Monday, May 31, 2021

There Were Never Such Devoted Sisters

Film: A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Honglyeon)
Format: DVD from Somonauk Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

Years ago, a friend of mine was working on her PhD in film. I asked her what she was doing her dissertation on, she told me she was doing a comparison of modern horror movies with traditional fairy tales. It was (and still is) a great idea. In her opinion, the two share the same set of morals. A Tale of Two Sisters (Janghwa, Honglyeon, which evidently translates as “Rose Flower, Red Lotus”) could well be exhibit A. This is apparently based on a traditional Korean folktale modernized very effectively.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail here. A Tale of Two Sisters is a good enough movie that it should be gone into as cold as possible. The less you know about this, the better. The reason for that is that, even if I am careful, there’s a lot that I can give away here without meaning to. I could, for instance, compare this to a couple of movies that would give a very clear picture of the story, but it would also very clearly ruin the story for someone who had seen those movies. I don’t even want to put them under a spoiler tag for fear of someone catching sight of them. A Tale of Two Sisters deserves that.

Friday, May 28, 2021

A is for...

Film: The ABCs of Death
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

Ah, my old nemesis, the horror anthology. If you had talked to me when I started this blog, I would have told you that the style of film I was most likely to avoid would be a musical. I’ve come to appreciate musicals some, even if they still aren’t my favorite genre. It’s the horror anthology that has become the type of film I dread more than any. I tried to watch The ABCs of Death a couple of years ago and got as far as H before deciding I was done. I don’t know why I tried again, because it really wasn’t worth it.

The conceit here is as straightforward as possible. There are 26 short films made by 26 different directors, each selecting a different letter of the alphabet. For each letter, the director(s) pick a word or phrase and create a very short horror film to represent that letter. That’s it—nothing more involved than that. With a run time of just under two hours without end credits (about 129 minutes with them), we’re not getting a great deal of depth in any of these films. Some are no more than a minute or two long while others range upwards of seven minutes or so. As you might expect, this goes in order from A to Z.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Turn to Stone

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

I love how completely insane Horror Studios was in the 1960s. You want horror movies? They’ve got horror movies. Sure, there’s an endless supply of Dracula movies and vampire spin-offs, reboots of the Mummy and Frankenstein movies by the metric ton. But Hammer also went far afield for their horror movie fodder. Sherlock Holmes stories, for instance. And weird Gothic tales like The Reptile. And then there’s The Gorgon. The creature in this movie is…a gorgon, as in the mythical snake-haired creature whose look can turn a man to stone. It’s so completely out of left field. I love how absolutely insane it is.

Our story takes place at some vague time in the Victorian past. An artist named Bruno Heitz (Jeremy Longhurst) is told by his model/girlfriend/fiancée that she is pregnant. He goes off to have the confrontation with her father and she chases after him. But she wanders by the dreaded Borski Castle. She screams, and the scene ends.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A Different Kind of Catwoman

Film: Cat People (1982)
Format: DVD from Manteno Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

When someone talks about the movie Cat People, I immediately go to the Val Lewton-produced film from the 1940s. It was made on the cheap, of course, and does all of its work with sound and shadow. It’s a surprisingly effective little thriller. It’s also remarkably sex-filled for a movie of that vintage. Essentially, the main character is scared to have sex because having sex will turn her into a panther. Naturally, forty years after the original we get a remake that touches on much of the same ideas but absolutely ramps up the sex. Cat People from 1982, it could be argued, exists specifically because Nastassja Kinski does full frontal.

Irena Gallier (Kinski) arrives in New Orleans at the behest of her brother Paul (Malcolm McDowell). The two have not seen each other in years, having been raised separately after the death of their parents. While Irena was raised in a series of foster homes, Paul was raised mainly in psych wards. He now lives in the Big Easy with his housekeeper (Ruby Dee), who is literally named “Female,” pronounced “fe-MAH-lee,” and perpetuating an ugly stereotype.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021


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

I wanted to like Tenet. I really did want to like it. The truth is that I didn’t hate Tenet, but I also don’t know that I fully understood it. That’s the major problem with this movie; it feels very much like Nolan made this as confusing as possible for the sake of being confusing. I know there were people who found Inception difficult to follow or confusing, but most people seemed to follow it pretty handily. Tenet feels like Nolan was getting paid by how many people he confused.

