Thursday, June 28, 2018

Off Script: The Most Dangerous Game

Film: The Most Dangerous Game
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I don’t know if it’s still the case, but there was a time when you couldn’t get through too much schooling without encountering the short story “The Most Dangerous Game” at some point. Much like Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery,” which I was assigned to read by at least five different teachers and professors, I read Richard Connell’s story multiple times in multiple English classes. Since the story is such a simple and basic one (and that’s not a knock on its quality), it was natural for it to be adapted as a film, and natural for it to show up not too long after the story’s original publication. Connell got the story published in 1924; the movie version of The Most Dangerous Game showed up in 1932.

My guess is that you know the basics, and while the names have changed a little in terms of the characters (as well as some changes in gender), this is a pretty solid adaptation of the original story. Big game hunter, author, and adventurer Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) is sailing with companions off the coast of South America when the ship, thanks to nefariously-meddled with channel lights, is wrecked. Several die in the crash and a few others are dragged off by sharks, but Bob makes it to a nearby island where he discovers a large house inhabited by a number of mute men and a Russian count named Zaroff (Leslie Banks). Bob is greeted and given a room and also introduced to two other guests, the brother/sister pair of Martin (Robert Armstrong) and Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray).

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Silver Linings Checkbook

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

I’m getting close to the end of the Oscar movies on my various lists, which means that, more and more, I’m watching movies that I’ve avoided for one reason or another. Well, that’s kind of true. In some cases, I have more or less actively avoided the movie in question. In some cases, I haven’t been able to find them. In the case of Joy, it’s definitely the first issue. I’m pretty burned out on Jennifer Lawrence right now, so I haven’t really wanted to dive into this one.

Joy is the story of Joy Mangano (Lawrence), a divorced mother of two living in a unique situation. Frustrated with her life and more or less coming apart at the seams, Joy invents a self-wringing mop and becomes a sensation on home shopping channels. The movie is a biography and so I assume that at least some (or even most) is based on reality. But it also very much feels like a reunion for a lot of people in Silver Linings Playbook, a feeling that is very much enhanced based on the relationships in the film.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Blue is the Drippiest Color

Film: The Blue Veil
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

For a number of years, I’ve been under the opinion that there are some movies on the Oscar lists that I simply will not get. That still bothers me a little, but I’ve more or less learned to live with it as well as I can. That said, when one of those movies shows up, I tend to be interested. That’s what happened with The Blue Veil. This is a film that relies heavily on as much heartstring pulling as it can muster, which means we’ll be doing a deep dive into melodrama.

Louise “LouLou” Mason (Wyman, although the real star might be her makeup artist) is in the maternity ward as the film starts, but this is not a happy occasion as it turns out. We find out that in addition to already being widowed. LouLou’s child dies a few days after he is born, leaving her now completely alone. She takes a job as something akin to a nanny for Frederick K. Begley (Charles Laughton), whose wife died in childbirth. What started as a 2-week appointment is soon full time and long term.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

By My Age, They Tend Toward Bitter.

Film: Sweet Bird of Youth
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

I have, in a sense, painted myself into a corner with the length of the reviews that I write. While there are a couple that are relatively short, I feel like if I don’t at least cross the 700-750 word mark that I’m selling the movie short. With a movie like Sweet Bird of Youth, that’s kind of a problem because I don’t have a great deal to say about it. This isn’t to imply that the movie is a bad one. It’s not at all, but it feels like I don’t have a lot to say about yet another movie based on a Tennessee Williams play. What can I say here that I haven’t said about A Streetcar Named Desire, Baby Doll, or Suddenly, Last Summer?

And yet, I feel the need to soldier on. Once this gets going, there’s no surprise that this is based on something penned by Williams. We’ve got all of the trademarks of a Williams narrative—booze and drugs, sex, illicit relationships, threats, messed up families, and Southern gentility. And, of course, there’s going to be a sense of terrible events that have happened or will happen, secret shame, and immorality. Makes you want to watch it, doesn’t it?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Opera

Film: Opera
Format: DVD from NetFlix on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

So I think it’s something I can say now officially—I don’t like Italian horror. It’s something I’ve struggled with in the past. There are a few gialli that I like, but even those have issues with not being that coherent all of the time. Films like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, for instance, are interesting and have some good parts, but even those are movies that I’m not convinced I want to watch again any time soon. Even the really celebrated ones like Suspiria are ones I like for reasons beyond the disjointed plot. So Opera, another Argento film, is one that has gotten a great deal of praise. I gritted my teeth and hoped for the best.

