Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Done for Now?

Film: Jojo Rabbit
Format: DVD from NetFlix on basement television.

I’ve been saying for some time that I’m about done with my Oscar lists, and I think I’m about as done as I can be. Of the nine movies I haven’t seen, most are missing, fragmentary, or exist only in some cinematic vault on the other side of the country. Oh, I might watch the scraps that remain of those I can, but I think I’m done with full movies on these lists until the next Oscars…whenever that might be. So here I am, essentially done, and just in time for the next update to the 1001 Movies list.

So, I saved Jojo Rabbit for “last” for no reason other than that I didn’t want a complete slog to end this part of this journey. Jojo Rabbit is at least partially a comedy. It’s a pitch black comedy, surely, but a comedy nonetheless. Our hapless hero is Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) a 10-year-old German kid in the last days of World War II. Jojo is a completely indoctrinated member of the Hitler Youth and a fervent Nazi, but doesn’t really have a clear understanding of the party’s doctrines. Jojo’s imaginary friend is a goofy and childlike Hitler stand-in (played by director Taika Waititi) who gives unclear advice to Jojo.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Hugh Laurie Not Included

Film: House (1986)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

People’s careers are funny things. In 1985 or 1986 (depending on the website you check), the movie House was released. This is not the bizarre Japanese movie Hausu nor the television show starring Hugh Laurie. This is more or less a straight horror movie, although there’s a great deal of comedy here. It’s also a movie that has a rather surprising television pedigree. It stars William Katt, who a few years previously had starred in “The Greatest American Hero.” In smaller roles, it has Richard Moll from “Night Court” and George Wendt from Cheers.

There’s a lot here that isn’t really explained that well. The basic story is that horror author Roger Cobb (Katt) has retreated to the house of his aunt where he grew up. His aunt hanged herself in the house previously and while Cobb was expected to sell the house, he’s decided instead to use the house as a base of operations for his next book. That book is planned to be not another horror novel, but the story of his experiences in Vietnam. Not only is he having difficulty with getting anything started on the book, but he’s also having some odd experiences in the house itself.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Possible Changes...and a Favor

I'm nearing the end of the Oscars list--I have 10 movies I haven't seen on the list now, and of those, nine are either missing or are virtually unavailable. I'm also close to the end of the "Oscar Got It Wrong" posts. I do have a direction I want to take those in the near future. To do so, though, I'm going to need some help.

On Letterboxd, I have a list of films that have been recommended to me. It's actually a little more and a little less than that. The list is of films that were recommended that were not on any of the lists I have pursued on this blog. There are a few others that I have seen, but have not watched in years, so there isn't a review of them on my Letterboxd page.

The rest of the movies on this massive list (it's close to 900 titles) are movies I haven't seen that have been specifically recommended in conjunction with the Oscar Got It Wrong posts. If you recommended something for (say) 1996 Best Picture that I haven't seen, it's on this list. I'm putting the finishing touches on it now, but I wanted to get this posted today. The list is in order by year of release, and alphabetical within a given year.

So what I need is any additional recommendations you have. I've been compiling this full list for the last few days (hence the lack of activity here). I want serious suggestions--don't offer up Birdemic: Shock and Terror because you want me to watch it (and I already have, so there's that). You can recommend movies that are considered not very good as long as they are movies that you genuinely like. Have a heart here, folks--the list is already close to 900 movies.

Anyway, here's Wonderwall...er...the list.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Asylum Seeker

Film: Shutter Island
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

It’s worth remembering sometimes that Martin Scorsese finally won a Best Director Oscar for a movie that was a remake. I say this because Shutter Island feels very much like a remake. It’s not; it’s based on a Dennis Lehane novel, but it genuinely feels like a remake of another film. I’ll get to that under a spoiler tag in a bit. I don’t want to spoil this (or the other movie) for anyone who has only seen one of them.

It’s also worth saying that being Martin Scorsese will have some particular perks beyond being an acclaimed film director. For instance, you’ll get your choice of anyone you want to work with. This film features performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Max von Sydow, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Elias Koteas, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, and John Carroll Lynch. It’s one of those movies that makes you wonder why there isn’t an Oscar for best ensemble cast.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Have a Heart!

Films: My Bloody Valentine (2009)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

It’s not too long into the remake of My Bloody Valentine that you figure out this was a movie made for 3D. We learn about a mine collapse in 1997 in a small mining town. Six men are trapped, but when the rescue team arrives at the scene, there is only one man, a comatose Harry Warden (Richard John Walters), still alive. The other five men clearly didn’t die in the cave-in. They were brutally murdered by Warden with a pick axe specifically to conserve oxygen.