Tenet is a time travel story after a fashion. It’s not necessarily people going forward or backward in time to different eras. No, this is one of those Gordian knot movies that loops in on itself. People in the film aren’t traveling through time, but moving forward and backward in time, which is called being “inverted.” Knowing this, it will not be a shock to you that we’ll be watching several scenes more than once, one time in the “forward” direction and one inverted. It will also not be a shock that in several cases we will be following the same character both coming and going.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Between the Devil and the...

Film: Deep Blue Sea
Format: DVD from personal collection on basement television.

Ever since Jaws, directors and producers have tried to recapture that magic. Sharks are a natural choice for this because, as Hooper tells us in the 1975 classic, sharks are a miracle of evolution—all they do is swim, eat, and make baby sharks. Over and over, filmmakers have failed to make sharks as interesting as Spielberg did, but Renny Harlin tried in 1999 with Deep Blue Sea. This film is kind of a genre mash-up. It’s clearly a man vs. nature film with nature in the form of a trio of sharks, but it’s also a science gone wild film and has a lot of similarities with a haunted house movie as well.

Research scientists on an offshore floating laboratory are doing work with sharks to find a cure for (among other things) Alzheimer’s. Why sharks? Because, we are told, sharks are primordial creatures that don’t get cancer or terrible illnesses. Why Alzheimer’s? Because one of our lead scientists has a personal family grudge against the ailment. The problem is that one of the sharks got loose and had to be corralled, and now the really rich dude funding them (Samuel L. Jackson) is ready to pull the plug. Our scientist-in-charge, Dr. Susan McAlester (Saffron Burrows) makes the case for needing 48 hours to get results. Our rich benefactor, in all of his Samuel L. Jackson glory, goes back to the lab with her to see what is going on.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Cycle of the Werewolf

Film: Silver Bullet
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

Years ago, I read a lot of Stephen King. One of my brothers and one of my sisters were also King fans, and we used to trade books with each other. A new King comes out, someone gets it as a gift or just because and then passes it along. And so it goes. I did that with a lot of King books with them. The Cycle of the Werewolf was the loan exception. That one was mine and mine alone. Cycle was essentially a series of twelve short stories about a werewolf, one story per month. The werewolf manages to last a year, and the story is over at Christmas. It was a beautiful book, though, and illustrated by Bernie Wrightson. Not a shock that it was turned into a movie, albeit with the name changed to Silver Bullet.

The conceit of the book was that many of the months had full moons land on or around a specific holiday in that month—Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, Halloween, etc, with everything winding up on Christmas. Moon cycles don’t work like that, of course, but it doesn’t really matter, and it was a fun way to look at each of the 12 chapters.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Back for More?

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

Why are small villages in the British Isles so creepy? There’s a particular sense to them of a deep and disturbing evil over the layer of small-town goodness, I think. Those pious neighbors are actually ready to go all pagan sacrifice at the drop of a hat. It’s spoofed in Hot Fuzz, but there are plenty of British horror movies that have this kind of vibe to them. You don’t have to go further than The Wicker Man for the sense that this evokes, and while it’s not Brit horror, Midsommar has a lot of the same feeling. Wake Wood is essentially a British version of Pet Sematary, and in some ways, it’s a bit more disturbing.

Veterinarian Patrick (Aiden Gillen a year after The Wire and a couple of years before Game of Thrones) and pharmacist Louise Daley (Eva Birthistle) lose their daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) to the attack of a vicious dog in Patrick’s practice. Heartbroken, the pair move to the small village of Wakewood where they each set up shop. We learn eventually that Louise cannot have any more children. One night, their car runs out of gas and Louise witnesses what looks like a disturbing pagan rite performed by Arthur (Timothy Spall), who is essentially the town leader.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Fish Food

Film: Piranha (1978)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on the new internet machine.

