Monday, February 22, 2021

Not Fade Away

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

There are some hard truths when it comes to films. When we talk about great horror movies, for instance, the classics of the mid-‘80s and before (and perhaps well into the ‘90s) come from men, generally speaking. That’s not shocking when you consider that most movies of that era were directed by men. But these days, a lot of the more interesting and vital work in the horror genre is being done by women. In fact, if you remove white men from the horror genre right now, you’re not losing a great deal with the exception of Leigh Whannell. I’m sure I’m forgetting someone—use the comments for that.

Anyway, that brings me to Relic, which is the feature-length debut of director Natalie Erika James. I’d heard good things about Relic and was interested to see it. This is a pared-down film, one that works well as a directorial debut because of the scope. James’s work is ambitious in the sense of what she wants to convey with the story, but is limited in the places where she can limit it without damaging that story. There are only a handful of characters here, for instance, and really only three we’re going to spend a lot of time with. While we’re going to move around a bit, most of what we’re going to do is stay put in a single (admittedly disturbingly convoluted) house. Relic runs about 90 minutes and dismisses a lot of frills. It sticks to the story, the characters, and the meaning, and because of that, it works pretty well.

Edna (Robyn Nevin) goes missing from her house. Her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcoate) travel to her secluded home to help look for her. Her house is locked from the inside, and there is evidence of a disturbing black mold growing in parts of the house. There are signs that Edna is slipping mentally; primarily this comes in the form of handwritten Post-It notes around the house. Kay and Sam spend a difficult time in the house, plagued by nightmares, spreading mold, and strange noises from inside the walls.

Eventually, Edna shows up again, unaware that she was missing. She appears mentally and physically whole, aside from a large black bruise in the middle of her chest. This bruise looks suspiciously like the mold growing in the house. But Edna is clearly fading. Kay considers putting her in a nursing home. Meanwhile, she has a tender moment or two with granddaughter Sam, but also suddenly turns on her. More and more, Edna’s actions are incomprehensible. Kay finds her behind the house tearing photos out of the family album and eating them, and then burying the album. I’ll stop here. What follows is really the point of the movie, and probably needs to be under a spoiler tag.

* * * BUT WHAT IS THE RELIC? * * *

It’s not hard to see Relic as a sort of allegory about dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, it’s hard not to see it that way. If someone told me Natalie Erika James and/or her co-writer Christian White had dealt with either of those conditions in their families, I would not be remotely shocked. The rot that infests the house is an outward manifestation of the rot going on in Edna’s mind. Her own physical deterioration mirrors the same process.

Much of the third act involves Sam being lost behind the walls of the house. These hidden corridors appear to loop around themselves, and even when she back tracks, she can’t find her way out. They are also filled with the same mold and with piles and piles of junk. These hidden corridors are, metaphorically, Edna’s deteriorating mind. Ultimately, the complete physical deterioration of Edna and the possibility that the same might happen to Kay may mean that Kay will go through this same terrible degradation.

What’s the relic? Possibly this terrible genetic curse handed down from generation to generation. At least that’s my read.

* * * SO THAT’S THE RELIC * * *

This is a story that could have been (and has been) told in a much more straightforward way, assuming my read on the deeper meaning is correct (and, honestly, I can’t see how it’s not). So why make this as a horror movie? Because there are some real horror moments here—some ugly and gruesome moments. The true horror of what’s happening to Edna needs to for the ultimate impact.

This is a smart movie. It’s a little dark in places, but it’s a movie like Get Out that seems far too mature for a first-time director. I’m hoping we see great things out of Natalie Erika James, because based on this, she’s got some chops.

Why to watch Relic: A solid debut from a director I hope gets more work.
Why not to watch: It’s a little dark (physically, not emotionally) in places.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Prodigy Song Not Included

Film: Firestarter
Format: DVD from Kankakee Public Library through interlibrary loan on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

I’ve jumped on this train before and I’m going to keep jumping on it—Stephen King doesn’t always translate to film well. Some of the movies based on his work are tremendous, all-time classics. Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and others certainly lead the pack. But a lot of his work just doesn’t make the transition very well. Maximum Overdrive comes to mind. And then…there’s a big, squishy middle area with films like Firestarter.