One year later, Warden wakes up from his coma and slaughters most of the hospital staff, leaving a calling card of a human heart in a candy heart. He then heads back to the mine where a group of young people are having a party (this is very much the plot of the original film). It’s here that we learn this was a 3D movie. One partygoer plays a prank and then is killed by Harry Warden hitting him in the head with his pick. The victim’s eye is what comes out of the screen at us. It’s a good taste of what is to come.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Know the Traditions

Films: Trick ‘r Treat
Format: DVD from Manteno Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

Why are so many horror movies anthologies? I think the reason is that it’s easy enough to work out a shock ending or a couple of good scares in a few minutes without needing the audience to invest too much in the actual story. It’s the same reason that roller coasters don’t go on for 10 minutes. It’s possible to create something that gives the audience a quick thrill and then moves on. This is the downfall of a lot of horror anthologies. It’s the strength of Trick ‘r Treat, though, for a lot of reasons.

What I mean is that most anthologies give us a framing story that appears at the start and end, and usually between the individual stories as well. That’s not the case with Trick ‘r Treat. While there are long pieces of the film that do follow a particular story, all of the stories are intertwined in minor ways. We see something in the first story, and then see it from a different perspective in the next. We see the main character of one story in the background of another. So, all of the stories are tied in the sense that they take place I the same town and on the same night, but are also completely individual. As usual, I’ll break these stories down individually.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Visit the World's Largest Ball of Twine Next Time

Films: Tourist Trap
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

As I inch closer to finishing my Oscar project, at least for now, I’m finding myself returning more and more to reviewing horror movies. They are, after all, my first love, and 10+ years of stretching myself to other genres should get a little payoff. Movies like Tourist Trap are a part of the reason this shift appeals to me. Tourist Trap is so weird that it deserves to be talked about. It is simultaneously right in line with other horror movies and also so utterly unlike anything else that it can’t help but be interesting.

We start with Woody (Keith McDermott), who is clearly having car trouble. He’s walking down a country road with a tire, at least. Eventually, he comes to a house and goes in to investigate and try to get some help. What he finds instead are some weird mannequins. Soon enough, he is assaulted by items being hurled at him, and the mannequins themselves seem to come to life. Eventually, Woody is impaled by a flying pipe and its time to meet our other potential victims.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Tied to the Land

Films: Mudbound
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the new internet machine.

I have started to watch Mudbound a couple of times before but have never really gotten anywhere with it. Now, at a point where I have fewer than a dozen movies on my Oscars list, I can’t continue to avoid it. That’s especially the case when of the 11 movies I have left, nine are missing, exist only in archives on the West Coast, or are only partially available at best. I wasn’t looking forward to this. It’s a hard movie to watch in the best of cases, and it’s not one I figured I would enjoy much. This is a movie about racism and evil.

As much as I would love to tell you that Mudbound is a story about a Black sharecropper family living on the land of white farmers, that would only be the basics of the story. This is a story about privilege. How is this so? Because it’s a story about a poor white family on a farm in Mississippi during and after World War II working a hardscrabble farm. There’s nothing about these people that scream privilege, but compared with the sharecroppers on their land, the privilege is real and palpable in every frame.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Get Your Papers in Order

Films: Orphan
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on the new portable.

Orphan came recommended to me by a friend. It’s a movie I have known about in a vague sense for some time, mostly because in the minds of a lot of people, it gets confused with The Orphanage from a year or two before this one. I frequently had to explain to people that no, I was not talking about the movie where some people adopted a strange and disturbing child, but a Spanish-language movie that involved a haunted orphanage. So, in a sense, I kind of avoided Orphan because I was tired of having explain that it wasn’t the movie I was talking about.

Anyway, Orphan is classified as a horror movie for the same reasons that something like The Silence of the Lambs, Hard Candy, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Fear are classified as horror movies. All of these movies take place more or less in the real world with plots that could legitimately happen in that real world, but that are horrific. It’s what I would typically call a “thriller” more than anything else, but since it’s the sort of film that frequently gets put on lists of horror movies, well, here we are.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Know Thyself

Films: Identity
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

I love it when a movie has a cast list that it absolutely doesn’t deserve. Cats is a fabulous example of this—Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba—and it’s evidently a massive train wreck. Identity is not a train wreck. It’s an entertaining little thriller, but again, it has a cast list that it absolutely can’t support. Appearing at various points are John Cusack, Ray Liotta, John C. McGinely, Clea DuVall, Alfred Molina, John Hawkes, Rebecca De Mornay, Jake Busey, and the backwards-named Pruitt Taylor Vince. Oh, and Amanda Peet, for whatever that’s worth.

