Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Hostel; Hostel Part II

Films: Hostel; Hostel Part II
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

The things I do for this blog. No, seriously. I’ve gone to some dark places here and I knew when I signed on for this that I would be going places I didn’t want to and that I’d come out the other side with some scars. When I started this project, there were places I hoped I wouldn’t have to go. As the project expanded, some of those darker corners of the cinematic experience came closer and closer. And so, now I’ve gone where I said I wouldn’t. I watched Hostel. Once having done that, I figured there was nothing to lose in watching Hostel Part II.

Before I get into this, and I’m going to tell you now that this is going to be a relatively short pair of reviews, I should make a few admissions. The first is that I don’t like the idea of torture porn, let alone the reality of it. The idea that it’s somehow entertaining to witness gratuitous and meaningless pain is unpleasant to me to say the least. The second admission is that I genuinely dislike Eli Roth. He just looks like such a poser, like a guy who thinks he’s got street cred because his dad bought it for him.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Neil Simon's Grand Hotel

Films: California Suite
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

Neil Simon must’ve hated when the ‘70s came to an end. He had 12 plays turned into movies in the 1970s, which is kind of amazing. One of those was California Suite, which was unusual for Simon-penned screenplays in that it has a substantial cast list rather than a couple of major stars in big roles. I can’t say that makes the film more or less than any other Neil Simon script; it’s just something that happens to be true.

California Suite is a title with a double meaning. It takes place in the main in a Beverly Hills hotel in a series of suites. In that sense, the title is literal. It’s also, though, a “suite” of four stories that take place in that location at roughly the same time. At least that’s my assumption. Since the stories don’t really interact with each other at all and the characters from one story don’t appear in the other three, it’s possible that they could be taking place at different times and even at different hotels. In truth, this is one of the weaknesses of the film.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Completed Once Again

Films: I, Daniel Blake
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

There is a genre of film—not a very American genre in this case—about how much it sucks to be poor. There’s a vast swath of American politics that sees the poor not as people to be helped or even pitied, but as people to be denigrated. It’s why poor people in American movies are often not that poor. In an average ‘80s teen movie, for instance, the “poor” kids still live in decent-sized houses and often have cars that their parents have bought for them. Middle-class qualifies as poor for Hollywood in many cases. Cross the ocean (or the southern border), and you’ll find films about people who are on the fringes of society, barely able to survive. England is great for films like this, so it’s not much of a surprise that I, Daniel Blake falls firmly into this genre.

I, Daniel Blake is one of the modern darlings of U.K. cinema, evidence by the fact that it was released in 2016 and has already shown up in a Criterion edition. I have to say I’m a little bothered by this sort of instant “it’s a classic” acceptance for any film. I enjoyed the hell out of a bunch of 2017 films, and I’d look sideways at a Criterion edition for any of them. It’s too damn soon, too forced. I, Daniel Blake is a fine movie for what it is, but to be given this sort of treatment? It feels premature.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Birth of a Communist

Films: The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios di Motocicleta)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I did the 1001 Movies list originally, I made a massive effort to remove foreign language films at a regular clip. I haven’t really done that with the Oscar lists. A big part of that is that there aren’t a substantial number of non-English films on my Oscar lists. Because of this, I find myself nearing the end of this part of this project with a relatively substantial number of foreign language films still to see. I should probably do something about that, which is one of the reasons I watched The Motorcycle Diaries (or Diarios de Motocicleta if you prefer) today.

Depending on your political persuasion, The Motorcycle Diaries is either a terrible tale of the creation of one of the greatest enemies of freedom to ever exist or it’s a superhero origin story. Why? Because this is the story of Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal) and a formative journey he took with an older friend named Alberto Granado (Rodrigo De la Serna) from Buenos Aires up along the Pacific coast of South America on an old, dilapidated motorcycle (hence the name of the film).

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Don't Wait too Long

Film: Heaven Can Wait (1943)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve enjoyed the films of Ernst Lubitsch that I’ve seen in general, so I was curious about Heaven Can Wait. What I knew going in wasn’t much. The main thing I knew was that the 1978 movie of the same name is actually a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan and not this movie. In fact, this film, while there are similar themes, is almost the opposite in where our characters take the narrative.

