Sunday, January 30, 2022

Bearing Up

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

Where do I start with the eco-nonsense that is Prophecy? Not to be confused with the demon-and-angel-soaked The Prophecy of the mid-‘90s, this weird little horror movie from the late ‘70s is all about the ecological disaster waiting in the logging camps of northern Maine. Look, I’m all for environmental responsibility; I’m the Chair of my city’s environmental commission, after all. There is responsible environmental policy, there is legitimate concern over many things, and then there is the ridiculousness that John Frankenheimer foisted on us.

The funny thing is that I’ve seen this before, and there are parts of it I remember really well. I was 11 when this was out in theaters, and for some reason I managed to go see it. It is rated PG, so I guess that covers it. Regardless, while I had forgotten a great deal of it, there’s a scene or two that are just so ridiculous they’ve stayed burned into my brain across more than four decades.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Baby Blues

Films: Pieces of a Woman
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

When I found out what Pieces of a Woman was about, I figured it was going to end up being one of the last movies I watched for the 2020 crop of Oscar nominations. There’s a great deal I will put up with when it comes to a movie, but I’ve never been a fan of a movie that features the deaths of children. This is not a spoiler, by the way. All of this happens before the title of the film drops, although admittedly that happens a good distance into the film.

That is, in fact, what this film is about. Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and partner Sean (Shia LeBeouf) are preparing for the arrival of their daughter. Everything seems to be fine, so when Martha starts into labor, both are prepared. The problem is that Martha’s midwife is in the middle of a difficult labor and sends a backup, Eva (Molly Parker). There are complications in the delivery, and Sean is instructed to call for an ambulance. The baby is born and everything seems fine, but the baby goes into cardiac arrest and dies.

Monday, January 24, 2022

I Taut I Taw a Puddy Tat

Films: The Cat and the Canary (1927)
Format: Internet video on Fire!

For as much as I purport myself to be a cinematic snob, I can really struggle with silent movies. While silent comedies are often still funny (a guy falling on his ass is a guy falling on his ass, after all), dramas are a lot less accessible. Horror movies tend to fall somewhere between. There’s a lot of possibility for some interesting visuals at the very least. Horror movies are where a lot of the early cinematic language was created. Superimposing one piece of film over another, camera tricks, odd angles, and more came in part from horror movies because there was a need to keep the audience in suspense and fright. That makes a film like 1927’s The Cat and the Canary an interesting one.

This is a haunted house story and a murder mystery as well as a mildly comic film, although not all of the humor really translates to a modern audience. The plot is one that isn’t going to be that shocking. Variations of this have existed for as long as there have been contested wills and continue today in movies like Knives Out. This should give you a solid idea of the direction we’re going and at least the general tenor of the story.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Wolf Tales

Films: Wolfwalkers
Format: Streaming video from AppleTV on rockin’ flatscreen

We just got a three-month free trial of AppleTV. I convinced my wife that we should watch Ted Lasso, but I admit to some ulterior motives as well. There are a number of things I want to watch on the service (and I’ll be posting them soon), but I’ve been working on getting her to go for the free trial in no small part because I wanted to watch Wolfwalkers. That seems like a stretch aside from wanting to complete my Oscar list, but even without my Oscars project I would have wanted to watch this movie. Tomm Moore is one of those rare directors where I will actively seek out all of his work until one of us dies.

I’ll talk about the movie in a minute, but I want to talk about the style of Moore’s work because it is this that is so much of the appeal of films like The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and Wolfwalkers. The goal of modern animation seems to be to make things as realistic-looking as possible, to present an animated world that looks at least in some respects like the actual world. Moore doesn’t do that. His worlds are clearly animated, specifically 2-D, and clearly hand-drawn. There’s no attempt to make it look real, but instead to make it look appropriate for the story being told. It probably prevents his work from being taken seriously by a lot of people because it does look retro, or antique, or even amateurish compared with the high-tech animation studios. But it’s the art that sells the fantasy, and Moore always sells the fantasy.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Video Nasty

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

I got a lot of suggestions of 2021 movies to watch since I am constantly 18 months or so behind on new stuff. I figured that now, pre-Oscar nominations, I would get through some of them just for fun. A movie like Censor isn’t going to raise a lot of eyebrows or get a lot of votes come Oscar time, but it looked interesting, so I figured I’d give it a shot. While I won’t be watching 2021 movies exclusively, a couple a week seems like a pretty good goal.

