Wednesday, January 29, 2020

I'd Like to Meet His Tailor

Film: Werewolf of London
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

As a long-time Warren Zevon fan, I think I can be forgiven for both the title and the fact that I immediately associate Werewolf of London with St. Warren. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect going into this one. The werewolf stories I know focus on the Lon Chaney Jr. persona, or are more modern takes like The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, and Dog Soldiers. This is an early look at the mythos, and one that is going to fly in the face of lycanthropic convention in a lot of ways. That’s okay—I don’t mind that too much when the film presents a consistent world, and perhaps surprisingly for a short little horror film from the mid-1930s, Werewolf of London does just that.

Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hill) is exploring in Tibet for a particular flowering plant. A renowned botanist, Glendon is hoping to bring it home and cultivate it. He is warned against entering a particular valley where the plant grows, but Glendon is a wealthy, white Englishman and such taboos and warnings are for others. Naturally, when he goes into the valley to find the plant, he is attacked and wounded by an unknown creature. If you guessed it was a werewolf, you’ve seen the title of the movie.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Blocked at Every Turn, Yeti Persisted

Film: Missing Link
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

I don’t know why Laika can’t catch a break. Missing Link is the studio’s fifth movie and in many ways their most accomplished. Like all of their previous movies, it has been nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars and, despite winning a Golden Globe, will almost certainly lose to Toy Story 4. For as acclaimed as Missing Link is, it’s likely it passed over you. Costing around $100 million to make, it brought in only $25 million worldwide at the box office. Laika and its movies deserve so much better than this. Missing Link deserves better than this.

We begin with Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), who is desperate to join the Society of Great Men, a group of adventurers who are dead set against his inclusion. This comes mostly from the group’s leader, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry). Unable to provide proof of his encounter with the Loch Ness Monster and suffering from the departure of his valet after that encounter, Lionel decides instead to go hunting for the Sasquatch in the American northwest. In this endeavor, he is spurred on by a letter asking him to come and find the mythical beast. He gets Piggot-Dunceby to agree to letting him into the club if he does provide proof of Sasquatch.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

One Banana, Two Banana, Three Banana, Death

Films: The Banana Splits Movie
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes you just know what you’re going to end up doing with your night. Like I do a lot of days, I went to the library today, in this case to return a few things. When I walked by the display of new movies, I saw The Banana Splits Movie on the new acquires shelf. When I actually looked at it, I realized this was not a kids’ movie; this is an R-rated horror movie featuring the Banana Splits characters from the old television show as the killers. I knew immediately that I had to see it.

I won’t say that I grew up on the old television show, but by the time I was cognizant of such things, it was in regular repeats and reruns, so I’d seen a few episodes. At least I’d seen enough episodes to know the names of the four characters (Fleagle, Bingo, Drooper, and Snorky) and to know the theme song.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Serious Daddy Issues

Films: Son of Dracula
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Dracula films are sort of their own thing, at least when you’re dealing with the classic Universal films. I’ve seen most of them at this point, and of all of them, Son of Dracula might well be the darkest of them. One of the rules of monster films from this era was that the monster always had to die in the end. Traditionally, this meant that Drac met his end by sunlight or stake (or, more obscurely, running water or something similar) but everyone else aside from minor characters pulled through. Son of Dracula is darker in just about every way it can be.

I’m not going to be too extensive on the plot here. Essentially, a Count “Alucard” (Lon Chaney Jr.) shows up in Louisiana, having been invited by Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton), the daughter of a scion of the community. Since Alucard’s arrival, Louise has been distant from Frank Stanley (Robert Paige), her fiancĂ©. The reason is simple and obvious: she has fallen under the spell of Alucard. And, obvious to just about anybody who isn’t actually a character in the film, Alucard is Dracula spelled backwards, which explains exactly why Katherine is enamored of him.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Funded by Nazi Gold?

Films: Marie-Louise
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I honestly don’t know how much I’m going to be able to say about Marie-Louise. This might well be the shortest review I’ve ever written and ever will write, and that’s saying something in a world where my reviews have dropped by a couple of hundred words apiece in general. In a way, I’m rather shocked that I got to see it at all. I did, though, and with some caveats, I’ll give a review the old college try.

Honestly, there’s only one real caveat here; I couldn’t find this with English subtitles. What I got was a film that was in German and French, with German subtitles for the French parts. What this means is that while I think I got the main gist of the story, I’m going to be very light on details. I can get at least some German when I read it, but speech goes by far too quickly for me to get much from it. So, ultimately, I got something like 40% of the story during the parts that had French dialogue where I could read the subtitles and get at least a portion of them.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Ants in the Pants

Films: Phase IV
Format: DVD from Champaign Public Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

Phase IV is a movie that I’ve seen for some reason at some distant point in the past. It’s not one that I can say I was desperate to rewatch, but it is one that I was having a great deal of difficulty finding. I remembered very little about it. I knew that it was about ants, I remembered a scene where a scientist smashes a bunch of computers, and I remembered at least a part of the way that it ended. What I didn’t know back then was that this was directed by Saul freakin’ Bass. In fact, it’s his only feature-length film as a director.

