Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Wednesday Horror: A Quiet Place

Film: A Quiet Place
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

One of the problems with being regularly 12-18 months behind on movies is that I run a lot of risk of spoilers. I knew, for instance, the basics of Avengers: Infinity War long before I got around to watching it. I’ve gotten surprisingly good at paying attention to what is getting a great deal of positive attention and then avoiding as much as I can about those movies until I get around to them. I was pretty good in that respect with A Quiet Place.

The word on A Quiet Place was that it was scary and really inventive. I agree that there are some great scares here. As for its inventiveness, it is essentially a new spin on some older ideas. There are elements of films like Don’t Breathe in this. More specifically, this is what Signs could have and should have been. In other words, this is original only in the details. That’s not a complaint in any real sense. It’s essentially the same thing I said about Get Out last year, and I liked that movie a hell of a lot.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Really Deep Cover

Film: BlacKkKlansman
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Spike Lee’s films are up and down sometimes. Some of his films rank as innovative stories almost flawlessly told (Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing). Others (the Oldboy remake, Miracle at St. Anna)…not so much. But when Lee is on and has something to say, I’d be hard-pressed to think of someone better. It’s hard for me to believe that BlacKkKlansman is Lee’s first movie nominated as Best Picture and his first nomination for Best Director.

In this case, BlacKkKlansman has a title that more or less sells itself and serves as the elevator speech for the plot. In this case, it has the added benefit of being based on a true story. In the middle of the Civil Rights movement, a black police officer in Colorado Springs, with the assistance of several other officers, infiltrated the Klan. This is the point where I typically go on a multi-paragraph explanation of the finer details of the plot. I’m not going to do that here.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Yippy Ki-Yay

Film: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Format: Streaming vieo from NetFlix on the new internet machine.

Say what you will about the new “networks” putting together movies and shows, you can’t really say that they’re not going for it. Amazon, HBO, Hulu, and NetFlix are producing television and original movies that are as good or better than the more traditional networks and studios. That these studios are starting to see Oscar nominations is indicative of this, at least in some respects. A better indication is the level of talent working on these projects. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, was written and directed by no less than the Coen brothers, and has a cast of extremely recognizable talent, even in miniscule roles.

What I didn’t realize when I start watching—I went into it completely cold—is that The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is an anthology. This is essentially six short films in one slightly-more-than-two-hour package linked together by someone flipping pages in a book and showing us a full-page illustration of the story to come. So, it was quite a shock to me when the first story ended and we move on to a completely new story.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Fear

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

What can I say about Fear from 1996? I can say that it’s interesting to see Reese Witherspoon at this early stage in her career. Same for Alyssa Milano and for Mark Wahlberg. And yet for having three young stars (Milano actually had a substantial number of credits before this—technically so did Wahlberg even if most were as Marky Mark), Fear is a very standard thriller in a lot of respects. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen multiple times, aside from Mark Wahlberg grinding on Reese Witherspoon.

To be more specific about what we’re going to get here, Fear is one of those movies where what begins as an innocent crush/fling/attraction is going to quickly become deadly. It’s also one of those movies where the bad guy is just a little bit smarter or ahead of everyone else and while he’s frequently doing things that are clearly illegal, he’s not quite going to get caught in those things until the very end. Everything is going to build up to a final confrontation, when everything is finally going to get resolved. You’ve seen this before. It’s a hell of a lot like Fatal Attraction for the high school crowd with an ending cribbed in many ways directly from Cape Fear.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Fait Accompli

Film: And Now My Love (Toute Une Vie)
Format: DVD from Frankfort Public Library through OCLC WorldCat on The New Portable.

Sometimes I have to really search for the movies that I need to watch for the Oscars lists. And Now My Love (Toute Une Vie in the original French) is one that I finally managed to get through WorldCat. I have an interesting relationship with these movies that I’ve been hunting for a long time. Even if the movie is as good as it can possibly be, it’s hard not to be at least a touch disappointed. In the case of And Now My Love, it honestly wasn’t that hard to be disappointed.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. And Now My Love isn’t a bad movie; it’s just not that interesting. What this is, and it’s the only way I can put this, is a movie about both fate and love. We’re going to get a story that spans multiple continents and multiple decades. The entire point of the story is to give the ancestry of our two main characters and everything that went into the two of them ultimately getting together.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Wolf Creek

Film: Wolf Creek
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

I’m honestly not sure where to start with a movie like Wolf Creek. This is a modern horror film in every sense it is possible for me to mean that phrase. While it might seem like it has pretensions of being old school in its simplicity. What I mean specifically is that this is a movie that seemed to learn something from films like The Blair Witch Project. I’ll explain that more completely.

In an interview about the movie Scream, Wes Craven said that to make a really effective horror film, you need to hit the audience immediately, and then you don’t need to hit them hard again until the ending. Wolf Creek doesn’t do this. Instead, it’s a good 40 minutes or so before our foil even appears on screen, and almost that long, more than 30 minutes at least, before anything remotely like a horror movie takes place. Almost the first half of this movie is a sort of low-budget travelogue of three young people, Australian Ben (Nathan Phillips) and Brits Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) driving across the Australian outback.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Left Hook

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

I haven’t really decided what I’m going to do with this blog in the future. I mean, I’ve still got 18 months of Oscar posts to go, but I don’t have a ton of movies left to review on the lists I’ve committed to. There are, of course, other potential Oscar categories for me to add to the list. Or perhaps I’ll just review whatever I feel like reviewing. That’s sort of what is happening today with Creed, which is sort of like Rocky VII in certain respects, even if Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is no longer the main character.

