Saturday, November 30, 2019

Graduation Day

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

Oh, I really, really wanted to like Booksmart a lot more than I did. I heard a great deal about it and the reviews are almost entirely favorable. And, truth be told, I did enjoy it well enough. But I wanted to really like it a lot more than I do, and I just kind of like it. I expected it to be something more than it is, but it’s really just Superbad with female protagonists. It also bears a great deal of similarity to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. For most people, that would be a positive, but it has all of the worst qualities of Ferris Bueller.

Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have been close friends for pretty much their entire lives. They’re both top of their class in high school and have skated through high school to a potentially bright future. Molly is heading to Yale and Amy, after a summer in Botswana, is going to Columbia. What they’ve sacrificed is their social lives. Molly and Amy are considered stuffy, joyless nerds by their classmates.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Wednesday Horror: May

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

Every year, Dell over at Dell on Movies has a week dedicated to women in film. I don’t generally do a lot of blogathon-type things, but I like this one and thought I’d join in. Dell’s Girl Week is dedicated to women both in front of and behind the camera—women as directors and/or women as the main focus of the film. Since Wednesday is my horror movie day, I figured I’d add something to Dell’s event in the horror vein. That’s why I watched May, a modern and fairly upsetting take on the Frankenstein myth.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind that it’s upsetting. It takes a long time for us to get where we’re going to go with May, but it’s also smart enough to slowly ramp up the crazy getting us there, so we’re not just waiting around for things to get out of control. We’re introduced to our title character, May Canady (Angela Bettis, but initially played by Chandler Riley Hecht), a friendless young girl who is cursed with a lazy eye. The initial cure is an eyepatch which causes her to be an outcast. Unable to make friends, she is given a doll named Susie that is encased in glass. Susie becomes May’s only real friend.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Off Script: Fright Night (2011)

Films: Fright Night (2011)
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on The New Portable.

I was very much prepared to dislike the 2011 version of Fright Night for a number of reasons. The first and primary reason is that it’s a rare movie where I’m happy to see Colin Farrell in the cast list. He’s one of those actors I tend to think could be replaced by a lot of other people in most cases, and I say this as someone who has genuinely enjoyed some of his performances (like Minority Report). Part of this is that I love the original Fright Night for its campy joys and figured (rightly, mind you) that this would be a much darker film. Intentional camp is rarely good, which means that we’re going to either lose that aspect or we’re going to have a lot of forced silliness.

There are some things that work in the remake’s favor. It’s a reminder of just how much the cinematic world lost when we lost Anton Yelchin. Yelchin was almost always engaging on screen, and he certainly is here. We’re also going to get Toni Collette, who I will watch in virtually anything, even if she’s a bit underused in this film. We’ll also get David Tennant in the Roddy McDowell role, and while the two versions of Peter Vincent are very different, they both have their strengths.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Off Script: From Hell

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

It seems like when it comes to movie adaptations, Alan Moore just can’t catch a break. Those films that got something like an endorsement from Moore turned out to be pretty uniformly terrible. The ones that he decided not to endorse (like V for Vendetta) generally turned out to be pretty credible versions of his stories. From Hell was the first feature-length adaptation of a Moore graphic novel, and I can imagine that Moore’s expectations were high. A Jack the Ripper movie starring 2001 Johnny Depp? Sign me up.

What makes From Hell different from what might be expected in a Jack the Ripper story is that this one is going to spend a surprising amount of time in the higher ranks of society. From Hell posits that the Ripper, while clearly ghoulish, was committing his crimes for a much higher purpose that involved the Royal Family. It’s a hell of an interesting conspiracy theory, and given the sort of space that it really needs to be explored (like in, say, a graphic novel), it’s one that could easily be made compelling.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Crawl

Films: Crawl
Format: Blu-ray from Sycamore Public Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

There will probably always be a place for the basic monster movie. That’s all Crawl really is. It’s just Man vs. Nature (or Woman vs. Nature in this case) laid over the top of a disaster movie. It’s Hard Rain meets The Meg, more or less. We’ve got a couple of people trapped in a crawlspace with alligators during a category-5 hurricane in Florida. That’s it, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more.