I’d seen Firestarter before, although it had been much more than a decade since my last watch. I remembered enough to be able to recall the basic story. I remembered that this is one of the few King stories that features The Shop, a shadowy government agency that deals with the paranormal, mental abilities, and the like. The people at The Shop would love to have gotten their hands on someone like Carrie White, for instance. The Shop is one of those world-building things that really should have been used more in King’s work.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Lizard Brain

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

I foresee this is going to be a shorter review than normal. For starters, Gorgo is a shorter movie than normal. It is also a movie that appeared in the ninth season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, either fairly or unfairly. The big reason that I think this might be a shorter review than normal is that there isn’t a great deal to say about Gorgo. This is, honestly, nothing more than Godzilla with British accents.

“But Steve,” I hear you say, “how can you be that dismissive? Shouldn’t you give the movie a fair shake?” Yes, and I’m not saying I didn’t give the movie a fair shake. But I am completely serious when I say that this is just a British Godzilla. It’s not a point-by-point remake, but the basic idea is the same (there’s even a monster child). Honestly, it’s more like the plot of King Kong being run with a Godzilla-like monster. Kong software on Godzilla hardware, if you like.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Happy Valentine's Day!

Film: Ready or Not
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

A lot of people recommended Ready or Not to me, so when I saw it on the New Arrival shelf at one of the local libraries I use, I figured I should grab it. I’m not surprised that this library had it; they have a fantastic movie collection, something well north of 5000 discs. I go at least once a week just to see what new has arrived.

Ready or Not is classified as a horror-comedy and it sort of is. It’s definitely a horror movie and it very much has some comedic elements, but there are parts of this that are absolutely deadly serious. There’s also a specific moment in this that is—without guts, grue, or hitting any of my specific triggers—one of the most stomach-turning moments I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. This is not a complaint. It’s just a statement of fact.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Going Out for Italian

Film: Innocent Blood
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

Of all of the basic monster types, vampires are probably the ones who have the most movies about them. Most of them make a few changes to the basic idea of vampire lore, anatomy, or what have you, but they all follow the basics. One thing that a lot of vampire movies have in common is the existential dread that vampires seem to feel about being predators. While there’s a little of that in Innocent Blood (also known by the awesome title of A French Vampire in America), the film does away with a lot of that by having the main prey of the vampires be the criminal underworld.

That right there would set apart Innocent Blood from virtually every other vampire movie going. Our bloodsucker, a French vampire named Marie (Anne Parillaud), survives specifically by preying on the worst elements of society. As the film begins, we find ourselves dealing with the mob. She overlooks a potential meal in Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia) and settles instead on another crime figure (Chazz Palminteri). When she’s done feeding, she shoots the mobster in the face to prevent him from coming back.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Poe's Law?

Film: The Raven
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on the new portable.

While I like a lot of modern horror movies (when they aren’t just gratuitously gory), there’s a part of me that truly loves the old school stuff. The Raven is from 1935 and features both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, so it’s very much in that wheelhouse. It’s also a movie that manages to offer only a very tangential connection to its source material. The connections are that one character likes Poe a lot and at one point there is an interpretive dance while someone reads the poem. No, really.

We start with a car accident. Jean Thatcher (Irene Ware) crashes her car and lies at the brink of death. Her father (Samuel S. Hinds) pleads with noted but retired doctor Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi) to come out of retirement to save his daughter. Vollin is eventually persuaded to do so, and naturally his skill is what pulls Jean through. Shortly thereafter, Jean performs the aforementioned interpretive Raven dance.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

The Louder the Better?

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

Sometimes I dread writing these reviews. It’s great when I feel like there’s a lot to say about a movie, and most of the time, that’s most movies. There’s almost always something worth picking apart or getting into. With The Relic, I feel like there’s not a hell of a lot to talk about. There’s a very basic monster plot, we have good guy and bad guy scientists, there are a few gruesome deaths and a few unexplained deaths, and there are some Stan Winston creature effects. And, after well over 100 minutes, the credits finally roll.

