Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Rest is Foolish, Too

Film: My Foolish Heart
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Some actors fall into particular types of roles. That’s natural. With Susan Hayward, that role was of a woman fallen in some way. Hayward was nominated for five Oscars; she played an alcoholic in three of those roles and in a fourth she played a criminal. My Foolish Heart puts her in one of her most fallen roles of her career. It feels very much like a Susan Hayward role, a tough woman who has been kicked around by life, partly because of her own bad choices. Hayward gave the impression of someone knocked around a lot and still standing, almost by force of her own will. That’s certainly the case here, despite how damaged this character really is.

Before I get too involved in the movie itself, I feel like I need to discuss the problems I had watching it. I jumped at the chance to watch My Foolish Heart because it was on my list of films that I was having difficulty finding. NetFlix doesn’t have it, and evidently no lending libraries in Illinois attached to the database I use has it, either. I just discovered it online. Typically, I download files off YouTube and watch them later. In this case, My Foolish Heart was only available on DailyMotion. I’ll be blunt: DailyMotion is terrible. It’s glitch, required frequent restarts, and ads pop up every five minutes. This is a 99-minute movie that took well over two hours to watch. I do my best not to let things like this affect my opinion, but when it’s this rough, it’s hard not to let it affect things at least a little.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Paperhouse

Film: Paperhouse
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Paperhouse is another one of those movies that isn’t really a horror movie despite being on the Fangoria list of unknown horror movies and in the middle of the pack of the They Shoot Zombies, Don’t They? list of great horror movies. Unlike some of the movies that have wound up on my horror lists, though, there is a section of Paperhouse that is very much in line with horror in terms of how it plays out. In that respect (and in pretty much no other), Paperhouse has some similarity to a film like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This is a fantasy film close to magical realism, but it clearly dips into horror for a section.

Anna (Charlotte Burke, in literally her only role) is a young girl on the cusp of puberty, possibly just starting puberty, since she shows a little bit of interest in boys and cosmetics, kind of. Anna seems like a bright enough kid, but she’s also a little bit of a troublemaker. She gets kicked out of her classroom for fighting with another kid, and then collapses in the hall. She claims to her mother (Glenne Headly) that it was just an act to get out of school, so her mother takes her back. Later, Anna collapses again and is discovered to have mononucleosis, more or less.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Off Script: The Curse of the Cat People

Film: The Curse of the Cat People
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m all for a good sequel, but for something to be a real sequel there has to be a genuine connection to the original film. In the case of The Curse of the Cat People that connection is tenuous at best. We’ve got the same cast who are playing the same characters, which seems like it should be the sort of connection we need. Plot-wise, though, there’s absolutely no connection between the original film and this sequel. Evidently when the story was written there was absolutely no connection, but the studio wanted to build on the success of the low-budget first movie, and so the name was changed to become a sequel.

The Curse of the Cat People isn’t really a horror movie. It’s a lot closer to a film noir with some horror elements. It does a lot of things really well. In fact, it does just about everything well except make a solid connection to the film of which it is supposed to be a sequel. It brings up some very interesting ideas and goes in some fascinating directions even if it doesn’t all work completely.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lyfe, Lyberty, and...

Film: The Pursuit of Happyness
Format: DVD from Rasmussen College Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I don’t really know why I haven’t warmed to Will Smith as an actor, given that Will Smith is more or less genetically created to be warmed to. I think what it comes down to is that I don’t always trust him as an actor. He makes some good movies and he’s capable of doing a solid dramatic turn; witness a film like Ali. But he also has a penchant for giant blockbusters, many of which (Wild Wild West leaps to mind, as does the product placement bonanza of I, Robot) are terrible. And some of his dramatic films are pretty terrible, too. So there’s a reason that The Pursuit of Happyness has been sitting on my desk for months until I finally got around to it today.

