Thursday, June 29, 2017

Coffey Break

Films: The Green Mile
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

What can you say about Frank Darabont? He has directed four theatrical releases. Of those four theatrical releases, three are based on Stephen King stories, and two of them have been nominated for Best Picture. Darabont owes Stephen King a massive debt, and that’s true in the other direction as well. Two of best adaptations of King’s work are those two aforementioned films--The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. The thing that has prevented me from watching The Green Mile before today is length more than anything; it clocks in at just north of three hours.

This is going to be one of those movies told in flashback. In the film’s present, we meet Paul Edgecomb (Dabbs Greer in this incarnation), an old man who lives in a retirement home. He likes going on walks by himself and seems to know everyone in the home well. One day, while sitting in the television room, the channel gets flipped to a showing of Top Hat, and Paul breaks down. He is led out of the room by his friend Elaine (Eve Brent), and then proceeds to explain to her why the movie triggered such a reaction in him.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Lord of Illusions

Film: Lord of Illusions
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

Lord of Illusions is one of those films that I’ve probably seen more times than I need to. I think everyone has a movie or two like this that gets put on in the background or they get stuck watching for a fifth time for no good reason. I don’t dislike Lord of Illusions even if I always end up a little disappointed in it. There are some really interesting ideas here, something it has in common with a lot of movies based on Clive Barker’s stories, but it either lacked the budget or the technology or the time to really exploit those ideas well.

Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) is a private detective who apparently has a number of run-ins on the supernatural side of things, at least based on the fallout from his latest case involving a child who was possessed by…something. He’s given a new case, a simple one involving insurance fraud, that takes him to Los Angeles. In the course of his investigation, he comes across what appears to be a ritual murder. He’s soon hired for a new case, tailing a well-known illusionist named Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor). The twist here is that Swann’s wife Dorothea (Famke Janssen) has hired him and there are hints that Swann is something more than a simple stage magician.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Act Without Words

Films: The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

When I hear “Studio Ghibli,” I think of Miyazaki. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. While there are other directors and creators working there, it’s Miyazaki who made the studio what it is in terms of its notable films and generally positive and even rabid fandom. A film like The Red Turtle is a good reminder that they do more than just Miyazaki’s films and that Miyazaki’s films aren’t the only ones that are worth seeing.

The Red Turtle (otherwise known as La Tortue Rouge) is also a reminder that Studio Ghibli’s output isn’t entirely Japanese. While this was certainly produced at least in part by the Japanese company, this is also a French and Belgian production, and the director is Dutch. This is a rare film in the sense that, while not a properly silent film, the only real lines of dialogue are a repeated “Hey” at various times as well as some screaming and shouting. In that respect, the language isn’t an issue at all, and it’s one of those rare films that genuinely requires no translation or various audio tracks for anyone to watch, follow, and understand.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hanging on in Quiet Desperation

Films: About Schmidt
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

About Schmidt has been sitting on my shelf for several years, picked up at a garage sale or library sale, or something like that. The box is covered with half-removed stickers from three or four different places. I got it only because it was something I knew I’d have to watch eventually, and it’s always a good thing to make the process a little easier whenever I can. Seriously, it feels like I spend almost as much time looking for movies as I do watching them, so even one that is relatively easy to find that no longer needs to be found is a good thing.

This is an Alexander Payne film, and I’ve liked or at least appreciated all of the Payne films I’ve seen to this point. In that respect, I had solid expectations. It’s also a movie that star Jack Nicholson, and that’s worth mentioning at the top. I have said multiple times in the past that I really enjoy it when an actor plays against his or her type. Watching Tom Cruise or Albert Brooks play a villain (Collateral and Drive respectively) is something I find endlessly interesting. And that’s the case with Nicholson here. We’ll get to that by the end, since it’s Nicholson’s performance that caused me to watch.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

New York Stories

Films: In America
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Jim Sheridan is a fine director. I’ve liked his movies that I’ve seen in the past, so in that respect, I was looking forward to In America. For some reason, I pegged the time frame of this movie all wrong. I knew that this was an immigrant story, but that’s really all I knew. I expect that this would be similar to most of the immigrant stories that I’d seen and that we’d be somewhere in the late 19th or early 20th century. That’s not the case, though. We’re firmly in the early 1980s with our immigrant clan coming from Ireland through Canada to New York on a visitor’s visa.

