Monday, October 25, 2021

Ten Days of Terror!: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Film: Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on the new portable.

For some reason, Hammer horror films resonate with me. I like that they tried to maintain that idea of Gothic sensibilities for as long as they did while slowly ramping up the weirdness and violence of the films. Early Hammer certainly had some violence and some blood, but by the time the studio started to fade, they were getting more desperate, and thus were going to further extremes. Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is a film that gives the 1970s gorehound everything they would want. There’s blood, there’s brains, there’s eyeballs, and even surgery. It may be ultimately tame by today’s standards (at least in terms of gore), but for the time, it was pretty out there.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell is very late in the Hammer pantheon, one of the last half dozen or so films the studio made until it was revived a dozen or so years ago. This means we’re going to go to some extremes here for the gore that will be on display. It’s almost quaint in the sense that in the year The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was released, Hammer was thinking that the height of horror was watching Peter Cushing and Shane Briant extract a brain from a corpse.

Ten Days of Terror!: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed

Films: Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed
Format: DVD from Putnam County Library through interlibrary loan on various players.

In some respect, a Frankenstein story has to follow some very basic plot moments. We don’t specifically need someone named Victor Frankenstein, but we do need someone who is going to attempt to bring the dead back through reanimation in some way or another. Typically, what we really want for the traditional story is for someone to manufacture a new body cobbled together out of the parts of other dead bodies. Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed is going to deviate from that in significant ways, which leads to an important question: If the main character in a Frankenstein story doesn’t actually create a body to reanimate, is it really a Frankenstein story?

Baron Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) is forced out of his native Bohemia and winds up at a boarding house in Austria-Hungary. The boarding house is run by Anna Spengler (Veronica Carlson), whose fiancé Dr. Karl Holst (Simon Ward) works at the nearby insane asylum. It just so happens that one of the inmates at the asylum is Dr. Frederick Brandt (George Pravda), Frankenstein’s former assistant who had a breakdown and went mad because of the experiments he was forced to be a part of.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Evil of Frankenstein

Films: The Evil of Frankenstein
Format: DVD from Nippersink District Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

As a teacher, I don’t let my students use Wikipedia as a reference. That said, I use it all the time myself for this blog. It’s handy for checking plot points when I go through these posts, making sure I know who was who and who did what. That habit causes me some interesting realizations now and then. When I looked up The Evil of Frankenstein on Wikipedia, I discovered that this scant little 84-minute movie was packed with a surprising amount of stuff. The plot summary is ten paragraphs long. What this means is that I’ll be condensing quite a bit, because no movie with this short of a running time needs to have that much stuff going on in it.

We open on a body snatching, where the body snatcher takes the corpse to none other than Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) himself. Working with Frankenstein is his henchman/assistant Hans (Sandor Ellis). Frankenstein removes the heart from the corpse, hooks it up to machinery, and soon enough he’s got that heart a-pumpin’ on its own. Sadly for him, a local many of the clergy shows up in his lab and starts trashing the place. Dr. F. just can’t catch a break, so he and Hans run off. It’s here that we get a long flashback about Frankenstein’s attempt to create the monster (played both in the flashback and the current time by Kiwi Kingston). It was kind of successful, kind of not, and his monster goes on a loopy ol’ monster rampage and eventually the Baron is run off.

Ten Days of Terror!: The Kiss of the Vampire

Films: The Kiss of the Vampire
Format: DVD from Nippersink District Library through interlibrary loan on basement television.

The 1960s Hammer horror movies feel like the last gasp at making the sort of old-school Gothic horror of the classic Universal films. There’s an attempt here to be scary in the way those films were. They aren’t truly scary, not truly horrific or the kind of film that induces nightmares, but they are absolutely horror movies and nothing else. There’s a sort of malevolence in many of these movies, especially the ones that deal with vampires. There’s often some sympathy for Frankenstein’s monster or werewolves, but Hammer vampires are evil. That’s clearly the case in The Kiss of the Vampire.

We open with a burial scene that ends with father of the buried girl slamming a shovel through the coffin to more or less stake her. And, since there’s blood from the coffin and a scream, it’s a good bet that she was a vampire after all. Following this opening, we’re introduced to Gerald (Edward de Souza) and Marianne Harcourt (Jennifer Daniel). They are a newlywed couple traveling in a new horseless carriage (this being roughly fin de siècle and vaguely Europe-ish). The car runs out of gas, stranding them in southern Germany.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Ten Days of Terror!: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Films: Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I would guess that if you are a fan of the Friday the 13th series, that you look on the aspects of it that are consistent from film to film as aspects of the franchise, not evidence of laziness. With Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, the only real difference we’re going to have is the venue. Otherwise, this is an extremely straightforward slasher where Jason kills a bunch of teens and a collection of adults in a variety of ways.

It’s worth noting right off the bat that this film is misnamed. Jason does not, in fact, take Manhattan. He eventually gets to Manhattan, but the entire first half or more of the movie (at least the killing parts) take place on a ship. We don’t get to New York until there’s well under halfway done.

Ten Days of Terror!: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

Films: Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen

I’m sitting here, starting at the laptop wondering what there is to say about Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. Ultimately, this film series is a collection of murders committed by undead serial killer Jason Voorhees. It’s what we’ve come for and it’s what we’re going to get. We’ll have a collection of teens or early 20-somethings who will get picked off one by one until we get a confrontation with Jason and our final girl. Sandwich the dozen or so kills will be a way to bring Jason back from the dead and, naturally, a way to temporarily put him away.

This time, Jason is going to get something like actual competition since our final girl is a psychic. The film was pitched as Jason vs. Carrie, and while that sounds appealing, or at least interesting, the actual film is quite a bit less so. It’s going to suffer from many of the same problems as a few other films in the series—the kills essentially happen off-screen in the sense that we don’t actually see the moment of impact in many cases. This was evidently done to avoid the inevitable X-rating.