In 1975, Jaws created the summer blockbuster and became one of the greatest real-world horror movies in history. And, naturally, it spawned a lot of low-rent knock off “man vs. nature” variations. Orca was just Jaws with a killer whale; Grizzly was just Jaws on land. There were many of these movies in the years that followed Jaws, but Piranha from 1978 was perhaps inevitable. Piranha is what you get when you want to make Jaws, but you have a very inexperienced Joe Dante as your director.

To put this another way, Piranha is what you get when you take Jaws and remove the vision and attempt to add comedy. Into the mix you stir a couple of B- and C-list movie stars, some of whom deserve better than this film and some who don’t. Toss in some terrible logic, a clear knockoff version of the mayor from Jaws, two very disappointing boob shots, characters who disappear, and one of the weirdest endings I have ever seen. Piranha is a clear attempt to cash in on a better movie, and my guess is that it was at least partially successful.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Not in Her Right Mind

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

Typically, I write up a movie right after I finish watching it, or at least on the same day. Sometimes, more rarely, I write it up the next day. That’s certainly not the case with Possessor, which I watched last week. I’m not entirely sure why it’s taken me this long to get to writing this film up. I don’t honestly know if I’m feeling a little burned out (highly possible) or just don’t feel like I have a lot to say about this.

Possessor is a science fiction film with clear horror elements. We open with a murder; a young woman (Gabrielle Graham) stabs a man to death for no apparent reason. Despite using the knife, it’s apparent she has a gun. She appears to want to kill herself, but seems unable. It’s eventually a moot point when she is gunned down by the police.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, April 2021

Well, another month where I didn’t actually watch a great deal off this list. There are times when it feels like I’m burning out, but I think it’s just COVID hangover. I’m tired of feeling like all I do is sit, and with spring here, I’ve been spending a lot more time outside. Expect that to continue.

What I’ve Caught Up With, April 2021:
Film: Game Night (2018)

Sibling rivalry between the highly competitive Max (Jason Bateman) and his allegedly successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler). Max and his wife Annie (Rachel McAdams) have game nights every week with friends. When Brooks shows up and hosts, things get real—Brooks ends up kidnapped under the guise of a murder mystery party. Turns out he’s actually a smuggler and in a lot of trouble. It’s a fun premise but requires a lot of willing suspension of disbelief. I’m supposed to like this a lot more than I did, but I honestly find a lot of sibling rivalry stuff mildly triggering. That’s more the fault of my life than it is the movie’s.

Film: Mystery Men (1999)

I don’t know why Mystery Men didn’t end up with a bigger following. A group of underpowered and bizarre super heroes find their city without protection from its chosen savior with the return of an arch criminal. Lead by the Shoveler (William H. Macy), the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria), and Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), they face off against bad guy Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush) and his many, many minions. This has one of the better casts for a movie of this vintage and there’s some humor that really works. Good performances here top to bottom with fun turns by Eddie Izzard as a disco-loving bad guy and Wes Studi as a hero whose main ability is being “very mysterious.” Also features Tom Waits in one of his more fun roles. This should have more fans.

Film: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Remember when The Hunger Games was everywhere and then suddenly nobody cared anymore? Yeah, I remember that, too. Based on the classic tradition of kids slaughtering each other like Battle Royale and other kid-centered death competitions like Stephen King/Richard Bachman’s The Long Walk, Catching Fire continues the story from the first Hunger Games movie and intensifies things. We’ll get the same sort of to-the-death competition, of course, but this time things are becoming more political. This was a popular enough series of books and films that the third book was divided into two films. I managed to struggle through the final two films, but this one did feel like what passes for a high point.

Film: Thank You For Smoking (2005)

The main lobbyist for the tobacco industry (Aaron Eckhart) is in the position of defending cigarettes against all comers. With a Vermont senator poised to make his job harder and a tell-all newspaper article being written about him, life is about to get a lot more complicated. Thank You for Smoking is one of those movies with an all-star cast. Even roles that have just a scene or two give us actors like Rob Lowe, Robert Duval, and more. It’s funny, but this is the kind of funny that you laugh at so that you don’t put a fist through the wall. Watch this with movies like The Big Short to really ramp up your ire.