’s chair. The Shape of Water is the film I’ve been waiting for since I saw the first trailer. The movie has been given a slow open, and now, about a good month after the film officially opened, the closest theater showing the movie is a good 45 minutes away. Still, I see all of del Toro’s movies in the theater, so it was only a matter of time before I went to see it.

I’m going to spill the beans a little here. The Shape of Water is good, even very good. It is as beautiful as any of del Toro’s films and perhaps quite a bit more beautiful than many of them. But it doesn’t quite rise to the level of great. There are moments that are as good as anything del Toro has ever done. But I guessed the ending, and the ending is something the film doesn’t quite earn.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Train to Busan (Busanhaeng)

Film: Train to Busan (Busanhaeng)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

Zombie movies are popular and have been for years, but we’re getting better and better zombie movies these days. I find this fascinating. So often, a genre becomes tired and played out as more and more filmmakers dive in with their own versions of what quickly becomes standard and then cliché. Sure, there are plenty of bad zombie moves, but some filmmakers are exploring the ideas as real challenges and coming up with exciting films. Train to Busan (Busanhaeng in the Korean) is one of these films. However, the reason it is so interesting and worth seeing isn’t really about the ideas.

So let’s talk about that for a moment. A film like Warm Bodies took the genre and made a Romeo and Juliet-style romance out of zombies. Maggie was a contemplative film about family that just happened to have a zombie story attached to it. The Girl with All the Gifts, while technically not a zombie film, gives us a story from at least partially the point of view of the infected. Train to Busan does none of this. It is a straightforward zombie film that works for two reasons. First, it relies on the same speed of transmission of films like 28 Days Later. Second, it doesn’t stop.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Getting Away with Murder

Film: Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Indagine su un Cittadino al di Sopra di Ogni Sospetto)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Oscar hasn’t always known how to handle non-English movies. A case in point is Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Indagine su un Cittadino al di Sopra di Ogni Sospetto). This film won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for 1970, and then was nominated the next year for Best Original Screenplay for 1971. Evidently, according to Oscar, this film had two release years. Perhaps the Best Original Screenplay nominees for 1971 were so weak that they had to go hunting to fill the ranks. I suppose we’ll figure that out eventually.

Elio Petri’s film (he directed and co-wrote it) presents us with a story that needs to be taken in several different ways at the same time. On the surface, it’s a police procedural with an interesting twist—one that we’re aware of the whole time. It is simultaneously one of the most subversive films I have ever seen.

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Adapted Screenplay 2010

The Contenders:

127 Hours
The Social Network (winner)
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter’s Bone

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Last Minute Shopping

In the past, I’ve traditionally added 10 movies to The List on Christmas, but this year, Christmas falls on an Oscar day, and Oscar posts always take precedence. Because of that, this year, we get to open our presents early, and I’m going to suggest 10 movies that I think deserve to be on the 1001 Movies list that have for some reason been ignored.

This isn’t an ordered list. Instead, it’s more or less in the order I thought of them.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Send Me an Angel

Film: The Bishop’s Wife
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

For the last few years, every time that Christmas has come along, I have considered watching The Bishop’s Wife and have always run out of time, just never getting around to it. With the number of movies I have left on my Oscars lists, it’s unlikely that I’ll have anything left other than movies I can’t find next December, so if I wanted to watch this at a time when it would be topical, it was pretty much now or never. Fortunately, this is exactly the sort of film that gets played on Turner Classic Movies in December, so I recorded one of the instances and watched the film today after a holiday get-together with my family.

It’s easy to put this in the same sort of vague category of Christmas movie as something like It’s a Wonderful Life because there is a strong supernatural component here. Specifically, there’s an angel who shows up and drives the plot. That angel calls himself Dudley (Cary Grant), and he has appeared to assist Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven), who is trying to build a new cathedral. Now, Brougham’s denomination is never stated as far as I know, but he’s clearly not a Catholic bishop because he’s married to Julia (Loretta Young) and they have a daughter named Debby (Karolyn Grimes).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Leisure Class

Film: Mr. & Mrs. Bridge
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I was a couple of minutes into Mr. & Mrs. Bridge when I realized I was in trouble. I went into it not knowing that it’s a Merchant/Ivory movie. I don’t want to talk Merchant/Ivory down, but I do have a bit of a history with them. That history is easily summed up: I don’t like them that much. They are routinely gorgeous and apparently historically accurate in terms of costuming and the like, but I also routinely find these films to be emotional slogs concerning people I really don’t care about. I’ve liked one or two of their films, though, and I do always attempt to like what I’m watching, so I forged ahead, worried but hopeful.

It’s nice to give a movie the benefit of the doubt, but in the case of Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, it didn’t deserve it. This is perhaps my least favorite type of movie. This is little more than a character study of two people I genuinely dislike. Rather than having a plot, it has episodes, and rather than reaching a conclusion, it simply ends. Despite a good cast, there is not a character here that is sympathetic or worth spending time around.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Christmas Evil (You Better Watch Out)

Film: Christmas Evil (You Better Watch Out)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

The various posters/art I have seen for Christmas Evil (also released as You Better Watch Out) shows either a Santa Claus-suited hand holding a knife or an axe-wielding Santa standing in front of a fireplace. Both promise a movie with Santa-as-slasher, but that is only partially true in the case of this film. It’s not really a slasher, although it is a film about a mass killer who does have both a knife and an axe at various points in the film. I’m not sure exactly what this is aside from being really weird.