Ten Days of Terror!: Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI

Films: Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen

A series of films, particularly one that went on for as long as the Friday the 13th series, has ups and downs. The fifth entry in the series is one of the clear low points, existing as it does essentially out of the continuity of the rest of the series and having the larger indignity of not having Jason Voorhees as the killer. Well, things get back on track with the sixth installment, Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (sometimes reversing the order of the title elements as Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives). As the title suggests, we’re going to get Jason back. Additionally, a lot of what makes Jason who he is—the un-re-killable undead murder machine with unlimited strength—is going to come from this movie.

We start with Tommy Jarvis (Thom Mathews) once again. As with the non-continuity film previously, Tommy is in his late teens. Needing closure concerning Jason, he shows up at the gravesite with his friend Allen (Ron Palillo) with the intent of opening the grave, dousing Jason’s body with gasoline, and lighting him on fire to deal with the body once and for all. Once the grave is open, Tommy is going to have a little meltdown, and he attacks the body with piece of metal fencing. And, naturally, it’s starting to storm. Tommy leaves the fence piece in Jason’s body, it gets struck by lightning, and, Frankenstein’s monster-like, Jason is reborn. He kills Allen right away, but Tommy escapes. The rest of the movie is exactly what you think it’s going to be: Jason hunts for Tommy while killing everything else that gets in his way.

Ten Days of Terror!: Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning

Films: Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of the slasher subgenre. No movies better exemplify the genre than the Friday th 13th series. Like any series that goes on long enough, we’re going to have high points and low points. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (also called Friday the 13th: A New Beginning) is widely considered one of the lowest points in the franchise. Lucky me.

There are a lot of problems with a movie like this for someone like me, who genuinely prefers to write about narrative and aspects thereof. This movie has a narrative, technically, but there’s not much more to it than “people discover big, scary dude and are then killed by him.” There are bigger problems here for the entire franchise, though. Friday the 13th: The New Beginning exists in many ways outside of the continuity of the rest of the franchise.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Ten Days of Terror!: Shocker

Films: Shocker
Format: DVD from Ida Public Library through interlibrary loan on various players.

I remember a particular event from grade school. We were supposed to write a story, and I wrote something that was really derivative of a story we had read in class, like plagiarism-level derivative. I got in some trouble for it and it was over, but I remember it because it was lazy and stupid and I ended up feeling lazy and stupid. I’m reminded of this with Wes Craven’s film Shocker, since it very much feels like Craven attempting to recreate the success of the Elm Street franchise without a lot of success.

What I mean by that is our psychotic killer ends up with some science fiction-y powers that allow him to cheat death, and he uses these powers to go on indiscriminate killing sprees. There are elements of other movies tucked into Shocker. While the overall feel is very much A Nightmare on Elm Street, there’s a smattering of Child’s Play tucked in here and a substantial amount of The Hidden, one of my favorite bonkers sci-fi/horror films from the ‘80s (and I like that Richard Brooks is the connective tissue between the two films).

Ten Days of Terror!: Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare

Films: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

You’ve gotta start somewhere. For director Rachel Talalay, who has been a part of a bunch of really successful television shows, that start in the director’s chair was for Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (Also known as A Nightmare on Elm Street 6). It is a very inauspicious beginning, but, as I said, you have to start somewhere. The idea here was to wrap up the Nightmare franchise in a way that wouldn’t require a sequel. The series was petering out and it needed to end. Interesting that this actually made more money than the previous film. But, in truth, this was bad enough that no one wanted to make another one.

I’m not going to hold back on that, and I’m not really going to blame Talalay that much for the problems. She didn’t have much of a script to work with going in. This is a case of pretty much everyone being completely out of ideas and needing to create a movie anyway. Most of this only barely makes sense and there’s almost no connective tissue to the previous films. The buy-in here from the audience is so substantial that it beggars the imagination.

Ten Days of Terror!: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Films: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Horror sequels are something of a known quantity in a lot of respects. The rules of the horror movie universe have been set up, and the real goal from the filmmaker is to give the audience more spectacle than in the previous movie(s). Honestly, it’s one of the reasons that sequels aren’t very good as a rule. Plot and keeping with the original narrative are often jettisoned in lieu of the bread and circuses of elaborate death scenes and more brutal killings.

And this is where A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master comes in. This movie follows the very successful third film in the series, the one that righted the ship after the dismal first sequel. That puts some pressure on this film to measure up. The truth is that it does, at least in part. It’s not the equal of the previous film, but it doesn’t go too far off the rails. It continues the story as well as it can and tries to maintain some continuity with previous characters (despite one actor not returning for this film) and pass the torch, more or less, to a new set of actors.

Ten Days of Terror!: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

Films: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on various players

Sometimes, a basic idea is good enough to survive a serious setback. That’s very much the case with the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, which went in a very bad direction with the second film. The third movie, A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors, is very much a return to the basic idea of a psychotic killer who attacks people in their dreams. Oh, there’s a hiccup or two here, but it does feel like a return to form for the franchise. A big part of that is the return of Heather Langenkamp as Nancy, which is an important re-connection to the original film.

We’re first introduced to Kristen (Patricia Arquette), who is plagued by dreams of our old friend Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). In one dream, he attacks her, but in the real world makes it look like she has attempted suicide. This gets Kristen sent to an psychiatric ward where she is placed under the care of Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson). We meet a few other kids here—Phillip (Bradley Gregg), Taryn (Jennifer Rubin), Joey (Rodney Eastman), Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow), Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), and Will (Ira Heiden). All of them are plagued by nightmares, all of which seem to incorporate Freddy. We’re also introduced to their new therapist—Nancy Thompson (Langenkamp).

Friday, October 22, 2021

Ten Days of Terror!: The Blood on Satan's Claw

Films: The Blood on Satan’s Claw
Format: Streaming video from Hulu + on Fire!

Sometimes you come across a movie and you wonder who the hell the target audience could have been. The Blood on Satan’s Claw is very much that kind of a movie. This is a horror movie, but one that is very strange in a lot of ways. There is a sort of connection to the Gothic Hammer films of a few decades before this one. It also feels connected to a film like The Witchfinder General in a lot of its themes. Allegedly, this is set in the early 19th century, but it feels as if it’s set a couple of centuries earlier than that. The best way I can put this is that it feels like a natural double-feature companion to The VVitch, a sort of earlier British cousin.

