Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Imagine the Bachelor Party

Film: Bride of Re-Animator
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

When someone is cast perfectly, it’s a thing of beauty. You know what I mean; you can’t think of anyone else in the role, like Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson. There are few castings more appropriate than Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West. I tend to like Jeffrey Combs in whatever he’s in, but he has never been as perfect for a role as he is for Lovecraft’s obsessive doctor who is desperate to dive deeply into the world of Dr. Victor Frankenstein. He was perfect in the role in Re-Animator, and he hasn’t lost a step for the sequel, Bride of Re-Animator.

We pick up eight months after the end of the first film. Dr. Herbert West (Combs) and his roommate/assistant/partner Dr. Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) have fled Miskatonic University for the revolutionary battlefields of Peru, where they are working as medics. Why? Because the battlefield allows them plenty of raw material for West’s experiments regarding the source of life. What we learned in the first film is that West’s glowing green reagent works…kind of. It does reanimate dead tissue, but doesn’t really reanimate it correctly. Despite the problems caused by the war, West has discovered that a local iguana might be the secret to improving his reagent. As their camp falls to the enemy, Herbert and Dan flee, returning to Miskatonic to work in the hospital and continue their work. How do they get their jobs back? Don’t worry about it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Playing Things Straight

Film: Lake Mungo
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

The Blair Witch Project was revolutionary in the sense that it didn’t so much invent found footage as a concept, but made it mainstream. It also in a way touched on the idea of creating a documentary-style horror movie. At least that feels like a possibility, because the film is purported to be reality. Lake Mungo takes that a step further, creating an actual “documentary” about a haunting, complete with interviews and investigative journalism.

In the creation of Lake Mungo, the single-most important decision was to make this as if it were a documentary. This is a story that simply would not work presented in any other way. Shown as a documentary about the death and evident afterlife of a young girl, Lake Mungo presents a truly compelling story, one that could be taken as fact by someone not aware of its fictional nature. As a straight narrative, this would be ridiculously boring and would feel terribly unfinished.

Monday, July 27, 2020


Film: Halloween (2019)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

Traditionally, horror movie sequels aren’t very good. Oh, sure, there are plenty of exceptions, but in general, because the monster/killer/creature tends to end the movie dead, destroyed, or otherwise neutralized, a lot of heavy lifting needs to be done to even get a sequel started. So how do you deal with a series of films that’s been around for 40 years and had a full reboot? Well, you could what was done with Halloween from 2018. This plays itself as a direct sequel of John Carpenter’s original film. It ignores all of the other sequels and the reboot. It pays homage to the original while being very much its own film.

The Halloween franchise is one that moves in a lot of directions. For instance, one way to follow the series is to go Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween IV, Halloween V, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. Another path through is Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween H20, Halloween: Resurrection. This version is a direct sequel to Carpenter’s original, and has two additional sequels planned, a sort of trilogy after the original, if you will. But, significantly, this is not a reboot or a reimagining. It simply ignores every other Halloween franchise movie except for the original.

Sunday, July 26, 2020


Film: Bombshell
Format: DVD from NetFlix on basement television.

Be warned: because of the nature of this movie, this review is going to be substantially more political than is typical for me. There’s no way to discuss this without dropping into politics. I’m watching Bombshell because Charlize Theron was nominated for Best Actress and for no other reason. I don’t typically delete comments, but I will; this is a movie blog and not a political one, and I’m not going to accept comments that aren’t at the level of respectful discourse and disagreement that I have attempted to cultivate here for the last 10+ years.

Who was Bombshell made for? I genuinely don’t know who the target audience was for this movie. Like most movies based on real events, there’s some truth here, but also a great deal of fiction. In the case of Bombshell, a movie about the sexual harassment problem at FOX News, part of that fiction is one of the characters experiencing the sexual harassment. But more than that, I don’t know who this movie was supposed to attract. The #MeToo movement, those most likely to rail against the practices depicted here, are simultaneously the least likely to have any sympathy for former or current FOX hosts. The political right, evidenced by their continued support of Trump despite more than two dozen credible sexual harassment accusations brought against him, won’t care.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

8 1/2 Part Two

Film: Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on basement television.

There are times when I feel like I have about a dozen different ways to start one of these reviews but don’t know what to say beyond that. When talking about Pain and Glory (or Dolor y Gloria, if you prefer), do I start with the fact that Almodovar was always seemed like the male director most attuned to women is doing a film about a man? Do I bring up the librarian I used to work with who loved Almodovar enough that she called him “My Pedro”? Do I talk about the fact that I will happily watch anything with Penelope Cruz in it?