We start in the past as two young boys (Wally Moran and Gus Salud) sit with their mother (Ellen McElduff) watching Santa Claus put presents under the tree. Later, one of the boys wakes up and sneaks downstairs only to see his mother and Santa having the beginnings of some sexy time. The boy is traumatized, not realizing that the man in the suit is his father (Brian Hartigan).

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Mo' Mob Money, Mo' Mob Problems

Film: Bullets Over Broadway
Format: DVD from Mokena Community Public Library on laptop.

A little over a month ago, when all of the sexual misconduct allegations were breaking and it seemed like half of Hollywood was a sexual predator, I posted something about my own (admittedly temporary) inability to work up any enthusiasm for watching anything. There are posts I’m going to have to make here that will concern known and admitted predators, and I’m still not entirely sure how to handle that. Bullets Over Broadway is a case in point. Woody Allen has been accused of the sexual abuse of a minor. He also happens to be an acclaimed writer and director, and Bullets Over Broadway is one of his better films.

And herein lies the problem that I was talking about a month ago. How exactly do I address Allen’s work? I mean, Bullets Over Broadway is nicely directed. It’s got a lot of moving parts and all of them work together well. It’s a good script with memorable characters. And yet, I find it difficult to praise Woody Allen right now.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Och Aye the Noo

Film: Tunes of Glory
Format: DVD from Netflix on laptop.

I think you can be forgiven if you, as I did, think that a film called Tunes of Glory was bound to be a musical. Truthfully, it’s a reason I haven’t been that keen to track it down. I mean, I knew I’d get to it eventually, but I wasn’t necessarily on the lookout for it. Still, the Oscar list is getting smaller and smaller, so there are fewer places for odd films to hide. When this showed up from NetFlix, I figured I’d roll the dice and hope that at least the songs would be good.

Well, Tunes of Glory is not a musical. It’s also not a war film despite taking place virtually entirely within the context of a military battalion. It’s also not quite a character study, although in some ways it would very much like to be. While it’s not a story that would be classified as a war story, it is about a war of wills between two men who are broken in very different ways.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Minstrel Show

Film: The Jolson Story; Jolson Sings Again
Format: DVD from Netflix (Story) and internet video (Again) on laptop.

Allegedlly, back in the day, Al Jolson was considered the commensurate performer. That being the case, it’s hardly surprising that a movie was made based on his life. It’s perhaps a little surprising that two movies were made based on his life and that both wound up on my Oscars lists. Still, if ever there was an opportunity for a double feature, two movies about Al Jolson with an almost identical cast list would clearly be it.

Before jumping into the movies, it’s worth talking for a moment about Larry Parks, who plays Jolson in both films. This is a guy for whom I feel very sorry. The Jolson Story was his coming out party and it made him a star. That stardom lasted only a couple of years, because Parks was indicted in the blacklist scandal, admitted to having once belonged to a communist cell, and his career was destroyed. And, the movie for which Parks is best remembered is one in which he performs a great deal in blackface. Here’s someone who clearly never caught a break.

Thursday, December 14, 2017


Film: Half Nelson
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I didn’t know what to expect with Half Nelson, but I was extremely nervous about where we were going a few minutes in. Half Nelson looks like it’s going to be another one of those “white savior” movies where the white teacher is working in an inner city school inspiring all of the minority kids to escape the ghetto. Thankfully, it’s quickly evident that it’s not that at all. This is not going to be one of those inspirational films, but it is going to wind up being depressing as all hell.

That is where we’re going to start, though. Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a history teacher at a middle school where he also coaches the girls’ basketball team. The kids seem to like him; he’s young and relatively hip, treats the kids as if they have intelligence, and tends to avoid the curriculum in favor of something a lot closer to communist philosophy a la Engels. It’s a front, though. At night, Dan Dunne does a lot of drugs, specifically cocaine, often freebasing. Much of this comes from a failed relationship with Rachel (Tina Holmes).

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Girl with All the Gifts

Film: The Girl with All the Gifts
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on various players.

One of the main issues with a film like The Girl with All the Gifts, is that it’s going to create the same arguments that happened when 28 Days Later was released. The biggest controversy with that film was whether or not the infected were actually zombies. Well, the same argument is going to happen with the hungries in The Girl with All the Gifts. They are clearly zombie-like in almost every relevant way (including eating their victims), but they aren’t really resurrected corpses. Whether they are zombies or not is an argument others can have; they are clearly zombie-inspired.

It’s not clear right away that this is a zombie-like film. Instead, it’s not at all clear what is happening. A group of 20 young children are daily strapped into wheelchairs and put in a room where they are taught by a collection of teachers, including Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton). Helen seems particularly taken with the girl sitting in position four, Melanie (Sennia Nanua). The base is clearly military, though, and everyone seems insanely paranoid around the children. We soon find out why when Helen touches Melanie’s head.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Off Script: House of Frankenstein

Film: House of Frankenstein
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I realize that there are probably people who don’t love the classic Universal monsters, something I find nearly impossible to believe. I do love them, though, even the silly ones that gave up all pretense of being actual stories that dealt with the original source material and became nothing but camp goofiness. That’s certainly the best description of House of Frankenstein, well down into the list of Universal monster films both in terms of when it was made and in terms of its overall quality. There are some solid connections to the movies of the past in terms of cast, but not much else.

House of Frankenstein’s selling point is that there’s not just a single monster here. No, the joy here is to bring in as many monsters as possible. So, in addition to Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), we’ve also got Dracula (John Carradine!), the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr. reprising his most famous role), a mad scientist named Niemann (Boris Karloff), and his hunchbacked assistant Daniel (J. Carrol Naish). Unfortunately, just as when super hero movies up the ante by adding more villains and end up giving everyone short shrift, the same happens with this many monsters in this case. That’s especially true when the film runs a spare 71 minutes.

