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


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.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

What I've Caught Up With, January 2022

I came out of the gate in January a lot faster than I ended last year. While I’m still well below my normal pace, getting through about 30 movies in the month felt like a return to normalcy. A good percentage of those movies are ones that come from this list—I moved a lot of films (and a lot of longer films) off the list. It feels good to be back doing this again even though it’s still less than my normal.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

A Really Inconvenient Truth

Films: Don’t Look Up
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

It took me a couple of days to get through Don’t Look Up. Part of that is that I’ve been screamingly busy this week, as per the norm lately. The other part of it is that, frankly, it’s hard to get through. That naturally sounds like a negative, but it’s not in this case. The fact that Don’t Look Up is difficult to get through is one of the strongest points in its favor.

It’s likely that you’ve already heard about this film, so I’m probably going to be a bit summary. We start with the discovery of a new comet by astrophysics Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence). She shows the comet to her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), who calculates the comet’s trajectory. And that trajectory is impact with Earth in about six and a half months.