Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Different Kind of Memento

Films: Betrayal
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

When Memento came out, a lot of the film world was taken with the idea that the story was told in reverse. The appropriately named Irreversible was told the same way, and again audiences wondered at the guts of telling a story this way. And here we have the little-known Betrayal from 1983. This movie is based on a Harold Pinter play of the same name and, as you’ve probably guessed, tells the story in reverse order.

So why is this forgotten as a film that tells the story this way? It might because while it is filled with the sort of pathos and drama that we expect from a Pinter play, it doesn’t have the same sort of gut punch of Memento or the pure horror of parts of Irreversible. Instead, it’s the story of an affair told from years after the affair has ended, moving backwards in time to the end of the affair, the reveal of the affair to one of the spouses, shared afternoons, and tentative beginnings. It’s an interesting way to tell the story and seems initially to be more than simply a narrative trick. It does, however, require the viewer to pay close attention. We know where the affair is going because we’re seeing it in reverse. We need to remember that frequently what we know is not known by all of the characters on the screen.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Off Script: Beetlejuice

Films: Beetlejuice
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

Opinions on Tim Burton are varied to put it mildly. Burton absolutely has his fanboys and fangirls who will apologize for everything he does just has he has constant detractors who will downgrade all of his work. I find it easy to be done with Burton as a director. I can’t watch a lot of him, and for the most part, I like his less Burtonesque films (Big Fish, for instance) more than his more trademarked films. I like Sleepy Hollow more than a lot of people, but I think he genuinely never did better than Beetlejuice.

My guess is that for at least some of you reading this, I don’t have to actually justify that statement any more than I already have. Beetlejuice is the just about perfect confluence of Burton’s weird aesthetic, goofiness, and humor. It’s also beautifully cast from top to bottom. Frankly, Beetlejuice is a damn joy, and I’ll fight anyone who claims differently.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Manic Pixie Dream...Wait a Minute...

Films: Happy-Go-Lucky
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

I’ve not been nice in the past to the manic pixie dream girl stereotype in films. It’s one of those tropes that, on its surface appears to be progressive but is essentially just another way to service yet another white guy’s fantasies. A film like Happy-Go-Lucky puts the MPDG stereotype front and center in the person of our main character. Like plenty of the movies that are still on my slowly-dwindling list, there was a reason I’ve waited on this.

This is despite the fact that I’m a fan of Sally Hawkins, who is our MPDG. And to be truthful, I should have given this a go some time past. Hawkins deserves the benefit of the doubt, even when I’m not entirely sold on the premise.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

History Lesson

Films: Dawson City: Frozen Time
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on The New Portable.

I said the other day that I commented that I was initially worried about finding Dawson City: Frozen Time, but found it at my local library. I’m not, of course, entirely sure that this will be included in the next 1001 Movies book, but it is exactly the sort of movie that seems like it should be in the next edition. It’s considerably different than I thought it was going to be. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just a true thing.

The story behind this is fascinating, and it’s the main reason to track this down. Nearly 100 years ago, Dawson City was a gold rush town in the Yukon. It was also the last stop on a film distribution cycle. What this meant was that movies would eventually show up in Dawson City 2-3 years after they were released. A new silent produced in 1917 might not show up until 1920 for the Dawson City residents. The fact that this was at the end of a distribution chain is important. Once the movies got to Dawson City, they stayed because it cost more to ship them back than they were worth. Keep this in mind.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Coming Soon

Every year around this time, there’s hints and rumors and guesses about what might be in the next edition of the 1001 Movies book. A couple of days ago, fellow 1001 blogger Adolysti dropped me an email linking me to a Facebook post that has what looks to be the additions to the upcoming book. While there are some odd additions (and it appears they’re pulling both Hell or High Water and Arrival, two criminal losses), this seems like a legitimate set of films.

So here’s what looks to be on the new list:
The Handmaiden (2016)
Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016)
Lady Macbeth (2016)
Lady Bird (2017)
The Shape of Water (2017)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
Call Me by Your Name (2017)
mother! (2017)
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
Get Out (2017)
Black Panther (2018)

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Wednesday Horror: What We Do in the Shadows

Film: What We Do in the Shadows
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

(Just a short introductory note. You’ve may have noticed that my output here has been…less than normal for some time. That’s going to continue for probably another month, month and a half. Where I work, faculty is scheduled to have five “work units” per quarter. This is entirely manageable. This quarter—which runs through mid-September—I have had nine work units, or 180% the amount of work I’m supposed to. I’m not ignoring you. I’m just buried, and October can’t come fast enough. So for the next few weeks, most of what I'll be posting is reviews I've pre-written for situations like this one.)

