Tuesday, December 31, 2019

End of Year Ten

Year 10. Hard to believe that I’ve hit double digits.

I have to admit that the last 18 months or so have been difficult on this blog. I haven’t posted nearly as much as normal, and I haven’t watched nearly as many different movies as normal, either. This year, as of this writing, I have seen 209 different movies this year. That sounds like a lot, but it’s a touch over half of my normal.

There are multiple reasons for this. I’ve become tangentially involved in local politics in the last year, and that takes up some of my time. I’m working with another person to deal with the food desert in my town, and that takes time as well. And, I admit, it’s been difficult to focus on what feels like something frivolous when instead I can watch the destruction of American democracy and the world we live in in real time on Twitter.

But I do want to finish. I want to complete the Oscar films as much as I can and the Oscar races. And once that’s done, perhaps I’ll shift the focus once again.

Anyway, welcome to 2020!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Music Hath Charms

Films: Cold War (Zimna Wojna)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on basement television.

I went into Cold War (also called Zimna Wojna) completely cold. In fact, I had no plans to watch this today until I discovered it at my local library just waiting to be checked out. It’s great when the library grabs a film like this one, since it’s one that isn’t necessarily going to get a lot of play in a small town like mine, at least not before the students come back for the spring term at the local university. Anyway, knowing that I don’t have a great many more films to watch to complete the Oscars as much as I can (and that will change in a month), it seemed like a good idea to knock this one out, sneaking it in before the end of the year.

I don’t know what I expected with Cold War, but I definitely didn’t expect a movie about musicians in Poland under the Soviet regime. That, however, is what I got. More specifically, this is the story of a very tempestuous relationship between a composer and arranger named Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and a singer named Zula (Joanna Kulig). This love affair will take them out of the Eastern Bloc, through multiple relationships, and back again under the shadow of communism.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

I Saw Ten Ships Come Sailing In

While this blot has shifted in general away from the 1001 Movies list, that list is still at the heart of what I’ve done here. It’s still something I try to complete every year and still something that I think is important to this blog. For that reason, I think it’s worth considering another 10 movies that belong on the list and have never been there. Presented in no order are 10 movies I think belong here.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Off Script: Dance of the Dead

Films: Dance of the Dead
Format: DVD from Manhattan-Elwood Public Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

As the zombie genre expands into different styles and different subgenres, it was inevitable that it would be crossed with teen movies multiple times. And, of course, it has. There are teen romance zombie movies, comedies, and splatter movies. It was only a matter of time before we got something like Dance of the Dead, a film that has a zombie apocalypse occurring at a high school prom. Kind of.

An issue that is going to be prevalent in many a movie in a thoroughly-explored genre is the ability to point at its influences. Dance of the Dead is going to take its cues from pretty much every zombie movie released before 2008. There are elements of films like Cemetery Man and Return of the Living Dead here, for instance. This is very much a movie that wants to be seen in the same way. It’s clearly a horror movie and clearly a comedy and wants to be both.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Wednesday Horror: Theater of Blood

Films: Theater of Blood
Format: DVD from Cortland Community Library on The New Portable.

Despite his massive impact on the film industry, Vincent Price was never even nominated for an Oscar nor did he ever win an honorary one. That’s a damn shame, because there are decades of movies that would be so much less without his presence. Sure, the sorts of movies that Price made didn’t really warrant Oscar nominations, and there are plenty of them where he is really the only bit of class in the proceedings. In a movie like Theater of Blood (sometimes spelled Theatre of Blood), that sort of “Vincent Price has class” idea is played to the hilt.

Put bluntly, Theater of Blood is the story of the awesomely-named Shakespearean actor Edward Lionheart (Price), spurned by a nonet of critics from winning a theatrical award that he thought he deserved. Distraught, Lionheart committed suicide, or so it was thought. The body, of course, was never recovered, and as we learn over the course of the film, Lionheart was recovered and nursed back to health by a collection of vagrants. Now, two years out, Lionheart is back and planning the deaths of those critics who, he believes, destroyed his career.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Off Script: Mary Reilly

Films: Mary Reilly
Format: DVD from Wilmington Public Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

I sometimes will watch a movie and write up a review that I can post if I ever need one. It’s been more and more difficult to find time to watch movies this year because of work, so there are plenty of times in the past year I have “banked” a review for use later. I thought that was the case for Mary Reilly, a retelling of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story from the point of view of Jekyll’s housekeeper. I did watch the movie and I remember it well enough, but I evidently used that review as a template for another review, so my original thoughts on Mary Reilly have gone the way of the dodo.

