Sunday, June 26, 2022

The Key of L Sharp

Films: Studio 666
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on basement television.

I have to admit that I didn’t expect a great deal out of Studio 666. This is clearly something that Dave Grohl wanted to do and figured he could. In that respect, Dave Grohl is a lot like Snoop Dogg. Both of them have essentially won life and are now just playing through the side quests. So why not make a horror movie?

Of course that’s what Studio 666 is. With that name could it really be anything else? It’s going to feature the members of Grohl’s band Foo Fighters as movie versions of themselves, more or less. I honestly don’t know enough about them to know how much their portrayals are exaggerated for the film. I imagine, like many instances like this, that these are intensifications of who they are.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Double Trouble

Films: The Black Room
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

Horror movies have always been sort of the red-headed stepchild of movies. While some are certainly as good as you’ll get, as a genre, it’s looked down on in general. That’s even the case when you have an actor like Boris Karloff who is far classier than the genre would have you believe. The Black Room is a film that was billed as a horror movie, although there’s not a lot here that would qualify it as horror today. It’s much more of a thriller than anything else. It’s also a dandy little film that could really stand another 15 minutes of screen time. That said, it really does a fine job of tying everything up in its short little package.

We start with a twin birth near the start of the 18th century. The twins, Gregor and Anton, have been born to the local baron. But the fact that they are twins is bad news for the family. The family history started with twins, and the younger killing the older in the black room of the family castle. The room is sealed off, but not before a prophecy is laid. The family will end as it began, with twins and the younger one killing the older one.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

With Anchovies

Films: Licorice Pizza
Format: Blu-ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I looked forward to Licorice Pizza for some time, so when I saw it on the shelf at the local library, I snatched it up. I expected a great deal from this movie and the reviews would seem to back up that expectation. Four stars is by far the most popular review on Letterboxd, and the IMDb average rating is above 7 out of 10. Well, I’ve watched Licorice Pizza now, and I genuinely wonder what everyone sees in it. I don’t seek out movies where I disagree with almost everyone else. Sometimes, though, it just happens.

I’m probably not going to do a significant rundown of the plot of this movie because there really isn’t a great deal of plot. It’s very similar to a character study, except that it’s not a character study for one person but a relationship. A great deal happens in Licorice Pizza, but it all feels episodic. We’re looking at a series of unrelated events over the course of a year or so in the life and relationship of a couple of people.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

More than a Bit of Barney

Films: Cockneys vs. Zombies
Format: Streaming video from Amazon/Freevee on Fire!

There’s a reason that zombie movies make really good fodder for comedy. It’s because zombies—the slow ones—are very easily made comedic. What makes zombies such fantastic monsters is exactly that. One zombie is at least potentially funny. It’s slow and clumsy. A horde of zombies is terrifying, though. As the numbers get bigger, the ability to fight them off is reduced. It’s easy to go from comedy to horror and back again. And that is the premise of Cockneys vs. Zombies.

On the surface, Cockneys vs. Zombies looks very much like its trying to capitalize on Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, and honestly that’s not a bad thought. It very clearly is made in the same vein and is at least in part trying to do something very similar. The difference here is that we’re not looking at slackers dealing with zombies or the Odd Couple after the apocalypse, but Guy Ritchie meets Dawn of the Dead. What that means is that we’re going to be dealing with a bank heist that happens right around the same time that the zombies show up.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

I'll (Still) Swallow Your Soul

Films: Evil Dead (2013)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on my phone.

This is honestly probably the first time I’ve watched an entire movie on my phone. Why would I do that, you might ask. Well, since my run-in with COVID, I’ve decided that I need to get back into the gym. The place I go has very nice treadmills and such; they come with screens that show you wooded paths and the like. You can also stream things on NetFlix and a few other services. But they don’t do Tubi, and I had a hankering to watch the 2013 remake of Evil Dead. It was an interesting experience, watching a brutal horror movie in public. It was also an interesting experience seeing people attacked in the woods while walking on a treadmill with visions of a lovely wooded walk scrolled by.

This version of Evil Dead takes some license with the original story. Of course, it almost had to. The first Evil Dead is essentially the ur-version of a cabin in the woods story (okay, the original Night of the Living Dead might have a little to say about that, but I think the point stands). The plot of the original film is, essentially, five people go to a cabin in the woods. While there, they find recordings of someone reading from an ancient cursed book, and the recordings release demons into the world. So, it’s not like we were starting from a place of rich and deep storytelling.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

What I've Caught Up With, May 2022

May wasn't my best month personally. If you're wondering how long I would survive in a zombie apocalypse, it's two years and two months. I say this because last month, I got COVID. As predicted, I was killed by my family; my daughter came home from college with it. Get vaccinated if you're not--it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been. I took eight movies off the list in May. Three of those I reviewed fully--Antlers, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Swan Song (the Udo Kier version). The other five are the ones listed below.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Back from the Dead

Films: Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Any time someone messes with a classic, there’s going to be some worry. Look at what happened with the Ghostbusters reboot, for instance. While I thought it was about as good as it could be, all things considered, it never found its own voice and relied far too much on trying to ape the original film. There were worries about Ghostbusters: Afterlife for the same reason, at least for me. How do you add on to one of the greatest genre films in history nearly 30 years afterwards?

That’s not to say that this hasn’t been done before, and done successfully. The 2018 direct sequel of Halloween is a case in point. With Ghostbusters: Afterlife, we are very much looking at the same sort of thing—an iconic film with a reboot that may or may not tarnish the reputation of that original film. There’s no way it could honestly measure up to the first film, but we can hope for it to at least be good, right?

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Someone's Horny

Films: Antlers
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

It will be a shock to no one who reads this blog with any regularity that I am a fan of Guillermo del Toro. That said, it’s worth noting that del Toro has a much better track record as a director than he does as a producer. If you remove his own directorial efforts from his producing and executive producing roles, it’s much more hit or miss. On the one hand, you get a masterpiece like El Orfanato and on the other, you get Mama. Sadly, Antlers falls more on the Mama side of the scale both in terms of overall quality and to a disturbing degree in terms of the overall story.

Antlers is a new spin on the Wendigo myth. We start with what feels like a poem in Ojibwa that seems to talk about something like a vengeful spirit arising because of the destruction of the environment. That, we will soon learn, is the Wendigo of the story. Or that’s the idea. In truth, our Wendigo doesn’t really seem to have a particularly serious environmental bent to it. This may be the cause of its arrival, but it’s not like the creature is specifically hunting down corporate executives dumping toxic waste into Oregon’s water tables or greedy lumber company bosses.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

We Need to Talk About Bruno

Films: Encanto
Format: Streaming video from Disney Plus on laptop.