Our family consists of four people and the intense baggage of a fifth. Johnny (Paddy Considine) is an actor hoping to make it on stage in New York. Wife Sarah (Samantha Morton) is a school teacher, but can’t find work as a teacher in New York, so instead gets a job at an ice cream parlor near the family’s low-rent apartment in a building filled with addicts and drug dealers. The children are Christy (Sarah Bolger) and Ariel (Emma Bolger, Sarah’s real-life sister). The fifth member of the family is Frankie, the son who has died from a brain tumor. This fact weighs heavily on the entire family, of course, but the hardest on Johnny, who has essentially locked off his emotions so as not to deal with his son’s death.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Films: Little Children
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

It feels like forever since I’ve watched a movie. In a way, it kind of has been. The last two reviews I posted were reviews I had written some time ago to use on days when I didn’t have something new to post. Part of the reason for that is work. Ends of quarters can be tough and I spend a lot of time grading, which means movies are hard. Another part of that is the movie Little Children. I had a very hard time getting through this, and I’m not entirely sure why. Something about it was like surgery for me.

Little Children was directed by Todd Field, who also directed In the Bedroom, a movie I thought was surprisingly good. While there is some similarity here, this felt a lot more like a Todd Solondz movie. It felt like watching Happiness, which was brutally difficult to get through, ugly, and horrible in so many ways. Little Children doesn’t go that far, of course. At the same time, it is oddly reminiscent of Magnolia. There are traces of David Lynch in here as well, with the horror that lies behind the front porches of suburban homes.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wednesday Horror: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Films: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Every now and then, a movie shows up that becomes the flavor of the month. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was one of those movies for a little while, enough that I’d heard a great deal about it almost as soon as it appeared on NetFlix streaming. There are a number of things that make this an interesting film. First, it’s a modern black-and-white horror movie. Second, it’s a feminist vampire movie. Third, it’s a feminist vampire movie that is in Persian and was written and directed by an Iranian woman. Sure, it was filmed in California, but there’s a lot going on here that seems to be aimed at screwing with those in religious authority in a large part of the world.

This is an unusual movie even beyond all of the things that make it an unusual movie in terms of what it is. Since we’ve got a vampire here, this is at least marginally a horror movie and the truth is that it doesn’t ever really get that far away from being marginally a horror movie. It’s a lot closer to social commentary, specifically on feminism, than it is on anything else. There are only a couple of actual vampire attacks, one of which is pretty brutal. Instead, this focuses more on the characters and the lives they live in a place known as Bad City.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Off Script: House (Hausu)

Films: House (Hausu)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on laptop.

This is going to be an interesting 750-800 words. I’ve just watched House (Hausu) and I’m not sure I have a way to react to it. For clarity, I’m going to call it Hausu from this point forward to distinguish it from the 1980s horror movie House and the Hugh Laurie television show. Hausu is a psychedelic drug trip of a horror movie/comedy/fever dream. Things happen and there’s sort of a story, but I have no way to make sense of it at all without looking outside of the movie itself to the life and experiences of its director. I think I need to be chemically altered to even have a shot at it.

So we’re in Japan at a girl’s school, completely with sailor uniforms. We’ll be dealing with a collection of seven students, each of whom goes by a nickname, and each of whom has a defining characteristic rather than a personality. Of primary importance are the fashion and cosmetics-obsessed Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) and Fantasy (Kumiko Oba), who lives almost entirely in a fantasy world. Eventually we will meet the other five: the ready-to-fight Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), the glasses-wearing Prof (Ai Matubara), the nice and genial Sweet (Masayo Miyako), the musician Melody (Eriko Tanaka), and the food-obsessed Mac (Mieko Sato).