The place to really start with Pain and Glory is to say that it feels in a sense like Almodovar is doing a riff on 8 ½. While I assume that not everything here is autobiographical, the man we will be spending all of our time with, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), is a gay film director. How much of Mallo’s other afflictions and problems are shared by Almodovar, I have no idea. He might well have a series of chronic pains and health problems. He might find himself unable to think of a new subject for a film (although the existence of this film belies that problem). I am relatively confident in suggesting that he doesn’t spend a great deal of his time smoking heroin.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Who Goes There?

Film: The Invisible Man (2020)
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on various players.

The complete tanking of The Mummy reboot with Tom Cruise more or less killed the idea of Universal’s proposed reprise of/recreation of the Dark Universe inhabited by all of their old-school monster properties. Originally to star Johnny Depp, The Invisible Man was put on the back burner when The Mummy went south. In 2019, Universal decided for more one-off films rather than a united universe of creatures, and The Invisible Man was rebooted. It’s a damn good thing, too, because this is as good a horror/thriller as you’re going to find.

I don’t say that lightly. The Invisible Man is everything you might want from a complete reboot of the basic idea and the original premise combined with putting it in the modern world. The very basics—a man who can be invisible—is here, but everything else is different. It’s a very modern take, and one that might not have been as acceptable or accepted without the world having gone through the #MeToo movement.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

To Think That I Saw It...

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

Plague and disease is always a popular theme when it comes to horror movies, and since horror movies tent to reflect the current fears of a population, expect the next few years to be filled with plague movies. Most movies of the zombie subgenre are related to plague movies in one way or another—the zombies are the result of something akin to a plague, after all. Zombie-related films like 28 Days Later (and don’t get me started if this is an actual zombie movie or not) often follow the same basic story as well—true of [REC] and its remake and plenty of other films. It’s also true of Mulberry Street.

Interestingly, there’s a lot here similar to werewolf movies as well. We start in an apartment building in New York and the announcement that it has recently been sold to someone starting to gentrify the neighborhood. The tenants of the building will be given the opportunity to stay, more than likely, but probably with massively increased rents. This is going to be the hidden message of Mulberry Street. This is a movie about gentrification the way that Night of the Living Dead was a movie about racism.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Pieced to Meet You

Film: Body Parts
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on the new portable.

Sometimes, the premise sells the movie. Sometimes, the premise is something that combines a tried and true idea with a twist that makes it feel like it’s new in a lot of ways. And, sometimes that premise gets taken to a particular extreme and falls apart. A movie like Sorry to Bother You, brilliant as I think it is, has that problem; it just loses control in the third act. The same is absolutely true of Body Parts. This is a movie with a premise that will not be a surprise, taken in a slightly new direction that is a surprise, and that culminates with a third act that is bat shit crazy.

Bill Chrushank (Jeff Fahey, and that oddly-cobbled together last name is pronounced “CRU-shank) is a psychologist who both teaches and deals with clinical patients. One day, while driving on the highway, a car near him loses a wheel, and we get a near-accident. This turns into a spectacular real accident when Bill’s car, now stopped on the highway, gets rear-ended by a semi and he goes a-sailin’ through his windshield. While there are a few visual highlights in the film, this is very much a high point.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Third Time's a Charm?

Film: Little Women (2019)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on various players.

I still have a few movies to watch from last year’s Oscars, but, based on what I still have to see, I don’t think there will be a movie I am more disappointed in than Little Women. I mean, I don’t love this story. I disliked the 1930s version a great deal and just liked the one from the mid-‘90s, but I had such hopes for this one. I love Greta Gerwig’s work, and I love so many of the people in this cast, that I really wanted this to be so much more than it turned out to be.

I’m not kidding about the cast, though—there’s something about this story that attracts a great deal of serious talent. This version includes Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Laura Dern, Emma Watson, Chris Cooper, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, and Timothee Chalamet. It has Meryl Goddam Streep in a minor role. This should have been the best film of its year, especially with Greta Gerwig at the helm. And yet, here we are.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Return to Derry

Film: It Chapter Two
Format: Blu-ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I liked the first part of It less than a lot of people, but I did like it well enough. I didn’t like the fact that it deviated so much from the source material, and I still say that the best way to handle a book like this one is a 10-part miniseries. Even that might not be enough; two 10-part mini-series might be necessary, but it would be worth it to tell the entire story. I don’t want this to go on a rant, but I can feel the rant coming. I know that there need to be some changes and omissions when going from book to screen, but man, there are a lot of changes here in It Chapter Two that didn’t need to happen.