Sunday, December 10, 2017


Film: The Jungle Book (2016)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Normally, I’m done with the new entries for the 1001 Movies list long before 10 days into December, but I’ve still got a couple to go (well, one more after today). There’s a reason for this. I, Daniel Blake isn’t available anywhere that I’ve found and I really wasn’t that interested in watching a new reworking of The Jungle Book. However, I do want them done by the end of the year, and The Jungle Book is currently streaming, so it made sense to knock it out. It was better than I thought it would be, although at this point that doesn’t say much; remember, I wasn’t looking forward to watching it.

Chances are you know the basic story. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) lives in an Indian jungle, literally raised by wolves. His wolf mother is named Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o) and the pack is led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). Mowgli does his best to become the best wolf he can be, but, since he’s human, he’s not always that great at it. Still, he’s accepted in the wolf pack and mentored by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), a panther.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Crunchy Granola

Film: 20th Century Women
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m worried about Annette Bening. I’ve never been her biggest cheerleader, but with good material (The Grifters, American Beauty), she can be tremendous on screen. Of all the movies she has made since 2010, I’ve now seen three, and she plays a variation of the same type of character in each—the Bohemian mom-type who really wants to understand her kids and help them fully realize themselves. Okay, in The Kids Are All Right she’s less that, but the movie has that vibe to it. She’s very much that in Ruby Sparks, a film I hated despite being told how great it is. And she is the full realization of that in 20th Century Women. This is a personality type that I have come to know (through my wife) as “crunchy granola.”

20th Century Women is at least a vaguely autobiographical of writer/director Mike Mills (not the bass player from R.E.M.). The film takes place in Santa Barbara in 1979 and concerns Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), who is 15 and lives with Dorothea (Annette Bening), his divorced mother. Dorothea, in addition to her normal job, runs a boarding house. Two of the residents, mechanic and part-time carpenter William (Billy Crudup) and photographer/cancer survivor Abbie (Greta Gerwig) are going to be important to the story as well. The final piece of the puzzle is Julie (Elle Fanning), who is Jamie’s friend and often sleeps with him in his room, but refuses to have sex with him since she believes this will destroy their friendship.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Silver Linings Sketchbook

Film: David and Lisa
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

There’s a particular type of film that takes place at least in part in the confines of a psychiatrist’s office. I think people tend to be fascinated by mental health issues, probably because of a desire to understand something that seems so strange. Movies in this odd little genre run the gamut from serious looks at mental health for the time (The Snake Pit) to prurient tales (Shock Corridor). They often deal with terrible, deep-seated issues (Equus, Ordinary People, Good Will Hunting) and sometimes romance (I’m a Cyborg, but That’s Okay, Silver Linings Playbook). David and Lisa attempts to be many of these things. It wants to be serious and it wants to be a romance. What it isn’t, though, is a real look at the problems of our characters.

Here’s what I mean by that. David Clemens (Keir Dullea) is brought to a youth-oriented psychiatric hospital more or less disguised as a school. David has an intense fear of being touched. He is also obsessed with time, and has a recurring dream in which he executes people with the hands of an enormous clock. Do we learn why any of this is true? We do not. Lisa Brandt (Janet Margolin) gets called a schizophrenic in the movie, but she seems to have a split personality. There is Lisa who speaks only in childish rhymes and there is Muriel, who doesn’t speak and communicates only by drawing. Do we learn why? Of course not.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Wednesday Horror: American Psycho

Film: American Psycho
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Back in my podcasting days, Nick Jobe and I watched American Psycho. I don’t remember what the theme of that episode was, and I don’t remember the movie I picked to pair with it, but this was definitely Nick’s choice. That’s not a comment on Nick, just a recognition that Nick had seen it and I hadn’t. The truth is that I think American Psycho is close to an underknown classic, a film that should be better known and more frequently seen. This is sardonic film, a sort of winking nod at the excesses of the Reagan-fueled 1980s and the immoral, greed-soaked culture that it spawned.

One of the genius moves of American Psycho is that we never really know what its anti-hero Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) actually does for a living. He works for a firm called Pierce & Pierce and his business cards say “Vice President,” but we never really see him doing anything in terms of actually earning a living. In truth, he is our American psycho, someone who is completely without emotion, a true psychopath. We learn initially of his morning routine designed to help him keep up the façade of his daily life—his sort-of fiancée Evelyn (Reese Witherspoon), his work life, his insane jealousy over other people’s business cards. But, buried deep inside him, there is a growing disgust with the world and a bloodlust that demands being sated.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tortured Past

Film: Music Box
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve mentioned in the past about my position on Holocaust drama. I fully agree that it’s a story that needs to be told over and over. But there is only so much real horror I can stand before something like numbness sets in. It’s not a lack of outrage on my part, but sort of an overwhelming grayness where the horror is still there and I’ve lost the ability to react to it in some way. It’s why I pace myself on such films. Too many right in a row, and I emotionally freeze up to protect myself. Paced out, I can still feel the full horror, revulsion, and outrage that is necessary. And then we get Music Box, and my outrage comes from somewhere entirely different.

Anne Talbot (Jessica Lange) is a defense attorney in Chicago. She has just learned that her Hungarian immigrant father, Michael J. Laszlo (Armin Mueller-Stahl) may have his U.S. citizenship revoked for lying on his forms. The state contends that he lied because he a war criminal who actively participated in the slaughter of Roma people and Jews in Hungary. In fact, the state contends that he is actually a man known as Mishka, a commander of the Arrow Cross death squad. Michael claims that the accusations are false and have come from Hungarian communists who are attempting to discredit him for protests he was a part of. For her part, Anne believes in the truth of her father.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Welcome to Stepford

Film: Get Out
Format: HBO on hotel television.