We start with a scientist (Lewis Van Bergen) undergoing a ritual with a South American native tribe. Something goes wrong for the scientist, at least we believe, when he tries to retrieve what he is shipping back to his museum in Chicago turns out to not be on the ship. Jump cut to Chicago about six weeks later, the ship evidently having gone directly from the Amazon rain forest up through the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River to Lake Michigan (in the original novel, the ship docks in New York) to reveal a dead crew, many of whom have their heads discovered in the ship’s bilge.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, January 2021

It was a slim month in terms of catching up with movies on the big list (and it is a big list—still well over 1000 movies on it). I almost completed my rewatch of the whole James Bond filmography, though, getting through all four of the Pierce Brosnan Bonds and the first three of the Daniel Craigs (I’ve finished Spectre by now, just not in January). Naturally, that took up a lot of my movie watching time. Happy Death Day was on the unwatched list as well, but I did a full review of that one—it deserved it. I also finally watched the final movie on the latest 1001 Movies list. For movies that weren’t on the recommended list that I watched anyway, I heartily recommend Behind the Curve, especially if you are feeling good about humanity in general. This one will wake you up to the fact that we are a failed species.

What I’ve Caught Up With, January 2021:
Film: North Dallas Forty

I hadn’t seen this in probably 15 years, and it’s a worthy rewatch. Nick Nolte plays a battered professional football player in the era where the fame and glamour was there, but the money wasn’t. Nolte’s wide receiver Phillip Elliott drinks too much and takes too many drugs, and then takes more to keep playing. This is not a film about the rigors of football, though, at least once you get below the surface. It’s kind of a buddy film between Nolte and Mac Davis, who plays the team’s quarterback. But how good can buddies be when they are mercenaries? While a comedy in many ways, North Dallas Forty is pitch black in the lessons we take away from it. This is among Nolte’s best work on camera.

Film: Dolores Claiborne

Stephen King doesn’t always translate to film well, but sometimes, he really, really does. Dolores Claiborne is an interesting King story in the sense that there is no supernatural element here. No, the horrors are more prosaic, and because of that, a lot more real. Kathy Bates plays the titular role about as well as possible, and she is ably assisted by Jennifer Jason Leigh as her estranged substance abuse-riddled daughter. A good supporting cast helps here as well. The story is a good one, and the reveals are surprising and dark. It’s too long, though. Cut 20 minutes from this, and this is a much tighter and better movie.

Film: Batman: The Movie

When it’s done accidentally, camp can be a lot of fun. Most of the time, intentional camp feels forced and doesn’t work. Batman from 1966 is the exception that proves the rule. This is a completely ridiculous movie in almost every aspect, but it contains so much of what made the original television show fun. Seriously, Cesar Romero gave so little of a shit that he just put the Joker’s white greasepaint directly over his mustache. I’d have loved to have seen Eartha Kitt here instead of Lee Meriwether as Catwoman, but Frank Gorshin was absolutely the best of the Batman villains as The Riddler. This is dumb, but it’s the right kind of dumb. Shark repellent bat spray? Genius!

Film: Easter Parade

Like many a classic musical, Easter Parade is essentially plotless and in this case serves as a vehicle almost a dozen and a half songs from Irving Berlin. Oh, there’s a romance or three involved and some love triangles that all eventually get sorted out in the end, but we expect that going in. Easter Parade is an excuse to watch Fred Astaire dance and listen to Judy Garland sing, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything more or less than that. And, honestly, it doesn’t really need to be anything more or less than that. Plot would just get in the way of Fred doing a tap routine with a drum kit. It’s nice when studios realized where their money came from and gave us films like this one in vivid color, too.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

My Reunion Was Arguably Worse

Film: Slaughter High
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

There are hierarchies in genre, I think. When it comes to horror movies, I am not a huge fan of slashers. Don’t get me wrong—a good slasher can be a great film, and there are plenty that are fantastic, but as a subgenre, slashers are the ones that feel like the lowest common denominator. So when you get a slasher that is stupid, insulting, or just mean-spirited, you’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel. And, sadly, that’s where we are with Slaughter High, a movie that starts out unbelievably cruel and proceeds to just as unbelievably ignorant.

