Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday Horror: The Grudge (2004)

Films: The Grudge (2004)
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

Everybody has a few holes in their viewing history. Somewhere out there is someone who has seen a ton of musicals including a number of obscure ones but who hasn’t gotten to something like Showboat. For me, one of the big holes in my horror movie viewing is any version of The Grudge. Typically I like to start with the original in a case like this, but it’s the 2004 remake that appears on one of my Bravo lists, and it’s the 2004 remake that I found at a local library…so it’s the 2004 remake that I watched.

There’s no shame in having these holes in the viewing history. There are so many movies out there that no one can see them all, and there are always new people becoming movie fans who suddenly have worlds to discover. I no longer shame people on the movies they haven’t seen. That said, though, I am going to say something that will piss some people off. The “Blindspot” lists are something that are pretty popular on many film blogs. I think that’s cool, but you all need to start crediting the right person for coming up with the idea. The first person that I know who did Blindspot lists—and did multiple versions of them that were dozens of movies long—was Nick Jobe.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Suffragette City

Films: The Bostonians
Format: DVD from Mokena Community Public Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Merchant/Ivory productions. Oh, I’m happy to admit that they are pretty and that they are well made. They just don’t interest me that much. Historical romances don’t really do a great deal for me in the best of situations (“Not always true!” I hear you say. “You loved Sense and Sensibility!”). It just seems that so many of the Merchant/Ivory movies are so timid, like everyone feels like touching another person will cause one of them to break. That being the case, I can’t say that I was too excited about The Bostonians.

The Bostonians is a weird sort of love triangle, one that today would almost certainly delve into the clear lesbianism of at least one of the characters, but that’s not what happens here. As the title suggests, we’ll be spending a great deal of our time in Boston, in this case about 10 years after the American Civil War. The apex of our love triangle is Verena Tarrant (Madeleine Potter), the daughter of Dr. (Wesley Addy) and Mrs. Tarrant (Barbara Byrne). He is a “mesmeric healer” while Verena has discovered a talent for oratory and a penchant for speaking on women’s rights. In this role, she has earned a number of followers and a friend in the press in the person of Mr. Pardon (Wallace Shawn).

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Today's Headlines

Films: My Sister Eileen
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

So my several months from hell are finally coming to a close, and it feels like I might actually come close to finishing my Oscar lists by the end of this year. At this point, virtually everything I watch is the last thing I need to see for a given year. That’s the case with My Sister Eileen, a film that wasn’t always available on NetFlix and then was. It’s apparently playing on TCM this month, too. If I’d known, I probably would have requested something else.

This is a film that has a great deal in common with His Girl Friday. What I mean by that is that it stars Rosalind Russell and that she is (at least initially) a newspaper reporter. When the film starts, Ruth Sherwood (Russell) is finishing up the last bit on a drama review for the newspaper in Columbus, OH. As it happens, she hasn’t seen the play yet, but she gives a glowing review to the star, her kid sister Eileen (Janet Blair). The review talking about the new acting sensation Eileen Sherwood goes out that night. It’s too bad that Eileen gets bumped from the role. Due to the embarrassment, Ruth is fired and Eileen feels she can’t show her face in town. With nothing else to do, the sisters decide to try their luck in New York. They’re sent on their way by their grandmother (Elizabeth Patterson) and given $100 by their father (Grant Mitchell).

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wednesday Horror: The Hand that Rocks the Cradle

Films: The Hand that Rocks the Cradle
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

I don’t think that I’d be really capable of directing a movie. If I had to, I’d probably go for horror because it seems to me that horror is probably the go-to genre for a new director. Of all of the genres out there, thrillers are probably the hardest to do well. To make a really effective thriller, you have to do a lot of juggling of plot, character, what you show and what you hide, and a great deal more. The Hand that Rocks the Cradle is one of those movies that seems like it has such an obvious premise that you can’t believe it wasn’t done a couple of hundred times already. While there are certainly elements of horror here, since this is pretty much entirely believable, in my world it falls more into the thriller category.

Claire Bartel (Annabella Sciorra) is pregnant with her second child and goes to a new OB/GYN for essentially a wellness check. The doctor (John de Lancie) gets a little more friendly with her than she would like and, freaking out, she confesses to her husband Michael (Matt McCoy) that she thinks he molested her. Eventually, she presses charges, and a collection of other women step up and make the same accusation. Months later, Dr. Mott is facing the loss of his medical license, fines, and possible prison. He commits suicide, leaving his wife (Rebecca De Mornay) with frozen assets and nowhere to go. Distraught, she faints and in the course of the trauma, loses her child and is forced to undergo an emergency hysterectomy. As she recovers, having lost everything, she sees Claire Bartel on the news and vows revenge.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Off Script: Nightbreed

Films: Nightbreed
Format: DVD from Cortland Community Library on The New Portable.