But, like both Here Comes Mr. Jordan and the 1978 Heaven Can Wait, we’re going to be dealing with someone who has died. Our corpse is Henry Van Cleve (Don Ameche), who wanders into a large, impressive entryway where he meets a man known as His Excellency (Laird Cregar). It’s soon clear that we are at the entry to hell, and Henry is of the opinion that this is where he belongs. His Excellency is not convinced, though, so Henry is forced to tell his life story to justify his entry into Perdition.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Zodiac

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

It seems strange when looking at a list of horror films to be watching a film that is essentially a straight crime drama. Zodiac is based on the actual case of the Zodiac killer in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I’ve said before in regard to the They Shoot Zombies list that when you get down toward the bottom of the list, you get three things—underknown horror movies, horror movies that aren’t really that good, and movies that aren’t really horror. That’s clearly the case with Zodiac. There are horror elements here, but this is a crime drama more than it is anything else.

Zodiac is also a film that makes a turn in terms of genre at some point, and I’m not exactly clear where that happens. The opening part of the film is very much a serial killer movie. In fact, the film opens with an attack on a couple (the guy survives), and another follows not too long behind. There’s a vague feeling of a film like The Silence of the Lambs in this part as we deal with the murders and slowly start to get a feel for both the police investigation and the pursuit of the story by the San Francisco Chronicle. As the film continues and the mocking letters from the killer to the press change and slow down, it becomes much more about the investigation.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Oscars I Care About

So, Oscar nominations have been released, and in terms of the awards I care about, there were 21 additions to my lists. Three of those (The Shape of Water, Logan, and Get Out) I have already seen. The complete lists, again, for those seven categories that matter to me here, are as follows:

Best Picture
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director
Christopher Nolan: Dunkirk
Jordan Peele: Get Out
Greta Gerwig: Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson: Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro: The Shape of Water

Best Actor
Timothee Chalamet: Call Me by Your Name
Gary Oldman: Darkest Hour
Daniel Kaluuya: Get Out
Daniel Day-Lewis: Phantom Thread
Denzel Washington: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Best Actress
Margot Robbie: I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan: Lady Bird
Meryl Streep: The Post
Sally Hawkins: The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Adapted Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Molly's Game

Best Original Screenplay
The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Animated Feature
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Loving Vincent

So, here are a few things worth mentioning.

First, Oscars are far less white this than in a few previous incarnations, although Best Actress is entirely white this year. I'm a little surprised in terms of genre to see Daniel Kaluuya nominated (pleasantly surprised, mind you--I've said for years that Oscar is unfairly prejudiced against horror). In fact, the number of nominations for both Get Out and The Shape of Water is nice to see, since both are of genres that Oscar typically shuns.

Speaking of that, I'm a little disappointed but not surprised at the lack of nominations for Wonder Woman. I had hopes for it, but superhero movies are routinely ignored--the fact that Heath Ledger was nominated let alone won for a performance in a superhero movie is a huge anomaly. Evidence for this is the fact that Logan earned a nomination for just its screenplay and Patrick Stewart was ignored for what is probably the greatest performance of his career. Wonder Woman's lack of nominations speaks more about the genre than it does about a woman-fronted movie or a major film directed by a woman.

To that point, it's nice to see Greta Gerwig nominated for Best Director. But herein lies a serious problem for the Academy. With this award, there is no win for them. I haven't seen Lady Bird (I'm very much looking forward to it), so I can't say if she deserves to win or even deserved a nomination at this point. I can say that my heart will always be with Guillermo del Toro here, but that's beside the point. If Gerwig wins, there will be a contingent of people who will say that she only won because of everything that happened in 2017 and that she didn't really earn it--she won because she was a woman in the right place. If she doesn't win, there will be a contingent of people who say that her nomination was the Academy providing lip service to the #metoo movement. They're damned if they do and damned if they don't--and this would have been a good case for nominating Patty Jenkins as well. A second woman on the list would alleviate this problem, and it's incredibly easy to make a case for Jenkins here despite genre issues.

There is a point in the Academy's favor, though. Four of the five Best Actress nominees are in films that were also nominated for Best Picture. That may not sound like a big deal, but it could well be the start of an important trend. Last year, only one nominee (Emma Stone for La La Land) was nominated for a performance in a Best Picture nominee, while four of the five Best Actor nominations were. This is not uncommon. I'll go back a few years to show you what I mean. In each of the following, I'm listing the number of nominated performances that were in films nominated for Best Picture.

2016 Oscars: 4 actors, 1 actress
2015 Oscars: 2 actors, 2 actresses
2014 Oscars: 4 actors, 1 actress
2013 Oscars: 5 actors, 3 actresses
2012 Oscars: 3 actors, 4 actresses (an anomaly!)
2011 Oscars: 3 actors, 1 actress
2010 Oscars: 4 actors, 3 actresses
2009 Oscars: 2 actors, 3 actresses (another anomaly!)

