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.