As with any biography, we’re going to be dealing with something that is partially true and partially cinematic foofery. In this case, what appears to be the case is that we’re not so much changing history as omitting things that don’t particularly reflect well on our title character. That character is Chris Gardner (Will Smith). Gardner sells a particular piece of medical equipment that is a little better than an x-ray machine but costs about twice as much. According to the film, he sunk his life savings into these machines, assuming that they would revolutionize the way x-rays were taken only to find that the machines were incredibly hard to unload. This is a problem, since he and his wife Lisa (Thandie Newton) and their son Christopher Jr. (Jaden Smith, before he became annoying and bent on convincing Twitter that he is either insane or some sort of prophet) are behind on taxes, rent, and just about everything else.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

What the Dog Saw

Film: Reuben, Reuben
Format: Internet video on laptop.

There’s a specific genre of film that seems odd to me. It’s essentially a character study of an unpleasant person. Sometimes, these films merit Oscar nominations. The most recent I can think of is Blue Jasmine, but Reuben, Reuben is a film very much in the same vein. We’re going to spend a great deal of time with a man who is more or less forced to be interesting because otherwise we’d want nothing to do with him.

The name of the film has nothing to do, really, with our main character. That is one Gowan McGland (Tom Conti), a dissolute half-Scots, half-Welsh poet of both repute and disrepute. His poetry has made him famous, at least in circles that care a bit about poetry. Everything else about him has made him infamous. He’s a womanizer, taken to bedding the middle-aged wives who show up at his poetry readings. He’s a drunk. He’s also a leech, sponging off anyone who is impressed by his talent, going so far as to steal the tips in restaurants before leaving. Worst of all, at least in terms of his career, is that he’s lazy and hasn’t written a thing for five years.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

South American Way, Part IV

Film: That Man from Rio (L’homme de Rio)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve been dodging a specific bullet for some time, but today my wife informed me that I’m running out of time. We're due for an upgrade on our DVR, and the one we have is so old that there’s no way to get the saved programs from it to a new one and no way to access our DVR from a computer or other device. What this means is that I have a couple of weeks at best to watch the things I’ve saved that I can’t get via other means. It’s not a massive problem, but it does put a rush on watching the half dozen or so that I have saved. I had plans to watch something different today, but necessity dictates burning through some otherwise unavailable films. The most recent of these recordings was That Man from Rio (or L’homme de Rio in its original French).

That Man from Rio is almost a precursor to the Austin Powers series, perhaps much more closely akin to Matt Helm or Derek Flint. The difference is that in all of these cases, the heroes are actual spies. In this case, our spy-like hero is actually a French airman named Adrien Dufourquet (Jean-Paul Belmondo) on an 8-day pass returning to Paris. He’s there to see his girlfriend Agnes Villermosa (Francoise Dorleac). Since this is going to be an espionage spoof, though, things aren’t going to be that simple.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore)

Film: Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Cemetery Man (also known as Dellamorte Dellamore) is a couple of things at the same time. It’s a bit of a cult film in that it’s the sort of film that film nerds and horror geeks know and not a lot of other people do. It’s also part of the subgenre of horror comedy. So far, so good. Where it hits a roadblock for me is that it’s also Italian horror, and there we have some potential problems. I don’t love Italian horror in general. It’s stylish, but often devoid of substance or even coherence. Dario Argento is the king of this; his films are visually fascinating and frequently make no sense on a basic plot level.

Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) works more or less as the groundskeeper for a cemetery in Buffalora, Italy. He and his assistant Gnaghi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro) dig the graves, put the bodies to rest and, after seven days, put many of them back in the grave when they rise again. Francesco doesn’t know if this is something happening only at his graveyard or at graveyards around the country or world. What he does know is that he seems to be the gatekeeper against a potentially rising horde of undead.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Helping Hands

Film: Vera Drake
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

There’s a generation or so of British actresses that I love in just about everything. Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, and Joan Plowright come to mind. Imelda Staunton is a bit younger than that group, but she’s just about in the same league. What Staunton can do that the others don’t do as well is play what the Monty Python crew called a “pepperpot,” a stereotypical middle-aged British housewife. That’s absolutely the case in Vera Drake, where, aside from the seriousness of the drama at play here, she could have stepped out of a skit about Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion.