When Get Out became the sudden darling of the movie world. I was intrigued. That happens with a horror movie now and then, and tends to happen with a horror movie that really deserves it. There was huge, worthy buzz surrounding films like It Follows, for instance, and while opinion is divided on The Blair Witch Project, there’s no denying that it was influential in no small part because of the huge sensation it caused. But, I don’t go to the theater that often. It’s been almost two years since I’ve sat down in a crowd to watch a film, and I knew that if it were big and important enough, it would show up on my television eventually. Well, it showed up on a hotel television, and that’s good enough for me.

Let’s first of all be honest about one thing: Get Out was hailed as being incredibly and fiercely original. It’s not. In many ways, it’s a racially-based riff on The Stepford Wives with a bit of Being John Malkovich thrown in for good measure. That’s simply true, and it also matters not in the least. That’s because Get Out feels incredibly new and original from the moment it starts to get a little odd to the third act when it spins into full-on, violent horror. Good filmmakers can make the old feel new and can give an old idea relevance in the modern world. That’s precisely what writer/director Jordan Peele has done here.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Created Equal

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

In 2008, when Milk was released, it seemed like a story that needed to be told. Now, about a decade later, it feels a lot more important in some ways. This is the story, or at least part of the story, of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person elected to public office in California. That Milk served only 11 months before being assassinated is clearly a part of the reason for the biopic.

A summary of the film is more or less the summary of the last eight years of Milk’s life. Beginning in New York, Milk (Sean Penn) and his partner Scott Smith (James Franco) head to the more gay-friendly environs of San Francisco, eventually settling in an area known as the Castro that was becoming a more gay-friendly and dominated area of the city. Still subjected to near-constant discrimination, Milk starts working as an activist and running unsuccessfully for political office. Scott begins as his campaign manager, but eventually becomes frustrated with Harvey’s activism and leaves him.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Ship to Shore

Film: Cinderella Liberty
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

Once again, I’m presented with a movie that I completely didn’t expect. Cinderella Liberty has the sound of a happy movie about a breezy romance. It’s anything but. This is a movie that goes to some horribly dark places and sits there and never lets up. That it ends with a slight uplift is forgivable here—this is a film that needs it. I’m not entirely sure of my final take on it, but that’s par for the course for a film that digs deeply into the sort of petty, selfish wickedness of people.

John Baggs Jr. (James Caan) is a sailor during peacetime who checks himself into the medical facility at the Seattle Naval base. He has a minor medical complaint, but it turns out he needs some tests, and the tests won’t be complete before his ship sails again. This means that, like it or not, he’s on shore until he can be placed on another ship. He’s given what is called a “Cinderella liberty,” which means he is free to leave the base, but the liberty ends at midnight, much like Cinderella’s magic. On the leave, he wanders into a bar and encounters Maggie Paul (Marsha Mason), who is a prostitute and pool hustler. John loses a couple of games to her, then ups the bet to more money than she has. The bet then becomes, more or less, for her services, and he wins handily.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Scanners

Films: Scanners
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on rockin’ flatscreen.

Scanners, which contains an early scene in which a man’s head literally explodes, has one of the most-paused film moments from the entire decade of the ‘80s. It ranks somewhere up in the neighborhood of Phoebe Cates removing her bikini top in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, although clearly for different reasons.

The high concept of Scanners is that there are people who have the ability to “link up” their own nervous system with those of other people. These “scanners” are people who are often pushed to the fringes of society because they don’t really have the ability to control this “gift,” and thus are almost always assaulted by the thoughts of other people. This is certainly the case with Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack), who encounters some prejudice in a mall food court since he looks like a derelict. The woman making these comments soon suffers an attack that looks like an aneurysm, and Cameron is quickly hunted down and tranquilized by a gang of what seem to be quasi-government agents.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Rinse and Set

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

Once upon a time, there was a world were all everyone thought about was sex. Oh, sure, they might have done other stuff and worked for other stuff, but based on a lot of the movies, there was a great deal of free love happening everywhere. Surprisingly, I’m not talking about the ‘60s, but the mid-‘70s. Shampoo comes out of that period, and while there is a plot here, that plot and everything about it revolves entirely around sex. This isn’t a judgment on the film; it’s just a statement of fact.

George Roundy (Warren Beatty) is a successful hairdresser in Beverly Hills. He’s been able to use this position to meet and bed dozens upon dozens of women. What he’d really like to do is open his own salon, but he doesn’t have the funds to do it. While he is clearly the creative talent in the salon, he’s under the thumb of the salon’s owner, Norman (Jay Robinson). Of more pressing concern to him is his trio of relationships. He has a girlfriend, Jill (Goldie Hawn); he has an ex, Felicia (Lee Grant); and he has a customer with whom he frequently sleeps, Jackie (Julie Christie). This trio of relationships is made more difficult because George is actively soliciting backing money from Lester Karpf (Jack Warden), who happens to be married to Felicia and is having an affair with Jackie.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Terminal Relationships

Film: Up in the Air
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Up in the Air has been sitting on a shelf in my house for a long time. It’s a weird bit of reality that I find it sometimes difficult to pull the trigger on movies on my list that I own. The reason is simple: it’s a movie I don’t have to look for, which means other movies are more pressing concerns. The availability of the movies I own isn’t limited in anyway. Still, I do need to watch them, and it was time for this one, about which I knew nothing. Honestly, I bought it in a group of movies at a sale a few years ago and bought it specifically because I knew I’d have to watch it eventually.