What we’re going to get here is a dual narrative. The minor story concerns a vicious killer named Malcolm Rivers (Vince) who is a day away from execution. His psychiatrist, Dr. Malick (Molina) believes that he has evidence to stay the execution, possibly permanently. The main story concerns a motel in the middle of nowhere where a number of people arrive in the middle of a terrible rainstorm, become stranded, and are slowly picked off by a killer among them. Our motel people are Ed (Cusack), a limo driver working for Caroline Suzanne (De Mornay), a faded actress. George (McGinley) is there with his wife Alice (Leila Kenzle) and their son Timmy (Bret Loehr), desperate because Alice was hit by Ed’s car. We’ve also got newlywed couple Lou (William Lee Scott) and Ginny (DuVall), and working girl Paris (Peet). Rounding out our motel crew is cop Sam Rhodes (Liotta), transporting prisoner Robert Maine (Busey). All of this is overseen by Larry (Hawkes), the motel manager. Many of these characters have some very dark secrets, and just about everyone is a suspect in what is going on.

Monday, September 7, 2020

The End of an Era

Films: Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

I can’t say that I came to Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker with an overwhelming amount of hope. I might have been a lot more excited about this had I watched it before the current controversy concerning the film and the role of John Boyega. Boyega recently came out aggressively about the way that he and his character Finn were treated in general. He has a real point. In The Force Awakens, Finn was clearly put forward as one of the major new characters. His role was severely curtailed in the next film and in this one. And, honestly, he’s right.

I don’t tend to make massive pronouncements on this blog, but sometimes the circumstances force me to. I grew up on Star Wars. I saw A New Hope no less than 20 times in theaters as a kid. I loved the universe and the very idea of the universe. And now, having seeing The Rise of Skywalker, the truth is, as painful as it is for me to say it, that the Star Trek universe is a better one. It has a better overall message, and the creators treat the characters better and with greater respect. I hate that I had to say that, but it’s true.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Don't Drink the Water

Films: Color Out of Space
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

It’s rare when I see something based on a story or book that I know. Most of my reading tends to be non-fiction these days. Color Out of Space is based on the H.P. Lovecraft short story The Colour Out of Space, a story that clearly influenced a film like Annihilation as much as that film was influenced by Stalker. It might be too much to suggest that any movie that starts with a meteor is influenced by Lovecraft’s story, but there are echoes of it in a movie like Slither as well as the second story in the original Creepshow.

This isn’t the first version of the story filmed. There was a version produced about a decade ago as well as one from the late ‘80s starring Claude Aikens and Wil Wheaton (called The Curse). That version is a great deal more accurate to the original story than this one, but it also suffers from having been made in a year when there weren’t really effects that could do the story justice.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Picking Poe's Bones

Films: The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)
Format: Streaming video on Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

If you’re going to make a horror movie, you could do a lot worse than going with a story or two from Edgar Allen Poe. Many of Poe’s stories are incredibly short, which allows them to be easily expanded or combined into narratives that cover a lot more ground then the original stories. Roger Corman figured this out, often adapting multiple stories in the same film. In the case of The Pit and the Pendulum from 1991, frequent Stuart Gordon collaborator Dennis Paoli went with this model. He built up an entire world around the base story and added in an aside that clearly riffs on The Cask of Amontillado for good measure.

We’re going to be right in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition for this story, which is accurate to the original story. Not a lot else will be accurate here, but that’s no matter as long as we get both a pit and a pendulum. Our film opens with one of the truly great gonzo horror movie openings, approaching (but never reaching) the staggering opening of Black Sunday. In this case, Grand Inquisitor Torquemada (Lance Henriksen!) has a body exhumed from a crypt and put on trial. Torquemada accuses the skeleton of heresy, strips the family of all lands and titles, and has his torturer Mendoza (Mark Margolis) whip the skeleton. Naturally, the skeleton falls to pieces. The bones are picked up, ground into powder, and poured into a hourglass. Honestly, it’s one of the greatest openings I’ve seen in a long time.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020


Films: The Haunted House
Format: Internet video on laptop.

If you want to talk about silent movies, I’m much more likely to want to talk about comedies than any other genre. The reason for this is simple: a lot of silent comedies still work in the sense that they are still funny. That’s simply not the case for a lot of other silent genres. The dramas are more melodrama than drama, for instance. But a guy falling on his hinder is still just as funny when it’s soundless as when we hear the thump. When it comes to that, Keaton was among the best of them. I’ve seen enough Keaton to know he’s my favorite of the silent comedians, but until recently, I hadn’t seen The Haunted House.

Truthfully, while this is classified as both a comedy and a horror movie, it’s really just a comedy. In fact, nothing in the remotest way resembling horror appears for at least the first half of the running time. Essentially, Keaton is a bank teller who, through a series of misadventures involving a pot of glue, ends up looking like he tried to rob the bank. In fact, it was the bank manager who planned the heist, and then planned to hole up in an abandoned house rigged to appear haunted.