The idea is a fantastic one, honestly. Take a classic, well-known story and tell it from the point of view of a minor character who would simultaneously have a clear window into the proceedings of the entire story. The problem is that while the idea for the film is tremendous, almost nothing is done with it. It’s literally just the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde told from the point of view of the housekeeper. That’s it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wednesday Horror: The Nightmare Before Christmas

Films: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

Years ago I guested on The Lair of the Unwanted podcast. Okay, I guest on that podcast relatively frequently, but the time I’m thinking of was around Halloween. The topic was our top-5 movies to watch on Halloween, and it’s an episode that I think has sadly been lost. One of my picks was The Nightmare Before Christmas as a movie that works beautifully for little kids—put it in at the start of a party before the kids go to bed kind of thing. One of the hosts, the illustrious Jason Soto, said it’s a movie he hadn’t watched specifically because he’s not a teenage girl who shops at Hot Topic. That got a lot yells and anger from all of the rest of us on the podcast. To my knowledge, Jason still hasn’t watched it, and he really should. I’m calling him out here. Jason, you need to watch this.

Yes, I’m tipping my hand on this. I love this movie, and I can’t really imagine that someone wouldn’t. It’s a lovely little fantasy, something that creates a beautiful little mythology that is both wonderful for children and just scary enough for them to fit in with the spirit of the season. It’s also stop-motion animated, and it’s done beautifully. The characters are iconic and gorgeous. It’s also a musical, and the songs are great.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Off Script: Black Christmas (2006)

Films: Black Christmas (2006)
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

There’s allegedly a second remake of Black Christmas opening this coming Friday, so I decided it was finally time to get through the first remake from 2006. This is not a movie I’ve wanted to watch, to be honest. A big part of that is that Bob Clark’s 1974 original is considered a must-see classic. Clark’s film is formative for the slasher genre, and as much as Halloween seems to set the standard, Black Christmas came first and also was earlier in featuring a holiday-themed killer.

There were a couple of aspects of Clark’s film that made it noteworthy. The first is that much of it comes from the killer’s perspective. Our killer babbles and gibbers, and frequently when he does, we are see what is happening from his perspective. Sure, that’s been done before (Peeping Tom was entirely that, after all), but perhaps never this disturbingly. Second is that we never really see the killer. What happens is just something terrible that happens. There’s no explanation, no resolution—it’s just a killer on a spree with an essentially captive group of victims.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Off Script: Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Films: Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Format: DVD from Richard A. Mautino Memorial Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

There are few more seminal works in the horror genre than George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead. I suppose it was only a matter of time before it was remade. In a way, it’s kind of impressive that no one tried for more than 20 years. Eventually, that remake became a reality under the hands of Tom Savini, someone much more known as a creature creator and master of practical effects. This was his first feature-length project, and his first not for television. He’s an interesting choice for director. While he was inexperienced, he certainly had a great deal of first-hand knowledge of how to work in the genre.

I’m not going to spend a great deal of time here dealing with the story. There are two reasons for this. The first is that, frankly, you should already be familiar with Night of the Living Dead. Savini’s version doesn’t really do anything that Romero’s didn’t do first. This is a straight retelling of the story with the changes existing only in a couple of the characters and in the third act. The second is that there really isn’t a lot of plot. Some people end up trapped in a rural house while the recently reanimated dead attempt to break in and eat them. Most of the tropes of the subgenre were founded in the original—slow zombies, creatures that can only be stopped by destroying the brain or lighting them on fire, bites infect the victim and eventually turn them into zombies, etc. In that respect, there’s nothing new here.