The selling point of Up in the Air is that we’re given a main character who is almost unique in certain characteristics. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) works on the road more than 300 days a year. His job is being called into companies in some sort of transition and firing people because the various bosses in those companies don’t want the direct responsibility. So, Ryan flies from city to city, lives in a series of hotel rooms, and spends his days firing people and attempting to move them through at least the initial transition into unemployment.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

There's No Business Like Show Business (Thank God)

Film: When My Baby Smiles at Me
Format: Internet video on laptop.

When My Baby Smiles at Me is one of those movies I haven’t been able to find for the last few years. When it popped up on YouTube, I jumped at the chance to watch it, not knowing how long it might stick around. Based on the title, I expected a musical comedy, It’s not. It’s a drama, sort of a romance (because there’s always a love angle in films from this era), and a bit of a musical. It also treads pretty heavily on the boards of The Lost Weekend from a few years before. If you think that means we’ll be dealing with both show business and alcoholism, you’re more right than you know.

We’re going to be firmly enmeshed in the lives of Bonny Kane (Betty Grable) and “Skid” Johnson (Dan Dailey), a married pair of Vaudevillians dancing and clowning their way across stages in the 1920s. Bonny is a decent showgirl, able to knock out a song well enough and with the legs to make the audience enjoy it more. Skid is a comedian/comic dancer and is the true star of the show run by Lefty Moore (James Gleason). All seems well and good, except that, of course, off stage things aren’t that great.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Film: Go for Broke!
Format: Internet video on laptop.

So what’s a country to do when it claims to be founded on freedom for all and has a track record of being exactly opposite that? Well, beyond attempting to change as much as possible in the right direction, it starts to produce media of various types to help spur that change. Go for Broke! is a post-World War II propaganda film, this time dedicated not to hyping up the victory or even promoting the armed forces in general, but to highlight the service of a specific group of American citizens. Specifically, this is a film about Japanese-American soldiers fighting in Europe. That it gets only part-way to the message it wants to have and still contains a sizable dollop of racism is unfortunate. But hey, baby steps, right?

What this means in terms of the actual film we are presented with is that we’re going to be spending a good amount of time among the men of the 442nd, but we’re going to be concerned in no small part with their white and initially racist lieutenant, Michael Grayson (Van Johnson). Grayson is a Texas boy and a “90-day Wonder,” meaning he was pushed through officer training. When out, he is assigned to the 442nd in charge of a group of Japanese-Americans from both Hawaii (known as Buta-heads) and the mainland (called Katonks), and Grayson is not pleased with this arrangement.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Open Water

Film: Open Water
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

It takes a certain kind of balls to make a shark movie these days. I get it, but it’s a massive risk. The minute you put people in the water and have sharks in the area, you’re going to be compared with Jaws on some level. Let’s be honest: most movies are not going to compare well with Jaws in general, and even a good shark movie is going to pale in comparison. When it comes to the sharks, Open Water is a bit of a bait and switch. There are sharks here, but they’re just a small part of the total story.

Prepare for a bit of a slow open. Susan Watkins (Blanchard Ryan) and Daniel Kintner (Daniel Travis) have busy lives and demanding jobs, which means they don’t get to spend a great deal of time together. Hoping to improve their relationship, the pair takes a vacation to the Caribbean to go scuba diving. Thanks to the magic of movies, the two are quickly on an island and then on a dive boat heading out to deep water. Rather than staying with the group, the two go off on their own. Thanks to a mix-up involving another passenger, the count of divers gets mixed up and Daniel and Susan are left behind in the open ocean.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Girl Week 2017: Frida

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

Dell over at Dell on Movies is hosting his third annual Girl Week, featuring only movies that have female protagonists. I don’t do a lot of blogathons. It’s not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t generally have a way to fit them into my normal posting schedule. In this case, though, all I needed was a film with a female protagonist. That’s not hard, and it just so happened that Frida was sitting on my desk.

Frida is the biopic of surrealist artist Frida Kahlo, most famous for endless self-portraits and her unibrow. As is often the case, I went into this knowing very little. I knew that Salma Hayek was nominated for Best Actress for the role. I knew Kahlo was a painter, and pretty much that’s where my knowledge stopped.

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Film: Dirty Pretty Things
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I go into a lot of movies pretty cold. As I get closer and closer to finishing my Oscar lists, I set moderate goals for myself each month. One of those goals right now is to close out a few films from years where I still have too many films remaining. I don’t want to end this with a bunch of films from the same year, so at least some of my decisions are based on filling in gaps on years that I have neglected. That’s literally the only reason that Dirty Pretty Things showed up in the mail. Thus it was a bit depressing but hardly shocking when, about halfway through, there’s a clear instance of sexual misconduct. I promise, we’ll get there eventually.

Once I got the film, though, I was pleased and looked forward to watching it. It has two actors I love (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou) in the leads and two more (Sophie Okonedo and Benedict Wong) in supporting roles. It’s directed by Stephen Frears, whose work I have generally liked very much and loved at times. So, off the bat, I was prepared for this to be a film that had a great deal going for it.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Not Another War Movie

Film: Seven Beauties (Pasqualino Settebellezze)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

With the movies that are on my Oscar list that are harder to find, I sometimes have to make some sacrifices. Watching a YouTube version of the film is one of those sacrifices. Another is finding a clearly foreign movie only available dubbed rather than subtitled. There’s not much to be done about that, though. Seven Beauties (or Pasqualino Settebellezze) is a true piece of cinematic history, and you don’t really get those that often. Director Lina Wertmuller was the first woman nominated for a Best Director Oscar.