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Film: Mary, Queen of Scots
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I can’t say I was overly thrilled at the prospect of watching Mary, Queen of Scots. While it’s clearly a different story from Anne of the Thousand Days, I figured it would roll pretty much in the same basic territory. The story here is of Mary Stuart (Vanessa Redgrave), queen of Scotland and, according to some, the rightful monarch of England instead of her sister, Elizabeth I (Glenda Jackson). I’ve seen bits and pieces of this, of course. Plenty of movies have touched on this subject, perhaps none that I’ve seen as much as the two Elizabeth movies with Cate Blanchett. Regardless, I figured on a lot of flowery language and dry history.

How wrong I was! Mary, Queen of Scots is filled with intrigue, plots and counterplots, murder, and betrayal. There’s also a bit of romance, religious wars, infidelity, and a lot more. It’s backed up with a great cast who all appear to really buy into the roles and the period—no real shock that this was nominated for (among other things) Best Costume Design. It’s a fairly sumptuous film in a lot of respects, and in looking the period, feels authentic in a lot of ways.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 2011

The Contenders:

Glenn Close: Albert Nobbs
Rooney Mara: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Viola Davis: The Help
Meryl Streep: The Iron Lady (winner)
Michele Williams: My Week with Marilyn

Off Script: Stake Land

Film: Stake Land
Format: Blu-ray from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

I promise I won’t get maudlin here. Many of us, even this far removed from the event, still miss the presence of Chip Lary. As it happens, Stake Land was the last review Chip ever posted, and it was a film I asked him to watch. Truthfully, Chip didn’t like the film as much as I do or nearly as much as I would have liked him to. This is a film that I genuinely enjoy. Stake Land isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it gets a lot of things right. It also does a nice job in rewriting many of the tropes of a well-established genre, and also manages to create a believable and interesting post-apocalyptic world.

The monsters in Stake Land are vampires, but these are not the typical blood suckers. The classic vampire has a sense of romance about him. The original Dracula was certainly a romantic character. Even most of the violent and bloody vampires from the films have a certain sex appeal to them. Of course, in the past decade or so, vampires have become genuine love interests. In Stake Land, the vampires are feral. They are classic vampires in the sense that they die when staked in the heart or exposed to sunlight, and they feast on blood. That’s where the similarities stop. These vampires are feral, essentially blood-sucking zombies, operating on instinct and attracted to the scent of blood, but unable to think their way out of even simple traps.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Haunted Palace; The Resurrected

Film: The Haunted Palace; The Resurrected
Format: MGM Channel on rockin’ flatscreen; Internet video on laptop.

You can say what you want about Roger Corman, but the man does have a couple of particular talents. First, judging by the people who made films for him, Corman was a great judge of directorial talent. Second, he was capable of doing a great deal with a limited budget. Third, the man found a tremendous niche with films specifically based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. With The Haunted Palace, Corman stepped a little outside of that comfort zone, making a film that is clearly based on Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” but he made this essentially as one of his Poe films, so that strange connection of making something watchable carried through.

The film starts a few years before the American Revolution in Arkham, MA. Women in the town are mysteriously drawn to the rebuilt palace of Joseph Curwen (Vincent Price). The townspeople have decided that Curwen is a warlock and storm the palace. They drag him out and burn him at the stake, although they are convinced not to attack his mistress, Hester Tillinghast (Cathie Merchant). Before he dies, Curwen pronounces a curse on the town, saying that those who are burning him, their children, and their children’s children will suffer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Finding Your Pride

Film: Lion
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When the Oscars were announced in January, I was surprised that Dev Patel was nominated in a supporting role rather than a starring one. I mean, he was clearly the star of Lion, wasn’t he? It seemed like one of those situations where someone is stepped down in a category specifically to give him a better chance of winning. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I understand the reasoning here. This is clearly Patel’s movie in the second half, but that’s because he doesn’t appear in the first half at all.