Yes, there are a couple of anomalous years here, but on average, 3.375 Best Actor performances are from films also considered important enough and good enough to be considered for Best Picture compared with an average of 2.25 for Best Actress performances. This is significant--it's under half for women and well over half for men. That list above only goes back to years where the Best Picture category has been expanded--it's true as we continue back in history. From 2000-2008, 42.22% (19 of 45) of Best Actor nominations are in Best Picture nominations with no common nominations in 2006. A mere 22.22% (10 of 45) of Best Actress nominations are in Best Picture nominated films, with no common nominations in 2003 and 2005. In seven of those nine years, two or more Best Actors nominations qualify, something true of only three years for Best Actress nominations. Best Actresses have more Best Picture-related nominations in only two of these years (2000 and 2006), while Best Actors have more Best Picture related nominations in five of those years (2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2008).

And that trend continues the further back we go. In fact, it gets worse. Almost half (24 of 50) Best Actor nominations in the '90s are from Best Picture nominations while just over a quarter (13 of 50) Best Actress nominations are. Best Actors have six years where these nominations outnumber those of Best Actresses, and the other four years are tied. There are no films in common for Best Picture and Best Actress in 1990 and 1994, and that's never true for actors. This holds true in the '80s (26 Best Actor nominations vs. 19 Best Actress) and the '70s (24 to 20).

So what does all of this mean? It means that traditionally, the Academy undervalues actresses. Those performances most worthy of note from actresses tend to happen (in the eyes of the Academy) in films that are not important enough or good enough to be considered for Best Picture. It's the old idea that pictures about women and women's issues attract women while pictures about men and men's issues attract everyone. Perhaps this is changing, but we've had years like this in the past. It's something to watch, and we can hope it's the beginning of a trend.

As always, I'd love any comments. Please, let me know what you think and what you think got snubbed.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Seems a Bit More Like Hell

Film: All This, and Heaven Too
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

When I first started reviewing films seriously here (at least as seriously as I’ve reviewed any films on this site), I was non-committal about Bette Davis. I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. All This, and Heaven Too is my 15th Bette Davis movie, and by now, I’ve gotten it. Davis was a force of nature on the screen. Something of a beauty in her earlier films, Davis, by the time her career truly kicked into high gear, could not be called a classic Hollywood beauty by any real standard. No, Davis’s appeal was how forceful and dynamic she could be on the screen. All This, and Heaven Too falls in that strange middle place in her career, after her temptress roles (as in Jezebel) and before her less glamorous but meatier roles (like in Now, Voyager). What this means is that Davis is playing a romantic character while not having the traditional looks that might be expected.

Mlle. Henriette Deluzy-Desportes (Davis) has just come to America where she is employed at a girls’ school as a French teacher. Sadly for her, scandal has followed her, and the girls in her class are relentless and scandalized by her presence. Convinced to stick it out by young pastor Henry Martyn Field (Jeffrey Lynn), who she met on her crossing from Europe, she goes back to her classroom to tell the story of her life to her students in the hopes that they might better understand and perhaps accept her.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


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

This is going to be one of “those” reviews. Had I had the foresight to watch The Front a couple of years ago, I’d have been able to address it as it stands rather than addressing the elephant still in the room, in this case the sexual abuse allegations against Woody Allen. In fact, I’m kind of happy I am addressing it now, because The Front calls up one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed when it comes to the works of accused filmmakers and actors.

That question is the role of the other people in the film. The Front is a film that specifically focuses on the people who were affected and disenfranchised by the Hollywood Blacklist. On the surface, it’s a mild comedic tale. A blacklisted writer (Michael Murphy) goes to his friend, cashier Howard Prince (Woody Allen) to act as his front. Essentially, Howard will put his name on television scripts and take 10% of the pay. Since Howard has a number of debts and needs the money, he agrees, and soon he’s fronting for a trio of blacklisted writers. But there is a deeper issue here. The Front was written by a blacklisted author (Walter Bernstein), directed by a blacklisted director (Martin Ritt) and features blacklisted actors like Zero Mostel in prominent roles. The Front exists to expose the wrongs that were done to these people. Avoiding the film to avoid Allen seems to cost us quite a lot.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Treading the Boards

Film: The Royal Family of Broadway
Format: Internet video on laptop.