High school nerd Marty (Simon Scudamore) is the victim of a series of cruel pranks. Promised sex by popular girl Carol (Caroline Munro), he is instead filmed naked and humiliated by his classmates. By way of “apology,” he’s offered a joint that is laced with something like ipecac, which he naturally lights up while working in a chemistry lab in school. While he’s getting sick, his main antagonist Skip (Carmine Iannaconne) puts something in his chemicals that causes a fire, because that’s evidently a funny prank. The fire causes a gigantic bottle of nitric acid to fall of a high shelf and splash on Marty, disfiguring him. Welcome to the first 20 minutes of the movie.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Blaze of Glory

Film: Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on rockin’ flatscreen.

Every year when the latest version of the 1001 Movies list comes out, I decide which of the movies I haven’t seen is going to be the one I save for last. This year, the choice was clearly going to be Portrait of a Lady on Fire (or Portrait de la jeune fille en feu if you prefer the original French). On Letterboxd, 45% of the ratings are five stars, and more than 85% are four stars or more. It was very much a case of saving the best for last.

Sometimes I don’t like to show my hand, but I’m going to for this. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is everything I want in a romance film. It’s beautifully filmed, filled with lingering and tender shots, and best of all, tragic. I’m not apologetic about this—tragic romances are better specifically because they are tragic romances. It’s the yearning that makes them work, that sense of living a whole life in a few days that makes them beautiful. And that, flatly, is Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Glows in the Dark 'Cause He's Iridescent

Film: The Invisible Ray
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s something wonderful about old school horror movies. They aren’t really that scary any more in any real way, but there’s a particular feel to them and style about them that is like nothing else. The Invisible Ray from 1936 is one of those from that era that mixes special effects that look cheap by today’s standards, science that makes absolutely no sense, and overacting typical of the age and genre. It also features Boris Karloff being a bad guy and a rare turn for Bela Lugosi as a selfless hero.

Unorthodox scientist Janos Rukh (Karloff) calls a group of scientists together to witness a new experiment in his house. Rukh has invented a telescope that can collect unique rays from what he calls the Andromeda Nebula that can reveal past events on the Earth. Essentially, this ray allows Rukh to “travel” back in time in the sense that he can move to a distant place and view the earth—and because he is light years away, he is seeing past events. He can also project these events. He does so, and the event he shows everyone is a meteor laden with an unknown element crashing into southern Africa.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Cancer of the Pseudonym

Film: The Dark Half
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

Stephen King sometimes recycles locations and, because of this, characters. Sheriff Alan Pangborn, the thin blue line in the city of Castle Rock, Maine. If you’re watching “Castle Rock,” you know the character, played by Scott Glenn. Alan Pangborn shows up in a few of King’s novels, and thus a few of King’s movies. In The Dark Half, Pangborn is a more minor character, but he’s also played by Michael Rooker, which is a strong point in the movie’s favor.

The Dark Half is very much a film tied to King’s own career. Just as Misery was a sort of evil love letter to his fans, The Dark Half is King coming to terms with his alter-ego, Richard Bachman. There are a lot of parallels here between the film’s main character, writer and professor Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton), and his pseudonym-come-to-life George Stark (also Timothy Hutton).

Monday, January 25, 2021

My Dog Wasn't This Dangerous

Film: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

About 20 years ago, we decided to get a dog. It was a rare case where I named the pet before we got the pet; I decided that no matter what, that dog was going to be named Baskerville. Bass lived to 16, and my mother never once failed to complain that I had given this name to a corgi mix and not a hound. Anyway, The Hound of the Baskervilles (the 1939 version) has long had a place close to my heart. I’ve seen other versions of this and I’m familiar with the source material in this case. It’s a good story and this is the first pairing of the classic Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce version of Holmes and Watson.