As I said, this is a story that takes place in the early years of the 19th century. We’re in rural England, when a plowman named Ralph Gower (Barry Andrews) turns up something in the field he is plowing. It appears to be humanoid but deformed. Worried about what it might portent, Ralph runs to the local judge (Patrick Wymark), but when they return, the body has disappeared.

Ten Days of Terror!: Grindhouse

Film: Grindhouse
Format: Bluray from Somonauk Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are problems with reviewing Grindhouse on this blog. The primary problem is that on the They Shoot Zombies, Don’t They list, both of the two major parts of Grindhouse (Planet Terror and Death Proof) appear as separate listings. What’s a blogger to do in this case? If I write about the two movies here, I have nothing to write about when it comes to those reviews. Do I simply call this a triple feature? Do I review them here and review the missing scenes replaced in the full versions of the films? Instead, I figured I’d look at the part that links the two films: the fake (kinda) trailers.

There are four of them, and evidently there might be a fifth that was tapped in at some point, even if it wasn’t on the disc that I got. At the very least, it wasn’t on the version of the film(s) that came from the library, and it wasn’t in the version that I saw in the theater. That being the case, I’ll look at the four that are in the theatrical version. On the disc, they are in this order: Machete, directed by Robert Rodriguez; Werewolf Women of the SS, directed by Rob Zombie; Don’t, directed by Edgar Wright; and Thanksgiving, directed by Eli Roth. On the disc, Machete comes before Planet Terror and the other three come between the two movies.

Ten Days of Terror!: Death Proof

Film: Death Proof
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will know that I think Quentin Tarantino is a vastly overrated director. I’ll admit that some of his films have a certain style to them, and when he first showed up in the film industry, there was an unmistakable sense of brashness to his work. But then he seems to do the same thing over and over again. So much of Tarantino’s work, despite being touted as so wonderfully original, is completely derivative. Everything he does seems to be a reference to something else, and the more obscure the reference, the happier it makes him. Tarantino’s movies are less about the movie and less about the story than they are demonstrating that Quentin Tarantino is smarter than you and I are. He wants to make sure that you know he can reference more obscure movies than you and that he knows more about weird bands from the past than you do. And nowhere are these qualities more in evidence than in Death Proof, the back half of Grindhouse, his project with Robert Rodriguez.

I can’t pretend that I was looking forward to this rewatch even with the promise of the “scene missing” scenes from Grindhouse being “restored” in this version. I went into this knowing that I disliked it and I didn’t expect there to be anything here that would change this fact. And you know what? There wasn’t.

Ten Days of Terror!: Planet Terror

Film: Planet Terror
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on the new portable.

Why didn’t Grindhouse work? I mean, I would point at least in part to just how disappointing the Death Proof side of the film was, but that can’t be all of it. Grindhouse was a great idea for a movie. We got two short films that were specifically grimy and designed to look like they’d been through a ringer. They were short on plot and long on violence and ridiculousness. And they contained a collection of fake trailers that were generally very funny. Gun to head, Edgar Wright’s trailer for Don’t is probably my favorite moment in the collection. That said, Planet Terror is actually a fun stand-alone film.

Planet Terror is a zombie film in the same way that 28 Days Later is a zombie film. What this means is that there are creatures that act like zombies, but they aren’t actually reanimated dead. Our zombie agent is a gas that turns people affected by it into creatures with exploding pustules that clearly want human flesh, except when it’s plot-necessary that they don’t. And the infected are brainless flesh eaters except for those points in the film where it’s important that they have fully human intelligence. Look, no one watches Planet Terror for the plot.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Ten Days of Terror Kick Off

For a number of years, I’ve posted nothing but horror movies for the last 10 days of October (with an old Oscar Got It Wrong post thrown in as well). While I haven’t been putting up as many reviews lately, I still want to continue this tradition, and continue it in the way I’ve been doing it lately: four posts per day, or one every six hours.

This year, I’ve themed things, kind of. I couldn’t really complete 10 themes, since I decided on this after I was already a good distance along in having movies to post. So, with the idea in mind that these themes are general and some have only three movies in them, here’s what you can expect in the next 10 days.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Fear of a Black Cinema

Films: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on rockin’ flatscreen

I like horror movies. I’ve liked horror movies for a long time, and I’m fascinated not just by the movies themselves but by the stories behind them. For a long time, my favorite horror documentary has been Nightmares in Red, White and Blue about the American horror movie industry; I recommend it without reservation. So when I heard that there was a documentary about the relationship between Black audiences and actors and horror films, I was very much intrigued. Well, thanks to my wife’s love of the show Dexter, we have the AMC add-on for Amazon, and this means I finally got a chance to watch Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror.

What makes this topic so interesting is that this relationship has for a long time been one-sided. Black audiences have often loved horror but have not been loved in return (a sentiment expressed almost immediately when the film begins). There are many tropes relating to the Black experience in horror movies. Black characters are the first to die, or will sacrifice themselves for white characters, for instance. Black characters are also often fonts of ancient wisdom and are similarly the source of danger. In many older movies, Black characters are comic relief, and in horror movies without Black characters, the monsters themselves are often coded to be at least non-white (just as many movie villains in general are queer-coded). In that respect, the relationship between Black audiences and their representations on screen has been almost abusive.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Stepping into the Twilight Zone

Films: The Vast of Night
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on rockin’ flatscreen

The newest edition of the 1001 Movies list is out. I can’t tell you what has been removed, but there are 10 new movies added. The collection is much more indie-focused this time, and with the exception of Tenet, none of the new additions is longer than two hours. I’ve reviewed three already: (Tenet, Soul, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) and will be completing the rest of the list hopefully by the end of the year. The first of these is The Vast of Night, an odd little science fiction movie that at first blush doesn’t seem to belong.