While there are still some beloved and frequently seen movies left in my Oscar lists, I am getting to the point where a lot of what I still have to watch are films that are pretty much forgotten. That’s absolutely the case with The Royal Family of Broadway. Honestly, I’m just happy that there was a version of this to watch on YouTube. This film evidently exists in terms of physical media only in a UCLA vault as a 35mm print. That there are versions that appear online is fortunate, because it would be easy for this to be a completely forgotten film.

The Royal Family of Broadway was evidently based on a stage play, which was itself a rough biography of the Barrymore family. We’re going to be spending a good bit of time with our theatrical family and dealing with all of their different foibles. For what it’s worth, there are going to be four main members of the Cavendish family that we will have to deal with. Fanny Cavendish (Henrietta Crosman) is the family matriarch and absolutely convinced that life in the theater is the right life for the whole family. Her daughter Julie (Ina Claire) is a stage actress as well, but is considering getting married to wealthy financier Gilmore Marshall (Frank Conroy). Julie’s daughter Gwen (Mary Brian) wants to marry Perry (Charles Starrett) and give up the life entirely. And then there is Tony Cavendish (Fredric March), the family’s prodigal, who has gone out west to be in movies and, because of his wild ways and wantonness, has been forced to leave the coast, return to New York, and attempt to book passage to Europe on Aquitania.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Pacific Heights

Film: Pacific Heights
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I’ve never been a believer in the talents of Melanie Griffith. I’m not sure what it is. There’s something about her that simply doesn’t work for me. Most of the time, when I see her, I wonder why the film producers didn’t get someone else. Melanie Griffith seems like the poor man’s Meg Ryan, like the actress you get when you can’t really get the actress you want. Honestly, I think that’s an unfair assessment of her; the truth is that I just don’t care for her that much. This fact has kept me from getting to Pacific Heights for some time—this being the final movie on the original Bravo list of 100 Scariest Movie Moments for me to watch. Completing a list certainly seems like it’s worth a little Melanie Griffith.

Like many a good thriller, the set up here is pretty simple. A young, unmarried couple named Patty Palmer (Griffith) and Drake Goodman (Matthew Modine) decide to purchase an old fixer-upper in San Francisco for more than they can really afford. The idea is that they will live on the top floor of the house and rent out the bottom floor as a pair of apartments. This starts out as a “white people issues” movie—they’re charging a combined $2300 rent for their two apartments, and this doesn’t come close to covering their actual mortgage, which, with the apartments filled, is just slightly less than the combined rents of their original apartments.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

She Drinks a Whiskey Drink, She Drinks a Vodka Drink

Film: I’ll Cry Tomorrow
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

It took Susan Hayward five tries to win an Oscar. Four of those five, including her eventual win, were portrayals of women had fallen in some significant and terrible way. That terrible failing might be alcohol (Smash-Up), booze and a bad marriage (My Foolish Heart), or crime (I Want to Live!). With I’ll Cry Tomorrow, it was a return to alcohol, and many of the same places she went in Smash-Up. It’s also a return to what she did in With a Song in My Heart, in that she’s playing a real person and a real life.

I’ll Cry Tomorrow is the story of Lillian Roth (Hayward), an actress and performer in the early days of the movies. Roth was thrust on stage by her mother (Jo Van Fleet) and forced into a life of performance. It’s never really clear that this was something that Lillian wanted for herself. In fact, when she, out in Hollywood, reconnects with David Tredman (Ray Danton), a childhood friend, she’s absolutely ready to ditch the life completely. David, an entertainment lawyer, gets some solid gigs for Lillian as the two prepare to get married. But David suffered from some mysterious (and never defined) malady, and he dies suddenly while Lillian is on stage.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Superman Who?

Film: Wonder Woman
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

There are a lot of different ways that I could approach Wonder Woman. Do I look at this as just another superhero movie? Is this the first salvo in a world where women are actually going to be taken seriously as filmmakers? Is this yet more evidence that moviegoers care more about story than they do about specifically having a male character at the center of the film? All of these are probably true—and with the last possibility there, it’s a position I’ve held for some time. While not everyone looks at movies the way I do, there is plenty of evidence that the majority of the general movie audience are interested in story and character and far less interested in things like gender and sexuality. A good story well-acted is just that, and for most people, that good story could be about anybody—any gender, any ethnicity, etc.—and the good story will still play. That, more than anything, is the success of Wonder Woman, and the idea that people everywhere were shocked by its success is kind of sad.