When you think of Disney animated films, there is a particular sense that you almost certainly have in your head. A lot of that is going to be the basic Disney Princess story. We’ve got a na├»ve (often) young girl who has some magical powers in one way or another, or who is special in some meaningful way and is going to spend the bulk of the film essentially finding the guy she’s going to marry. Disney has honestly gotten better at this in the last decade and a half. A film like Tangled, for instance, follows that traditional Disney pattern on the surface but gives our heroine a lot more agency. That’s more the case in Frozen. With Encanto, we’re changing a lot of the script, and the movie is all the better for it.

When I say that Disney is changing a lot of that script, I mean that almost all of the things that you associate with a Disney Princess movie are not here to the point where I’m not sure that our main character would even qualify as a Disney princess. In fact, she is the one person in her family who doesn’t have special powers. But I see I’m getting ahead of myself, so allow me to take a step back.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

(Ro)Dental Problems

Films: Willard (1971); Ben
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

I used to have pet rats. When I say that, I learn that there are two basic types of people. There are a few people who know the joys of pet rats, but by far the most common response is a slight recoil and a wrinkling of the nose. I’ll happily tout just how good rats are as pets. They’re smart, affectionate, and trainable. In fact, the only real drawback to them is that they don’t live very long. We had a rat who lived for three years, and that’s sort of the equivalent of a human living to 110. I bring this up because Willard is a rat movie.

There are a few kinds of creature movies when we’re talking about real-world creatures. Jaws is the classic version of a big creature going on a rampage, and most other films of the same vein are pale shadows (Orca and Grizzly come to mind). There are also the classic giant vermin films that have good examples (Them, for instance) and plenty of terrible ones (The Deadly Mantis, The Killer Shrews, Night of the Lepus, and The Giant Leeches to name a few). And then there are swarm movies. Phase IV, Squirm, Frogs, Piranha, Kingdom of the Spiders and more fit into this category. That’s the category for Willard, with the swarm being rats.

Willard Stiles (Bruce Davison) is an introvert and something of a loser. Is job is at a plant that was started by his father but taken over by a man named Martin (Ernest Borgnine), who treats Willard terribly in the hopes of getting him to quit. Willard lives with his shrewish mother (Elsa Lanchester) in a dilapidated house that she constantly demands he fix. One of those fixes is getting rid of a nest of rats. Willard attempts to drown them but takes pity on them instead and keeps them in a shed. Slowly, he learns to like the rats, and has a favorite named Socrates. He also has a rat named Ben, who seems to have more a dark influence over him and his thoughts.

With the rats as the main positive in his life, the rest of Willard’s world spirals out of control. His mother dies, leaving him not money but a pile of debt. The house is going to be foreclosed on, and his boss desperately wants to buy it to knock it down and put up an apartment building. Willard, though, wants something like revenge. He’d also like a life with Joan (Sondra Locke), a temporary worker at his office.

What separates Willard from the rest of the swarm movie pack is that in this case there is a mind controlling the swarm. Willard trains his rats to obey simple verbal commands, and because he treats them well, they do as he asks. This includes helping him steal money to pay the back taxes on his house and helping him get revenge on the people who have wronged him. Willard only wants a normal life, but it appears that there is nothing but obstacles in front of him, preventing him from having it.

Willard is not the movie I thought it was going to be. Based on what I had heard about it, I expected something along the lines of Sugar Hill but with rats. Willard hunts down the people who have treated him poorly and sics his rats on them, allowing them to gnaw on his enemies and getting them a free meal out of it in the process. True, this does happen a time or two, but the movie is smarter than this. Willard isn’t so depraved an individual that he sees his actions as being entirely justified and justifiable. As the ending comes close, we see that Willard has decided that may rodental revenge isn’t always the best choice.

Bruce Davison is very good in this. Willard works because Davison is pitiable, and we need for Willard to be someone for whom we feel sorry. Even when he takes things too far, we need to be in his corner and rooting for him. He’s the one who has been put upon, and the is where our loyalties need to lie, and for the most part, they do. Ernest Borgnine is delightfully campy and chews all of the scenery, and it’s glorious to watch.

I’m not sure I’m keen on the ending of Willard, but overall, it’s a fine movie, and kind of surprising.

Willard was successful enough that it spawned an immediate sequel, Ben. This is the story of Willard’s surviving rat Ben looking for a new person to live with and looking to lead the pack to prosperity, or at least what counts as prosperity for a rat. We start the film with the last five minutes or so of the previous film. That was probably a good idea in 1972 since the audience likely needed that refresher, but when you watch the movies back-to-back, it’s a very odd recap.

Ben the rat escapes and makes his way to the house of the Garrison family. It’s here that he encounters young Danny Garrison (Lee Montgomery). Danny has heart problems (he’s clearly had heart surgery at one point, and shows his scar) and is something of a weird, introverted kid because of it. He likes to play with puppets and make them sing, and seems to be unable to do so without laughing at his own wit. He is also desperately lonely, which makes him a perfect target for Ben the rat. Danny lives with his mom (Rosemary Murphy) and his older sister Eve (Meredith Baxter).

What happens is that Ben shows up to Danny’s “workshop” where he keeps all of the things he likes to build and play with. Ben becomes his new friend despite the fact that there is essentially a city-wide rat hunt for the swarm of rats that is known to have attacked several people and that apparently lives in or around the old Stiles place. Not wanting his friend to be hurt, Danny keeps Ben safe and even lies to the police about the location of the rat swarm’s nest and about having seen any rats in the area. Despite his best intentions, the rats are spotted several times and eventually the police call in extermination experts and guys with flamethrowers(!) to deal with the menace.

In truth, the most notable thing about Ben is probably that the title song, which can only be described as a young man telling a rat that he loves him. The song was originally performed by Michael Jackson, so it’s got that working for it, too.

I’ll be blunt on this one: Ben isn’t nearly as good a movie as Willard is. There’s far less plot for one thing, in large part because a great deal of the film is about the police going into the sewers and attacking the rats with flamethrowers. Believe me, it’s not nearly as fun and exciting as it sounds like it’s going to be. The bigger problem with Ben is that a great deal of the plot simply doesn’t work. We have to make a lot of intuitive leaps to get from where we start to where we end up (which in this case happens to be a city sewer, covered in filth).