The plot is one that borders on high concept. One late ‘50s night, in the sleepy little New Mexico town of Cayuga, a series of strange events happen. Teenage disc jockey Everett (Jake Horowitz) meets up with his friend Fay (Sierra McCormick). Fay, who clearly has a bit of a crush on Everett, has just gotten a new tape recorder, and the two of them test it out as they walk to their respective jobs. They also appear to be just about the only two people in town not at the high school’s basketball game. While Everett heads off to the radio station, Fay settles in for her shift as a phone operator.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Good Talk

Films: One Night in Miami
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on rockin’ flatscreen

The politics of Oscars is very strange indeed. It’s not often that you can legitimately fill a category of nominations from a single film, but One Night in Miami comes very close. While Leslie Odom Jr. was nominated in a supporting role in this film, I think a strong case can be made that all four of the lead actors could have been nominated. At the very least, we should be talking about a nomination for Kingsley Ben-Adir.

One Night in Miami is a filmed version of the play of the same name by Kemp Powers. It is a far more interesting version of the internet meme of Stalin, Freud, Hitler, Tito, and Trotsky all lived in Vienna in 1913 and could have conceivably met at the same bar. In this case, on the night Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) still pre-Muhammad Ali won the heavyweight title over Sonny Liston, he, Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Malcom X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) met up post-fight in a hotel room to talk about life, reality, and the state of Black lives in America in 1964.

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Rooster Coop

Films: The White Tiger
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

Say what you will about NetFlix, but they have started going more and more out of their way to bring in shows and movies that aren’t from a Western perspective. The White Tiger, which was ultimately nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, is such a film. While the film is at least partially in English, this is very much a film that is thoroughly enmeshed in Indian culture. In fact, the use of language is a big part of that. The characters shift between Hindi and English naturally and constantly, and it becomes something akin to its own language, a sort of Delhi pidgin.

The White Tiger is the dark shadow of Slumdog Millionaire. Like the film that won Best Picture more than a decade ago, this one is about a young man who began in terrible poverty and ends as a success. Don’t worry—that’s not a spoiler. We start knowing that our main character is a man of means when the film begins.

Monday, October 11, 2021

The Last

Films: Raya and the Last Dragon
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

I don’t tend to predict Oscar films, although I do every now and then look to get ahead. I think a Best Animated Feature nomination for Raya and the Last Dragon is very likely, although it will also probably lose to Luca. Regardless, I’d put some good money down on this being nominated. So, when I saw it at one of the libraries I use, I figured I’d give it a watch. Sure, I could have watched this on Disney Plus, but I like to support my libraries when I can, and this helps their numbers.

I went into this completely cold, expecting that there might be a bit of a feel of How to Train Your Dragon. I did not expect that this movie wanted nothing less than to be seen as Disney’s version of Avatar: The Last Airbender (the Nick show, not the terrible, terrible movie). It seriously might as well have started by telling us that everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

The Milk of Human Kindness

Films: First Cow
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on basement television

Let’s talk for a second about one of the serious problems that Oscar has. Since this blog is still at least tangentially attached to Oscar films, I feel as if it’s in my wheelhouse. We’re going to take as our text the film First Cow, which managed to be completely ignored in 2019 despite having a lot of what Oscar appears to look for. Was it the woman director crafting a film with essentially no women characters (Alia Shawkat in the beginning notwithstanding)? Was it the fact that much of the cast is lesser known? That the plot of the movie isn’t controversial? A combination of these things? Something else?

First Cow really is a very simple movie. It’s also one of those rare movies that gives us a sense of the way things are going to end and then the rest of the movie is going to get there. That beginning is an unknown woman (Shawkat) discovering two human skeletons laying side-by-side in the present day. From here, we jump back in time to 1820 and meet Otis “Cookie” Figowitz (John Magaro), who is travelling through Oregon Country as the cook for a group of trappers. One evening, he encounters King-Lu (Orion Lee) who is on the run for killing a Russian man. Otis lets King sleep in his tent for the night and then sees him off in the morning.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, September 2021

I spent a lot of time in September preparing for the last ten days of October and my traditional run of 40 posts in the lead-up to Halloween. Despite this, I also managed to knock out six movies on this list. I did a little more than that, actually--I watched all three of the latest Star Trek movies, for instance. I also finally got around to watching Pumping Iron, which I strongly recommend. I'm not sure how many I'll get through in October, since I'm still trying to get ready for the 22nd and beyond, but I guess we'll see in a month.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Levee's Going to Break

Films: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen

Sometimes you can tell that a movie isn’t merely based on a play but hasn’t done a great deal to separate itself from its staged roots. That was definitely the case with Fences from a couple of years ago; I knew that was a stage play within a few minutes despite not knowing it was a play. I experienced the same thing with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. And, with a little digging, it makes sense. Denzel Washington is the producer of this film, and it’s the second film he’s worked on from playwright August Wilson; Washington’s goal is to produce all ten of his Century Cycle. In that respect, the two movies are closely related.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom takes place in Chicago on a single day in July of 1927. Blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis, who is almost completely unrecognizable) has been contracted to make a couple of records for a producer in Chicago by her manager Irvin (Jeremy Shamos). Her main trio of players, trombonist Cutler (Colman Domingo), bassist Slow Drag (Michael Potts), and pianist Toledo (Glynn Turman) arrive on time. Hot shot trumpeter Levee (Chadwick Boseman in his final role) shows up shortly thereafter sporting a new pair of very expensive shoes. Levee isn’t in Ma Rainey’s group for the long haul. He has been promised by studio executive Mel Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne) that he can record some of his own music in the near future.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to (Go to) Waste

Films: The Father
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen

My father is 86 years old and will be 87 in January. Right now, his biggest concern is that he is starting to slip a bit mentally. He thinks his memory is going, for instance, and it’s true that there are some things do seem to have slipped his memory. Dad has always been his mind more than anything; he’s always needed to be the smartest man in the room. Any sign of mental lapse worries him, and he obsesses about it. All of this made The Father a very hard watch for me.

