Thursday, March 29, 2018

Now That's a Hangover!

Films: The Morning After
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

Jane Fonda is one of those actors I have to take on a case-by-case basis. She can be so good with good writing. With a film like Klute or They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, she is the best thing on the screen. Then she does films like Monster-in-Law or Georgia Rule and you wonder which is the real Jane. I’ve always got my guard up a little with her, which leads us to The Morning After, which I found online.

Alexandra Sternbergen, aka Viveca Van Loren (Fonda) wakes up one morning with the hangover she’s grown accustomed to having. She’s a blackout drunk who has pissed away her acting career by climbing into a bottle every night. This morning, though, she has woken up in the apartment of a man she doesn’t know. That might be bad enough, but it’s not the whole story. The man is dead, and since he has a knife sticking out of his chest, it’s clear that this was no heart attack.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Diary of the Dead

Films: Diary of the Dead
Format: DVD from LaSalle Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

So let’s talk for a minute about George Romero. You cannot get away from the fact that Romero was an important filmmaker. If he did nothing after Night of the Living Dead, he’d still be remembered with a great deal of respect. He did a lot more, of course, but despite films like Martin and The Crazies, he’s always going to be remembered as the guy who created zombies as they are known in the modern world. After his initial trilogy, he took a 20-year break from zombies until creating three more films. The middle film of that group, Diary of the Dead, is the one that concerns us today.

Before we dive too heavily into the film itself, I need to say a few things about it. First is that the overall quality of Romero’s zombie films drops off after the initial trilogy. I like the initial three movies quite a bit. Night of the Living Dead is a true genre classic and Dawn of the Dead is arguably better and definitely bloodier. Day of the Dead is better than it’s initial reputation and not nearly as good as its current reputation, but it’s not bad. When we move into the second trilogy, we start with Land of the Dead, which has some interesting ideas, but doesn’t quite reach the strength of the original movies. Diary of the Dead is not nearly as good as Land of the Dead.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


Film: The Champ
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

I’ve said before that Oscar seems to be obsessed with boxing more than any other sport. While there are sports elements in many an Oscar nominee and Oscar winner, there are three Best Picture winners that have a significant sports element (and despite the football and ping pong elements in Forrest Gump, it’s clearly not a sports movie) and two of them have to do with boxing. So it’s not really that shocking that as I come close to closing out both the Best Picture and Best Director categories, there’s yet another boxing movie to get through. That would be The Champ, from 1931.

As befits its status as an early talkie, we’re going to be diving deeply into melodrama here. It seems like a requirement of most movies of the era to have a massive dollop of melodrama tossed in, likely a hangover from the silent era when everything had to be significantly overacted to resonate on the screen. Also, it’s worth noting that for a movie about boxing, there’s not going to be a huge amount of actual boxing that happens here (and the boxing that does happen is very clearly terrible).

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Wakanda Forever

Film: Black Panther
Format: Market Square Cinema.

So it only took me six weeks or so to get to Black Panther. That’s honestly pretty good for me; this marks the fourth time I’ve been to a theater in the last 27 months. Typically, I wait for the movie to come out on one format or another and watch it then. Still, for what it’s worth T’Challa is my favorite Avenger character and has been for some time.

I realize that that sounds like the sort of claim that might be made by someone looking to score some social justice credibility, but that’s not the case. There was a period where I was a comic book nerd. That lasted for a few years, and included at least part of the time that Marvel Comics produced a book called Marvel Comics Presents. It came out bi-weekly, and contained four 8-page stories, three of which would be serialized over a given number of issues. In issue #13, they started a 25-part Black Panther story called Panther Quest, which was my introduction to the character. So, for nearly a year I followed this story through the character’s pain and heartbreak and dealing with racism and apartheid. Like I said, he became my favorite Avenger-related character pretty quickly.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Business as Unusual

Film: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

With the number of movies I need to watch dropped below100, I’m finding more and more movies that I simply have to watch if I’m going to continue at all. I’ve had a copy of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz sitting saved on a flashdrive for a couple of years without pulling the trigger. The reason is simple: I always have a little fear of those movies that feel like I’m going to be the only person who has ever seen it. I always find that so frustrating.

