Thursday, May 28, 2020

Rodent Problems

Film: The Killer Shrews
Format: DVD from personal collection on The New Portable.

Every now and then, it’s fun to jump into the shallow end of the pool. You’re not looking for anything too difficult or that asks any real questions. You don’t want to be challenged that much, and your need for entertainment is relatively low. That’s when a movie like The Killer Shrews, bad enough that it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but not so bad that they were willing watch it, fills the bill. With a running time just under 70 minutes and a paper-thin plot, sometimes it’s all you need when you’ve had a crappy day.

The high concept here is not going to be surprising. Boat captain Thorne Sherman (James Best, most famous for playing Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazzard) and his assistant Rook Griswold (“Judge” Henry Dupree) show up at a remote island with a cargo of supplies for the people who live there. However, they’re not ready to unload the ship any time soon—there’s a hurricane brewing. They encounter the people who live on the island and discover that it’s a sort of research facility. There is a doctor named Marlowe Cragis (Baruch Lumet), his daughter Anne (Ingrid Goude), lab assistant Radford Baines (Gordon McLendon), Anne’s former fiancĂ© Jerry (Ken Curtis) and, natural, Mario (Alfred DeSoto), the help.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

All of Them?

Film: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the new internet machine.

Siskel and Ebert used to call a particular breed of slasher film a “dead teenager” movie. Like it or not, that’s exactly what All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is. It’s a movie wherein we will reach the end credits with half a dozen or so corpses who, with their ages added together, would barely break the century mark. Most of the clichĂ©s that you expect in the genre are here, and while there are clearly some allusions to events like school shootings, there’s not much here that you haven’t seen at least a dozen times.

Mandy Lane (Amber Heard) has blossomed over the summer and now is suddenly irresistible to all of the boys at her high school. Dylan (Adam Powell), a high school meathead, more or less seems to think that commenting on her sudden “hotness” is the best way to get into her pants. He invites her to a pool party, and she consents to come, but only if her friend Emmet (Michael Welch) comes along, too. Emmet is less than popular at the school and spends most of the party being bullied by Dylan and others, who are trying to impress Mandy. In revenge, Emmet convinces Dylan to dive into the pool from his roof, but Dylan can’t clear the jump, smashes his head on the concrete, and dies.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Feet (and Everything Else) of Clay

Film: The Golem: How He Came into the World (Der Golem: Wie Er in die Welt Kam)
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

If you were ever a D&D player, you know a little bit about golems. One of the things that you probably know about them is they are prone to go out of control from time to time. This is especially true of the clay variety, the sort built by clerics. What you may not know is that a lot of this is a mythology that comes from the 1920 silent movie The Golem: How He Came into the World (or Der Golem: Wie Er in die Welt Kam if you prefer the original German). The fact that the clay creature is created by a priest and control is lost comes straight from this film.

Well…rabbi rather than priest. The title creature is built as a protection for the Jewish people in medieval Prague. The Jews, of course, are being subjected to pogroms and attacks, and have been recently commanded to leave the city by the Holy Roman Emperor. A knight named Florian (Lothar Muthel) is sent to deliver the news to the Jewish people, and specifically to Rabbi Loew (Albert Steinruck), who has predicted disaster for his people. However, Florian finds himself attracted to Miriam (Lyda Salmonova), Loew’s daughter, who is also the object of affection for Loew’s assistant (Ernst Deutsch).

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Third Time Pays for All

Film: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
Format: Blu-ray from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I went into How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (hereafter shortened to just The Hidden World) cautiously hopeful. I love the first movie, and the second one, while not quite as good, holds up pretty well. But trilogies often fail in their third iteration and, despite all best efforts, end up concluding the series on a down note. I had hopes, though. After all, the Toy Story films remained consistently good, and even the unnecessary fourth movie was better than it had any right to be.