Lion is the story of Saroo Brierly (played by Dev Patel as an adult and by Sunny Pawar as a child). At five, Saroo lived in Khandwa, India, where he and his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) steal coal from trains to trade for milk and food. One night, Saroo is to stay home while Guddu goes out and works for the money the family desperately needs. Saroo convinces his brother that he should come along and help, and eventually Guddu relents. But Saroo really is too young and falls asleep. Guddu leaves him on a bench at a train station, telling his brother to stay and wait for him.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Front Page News

Film: Teacher’s Pet
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve never been as entranced of Clark Gable as I’m evidently supposed to be. I don’t mind Gable in general, but I don’t specifically seek his movies out. I’ve got nothing against him, but I’ll sit down to a weak Cary Grant or John Garfield movie in a heartbeat. With Gable I’m somehow less impressed with his onscreen persona. This is probably the reason it’s taken me this long to get to Teacher’s Pet, which I watched today when I finally realized that NetFlix has it streaming but doesn’t have it on disc. What I expected was a creepy rom-com featuring a Clark Gable nearing 60 trying to woo a mid-30s Doris Day. Fortunately, that’s not really what we get here.

James Gannon (Clark Gable) is a hard-bitten newspaper city editor in New York who is convinced that the only way to learn the trade of a reporter is to start at the bottom, get a few swift kicks in the backside, and learn the ropes the hard way, through work and practice. Therefore, he’s not even amused when he is contacted by a local college and asked to come as a guest to a journalism class. He responds with a rude letter and is then upbraided by his boss. It turns out the paper’s publisher is a big fan of this local college, having received an honorary degree from them. Gannon, thus, is forced to go and eat a little crow. This is despite his discovery that the professor for this class is (gasp) a woman.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Off Script: The Twilight Zone: The Movie

Film: The Twilight Zone: The Movie
Format: DVD from Byron Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

If you’re older than about 30, you watched The Twilight Zone on television at some point. This was the television version of M. Night Shyamalan’s career, except that the twists almost always worked on the television show. Weird, creepy little stories that sometimes packed a moral lesson and sometimes just wanted to give people the shivering willies made for good television. Seriously, when I was younger, it was probably the only show I knew of where people my age would voluntarily watch a black-and-white television show because the stories were frequently that good. So, it’s only natural that eventually The Twilight Zone: The Movie was conceived of and released.

What I remember most about it from 1983 (it’s release date falls squarely between my sophomore and junior years in high school) is the controversy that surrounded it. Specifically, that controversy was the rather horrifying deaths of actors Vic Morrow, Renee Chen, and My-ca Dinh Le (the latter two being 6- and 7-years-old respectively), who were killed when a helicopter crashed on them while filming the first segment. This accident led to multiple court cases and almost led to the cancellation of the entire project. What I remember most was people being more than a little outraged that the film itself seemed to take no notice of this tragedy, not following the typical pattern of dedicating the film to someone close to the production who had died.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

David and Goliath

Film: In the Valley of Elah
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

While I still have a lot of movies on my Oscar list, I’m starting to hit the point where some of these are getting to be a chore. There are still a few that I’m looking forward to seeing and I’m sure that there are some I am ambivalent about now that I’ll end up really liking. But it’s admittedly getting a little harder and harder to ramp myself up for some of these movies. After all, they’ve been movies I specifically haven’t watched since I started this part of this blog. In the Valley of Elah fits into that category. It’s not a film that I was actively avoiding; it’s simply a film that I didn’t really feel like I had much of a reason to watch.

Ex-military policeman Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) receives word that his son Mike (Jonathan Tucker) has gone AWOL after returning from Iraq. Hank tells his wife Joan (Susan Sarandon) that he is going to find their son. Hank drives off to his son’s location and begins his search for Mike, attempting to enlist the support of the local police. So, when a body turns up dismembered and horribly burned, it’s not a shock for anyone who has ever seen a movie that the body in question turns out to be Mike.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

City of Lights

Film: Midnight in Paris
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

When Woody Allen is on, there aren’t many people who are better. Allen’s stories have a distinctive style to them and a particular flavor. When he’s able to restrain himself from getting too crazy, his screenplays are some of the best in the world. When he doesn’t restrain himself, he’s prone to fall deep into his own navel. The track record is a good one, though, so it’s probably strange that it’s taken me this long to get to Midnight in Paris. It might have been the presence of Owen Wilson that kept me from wanting to watch it. I’m not much of a fan of Mr. Wilson in general. I find him tolerable at best and insufferable at worst.