The film is told in a series of flashbacks from the point of view of our main character, Pasqualino Frafuso (Ginacarlo Giannini), better known as Pasqualino Settebellezze, or Pasqualino Seven Beauties. The name comes from the fact that he has been forced to take charge of his mother and seven sisters, all of whom are fairly homely to downright unattractive. Thus his name is sarcastic at best. What he wants more than anything is to marry his sisters off, something that is nearly impossible because of their looks.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Off Script: Saw

Film: Saw
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I’m probably one of the last horror fans to watch Saw. Out of respect to those reading this, I’ll get all of the puns out of the way. Before this, I hadn’t seen Saw, but now I have seen Saw. Yes, I saw Saw. The next time I see Saw it will be the second time I’ve seen Saw. If someone asks me if I’d like to see Saw I can say that I saw Saw. Sorry for that.

The chances are very good that you’ve already seen this, which means I don’t need a great deal of plot breakdown. I’ll make this quick, something aided greatly by the fact that Saw doesn’t have a huge plot. Two men, photographer Adam (Leigh Whannell) and surgeon Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) wake up in a large, filthy bathroom. They are each chained by an ankle to a pipe on opposite sides of the room. Between them is a corpse holding a microcassette recorder and a pistol.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Crazies (2010)

Film: The Crazies (2010)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

There are a lot of things you can say about George Romero. His ideas are often better than his films, for instance. That’s probably why a lot of his movies end up getting remade. Even some of his less well-known films get that treatment, hence the 2010 remake of The Crazies. In truth, while this is a remake of Romero’s original, The Crazies could just as easily be its own movie. This is not a film that breaks a great deal of new ground.

So let’s take a look at the tropes that we’re dealing with here. A plane crashes in the middle of nowhere (the middle of nowhere, Iowa, in this case) carrying some deadly biological weapon. That deadly biological weapon seeps into the local town’s water supply, and suddenly the residents are becoming infected. A part of the infection is insane, murderous behavior. I’m guess that based on the few sentences above you have thought of at least a dozen movies that follow the same basic idea. That said, it’s important to realize that Romero’s original 1973 version of this story might well be the first that has all of these elements in it, although he certainly borrowed heavily from The Andromeda Strain.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Comment

I didn’t really feel like watching a movie today. That’s not something I say that often.

Over the last several days/weeks/feels like forever, allegations of sexual misconduct/abuse have come out against people in the entertainment industry. Virtually all of these have been verified or admitted. More are almost certainly going to come. Beloved figures are being toppled with likely more pillars of the entertainment industry set to fall as well. As painful as all of this is, it’s necessary. This is something that needed to happen and has been needed, clearly, for a long time.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Family Drama

Film: Little Women (1994)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ll be blunt: Little Women was not made with me in mind. I went into this dreading it for one specific reason. It wasn’t the name and it wasn’t the plot. It was specifically because of my experience with the 1933 version, which I disliked a lot. Much of that was due to an unrestrained and unhinged performance from Katherine Hepburn, who was still early in her career and hadn’t yet learned how to be subtle. The word was that this version of the story was much less flighty than the earlier one, so I had some hope. It also has a good cast front to back, so that was a bonus as well.

But still, this is not a movie made for me. It’s a movie that I fully expected to (and, in fact, do) recognize as good and well-made, but made for an audience very different from yours truly. It is beautifully made and sumptuously costumed, and looks at least in some respects like a Merchant-Ivory production. This is all to its credit. Because of this, a great deal of what follows in this review is almost certainly just me complaining about watching a movie that isn’t the sort of movie that I enjoy watching. Please, take that to heart. Little Women is almost certainly better than I think it is.

Saturday, November 11, 2017


Film: Still Alice
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

I’ve avoided Still Alice until now for a variety of reasons. The essential plot of Still Alice is the story of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and quite frankly Alzheimer’s terrifies me. There are a few things in the world that truly scare me beyond comprehension. The idea of having my mind slip away is absolutely one of them. If my mind is more or less the essential core of who I am, having that slowly deteriorate bit by bit, like waves lapping at a sand castle is almost incomprehensibly terrifying. Worse, our main character Alice (Julianne Moore) is diagnosed in the film at exactly the age I am right now. That she is also a linguist and a professor hits home, too.

The type of Alzheimer’s Alice has is genetic, and that hits home, too, although not mentally. We discovered a number of years ago that my father carries a genetic blood disorder called factor V Leiden that vastly increases the chances for blood clots. We discovered this when my dad had hip replacement surgery. The surgery went fine; the blood clot that followed almost killed him. He’s subsequently had blood clots in his lungs, although he’s still fine and surprisingly healthy for a man in his 80s. Finding out that there’s something in your body that you can’t do anything about and might kill you is a sobering moment. I’ve been checked—I don’t have it, although one of my brothers and one of my sisters does.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Sounds Like a Typical Couple

Film: A Man and a Woman (Un Homme et une Femme)
Format: DVD from Rock Island Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I had mixed feelings going into A Man and a Woman (Un Homme et une Femme in the original French) based on the almost nothing I knew about it. This is a film straight out of the heart of the French New Wave, and while I like some films that fit that profile, there are a lot that leave me pretty cold. On the other hand, the film stars Anouk Aimee and Jean-Louis Trintignant, both of whom I tend to like very much. Still, I can’t say that I was gung-ho to watch this. I got a copy through interlibrary loan and literally waited the three weeks until the film was due to watch it.

