Sunday, July 30, 2017

Smoke and Shadows

Film: Doubt
Format: On Demand on big ol’ television.

Doubt is one of those rare movies that netted four acting nominations at the Oscars. Meryl Streep nominated for Best Actress isn’t a huge surprise and neither is Phillip Seymour Hoffman for Supporting Actor. Amy Adams certainly earned her nomination in a supporting role. Viola Davis is honestly a bit of a shock, though. Now, I love Viola Davis as much or more than the next person, but she’s got only a single scene. Admittedly, she is amazing in that single scene, but still, it’s a very small role.

What I find most interesting about Doubt is not the premise but the time period in which it is set. The idea of a movie about the Catholic Church’s “problems” with pedophile/pederast priests is certainly well-known and scandalous and horrifying in so many ways. But having a film that touches on these issues set in the mid-1960s is particularly interesting. Obviously the problem was happening in those years, but it wasn’t known. It doesn’t feel off, but it does feel unusual.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Prosecution on Defense

Film: Boomerang!
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Every now and then, you get a movie that you almost can’t explain. We tend to expect certain things from movies and from certain genres, but there are a few out there that are just out there in terms of genre expectations. Boomerang! is that sort of a movie. This is clearly film noir at least in tone, but it’s so strange and so off from the typical. It feels like a documentary in parts, especially with the voiceover, and while it is noir-ish, it ends with a long courtroom scene that is just a revealing of evidence.

We start with a murder, which is really how a good film noir ought to start. In this case, the victim is Father Lambert, a kind, mild-mannered man of the cloth in Bridgeport, CT. The killing happens at night, but on an occupied street directly under a streetlight. Despite this, the witnesses see only a man in a dark coat and a light-colored fedora fleeing the scene. Father Lambert is dead on the scene with a bullet in his head. We get a little bit of flashback, showing us the kind of man that Father Lambert was. This includes a confrontation with a local man (Philip Coolidge) who he thinks should have himself committed for some reason. Yes, this is going to be relevant, because we as the audience are going to be led to believe that this man is the killer.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles

Film: Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Years ago, I had a student write a paper on vampire movies. It was her contention that vampires switched from being monsters to being love interests for teenagers with the release of Interview with the Vampire. It’s probably been a good 20 years since I’d seen this, although I remembered it pretty well. Still, it’s worth a rewatch, and I figured I might as well revisit it. I remembered liking this the first time through and thinking that parts of it were pretty homoerotic. I forgot just how homoerotic it was, though, and I also forgot how much fire there is in this movie.

We start in the present as interviewer Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater) sits down to interview Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt). Louis quickly and openly admits to being a vampire and demonstrates some of his abilities to Daniel before telling his story. We jump back to 1791 New Orleans, where Louis is dealing with the recent death of his wife and child. While Louis isn’t completely suicidal, he’s the next closest thing, actively looking for someone to help him shuffle off his mortal coil. It is in this frame of mind that he meets Lestat (Tom Cruise), a vampire who is only too happy to give Louis the gift of death and then undeath.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Place Before Peyton

Film: Kings Row
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I think of movies from the 1940s, I tend to think of film noir and films that did what they could to tweak the Hays Code. I tend to forget that there was still a strong streak of melodrama in those years. I was thoroughly reminded of that with Kings Row, one of the soggiest melodramas you’re likely to run across. In this case, that’s not necessarily a terrible thing. Oh, Kings Row is all about the banks of strings playing intensely whenever something emotional happens, and there’s going to be plenty of extreme events to ratchet up those emotions, but there is a difference between a melodrama that’s just drippy and one that is interesting.

So what makes Kings Row interesting? A couple of things. First, this was the picture that made Ronald Reagan a star. He wasn’t able to capitalize on that because he was drafted around the same time as its release. Some would suggest it’s his best movie. Since he was also in Dark Victory I think that’s a stretch, but it’s almost certainly his best performance and his best role. It’s also a film that has had a unique impact on popular culture. If you listen to the main theme, it sounds vaguely familiar. This is because John Williams used it as his inspiration for the main theme for Star Wars.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Camelot Has Fallen

Film: Jackie
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on various players.