As mentioned, Phase IV is a movie about ants. There is an unknown cosmic event that appears to have accelerated some part of their evolution. Out in the desert, there are a number of strange geometric structures that appear to have been created by the ants. A pair of scientists with a staggering amount of computer equipment, set up shop to study the ants. What happens is a battle between the scientists and the insects. It does not go well for the scientists.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Shot for More or Less Shot

Films: The Omen (2006)
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.
I can’t say that I was excited to see the remake of The Omen. The original, despite being included in the book “The 50 Worst Films of All Time,” is a horror classic and far better than that reputation would have you believe. There are some wonderful moments in the original version of the film, not the least of which being a decapitation specifically filmed in a way that even the people who closed their eyes would be almost forced to see it. Remakes of classics don’t tend to go over well. It always raises the question of why bother when the original is so good.

And yet, here we are, with the 2006 version of The Omen. I can’t be sure, but I’d bet quite a bit that this was made specifically so that it could be released (as it was) on June 06, 2006 (or 06/06/06). It’s a nice bit of marketing that might honestly be the best part of the entire film.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

They Don't Laugh Much, Either

Films: The Dead Don’t Die
Format: DVD from Byron Public Library through interlibrary loan on basement television.

When I found out that Jim Jarmusch was making a zombie apocalypse comedy, I was more than interested. I like a lot of Jarmusch’s work, and that’s evidently not something that a lot of people are willing to say. A lot of his films have been panned either critically or by the public or both, but a lot of his films really work for me. Naturally, The Dead Don’t Die was going to be of interest to me. This checks a lot of boxes for me.

Jarmusch called in a lot of favors here, or at least went back to a lot of people who he’s worked with in the past for roles of various sizes. The Dead Don’t Die was hardly a critical darling and was panned by the public as well, but you can’t fault the cast list. The cast includes Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Adam Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Rosie Perez, Tom Waits, Selena Gomez, Caleb Landry Jones, and Iggy Pop. I don’t think all of those folks have worked with Jim Jarmusch in the past, but a lot of them have.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Minor Changes

It's typical for me to announce changes at the start of the year, or, more accurately, at the end of the year. But here we are, just under two weeks into the new year and I've decided to make a couple of small alterations.

First, it appears that the tenor of this blog is shifting more and more toward horror movies. There'll still be a few Oscar movies to watch and I'll continue with the Oscar posts for as long as they hold out, but if the blog is going to continue in any meaningful way, I have to make some changes to what I'm doing with it. Horror movies (and sci-fi/fantasy) are my first loves with the movies, so that's where I'm going to go. That being the case, horror movies are no longer really "off-script." Instead, I'll start giving those reviews names.

Second, if I'm doing more and more horror movies, having Wednesday Horror films doesn't make a lot of sense. So Wednesdays will just be regular reviews again, and probably horror movies more often than not.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

What If...?

Films: Brightburn
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on basement television.
p> Back in the day (and perhaps now, too—I’m not a comic book guy anymore), Marvel Comics had a high concept book called “What If…” where a particular scenario would be played out. The book asked questions like “What if Spider-Man had the Infinity Gauntlet?” or “What if Professor X had amnesia?” It’s a fun idea. Brightburn would have fit in nicely with the concept even though Superman is a DC property. Essentially, this movie asks the question, “What if Superman was evil?”

I love the idea of Brightburn. In a cinematic world filed with superheroes, it’s a great question to ask. The smartest decision made here is not to make this an action movie but to make it a straight horror film. Brightburn could have gone in a lot of directions, but this was absolutely the right one. Certainly there are action moments here, but this is a film that wants to be as dark as possible.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Wednesday Horror: Paranoiac

Films: Paranoiac
Format: DVD from Nippersink District Library through interlibrary loan on basement television.

I’ve been watching a lot of weird Hammer horror movies of late thanks to a collection I got from the library. Of all of the movies in this collection, Paranoiac is probably the weirdest in a lot of respects. The basic story is mildly strange, but there are a couple of moments here that are completely inexplicable. I say that because, well, the details of them are not explained in the context of the film.

