Monday, June 28, 2021

Sloppy Seconds

Films: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on various players.

The argument for “worst sequel” is ongoing, although Highlander 2 definitely has a lot of support. Biggest drop in quality between the first film and the second film probably belongs to The Exorcist/The Exorcist II: The Heretic. But, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge gets to be in the conversation in both cases. Okay, it’s almost certainly not the worst sequel ever made, but the drop in quality between the classic first film and the abysmal second is pretty steep.

The biggest issue here is that the movie completely messes with the Freddy Krueger mythology, which is the entire point of these films. Freddy is the reason to watch. If you’re someone who has lived under a rock and knows nothing of the Nightmare series, allow me to give you a quick primer. Freddy Krueger is a child murderer who was confronted by the parents of his victims. In a moment of frontier justice, the parents burned him alive and then buried the body somewhere he couldn’t be found. But, Freddy lives on in the nightmares of their children. And when Freddy, who wears a glove complete with razor blade fingers, kills someone in their dream, they die for real.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Thirty Pieces of Silver

Films: Judas and the Black Messiah
Format: Blu-ray from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Today, Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 ½ years in prison for the murder of George Floyd. Frankly, that’s twice as long as I thought he’d get and about five times less than I think he deserved. It makes tonight’s viewing of Judas and the Black Messiah particularly poignant. Fifty, sixty years ago, Chauvin doesn’t get convicted, so in that respect, perhaps we’ve moved a little forward. But George Floyd is still dead, so maybe we haven’t moved that far.

Judas and the Black Messiah is about the life and death of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), the 21-year-old deputy chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party who was gunned down in his bed by Chicago police the night before he was to go to prison on bogus theft charges. It’s also about Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), the man who was turned into an FBI asset and was used to take down Hampton.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Beyond and Back...ish

Films: Audrey Rose
Format: DVD from Manteno Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

It seems like a year since I’ve posted something (and it has been almost two weeks). Daughter’s graduation and last show with her dance school, preparation for college, end of term for me, and a death in the family will do that. It honestly feels like more than a week since I’ve even watched a movie. When life spirals out of control, entertainment and hobbies are the first things to drop off. This hasn’t changed the fact that there is a stack of movies to my immediate right. Now that things are starting to calm down, it’s time to get to them. The one movie from interlibrary loan seemed like a good place to start, thus this review of Audrey Rose.

I remember vaguely when the book Audrey Rose was published only because one of my sisters was intensely weird about it. The basic story is that a little girl named Audrey Rose dies in a car accident and is immediately reincarnated into the body of another girl. Audrey’s father searches for the new vessel of his daughter’s soul and eventually finds her. That’s pretty much the story of the movie as well, just with added Anthony Hopkins and Marsha Mason.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

What Does it Profit a Man...

Films: Faust
Format: YouTube video on rockin’ flatscreen.

Faust is one of those stories that, much like Robin Hood, everyone knows, at least in the broadest of strokes but that pretty much no one has read. At the very least, I don’t think I know anyone who has read Faust (cue my comments filling up with people who have read it. Good on you if you have). It is the classic “deal with the devil” tale, though, so everyone seems to have a passing knowledge of the basic story. The 1926 version of the story directed by F.W. Murnau is probably the definitive film version, although there are certainly others. But this is a classic, crafted by one of the true masters of silent cinema. Sure, Fritz Lang could spin a tale with the best, but F.W. Murnau truly was a master.

We begin the tale much as we would were this the story of Job. The demon Mephisto (Emil Jannings) and an archangel (Werner Fuetterer) make a bet with each other over the fate of the world. Faust (Gosta Ekman) is a true man of science and religion despite his dabbling in alchemy. The archangel agrees that if Mephisto can turn him away from God and corrupt him, he will be given dominion over the Earth.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Darned, Maybe

Films: Village of the Damned (1995)
Format: DVD from Lasalle Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

Of the horror directors whose surame start with C, John Carpenter clearly has the highest highs. I love Wes Craven dearly, but it’s hard to compete with The Thing and Halloween. Carpenter probably has the lowest lows, though, as films like Ghosts of Mars and Escape from L.A. will attest. His 1995 remake of Village of the Damned (sometimes referred to with his name before the title as John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned) falls between those two extremes. Sad to say, it’s very much on the lower end. Village of the Damned was certainly due for an update (and probably is again), but this wasn’t the update that was needed, fleshed out from the original as it is. The hope that Carpenter could find lightening in a bottle a second time with a remake was unwarranted, sadly.

As it happens, this is also the final theatrical release featuring Christopher Reeve before the accident that left him paralyzed. Reeve struggled a bit with typecasting after his stint as the Man of Steel, so this movie may well have been a further effort on his part to step away from that image.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Fool's Gold

Films: The People Under the Stairs
Format: DVD from Ida Public Library through interlibrary loan on the new portable.

When the conversation turns to horror directors, everyone is going to have their favorite. George Romero is going to be a popular choice just because of his creation of a massively influential subgenre. David Cronenberg, king of body horror, will have his adherents, who will in part point to his success outside of the genre. John Carpenter, by virtue of Halloween and The Thing probably has the highest highs, but he’s got some real lows as well. My favorite, though, will always be Wes Craven. As much as I love Carpenter and Cronenberg, and as much as there are some real weak points in Craven’s filmography, there’s a lot there to indicate just how good he really was. I’m catching up on a lot of his back catalog, which is why I finally watched The People Under the Stairs.

