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.