The truth is that The Hidden World is probably the weakest of the three Dragon films, but that’s not saying a great deal. While the story does feel like a step down in terms of quality, it’s not a big step down, and it’s coming from a very lofty place. It also benefits hugely from several very important realities of the series. First, we know from the first two films that this series is absolutely willing to have real, significant consequences for its characters. No one is every really safe or invulnerable. Second, it has Toothless, who is one of the truly great animated characters of the current century.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Film: Hatchet
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

Of all of the subgenres of horror, torture porn is absolutely my least favorite and a genre I tend to avoid as much as I can. North of that, but not very far north, are slashers. I don’t love slashers in general. I have to be in the mood for them, and I’m not in the mood for them that often. More or less, I don’t really see the point of them. Slashers can be fun, but also feel pointless. There’s no message in a slasher. It’s about body count, and (at least in the best of cases) creativity in the kills. But they are a beloved subgenre for many people, which leads us to Hatchet, a film that wants nothing more than to dive into that slasher past.

Because it sells itself as an homage to classic slasher movies, Hatchet isn’t going to take itself very seriously. This is, I am almost sad to say, yet another version of creating a horror comedy. It does make me question why horror/comedy is such a common genre mashup. There’s an occasional horror musical (like Repo!) and horror romances and horror westerns. Horror and science fiction are so closely tied together that it’s not worth bothering to call it a mashup. But horror and comedy are united in odd ways. I think it has something to do with the nature of comedy rather than the nature of horror. Hatchet attempts a different way to walk that path. The results are…interesting.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Columbus Has Red on Him

Film: Zombieland; Shaun of the Dead
Format: DVDs from personal collection on basement television.

As mentioned recently, I collected a bunch of movies to watch during the stay-at-home order. It was more than 50 movies from my collection and from libraries. I’m nearing the end of that initial stack of movies and realized that there were two that would make a great double feature: Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. I mean, how often do you get to watch two genuinely classic zombie comedies together? Other than every day, I suppose—I do own them both. Anyway, it seemed like a great opportunity for a double, and I hadn’t done one of those in quite some time.

Zombieland in many ways is the American answer to Shaun of the Dead in that it’s clearly a zombie movie and clearly a comedy. The two are otherwise vastly different; Zombieland is an entirely American movie in every aspect of it. The character archetypes are fully American, the storyline, the goals of these characters, all of them scream that this was a film meant to very much be America’s response to the British film.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

People Check In, but They Don't Check Out

Film: The Innkeepers
Format: Streaming video from IMDb TV on basement television.

When we all went into self-isolation and sheltering at home, I went to three of the local libraries I use and got a giant stack of movies. I also made a gigantic stack of movies I have bought but never gotten around to watching. Well, I’m close to the end of those two stacks, and, desperate to watch something today, I scrolled through IMDb TV, a service apparently attached to Amazon Prime. The movies come with ads, but there appear to be a bunch that I can’t get anywhere else, so it seemed like a chance to watch one of those. Out of a field of several possibilities, I went with The Innkeepers.

Why did I pick this movie? I’m not really sure. It seemed like a decent place to start, and I’ll likely start hitting this service over the next few days, because there are some movies I’m really interested in seeing. The Innkeepers is one I’ve wanted to see in the past, so more than anything, I guess I was just ready to see something I thought would be interesting to see.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Pick Flick

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

Of all the movies on my Oscars list, there is none that I have been as close to watching and reviewing without actually pulling the trigger than Election. I checked it out of the library on the last day before Illinois libraries locked down completely, and it’s taken me close to two months to get to it even now. This might be the 10th time I’ve checked it out of the library, too, and before now I’ve always returned it unwatched. It literally took COVID-19 to get me to watch it, and even then it took me about 7-8 weeks. And I watched I yesterday and it took me until now to actually review it.

Do I know why? Not really. There was something about it that frustrated me. I think a large part of it was the fact that I knew a little about it. I knew that the Matthew Broderick character had a lot that happened to him in the second and third act, and I hate comedies that rely on embarrassment for the humor. It seemed like that kind of film. I knew it was a movie that featured Reese Witherspoon, and I’m not a huge fan. I knew it was a movie that featured Chris Klein, and I’m even less of a fan. But hey, I did actually watch it finally.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

Film: Klaus
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the internet machine.

