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


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.