I can’t say that I was overly excited about the prospect of Jackie, a feeling that was intensified the moment Natalie Portman opened her mouth. It’s worth noting that I honestly have no idea what Jackie Kennedy actually sounded like. It’s such an unusual intonation, but it is evidently quite accurate. It’s just so strange, breathy and with words pronounced so oddly that it was difficult to get my mind around initially.

Jackie is, of course, less the story of Jackie Kennedy than it is the story of her experience after John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The film does jump in time a bit, although in the main it follows her life in those days after Kennedy was killed in Dallas. The frame of the film’s narrative is an interview she gives to an unnamed journalist (Billy Crudup). Scenes take place that come across more or less as her memories of those days, either being explained to this interviewer or in her own memory as he asks questions. I don’t mean to say that it’s dreamlike, but that it plays something like a flashback.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Father Figure

Film: About a Boy
Format: HBO Go on rockin’ flatscreen.

I still have a large number of movies that I need to watch, but the number is getting smaller and smaller. What this means for me is that availability at any given time is far reduced from what it used to be. I used to have tons of available movies to watch on NetFlix, but that’s no longer the case. What this means is I need to find targets of opportunity when I can. As it happens, I own a copy of About a Boy, but scrolled past it tonight, and didn’t have a host of other options. Nothing against the film; it’s just not what I was in the mood for, but I persevered.

Actually, it’s kind of a sweet movie. Will Freeman (Hugh Grant) lives the most carefree life that can be imagined. His father, years before, wrote a Christmas song that turned out to be incredibly popular, and Will has more or less lived off his father’s royalties that he has inherited. He has no job because he’s never needed one. What he’s really interested in is women, and even then he’s interested for just a few months before wanting to move on. Through the auspices of some friends, he’s set up on a blind date with a woman who turns out to be a single mom.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Other

Films: The Other
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you see the poster for 1972’s The Other, it comes as no surprise that we’re going to be diving into the “evil child” subgenre of horror film. We will be treading much the same ground as in films like The Bad Seed or Village of the Damned. This is a member of another odd little subgenre, though: the evil twin movie. Yep. Two subgenres for the price of one.

Our twins are Niles and Holland Perry (played respectively by Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, neither of whom ever made another movie). We learn quickly that Niles is the good twin and Holland is the, well, initially mischievous twin and eventually the evil, murderous one. The two boys live in a farmhouse with their infirm mother (Diana Muldaur), their Aunt Vee and Uncle George (Norma Connolly and Lou Frizzell), the boys’ pregnant older sister Torrie (Jenny Sullivan), her husband Rider (John Ritter!), and their grandmother Ada (Uta Hagen). Also in the house is their cousin Russell (Clarence Crow), who they call Piggy Lookadoo. There’s no love lost between the twins and Russell.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

White People (Solve) Problems

Film: Grand Canyon
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Grand Canyon earned some immediate cred from when in an early scene, Kevin Kline was driving down a street in Los Angeles singing along to “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.” Another Warren Zevon song (Searching for a Heart) shows up later in the movie. Any movie that’s going to favorably showcase a couple of Warren Zevon songs can’t be all bad. It can be mostly bad, but it can’t be entirely bad.

Grand Canyon wants desperately to be an “issues” movie. What it turns out to be is a lite version of Crash a decade and a half before Crash. The comparison is a completely natural one, and had Grand Canyon been released after Crash, no one would have bought it for a second. We’re going to get a number of disparate people thrown together and we’ll see what happens a little more than two hours later, and all of our characters are going to end up at our title destination at the end.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Living in Django's Shadow

Film: Sweet and Lowdown
Format: DVD from Franklin Grove Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of Sweet and Lowdown, I feel like I should go through my own history with Django Reinhardt, who plays a significant part of the plot. Back in my college days, my roommates and I lived under a quintet of nursing students. They kept weird hours, which included them blasting metal at 2:00 in the morning. In retaliation, one of my roommates and I used to turn our speakers toward the ceiling and blast Django Reinhardt and similar music in the middle of the day. Petty, sure. But funny.