Watching a Christmas movie in May is perhaps not the strangest thing I have done. It’s not even the strangest thing I have done in the last couple of months. That said, when the Oscar list includes a holiday film, I knew I’d have to get to it sooner or later, and tonight seemed like a good time. The movie in question is Klaus, an animated film from NetFlix, which means that it’s streaming and probably will be streaming for the rest of time, so Christmas film or no, you’ll be able to watch this whenever you feel like it.

Like a number of Christmas films that come before this one, Klaus is more or less a Santa Claus origin story. We’re going to see how the legend started, but in this case, it’s going to come from the point of view of someone else. We’re also going to get some elements of classic drama here. It’s interesting that IMDb classifies Klaus as a comedy. Certainly there are some comedic elements here, but I think it’s far closer to a drama. The humor isn’t really front and center.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Bleak House

Film: The Reflecting Skin
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television

I wasn’t sure what to expect with The Reflecting Skin. I knew this was classified as a horror movie, but this is not the standard sort. There aren’t supernatural monsters seeking to devour the flesh of the innocent. There are no zombies here, no ghosts, and no creeping undead. That there is instead is sort of tawdry human evil the runs through the entirety of this film. There isn’t so much a sense of corrupted innocence here as there is of a world where there is nothing innocent, where even those we would normally call innocent are tainted in a way that was beyond their control, like people trying to live on a toxic waste dump. The world of The Reflecting Skin is one of banal evil, where everything is awful simply because everything is awful. It’s a depiction of the real world if the real world were somehow transported to Hades.

The Reflecting Skin is absolutely a horror movie despite the lack of supernatural boogey men. In fact, there is a mob of serial killers involved in the film, but they are not the focus of the story. What we have, in effect, is a confluence of events and ideas where the absolutely wrong thing happens in absolutely the right way for the worst possible outcome for everyone involved. The Reflecting Skin is a fever dream of fantasy, misinformation, miscommunication, and murder.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

I Want to Marry a Lighthouse Keeper

Film: The Lighthouse
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on basement television.

I use the phrase “fever dream” a lot, I’ve realized, but sometimes there is simply no better way to describe what it is that I’m seeing. The Lighthouse is probably most easily described as that, a sort of slow but onrushing descent into insanity. Everything about the film is designed to enhance that feeling. The story, ultimately, feels like H.P. Lovecraft attempting to tell his own version of a Poe story like “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I have no other way to explain this movie, and there’s a part of me that doesn’t really want to try. This is a film that touches something deep and primal and not easily put into words.

At the same time, I’m reminded of a Ray Bradbury story called “The Fog Horn” about two men in a lighthouse. One night, the fog horn attracts a primal creature from the depths of the ocean that has seemingly fallen in love with the noise that the lighthouse makes. Frustrated, the creature eventually knocks the lighthouse down, and then is despondent over the death of the thing that it loves. There’s a deep sadness in that little story, a weird longing and a primal ache, and a little bit of the madness that drives a film like The Lighthouse.

Saturday, May 2, 2020


Film: Parasite (Gisaengchung)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu on basement television.

I imagine there is a great deal of competition among the general streaming services. Netflix nabbing the streaming rights to one thing, Hulu to another, Amazon another, and so on. After all, what you’ve got streaming is how you attract people to your service. Hulu managed to nab Parasite, the first non-English winner of Best Picture at the Oscars. While that might not be much of a win for the average person, for movie nerds, it’s a reason to take Hulu seriously, or more seriously.

Parasite (Gisaengchung, which evidently translates more accurately to something more like “tapeworm”) topped a hell of a lot of “Best of” lists from 2019, and while it was a surprise that a non-English language film won Best Picture, there were a lot of people rooting for it. It’s been on Hulu for a couple of weeks, but because of work issues, this was the first chance I had to sit down and watch it.