So, since the rant is absolutely going to make its way out no matter how much I try to resist it, I’m just going to go ahead and post a spoiler warning now. The rest of this post is, for the most part, going to be a discussion of the useless and worthless changes between the book and the movie. This means that there are going to be a lot spoilers for It Chapter Two, but there are also going to be a lot of spoilers for Stephen King’s original novel. Everything from this point forward is, more or less a spoiler for the film or the book.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Over the Rainbow

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

If you go back far enough in this blog, you’ll find instances of me wondering at the hype about particular actors. Believe it or not, when I started 11 years ago, I wasn’t sure why there was so much fuss about Bette Davis. I didn’t understand the appeal of Montgomery Clift. I’ve absolutely converted on both of them. Sure, there are those who I still dislike—Jennifer Jones comes to mind—but in many cases, I’ve come around on actors I didn’t initially think much of. I say this because I have been vocal about not being a fan of Renee Zellweger, and now I’ve seen Judy, and I was wrong.

I mean that sincerely. Zellweger has been good in other roles, of course, but here, she is nearly perfect. Oh, she doesn’t come close to duplicating Judy Garland’s voice, of course, but who could? Zellweger is the first, last, best, and perhaps only reason to see Judy, but she’s absolutely enough.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Aliens! Believe, Fam!

Film: Attack the Block
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on basement television.

I love science fiction movies as a general rule. I don’t mean that I love all of them, of course, because there are plenty that I don’t like, but I’m predisposed to like them. When they are even mildly good, I like them. When they’re great, I love them. Attack the Block is great, and it’s great not despite its relatively small budget, but because of it. It also has a fantastic cast for a movie like this one, as well as the best alien creature design since, well, Alien.

You could argue that in 2011, John Boyega was not a known quantity, and thus having him in a major role wasn’t so much getting a great actor for a movie like this as it was discovering an actor who would go on to bigger things. Okay, sure, but Nick Frost is here in a small role and this is after both Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. And, yes, it’s multiple years before Jodie Whittaker became the 13th Doctor, but well after a good start on her movie career. Seriously, for a film with an estimated $13 million budget, there’s some real talent here.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Really Dark Continent

Film: The Dead (2010)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

I like zombie movies a great deal. I tend to like slow zombies more than fast zombies (I’m a traditionalist in that sense). The problem with zombie movies is that they all tend to be pretty much the same. I went into The Dead (the zombie movie from 2010, not the movie of the same named based on a James Joyce story and starring Anjelica Huston) with hopes that I’d get something at least a little different. What I got was a few unique aspects and one part that was depressingly the same as most movies in the subgenre.

The Dead starts with two events. The first is an attack on a small West African village by the walking dead, who are ghouls in the traditional Romero sense. This means they are slow moving, eat the entire body, spread infection if someone isn’t devoured quickly enough, and are themselves killed by a shot to the head. We also get a scene on an airplane fleeing the area. Since someone dies on the plane and immediately turns, we get a sense of just how fast someone becomes a zombie in this world (which also indicates that man a person will end up turning rather than being wholly devoured). The plane eventually crashes.

Saturday, July 11, 2020


Film: Dog Soldiers
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

There’s something particularly camp about werewolf movies, but there’s also something about them that is undeniably cool. Of all of the classic monsters, werewolves are a unique combination of feral ferocity and cunning. They often have the same pitiable quality as Frankenstein’s Monster but also have the relentless brutality and hunger of any pack of zombies. There are some genuinely great werewolf movies. What makes Dog Soldiers a member of that club is that it does something entirely different with the genre. We’re not going to have men conflicted about what they are becoming, but absolute combat between men and lycanthropes.

We have two initial scenes that are going to be meaningful. In one, we are introduced to the werewolves (kind of) with a couple of campers being viciously chomped. We’re also introduced to Cooper (Kevin McKidd), who is trying to join a special forces unit headed by Captain Richard Ryan (Liam Cunningham). He has done remarkably well, but fails out when he refuses to shoot a dog in cold blood, and is returned to his military unit.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Go, Speed Racer, Go!