The chances are pretty good that you’ve already seen this, so I’m not going to go into a great amount of detail on the plot. A group of essentially immortal warrior women live on an island shielded from the rest of the world. These women were created by Zeus to act as a guard against the treachery of Ares, who sought to destroy mankind. Among the Amazons is young Diana (Lilly Aspell), who wants to train as a warrior, but is prevented by her mother, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Diana (Gal Gadot as an adult) trains with her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright), and it’s a good thing she does, because eventually, the rest of the world is going to crash in on the hidden island of the Amazons.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Think They Work in Queens?

Film: Prince of the City
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Prince of the City comes on two discs. Since the film is under three hours in length, I’m not entirely sure why it ships on two discs, nor do I understand why roughly two-thirds of the film are on the first disc and less than an hour on the second. I don’t understand why this couldn’t have been done as a double-sided DVD, nor do I understand why films that are as long or longer manage to squeeze everything onto a single DVD when that simply couldn’t be the case here. But what do I know, right?

All of this would suggest that Prince of the City is a long film, and it is, stretching just under three hours (roughly 167 minutes total) on its twisting way through a tale of dirty cops, cops who are only dirty in the sense that it allows them to get even dirtier players, and just simple dirt. Sidney Lumet’s original desire for the film was to have an unknown in the main role (Treat Williams, in this case, and he did qualify in 1981) and for the film the cross the 3-hour barrier. He got close enough to that one, because I’m not sure what more there is to say about this topic in the film.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Film: Steve Jobs
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I have a mixed marriage in the sense that I am and have long been a PC guy and my wife is a dedicated Mac user and has been since before we were married. I’ve certainly used my share of Macs—you don’t work in publishing without spending time on a Mac, or at least you didn’t years ago—but my original connection to computers was gaming, and that was all about the PC. Because of this, I was never really that interested in the Steve Jobs cult of personality. My wife and kids all have iPhones; I have a Galaxy. Steve Jobs is a pseudo biography of Jobs. It’s more a trio of memoirs, seeing Jobs in the moments before three product launches: the Macintosh, the NeXT, and the iMac.

What this isn’t is a nice picture of Jobs as a person. While this may not be a “warts-and-all” biography, it is one where at least some of the warts are not merely included, but are featured. These include his tremendous ego and his evident need for complete control over everything he touched. The film doesn’t really explore the technology or the innovation; instead, it explores a set of relationships that Jobs had over the course of his career.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Saw II

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

I don’t have a great deal of interest in torture porn as a concept. The original Saw was tagged as a torture porn film, but it really wasn’t. It was a hell of a lot smarter than that, and for all of the nastiness and grue in the film, it had a surprisingly positive and interesting message. When it became a thing, there wasn’t much surprise in it suddenly becoming a franchise, and Saw II went into production probably the moment the original started to make money.

The premise here is essentially the same. A killer named Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) traps people and puts them into life-or-death situations. These people are all failing to live their lives to the fullest in some significant way—they are predators, junkies, or people who prey on society in some way. Their test (or “game” in Jigsaw’s parlance) is to demonstrate that they have the will to live, often by doing something painful and bloody to themselves or someone else to free themselves from a deathtrap. Saw II gives us a reminder of this, putting an informant (Noam Jenkins) in a situation where he more or less has to remove one of his eyes to save his life. He can’t and the trap is sprung.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


Film: The Quiet American
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I do not understand the career of Brendan Fraser. This is going to sound strange, but the career that I’m most reminded of is that of Hilary Swank. Swank has two Oscars, but seems just as much at home in absolute cinematic garbage like The Core and The Reaping. Fraser is probably best known for The Mummy and its sequel, fun and entertaining action films, but he’s had his share of films like Furry Vengeance and Dudley Do-Right. And yet, every now and then, he has a prominent role in a film like Gods and Monsters or The Quiet American. While Michael Caine is arguably the star of The Quiet American, it is Fraser playing the title role. How the hell do you switch gears between an adaptation of a Graham Greene novel and Monkeybone?

The Quiet American takes place in Vietnam at the very start of the war, before serious American involvement. In fact, based on the newspaper headlines we see at the end (and this is not a spoiler), this takes place before the French pull out of Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu. British journalist Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine) is in Saigon, reporting on the beginnings of the war. Despite having a wife back in London, Thomas lives with Phuong (Do Thi Hai Yen), who is more or less a kept woman. This presents a problem for Phuong eventually. Thomas is unable to marry her and because of her relationship with him, no Vietnamese man will have her when he leaves.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Small Tragedies

Film: Sundays and Cybele (Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

2018 has not been kind, and we’re only a week in. On the third, a woman turned directly in front of my wife on the road, causing an accident. We’ll find out tomorrow if our little Fiat is going to be totaled or not, and Sue is battered, bruised and currently on heavy medication. My father’s wife has had a medical procedure with some complications. My mom has pneumonia. Just this morning, an ambulance showed up to take one of my neighbors to the hospital. It’s been a week of tragedy to start the year. Naturally, the film that showed up from NetFlix was Sundays and Cybele (Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray in the French), a movie that more or less defines the concept of tragedy.