Ben isn’t bad. It just isn’t that great, either.

Why to watch Willard: A swarm movie with a difference.
Why not to watch: It’s not the ending you want.

Why to watch Ben: More ratty goodness.
Why not to watch: It makes less sense than Willard and it’s sappier, too.

Monday, May 16, 2022

A Drop of Dandelion Wine

Films: Belfast
Format: DVD from Nippersink Library through interlibrary loan on basement television.

Before the release of Belfast, Kenneth Branagh had a very odd relationship with the Oscars. He had been nominated five times, all in different categories but had never won. Finally, with three nominations for Belfast, he finally got a win. I like Branagh in general, and I tend to like a lot of what he does. His Hamlet is pretty great and I’m still of the opinion that his Henry V is the best one available. I think he should have won for that, for director at the very least.

Belfast is a story about growing up in Northern Ireland during “The Troubles,” the euphemistic name of the internecine war between Protestants and Catholics. Buddy (Jude Hill) is eight or nine and appears to very much be a stand-in for Branagh at this age. Buddy is vaguely aware that there are problems—hard to be ignorant of them completely when there are riots and house fires on his street. His family is Protestant, as are most in the area, and most of the people in the street don’t seem to care that much that some of their neighbors are Catholic. But, of course, religion remains a great divider, and those who want the Catholics to leave are starting to get violet.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

What I've Caught Up With, April 2022

While there are only five movies listed below, I watched a bunch from last year that I put up as full reviews. These include Mass, The Last Duel, and Halloween Kills. So, that’s a total of eight removed from that giant list that, the more I look at, appears will never go away. I’m always hopeful I’ll get more done, but life intervenes sometimes. A new work project and an intensification of something in my private life (nothing bad, just time consuming) has left me less time for movies, though, so that seems less likely. O, fortuna!

Friday, May 6, 2022

The (Not So) Straight Story

Films: Swan Song
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on Fire!

I say regularly that the Oscar posts on this site are not a celebration of the Academy but a reckoning. After watching Swan Song (the one with Udo Kier and not the one with Mahershala Ali), it might be closer to say that this is an indictment. The entire ridiculousness surrounding Will Smith could have been solved by nominating the right people. For starters, Jason Isaacs should have been nominated for Mass, but the fact that Udo Kier never got a look is a damned crime.

Kier has been in some very strange movies over the course of his career, and it would be easy to write him off as someone who did a lot of strange, experimental horror and the like. It would be easy to think of him as someone who is more gimmick than anything else. Swan Song demonstrates just how much of a lie that truly is. If he never did anything else, if everything else he had ever done was garbage, he would have this movie to look back on as his career. For a younger actor, this is a career movie, and for someone the age of Udo Kier, it might well still be that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Gidget Goes to Innsmouth

Films: The Dunwich Horror
Format: Streaming video from Pluto on Fire!

Some authors don’t translate to the screen well. Ray Bradbury, a favorite author of mine, is notoriously difficult to adapt to the screen in large part because no one really talks like his characters talk. Another author is H.P. Lovecraft. When you write stories about creatures that the author tells you are impossible to describe and impossible to exist in the real world, you’ve got something hard to depict. Lovecraft stories and Lovecraft-inspired films are hit and miss. Generally, films that are more Lovecraft-inspired (like Carpenter’s The Thing or Annihilation) are better than direct translations of his work to the screen. Sure, there are some good exceptions--Dagon, The Color Out of Space, and Re-Animator come to mind. Of all of them, The Dunwich Horror might be the most accurate, which is ironic considering how far it deviates from the source material.

The film starts with a woman giving birth, and it’s heavily implied that the birth does not go well. We then jump forward 25 or so years into the future and meet Dr. Henry Armitage (Ed Begley), lecturer at Lovecraft-made Miskatonic University. When the film starts, Armitage has just finished a lecture on local history and has used a rare book called The Necronomicon (just leather bound and not “bound in human skin and written in blood” as Evil Dead fans might expect). As he returns the book to the library with his assistants, a strange man asks to see it.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Got a Black Magic Woman

Films: Sugar Hill
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

In 1973, there was a movie called The Girl Most Likely to in which a nerdy woman played by Stockard Channing, after a serious accident, has her face reconstructed so that she is both unrecognizable and gorgeous. She uses that new sex appeal and anonymity to go back through her previous life, seduce all of the men that wronged her, and kill them. If you replace Stockard Channing with Marki Bey, replace the car accident with her boyfriend being murdered, and add in a heaping helping of Voodoo, you end up with Sugar Hill.

Sugar Hill is a Blaxploitation film that dabbles in the same end of the cinematic swimming pool as Ganja & Hess and Blacula. I name those two films specifically because I genuinely like both of those films, and Sugar Hill is a hell of a lot of fun. It’s a hard film to dislike, even if it ultimately doesn’t have a great deal of plot.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Separated at Birth

Films: Parallel Mothers (Madres Paralelas)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are a few people in film who I will watch in pretty much anything. Toni Collette and Patricia Clarkson come to mind. There are others I could name, probably a dozen or so, but all of them will always take a back seat to Penelope Cruz. I am fond of saying that I would watch her fold laundry, by which I mean that I think she is capable of making just about anything interesting. And so I was interested in seeing Parallel Mothers (or Madres Paralelas), Cruz’s nomination from the most recent Oscars.

Its actually not that hard to figure out where this is going. I figured out the main plot twist less than half an hour in. The big twist happens relatively soon in the movie, although I’m not going to spoil it here. It’s not that hard to guess, and for a filmmaker like Pedro Almodovar, I had higher hopes for where the story goes in that basic sense.

Monday, April 25, 2022

It's Not a Minotaur

Films: The Maze
Format: Internet video on Fire!

When you pull up an older horror movie, you’re never really sure what you’re going to get. Sometimes, you get something that’s a lot of fun and sometimes you get The Maze. This is a movie that desperately wants to present its audience with something new and terrible and does so for two acts. And then the third act happens. I’m not going to spoil the third act of this; it deserves to be seen. Suffice it to say that what happens in the third act of this film is one of the most unintentionally funny things I have ever seen in a movie in years.