Having watched A Man and a Woman, I have to wonder why I waited so long. It’s probably that it’s pretty clear from the name of the film and from the cover of the DVD case that this is going to be a romance. I honestly have nothing against romances in general, except that I find that need to be in the right mood for them. That and there are a lot of very bad romances out there, films that are dead predictable or sappy, and I’m rarely in the mood for that. Still, since this movie is not available from NetFlix, and thus getting a copy of it is more difficult than just putting it at the top of the queue, I figured I’d better watch it to avoid the fine.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wednesday Horror: From Beyond

Film: From Beyond
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Some actors have a particular milieu in which he or she is either particularly known or particularly effective. For Jeffrey Combs, that appears to be movies based on H.P. Lovecraft stories. I should be fair here, because that also seems to be the case for Barbara Crampton, who is in at least three Lovecraft-inspired films with Combs. From Beyond is yet another of these, directed by Stuart Gordon and produced by Brian Yuzna. It’s like old home week for the Elder Gods.

From Beyond is based loosely on the Lovecraft story of the same name. The movie alters the story in significant ways, particularly with the addition of a new villainous character to allow Combs to play something like the hero. Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) is the classic mad scientist. He has created a new, massive device that is designed to stimulate the pineal gland of anyone who stands in its field of influence. His assistant, Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs), turns on the machine one night and discovers that it works, at least in one sense. While the machine is active, spectral beings appear and attack him. Crawford turns off the machine and talks to his boss/mentor.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Film: Angels Over Broadway
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I went into Angels Over Broadway completely cold. Based on the title alone, I guessed that this would be a bog-standard Hollywood musical from the 1940s with a few upbeat songs, a romance that goes haywire until it ends up the way we expect, and a couple of dance numbers. That could not be more wrong. Angels Over Broadway is a film that desperately wants to be a film noir. It has almost all of the elements of a classic noir, but it also desperately wants to be a film that has the sort of ending we expect in a classic Hollywood film. It’s so close, though, it’s almost a little sad that it can’t quite get there.

What’s interesting about Angels Over Broadway is that it seems like a very early version of a more modern concept in film. We have four individual stories, or at least four very different characters, who come together by chance to give us the story. Aside from its length (it runs a mere 79 minutes), it feels a little Robert Altman-esque in that regard.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Culture Shock

Film: Captain Fantastic
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

A few years ago, the documentary Surfwise showed up on the 1001 Movies list. If memory serves, it vanished the next year. The movie was about an unusual family in the sense of how the children were raised. They were almost feral, destitute, uneducated, and evidently fabulous surfers. Their parents had adopted a strange, communal lifestyle that emphasized the family over attaching themselves to society at large. It was my most common thought while watching Captain Fantastic, a film that concerns a family very similar in a lot of ways.

Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) lives in the forest in the Pacific Northwest with his six children. When I say they live in the forest, I mean that in a literal sense. They have shelters, but they hunt and scavenge food and Ben instructs them in both forestcraft and educates them on virtually every topic. It’s soon clear that the person missing is their mother. Ben and oldest son Bodevan (George MacKay) head to the closest point of civilization to more or less check in. It turns out that Ben’s wife Leslie (Trin Miller) has been hospitalized for bipolar disorder and has, the night before Ben calls in to family, killed herself.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Off Script: Isle of the Dead

Film: Isle of the Dead
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are a few things you know you’re going to get with a Val Lewton-produced movie. You’re going to get not much in the way of budgets, a film that is really atmospheric, and a film that verges on horror without really being that scary. Such is the case with Isle of the Dead, a film that has clear horror elements without really getting that far into horror territory. The films that Lewton worked on were much more concerned with mood and potentially creating a sense of dread than they were with making something genuinely scary. While Isle of the Dead is an interesting film, it doesn’t manage to do much with scares here, except in a single case.

During the Balkan Wars in 1912, General Nikolas Pherides (Boris Karloff with a curly wig) is known as a strict disciplinarian, essentially forcing one of his officers to commit suicide because some of his troops were late to the latest battle. While the men are over-tired, Pherides forces them to deal with the dead because of the threat of typhus and other diseases that have been spreading on the battlefield. Realizing where he is, Pherides takes American reporter Oliver Davis (Marc Cramer) to a nearby island where the general’s wife is entombed. Once on the island, he discovers that her grave has been desecrated. He also discovers that there are inhabitants on the island.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Ocean is Pretty Mean, Too

Film: The Cruel Sea
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

While my current genres of choice are science fiction and horror, I grew up on war movies. When I was a kid, I’d watch just about any movie based on a World War II plot that came across the television. I still like a good war movie, and I’d heard some about The Cruel Sea but couldn’t find it. I finally bit the bullet and bought a copy off eBay. I’ve tried to spend as little as possible on this blog, but after this many years, I figured I could spare a few bucks for a movie I really wanted to see.

The Cruel Sea is, as the name would suggest, a naval film. In this case, we’re focused on the battle for the Atlantic in World War II, and specifically the war against the German U-boat fleet. Interestingly, we’re not going to be spending time on battleships or destroyers, but on convoy escorts. Lieutenant-Commander George Ericson (Jack Hawkins), who has had a career in the Merchant Navy has been commandeered into the Royal Navy and placed in charge of a new Flower-class corvette named HMS Compass Rose. He’s given a green crew who have worked their way through training but have no combat experience. Soon on board are his officers Lockhart (Donald Sinden), Ferraby (John Stratton), and Bennett (Stanley Baker). It’s soon evident that Bennett is a martinet who demands respect that he doesn’t particularly deserve. Eventually, the crew is joined by Morell (Denholm Elliott), and their work escorting ships begins.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Night of the Creeps

Film: Night of the Creeps
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When a genre gets to a certain point, a lot of tropes develop for it. There are clichés that are going to work their way into genre films that are hard to avoid. There’s a reason, for instance, that movie funerals so often happen in the rain, or that the minute a guy in a war movie shows the rest of the platoon a picture of his sweetheart, he’s pretty much got a target on himself. Eventually, someone is going to create a film in that genre that attempts to use all of the clichés. Horror is no different in this respect, and Night of the Creeps is that movie.