Aside from a couple of the Nightmare films, this was probably the biggest hole in my Craven viewing history. It’s a little hard to place in the Craven pantheon of films for me. Is it a horror movie? Is it a comedy? Is it an adventure just like The Goonies had? It’s kind of all of the above wrapped into a single package. It’s also fairly unusual in the sense that our protagonist is a 13-year-old African-American kid named Poindexter, who goes by Fool (Brandon Quintin Adams). Fool has some elements of stereotype in his character, which seems to be a product of race, the year of production, and the genre. Regardless of this, He very quickly became one of my favorite horror protagonists.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

What I've Caught Up With, May 2021

Well, the pandemic is finally ending, and it feels less and less like I’m spinning my wheels. Not a lot of stuff from this list got watched in May, but I feel like I’m getting in a better place to watch a movie or two a little more often. I’d definitely put Possessor on this list as well if I hadn’t done a complete review. Tenet is probably in the same position, so this is a little more than one movie/week from this giant list.

What I’ve Caught Up With, May 2021:
Film: The Lord of the Rings (1978)

I vaguely remember this film coming out when I was about 10. My older brother was a lot more interested in it than I was. It seems very underwhelming these days. Ralph Bakshi’s animation isn’t bad, but odd in places. It’s also very quick in going through the story Roughly an hour in, and we’re in Moria, and we go from Boromir’s death to the end in Helm’s Deep in about an hour. While the rotoscoping is interesting, it cannot hold up to the epic created by Peter Jackson. It’s also disconcerting to see rotoscoped animation on screen with traditional animation at the same time. At best, it’s a curiosity.

Film: Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993)

This is a genuinely decent film, the sort of movie that is simply good. It presents a real-world drama of young Josh Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc) who is discovered as a chess prodigy. It tells the story of him dealing with massive success and what affect this had on him. Much of it deals with the push and pull between Josh and his father (Joe Mantegna), a sports writer. There is also friction between his teacher (Ben Kingsley) and the man who plays in the park (Laurence Fishburne) Through all of this, his mother (Joan Allen) tries to maintain Josh’s dignity and simply decency. This is a fine film, and it holds up very well. A solid cast all around with notables (Laura Linney, Austin Pendleton, Josh Mostel, Tony Shaloub, William H. Macy) even in small roles.

Film: Bottle Rocket (1996)

Everyone starts somewhere and this is essentially where Wes Anderson started. Anderson is known as being a quirky, almost anal-retentive director featuring characters that have the same hang-up. There’s a precision to Anderson’s films that doesn’t merely border on the twee, dives in head-first. Bottle Rocket is his first feature-length film, and it’s the least “Wes Anderson” of any of his full-length movies but contains all of the DNA of what he would become. Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, and Robert Musgrave play a trio of friends who desperately want to be criminals, with Owen Wilson playing the obsessive micro-manager that seems to be Anderson’s hallmark character. It occurs to me that everyone in the Wes Anderson-verse is on the autistic spectrum, and that explains a vast amount of his movies.

Film: Bottle Rocket (1993)

Since I watched the full version of Bottle Rocket, I figured I might as well watch the short film that came first. Essentially, this short is a couple of scenes snipped out of the longer film and done in black-and-white. It covers the initial “heist,” recruiting Bob the driver, planning to rob the bookstore, and then robbing the bookstore. There are no real consequences here for anyone or anything, and it’s surprisingly sweary for Wes Anderson. It’s in a lot of ways the least Wes Anderson of the Wes Anderson films I’ve seen, and I think I have seen all of them--that's even true of the full version of this. It’s cute and harmless, which is both its biggest strength and biggest failing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Coming to You...Live?

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

I’m not sure when zombies became such a “thing.” It was George Romero, of course, who turned “zombie” from being an undead servant created by voodoo into a reanimated flesh-eating corpse, but it took some time before what he created in Night of the Living Dead became such a massive subgenre. Was it Shaun of the Dead? Was it, actual zombie film or not, 28 Days Later? Could it have been the Dawn of the Dead remake? I don’t know. All I do know on this front is that zombie films seem to be everywhere. You can’t swing a cat, dead or reanimated, without hitting one. And in 2008, British television produced Dead Set, a zombie-themed miniseries that has one stand-out premise that makes it initially interesting.

Dead Set posits a zombie outbreak during a season of the television show Big Brother. That’s it; that’s the entire premise. The plague happens outside of the Big Brother house, but most of the story takes place inside the house. What makes this particularly interesting is that the show, at least as far as I know, involves cutting the people off from the outside world completely. And so, the realization that something terrible is going on in the outside world takes some time to settle in. On top of that, also as I understand it, the type of person who tended to be involved in Big Brother was exactly the sort of idiot who would walk directly into a zombie attack. There’s a moment when one of the characters declares that humanity will win because they can still reason, but the contestants are exactly the sort of fame junkies who can’t actually reason.