It’s some time into the film before we really get a sense of what is happening. Vera Drake (Imelda Staunton) works as a domestic for a number of families in post-World War II London. She also spends a good deal of her time looking after people who need help, including her infirm mother and a neighbor named Reg (Eddie Marsan), who she invites to tea, perhaps surreptitiously hoping that Reg might become attracted to her painfully shy and mousey daughter Ethel (Alex Kelly). Vera and her husband Stan (Phil Davis) live a normal life as much as they can in the still-rationing world of 1950s London, a fact that their son Sid (Daniel Mays) plays to his advantage. His job in a clothing shop gives him access to nylons, which he trades to his friends for small luxuries.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gangster Squad

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

First off, please forgive any typos. My left hand is a bit messed up at the moment, so I’m not sure how accurate my typing will be. I may even be more accurate than normal today because I’m aware of it. Anyway, there’s a collection of movies that I’m unlikely to ever see on my various Oscar lists because I just can’t get them. I was excited when TCM scheduled The Patent Leather Kid for its 31 Days of Oscar, but they pulled it last minute. The did run The Racket, though, a film that was thought lost until a single copy turned up in the vaults of Howard Hughes.

The Racket is an old school gangster film that features a couple of different factions butting heads. There are the gangsters, of course. One group of bootlegging thugs is led by Nick Scarsi (Louis Wolheim, who seriously looks the part). The rival gang is headed by a thug nicknamed Spike (Henry Sedley). The only good thing we can say about Spike is that he’s not Nick Scarsi. The only thing good we can say about Nick is that he’s sent his brother Joe (George E. Stone) off to college and wants to keep him out of the rackets.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Tell Them I Love My Wife

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

It’s only been a couple of days since I’ve written up a movie, but it feels like a month. I have several really bad weeks every year with work and I’m close to the end of one of them now. This blog is always the first casualty of these weeks. I did manage to sneak in a viewing of Loving, though, if only because I get jittery if I go too long without watching a movie. I was curious to see this, since Loving is the story of the marriage that ultimately destroyed anti-miscegenation laws in the U.S., which makes it a precursor to Obergefell v. Hodges from a couple of years ago.

And really, I’ve just offered you the entire plot. Taciturn bricklayer Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and mixed-race Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) fall in love, and soon enough Mildred is pregnant. Richard is happy about this—about as happy as he ever expresses in the film, at least, and decides that he and Mildred should be married. He buys a plot of land and decides to build a house on it. However, since mixed race marriages are illegal in Virginia, the two head off to Washington D.C. for the ceremony and return to Caroline County as man and wife.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wednesday Horror: John Dies at the End

Film: John Dies at the End
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

Every now and then, I watch something that almost completely defies description. That is very much the case with John Dies at the End, a film that that psychoactive drugs watch when they want to get stoned. I realize that a large part of this blog is going through narrative structure and looking at why films and stories work the way they do. That’s one of my main interests in movies, after all. I like looking at the whys and wherefores of stories, figuring out what makes them tick, and whether or not they actually work. John Dies at the End has a narrative and it’s something that can be easily followed despite the number of twists and turns it takes. The problem is that I think I’m almost completely incapable of explaining both what it is and how it works.

The framing story has David Wong (Chase Williamson) sitting at a table in a Chinese restaurant speaking to a reporter named Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti), telling his story. This story involves the ability to read minds, tell specific facts about the past and future, the ability to slip in and out of time, alternate dimensions, a massive sentient computer, and a drug called “soy sauce” that gives those who take it unique abilities and also frequently kills the people who take it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Suspension of Disbelief

Film: Tall, Dark and Handsome
Format: Internet video on laptop.

You’re going to have to give me a little license with what I’m about to say here: Tall, Dark and Handsome requires more willing suspension of disbelief than I have in me. Like I said, you need to give me some license here. We live in a world where we have movies with guys flying around in powered armor and where schools of wizards take classes in how to cast spells and make potions. I buy those, though, because they are internally consistent. Tall, Dark and Handsome is anything but.