Our story features Holmes and Watson solving the case of a young man named Sir Henry Baskerville (Richard Greene). Sir Henry has just inherited Baskerville Castle on the Scottish moors because of the sudden and surprising death of his uncle. As it happens, there is an ancient curse affecting the Baskerville family. Because of the depravity of an ancient ancestor, the Baskervilles are cursed to be attacked by a giant spectral hound. While the previous lord of the manor is said to have died of a heart attack, many of the people of the area are blaming the hound.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Five for the Price of One

Film: Tales from the Crypt
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

I ride a number of hobby horses on this blog—Tarantino is overrated, “coming of age” stories for girls are always about inappropriate sex—but one that seems to come back over and over all the time is the value (or lack thereof) of horror anthologies. Anthologies are always iffy because the quality is rarely consistent. That said, older anthologies tend to be better in general. That being the case, I had some hope going in to Tales from the Crypt from 1972. That it includes Peter Cushing and Ralph Richardson among others made me hopeful as well.

And, well, it’s not bad. Tales from the Crypt naturally has a framing story and then has five short tales all taken from the pages of EC Comics titles like “The Haunt of Fear” and, well, “Tales from the Crypt.” A group of five people show up for a tour of some catacombs where they are confronted by a robed man (Ralph Richardson), who is our Crypt Keeper. He then shows each of them a tale of dire warning about some terrible misdeed they are planning to commit. Well, kind of. We’ll get to that in a second.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Statistically, a 1-in-365 Chance

Film: Happy Death Day
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on the new portable.

If someone tells you that you should watch Happy Death Day, there is almost a guarantee they will tell you it is a combination of Groundhog Day and Scream. It’s close to an apt comparison. There’s a great deal of Groundhog Day in this movie, and it is also a slasher, but it doesn’t have anything close to the wit that makes Scream as good as it is. This should not be seen as a knock against this movie. To be honest, most horror movies and movies in general don’t have the wit of Scream.

The elevator pitch of Happy Death Day is that Teresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is murdered on her birthday by a mask-wearing killer. Every morning, she wakes up in the dorm room of Carter Davis (Israel Broussard) to live the day out again until she is killed. While the morning and afternoon seems to be the same every day, Tree tries out something different every night, but still ends up dead. When she confesses this to Carter (who forgets every morning, of course), he recommends, since she remembers the previous days, that she attempt to figure out who the killer is. And so, she does.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Not Another Insane Asylum Movie

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

Movies like Gothika make me so angry. I like the bulk of this cast and the plot has a lot of elements that should be right in my wheelhouse, but very little about this movie actually works. This is a surprisingly dumb movie in almost every aspect. There are some good scares and some decent moments here and there, but overall, this is a movie that decides to skate far past the line on implausibility. And, much to the film’s detriment, I’m not talking about the supernatural stuff. I’m willing to buy into ghosts and possession for the length of the running time. No, the problems with Gothika are everything else.

Psychiatrist Miranda Grey (Halle Berry) works in a mental hospital run by her husband, Doug (Charles Dutton). One rainy night, Miranda is driving home and drives off the road when she is startled by a young woman (Kathleen Mackey) in the middle of the road. Miranda has an unexplainable event happen when she approaches the woman. Three days later, she wakes up in a cell in her own asylum under the care of former colleague Pete Graham (Robert Downey Jr.). She discovers that her husband has been brutally murdered and that she is absolutely the prime and only suspect. Got that? Good—if you don’t want Gothika spoiled, stop here. The rest of this review should be considered under a spoiler tag. To really address just how much this movie is a problem, I need to dive into the full range of garbage.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Doctor Is In...Kinda

Film: Dr. Phibes Rises Again
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

I enjoyed The Abominable Dr. Phibes when I watched it. It was strange, but it was right in the wheelhouse of Vincent Price. Our anti-hero, Phibes (Price) was horribly disfigured in a car accident on his way to the hospital where his wife has died on the operating table. Blaming the doctors for his accident and his wife’s death, Phibes takes his revenge on them with bizarre death traps. I didn’t expect or even want a sequel, and yet here we are with Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Phibes is the same, but pretty much nothing else is. This movie is tonally different from the first and goes in directions that the first never really hints at.