Anyway, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is evidently the movie that forced Richard Dreyfuss to take the role of Hooper in Jaws. He was apparently so appalled by his performance in this that he figured his career was over and was desperate for any role he could get. I don’t think he’s all that bad in the film, but who am I to judge how someone sees him- or herself? Regardless, the fact that this movie and Jaws were in consecutive years is utterly fascinating to me, because it has caused me to realize something about Dreyfuss that I didn’t know before. The man is surprisingly adaptable to a role.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

When Danger is Boring

Film: Casanova 70
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on rockin’ flatscreen.

I really wanted to like Casanova 70. I really did. I think I can be forgiven for thinking that it would be in the same vein as films like Divorce, Italian Style and Marriage, Italian Style. After all, all three of these films are Italian sex comedies from the 1960s starring Marcello Mastroianni. Casanova 70, as the third in that trio, had to have what the others did, but more and better, right?

Actually, not so much. I realized pretty quickly that I had more or less seen this as a short a number of years ago. Woody Allen remade this as one of the scenarios in Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex. One of the vignettes in Allen’s film is about a woman who can only achieve an orgasm when she has sex in public. Allen plays the husband and has the entire thing filmed both in Italian and in the sort of style used for this film. It’s a direct nod to this sort of sex comedy, because in this film, Mastroianni’s character can only find himself interested in sex at all if there is a serious hint of danger involved. No danger, no sexy times.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Cloverfield

Film: Cloverfield
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

Life is short, so I really try to focus on watching movies I’ve never seen before as much as I can. Sure, I rewatch some, but I really do try to watch things that are new to me when I can. Some of my rewatches are to have something on in the background while I work. Some are because I have a desire to revisit a movie I like. Some, like Cloverfield, I rewatch for this blog. I didn’t love Cloverfield when I watched it the first time, but I didn’t hate it either. That said, it’s not like I was aching to see it again.

What I find interesting is that Cloverfield has spawned an odd collection of…not really sequels, but sort of related films. Cloverfield is a found-footage kaiju-style movie in which a huge monster attacks New York as in the best of the Japanese giant monster movies. 10 Cloverfield Lane, released a few years later, is related to the first film in that they seem to take place in the same world, but the style is completely different. A third film, The Cloverfield Paradox is just out this year; I haven’t seen it yet, but I assume that once again it will be mildly related to the original film without really being anything like it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Films: The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

Casting a biopic is a weird thing. Do you cast for looks or the “essence” of the person? Or do you just go with a name and hope that everything works out? In the case of The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell, the answer to these questions was evidently “none of the above.” Gary Cooper was cast as the title character in what Mitchell’s family believed to be a huge mistake. Where Cooper was tall and laconic, Mitchell by all accounts was short and fiery. Apparently, no one in Mitchell’s family thought this casting made any sense at all because the two men couldn’t have been more different.

Anyway, the title of the film tells you pretty much everything you need to know regarding the plot. Billy Mitchell (Cooper) is a staunch advocate for air power in the years following World War I. It’s Mitchell’s belief that air power is the future of the military and the future of warfare. No one else seems to believe him, though; both the Army and the Navy haven’t even pretended to throw a bone or two toward the fledgling air corps.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Off Script: Starry Eyes

Films: Starry Eyes
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

The movie industry is obsessed with itself in ways that would be evidence of psychosis in just about any other industry. When it wants to pat itself on the back, we get movies like Argo that posit our movie makers as selfless heroes. When it wants to be nostalgic, we get Hugo, touting the history of films as something like a history of humanity itself. When it wants to make fun of itself, we get things like Hail, Caesar!, showing Hollywood to be a place of insane self-obsession and detached from reality. In its sardonic moods, we get The Player, which is everything Hail, Caesar! is turned nasty. So what happens when someone decides to take this sort of navel gazing and slip it into a horror movie? You get Starry Eyes.

Sarah (Alex Essoe) desperately wants to break into the movie business. She’s marking time working as a server in an exploitative Hooters-like restaurant called Big Taters. There are a few things that stand in her way. One is that most of her friends either aren’t supportive or actively subverting her goals. Erin (Fabianne Therese) actively goes on auditions that Sarah has done and attempts to steal her roles. Second is that she is a trichotillomaniac, pulling out her own hair in moments of stress. The only people in Sarah’s life who seem to care about her at all are her roommate Tracy (Amanda Fuller), and Danny (Noah Segan), who talks about making a film and wanting Sarah to star in it.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

It is Balloon!

Film: The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge)
Format: Various media on multiple players.