I’m of two minds with something like this. On the one hand, a film like Sundays and Cybele fits in with the sort of mood I’m in right now. Sometimes, when it feels like the world is crashing about one’s ears, it can be satisfying to revel in that feeling. In that respect, this was almost the perfect film for me today. On the other hand, sometimes when things seem to be constantly spiraling downward, we want an uplift. Based on that, this was absolutely the wrong choice for today.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Die, Yuppie Scum!

Film: Afterglow
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I have a serious confession to make about the movie Afterglow. I started watching this movie several days ago and stopped about 40 minutes in. There’s a specific reason for this. Every year for the past few years, I have tracked everything I watch on Letterboxd, creating a new list each year. Because I watch a little more than a movie every day, I access this list frequently, and because of how Letterboxd works, I see the top few entries of the list every time I go to it. The thought of spending an entire year having to look at the poster for Afterglow was something I didn’t want to happen because I knew it would piss me off.

Yes, I hate this movie in a way I typically reserve for white supremacists, television preachers, and people who don’t use their turn signals. This is the sort of movie that appears to have been written by people who have too much money and no real problems for people who either want to live in a world of too much money and no real problems or already do and think their non-problems are the most important things in the world. Everyone in this film is hateful, stupid, selfish, and not worth anyone’s time. This is cinematic solipsism, desperate navel gazing masquerading as being meaningful. Sorry for the rant (there will be more later), but sometimes I need to get this kind of thing out of my system.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Vampire (More than a) Weekend

Film: The Transfiguration
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

The last couple of years have been great for horror movies. Living in a world that seems to be constantly and continuously spiraling out of control on many fronts often has that sort of impact on the genre that deals specifically with both the real and unrealistic fears of the world. When a genre gets this sort of creative bump, there are going to be films that are left behind, ignored and overlooked. The Transfiguration is one of those films. Listed as a 2016 release, it didn’t really hit theaters until April of last year, and then made such a small ripple that not many people seem to have heard of it.

It’s also not a particularly easy film to classify. It is very much a film that plays on vampire lore, making it a vampire film in many ways. It is also not entirely clear if it is a film that wants to accept the supernatural aspects of vampirism or instead wants to travel down the road more or less paved by Martin. Are we dealing with a real vampire here or are we simply dealing with a very disturbed and disturbing young man?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Wednesday Horror: XX

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

Say what you will about anthology films like XX, there is a section of the market that likes them. I can go either way with them. On the one hand, I appreciate that in horror anthologies, there’s not a lot of filler, mainly because there isn’t any time for filler. Since the film has at most about half an hour to go from start to finish, we’ve got to get down to it right away. The downside of an anthology is that we never really connect to the characters.

That lack of connection is important. For me, at least, horror works in only a couple of ways. The best horror connects us deeply with the characters, gives us some incentive to want them to be successful or at least survive, and deals with the existential problems of life. True, deep existential horror is difficult, but wonderful when it’s achieved. That takes time, though, and in an anthology film, time is exactly what we don’t have. What that means is that we’re going to get the cheap horror film answers here: jump scares and gore. With XX, there’s a real desire in some of these shorts to attempt that deeper horror. There’s just not enough here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Garbo Speaks!

Film: Anna Christie
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I have gotten into the habit of picking up odd movies now and then when I find them. Most of the time, these are movies that I know I’ll need to watch for one list or another. I don’t just buy indiscriminately, though. Many that I buy are notable in one way or another. That’s the explanation for why I own a copy of Anna Christie. Sure, I knew I’d have to watch this eventually, but I bought it not just for that but because it’s also Greta Garbo’s first talkie. Fans who had desperately wondered what she sounded like finally got their chance.

What this means is that Anna Christie is an interesting piece of film history. It also means that it doesn’t have that good or that interesting because it relied on this gimmick to get people to go see it. What we’re going to get instead is a pretty straightforward melodrama focused on Garbo’s character with some assistance from Charles Bickford, Marie Dressler, and George F. Marion.