Now that I’ve seen it, I have a new hypothesis about a lot of Italian horror films. I don’t think the plot comes first. I think instead that the director or the screenwriter gets an idea or two for particular scenes that would look really interesting. For Suspiria, for instance, the first death scene, the barbed wire room, and the blocks of primary colors were probably the initial thoughts. For Blood and Black Lace, it was probably the fashion, and shots like the model being drowned. For Opera, it’s probably the ravens and the needles. Once those visuals have been thought of, the director/screenwriter tries to figure out a way to connect all of those different scenes into a narrative. Typically, this is done with…varying results of coherence.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Project Runway

Film: Phantom Thread
Format: Blu-Ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

With Phantom Thread, there is really a single story to be told. Star of the film and three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis went on record as saying that this would be his last film and that he will be retiring from acting. That is reason enough to watch the film. Day-Lewis is, I think I can say without much fear of contradiction, the most accomplished male actor of his generation. I have no idea who will step up to replace him, but for the last 30 years or so—since his break-out performance in My Left Foot (but really since a few years before that), Day-Lewis has always been worth watching. And yet despite this, I can’t say that I was really excited about this despite being a one-time fan of Project Runway and a constant booster of the wonderful Tim Gunn.

Phantom Thread is something of a love triangle, kind of. It’s a little more complicated than that, really. Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a respected dress designer in London about a decade after World War II. His business is thriving for his upscale clients and at least some of this comes from the constant assistance of his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville, who was nominated in a supporting role). It’s soon evident that Reynolds has something like a recurrent series of infatuations with women; early in the film, we see him more or less get rid of one live-in girlfriend when she no longer inspires him. Shortly after this, he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress. She becomes his new infatuation and his new favorite dress-up doll. Soon enough, Alma has moved into Woodcock House and functions as muse and model for Reynolds.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Film: Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

While I love a good horror movie, I can’t admit that I’ve been a huge fan of slashers. The truth is that most slashers seem kind of pointless to me. There’s a guy, there are victims. The guy kills them in a variety of ways. There’s just not a great deal there beyond that visceral slice-n-dice, and I’m not that interested. I don’t mind gore, but I prefer it be there for a good reason. If it’s just there to fill up space, I don’t really care that much. That makes Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon an interesting choice for me.

The truth is that I like this movie quite a bit. The reason is that this is the best send-up of the slasher genre since Scream, and it’s better in a few respects. Scream, brilliant as it is, is really a self-conscious slasher. It’s a movie that plays with genre conventions while clearly being a part of the genre. Don’t get me wrong; I love Scream and I love what Wes Craven did with it. The genius of Behind the Mask is that it takes the next logical step, presenting the behind the scenes look at the life of a supernatural killer.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Dickens of a Story

Film: David Copperfield
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

My mother is a big fan of the work of Charles Dickens. I’m not; I think it’s evident when you read Dickens that he was paid by the word. I don’t appreciate his wild coincidences and I tend to hate the ridiculous names of his characters. To that end, I’ve delayed the watching of David Copperfield until now. It wasn’t so much fear as an assumed dislike. I don’t like the author in general, so I likely won’t like a movie based on one of his overwritten novels.

That’s not quite the case. There are a number of things that are really going for David Copperfield. However, it is the case in the sense that the story isn’t really one of the things going for the movie. David Copperfield is less a plot-driven tale than it is a sort of biography of the title character, taking him from his birth to the approach of his second marriage.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Obligatory Shocking Blue Reference

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

Frequent readers of this blog will know that one of the things I take a stand on is the May/December romance situation that Hollywood seems to love. That situation is taken to an extreme with Venus, which presents us with a couple consisting of a 74-year-old Peter O’Toole and a 24-year-old Jodie Whittaker. On the surface, it’s unconscionable.