It's almost a shame because the idea here is a very good setup for a horror movie. Gerald McTeam (Richard Carlson), heir to a Scottish castle and title, is engaged to Kitty (Veronica Hurst). Everything is fine until Gerald receives a telegram that tells him to return to the family castle immediately. He does so, and also ceases communication with Kitty and her aunt Edith (Katherine Emery). Soon enough, a missive arrives from Gerald releasing Kitty from their engagement and more or less telling her not to ever seek him out.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

They Grow Up so Fast

Films: Joshua
Format: DVD from Geneseo Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s something upsetting about evil kids in movies. You’re already thinking of a bunch of them right now. Well, to that mix you can add the title character of Joshua, a sociopathic 9-year-old who decides that he’ll do whatever he can to get exactly what he wants. You’ve seen a movie like this before, more than likely. There are shades of The Other, Orphan, The Good Son, The Bad Seed and even The Omen here.

You’re going to get a lot of this from the set-up. Parents Brad and Abby Cairn (Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga) have a son named Joshua (Jacob Kogan), who is a piano prodigy and dresses like the most repressed Republican in the world. When the movie starts, the Cairns welcome their new daughter Lily. It’s clear right away that Lily is going to cramp Joshua’s style, and since Lily proves to be a difficult baby, things are tense right away. Joshua starts to bond with his uncle Ned (Dallas Roberts) and uses his sister and her difficulties to move away emotionally from his parents.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Wanna Date?

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

One of the classic archtypes of horror movies is the Frankenstein monster. Lots has been done with the concept since Mary Shelley created the idea of the modern Prometheus. Some of these have been good and serious. Others have been terrible. The idea of a created human, something like a golem but made of flesh, is an ancient idea—ancient enough that you could call the creation of Adam in the Old Testament a version of a golem story. Of all of the various versions of bringing the dead back to life in whatever form, few have been as wholly bizarre as Frankenhooker. (And because it’s wildly funny, the Spanish language version of the film is called Frankenputa.)

It's not surprising that there are going to be a lot of references here to Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, but there are echoes of other stories (and much worse films) here. For instance, there are absolutely shades of The Brain that Wouldn’t Die in this, just by way of example. Normally, that wouldn’t be something worth bringing up, but that’s exactly the sort of movie that would be an inspiration for director and co-writer Frank Henenlotter.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Prodigy(ies)

Films: King Richard
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I knew I would get to King Richard sooner or later. While the movie itself hasn’t been surrounded by a lot of controversy, what happened at the Oscars certainly has. I’m not going to comment on it after the next sentence or two. I think everyone acted pretty badly, and that’s all I’m going to say. But it’s true that what happened has cast a shadow over the film. There’s no way out of that. You can’t say King Richard without thinking of what happened on Oscar night.

It's also worth saying that it’s really useful to have friends with a particular power. I have a number of friends who are librarians. One of them noticed that I had put King Richard on hold and was like 20th on the wait list, so she purchased a copy for the library and reserved the copy for me, so I got it about a month earlier than I thought I would. It’s good to have friends who are there to help you out, even when it’s something minor like this.

Monday, April 11, 2022

(Royal) Family Feud

Films: Spencer
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s a specific breed of actor that has gained the ability to do whatever the hell they want to do for the rest of their careers. Elijah Wood never needs to work again thanks to the Lord of the Rings movies. The same is true of the Harry Potter franchise kids. It’s also true of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. Neither of them need to work again, and they can pick and choose whatever projects they want to work on. It’s meant that a lot of them have done some really interesting projects. And that’s led us to Kristen Stewart’s work in Spence.

This is, of course, the Princess Diana movie that doesn’t suck as opposed to the 2013 Naomi Watts film. Anyone who has followed Kristen Stewart’s post-Twilight career isn’t terribly surprised at her Oscar nomination for Spencer. She’s done fantastic work over the last half dozen years and probably deserved a nomination for Personal Shopper at the very least. To finally see her get a nomination, and one that is clearly earned, feels like a little bit of justice.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

More Trick, Less Treat

Films: Halloween Kills
Format: Blu-ray from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

In the world of slasher movies, there are few final girls who can match up with Laurie Strode. Oh, sure—Ellen Ripley, Nancy Thompson, Sidney Prescott, but Laurie is the OG final girl. A lot of the final girl tropes come from Laurie and the original Halloween. Unlike many, I liked the direct sequel from 2018. I thought it played with the mystique of Michael Myers well and gave us a realistic update on Laurie Strode. So I was very interested to see where things would go with Halloween Kills.

The answer to that question, sadly, is “nowhere interesting.” That’s a real shame, because there was potential here and a very clear idea of where it wanted to go. There’s a lot here that wants to connect with the original series and maintain the lore of Michael Myers, but the film spins off in unfortunate directions, and never gets to where it wants to get to.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Let's Talk

Films: Mass
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m not going to talk a great deal about Mass in the first two paragraphs of this. I’ll talk only in generalities. The reason is that the link to the full review comes after the first two paragraphs, and Mass is a rare movie that needs to be seen with as little knowledge as possible. If you came here via direct link and haven’t seen this, I’d recommend backing out now. I’ll warn you enough to say that this is not a lighthearted or even a fun movie. It’s like being repeatedly punched in the stomach. But it is an incredibly important movie, and one that demands to be seen and taken seriously.

It's also the directorial debut of Fran Kranz, who will always be the stoned joker character from The Cabin in the Woods to me. It’s hard to reconcile the reality of this, a film of deadly seriousness, with that character, but here we are. It’s a reminder that everyone, or most everyone, has depths that can be plumbed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

A Good Reason to Push the Button

Films: Class of Nuke ‘Em High
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Okay, deep breath. Class of Nuke ‘Em High, based on the title alone, is not going to be a serious movie. When you discover that this is a Troma movie made in part by Lloyd Kaufman, that’s going to clearly be the case. This is going to be a horror-comedy, with the emphasis on comedy. We’re going to get mostly gross out stuff, bad acting, and stupid jokes. At their very best, Troma films are funny like a cat sliding off a newly-waxed table is funny. Class of Nuke ‘Em High is not Troma at its best.

I am more than happen to buy into a lot of ridiculousness when it comes to horror comedy films. That doesn’t mean that I’m willing to accept anything for the sake of comedy. A film like Class of Nuke ‘Em High has all of the problems of a film like Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. What I mean is that it presents a world where the people, the situation, the setting, and everything else is so much of an extreme caricature that it doesn’t touch on reality. It’s not even parody. The people are ridiculous and stupid, miss the obvious, and only by the grace of a higher power haven’t stuck a fork in an outlet at this point.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Rasho-Mano a Mano

Films: The Last Duel
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

When The Last Duel came out, there was some initial thought about Oscar time, but the film seemed to tank at the box office. Ridley Scott famously blamed the failure of the film at the box office on Millennials not having the attention span for a movie of this length or it not appearing on their cell phones. That seems like sour grapes, apologizing for a movie that is, to be honest, too damn long.