We start in the past with a young man named Adonis (Alex Henderson) who appears to be troubled. In and out of foster homes and juvie, Adonis is visited one day by Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), who tells him who he is. While his name is Adonis Johnson, his father is Apollo Creed, the late heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Adonis is the product of an extramarital affair, and Mary Anne has decided to more or less adopt her late husband’s illegitimate child.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Tropic Thunder Reference

Film: I Am Sam
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

I’m not sure where to start with I Am Sam (or i am sam as it is written in the film and on the DVD case). It’s a movie that is simultaneously heartwarming and terribly disturbing. It’s one of the high points of Sean Penn’s career and also the sort of film that, once you dig below the clear emotional manipulation of the story, is nothing but problems. It’s a movie where the emotional pull is very clear, and at the same time so obviously wrong that it’s difficult to understand how the film was made.

Even if you haven’t seen I Am Sam, you almost certainly know at least one of the major plot points; Sam Dawson (Penn) is mentally challenged. We’re told early on that he essentially has the mental capacity of a seven-year-old. Coincidentally, Sam has a daughter named Lucy (Dakota Fanning) who is about to turn seven. Sam was abandoned by Lucy’s mother, a homeless woman, when Lucy was born. He works at Starbucks and raises Lucy with the help of his equally challenged friends and Lucy’s piano teacher (Dianne Wiest), an agoraphobic who lives across the hall from him.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Thir13en Ghosts

Film: Thir13en Ghosts
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

The things I do for this blog. Seriously. I’d seen Thir13en Ghosts before, and I knew it was a movie that I didn’t like much. It’s a shame, too, because there is a great deal of potential here. Part of that comes from the very loose association it has with the William Castle film 13 Ghosts. There’s also some really interesting ideas for those ghosts. The problem is that the execution isn’t that good. There’s a movie here that could be made, and be interesting, but it’s not this one. This could also be a very interesting miniseries, but that’s not this movie, either.

So we’re going to have two important events at the beginning of the film. In one, Cyrus Kriticos (F. Murray Abraham), with the assistance of Dennis Rafkin (Matthew Lillard) captures an extremely powerful ghost who seems to have the ability to kill people in the real world. During the attack, Cyrus himself is killed. We also get a little insight into the lives of other people in the Kriticos family. Specifically, we’re looking at Arthur Kriticos (Tony Shalhoub) and his wife and kids. His wife Jean (Kathryn Anderson), we learn, is killed in a fire.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

That Darn Cat

Film: Harry and Tonto
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

It’s mildly shocking when you look at Harry and Tonto, to realize that Art Carney was only 58 when playing the first of the two title roles. Carney’s character, Harry Coombes, is a widower in his 70s, and Carney does not look out of place at all. Some of that is going to be the cosmetics, of course, but a great deal of that is Carney himself. He did, after all, win the Oscar for this performance.

It’s worth saying at the start here that Harry and Tonto is much more a character study than it is a film with a serious plot. Harry is a widower living in New York. The building he has lived in for years has been bought and sold, condemned so that a parking lot can be put up. Harry doesn’t want to move, though, and is eventually forced out of his apartment. He and his cat Tonto move in with his older son, Burt (Philip Bruns) and his family. But bickering seems to be the norm here, in part because of Harry’s presence. He decides to go to Chicago to visit his daughter.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Foster Portfolio

Film: Coco
Format: DVD from Cortland Library on The New Portable.

“So,” I hear you say, “you’ve still got a few movies from 2017 to finish up and the next set of Oscar nominations is around the corner.” I nod because this is true. Like I said a couple of days ago, I’ve been finding it more and more difficult to get myself to review the last three dozen or so films on my Oscars list, and pretty soon, that number is going to bump up 75% or so. That being the case, it behooves me to get as much done before Oscar nominations are announced as I can.

“You’re finally getting around to Coco,” you say, and I nod. There are times when I like to wait on the movie that actually won the Oscar. I’d hard a great deal of good things about Coco. I have to admit that I was curious about how the story was going to play out. This is a story that is very much about a Mexican holiday and Mexican culture that was not written by someone from that culture. I mean, I appreciate the fact that there’s a serious attempt at providing diverse protagonists in the modern world, but having a white guy write a Mexican story does feel a little strange.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Village

Film: The Village
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

It is not without some trepidation that I enter into a film with M. Night Shyamalan’s name attached to it, especially with him as the director. His movies are hit or miss for me, and even the ones that hit (particularly Signs and The Sixth Sense) I like less than just about everyone else. Even if I liked The Sixth Sense especially more than I do, I’d have some issues with Shyamalan based solely on The Last Airbender, which is an absolute travesty of a film, especially considering just how damn good the source material is. So I can’t say that I went into The Village with an entirely open mind.

The problem with a lot (read: pretty much all) of Shyamalan’s movies is that they rely on a twist. At least that’s the knock against him. That twist ending is what worked for him in both The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and it’s what has more often than not been the cause of much of his downfall. We expect the twist from him now, so it’s much harder for that to work. The Village does have a twist moment where everything suddenly becomes clear and perspective changes, and, true to form, it’s this twist that damages the way the movie is ultimately perceived.