We start with a shakedown racket gone wrong. A couple of thugs walk into a local store in Chicago and demand money from the proprietor, who instead responds with gunfire. All three wind up dead. Moments later, Frosty Welch (Milton Berle) enters the establishment, sees what has happened, and puts cigars in the mouths of all three dead men. The police show up, see the cigars, and determine that the killer, or at least the person who ordered the hit, was local crime boss J.J. “Shep” Morrison (Cesar Romero), who happens to be Frosty’s boss.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

More Like Weepin' Through

Film: Smilin’ Through
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I like Norma Shearer and I make no apologies for it. When I think about the classic actresses I love, I often forget her, though, because her career was voluntarily cut short. Any actor, actress, or director can swing a nomination with a good performance, but you don’t get six of them without having something on the ball. What impresses me the most about Norma Shearer is that she looks modern, like she could be plucked out of many of her films and dropped into something just going into production. With Smilin’ Through, that’s especially the case. Everyone else looks like he or she is in a film made in 1932. Shearer looks like a modern actress doing a period piece.

Smilin’ Through is a classic weepy romance of the early talkie years. Aging bachelor Sir John Carteret (Leslie Howard) sits by the grave of a woman who died at 19. Here he communes with her spirit, and we learn that the improbably named spirit, Moonyeen (Norma Shearer) is his lost love. Shortly after this introduction, we learn that the late Moonyeen has a niece named Kathleen (Cora Sue Collins as a child, Norma Shearer as an adult) who has been recently orphaned because of a shipwreck. Sir John’s friend Dr. Owen (O.P. Heggie) suggest that John take her in, which he eventually agrees to.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Manuscript Blues

Film: Wonder Boys
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I first finished the 1001 Movies list, as I got to the end I realized that there were certain aspects of the List that I had ignored. Now that I’m under 250 movies left on my various Oscars lists, I’m seeing the same thing. Specifically, this refers to year of release; there are years that I’ve ignored more than others for some reason. In an effort to not end with a bunch of movies from the same year, I’ve started planning my viewing more carefully in that respect. This is literally the reason I requested Wonder Boys from NetFlix a couple of days ago.

Wonder Boys is based on the book of the same name by Michael Chabon, and for once, it’s an author I know. I haven’t read this book in particular, but I have read some Chabon in the past. Honestly, I think I was supposed to like “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” more than I did, and I wasn’t aware of the authorship of this one going in.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sonny Boy

Film: To Each His Own
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve seen a lot of melodrama in the last seven years or so because a lot of early dramas are of the melodrama variety. I didn’t think I was done with them, of course, but I’m always a little surprised when one shows up. To Each His Own is melodrama of the highest order, from the initial moments to the end. The entire film is designed to tug on the heartstrings of anyone watching it, something that it almost certainly did in 1946.

We start in World War II London on New Year’s Eve. Rather than partying, Jody Norris (Olivia de Havilland) has volunteered to be on fire watch in case of bombing raids. She finds herself working with Lord Desham (Roland Culver), who is just as prickly as she is. He tosses off a bunch of orders to her and corrects her on almost everything. When he almost falls off the roof and she rescues him, the relationship gets a bit easier. The two share a drink and Lord Desham asks her about what led her, an American, to London. Cue the flashback.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Tenant (Le Locataire)

Film: The Tenant (Le Locataire)
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

Yesterday, a great deal of what I wrote about was the problem of effusive praise for someone who may be morally repellent. In that review, I referenced something I wrote years ago about Chinatown. We’re heading into the same territory here, since The Tenant is Roman Polanski’s third film in his loose “Apartment Trilogy,” following Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. .In some ways, as is the case with many trilogies, the third film is the weakest. This is not a Godfather III situation, though. In a lot of ways, The Tenant (Le Locataire) is as good as anything Polanski ever did.

In a lot of ways The Tenant explores the same themes as Repulsion, only this time from a male perspective. A man named Trelkovsky (Roman Polanski himself) needs an apartment in Paris and discovers one that is suddenly empty. He more or less bargains his way into the apartment with Monsieur Zy (Melvyn Douglas) and takes up residence despite what seems to be a certain level of hostility from the people around him, particularly the concierge (Shelley Winters). Trelkovsky also learns that the former resident of the apartment, an Egyptologist named Simone Choule has left the apartment vacant because of an attempted suicide. She threw herself out of the window and through a glass awning several stories below.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Art vs. Artist

Film: Manchester by the Sea
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Way back in February of 2010 I reviewed Chinatown. I love Chinatown; I think it’s the best movie of 1972. But reviewing it and praising it put me in a difficult situation as a new blogger. How fiercely do I praise a film made by someone who literally cannot return to this country because of statutory rape charges? Where is the separation of the man from his art? I had a similar problem with Birth of a Nation. Decades ago, the same problem came up when looking at the poetry of Ezra Pound, who was both a genius and a Nazi sympathizer. I find myself in the same position again with Manchester by the Sea and the performance of Casey Affleck.