Anyway, Sweet and Lowdown is a fictionalized version of the life of guitarist Emmet Ray (Sean Penn), who considers himself the second-best guitarist in the world, second only, in fact, to the fabled Django Reinhardt. He also considers himself one of the greatest pool players in the country as well as one of the best poker players around. In fact, in Emmet’s mind, there is nothing that he can’t do. The truth is that he can’t keep to a budget, show up to a gig on time, or sober, or sometimes show up at all.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bus Stop

Film: Central Station (Central do Brasil)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I complain a great deal on this blog about plots that follow a very specific, outlined plan that is obvious from the outset. A film that has a plot that I’ve seen before is working at a disadvantage from me since seeing the same thing over and over isn’t something very interesting. There are exceptions, of course. There are movies that follow a plot where I know all of the emotional beats and have a very good idea of what’s going to happen and the film still works. Central Station (Central do Brasil) is such a film. There’s not much here that you haven’t seen before, but the film itself is well-made with a great deal of heart, and that solves a lot of problems.

Central Station is a road movie and an odd couple movie, and it follows those conventions in the main. We start with Dora (Fernanda Montenegro), a former school teacher who now set up a small stand at the central train station in Rio de Janeiro. What she does here is write letters for the substantially illiterate Brazilian population, charging a couple of dollars for the service. Honestly, that’s what the subtitles say. My guess is she’s probably charging 5-10 reals. Anyway, at the end of the day, Dora returns home and reads through the letters she has written with her friend and neighbor Irene (Marilla Pera). Some she sends, some she stores to potentially mail later, and some she decides to tear up.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Have Makeup Case, Will Act

Film: Man of a Thousand Faces
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When you know the name of the movie Man of a Thousand Faces, there’s no shock what it’s going to be about. Lon Chaney was a fascinating actor. While the silent era wasn’t specifically defined by him, there’s no question that his influence on early film was massive. Man of a Thousand Faces is naturally going to explore some of those early films, especially those that he was the most famous for. We’re also going to get a great deal of his home life, much of which is going to be very messed up.

We’re not going to get a great deal of Chaney’s early life. We learn really only that his parents were both deaf-mutes and that he went into show business. Chaney (James Cagney) works in a vaudeville show with his wife Cleva (Dorothy Malone), who is a singer. She’s also perpetually angering the owners of various shows and theaters by never being ready in time. When she’s late again, Lon covers for her, but she is still fired from the show. Lon quits, too. Cleva tells him that she’s aware he was contacted for a show in California, and that she is pregnant.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Uninvited (1944)

Film: The Uninvited (1944)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s something about classic horror movies that I love. There’s no need for the people involved to feel like they need to up the ante on the gore or the shock moments, so they instead concentrated on the story in plenty of cases. The Uninvited is exactly that sort of movie. It would be wrong to suggest that this is really scary, because it’s not. This is not the sort of film that is going to give anyone nightmares unless they are very young or very naïve. However, it would be similarly wrong to write this off as a trifle or a silly little spook show. There are some great moments here, and an engaging story that almost dips as much into film noir as it does into the supernatural.