I could honestly stop there with a plot summary, but if I go a little further, it allows me to introduce the cast. Haley (Kaya Scoldelario) is a student at the University of Florida desperate to maintain her position on the university swim team to keep her scholarship. While struggling at the moment, she learns that the area will soon be severely attacked by the latest hurricane that has shifted and is now headed directly for her. Advised to get out of the state, she instead heads south to find her father, Dave (Barry Pepper), who is not answering his phone. When she arrives at his condo, she discovers he’s not their either, but his dog Sugar still is.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Off Script: Rubber

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

I have no idea where to begin when discussing Rubber. I’m going to do my best to describe what this is in the next several paragraphs or so, and I’ll have it make as much sense as I possibly can. I have no confidence that I will be able to do this, so bizarre is our narrative.

Rubber is a movie within a movie. Kind of. There is an audience within the diegetic landscape of the movie, but they aren’t watching a traditional movie. Instead, they are out in the middle of nowhere watching a story unfold in the distance, using binoculars to see what is happening. So, while they are referring to what they are watching as a film, it’s more like a series of events happening in the distance, since the people watching aren’t in any sense watching events on a screen.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Right to Life?

Films: Capernaum
Format: DVD from Galena Public Public Library through interlibrary loan on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

I’m honestly not sure where to start with Capernaum. The List frequently adds a couple of non-English movies every year. Generally speaking, that’s whatever wins Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars and another one. Given a guess, I would have suggested Cold War, nominated both for Foreign Language Feature and Best Director. Instead, we’ve got Capernaum, the Lebanese entry for Best Foreign Language film, and one that cannot be summarized easily. A first attempt would be to say this is the story of a young boy who sues his parents for the crime of birthing him. But that doesn’t do the story justice.

Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) is 12-years-old and in prison for stabbing someone. He’s also, as the previous paragraph mentioned, suing his parents Souad and Selim (Kawthar Al Haddad and Fadi Kamel Youssef) for having him. More specifically, the case isn’t just that they had him, but that he has no papers, and thus no identity. His parents have many children, but have failed to take care of any of them, and have essentially abandoned him and his sister Sahar (Cedra Izam). A substantial amount of the story, then is understanding how we got here.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Snap to Attention

Films: Avengers: Infinity War
Format: DVD from Dekalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I have to say that I’m a little surprised at the inclusion of Avengers: Infinity War in the latest edition of the 1001 Movies. Up to this point, the only superhero movies that have made it in are a few Batman films and Black Panther, which I think only got in because they realized just how much the editors missed the MCU bandwagon. Truthfully, not all of the MCU movies deserve to be in the list, but some of them did. I’d cite Iron Man, the film that started the MCU and made it viable is one that belongs. At this point, including Infinity War feels like a bit of a sop, like they’re trying to claim a street cred they don’t have and haven’t earned.

From my standpoint, there’s far too much to go into for what I normally talk about with these posts. If you were to watch the entire MCU not in the order the films were made but in the order they happen, we’re talking about the 21st movie in the series. That means there are 20 movies worth of backstory that need to be understood, from Captain America: The First Avenger to Ant-Man and the Wasp to get through. Admittedly, since Ant-Man doesn’t appear in this film, you could probably skip those two, but otherwise, there’s a lot of history to catch up on to fully understand everything that happens here and all of the characters. There’s a shitload of characters here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Westworld

Films: Westworld
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Every movie is a product of its time, of course, but a lot of science fiction is very much a product of the year (or at least decade) it was made. The irony of a film series like Star Wars is that the technology for the prequels was so much better than for the original trilogy, so there’s a sense of moving forward in time despite going back in time. It means that a lot of science fiction doesn’t translate well into the future. Westworld has some issues with that. When we see things from the robots’ point of view, for instance, it’s not even Atari 2600 graphics quality.