Manchester by the Sea is the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), a handyman working in Boston. Lee seems to be an emotional cipher, someone who essentially has zero affect because of severe depression. This is increased when he learns that his brother Joe (played in flashbacks by Kyle Chandler) has died from the congestive heart failure that he was diagnosed with some time in the past. Through these flashbacks, we learn a few important things. First, Joe has a son named Patrick (Ben O’Brien as a child, Lucas Hedges as a teen). Joe’s wife Elise (Gretchen Mol) is an alcoholic who has left the family.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Immigration Problems

Film: Green Card
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I seem to be complaining about a lot of the movies I’ve been watching lately. I’m saying this up front because that’s not going to stop today. The case for Green Card says “If you liked Pretty Woman, give Green Card a try.” Well, I didn’t like Pretty Woman. I thought it was financial porn and cheap fantasy, so I didn’t have really high hopes for this one. The one thing it seemed to have going for it was the presence of 1990-era Gerard Depardieu, the same year he was nominated for Cyrano de Bergerac. He was the one thing I had my hopes riding on.

The movie’s plot rests on a poorly-established initial premise. When the movie begins, we see the wedding ceremony of Bronte Parrish (Andie McDowell) and Georges Faure (Gerard Depardieu). This would be where most romantic comedies end. In this case, Bronte and Georges don’t even know each other; the marriage is one of convenience. For Georges, it’s a way to stay in the States since his visa has run out. Bronte needs the marriage to secure her dream apartment, since she is a horticulturalist and the apartment comes with a greenhouse. The two marry and go their separate ways and Bronte gets her apartment, telling the people vetting her that her husband is in Africa working on musical compositions.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Off Script: Burnt Offerings

Film: Burnt Offerings
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes you have to wonder just how a movie happens. In the case of Burnt Offerings, that’s a completely honest appraisal on the surface. This is a haunted house movie, but it features Karen Black, noted ham Oliver Reed, Burgess Meredith at his absolute campiest, and Bette Goddam Davis. Bette Davis! How the hell did this movie get made? And why didn’t they make more of them?

The Rolf family—father Ben (Oliver Reed), mother Marian (Karen Black), and son David (Lee Montgomery) are planning a full-summer vacation by renting a huge but ramshackle house in the middle of nowhere California. The house is a bit run down, but Marian falls in love with it immediately. Ben isn’t so sure, especially when he meets the owners, Roz (Eileen Heckart) and Arnold Allardyce (Burgess Meredith). These older siblings are plenty weird, but they offer the Rolf’s the house for the entire summer—Fourth of July to Labor Day—for just $900 total. The only catch is that their mother lives in the upstairs room—they’ll have to bring her a tray of food three times a day since she never leaves the house. That Allardyces promise that she’ll be no bother.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Comedy of Terrors

Film: The Comedy of Terrors
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are times when you find one of those movies that just begs to be watched. The Comedy of Terrors was like that for me. I didn’t expect this to be a great movie or something that I would want to rush out and find a copy of for myself, but based on the cast and crew, I went into this with some expectations. The Comedy of Terrors was directed by the great Jacques Tourneur based on a script by no less a luminary than Richard Matheson. Our cast includes such horror luminaries as Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, and Boris Karloff. Knowing all of this, how could a self-respecting movie nerd/horror geek not want to spend roughly an hour and a half in front of the screen?

For a film that promises “terror,” though, The Comedy of Terrors doesn’t really deliver. Then again, it also doesn’t really try to deliver. This is a comedy film with horror movie trappings, and that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. All of the characters are broad stereotypes, the situations are ridiculous, and it doesn’t really matter, because no one is really going into this film expecting to be scared.