I’m not going to apologize for that opinion. The Last Duel is very much in the style of Rashomon in the sense that we get three different takes on the same story, three perspectives on a tragedy, concluding with the duel in the title. That may seem like that means there’s a lot of ground to cover, but Kurosawa did four version of the same story in Rashomon and did it in an hour less of running time. The Last Duel is bloated, and while there’s plenty here that’s good, there’s a lot that can and should be cut.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

What I've Caught Up With, March 2022

While there are only six movies here, I watched a lot more than just these six off the giant list. Four more--Free Guy, Last Night in Soho, The French Dispatch, and Candyman were all movies I gave a full review to. I also watched Wonder Woman 1984, which wasn't on the list and was disappointing enough that it didn't even warrant a short review here. There were a couple of others as well. I recommned the Time Warp series of three films about cult movies. There's not a serious discussion here, but it's fun to listen to people talk about crazy movies they were in.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Sellers' Market

Films: Dream Home (Wai dor lei ah yat ho)
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

I’m not sure what I expected with Dream Home (or Wai dor lei ah yat ho if you prefer), but it wasn’t what I got. The elevator pitch of this one seems like it should be a comedy, or at least that it could be a comedy. A woman, desperate to purchase a flat in over-priced Hong Kong, saves up for years for her dream apartment. When the deal falls through because of the owners’ greed, she goes on a killing rampage to, for lack of a better way to say it, lower the market value of the real estate.

Tell me that’s not a great pitch for a comedy/horror movie. It has enough reality to be relatable (the movie is from just after the sub-prime mortgage crash) but a great deal of potential for some funny deaths, the sort of wacky hijinks that are common in a standard horror comedy. That is absolutely not what we get in Dream Home. This is a surprisingly dark and brutal movie with substantial, shocking gore moments that come out of nowhere. I think we’re supposed to sympathize with the main character as well, something I found impossible to do.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The New Yorker

Films: The French Dispatch
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on basement television

I like Wes Anderson. I realize that on a movie blog, admitting to being a Wes Anderson fan isn’t really coming out of any kind of intellectual closet. A lot of movie people—probably most movie people—have at least some respect for Anderson, whose movies always have a sort of handmade, bespoke quality to them. I have genuinely liked most of Anderson’s films that I have seen even if I have to be in a mood for them. Discovering The French Dispatch at my local library proved to be too irresistible a temptation, so I brought it home and popped it into the spinner.

And with that, I don’t really know where to begin. The French Dispatch isn’t so much a traditional movie as it is an anthology. We learn right away that the editor of a fictional magazine called The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun has died. This editor, Arthur Howitzer, Jr. (Bill Murray) has run the magazine for years, starting when his father, the owner of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun sent him to France for some life experience. Arthur started the magazine, which is very clearly an homage to The New Yorker. We also learn that upon his death, the magazine was to be cancelled, people refunded their subscription money, and the presses melted down and destroyed, pending one final issue. The movie, then is that final issue—four stories and an obituary.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

That's a Killer Dress

Films: Last Night in Soho
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I don’t love all of the movies of Edgar Wright (I absolutely hated Scott Pilgrim), but I do tend to like them. I heard a lot of good about Last Night in Soho. It’s also worth saying that Wright doesn’t direct nearly enough; this was his first non-documentary, feature-length film in four years (thank you for the correction). So what did four years away from the director’s chair give us? I was curious to find out.

It's not immediately obvious what decade we’re going to be in at the start. We’re introduced to Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), who is enamored of the 1960s in all things—the music and fashion especially. It’s fashion that is her passion, though, and we soon see that she has been accepted to study at the London College of Fashion. She bids farewell to her grandmother (Rita Tushingham) and heads to the big city.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Shark Attack

Films: West Side Story (2021)
Format: Streaming video from Disney Plus on rockin’ flatscreen.

When dealing with any list of films, I’ve always made a concerted effort to knock out the longest films on the list as early as I could. So, when Spielberg’s version of West Side Story showed up on Disney Plus, I knew I’d be watching it sooner rather than later; it was the second longest film on the current Oscar list I have. It’s also the fact that I knew this would be a tough watch for me. Ten years ago, I would have told you that that was because I didn’t like musicals. These days, there are plenty that I like. No, the issue is that I don’t love West Side Story as a piece of work because I genuinely dislike the source material.

There’s no getting around that fact. I really dislike Romeo and Juliet as a play and even as a concept. There are those who look at Romeo and Juliet as the height of romance. I look at it as a story where two kids (Romeo is canonically 16; Juliet is all of 13) decide that they can’t live without each other and over the course of a couple of days, a bunch of people die for their rash stupidity. West Side Story is that with a couple of really good songs.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Maybe She's Born with It, Maybe It's the Holy Spirit

Films: The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

If you’re of a certain age, you remember Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker as the punchline of a lot of jokes. The Bakkers were at one point the premiere televangelists in the country, with an entire compound of homes, an amusement park, and one of the largest broadcasting networks in the world. Jim was overly pious and smarmy and Tammy Faye was noted for extreme makeup and for a lot of runny mascara when the waterworks started. And then they lost it all when Jim got caught in some affairs, not exclusively heterosexual. Well, these days, Jim Bakker is back on television hawking buckets of food to prepare for the Rapture. Tammy Faye died 15 or so years ago from cancer, and for as crazy as her persona was, she managed to do at least a little bit of good in her life. All of this said, I can’t say I was looking forward to her biopic, The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

This isn’t going to quite be a warts-and-all biopic, but there will be warts enough. We learn that the young Tammy Faye (Chandler Head as a child, and then Jessican Chastain) was something of a pariah in her own family since she was the child of her first mother’s first marriage, the equivalent of a scarlet letter for their Minnesota community. Eventually, Tammy Faye heads off to college where she meets Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield). The two get married despite it being against the rules of the college. From there, they head off doing ministry on the road, mainly to kids and using puppets created by Tammy Faye.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Say His Name

Films: Candyman (2021)
Format: DVD from Julia Hull District Library through interlibrary loan on various players

There’s a moment in Candyman, the spiritual sequel of the classic horror movie, where our main character walks through a library to do some research. This is not specifically worth mentioning except for the fact that that is not a library in Chicago but in DeKalb, IL. It is, in fact, Founders Memorial Library at Northern Illinois University. I know this because I worked at that library as an undergraduate. This has nothing to do with a review of Candyman; I just think it’s cool. DeKalb County, IL doesn’t have a lot of connections to movies, so when one shows up, I feel like it’s worth commenting on.

