Thursday, May 31, 2018

Fly Away (from) Home

Film: Lady Bird
Format: Blu-Ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of this blog’s pet peeves along with romances between men and women half their age is coming-of-age movies. My contention has long been that when the main character is a boy, the story will be about coming to terms with death. Coming-of-age from the male perspective (at least in Hollywood) means coming to terms with mortality. For girls, coming-of-age films tend to be about sex, and in many cases, about sex with someone completely inappropriate (and often twice the girl’s age). So, while girls aren’t forced to deal with their impending deaths, they are forced to deal with their ability to create life. So how would Lady Bird fit into this? I was keen to find out.

Make no mistake; Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story. Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is a senior at a Catholic high school. It’s the early 2000s and the McPherson family lives in Sacramento, a place Lady Bird (she gave herself the nickname) is desperate to leave. She’d like to go to college somewhere on the East Coast where she believes culture exists, but the family is struggling financially and her mother Marion (Laurie Metcalf) tells her that the family can’t afford it and that she doesn’t really warrant it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Two Thousand Maniacs!

Film: Two Thousand Maniacs!
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

What can be said about Herschell Gordon Lewis that hasn’t already been said? Probably nothing. I mean, I can give you my opinion of Lewis and what I’ve seen of his work, but there’s almost certainly someone who has said virtually the same thing. Lewis’s work is, of course, sleaze cinema with very little in the way of redeeming qualities. However, it’s also true that without Lewis, a great deal of the modern horror might not exist, or at least wouldn’t exist in the same way. Lewis was a gorehound and so much of his oeuvre was really just an excuse for as much blood and viscera as he could get on the screen. And with that, we’ve got the blood-soaked Two Thousand Maniacs!, complete with axe-wielding, dismemberments, and death by giant rock.

Before we get too far into discussing this movie (and believe me, there’s not a great deal to discuss here), it’s worth taking a moment to look at Herschell Gordon Lewis’s career. He’s remembered as the guy or one of the guys who introduced real gore into American films. This started with Blood Feast, and Two Thousand Maniacs! came the following year. Lewis got his start in nudie cuties, though, films that depicted naked buxom women in a variety of situations. These are the sensibilities that we’re going to be dealing with here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Acting Out

Film: The Quiet One
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

There are times when I regret the average length of a review that I seem to have gotten into the habit of writing here. A film like The Quiet One is important in a lot of ways and unique in several ways as well. And yet, I’m not convinced that there is a great deal to say about it. There’s a strange sense of propaganda about the film that seems unintentional, but a natural adjunct to the way the film is made. The film feels both entirely relevant despite being 70 years old and equally dated.

The Quiet One is unique in Oscar history as the only documentary film to ever be nominated for a screenplay Oscar of any type. It’s only “mostly” a documentary in that some of the events of the film seem very much to have been staged. It’s likely, or at least possible, that these events were based on real life, but it’s also possible that they were dramatically heightened or created as something that was intended to be representative of the truth. In any event, it’s incredibly unlikely that a camera crew would have gotten this footage naturally, and a number of the events have a staged feel to them.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Retirement, Kinda

Film: Tribute
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

As this project winds to a close, there are now only a couple of years (not count 2017) where I have more than one movie still to watch. Since the goal is to not do a bunch of movies from the same year right in a row, there’s got to be an effort on my part to get through as many of those doubled-up years as possible. Thus I watched Tribute today, a film that has been sitting on a flashdrive, downloaded off YouTube for a couple of years. I can’t admit to a great deal of anticipation for this. I like Jack Lemmon, and his nomination is the reason I watched this. But it also stars Kim Cattrall and Robby Benson. The last time I saw a movie with Kim Cattrall and Robby Benson, it was an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 called City Limits, and it’s truly wretched.