DVDs are a lot like sports officials and autocorrect in one important respect: we don’t really notice them until they screw up badly. As I get closer and closer to the end of these Oscar lists, I’ve discovered that, outside of last year’s nominations, there are a few spots where I still have a couple of movies in the same category and year to watch. I’m trying to get rid of those as much as I can. That’s why I requested The Red Balloon (or Le Ballon Rouge if you prefer) from NetFlix; I still had two 1956 nominees for Best Original Screenplay to watch. So imagine my frustration when about 10 minutes in the disc got stuck and started glitching. Fortunately for me, I found it streaming on Kanopy and finished watching it that way.

It would be fair to ask why, since I watched only 10 minutes off the DVD, I didn’t just say at the top that I watched this on Kanopy. Well, in many instances I would. In the case of The Red Balloon, though, watching 10 minutes approaches a third of the film’s running time. This runs under 35 minutes total. It remains the only short film to win an Oscar outside of the short film category. You read that right—this short film about a six-year-old boy being followed around Paris by a balloon won this Oscar despite having almost no dialogue and being shorter than an episode of Matlock.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Bug

Film: Bug
Format: DVD from Manhattan-Elwood Public Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

Bug is one of those movies that I think you either really appreciate or really don’t. At least that’s sort of my impression of it. It’s the sort of film that would have really strong advocates on the one hand and people who were either upset by it, hated it, or were at least mildly traumatized by it. It says a lot that this was based on a play written by Tracy Letts, who also wrote Killer Joe. That should give you some idea of the sensibilities.

Bug is a paranoid fever dream, the sort of film that starts out looking like a potentially strange little romance and increasingly becomes more and more deranged over time until it devolves into a full-blown shared schizophrenic hallucination. It also does something so subtle that I didn’t catch it the first time I saw it and didn’t really catch it this time until I was close to done watching. I really like it when a film turns out to be smarter than I thought it was.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Off Script: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

Film: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s something oddly reassuring to me about sliding into a film like the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I know what’s going to happen in general. I’ve read the story and seen the story depicted on the screen enough to be more than passing familiar with the basic run of events. The big switch here is seeing Spencer Tracy in the role of Dr. Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. Tracy was so often a warm, paternal presence on the screen that seeing him as a sadistic monster is surprising and kind of fascinating.

This is the pretty standard story with which you are almost certainly familiar. Dr. Henry Jekyll believes that both good and evil exist in every man. Through experimentation, he discovers a formula that more or less enhances his own evil side, which names itself Edward Hyde. When he drinks the formula, the mild-mannered, decent Jekyll becomes the brutish and sadistic Hyde, who more or less lives out the dark fantasies of the good doctor.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

She's Got a Good Personality...or Two

Film: The Three Faces of Eve
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin' flatscreen.

Posting this review today is something of a milestone for me. The full list of movies on my various Oscar lists runs a little more than 1400 total films. As of this point, with the posting of this review, I’ve hit the double-digit mark. There are 99 movies left unreviewed. It feels like I should have a couple of streamers or something, but there are still a dozen or so movies I’ll likely never get to see, so the celebration is admittedly a bit muted.

So, this is where we’re going to be for the length of this film: we’re going to be investigating the world of multiple personality disorder, specifically in the case of a woman who will be known to us as Eve White (Joanne Woodward). Naturally, she’ll have some other names, too. The first of these other personalities is Eve Black; the third is known eventually as Jane. The film purports itself to be based on reality, and is in fact based on a book. I have no idea how closely the film follows the text nor do I know how accurate that text is to any real case. I guess what we have to do is just assume that we’re at least in the reality ballpark.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Really Junior Executives

Film: The Boss Baby
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the latest internet machine.

When The Boss Baby was nominated for Best Animated Feature, I knew that eventually I would have to watch it. Since it is streaming on NetFlix at the moment, I figured that I could knock it out quickly and therefore not have it hanging over my head for too long. After all, this is the nomination that caused raised eyebrows around the country (at least) since once again a LEGO movie was left off the nominations. No LEGO Batman Movie. Instead, we get this.