This is very much a story about dementia. Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is suffering from a mental decline that is rapidly increasing. At various points in the movie, he is in his own apartment, that of his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) and a nursing home. We move between these locations and between days without warning and without any real indication of what is happening. Time becomes a thing of fluidity. Anne may be moving to Paris, even though they don’t speak English there (a common refrain from Anthony). Is she moving there because she met a man named Paul (Rufus Sewell)? Is Paul her ex-husband? The answer seems to be yes, depending on where we are in the movie.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Konami Code

Films: Silent Hill
Format: DVD from Earlville Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen

Movie adaptations of video games have a pretty sorry reputation, and with good reason. They are generally terrible. Even the best of them either aren’t that good or approach decency by being more tangentially related to the game in question. Because I don’t tend to watch this end of the movie spectrum, I don’t get to talk about my past that much. I worked in the game industry for about a dozen years. I edited a PC gaming magazine for a while and I wrote about three dozen strategy guides, mostly for Prima, and none after 2003 (think original Xbox days). I should be (or should have been) more or less the target audience for these, and a film like Silent Hill would seem to be a natural.

Well, for what it’s worth, after 1996 I didn’t really play much that I wasn’t specifically paid to play. I didn’t do the book for Silent Hill (the closest I got thematically was probably Clive Barker’s Undying), so I went into the movie more or less cold. I specialized in PC games, so Silent Hill was never really on my radar. Anyway, I knew little more than “survival horror,” so it is in my wheelhouse both in terms of games I played/wrote about and movies I like. I went into this cautiously optimistic.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

And Then!...And Then!...And Then!

Films: Army of the Dead
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on various players.

We need to talk about Zack Snyder. He seems like he’s a pretty decent guy. For instance, when Chris D’Elia was accused of sexual predatory behavior, he was removed from Army of the Dead and digitally replaced with Tig Notaro. First, Tig Notaro should replace a lot of people in things. Second, despite the fact that this move cost the production company millions, it was important in the post-#MeToo era to remove predators from whatever we can.

But here’s the thing: Zack Snyder isn’t really that good of a filmmaker. He wants to be, and he has some interesting ideas, but he just doesn’t have the skill to really pull off those ideas in a credible way. Snyder always comes across like he’s making his first movie and he’s a little too young to really know what he’s doing. A lot of his ideas come across as better as ideas, or better handled by a more experienced filmmaker. That’s very much the case with Army of the Dead.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Retirement Plan

Films: Nobody
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Before I talk about Nobody in detail, I want to talk in general about action movies as a genre. We live in a world that has a huge number of problems, many of which seem completely unsolvable. But whatever our problems, we have solved the issue of making action movies. Over the last number of years, movies that would qualify as close as we’re likely to get to perfection. John Wick, the Raid movies, Fury Road, Kingsmen, much of the MCU, and a few others are better than anything from the past other than what we’re going to remember based on nostalgia.

For good or ill, Nobody is going to join that company. Everything I have to say that is positive about this film is something that could equally be said in the negative. It is the same perfection of those films listed above, but that’s just it—it’s the same perfection. Aside from the details, there isn’t anything you haven’t seen before here. And that’s both good and a little disappointing.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Chekhov's Syringe

Films: Warlock
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

There are times when I think I’ve seen something before, but I’m not sure until a particular point in the movie. That was definitely the case with Warlock. I was almost certain that I had seen it before, but I didn’t have any real solid memory of it until about halfway through it. There are a couple of moments are surprisingly memorable. A couple for good reasons and one or two because Warlock has some effects that are almost embarrassing, even for 1989.

Warlock is a hard movie to place in terms of its target audience. There are some odd similarities to movies like The Terminator and Time After Time. Essentially, we have a, well, warlock (Julian Sands) several centuries past who is looking to complete a tome of power called the Grand Grimoire. The book has the power to, in the parlance of the time, unmake the world. But the warlock is foiled by Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant). Still, being a warlock means having some powerful allies. He manages to free himself with the assistance of Satan himself, who whisks him a few centuries into the future to the film’s present. Redferne manages to follow and shows up in the present as well.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

It's What's Inside That Counts

Films: Inside (A L’interieur)
Format: DVD borrowed from a friend on rockin’ flatscreen

There are plenty of films that I don’t want to watch, and some of them I’ve managed to sit through. There are a few on the They Shoot Zombies list I’m guessing I will never see, not because I can’t find them but because I don’t want to sit through them. A film right on the edge of that line is Inside (or A L’Interieur if you prefer the French, since this is French Extremity). This film has an 82 minute run time and, depending on how you count things, somewhere between seven and 10 deaths. Seven of those are unbelievably brutal. This is a film that is absolutely painted in blood over the last hour or so.

I’m going to keep this simple, because this is not a film I can say that I enjoyed. We start with photographer Sarah (Alysson Paradis) who gets into a terrible car accident while five months pregnant. The accident kills her husband and the people in the other car.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, August 2021

In August, my wife and I became empty nesters. Kid #2 has headed off to college, and naturally that came with a few days of heavy lifting, moving, and dealing with COVID in crowds larger than I’ve become accustomed to. I also spent some time watching a few weird Ozploitation films like Turkey Shoot and Harlequin that weren’t on any lists. I’ve also been trying to gear up for Halloween, since I traditionally post 40 reviews over the last 10 days of October, and that requires a lot of advanced planning (I have 23 reviews ready, so I’m getting there). That being the case, it’s just a trio this month.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Mutton to See Here

Films: A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen

I’ve always had a bit of a warm fuzzy for Aardman animation. I was introduced to Wallace and Gromit more than a couple of decades ago, and I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since. That said, I am less entranced with the Shaun the Sheep projects. If you don’t know the history, Shaun the Sheep is what we would have called a spin-off back in the day. He was a character in a Wallace and Gromit short called A Close Shave, and much like Snoopy in Peanuts cartoons, he soon became the focus. Shaun has his own television show, and now has two movies, the latest being A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon.

The thing to know going into this is that Shaun the Sheep doesn’t talk. He laughs and makes a lot of vocal noises, but he doesn’t actually talk. None of the characters talk. I don’t know if this is the case for the television show, but for this movie and the previous Shaun movie (called, unimaginatively Shaun the Sheep Movie), the plot plays out in large respect like a silent comedy. Basically, everyone is Gromit in that respect.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Black Mass, After a Fashion

Films: The Church (La Chiesa)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Readers who have been here long enough and seen enough reviews of Italian horror movies know what my issue is with the style. If you’re new here, it’s this: Italian horror movies are long on style and short on coherence. They typically don’t really follow any sort of plan. The vast majority of them appear to be several scenes that the writer and/or director really wanted to include, and then something approaching a plot was pieced together so that all of those scenes could appear in whatever the movie turned out to be. The Church (or La Chiesa in the original Italian) was written in part by often plot-free director Dario Argento, so I didn’t have a lot of hopes for it. Imagine my surprise when The Church turned out to have an actual coherent plot with a legitimate third act.