Tribute is going to start by jumping up and down on one of my pet peeves. Scottie Templeton (Jack Lemmon) works in the theater community as a press agent. While he seems to have a lot of friends, he’s divorced and has almost no relationship with his son. Scottie is in the hospital for some tests, and before the tests can happen, he sneaks on a doctor’s surgical gown and more or less attempts to pick up a patient named Sally Haines (Kim Cattrall), who is about 30 years his junior. And, we’re going to find out that this works—she goes home with him because that’s the way Tribute is going to work.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Off Script: Scream and Scream Again

Film: Scream and Scream Again
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’d love to tell you that Scream and Scream Again was a ton of fun for me to watch, but that would be a lie. It’s not, despite featuring a cast that includes Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing. In fact, it’s an incomprehensible mess. While this was based on a novel and apparently sticks pretty close to the source material, it also seems like virtually every horror and science fiction trope from vampirism and golem creation to random vats of acid lying around have been cobbled together with something akin to a narrative to hang all the scenes together. It feels like a film that wants to hit every touchstone of the genre in the hopes that there will be something there to please any fan. And, as normally happens when someone tries to tick off all the boxes, it ends up a poorly-conceived mess.

And that’s kind of the problem for me. This is a film that is almost impossible to summarize in any way that is remotely coherent. There are murders that involve people being drained of their blood and people having limbs amputated, and there’s a whole weird subplot that happens in something like a communist country with a strange symbol. There’s also Vincent Price as an eccentric doctor who literally has a vat of acid on his property. Our evil killer jumps into it at one point, after escaping from the police by more or less snapping his hand off to escape his handcuffs.

Thursday, May 24, 2018


Film: Another Year
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.

Sometimes, what makes a movie interesting isn’t so much the story as it is the perspective from which the story is told. That’s absolutely the case with Another Year, a film that is, on its surface, a pretty standard slice of life drama that takes place over the course of roughly a calendar year. What makes this film interesting isn’t the stories it tells, since these stories are pedestrian and normal. It isn’t the people the stories are about, since they are not particularly unique or special in anyway. It’s that the stories are more or less told from the perspective of two people who are essentially tangential to everything that happens.

Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) are a happily married couple who have a comfortable and happy life together. Yes, their names are Tom and Gerri, and yes, this comes up in conversation at least once. Tom works as a geologist and Gerri works as a counsellor. The two of them are the more or less stable center of a world of people experiencing a variety of problems and pains. Where Tom and Gerri are happy, pleasant, and caring, their friends are lonely, despairing, and emotionally torn apart.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Warm Bodies

Film: Warm Bodies
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I’ve never been shy about the fact that I don’t much like Romeo and Juliet as a story. It’s what prevents me from really enjoying a movie like West Side Story no matter how objectively good it might be. That stood in the way of my watching Warm Bodies for the first time, since it’s so clearly a take on Shakespeare’s play with the additional twist of involving the undead. Still, nothing ventured, right? It turns out that I liked it more than I thought I would, so I was happy to revisit it here.

And really, that is the conceit with Warm Bodies. This is a version of Romeo and Juliet with a zombie Romeo. We start with our zombie, R (Nicholas Hoult), a hoodie-wearing 20-something zombie who wanders around the airport with a group of other zombies. R is a little different from the norm in that he collects things, which he stores in an abandoned airplane. These things he collects perhaps remind him of his former life or at least his former humanity. Periodically, he meets with his friend M (Rob Corddry), and the two wander off toward the city in the hopes of finding something to eat.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Shut Up and Deal

Film: Molly’s Game
Format: Blu-Ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

If you look back at all of the reviews I’ve put on this site, there are plenty where I got the movie from one library or another. Tons of those have come through interlibrary loan, but there are four libraries I use personally. My hometown library, DeKalb Public Library, doesn’t have a great movie collection, although it is slowly improving. Suddenly, out of nowhere, they have tons of current movies. I’m always a little surprised when something like Molly’s Game, a movie that almost no one has heard of, shows up. Okay, I realize that a lot of you reading this have heard of Molly’s Game, but we’re a self-selected audience of movie nerds. Mention this movie the next time you’re at work and almost everyone will look at you like your dog does when it hears a noise it can’t comprehend.

