Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Camera Eye

Film: My Little Eye
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

Horror more than any other genre is indicative of the fears of the country from which they are made. Expect to see a lot of plague-related and confinement-adjacent horror movies in the next couple of years as a reaction to COVID-19, for instance. Horror is also extremely reactive to culture. With the rise of the internet in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s combined with shows like Big Brother, a film like My Little Eye was more or less inevitable.

Stop me when you guess where this is going to go. A group of 20-somethings are recruited to be in a new web show. Five of them are selected and put into a house. If they all stay the whole time, they split $1,000,000. If any one of them leaves (defined effectively as not being in the house at curfew), none of them get anything. We are given a short introduction to our five people, and then when the movie starts, we’re just a couple of days away from the six-month goal.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

I Call it a Kaiser Blade

Film: Sling Blade
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

If you go back far enough in the archive of this blog, you’ll find a response where I say I hope to watch Sling Blade by the end of that year. I think it’s some time in 2012 or 2013. Well, here we are approaching a decade later and I’m just now getting around to it. Best laid plans, spirit is willing, whatever. I’m here now.

I vaguely remember when Sling Blade came out, because everyone thought Billy Bob Thornton was someone who wasn’t so much acting as more or less a real-world version of the banjo kid from Deliverance given a starring role. It really is that deep of a performance, so it’s worth mentioning that Thornton not only had a career long before this, but that he also wrote the play on which it was based, adapted his own play, and directed. I’m reminded of how shocked my mother was when Daniel Day-Lewis walked on stage for his Oscar for My Left Foot. Mom was unaware that he wasn’t physically afflicted and was similarly unaware of his rather robust career before that role.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Don't Try the Croissants

Film: Dead & Breakfast
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

It’s fun, sometimes, to see people at odd points in their careers. Dead & Breakfast from 2004 is a case in point. This weird little indie features performances from, among others, Jeremy Sisto, David Carradine, Diedrich Bader, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Since this is a weird little indie horror comedy, it’s kind of a surprising cast.

And this is a weird little horror comedy. A group of six people, Christian (Sisto), David (Erik Palladino), Kate (Bianca Lawson), Johnny (Oz Perkins), Melody (Gina Philips), and Sara (Ever Carradine, who is David Carradine’s niece). They are headed to Galveston for the wedding of a friend, but have managed to get lost. They end up, of course, in a tiny little town where, because that’s what the genre is, terrible things are about to happen.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Clowns to the Left of Me

Film: Joker
Format: Blu-ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I try very hard not to read reviews of movies I haven’t seen. That’s especially true of movies that I know or assume will eventually show up on this blog. What this means is that I have no idea of what I’m about to say about Joker is a completely new take on the film or one that is the most common take on it. I honestly have no clue of I’m either off my meds or just repeating something everyone else has already said.

Now that I’ve said that, I also need to say this—you can consider everything after this paragraph to be potentially in spoiler territory. To discuss the film the way I want to and in the sort of detail I think I need to, I almost certainly have to go places that would be otherwise considered spoiler. I’m doing so after this second paragraph because this is where I typically include the “more” break, so if you don’t want the spoilers, just don’t click through.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020


Film: Harriet
Format: Blu-ray from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I suppose when it came down to it, I knew that Cynthia Erivo was going to be nominated for an Oscar for Harriet. I mean, I wasn’t 100% sure because stranger things have happened than a black actress being snubbed at the Oscars, but given the role and the film, I would have bet money on her being on the docket. Not nominating the actress performing in the title role of the Harriet Tubman biopic would be an oversight that Oscar would never hear the end of unless the movie (or performance) were laughably bad.

Well, that’s not the case, so Ervio got her nomination. The truth is, though, that it’s impossible not to be at least a little bit disappointed with Harriet. This is a movie I wanted to like a great deal. Harriet Tubman was what some (including me) would call a BAMF. An escaped slave herself, she returned time and time again to slave-holding states to help free others and take them north. When the laws changed to allow essentially bounty hunters to recaptures escaped slaves even in northern states, she moved her charges all the way to Canada.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Once Upon a Time

Film: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

Horror movies that can be watched by the younger crowd are tough genre. You have to walk a very fine line between being too scary and not being scary enough. There has to be something actually at stake in the story, which means that we’re going to have to probably have some people killed, but you also don’t want it to be too gory. You want scares, but not specifically nightmares. It should be fun, but not specifically funny. A movie like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark attempts to walk that fine line, giving us a series of mini stories as part of an overarching tale that seems to hit right about at the level of a good campfire tale.