We’re going to start in the past, where a group of knights destroys an entire village alleged to be populated by devil worshippers. All of the bodies are dumped into a single pit, and as one of the bodies starts to move again, they are buried, and a huge cathedral is built over the site in the hopes of keeping the evil at bay. See, that’s a plot hook that makes a certain amount of sense! Amazing!

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Bloody Good

Films: Dracula Has Risen from the Grave
Format: DVD from Putnam County Public Library through interlibrary loan on various players.

I have a love of Hammer horror movies, and honestly I think anyone who has any affinity for horror probably feels the same way. The Hammer films are a sort of a tangible bridge between the tamer Gothic horror tales and weird science fiction through the ‘50s and the much harder and violent horror of the ‘70s. Many of the Hammer films are darker than the earlier films, often bloodier and grittier. But they also resurrect many of the classic Universal monsters and bring them forward, if not in setting in most cases, at least in terms of color and violence. Actors like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee made a lot of their bones in films like this, often play opposite each other. Dracula Has Risen from the Grave is generally forgotten in the Hammer series, and it’s far better than that sad fate.

In a small Eastern European town in the early 20th century, there are terrible memories of the reign of Count Dracula. But we are a year past that as the movie starts, and while Dracula himself no longer curses the town, his shadow is still on the area and the people. The local priest (Ewan Hooper) has more or less given up on holding mass, forcing a visit from the area’s monsignor (Rupert Davies). He treks up to Dracula’s castle and exorcises it, planting a massive golden cross across the door.

Friday, August 20, 2021

All the Scenes at Once!

Films: City of the Living Dead ( Paura Nella Citta Dei Morti Viventi)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

If I live to be 200 years old, I will never understand Italian horror movies in general. Much like I feel that a great deal of anime passes over me because I always feel like there are cultural elements that are assumed I would know and I don’t, Italian horror always leaves me feeling lost I am constantly under the impression that most of the movies come at the plot secondarily at best. So many Italian horror films feel like a series of loosely connected set pieces. The director has a few ideas (“Let’s have a woman literally puke up her guts! Let’s attack people with maggots! Let’s have a guy killed on a drilling lathe!”) and then tries to patch them together in a loose semblance of story. I’ve had that sense before with Italian horror, but never as much as I did with City of the Living Dead (also known as Paura Nella Citta Dei Morti Viventi).

That being the case, I’m not really sure how much sense a plot summary is going to make. At a séance in New York, a medium named Mary (Catriona MacColl) experiences a vision of a priest named Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) hanging himself, which is evidently going to cause an army of the living dead to rise up. Mary collapses and does such a convincing job of this that everyone thinks she’s dead. Eventually, she’ll be saved by journalist Peter Bell (Christopher George) as she is being buried. This, clearly was an early set piece idea of Fulci’s since getting to this point means that Mary was able to convincingly appear dead to multiple doctors, make it through a funeral service, and get to the gravesite in the coffin without being embalmed. Like I said, it’s a series of set pieces that are loosely stitched together regardless of how they might make sense.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

The Blind Leading the Blind

Films: The Dark Eyes of London (The Human Monster)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

I spend a little time each month researching where I can find movies on my various lists. A lot of the really early movies are harder to find. Services like NetFlix and Amazon Prime, and even the free film libraries like Tubi and Pluto don’t have a lot of the weirder films pre-1940. I discovered that The Dark Eyes of London was playing on Tubi and I figured I’d give it a watch. Then I couldn’t find it; I didn’t realize that it had also been released under the more prurient but far less evocative name The Human Monster.

The original title is a much more interesting one, because in this case, the “dark eyes” refer to a collection of men who are blind. We’re not going to start here, though; we’re going to start with the recovery of a drowned body in the Thames. There’s been a rash of such bodies we learn, and the police seem to be unable to find any leads because, well, this is a movie. Finally, someone comes up with the brilliant idea of seeing who held the insurance policies on those corpses, and it turns out that all of them were insured by a guy named Dr. Orloff (Bela Lugosi), who runs a very small insurance business and who spends most of his time on charity work with the blind. It just so happens that this home for the blind is right along the Thames, because of course it is.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Jane Wick

Films: Gunpowder Milkshake
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

I think we could make the case that in the last decade or so, the action movie has essentially been perfected. There are great action movies from the past, of course, but films like John Wick, Dredd, The Raid, Mad Max: Fury Road and more are precisely what is wanted from an action movie. Fury Road was the realization of that for me; I went in wanting two hours of car chases and explosions and, counting credits, that’s what I got. There are others that walk in those same circles, even if they aren’t quite there. Wanted and Taken, for instance, play in that same hyper-action field. The Kingsmen series fits in there, as does the underseen The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Atomic Blonde is essentially a James Bond film with a woman in the lead role. And into this crowded room of gunslingers and assassins walks Gunpowder Milkshake.

Based on what I have called this review, it won’t be a huge surprise to anyone that this is very much a woman-driven version of John Wick, although there are big nods to Wanted as well. Like both of those films, we are deep in a world of a secret cabal of assassins. In this case, it is a shadowy organization called The Firm. Scarlet (Lena Headey) is one of their top assassins, but she gets into some trouble and is forced to make a quick disappearance, leaving her daughter Sam (eventually played by Karen Gillan) in the care of Nathan (Paul Giamatti).

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Strange Fruit

Films: The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on Fire!

I believe that in the past, probably on my review of Breathless, that I have mentioned my parents’ past history with Jean Seberg. I bring this up because Jean Seberg was targeted by name by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI because of her support for the Black Panthers and other causes that were deemed radical by society at the time. How does this connect to The United States vs. Billie Holiday? Because that is the essential point of this movie. While perhaps not all of Lady Day’s problems stemmed from the persecution she suffered at the hands of Johnny Law, a hell of a lot of them did, and plenty of them were trumped up and designed to make her comply.