I wasn’t sure what to think about Candyman. I thought going in that it was going to be a remake of the classic, but it’s not; it’s very much a sequel that builds a great deal on the original movie in terms of how the legend builds and works. Much like Halloween from 2018 pretends that the sequels and remakes didn’t exist, Candyman pretends the sequels don’t exist. Instead, we’re just multiple decades in the future where our original Candyman seems to have been forgotten, destroyed along with the projects at Cabrini-Green that were so central to the feel and racial injustice of the original.

The big change, or what appears to be the biggest change in connection to the original story, is that our Candyman in Cabrini is Sherman Fields (Michael Hargrove), possessed of a hook for a right and with a penchant for fur-lined coats, was beaten to death by police after being falsely accused of putting razor blades in candy, a crime for which he was posthumously cleared.

Decades into the future, Cabrini-Green has been leveled and the neighborhood gentrified. Living in the area is artist in a slump Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who lives with his girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris). Brianna works as the director of a gallery and is supporting Anthony at the moment while he is searching for inspiration. He gains that inspiration from Troy Cartwright (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), Brianna’s brother when he and his partner Grady (Kyle Kaminsky) have dinner with the couple. Intrigued, Anthony does some investigation in the Cabrini neighborhood and, after being stung by a bee, meets Billy Burke (Colman Domingo), a Cabrini resident who confirms a great deal of the story of Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen from the 1992 film) and introduces Anthony to the legend of the Candyman. The crux of the legend is saying “Candyman” in a mirror five times summons the spirit of Sherman Fields, who will then kill the summoner.

This becomes the theme of Anthony’s entry at a gallery show. It is initially panned by art critic Finley Stephens (Rebecca Spence) as being essentially more of the same—gentrification, violence, and racism. But, that night, Brianna’s partner Clive (Brian King) and his girlfriend Jerrica (Miriam Moss) are killed when Jerrica says “Candyman” in the mirror on Anthony’s piece five times. And thus the murders begin, baffling the police. We, as the audience, get the privilege of seeing the murders take place, and they are quite inventive. Why inventive? Because the summoners can see the Candyman but he essentially lives inside the mirror, but his actions take place in the real world.

You know where this is going, right? Anthony digs deeper and Candyman kills people foolish enough to summon him. Meanwhile, that bee sting that Anthony got starts to do some upsetting things to his body. We also discover that there are connections between Anthony’s story and the first film, with Helen Lyle, and more. And, more importantly, we learn that there is a much deeper connection between Anthony, Sherman Fields, and the original Candyman, Daniel Robitaille (Tony Todd in the original film, and for a moment or two in this one).

There’s a great deal to like with this revamped and updated version of Candyman. There is a very clear attempt to connect this not just to the original 1992 movie but to the idea of legend and legend building, and of the cyclical nature of abuse, death, social ills, generational violence, and more. Much of the legend is told with gorgeous and detailed shadow puppets a la The Adventures of Prince Achmed, and these moments are truly beautiful.

The problem is that Candyman wants to absolutely cement the connection between this film, the previous film, and the entire legend that is being built. For as good as a great deal of this film is, this is very clumsy and doesn’t work as well as it should.

Still, this is a solid attempt at making the Candyman idea and character relevant to a new audience, and it is a story that should be relevant. Many of the ideas of race and racism of gentrification and of generational trauma not only still exist but have become prevalent and much more exposed in the last few years. It’s worth seeing for this regardless of how disappointing the third act is. The original is still better, but this is a solid follow-up.

And, y’know, there’s a cool library in it.

Why to watch Candyman (2021): This is a movie with something to say.
Why not to watch: It doesn’t live up to the original.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Ready Player None

Films: Free Guy
Format: Blu-ray from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen

I am of two minds when it comes to Free Guy. A part of me is tempted to see this as exactly what most people are going to see it as. It’s a comedy with a lot of action elements that is based in large part on current multi-user online games like WarCraft or Grand Theft Auto. However, there is something much deeper here if you want to see it. I have no idea if this was intentional or not, but the heart of Free Guy is one of the great existential questions, perhaps the greatest existential question. All good science fiction ultimately asks questions about humanity. Free Guy asks this question, but more important asks the question of whence comes free will, or if free will even exists.

I’m not going to get too in depth with the idea of the nature of free will. This isn’t that kind of a blog. I will refer you to Daniel Dennett’s book “Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Having” as an interesting place to start on the philosophical idea of free will. But, it’s impossible to get away from this when you understand what the plot is about. Bluntly, Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is an NPC in a massive online game that is very similar to the GTA games. Players show up and commit crimes, blow things up, shoot and attack pedestrians, and more. Guy works at the bank with his friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery). Naturally, the bank is regularly robbed by the players, but for Guy, Buddy, and everyone else, this is just normal, everyday behavior.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Gangstas' Not-So Paradise

Films: Tales from the Hood
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

I’ve gone on plenty of rants in the past about how prevalent anthologies are in horror movies. While they are often fun, they feel so much less substantial than full-length films. That’s honestly because they are less substantial. Anthologies work for horror, though, because you can scare people in a couple of minutes and for a good horror movie, you often don’t need a great deal more than that. Tales from the Hood, on the surface, would seem to be an anthology based on Black stories, horrors with Black main characters. But it’s a lot more than that, because these are not simply scary stories, but stories that have a weight to them that I was not expecting.

Our framing story consists of a group of three gang members, Stack (Joe Torry), Bulldog (Samuel Monroe), and Ball (De’Aundre Bonds) coming to a funeral home because the mortician evidently found the gang’s drugs in the alley behind his mortuary. The gang wants the drugs back, of course, and here they are to collect. What’s going to happen is a slow walk to the stash while the mortician, Mr. Simms (Clarence Williams III) recounts stories of the people currently in the coffins around the building.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Mind Over Matter

Films: Brain Dead
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

It’s a minor tragedy that David Keith and Keith David have not done a film together, at least to my knowledge. However, there is a single film that includes the talents of the frequently mistaken for each other Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton. That movie is 1990’s Brain Dead. This movie is a bit of a bait-and-switch. Anywhere you look for this movie, you’ll find pictures of a weird face stretched across a screen (see the picture below). And that face appears in the first couple of minutes of the film and never comes back. It’s on the damn cover art, and it’s not anything that actually matters to the film.