The movie takes place on and after Halloween in 1968 in a small town in Pennsylvania. Like lots of small towns, this one has a past history that is unsavory in parts and has a founding family with dark secrets. In this case, the founding family was the Bellows, and daughter Sarah Bellows has a number of unsavory legends surrounding her, most dealing with child murder. On this Halloween, a group of nerdy kids including Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti), August (Gabriel Rush), and Chuck (Austin Zajar) attempt to get back at their bully, Tommy (Austin Abrams). It happens that their bully is on a date with Chuck’s sister, Ruth (Natalie Ganzhorn).

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Hole in the Donut

Film: Knives Out
Format: Electronic copy through Google Play on laptop.

A couple of weeks ago, fellow movie nerd, bad film aficionado, and all-around mensch Jason Soto purchased a copy of Knives Out and offered the electronic version to anyone who wanted it, so I claimed it. It took me a little while to get to actually claiming the electronic copy, but now I have, and I set about to watching the movie with a will. I’m so happy I did. Of all the movies on my Oscar list from 2019, Knives Out is one that I really wanted to see in the theater. Then again, since I pretty much never see anything in the theater, I knew I wouldn’t, but would want to see it as soon as I could.

Knives Out is an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery. We’ve got a big house, a dead body that looks like a suicide, conniving relatives all desperate for a reading of the will, and everyone in the house having a motive. True to the form, we’ve also got a gentleman detective, in this case a Southern gentleman named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who has been called in to investigate what looks like a clear case of suicide, hired by an unknown party via a thick envelope of cash.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Kids Will Be Kids

Film: Battle Royale (Batoru Rowaiaru)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

When you have a good idea, it’s inevitable that someone will more or less duplicate it. Several years ago, you couldn’t go anywhere without walking face-first into something connected to The Hunger Games, either books or movies. Since it was such a huge hit in pretty much every medium, it’s the one people are going to know, so when they come across Battle Royale (or Batoru Rowaiaru if you want the anglicized Japanese), many are likely to see this more original story as derivative.

I’m not sure what it is about the collapse of civilization that makes people think that the natural human reaction is to hold contests where kids kill each other, but there it is: Battle Royale is one of those stories where kids kill each other at the behest of a government that has decided for some reason that this fits into their world view. We’re told that the “BR Act” was created to help control unruly youth; the upshot is that every year, one class of students is taken to a remote location.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Green-Eyed (Scary) Monster

Film: Mama
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

Mama is one of those movies that I’ve wanted to watch for some time but have never pulled the trigger on until now. I’m not entirely sure why this is the case. Its executive producer was Guillermo del Toro, and he’s got something close to a magic touch as far as I’m concerned, so this should be a move that I should love. And yet, I think part of the reason I haven’t been truly excited to watch is that I haven’t heard a lot of people raving about it.

The quick wrap-up is that the movie starts with the economic crash in 2008. A broker (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has killed a couple of his partners and then murders his estranged ex-wife. He scoops up his two young daughters and drives off, too fast for the weather and eventually slides off the road. There’s a cabin nearby, and he takes the girls into it, planning on killing them and then himself. Before is does, though, he swept up by some unseen thing that kills him and protects the two girls.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Probably Lots of Drinking, Honestly

Film: I Know What You Did Last Summer
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on The New Portable.

In the world of slasher movies, I Know What You Did Last Summer ranks as one of the dumbest. Seriously, if you didn’t know that this was a slasher movie going in, it could be an entry in just about any genre. A wacky rom-com where the couple dated the year before but broke up? Well, they know what each other did last summer! Hijinks abound! But no, this is what Siskel and Ebert used to call a “dead teenager” movie, where the cast starts with a group of teens and slowly whittles them down.

So, we start in a little costal town in North Carolina where most of the men are fishermen and most of the kids seem to want to get away. The movie takes place on the Fourth of July, which naturally coincides with this town’s little town festival. I guess there are some of those that happen in the summer. As a nearly life-long Midwesterner, all of the local town celebrations that I remember take place in the fall, around harvest. Anyway, a part of this local celebration is electing the new beauty pageant queen. Because we evidently want to think that our main characters have some sort of value, one of them, Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) wins and gets to wear a fancy tiara.