Molly’s Game is the story of Molly Bloom, a former world-class mogul skier who, thanks to a freak accident, was unable to fulfill her Olympic aspirations. Left with the sudden loss of a career that had taken up virtually her entire life, Bloom (Jessica Chastain) decides to put off law school for a year and instead head to L.A. and live on the couch of a friend from the U.S. Ski Team for a year. While here, she gets a job as a hostess at a high-priced club, and from here gets a second day job as more or less an office manager of a real estate developer (Jeremy Strong) who talks a good game but is actually hemorrhaging money. One way that he attempts to deal with that is with high-stakes poker games. As his essentially abused office manager, Molly is suddenly in charge of his poker game.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Not-So-Dangerous Liaisons

Film: The Affairs of Cellini
Format: Internet video on the latest internet machine.

There are plenty of actors in the world who seem to do little more than simply play themselves. That could come from several different factors. It might be that the person in question is being typecast and is just getting more or less the same role over and over. In some cases, though, it seems like the actor just doesn’t have much in the way of actual range. I think, for instance, of someone like Edward Everett Horton—an actor I enjoy quite a bit—but someone who more or less played the same guy over and over in the same sort of movie over and over. Based on his Oscar-nominated performance in The Affairs of Cellini, I can say the same thing about Frank Morgan.

Again, I want to go on the record as saying that I like Frank Morgan. The moment he walks on screen in The Affairs of Cellini, though, you know immediately who he is even if you don’t know who he is. In this film, he’s playing Alessandro, the Duke of Florence, but if you saw him, heard him speak, and immediately thought that Oz the Great and Powerful somehow ended up in Renaissance Florence, I would forgive you. Aside from the costuming and the facial hair, there’s not a molecule of difference between Oz and Alessandro. What this also means is that while there are moments of drama in this film, we’re not going to get a great deal in the way of seriousness.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Misty and Water-Colored

Film: The Way We Were
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

So here we go again. I clearly left the Barbra Streisand to the end of this set of films with two left to the last hundred. With The Way We Were, I thought I knew what I was getting into, but there’s a great deal more here than I figured there would be. In fact, I thought this was little more than a romance that dies over the course of the movie. What I didn’t know was that this is kind of a period piece, taking place at the end of World War II through the McCarthy era.

World War II is in full swing when we start, and Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand) is working at a radio station and constantly clashing with the government censor. That night, out at a club, she encounters the WASP-ishly named Hubbell Gardiner (Robert Redford), who she knew at college, and it’s flashback time. We jump back to those college days at an unnamed college that is almost certainly somewhere on the East Coast and also very likely Ivy League.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Viva Cuba?

Film: Before Night Falls
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Because my job involves a great deal of reading, I don’t read for pleasure a lot. It’s one of the reasons I watch movies. Movies are a break from reading for me, and these days (and for the last decade or more, really), reading has been associated with work. Because of this, a lot of my “reading” comes in the form of audio books. The problem is that my local library’s collection is packed to the rafters with biography and autobiography, and I find that those genres leave me pretty cold. The same is kind of true with movies, which made Before Night Falls a hard sell for me. But hey, I’m getting to the point where I can’t keep putting off movies that I’m not particularly interested in watching. And this one at least stars Javier Bardem, and actor I really like.

Before Night Falls is the story of Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem), a Cuban author who was writing during the Cuban revolution. Arenas, in addition to being something of a counterrevolutionary and of a talent that made him dangers to Castro and his minions, he was also homosexual, which made him a threat in very different way. Eventually, Arenas managed to get out of Cuba and wound up in the United States, essentially living in exile until he died of AIDS. What this means is that despite being based on a true story and likely following the story as cleanly and accurately as possible is going to be very paint by numbers in a lot of respects.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday Horror: I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House

Film: I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

A great deal of modern horror is about putting as much blood on the screen as it will take. I’m not generally a fan of gore for its own sake. When it is used well as a legitimate part of the story, it can be extremely effective. When it shows up just for shock value or as fan service, I think that it generally fails. Because of this, I find it really interesting when a film takes the opposite path. The epically-named I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House is a movie of the second stripe. The goal here is to produce an atmosphere of dread without covering the screen in blood.