Film: Ford v Ferrari
Format: DVD from NetFlix on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

I make no bones about the fact that I do not care at all about sports in any stripe. It’s been a number of years since I have cared about sports; I’ve found that I don’t miss them at all, and not paying any attention to them hasn’t made my life any worse. Oh, I suppose I miss listening to a game on the radio sometimes, but I honestly can’t be bothered. There was a time when I was a sports fan, though. I lived and died with the Bears and Bulls, and would happily listen to a White Sox or Blackhawks game in the evening. But even when I was a fan of sports in general, I didn’t care at all about auto racing of any stripe. This made Ford v Ferrari a film I can’t say I was excited to watch.

My problem with racing is that I just don’t find it interesting. I’ve had plenty of people try to explain it to me—I know on a very real level that it’s more than just being fast. I realize that despite it looking like a contest about who has the best car that there’s a great deal of technique, strategy, and skill involved. I worked with a guy years ago who loved playing racing games on the computer. He would spend hours tweaking his car and running test laps; he’d make minor adjustments and run lap after lap to pinpoint the car for the specific track, eventually run the race, and then do exactly the same thing for the next track. I mean, good on him for having that interest, but I absolutely don’t have the inclination, the patience or the mind for it, either in the virtual world or the real world.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Working in a Coal Mine

Film: Black Fury
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

In the early days of Oscar, at least for a couple of years, voters were allowed to write in candidates for particular awards. This is why Paul Muni, who was not officially nominated for Black Fury in 1935, came in second to Victor McLaglen and ahead of all three nominated actors from Mutiny on the Bounty. This was an ability that was taken away from the voters after the next year. Anyway, it’s a film that really rises and falls on Paul Muni—something often true of Paul Muni’s films in general.

Honestly, I was kind of hoping for a gangster film along the lines of Scarface: The Shame of a Nation. Instead, I got something much closer to The Angry Silence that I watched a couple of days ago. Yes, this is a union picture involving strikes and scabs and corrupt officials. It’s called Black Fury not because of race or the “color” of someone’s nefarious deeds, but because it’s about coal miners, and one assumes that Black Lung Fury didn’t really sell in Peoria.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Super Punch-Out!

Film: The Patent Leather Kid
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

I’ve said in the past that I have difficulty with silent dramas. They don’t hold up nearly as well as silent comedies and silent horror movies. The reason is pretty simple. Silent comedies still work because a guy falling on his butt is funny whether you can hear it or not. Silent horror movies still work because good horror relies on things like atmosphere, and silent movies are loaded with that. Dramas from the silent era tend to involve a great deal of overacting and a great deal of melodrama, though, and so that’s a much harder sell. That said, I didn’t really know anything about The Patent Leather Kid other than it earned Richard Barthelmess one of his two Best Actor nominations for the first Oscars.

The Patent Leather Kid is a movie of three very literal acts. When it begins, the Patent Leather Kid (Barthelmess) is a boxer who has a particular reputation. Most boxing fans aren’t fans of his because of his attitude. Most of them want someone to knock a little humility into him. The second act concerns the Kid dealing with fallout of his own opinion against going to war when the U.S. enters World War I. He’s eventually drafted and deals with boot camp. The third act has him going to war and dealing with his own reticence at being in combat, overcoming that, and (of course) being wounded.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Wait...He Wrote More than Dracula?

Film: Shadow Builder (Bram Stoker’s Shadow Builder)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

When I first put up the horror movie lists, I’m not sure when that was, but it was a considerably long time ago, I knew there would likely be a few that were hard to find. This was particularly true of the Fangoria list, since it was specifically a list of movies that were underseen in general. A couple of those movies have proven very difficult to track down, but I did finally manage to locate Shadow Builder (also known as Bram Stoker’s Shadow Builder). If you thought Stoker only wrote “Dracula,” you’d be wrong. But the short story of “Shadow Builder” is an odd one, reading in a lot of ways like the work of H.P. Lovecraft. But I was excited to see this, not the least of reasons being that it features Tony Todd and has Michael Rooker starring as a bad-ass priest.

We start with something along the lines of a satanic ritual that brings forth a demon set to destroy the world. A priest named Jacob Vassey (Rooker) breaks up the ritual, but not before it is completed—the creature has been summoned. Soon enough, the creature begins killing—and it does so by turning its victims into something like a solid shadow. Any victim of the creature touched by light is essentially dispersed. The creature itself, eventually called Shadowbuilder (Andrew Jackson), is also damaged by light, but as it acquires more and more souls, it becomes less able to be damaged by light sources. The goal of the creature is to sacrifice a particular child on an altar during a solar eclipse.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Lady with the Dog

Film: Dark Eyes (Oci Ciornie)
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on rockin’ flatscreen.