At the end of the first movie, Phibes has enacted his revenge, and he joins his wife in a sarcophagus and replaces his blood with embalming fluid. So, naturally, we’re going to reverse that process for this movie. Phibes (still played by Vincent Price), well, rises again. And suddenly Phibes is an expert on an ancient Egyptian burial site and a magical river that gives and restores life to people. His plan is to take the body of his wife Victoria (Caroline Munro) to this place at the right moment in time for her to be resurrected and the two of them to be granted something akin to immortality.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Failed as a Species

Film: For Sama
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I honestly don’t know where to start with a film like For Sama. This was evidently a Frontline documentary shown on PBS stations. The film is essentially a compilation of five years of raw footage from the siege of Aleppo in Syria. I don’t really know the politics except to say that this is more or less the attempted genocide of the Kurdish people. The Syrian government, Hezbollah, and Russian military attacked civilians repeatedly, and the civilians held out for half a decade.

During this time, journalist Waad Al-Kateab went to school at Aleppo before the revolution began, became involved, met her husband Hamza, got pregnant, and gave birth to her daughter, Sama, who is named in the title of the film. The film is very much made for Sama, whose early life was spent in a hospital in the middle of a city being subjected to missile attacks and gunfire, while her mother filmed and her father operated what was eventually the only hospital in that part of the city.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, December 2020

Technically, True Romance wasn't on the list of suggested movies, but I've put it here simply because I think it deserved to be here. It's one I hadn't watched in more than a decade, and I really should have watched it again. Also, it seems like as I take movies off this list, more keep getting added on. I'm consistently at roughly the same total number of films, very much treading water in that respect.

What I’ve Caught Up With, December 2020:
Film: The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

This movie was probably the biggest hole in my Barbara Stanwyck viewing history, and boy, was it worth the wait. Not only does this have Stanwyck at her best, it’s also Van Heflin’s return to the screen after his military service and Kirk Douglas’s screen debut. Young Martha Ivers (Stanwyck) kills her wealthy aunt accidently and winds up in a loveless marriage with childhood friend Walter (Douglas). Their childhood friend Sam (Heflin) returns to town as a drifter and causes trouble because Martha and Walter suspect what he as over them. Also features Lauren Bacal-esque Lizabeth Scott as a potential femme fatale, but it’s Stanwyck who really claims that role. While Stanwyck is the title character, this is absolutely Heflin’s film.

Film: The Court Jester

There are classics of family film, and in that pantheon sits The Court Jester. Like Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye is immediately likeable on screen, someone who we immediately want to “win” the plot. The Court Jester is probably best described as a musical comedy version of Robin Hood, with Kaye as the hapless jester hypnotized, bamboozled, tricked and otherwise forced into plots of rival kings. It’s ridiculously silly, wildly entertaining, and appropriate for any audience. Kaye is ably assisted by a great cast, including Basil Rathbone, Glynis Johns, and Angela Lansbury. How have I not seen this before? How is it possible that Family Classics on WGN Sunday mornings during my childhood never ran this movie?

Film: True Romance

I’ve seen this before, but it’s been more than a decade and it really warranted a rewatch. I’ve never been shy about my distrust for the work of Quentin Tarantino, but I have to hand it to him on this one--True Romance is a dandy screenplay with memorable characters. It’s also a film with a cast list to die for, with some heavy hitters in just one or two scenes throughout. A comic book store clerk played by Christian Slater gets set up with call girl Patricia Arquette by his boss. They decide to get married, the clerk kills her pimp and they run off with a suitcase full of cocaine. The suitcase is the film’s MacGuffin, but it’s really about, well, the true romance. It’s a hell of a fun ride.

Film: The Informant!