I’ve said before that Radio Days is my favorite of Allen’s screenplays. What I love about it is just how much it shows Allen’s love for the era he’s writing about. There’s such a wonderful rosy tint to everything in that movie. It has an adult’s knowledge and recollection, but still has a child’s view of the events. I bring this up specifically because where Midnight in Paris takes us is to a realization about that nostalgic view of the past.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Off Script: Wasting Away (Aaah! Zombies!!)

Film: Wasting Away (Aaah! Zombies!!)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Ah, the zombie subgenre. It’s all been done, of course. There have been serious ones, funny ones, and even romantic comedies (zom-rom-coms, if you will). Wasting Away, (sometimes called Aaah! Zombies!!) is a comedy with a touch of romance fully centered on the zombie subgenre of horror films. It’s also a film from the perspective of the zombies themselves. In fact, in this case it’s focused on a group of people who are not just zombies, they’re not aware that they are zombies. It’s a fun idea. Unfortunately, there’s not enough here to sustain an entire film.

The movie starts with a military test of a super soldier serum that backfires, killing the subject and turning him into a zombie. Because the serum is a failure, the military decides to get rid of it, but the men charged with transporting the serum get lost and a barrel of it falls off the truck. This barrel leaks, tainting a batch of ice cream mixture that is then eaten by our four main characters: slacker Mike (Matthew Davis), ambitious Vanessa (Julianna Robinson), bowling alley assistant manager Tim (Michael Grant Terry) and dippy Cindy (Betsy Beutler). Tim has been carrying an evidently requited torch for Cindy for years. Anyway, the four eat the tainted ice cream, which turns them into zombies.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

My Mother Was a Saint!

Films: I Remember Mama
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m actually surprised that I hadn’t seen I Remember Mama before today. This seems like exactly the sort of movie that would have been shown on the old WGN Family Classics show when I was a kid. That was a Sunday morning show that ran old family films like Going My Way, Mysterious Island and Boys Town. I Remember Mama absolutely fits into that. Honestly, it may have been too long for the show.

This is one of those “year or so in the life of a family” films where we’re going to see a series of events that happen to a particular family as they (switching into television announcer voice) struggle through the joys and tragedies of life in pre-World War I America. Our family in question is the Hansons, headed by father Lars (Philip Dorn), but really run by mama Martha (Irene Dunne). The Hansons have four children: son Nels (Steve Brown), youngest daughter Dagmar (June Hedin), middle daughter Christine (Peggy McIntyre), and oldest daughter and the storyteller of this film, Katrin (Barbara Bel Geddes). Also in the mix are Marta’s three sisters. These are the unpleasant aunts Jenny (Hope Landin) and Sigrid (Edith Evanson), and the timid but sweet aunt, Trina (Ellen Corby).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hello, I Love You, Won't You Tell Me Your Name

Films: Love with the Proper Stranger
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve been ignoring the DVR lately, and that’s kind of a mistake. The unit I have is nearing the end of its life expectancy, and there are a half dozen or so movies that I’ve had trouble locating stored on it. I’d love to say that there was a good, solid reason why I watched Love with the Proper Stranger today other than that, but there isn’t. Honestly, this is going to be a common refrain for the next couple of weeks as I get rid of the last remnants of what I have recorded. Suffice to say that based on the title I wasn’t too excited and that beyond knowing it starred Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen, I knew nothing going in.

Here’s the set up: Rocky Papasano (Steve McQueen) is a musician looking for work one day at the union hall when he is paged to the front. Here he meets Angie Rossini (Natalie Wood), a woman he had a one-night stand with some time earlier. Angie is pregnant and isn’t expecting Rocky to marry her, but to at least help her locate a doctor to help with the little problem. Rocky is naturally surprised by this and she storms out, but he tracks her down to her job at Macy’s and tells her that he’s located someone for her. What he doesn’t tell her is that he has located someone through the auspices of his some-time girlfriend Barbie (Edie Adams), whose apartment he sometimes stays at.