I watched Dark Eyes (Oci Ciornie) a couple of days ago, and it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about it. I dislike reviewing movies like this one because there’s very little to actually talk about here. Dark Eyes is 136 minutes, a nice performance from Marcello Mastroianni, and nothing resembling much of a plot. Sure, it’s pretty to look at, but it’s not a hell of a lot more than that.

In truth, it’s a very long film version of Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog.” I’ll offer you the quick run-down on the story, and you’ll get a very good sense of what the film is, with some minor issues. A man who is dissatisfied with his wife has numerous affairs. One day, while on vacation, he encounters a young woman with a small dog. Over the course of a week, the two strike up a friendship that turns into an affair, something for which she feels guilty, although he does not. Her husband (the reason she feels guilty for the affair) calls her home. He feels like the memory of the affair will fade over time, but it turns out it does not—he’s really fallen for her, so he goes to her home town to track her down.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Strike Two Count

Film: The Angry Silence
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I’m not shy about my politics in general, but I tend to keep them off this blog as not being really a part of what I write about. But movies, like a great deal of art, are often political. It’s impossible to write about some of them without dipping into the political spectrum. The Angry Silence is such a film. There are plenty of films that deal with issues of labor unions and working people in conflict with their bosses. Most, like Norma Rae, North Country, or even Silkwood and Erin Brockovich are clear in siding with the people over the business. The Angry Silence is not nearly this clear, which makes it both frustrating and interesting, and for the same reason.

This is the story of a particular factory and a particular strike that doesn’t go the way that everyone wants. Tom Curtis (Richard Attenborough) works in a factory and has two children with his wife Anna (Pier Angeli) and as the film starts, we learn that they have a third one on the way. Because of this, when an unofficial strike is called at the factory, Tom decides not to participate, which is his right. The goal of the strike, which has been arranged by an outside agitator named Travers (Alfred Burke) and more or less enforced by the shop steward, Bert Connolly (Bernard Lee). The goal of the strike is to demand that the factory become a closed shop, which would give the union more power.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

More Like the Stiff and the Stupid

Film: The Bold and the Brave
Format: Internet video on laptop.

War movies are always interesting to me in some respects. They are a way to gauge the particular view of the world of a given time, or at least of the people making the film. Since it seems like we are constantly at war somewhere, the motive for making a war film seems rarely to be about the war itself and more about the attitude of the filmmakers toward war. With a film like The Bold and the Brave, filmed after the Korean War and before American involvement in Vietnam, the purpose is perhaps cloudier, especially with the mission that ends the film. Is this a heroic story or one that wants to put forth the idea the war has no real winners? Sadly, it’s probably the former, especially when there’s a sense of glorifying combat and the film taking place in the Italian campaign of World War II—playing to some of the country’s greatest military hits tends to skew the perspective.

We’re not going to get a lot of war for the first two acts of the movie. Instead, we’re going to be introduced to three soldiers. The first is Fairchild (Wendell Corey), who we learn soon after the film’s opening has serious qualms about pulling the trigger on his weapon. The second is Dooley (Mickey Rooney), quick with the girls despite being married and always up for a game of craps. Third is one nicknamed Preacher (Don Taylor), who sees the world in black and white ways, with anything that isn’t capital-G Good being capital-E Evil.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Is This a Synonym for "Martyr"?

Film: The Valiant
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

There is a sense that, when viewing an older film like this one, that I need to take into account the time in which the film was made. That’s always a good idea. As a film fan, it’s sometimes difficult to address older films with a more modern lens. We’ve seen that recently with the reaction against a film like Gone with the Wind, that has racial views that belong in the past but are tied up in understanding the story and the era of film in which it was made. The Valiant doesn’t have that kind of problem; it’s just a very early talkie and evidence that it took some time before people really figured out the medium of talking film.

What this means is that The Valiant is filled with the sort of acting that feels like it belongs on a stage, perhaps fitting for a film from 1929 that was adapted from a one-act play. We’ve got some very wooden line readings and some very ham-handed melodrama to deal with here. But at the same time, we also have the film debut of Paul Muni, who proved to be not just one of the first chameleons in talkie pictures, but one of the greatest forgotten actors of the modern age. Muni’s career included one Oscar win over five nominations that spanned 30 years—as his debut, this was clearly his first nomination; has last came for The Last Angry Man in 1959.