So what was the issue? Billie’s rampant heroin use was what the Feds focused on because it was a tangible issue that could be brought to bear against her. The truth is that the government wanted her silenced because of the song “Strange Fruit,” about lynchings in the American South. The song, we are told, is a rabble rousing song, one that gets people ready to protest and fight, and the government didn’t want that. And so, Billie Holiday became the scapegoat for anything the government could think of. They also planted drugs and paraphernalia or her more than once.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Putting Down Roots

Films: Minari
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on various players

I’ve been mulling over what I want to say about Minari for a little more than a day. It’s not that I didn’t like it; as a matter of fact, I think it’s a lovely movie in many respects. It’s that I genuinely don’t know what I have to say about it. It doesn’t feel like a movie that generates a great deal of conversation in a lot of ways. There are plenty of places where it could generate conversation tuned in a different way, but it is the movie that it.

Minari is the story of the Yi family in the mid-1980s Jacob: (Steven Yeun), Monica (Han Ye-ri), and children Anne (Noel Kate Cho), and David (Alan Kim). David, we learn, has a heart problem, and his parents tell him constantly not to run. We also learn that Jacob and Monica are much happier speaking Korean while Anne and David speak Korean, but also speak English like American natives. The Yis have moved to Arkansas from California. In Arkansas, Monica is able to work as a chicken sexer (she wasn’t fast enough for California). Jacob does the same work, but is really there to start a farm. His goal is to grow Korean vegetables to feed the thousands of Koreans moving to the U.S.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, July 2021

Another month down. July was a difficult month for me and I’m happy to see it in the rearview mirror. I knocked five off the giant list this month, which is better than some in the past. It was a mixed bag this month—a couple I expected to like more than I did and one in particular I enjoyed far more than I thought I would. That, of course, is the point to all of this.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Vampire Weekend

Films: Byzantium
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on Fire!

How exactly do I explain a film like Byzantium? On the surface, this is a vampire movie, but it’s a vampire movie unlike any I’ve seen before. It’s one that very much creates its own mythology, its own method of vampire creation, and a great deal more. It’s also terribly melodramatic in places, but in a way that is surprisingly appealing. It’s gritty at times, and seedy, with several moments of surprising violence, and yet there is a great deal of poetry here. And for whatever reason, no one seems to know this movie.

We are first introduced to the two women we will spend most of the movie with. Clara (Gemma Arterton) works as a stripper while Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) appears to be just a bit too young to be employed. What we learn right away is that these are women who are something other than human. Eleanor, we learn, writes the story of her life frequently and tosses the pages to the wind. Some of them have been collected by an old man who lives in the same building; he claims he knows what she is and asks her to kill him. She does, and we learn that she is, more or less, a vampire.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Send Nudes!

Films: Lifeforce
Format: Streaming video from Pluto TV on Fire!

Stop me if you’ve heard this plot before. A group of human space travelers find an alien spacecraft that appears to be filled with the bodies of dead alien life forms. It turns out that the alien creatures aren’t as dead as believed, and they wake up and start feeding on the humans, frequently by literally hiding inside of them. Sounds a bit like Alien, no? Well, in this case, it’s Lifeforce, and while this was based on a book called “The Space Vampires,” the screenplay was written in part by Dan O’Bannon, who wrote Alien.

Lifeforce, while vastly different from Alien, has a great deal in common with it. It’s also got a lot of things that Alien doesn’t have. Primarily, it has Mathilda May, who spends the vast majority of her seven or so minutes of screen time completely nude. Frequent readers of this blog will note that I’m not a gorehound when it comes to horror movies. I’m similarly not a sexhound. It’s hard not comment on it because it often seems like the entire point of the film.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

We Won't Get Fooled Again

Films: April Fool’s Day
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

I'm back, and I apologize for the brief hiatus. Family issues (a death in the family from last month lead to a service this month, and that included travel and then having to catch up on work) caused me to be away. But I'm back, and ready to close out this month and hope that August is better.

I’m going to spoil April Fool’s Day. I’m telling you that up front and before the break so that if you don’t want this 35-year-old movie spoiled for you, you can move on, or you can watch it on Amazon Prime and then come back and read this. There are worse ways to spend 89 minutes, but there are better ways, too. I’m just going to leave that here so that you can also decide if it’s worth your time to check this out or not. Honestly, I’d recommend against it.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Strange Weather We're Having

Films: The Devil’s Rain
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Sometimes you just can’t explain a movie. That’s certainly the case with The Devil’s Rain, a low-budget horror movie with substantially goofy special effects that has an absolutely staggering cast list. I have no idea what the budget for this was, but most of it had to be the cast. That said, it’s worth noting that Ernest Borgnine has stated that this was made with Mafia money and that he never got paid for his work on the film.

So let’s talk about that cast for a moment. Ernest Borgnine is a stand-out, but much of the rest of the cast is stellar as well. William Shatner! Tom Skerritt! Ida Goddam Lupino! Eddie Albert and Keenan Wynn! John Travolta in an early role! And arch-fiend Anton LeVay himself as a satanic high priest. I have absolutely no explanation for any of this.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Cold Reception, Too

Films: Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt)
Format: DVD from Earlville Library on the new portable.

There are times when I watch something, get to the end, and really wonder what the hell I’m going to say about it. Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt in the original Norwegian) is one of those films. This is the sort of film that, when it finishes, feels like you haven’t really seen anything at all. It’s almost entirely transparent in that respect. There isn’t so much a plot as there is a series of consecutive events, many of which involve a killer with a pickaxe. And then, a touch more than 90 minutes after it starts, the credits roll, and not a single person’s life is different in any meaningful way.