We start in the 1950s, and oddly, we start on an alien spacecraft. One creature holding a canister is running away from others. Our first alien eventually blasts the canister out an airlock and it eventually comes to rest on Earth. Meanwhile, down on Earth, a lunatic has escaped an asylum after hacking apart four guards with a fire axe. A pair of young lovers from a local college finds both the canister and the lunatic at around the same time. The lunatic kills the girl, while the young man is attacked by something that emerges from the container.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ten Days of Terror!: Army of Darkness

Film: Army of Darkness
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

The Evil Dead trilogy is much beloved by horror fans. There are plenty who would put Army of Darkness at the top of their list of the three. That’s not the case for me. While it is absolutely the easiest of the three to watch, it’s also my least favorite of the three. Now, before you go storming off into the comments to tell me how wrong I am (and yes, you’re still welcome to do that), rest assured that I love all three. On Letterboxd, my reviews for the three films are Evil Dead, 4.5 stars; Evil Dead 2, 4.5 stars; and Army of Darkness, 4 stars. When I say I think it’s the least of the three, we’re not talking a massive drop off.

Honestly, having just rewatched the film, it’s kind of odd that my rating for it is that high. Army of Darkness has serious problems of a technical nature. There’s some truly terrible rear projection work in a lot of places and while the stop-motion and puppet work is impressive, it’s also really obvious in many cases. It’s sort of the curse of having a bigger budget. Army of Darkness had a budget about three times larger than Raimi had for Evil Dead 2, which meant he attempted a lot more, and not all of it worked as well as it could have.

Ten Days of Terror!: Alien3

Film: Alien3
Format: IFC on rockin’ flatscreen.

The common wisdom when it comes to trilogies is that the third movie in the trilogy shits the bed. That’s not always true, of course, but it’s certainly true often enough that we come to expect that a third movie in a given series is going to be a letdown. With the possible exception of The Godfather Trilogy, there may not be a bigger drop off in quality than Alien3. I’m sure there are a lot of other possibilities. You can fight it out in the comments below; that’s what a comments section is for, after all.

It’s actually not too surprising in this case, though. Alien is one of the best science fiction action movies of the last 40 years and Aliens is one of the best science fiction movies ever made. Alien3 would have to be nearly perfect to even play in the same ballpark. Sadly, it’s filled with a number of problems. Also, just to save myself the pain in the backside of having to type the superscript for this movie, I’m going to stop doing it until the end of this. Finally, you can assume that the rest of this review is going to be filled with spoilers. I’m not putting it under a spoiler tag because I don’t really care that much about spoiling this movie.

Ten Days of Terror!: Horror Hotel (The City of the Dead)

Film: Horror Hotel (The City of the Dead)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are going to be some spoilers here, so you’re warned. Keep in mind that I’m spoiling movies that are well over half a century old, at least one of which has almost certainly been seen by everyone who reads this blog, and the other was spoiled in its intro from TCM, so I’m not terribly worried. Anyway, one of the most transgressive moments of Psycho is that the film’s main character gets killed off about half way through. We’re left with no one else to sympathize with but Norman Bates. It’s a great moment. The City of the Dead (known in the States as Horror Hotel) does a similar thing. It was accused of copying Hitchcock, although there are two significant points in its favor. First, it was released just four days after Psycho, which means at worst the filmmakers had the same idea at roughly the same time. Second, it actually went into production first.

The City of the Dead is much more clearly a traditional horror movie, though. We start off in the past with a witch trial, as a woman named Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) is dragged out an burned at the stake. This scene was actually cut from the original American release, because as the flames start to lick around her, Elizabeth hollers out a prayer to Lucifer, one that is echoed by her co-conspirator Jethrow Keane (Valentine Dyall). Evidently, a blatant prayer to Lucifer couldn’t make it past the censors. The prayer is to essentially survive the flames and give her eternal life to do the devil’s work.

Ten Days of Terror!: A Bucket of Blood

Film: A Bucket of Blood
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the influence of Roger Corman on the film industry before and almost certainly will again. For a month on TCM in 2016, Corman did a guest spot talking about American International Pictures movies, many of which he directed or produced on minimal budgets and filmed in less than a week. I like Corman. Sure, a lot of his movies are shit, but I like Corman as a person, or at least I think I would if I ever got a chance to meet him. He seems like a really cool guy, someone who doesn’t take himself that seriously but just wants to make a few movies and have a good time doing it. He also seems to realize that a lot of his movies are crap, but he actually has something to say with some of them. A Bucket of Blood has one of his better titles, so I was interested in seeing it.

According to Corman in the interview preceding the film, he got the idea for a horror comedy when he noticed an audience watching one of his films. He’d arranged a particular series of shots to get a scare and got it, and then after the initial shock, the audience laughed. So, the idea for a horror comedy seemed natural—get a scare, then get a laugh after the scare. Truthfully, A Bucket of Blood isn’t remotely scary. It’s also not laugh-out-loud funny, but the whole thing does work pretty well.