I’m not entirely sure how to approach What We Do in the Shadows in that I’m not sure that there is a great deal to say about it. I realize this sounds initially like a bad thing, like this is a dull exercise in comedy that has misfired but the exact opposite is true. What We Do in the Shadows is just about pitch perfect. It’s funny throughout most of its running time and maintains a separation between the audience knowing it’s funny and the film itself knowing it’s funny.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Off Script: Cube

Films: Cube
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the new internet machine.

I remember watching Cube for the first time. It’s an odd film in a lot of respects. It doesn’t have a great deal of plot, or really any plot at all. It has a situation rather than a story, and a gang of characters that try to survive through the story that we’re given. It is almost purely allegorical in one way of looking at it. It could have been penned by Samuel Beckett or Jean Paul Sartre, since it is a pure existential drama. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Like any good horror movie, Cube starts with something like a scare. A man named Alderson (Julian Richings) moves through cube-shaped rooms through square doors set in the middle of the walls. The rooms appear to be identical except for the color of the walls. After a few rooms, we hear a click and Alderson stops in his tracks. Moments later, he, well, is diced by some sort of razor wire grid that snaps down from the ceiling.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Off Script: Dracula

Films: Dracula
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.

Back in the day, before people realized that they could dub movies, it wasn’t uncommon for studios to make multiple versions of the same film. Using a different director and a different cast and crew, the same film would be shot on the same location, but in a different language. A lot of these alternate versions are sadly lost. One thought lost for years but discovered in the ‘70s was the 1931 Spanish version of Dracula. Preformed on the same sets as the classic version starring Bela Lugosi, this version is arguably as good as the one everyone knows and is potentially even better.

Of course, it’s chic to talk down a classic and talk up a version that most people haven’t seen. There are a few points that the Spanish version of Dracula has going for it. The first is that this version was filmed at night on roughly the same schedule as the other Dracula. This means that the crew of this version got to see the dailies of the other film, allowing them to set up better lighting and camera angles in many cases. The same is true of our star, Carlos Villarias, who was the only member of the cast to see the dailies, allowing him to mimic Lugosi as much as possible. The other advantage is that this version is longer, giving the story a bit more space to breathe.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Toxic Fandom

Films: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Not going to the theater that often means that I don’t tend see the big movies when everyone else does. That being the case, I’m probably the last person who comes to this blog to see Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. I didn’t really know what to expect. After all, this is the Star Wars movie that caused a small part of the fan base to so completely lose its collective shit that they demanded an immediate remake.

I need to talk about this, about the toxic fandom that seems to exist more and more. Honestly, I don’t know if that’s absolutely true. Toxic fandom has probably always existed; in the age of the internet, it simply has more of a platform. And here’s the thing—in a lot of respects, that toxic fandom looks a lot like a younger version of me. I don’t mean that I acted like they do when I was younger, but I fit the stereotype. I was (and still am a little) a huge Star Wars fan as a kid. I’m white and male, and I’m also a nerd. There but for the grace of social skills and being raised by non-shitty parents go I.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Dead Snow (Dod Sno)

Films: Dead Snow (Dod Sno)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

Just when you thought that everything that could be done with the concept of zombies has been done, along comes Dead Snow (or Dod Sno if you prefer the Norwegian). This is going to be a straightforward zombie film with absolutely buckets of blood in places, but there is a twist. This time, the zombies are resurrected Nazis who froze to death in the mountains. I’m sure there are other Nazi zombie films out there, but none that have received this much acclaim.

We start with a young woman named Sara (Ane Dahl Torp) running for her life through a forest. Since this is a horror movie, it’s not too surprising that she’s dispatched quickly and we jump to the titles. Following this, we meet our main cast. There’s a car with four men and one with three women. We’ll be introduced to them all and herein lies really the only problem with Dead Snow. The characters are mildly differentiated by their various quirks, but there really isn’t much to distinguish them. The men are Erlend (Jeppe Beck Laursen), the movie nerd; Roy (Stig Frode Henriksen), the horny one; Martin (Vegar Hoel), the med student afraid of blood; and Vegard (Lasse Valdal), the other one. The three women are Hanna (Charlotte Frogner), the one with the dreadlocks; Chris (Jenny Skavlan), the blonde one; and Liv (Evy Kasseth Rosten), the other blonde one. Aside from Martin and Hanna being a couple, that’s pretty much it in terms of characterization.