Censor is a horror movie about horror movies, kind of. Specifically, it concerns Enid (Niamh Algar), who works as a censor. To really understand this, you need to know about the Video Nasties. Essentially, during the 1980s, the UK had censor who would restrict or ban movies that were particularly nasty or violent. Enid is one of the censors. She spends her days watching the worst and most horrifying of mid-80s movies, suggesting cuts or simply deciding that something needs to be banned.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Fashion Forward

Films: The Neon Demon
Format: DVD from Ella Johnson Memorial Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen

I’ve had The Neon Demon checked out from the library before but I’ve never gotten around to it until now. I’ve heard a good deal about it, though, and I’ve liked at least some of Nicolas Winding Refn’s films in the past. That said, I’m not sure I was prepared for where this goes. What starts as a sort of Day-Glo fashion-based Suspiria ends up touching on some very upsetting topics. It seems cliché to call this film transgressive, and yet that is absolutely the best word for it.

While visually this does have a lot in common with the original Suspiria (and should come with an epilepsy warning), in terms of story, it reminded me a lot more of the underrated and underseen Starry Eyes. That’s not just based on the overall story, but on the way the story works. Both films dip into disturbing ideas through the running time, but take a very hard left into upsetting territory in the third act. And for as disturbing as the conclusion of Starry Eyes turned out to be, The Neon Demon goes further, darker, and harder. Aside from that, the biggest difference is that Starry Eyes is about an upcoming actress while The Neon Demon is about someone who wants to be a model.

Monday, January 10, 2022

The Inebriati

Films: Another Round (Druk)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on rockin’ flatscreen

If you’re at all a fan of British sketch comedy, you’re likely to be familiar with David Mitchell and Robert Webb. Mitchell and Webb have had a series of shows on British television, my favorite being “That Mitchell and Webb Look.” One of their better sketches involves a group of people who vaguely control the world behind the scenes, mostly by being mildly drunk all of the time. Known colloquially as “The Inebriati” but preferring to go by “The Knights Tipler,” they seek to influence the world based on the fact that everything seems nicer when you’ve had just short of two drinks. This is a roundabout way of saying that I watched Another Round (known in the Danish as Druk, which translates roughly as “binge drinking”).

We’re going to spend most of our time with Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a history teacher at a Copenhagen gymnasium. He’s an uninspired and uninspiring teacher to the point that his students and their parents aren’t sure they want him to be in charge of their upcoming exams. At the 40th birthday dinner of his colleague Nikolaj (Magnus Millang), Martin breaks down. He is bored with his life and feels like he is losing touch with his wife and children. It turns out that Nikolaj is in much the same place—his children dominate his life and his wife treats him with contempt.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Every Letter Gets Its Own Monster

Films: Q The Winged Serpent
Format: Streaming video from Pluto TV on Fire!

What can I honestly say about Q The Winged Serpent (also known sometimes as just Q)? This very much feels like a movie where someone had a notion that it would be fun to make a movie based on an ancient Aztec deity but had no ability to actually figure out how to make it work. The basic idea of it—a neo Aztec priest commits human sacrifices around New York to cause the rise of a gigantic winged serpent that begins preying on the people of the city—is a lot of fun. The problem is that nothing about this movie actually works in any real way.

As often seems to be the case, we’re going to have multiple plots working at the same time. The first involves the police dealing with a series of weird ritual killings. Detective Shepard (David Carradine) and Sergeant Powell (Richard Roundtree) are baffled by the killings as well as a series of other deaths that seem somehow related even though there is no thread connecting them. We assume they are connected because this is a movie and red herrings like that just don’t happen in movies. They have to be connected. The flayed body found in a room in one part of the city must be connected to the headless window washer.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Flight Club

Films: Nomadland
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on Fire!

My original plan was to complete the Oscar movies from last year before the end of December, and while I got close, I didn’t quite get there. The original plan involved watching Nomadland, as the winner of three Oscars that I care about including Best Picture, last. But at this point, leaving it to last would genuinely affect the rest of what I’m doing in the next couple of months.

I knew a little about Nomadland going in, but only that Frances McDormand lives out of her van and drives around the country. There honestly didn’t seem like a lot of movie in that, but it is more than just her driving in a van. Nomadland is a film that has a story, but it feels much more like a year-long slice out of someone’s life. There is a sense of conclusion here, but not a complete conclusion. It has an end, but it isn’t “the” end.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

What I've Caught Up With, December 2021

New year, same old blog, right? I didn’t actually watch a lot of movies in December this year, but I did manage to take six off the list, admittedly mostly in the early part of the month. Still, I’m happy to have made a little progress, even if I now need to add several dozen in the guise of films I missed from 2021. I’m really hoping to hit this list a lot harder in the coming year.