A group of five young people head out to the middle of nowhere to go snowboarding, because (surprise, surprise) winter sports are a big deal in Norway. Our five are Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), her boyfriend Eirik (Tomas Alf Larsen), newly minted couple Ingunn (Viktoria Winge) and Mikal (Endre Martin Midtstigen), and fifth wheel Morten Tobias (Rolf Kristian Larsen). They get to a completely out of the way part of the mountain and start down. And, just like mom always said, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. In this case, it’s Morten Tobias, who takes a bad spill and breaks his leg.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Pardon Me, but Your Teeth are in My Neck

Films: The Fearless Vampire Killers (Dance of the Vampires)
Format: DVD from North Suburban Library District through interlibrary loan on various players.

I didn’t realize how successful Roman Polanski’s comedy/horror film The Fearless Vampire Killers (originally titled Dance of the Vampires and sometimes accompanied with the subtitle Pardon Me, but Your Teeth are in My Neck, hence the title of this review) really was. There’s a musical version of it originally in German that played on Broadway. It’s also, as far as I know, Polanski’s only dip into comedy. That’s honestly probably a good thing, because this is not a comedy that has aged well.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here, though. The comedy hasn’t aged well. The rest of the movie actually has, more or less. The Fearless Vampire Killers is not that funny, and the humor it contains doesn’t translate to the modern age very well. But without the comedy, it’s still not a bad little vampire movie. It’s not great by any stretch, but it’s not bad.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Blood is Thicker...

Films: Ganja & Hess
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on Fire!

Sometimes, you do yourself a disservice seeing things out of order. That’s absolutely the case with me and Ganja & Hess (called Blood Couple in a disowned recut version, and sometimes called Black Vampire). This is very much the second version of this story I’ve seen, and kind of the third. Spike Lee remade this film as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus, not one of his better films. There are also a lot of aspects of this in the film Thirst, which is probably the best version of the basic story. It also came out less than a year after Blacula, which will naturally have some similarities. But Ganja & Hess is the first, but the last that I’ve seen. And so I’m naturally going to compare this to other versions of the same story unfairly. What feels derivative here is only derivative in my own mind.

Ganja & Hess is a low-budget experimental horror film. It’s also the second and final starring role for Duane Jones, most famous for his first role in Night of the Living Dead. There are no zombies in this movie. Instead, this is a kind of vampire film. These are not traditional vampires, but they have many of the characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses we have come to expect from the bloodsuckers of lore.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Home, Not Alone

Films: The Collector (2009)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

I got an Amazon Fire for Father’s Day, which will be one of the ways I end up watching a lot of streaming movies in the future. The Collector may be the first movie I’ve reviewed with this viewing method, but it’s not the first movie I watched on this device. I broke it in with something better and far less odious.

The horror world has a number of subgenres. For instance, there is the torture porn subgenre, of which I am very much not a fan. There’s also the home invasion subgenre, which has a surprisingly large number of films in it. The Collector from 2009 (not to be confused with the vastly superior film of the same name from the ‘60s) is a bit of both. It’s also a film that requires a vast amount of suspension of disbelief. To make The Collector work in your head, you have to make a lot of allowances for what is happening on the screen. This is a reverse of Home Alone, where the home intruder has managed to set up a number of dangerous and potentially lethal booby traps. How? When did he find the time to do this? Shut up and turn your brain off and watch the movie.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Harder Candy

Films: Promising Young Woman
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

Revenge movies are a very particular thing. Typically, if you have a revenge picture written about a woman by a man, you get something like I Spit on Your Grave--cheap, tawdry, and filled with a lot of gratuitous and unpleasant nudity. Sometimes, you might get something more like Last House on the Left, which is still unpleasant, although with some moral message. Years ago, a woman writing this story might pen something closer to The Girl Most Likely to…, which gets rid of a lot of the gratuitous nastiness and is both darker and funnier. In the “Me Too” era, though, we get Promising Young Woman.

Promising Young Woman feels like the natural extension of the Me Too Movement. While there are moments here that are darkly comic, this is a film that is deadly serious at its core and that is focused not just on the concept of toxic masculinity, but on the reaction to it. Cassie Thomas (Carrie Mulligan) is a medical school drop-out now working a dead-end job in a coffee shop with Gail (Laverne Cox). At night, she pursues her real job. Cassie spends her time in bars and nightclubs pretending to be drunk, waiting to get picked up by predatory men, and then revealing the fact that she is completely sober to them as they try to take advantage of her.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, June 2021

Well, here we are in July, the year just about half done. This year is going by very quickly, it seems, and as good as my intentions are for putting up reviews (and even watching movies) are always far better than my reality. Only three movies off the list this month. As always, hope for better next month.

What I’ve Caught Up With, June 2021:
Film: The Parallax View (1974)

The middle film in Alan J. Pakula’s “Paranoia Trilogy” is by far the darkest. Where Klute has something approaching a Hollywood resolution and All the President’s Men ends with something like closure on a real-world scandal, The Parallax View is a film that plays into the worst of conspiracy thinking. It is reminiscent in many ways of films like Three Days of the Condor. This is a dark film, appropriate for the time, and playing into those same dark ideas of conspiracy and a dark cabal running the world and committing political assassination almost at will. For some reason, this was overlooked come Oscar time and received no nominations. I have no idea how we live in a world where that is true.

Film: The Dish (2000)

I genuinely like this movie so damn much. When asked to recommend something that people don’t know, The Dish is my go-to. It’s genuinely funny, has great characters and a really good story. It helps that I’m a NASA nerd, and this is about the first moon landing. Specifically, it’s about the radio telescope in a little town in Australia that helped broadcast Apollo 11’s signals, and about the men who run it. Many of the actors didn’t do a lot else, and that actually helps it, because it makes them so believable in these roles. It also has one of the best music jokes of the last several decades. Track this down—you won’t be disappointed.

Film: Bad Boys 2 (2003)

Danny Butterman would be disappointed in me that I hadn’t seen Bad Boys 2 before now (I have seen Point Break), but there it is. And now, having watched Bad Boys and then this, I have to wonder why I bothered. I know that people like this movie a lot, but this is every bad stereotype and every possible cop movie trope shoved into two movies. It’s misogynistic and surprisingly racist for a movie starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Loosely connected explosions and gun battles matched with anti-gay “jokes” makes for an unpleasant watch, at least for me. Whoosah.