Set the Way-Back Machine to 1937 in those years before World War II when the rumors of war were still swirling but the fighting hadn’t yet begun and people could think about things other than bombs. On the coast of England brother and sister pair Roderick “Rick” Fitzgerald (Ray Milland) and Pamela Fitzgerald (the underrated Ruth Hussey) are ending their vacation before heading back to London. They encounter an old abandoned mansion on the beach when their dog chases a squirrel inside. Pamela falls in love with the place despite a studio on the top floor being oddly cold and forbidding. She convinces Roderick that if the two of them pool their money, they can buy the place and live there, with him returning to composing music as a source of income. He confesses that the newspaper he works for would like him to do a series on great musicians, and that that will give them enough to live on.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Side Dishes

Films: The Facts of Life
Format: DVD from Mokena Community Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

Infidelity has long been a plot point in plenty of movies, but I’m not sure how often it was used specifically as a point of comedy in the formative years of Hollywood. The Apartment, which trades a great deal on infidelity and is at least partially a comedy came out in 1960. In this case, though, it wasn’t the main characters who were cheating or being cheated on (okay, one character was a part of a relationship like this, but she wasn’t married). I’m sure I’m wrong in this, but it feels like in creating main characters who are cheating on their spouses in a comedy might have started with The Facts of Life, which also came out in 1960.

Like I said, I’m sure I’m wrong. It feels so strange, though. Comedy infidelity moments happen in movies all the time these days, often as a way to move one character forward in his or her (but generally it’s “his”) personal journey. But it still feels like a rare thing to have the characters we are supposed to like and want to spend time with being the ones doing the cheating in a comedy. There are examples (A Fish Called Wanda springs to mind), but still feels rare.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Free at Last?

Films: 13th
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

A few days ago, fellow 1001 List completer Adolytsi posted news that the next version of the book, while not available, is listed on Amazon and all of the new movies can be seen. The 2017 edition looks to add 12 movies; one is from 2015 and the other 11 are from 2016. As it happens, I’ve seen four of them and two others are on my Oscar list and planned for the next couple of months. That means I had to add six movies to my NetFlix queue. Of those, four are streaming and a fifth is available on disc, leaving only one that might be a problem in the months ahead. I’m always down for getting a jump on things, so today I decided to watch 13th.

I may be wrong, but I think this is the first NetFlix film to be included on the List, which makes it noteworthy, if that’s the case. The truth is that it’s noteworthy even if that isn’t the case. 13th is named after the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which is the one that outlawed slavery. The gravamen of the film is that while slavery was outlawed, something very akin to a loophole was included in the amendment that allowed for a kind of slavery to still take place. That loophole is that slavery or involuntary servitude is illegal except in cases where someone has been convicted of a crime.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Where You Goin' with that Gun in Your Hand?

Films: Joe
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Sometimes with NetFlix, I play a game I call “What will I get roulette.” The idea is that I stack all of the movies with a wait time at the top of my queue, figuring that even though there’s a wait on them, I’ll get one of them. In this case, I got Joe from 1970, which was not the movie I thought it was going to be. Joe is an ugly movie in a lot of ways. It’s politically ugly, socially ugly, and brutal. It’s also a movie that helped shape the 1970s in a lot of ways.

We start with Melissa Compton (Susan Sarandon), who lives with her drug dealer boyfriend Frank (Patrick McDermott). One fine evening, Frank fixes Melissa up with an overdose that lands her in the hospital. Melissa comes from a wealthy family. Her father, Bill (Dennis Patrick) works in advertising and makes the equivalent of about $400,000/year. Upset at what has happened to his daughter, he tracks down her boyfriend, and during their argument, beats him to death. Bill runs away with Frank’s stash, and a few days later, Frank’s body is found. Since the drugs are gone, it’s assumed that this was a drug hit.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Room Service with a Side of Bullets

Films: Hotel Rwanda
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I’d love to tell you that I’ve not watched Hotel Rwanda before today for some reason other than I didn’t want to watch Hotel Rwanda, but that would be a lie. The truth is that I didn’t want to watch this movie for exactly the reasons that you can guess I didn’t want to watch it. If’ I’ve reached a point of surfeit with the Holocaust in film, why would another genocide be more palatable? Movies like Hotel Rwanda are important; we need to see things like this and like The Killing Fields because if we aren’t regularly reminded of just how terrible the human race can be, we’re more likely to suffer the same atrocities again. That’s absolutely true, but I don’t have to like it.