Anyway, the face thing is actually being used to test what parts of the face react when a disembodied brain is prodded with an electrode. This is being done under the supervision of Dr. Rex Martin (Bill Pullman), a brain researcher who is researching physical causes of mental illness. Rex has a strange attachment to all of the brains in glass jars on the shelves in his office.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

What I've Caught Up With, February 2022

I made a lot of progress on this list in February. A lot of that progress is in movies from the last couple of years, and I put up full reviews of several. These include Malignant, Suspiria, No Time to Die, and Titane as well as both Don’t Look Up and Nightmare Alley, which I saw before the Oscar nominations were announced. With those that are going to be reviewed here, I was again recent movie-centric, but there are a few older ones as well.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Resilience

Films: Rocks
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on the internet machine

As a teacher dealing with a pandemic for the last couple of years, I’ve spent a lot of time in meetings where we are told ways that we can become more “resilient” in dealing with the needs of our students and ourselves. I recently came across a meme that essentially said that I don’t want to be resilient. I want things to be set up so that I don’t have to be resilient, so that things are handled in a way that actually benefits and helps people rather than forcing them to find new ways to be strong and handle problems. I say this because Rocks is a film where not a lot good happens to anyone.

Rocks is the nickname of Shola Omotoso (Bukky Bakray), who is in whatever the British equivalent of high school is. She has a younger brother named Emmanuel (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu) and a mother (Layo-Christina Akinlude) who sometimes disappears from their lives. This is going to be one of those times. After we are introduced to Rocks and her friends and Emmanuel, we learn from a note that their mother has disappeared and may be back again. Rocks has no one to go to for help but her friends; her father is dead and her mother’s family lives in Nigeria. Over the next couple of days, Rocks will find shelter at various friends’ houses, a motel, and anywhere else she can go. She will do all of this while being in school, trying to take care of her brother, and trying to raise enough money to survive for another day. That’s not easy since their power has been shut off and social services has discovered that their mother is missing.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Psychic Surgery

Films: The Man Who Changed His Mind
Format: Internet video on Fire!

I love a good science fiction movie. One of the things I like about it is that it shares a long border with horror movies. Plenty of science fiction touches on ideas common in horror—the classic science fiction question is to ask us what it means to be human, and the answer is that sometimes it means being a monster. The Man Who Changed His Mind has that old school science fiction flare and that old-school horror sensibilities. It’s barely feature length, clocking in at just over an hour, but it packs a lot into that time.

We start with Dr. Clare Wyatt (Anna Lee), finishing up a surgery and saying that it’s her last surgery for a while. She’s going on to work with Dr. Laurience (Boris Karloff), an eccentric who is an expert in the mind. Claire is pursued by her love interest, Dick Haslewood (John Loder). Dick is the son of newspaper owner and wealthy philanthropist Lord Haslewood (Frank Cellier).

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Growth Mindset

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

James Wan has and an interesting career as a director. He made his bones with horror movies, but he’s branched out with films like Furious 7 and Aquaman. Malignant is a return to his horror roots, but it’s evident as the film winds up that he’s changed in terms of what he sees as his vision for a horror movie. Don’t mistake me—this is very much a horror movie. But, there are a couple of action sequences/battle scenes that, aside from the body count, wouldn’t be out of place in a comic book-inspired actioner.

We start with a scene at a hospital where a patient has broken out of confinement and is attacking (and killing) people. Eventually, the patient in question is tranquilized and the doctor in charge (Jacqueline McKenzie) intones ominously that it’s time to excise the tumor. We’re going to doodley-doop a good 25-30 years and we’ll meet Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis), who works in healthcare, is pregnant, and is in an abusive relationship. Her husband Derek (Jake Abel) pushes her into a wall and runs out; Madison locks him out of the room. That night the electronic devices and lights in the house go a little crazy and Derek is brutally murdered while Madison herself is attacked by something.

Friday, February 25, 2022

I'm in Love with My Car

Films: Titane
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on Fire!

At some point while I was watching Titane, I came to the realization that if David Cronenberg was French, this is a movie he would have made. There are elements of a lot of his work here. You can find hints of Shivers and Crash, a little dose of The Brood and a handful of Dead Ringers. But this isn’t Cronenberg; it’s Julia Ducournau and this is just her third feature-length film. There’s been something in the water lately; there are a lot of films coming out from directors with not much of a resume that have been shockingly mature.

Titane has done well on the festival circuit, walking away with the Palm d’Or from Cannes, which makes it something to be seriously considered. I knew little about it going in, and that was intentional. I haven’t seen Ducournau’s previous film Raw yet, but I know it’s reputation. I went into this eyes open in terms of expectations of body horror, but beyond that I didn’t really know what to expect.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Dirt Nap

Films: Premature Burial
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Whatever you might want to say about Roger Corman, there are a lot of positives. He had an amazing eye for talent based on the careers that the man started. His movies, as cheesy as they are in a lot of case, tended to make good money. And, one day he had the astonishing idea that he wanted to adapt a bunch of Edgar Allen Poe stories as films. A lot of his best movies are based on Poe stories. “Based on” is going to be the operative phrase here, since Premature Burial takes some liberties with Poe’s original work.

We’re introduced to Guy Carrell (Ray Milland), an aristocrat who is also trained as a doctor. Guy is paralyzed (no pun intended) by a fear of being buried alive because, he claims, he suffers from a cataleptic disease that causes him to fall into a trance that can be mistaken for death. This fear is brought out during a grave robbing episode where the corpse uncovered was, in fact, clearly buried alive. Guy’s fear is so crippling that it endangers his pending marriage to Emily (Hazel Court). To demonstrate just where his fear came from, Guy takes Emily to the family crypt and tells her that when his father died, he heard him screaming in the crypt, having been locked in.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Lay On, Macduff

Films: The Tragedy of Macbeth
Format: Streaming video from Apple TV on rockin’ flatscreen.

The Tragedy of Macbeth was one of the reasons I wanted Apple TV. I like most of the movies that involve a Coen brother (Ethan Coen evidently deciding he wants a break from movies). I also happen to like Macbeth; it’s my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays. I like how efficient it is. Sure, Hamlet is a masterpiece, but it’s also eternal. Macbeth has a huge body count and it’s about half as long. The fact that saying “Macbeth” in a theater is supposed to be bad luck doesn’t phase me a bit; it just adds to the cache of the story.