We are presented with hospice nurse Lily Saylor (Ruth Wilson), who has just been hired on as the live-in help of horror author Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), who is slowly descending into dementia. The house in which the two live is old and, as befits the genre, both creepy and gifted with a strange, mysterious history. The original owners of the house never lived in it; they vanished on their wedding day. Iris has lived in the house for ages, and as Lily continues to live there, she begins to suspect that at least one of Iris’s books may have been relayed to her by a ghost that resides in the house.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Finishing the AFI Top-100

Film: Sophie’s Choice
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on The New Portable.

For the last several years, I’d seen 99 of the AFI Top-100 movies. I avoided and avoided that final movie (film #91 on the list, if you’re curious) for no reason other than the fact that I knew what the story was and didn’t want to subject myself to it. In truth, I never really set out to watch the AFI Top-100; I’d seen the 99 that I had by watching the 1001 Movies list and then seeing virtually every Best Picture nominee as well. The one that seemed to sneak past and that wasn’t on either of those two massive lists is Sophie’s Choice. So it’s yet another Meryl Streep nomination (and win) and yet another Holocaust story.

Sophie’s Choice takes place a couple of years after World War II. A young Southern man with the unusual moniker of Stingo (Peter MacNicol) arrives in New York with the goal of penning his first novel. He moves into a gigantic pink house, painted that color because the late husband of owner Yetta (Rita Karin) got a deal on the paint in question. Stingo takes the room and is soon introduced to Zofia Zawistowski (Streep) and her live-in paramour Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline). As good new neighbors, Zofia (who goes by Sophie) and Nathan invite their new neighbor to dinner, an invite that gets spoiled when Nathan has a manic episode of jealousy and storms out of the house. This is going to be something of a theme.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Return of the Living Dead

Film: Return of the Living Dead
Format: On Demand on big ol’ television.

One of the most enduring ideas concerning movie zombies is that they love to eat brains. That trope didn’t come from Romero’s films, where the dead started mindless and eventually started to evolve and ate anything they could from their victims. No, the common idea that zombies love brains comes from 1985’s Return of the Living Dead, a movie where the zombies talk, can use tools and think, and eat brains because, as we’re told by one highly decayed corpse, they are the only thing that deal with the pain of being dead and feeling one’s body rot.

We start in a medical supply warehouse where Freddy (Thom Mathews) is being shown the ropes by Frank (James Karen). After a quick tour of the warehouse and a look at the variety of skeletons, dogs divided in half for anatomy study, and other things, Frank decides to impress his new coworker by bringing up Night of the Living Dead. According to Frank, it was based on a real outbreak, and the zombies (and yes, he actually says the word) were accidentally shipped to this Louisville warehouse by the army and are in the basement.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Coupling and Uncoupling

Film: Lovers and Other Strangers
Format: Internet video on the latest internet machine.

As the saying goes, dying is easy; comedy is hard. I’m certain that good comedy is incredibly hard to write, and I’m not going to pretend that I’m any good at it or that I have advice for people who write comedy. To me, though, the thing that would be the most difficult in terms of comedy is not so much the comedy, but making it funny for longer than a couple of years. Comedy doesn’t last in a lot of cases. Watch early episodes of Saturday Night Live, for instance, or SCTV. As much as you want it to, it just doesn’t hold up. That’s exactly the position we’re in with Lovers and Other Strangers.

This is supposed to be something like a sex comedy, sort of. At least a great deal of what we’re going to be dealing with is a variety of sexual relationships, each one more or less stereotypical in some way and each one different from the others. All of these relationships circle around the central story, the upcoming marriage of Mike Vecchio (Michael Brandon) and Susan Henderson (Bonnie Bedelia). Now, because this is exactly this sort of movie, what we’re going to get is a bunch of relationships, all with problems of one sort or another, crashing into each other.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Off Script: The Tingler

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

I love William Castle. I truly do. I’d be hard-pressed to call any of his movies great, but I also find them all completely appealing. There’s such a strange earnestness that comes in the work of Castle. No matter how strange and silly the premise, Castle really wants to have fun with the movies he’s making. He was also the absolute king of goofy promotions. With Macabre, he arranged for theater-goers to each have a $1,000 life insurance policy in case they died of fright and staged nurses in the theater with a hearse waiting outside. That’s genius. For The Tingler, he had seats in theaters running the film hooked up with vibrating devices that, at certain points in the film, would jiggle the person sitting in the chair. Castle dubbed this technology “Percepto!” and once again used this goofy idea of giving people something new in the cinema. He also allegedly planted people in the audience to faint at certain times in the movie.