There was a short period of time in my life when I was a comic book collector. I didn’t collect for too long, but my collection years included 1990. I remember a huge marketing campaign for Nightbreed that involved multipage inserts. I worked in the magazine industry for about five years, and I can tell you that those inserts don’t come cheap. I think there was a lot of effort to get the same sort of support for Nightbreed that existed for Hellraiser. In real ways, this wants to do the same thing.

See, here’s the reality of Nightbreed: it desperately wants to create a mythology. This is something that Hellraiser did, almost by accident. So much of Hellraiser is about bringing Uncle Frank back to life and the Cenobites don’t appear right away. Despite this, they became the central focus of the fandom of the film. Pinhead and his compatriots soon had a mythology surrounding them. Nightbreed, based on Clive Barker’s novella “Cabal,” really wanted to create the same sort of mythology around the creatures living in Midian. The problem is that there’s not enough time spend on that and far too many creatures to create much of anything.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Off Script: Jennifer's Body

Films: Jennifer’s Body
Format: DVD from Cortland Community Library on The New Portable.

I went into Jennifer’s Body without a great deal of knowledge. I knew that it starred Megan Fox, best known for saying Michael Bay was just like Hitler and then working with him again. I didn’t know it also starred Amanda Seyfried, an actress of whom I’ve never been that fond. I also knew that this is a movie that has mixed reviews. I’ve seen more than one person list it as a guilty pleasure or suggest that by saying they like it they are putting themselves out on some limb or another.

Jennifer’s Body is a member of that large subset of horror movies that takes place in and around high school students. Most or many films of this stripe end up being slashers, and Jennifer’s Body is very much not a slasher. This is because in addition to being a high school horror movie, this is also one of that much rarer breed of film: a feminist horror film, or at least one that can easily be read has having a feminist storyline.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

(White) Power Play

Films: American History X
Format: DVD from Cortland Community Library on The New Portable.

A movie like American History X reveals the tactical error I made regarding my account on Letterboxd. I decided when I started posting reviews there that I would click the “like” button for any movie I rated three stars and above. The reason that’s a problem with movies like American History X is that it’s a movie that deserves in many ways to be rated above three stars (out of five), but it’s also a movie I can’t claim to like. In fact I don’t like the movie at all, and there’s a reason that I haven’t rewatched it until now.

Even if you haven’t seen this, you can guess it’s going to be an unpleasant movie based just on the DVD case, which features Edward Norton with a swastika tattoo. So yes, this is going to be a movie that involves white supremacy, skinheads, and racism. It also comes saddled with Edward Furlong (who is now in his 40s!), who gained a reputation as the annoying kid in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and never really got much beyond that.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wednesday Horror: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse

Films: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse)
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

When I was doing the 1001 Movies list, one of the more unpleasant slogs was the epic serial Les Vampires. While the 10-part serial is considered incredibly influential, it suffers from all of the problems of silent films for a modern audience splayed out over the course of 400 minutes. But there were some ideas there; the audience just had to dig for them through something that was far too long and contained far too much filler. Fritz Lang’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse if you prefer the German articles) is a distillation of the good ideas in Les Vampires placed in a single film.

Kind of. After all, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is a sequel to Dr. Mabuse the Gambler. We pick up about ten years after the original film with the title character (Rudolph Klein-Rogge) locked away in an insane asylum. Treated by Professor Baum (Oscar Beregi), Mabuse spends his days writing endlessly, creating new and diabolical criminal plans designed to unleash a massive crime wave around the world. It is Mabuse’s belief that what the world needs is a constant threat of terrible, senseless crime to keep people terrified and docile. In D&D terms, Mabuse is the epitome of chaotic evil.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Insert Quarter

Films: Ready Player One
Format: Blu-Ray from Cortland Community Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m going to make some people mad now, or at least disappoint them. Ready Player One is pop culture pornography designed to wow anyone who sees it into loving it for its veneer and flash and ignore the fact that underneath, it’s the same kind of male fantasy fulfillment that this sort of film tends to be.

I say this as someone who could not be more of the movie’s target audience. Ready Player One is obsessed with the 1980s; I graduated from high school in 1985. It is in many ways the same sort of standard power fantasy that this sort of science fiction that I grew up on uses over and over. I recognized almost everything in the movie, from a ton of the avatars to the face of the demon on the back of Aech’s truck. I’m so much the target for this movie that when I knew the first piece of information about the third challenge in the film, I knew exactly what the answer was. But we’ll get to that soon.

Saturday, September 1, 2018


Films: Blade Runner 2049
Format: DVD from Cortland Community Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I was initially interested to see Blade Runner 2049 as a continuation of a sort of the original film. The original film is set in 2019, so this would be the same universe thirty years on. The first film was one of those that became important and influential over time. The original theatrical release was pretty substandard and completely eclipsed by E.T. released in the same month. Now it’s a genuine classic and a film that is absolutely required viewing. The sequel could be the same. And then I got a look at the running time.

Seriously? 164 minutes? Even with the most generous credit sequence I could imagine, that’s a good 30 minutes longer than I expected.