Our film opens on a sort of requiem, a pseudo-funeral for people who have been dead for years. After a little exposition, we discover that a married couple was killed in an accident years previously. A few years after that, one of their children killed himself with grief. Two children, now essentially grown, remain. Eleanor Ashby (Jeanette Scott) is emotionally fragile and appears to have been quite attached to her dead brother. The other is Simon Ashby (Oliver Reed), who is aggressive, drunken, and the sort of rich dudebro who, today, would probably drive a Hummer and wear his baseball caps backwards. Also in the picture is Harriet (Sheila Burrell), the children’s aunt, who raised them once their parents died.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Off Script: The Awakening

Films: The Awakening
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

There’s a trend in movies, horror movies especially, of American remakes of successful foreign films. Sometimes, you get lucky and get a remake that gets in the neighborhood of the original, as with The Ring. Sometimes you get something at least watchable, like The Grudge. Most of the time you get crap like the remake of Pulse or Oldboy. And then you get films like The Awakening, that clearly have specific source material but do their best to hide it.

In the case of The Awakening, there are equal parts The Others and The Orphanage and a soupçon of The Sixth Sense. The overall vibe is one of the first movie. There is a definite attempt here to be upsetting and disturbing, to touch something deep in the human psyche. This is less about shocking the audience and more about crawling under its skin. Almost in spite of itself, it manages to do so at times. The connection to The Orphanage is the setting—a boarding school where most of the young boys are orphans. It’s a big, rambling house, and much of the story takes place during a break, so there are only a few people rattling around inside.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Off Script: The Addams Family

Film: The Addams Family
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

I’m just going to cut to the chase here and say that I really, really like The Addams Family and get that out of the way. There’s a lot here to love, not the least of which being the connection to both the original comics and the old black-and-white television show. It’s an update, though, and in being updated, it’s been made both darker and funnier. In the television show, the Addamses were always a touch malevolent, but in the movie, they are openly homicidal (but always in a fun way). There’s a sense of funhouse danger with the Addamses, as if they’re just having fun, but that their brand of fun includes lighthearted attempts to kill each other or guests.

This is also a movie that is so perfectly cast that it’s impossible to find complaint with it. Admittedly, Judith Malina was replaced as Grandmama by the always-adorably entertaining Carol Kane and Jimmy Workman, who played Pugsley, hasn’t done much outside of these films, but there’s a lot to praise in the casting otherwise. This movie and its sequel were the movies that made the career of Christina Ricci (who played Wednesday), and it’s always nice to see Dan Hedaya and Carel Struycken, but I’m talking specifically about the three main characters here.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Just in Time for the Next Set of Nominations

Film: Roma
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on basement television.

What can I say about Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma that hasn’t already been said at least a couple of dozen times. The only thing I can say that I haven’t seen anyone else say is that watching this movie completes me for my set of 2018 Oscar nominations and also finishes off the most recent incarnation of the 1001 Movies list for me. Go me! Anyway, Roma is a film that captured a lot of imaginations, but I never really heard why. People talked about it and discussed how important and meaningful the film is, but having watched it, I can’t say I was blown away. I wanted to be; I just wasn’t.

But again, what can I say about it that you don’t already know? The film gave Cuaron his third and fourth Oscars, including his second for directing. It was also the movie that seemed to announce to the world that streaming services like NetFlix were legitimate players in the movie business. There had been nominations for such movies before (Mudbound from the previous year, for instance, was also a NetFlix film), but Roma became the new poster child for telling the more traditional studios that the times, they are a’changing. Roma didn’t just get a nomination for its screenplay, after all, but also for Best Picture, Best Actress and Supporting Actress, and won for Best Cinematography, Best Foreign Language Feature, and Best Director. No other set of nominations or wins have so legitimized the streaming services in the eyes of the glitterati. Seriously, this was Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuaron working for freakin’ NetFlix!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Wednesday Horror: Us

Film: Us
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

A couple of days ago, I looked at the Original Screenplay race from 2017 and I put winner Get Out and screenwriter Jordan Peele in fourth place. I admitted then and will admit now that that placement does bother me a little, because Peele is a talented screenwriter and he has a great deal to say. I’m pleased that he’s won an Oscar, though, because he well may not win another. Peele seems to be dedicated now to working in genre film, something Oscar typically turns up its nose at. That being the case, Peele will get plenty of acclaim from fans, but little from his peers. It’s a damn shame, too, because while I don’t think Us is as good a movie as Get Out, it’s a much better (and much more original) screenplay.

It’s also a difficult movie to describe to any depth without giving away the game. We start in the mid-1980s with a family on vacation in Santa Cruz. While on the boardwalk, young Adelaide (Madison Curry) wanders into a funhouse where she meets something like a double of herself in the mirror maze. Jump to the modern day and Adelaide (now Lupito Nyong’o) is married to Gabe (Winston Duke). They, along with their two kids, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) are heading to their large summer house in, well, Santa Cruz. Everything seems normal, at least at first.