For a movie with an 82-minute running time, The Tinger has far too much going on for any of its various plots to really reach fruition. Pathologist Warren Chapin (Vincent Price) is performing an autopsy on a man just executed by electric chair. Oddly, the autopsy is being observed by Ollie Higgins (Philip Coolidge), the dead man’s brother-in-law. Warren discovers that the man’s spine is broken, almost as if it was crushed in some way. This is something he’s seen before, but not specifically in someone executed. According to Warren, the man was scared before he died; this is a condition he only sees in someone who has died while terrified.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Where There's a Will, I Want to Be in it

Films: Sudden Fear
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

NetFlix is a lot like an umpire or autocorrect. When it does its job well, you don’t notice it. It’s only when it screws up that we really pay attention to it. Umpires, autocorrect and NetFlix all take more crap than they should because of that. What this means is that yes, I have a complaint about NetFlix. Sudden Fear has disappeared from its available discs. What this means is that I looked for it online and found it at DailyMotion. I appreciate it being there; I didn’t appreciate the ads every five minutes for much of the running time.

Sudden Fear feels like a movie I should have seen years ago. It’s a film noir, and I love film noir. It’s also a damn good film noir. It’s stylish and slick, and while there are certainly elements like a good femme fatale, this is very much a “woman in danger” film. In fact, since our main character is being threatened with death over the contents of her will, it’s entirely about her being in danger and finding a way to survive it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Children of the Corn

Films: Children of the Corn
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the latest internet machine.

It’s not a surprise that stories written by Stephen King would be frequently adapted into films. Certainly it’s something that King himself appreciates. In fact, he offers a bunch of his stories as something he calls “Dollar Babies.” Film students and new filmmakers have the right to adapt these stories into films, provided they aren’t commercially released and that King gets a copy, for the princely sum of one dollar. And, of course, there are dozens of commercial films based on King’s work. Sometimes you get classics like Stand by Me or The Shawshank Redemption. Sometimes you get complete turkeys like The Mangler. Sometimes you get films that have literally nothing in common with the original story beyond the name, like The Lawnmower Man. And sometimes you get Children of the Corn.

Children of the Corn, sometimes known as Stephen King’s Children of the Corn, is a not so terribly accurate or faithful adaptation of the original story by King. Oh, it gets the broad strokes of the story, but it avoids the completely downbeat ending and the incredibly disturbing coda, opting instead for something that is, I have to admit, a lot more cinematic. What’s odd here is that the vast majority of the killing in Children of the Corn happens in the opening few minutes. There are a couple of deaths further in, but this is much more about the atmosphere than it is about the gore or the deaths.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Education, After a Fashion

Films: Charly
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Charly seemed very familiar to me. I realized at some point while watching that I’d seen part of this before. I’m pretty certain I hadn’t seen the whole thing, but there are a couple of moments that were shockingly familiar to me. If I have seen the whole thing previously, it was so long ago that this was not unlike a first viewing of the film. There are a lot of odd things about Charly and its Oscar journey. Cliff Robertson won this Oscar in what would be his only nomination and the only one for the film. It’s also an odd nomination in the sense that this is at least nominally a science fiction story, and Oscar tends not to like that genre for acting nominations.

Charly Gordon (Cliff Robertson) is an intellectually disabled man who wants to be smarter. While it’s never overtly stated in the film, it is implied that Charly’s deficiencies stem from a childhood illness that involved a very high fever. However, he is high enough functioning that he lives in his own room at something like a boarding house and has a job at a local industrial bakery. He also attends night classes with Ms. Alice Kinnian (Claire Bloom), where he works hard but struggles even with basics like writing his own name.