The truth is that The Boss Baby, while almost certainly much less of a film than The LEGO Batman Movie, isn’t terrible. It’s also, sadly, not that great. I’ll admit it comes with sort of a cute idea, but it’s taken to some really ridiculous places that don’t really work. It feels like it started with a good voice cast (and it is, top to bottom) and cobbled together a plot to use them. It wasn’t fully developed enough to avoid some pretty strange plot holes.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Red Eye

Film: Red Eye
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

I’ve been a Wes Craven fan for a long time. I have nothing but respect for the guy who created some of the most legendary horror movies, franchises, and characters in existence. I love that one of the clauses in his contract for directing Scream was that he got to direct Music of the Heart, and that Wes Craven has directed a scene shared between Meryl Streep and Itzhak Perlman. I was curious when it came to Red Eye; it’s clear right away that this is going to be lesser Craven. It could still be a good or even great film, but it’s never going to rise to the Scream or A Nightmare on Elm Street.

We begin our tale in the company of Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), a manager at a swanky, upscale Miami hotel. Lisa is boarding a plane to return to Miami from Dallas after attending the funeral of her grandmother. The flights are all delayed, though, and Lisa is dealing as well as she can with that and with current issues at her hotel. Her coworker Cynthia (Jayma Mays) is dealing with a number of issues, the main one being the arrival of Charles Keefe (Jack Scalia), the Deputy Chief of Homeland Security. As she is waiting for her flight to finally board, Lisa makes the acquaintance of Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy), who is also on her flight.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Children of Divorce

Film: The Squid and the Whale
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

This is going to be painful. I’m a child of divorce and The Squid and the Whale is about divorce. It’s not just that, though. This is a movie that hits home for me in a lot of respects. The film is a mere 81 minutes long and it took me all day to get through because I needed to stop and process it. My parents’ divorce started when I was 15, so it was multiple decades ago, but The Squid and the Whale hit me very hard in a couple of places and erased those years very quickly. Not in a good way, but in a real way.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Falling for Flying

Film: Crazy Heart
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

So it’s Oscar night and while I watch and live-tweet the awards (something I’ve literally never done before), I’m writing up Crazy Heart during the commercials. For a blog like this one that focuses on a few Oscar categories, tonight is akin to Super Bowl Sunday. I’m hoping that I’ll finish this before the end of the ceremony. Since I don’t care a great deal about the musical numbers, I might write through those as well.

Crazy Heart feels like a movie I’ve seen before, and when Robert Duvall shows up near the end of the film, I realized it was because Crazy Heart is a hell of a lot like Tender Mercies. In Tender Mercies, Duvall plays an aging, alcoholic country music performer on the outs desperately looking for love and meaning. In Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges plays an aging, alcoholic country music performer on the outs desperately looking for love and meaning.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Art Imitates Life Imitates Art

Film: In Cold Blood
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on The New Portable.

I’ve put off watching In Cold Blood for a few reasons. The first was that I wasn’t sure of how well it would hold up to Capote and the non-fiction novel written by Truman Capote. This is one of those instances where I’m familiar with the source material, and in this case, that source material has earned all of the acclaim it has gotten. The book is staggering and brilliant. But I’ll admit that a part of this comes from the odd story of Robert Blake. Do I really want to spend time watching a movie starring Blake as a murderer when he may well be a non-convicted murderer in real life?

That is the entirety of the movie, though. In Cold Blood is essentially the story of the murder of the Clutter family in Kansas by Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) and Perry Smith (Robert Blake). Where it differs is the focus. While Capote’s book takes a more clinical and omniscient perspective and the film Capote sits entirely in the world of the author’s struggle, the film version of In Cold Blood is significantly focused on the story of the criminals. We won’t spend the entire film there, but we do spend a great deal of the film’s running time in the company of Dick and Perry.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Wrestling with a Problem

Film: Women in Love
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Women in Love was one of those movies that has been unfindable for me since I started the Oscars lists. No library in my network has it; NrtFlix doesn’t have it. It’s not on any streaming service I can find. Because of this, I was thrilled when it showed up on TCM. When I finally track down a rarity, I tend to watch it right away. In the case of this movie, I have to wonder why it was so hard to find.

This is not because Women in Love is a great or even a good movie. It’s overlong and filled with the kind of excess that can only exist in a Ken Russell film. No, it’s about this film’s unique place in film history. It is the first time an actress won for a role that included nudity. It was Ken Russell’s only nomination. It was also one of the first mainstream movies to feature full-frontal male nudity. I don’t get why films with multiple nominations—and a win—get so lost. Sure, it’s not a great film, but it has history.