But, and this is important, Venus is a smarter film than that. The romance that we’re going to get here is far more theoretical than actual. There are still moments that come across as genuinely creepy, especially since O’Toole is playing older than his actual age. But, for the most part, there’s a sort of sweetness here because the romance isn’t really serious and, thanks to medical conditions, something that can’t be taken to fruition.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Off Script: The Creeping Flesh

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

It’s hard not to love Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee films from the ‘50s through the ‘70s. They’re campy and silly and loaded with cheese, and our two heroes always play things so seriously. It takes a certain kind of actor to be able to say ridiculous lines and work with ridiculous props without becoming ridiculous himself. These two could do it. They elevate the material they are given to work with. In the case of a film like The Creeping Flesh, that ability to elevate the material is going to be important.

This is a typical early-mid 1970s British horror film in a lot of respects. We’re going to jump back in time to the late Victorian period where so much Brit horror seems to be centered. There’s something very interesting about those just post-industrial years where, with a little bit of tweaking, we could have all been living in a steampunk future. Anyway, The Creeping Flesh is right there at the crossroads of the early stages of modern technology and the end of more barbaric eras of medicine and mental health care.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Wednesday Horror: The Mummy (1999)

Film: The Mummy (1999)
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

Brace yourself, folks; I’m going to get effusive here for a few minutes. I really, really like The Mummy from 1999 and I’m not ashamed of who might know it. I like how adorably gorgeous Rachel Weisz is before she got all serious and Oscar-contender-y. I love Brendan Fraser’s Doc Savage-style heroics. I love John Hannah’s smarmy charm and Kevin J. O’Connor’s weasely joy. I love just how much of a badass Arnold Vosloo is and Omid Djalili’s pitch-perfect comic relief. I love the quiet heroism of Oded Fehr and every single curmudgeonly moment of Erick Avari. The Mummy does exactly what it wants to do: it entertains from its opening moments to the close and does it just about as well as you could ever hope. If you haven’t seen this, your life is much less for it.

So yeah, I’ve just put the review up front because I’m not going to beat around the bush here. There are a lot of things I could say about The Mummy and why it shouldn’t be taken that seriously. None of that matters. The highest praise that I can give this movie is almost shocking—it reminds me of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It has the same feel of grand adventure and of supernatural danger. It has the same, wonderful sense of constant adventure and the sort of story that could have easily been serialized in 10-minute segments with a cliffhanger at the end of each one. It would not feel out of place in that sort of environment.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

My Wild Irish Rows

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

I think it’s easy to think of Richard Harris as his last roles. Specifically, I’m thinking of him as Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films and as Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator. In all of these cases, Harris was staggeringly old and frail, a man who looked like he could be blown away with a stiff breeze. He was a far cry from the man he was in the 1960s in films like This Sporting Life. So where was he going to be in 1990 in The Field? Would he be the physical specimen of his early years or would he be the wizened man who could be snapped like a twig?

It’s a little bit of Column A and a little bit of Column B. Harris looks like an old man, far older than the 60 years he actually was. But once you see him move and talk, he behaves like a man half his age. This is a vibrant performance in the body of an older man, and because of it, it’s interesting. It’s also interesting in that it is Harris’s second of two nominations. His first came in 1963 and this one came a full 27 years later. Is that the biggest gap between nominations? Probably not, but it’s got to rank pretty high.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Off Script: American Mary

Film: American Mary
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

I am a fan of the horror genre and have been for decades, but there are things that bother me. Eye stuff bothers me a lot, for instance. I’m also really bothered by surgical stuff. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but it definitely is the case. Seeing someone go through surgery will get me to leave the room. Because of this reason, I wasn’t really looking forward to American Mary, which is about both surgery and extreme voluntary body modification, which also tends to freak me out a bit.

Regardless of that, I made it through the film, and while there were a couple of spots I found very difficult to watch, for the most part, I enjoyed it. There is a part of the film that I found ridiculously dumb, though, and I promise we’ll get there before we’re done with this review. A film that has this much going for it that so spectacularly shits the bed at one point is not going to escape my review unscathed.