So, yeah, we’re talking genocide here. Specifically, we’re talking about the attempted genocide that happened in Rwanda between the Hutu and Tutsi people. While the concept of genocide is already something that makes every possible lobe in my brain hurt, the Rwandan massacre is particularly bizarre and incomprehensible because of the similarity between the Hutu and Tutsi people. They are pretty much literally the same. They have the same language, the same cultural background, the same religion. Evidently, the Tutsis are a little taller. But there is no real difference between them. It is almost literally like people with innie belly buttons deciding that the people with outies are evil traitors to everything good and right in the world and need to be slaughtered with machetes. It’s that insane.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Society

Films: Society
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Jeez…where do I begin? I honestly don’t know if we’re going to get anywhere coherent with Society, but I think we’ve got to try. This is body horror on steroids, the kind of thing that David Cronenberg might think up but wouldn’t actual consider putting on the screen in a thousand years. There’s a kernel of a story here, a message that really wants to be understood. The problem is that there are massive gaps in the screenplay that make even the willing suspension of disbelief something that doesn’t cover everything that needs to be taken in by the audience. Society has real problems with the way it all fits together. It’s audacious and monumentally weird and worth seeing for how far it goes, but it’s worth noting at the outset here that coherence is not a strong suit.

The easiest way to explain Society is that it is a riff on They Live without the special glasses and with a lot more body horror. The other movie I’m reminded of here at least in part is Slither, although this clearly would be the influencer in that respect and Slither the one being influenced. If you’ve seen all of these movies, you know exactly what I’m talking about here. If you haven’t, I guess I still need to explain as best I can.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Millennials: The Musical

Films: La La Land
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are times when I give in to a particular perverse urge on certain days of the year. I have, for instance, watched Rashomon on St. Patrick’s Day or an Australian movie like Breaker Morant on Super Bowl Sunday. This year, for the 4th of July, I figured I’d embrace the day and instead look at something truly American in origin: the movie musical. In this case, that means the most highly acclaimed musical since Chicago: La La Land. I had high expectations going into this, as did my wife. In fact, I waited for several days to watch this until she could watch it, too.

I want that on the record, because it’s going to be very easy to write off this review as simply being the fact that I often dislike musicals. La La Land didn’t live up to the hype, and my wife had the same opinion. Not 15 minutes in, she looked over at me and said, “I’m not loving this.”

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Graduate, Part II

Films: Goodbye, Columbus
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

I did not go into Goodbye, Columbus with very high expectations. It’s a story that has been compared with The Graduate in a lot of ways and for obvious reasons. It’s also based on a novella by Philip Roth, an author I haven’t much enjoyed in the past despite giving him several chances. However, it was the last film left on the DVR before we swapped it out for a new one, and since I can’t locate the film any other way, there was nothing to do but watch.

This is where I’m happy to report that Goodbye, Columbus was a hell of a lot better than I was expecting. In fact, it’s a small wonder to me that this hasn’t eclipsed The Graduate for the genre of aimless post-college student looking for some sense of meaning (and a lot of sex) while he figures out what to do with his life. Since that is essentially the plot, the connection to The Graduate is pretty clear.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Probable Cause?

Films: Emma
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you’re dealing with the early era of the talkies, it’s a good bet that you’re going to be dealing with melodrama in a big way. That’s certainly the case with Emma. This is almost the definition of a melodrama, truth be told. We’re going to get a plot and characters here that couldn’t be more melodramatic if you paid them to be. It’s going to go right for the emotional jugular and it’s going to hurt a bit.

Emma Thatcher (Marie Dressler) is the housekeeper for the Smith family. As the film begins, three events happen simultaneously. First, Mr. Smith (Jean Hersholt) receives a check for $5,000 for an invention. This is the equivalent of just north of $80,000 today, so the Smiths are suddenly flush with cash. Second, Mrs. Smith gives birth to the couple’s fourth child, Ronnie. Third, Mrs. Smith dies from childbirth. Flash forward 20 years, and we’re at the main part of the film.