The Tragedy of Macbeth is deeply stylized. That’s always going to be the case with something modern that is filmed in this high-contrast black-and-white. But it’s more than that. There is very much a sense of unreality here, of the film happening in a sort of liminal space that doesn’t actually exist in the real world. It’s like the Platonic ideal of a Shakespearean tragedy. The entire film was shot on soundstages, which adds to the surreality that the film presents.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Very Nice...Not

Films: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

This is not gBorat Subsequent Moviefilm for a couple of weeks so I can finally finish off the 2020 Oscars, but it’s a film I’ve been dreading. That seems like a strange word to use for a 96-minute comedy, but it’s accurate. The reason for that is simple: I don't like embarrassment comedy. It's something that never sits well with me. I don’t mind it when I feel like it’s someone who deserves it and there’s plenty of that in Borat’s crosshairs, but there are a lot of innocent bystanders caught in the crosshairs as well.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm gives us our titular hero, Borat Margaret Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) suffering for his crimes in the previous movie, bringing shame to the nation of Kazakhstan. With the rise of Trumpism, though, it is decided that Borat can have a second chance, specifically because Trump has (at the time of filming) cozied up with dictators around the world with the exception of Kazakhstan’s president. Borat is given the task of giving Johnny the Monkey as a gift to Mike Pence as a way to befriend Trump.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Dance Dance Evolution

Films: Suspiria (2018)
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

Sometimes, I admit, I’m not that keen on catching up with a movie even if it’s been very favorably reviewed. The rebooted Suspiria from 2018, for instance, got reviews in at least the same area code as Argento’s original. Both of my daughters are dancers, or were; my older one is a professional and teaches ballet and my younger one danced seriously until recently when she started college. Since Suspiria, both the original and this version, deal with dancers who find themselves involved in a coven of witches, I find my connection to it a little…odd.

It’s hard to call this a remake of Argento’s film so I won’t do it. It seems rather more like a reimagining. There are clear connections to the original version, of course, but there are also considerable differences. One of those differences is the length. This new vision of the story is nearly an hour longer than the original. A lot of that hour is going to be dance performances, which are honestly slim in the first film. Another major change is the type of company. The 1977 film is about a ballet troupe, but this modern version is about a modern dance company. That may not seem like a difference, but it really is a significant one.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Party Time

Films: Small Axe: Lovers Rock
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

Say what you will about what the streaming market has done to the film industry, there have been some real positives. The amount of money that gets pumped into streaming companies has created an interesting renaissance in not just television but in film and what can be done with these media. The Small Axe anthology series is a case in point. Steve McQueen, fast becoming one of the premier directors working today, created a series of five films dealing with the lives of West Indies immigrants in the UK in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. The films are unrelated to each other but are connected instead by themes. Lovers Rock is the second of the five films in the series.

These are actual films, not episodes of a television show. Evidence of that comes from the difference in running times if nothing else; Lovers Rock clocks in at a slim 70 minutes, and even that might feel a little long for the slip of a plot this movie contains. That’s okay, though. There’s not meant to be a great deal of plot here. It’s just the story of a party and of two people who meet there and begin something like a romance.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Skyfallen

Films: No Time to Die
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television

In late 2020 and early 2021, I did a complete rewatch of the entire James Bond franchise, including the spoof version of Casino Royale and the unofficial Connery vehicle Never Say Never Again. I did this in preparation for No Time to Die, which was set to be the fifth and final Daniel Craig entry in the series. I probably did this a little too early, because it’s been about a year since I did the rewatch. Still, better late than never, right? I’ve once again seen all of the Bond films, having caught up recently with Craig’s final outing.

Before I dive in, I need to say two things about this film. The first is that there is no easy way to talk about No Time to Die without revealing pretty much everything. That’s fine if you’ve seen the movie, not so fine if you haven’t. So, everything after these first two paragraphs is going to be spoiler territory. If you don’t want the movie spoiled for you, don’t click to read more. Yes, that will cost me a little traffic, but I’m okay with that. If this gets spoiled for you, it’s on you. The second thing is that I think there should be one more James Bond portrayer, and that person should do three films. That way, we have a perfect set: George Lazenby (1 film), Timothy Dalton (2 films), new Bond portrayer (3 films), Pierce Brosnan (4 films), Daniel Craig (5 films), Sean Connery (6 official films), and Roger Moore (7 films). How perfect is that?

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Family Found

Films: The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

Approaching animated film for this blog is always something interesting, especially since Oscar has gotten more adventurous with its nominations. That said, there are often issues with animated movies, especially when they are clearly made for kids. Oh, they’re often fun and entertaining, but they are also often designed to be funny in different ways for parents and kids. And, because these movies are often made with kids in mind, they are often cruel to the parents. I’m a sucker for an animated movie that deals well with the parent/child relationship. Bob Parr struggles with connecting with his kids in The Incredibles in a believable way. Gru in the Despicable Me movies is clearly a great dad who loves his kids. And now we have The Mitchells vs. the Machines, which is damn near perfect.

There are two stories here that are going to converge. The first concerns the Mitchell family. We’re introduced to Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson), who has always been the weird kid in her town. Katie’s youth has been spent making movies on the family camcorder, a hobby that has gotten her accepted to film school in California. This has proved an additional wedge between her and her technophobic father Rick (Danny McBride), who struggles to understand his daughter. The family is rounded out by mom Linda (Maya Rudolph) and dinosaur-obsessed son Aaron (writer/director Mike Rianda), both of whom are bizarre in their own ways. Katie is desperate to get away from her family and connect with who she sees as her people.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Born for it

Films: Nightmare Alley (2021)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on Fire!

I went into Nightmare Alley with high expectations and a good amount of trepidation. Why? The expectations come from the fact that Guillermo del Toro is my favorite working director by a large margin. He’s one of the few directors of whom I have seen everything and will continue to see everything that he directs. One the other hand, this feels like a departure from del Toro’s oeuvre, similar in some respects to Crimson Peak, but without the supernatural attachments. Also, I love the original 1947 version of this film and I was worried that this might not live up to it.

I’ll drop the opinion here so that you can jump to the end if you want to avoid any spoilers. Nightmare Alley is being touted as not a remake of the 1947 film, but a new adaptation of the novel. This version is much more stylish in many ways, and it’s the sort of cast that anyone would dream of. It’s also substantially longer than the first film, adding a good 40 minutes or so to the running time (although, admittedly, much of that is credits). I like the film, but it does feel bloated to me, and I think it would be a better film with a trim of 20-30 minutes. That said, I’m not sure what I would trim.