While this does affect the way Westworld looks today, it doesn’t really affect the enjoyment of the film in general. It’s hard to dislike this movie, particularly when its influence is taken into account. John Carpenter credits Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger as a sort of spiritual ancestor to Michael Myers. It’s almost certain that The Terminator wouldn’t exist without Westworld (and probably The Stepford Wives) existing first. Michael Crichton’s own Jurassic Park is just a riff on the ideas that Westworld put forward, substituting genetically reconstituted dinosaurs for gunslinging robots.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Redux redux

Films: A Star is Born (2018)
Format: DVD from Cortland Community Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I still have other movies from the latest 1001 Movies book to watch and still have some movies from the last Oscars to watch, but none have been more dreaded by me than A Star is Born. It has nothing to do with the fact that this is easily classified as a musical, since it’s a non-traditional one at best. This is not a movie where people sing their feelings to each other, but one where the story is about musicians so a great deal takes place with them performing on stage. No, the reason is that I want to know how many times I have to watch this story.

I mean, I’ve seen the 1937 version of this story that was nominated for Best Picture. I’ve seen the 1954 version that somehow wasn’t. I haven’t seen the one from the 1970s since, aside from a few gushing fans, I haven’t heard anything good about it. And now there’s this version of the story that changes a few of the names and a few of the details but not a great deal else. If you’ve seen any previous version of this story, you know exactly what is going to happen here. You know all the beats and you know the ending. There’s nothing different here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Dark Water (2005)

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

There was a time when Hollywood had a small cottage industry remaking Japanese horror films for an American audience that otherwise wouldn’t spend time watching a movie with subtitles. This is how we got the 2005 version of Dark Water, a remake of the 2002 film. Surprisingly, this remake has a cast that I can’t quite believe for a horror remake. How good? One Oscar winner and three Oscar nominations good. And for all that, it’s very much a disappointment.

Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly) and Kyle (Dougray Scott) are in the middle of what is turning into an acrimonious divorce. At the moment, their daughter Cecilia (Ariel Gade) is the bone of contention. Kyle wants Dahlia and Ceci to move to Jersey City to be closer to him (Dahlia is convinced that this is where his new girlfriend lives), but Dahlia has decided instead to move to Roosevelt Island, located in the middle of the East River, which is cheaper and has one of the best schools in New York.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Off Script: Dracula: Prince of Darkness

Film: Dracula: Prince of Darkness
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Particular monsters are in vogue at particular times. Vampires come and go. They shifted pretty significantly a couple of decades ago. There was always something vaguely tragic and romantic about them, but it wasn’t until Interview with the Vampire that they became particularly effeminate. You can insert your own sparkly vampire joke here. I greatly prefer more feral vampires, and while there are plenty of examples of animalistic vampires, I don’t know that the Count was ever played better than by Christopher Lee, who donned the cape seven times. Dracula: Prince of Darkness was his second film in the role, and one that is sadly missing the great Peter Cushing. Ah, well…

The film starts with a recap of Horror of Dracula, Lee’s previous film in the role. We get a refresher on the death of Dracula (Lee) and the end to his century-long reign of terror. The film then picks up ten years after the previous movie, introducing us to Father Sandor (Andrew Keir), who shows up at the burial of a young woman who, because of superstition, was about to be buried as a vampire. He stops this, and then steps into a local inn where he meets a quartet of travelers. These are the Kents, two married couples. Alan (Charles Tingwell) and wife Helen (Barbara Shelley) are the more fussbudget=y couple, while Charles (Francis Matthews) and his wife Diana (Suzan Farmer) are younger and seem quite a bit more willing to have a little fun.

Saturday, November 2, 2019


Films: The Greatest Showman
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on The New Portable.

I bluntly do not understand it when someone makes a biopic and makes completely unnecessary changes. In the case of The Greatest Showman, the changes I’m talking about are not making this into a musical. As musicals go, this one is decent, if not exceptional. The songs are pretty good, and it follows the standard musical progression of reprises and songs of varying tempo and power. If you’ve seen a musical, The Greatest Showman hits all the beats you’re expecting. I don’t think that P.T. Barnum spent his life singing his feelings to other people, and I’m not suggesting that the movie has a reality problem because of that. No, the problem is much more ridiculous.

The problem is the character of Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron). In the movie, Carlyle is a playwright who is acclaimed but seems genuinely unhappy. P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) convinces Carlyle to ditch his easy society life and work with him and his collection of sideshow attractions and circus performers. So what’s the problem? Phillip Carlyle is entirely a fabrication. Barnum’s actual partner was a guy named James Anthony Bailey, who, when he met Barnum, was already the manager of a circus. Why do this? No one thinks the circus was called the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Carlyle Circus.