This humorous look at a huge price fixing scandal that takes some insane twists and turns as the main mole for the FBI turned out to have embezzled millions of dollars and took kickbacks and lying about virtually every aspect of his life. While the underlying story is incredibly serious, The Informant! is played for laughs, and it really is very funny. Matt Damon is very good as the mole/criminal Mark Whitacre, and the cast is filled with good character actors and comedians, many in small roles. The true standout here, though, is the whimsical and pitch-perfect soundtrack from the late Marvin Hamlisch.

Film: Guns Akimbo

So what do you do if you are Daniel Radcliffe and never need to work again for the rest of your life, but really like making movies? You make insane things like Guns Akimbo. Radcliffe is doing whatever the hell he wants, and that apparently means a comic book-style first-person shooter that is the bizarre hybrid lovechild of The Truman Show and The Running Man. I don’t really want to spoil it by going into plot here because this is a movie that needs to be experienced with a minimum of spoilers. Is it good? I don’t know, but it’s absolutely insane, and I respect the hell out of that insane vision.

Film: Steamboy

The DVD cover art for Steamboy proudly proclaims that it is from the same person as Akira, which should have been something of a warning. Akira is a gorgeous movie, but makes about as much sense as taco-flavored ice cream. Steamboy is a little more coherent, but it’s also a film that is filled with a great deal of bombast. In a steampunk world, a kid named literally Ray Steam deals with his father, grandfather, and others creating steam-powered weapons. It also includes the requisite ultra-annoying shrill character who demands everyone pay attention to her. Pretty but weird, and I don’t buy Anna Paquin’s British Isles (Irish?) accent as Ray MostImportantThingintheWorld…er…Steam.

Film: Bill Cunningham: New York

A fascinating documentary about Bill Cunningham, who is the exact meeting point of fashion photographer and modern cultural anthropologist. While Cunningham did high fashion photography, he became best known for his “On the Street” column in The New York Times. Like many who are obsessive about one particular thing, Cunningham is filled with quirks, but also seemed to be a genuine person, often refusing payment to prevent being controlled. I know nothing about fashion and care even less about it, but this is fascinating not because of the clothing or even the people, but the way trends move and change over time and exactly what that means.

Film: Tickled

What starts bizarrely enough with a video of mens’ competitive endurance tickling events quickly devolves into gay bashing and threats of lawsuits. What is presented, at least by some, as a strange athletic competition turns out to be (not surprisingly) homoerotic low-level BDSM followed up with extortion and threats to the “competitors.” While I do try to live by the motto of “your kink is not my kink but your kink is okay,” when that turns out to be the sort of thing that ends up ruining people’s lives unfairly, it's hard not to feel like that's part of the kink that could be shamed. Fascinating but also terrifying in real ways. Absolutely demands to be seen.

Film: 1922

There are a couple of things that indicate a story was written by Stephen King. If it takes place in Castle Rock, for instance, it’s King. One of the few non-Maine places that belongs to him is Hemingford Home, Nebraska, which is where 1922 takes place. A farmer named Wilfred James quarrels with his wife. He wants to farm; she wants to move to Omaha, or perhaps St. Louis. Seeing no other way out, Wilf kills his wife with his son’s help and drops her body in the abandoned dry well. Things do not improve. This is an upsetting tale that is very much from the mind of King. Good roles for Thomas Jane and Neal McDonough. Molly Parker is underused, but excellent as well. King, who is so much a product of being Down East, does Midwestern gothic remarkably well.

Film: The Scarlet Pimpernel

Up to this point, there’s been exactly one film (Pygmalion) where I haven’t been bored by Leslie Howard. Oddly, that’s true for The Scarlet Pimpernel as well, despite this kind of being an action movie. Kind of. It’s sort of the first-ever superhero tale. A British nobleman (played by Howard) pretends to be a witless dandy, but is in reality the Scarlet Pimpernel, a master spy, swordsman, and disguise expert who rescues condemned nobles from the guillotine in revolutionary France. It works because Leslie Howard is absolutely the epitome of a fop who cares more about the state of his cravat than geopolitics. The parallels to Zorro, Batman, and others are obvious, but it started here. The problem? The movie prefers not to actually show any real action, which works very much to its detriment. Merle Oberon, as always, is gorgeous.