Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Castle Freak Out

Film: Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes (Hinter den Augen die Dämmerung)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

I get interested in a movie for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s the director or the people involved. Sometimes it’s as simple as an evocative name. That was definitely the case with Dawn Breaks Behind the Eyes (called Hinter den Augen die Dämmerung in the original German, which oddly translates as “Twilight behind the eyes”). I wanted to see this because the name is unusual and hinted at a number of possibilities.

It's also a film that is really difficult to fully explain in any narrative sense. That’s not to say that there isn’t a narrative here (there is), but that it’s one that moves in a lot of different directions at the same time. It’s also a narrative that features a guy literally having his junk torn off his body, so be aware that that’s something that is going to happen at one point.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

...and the Spiders of Mars

Film: Moonage Daydream
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

As a casual fan of David Bowie, I wasn’t really sure how to approach Moonage Daydream, the approved documentary film on Bowie using a substantial amount of archival footage. It’s nearly impossible to be my age and not know at least something about Bowie, of course. In terms of my musical tastes, Bowie was less important to me early on than the other prog rock acts my brothers listened to when I was very young. It was probably around the Let’s Dance era that I listened to him more in earnest, despite knowing the earlier work through my brothers to some extent.

It's hard to say that Moonage Daydream is a warts-and-all biopic, because it’s not really that sort of movie. It’s a movie that is very much from Bowie’s own point of view. So, while this is going to provide a particular perspective on his life and work, it’s also going to be a perspective that feels honest and important. Much of what makes this interesting is the fact that David Bowie reinvented himself regularly; the same guy who did Ziggy Stardust also did Modern Love and further reinvented himself into a Nine Inch Nails-like band with Tin Machine.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Battle of the Sexes

Film: Doghouse
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

It’s not easy to make a new and original zombie movie these days. Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead were relatively original, and The Girl with All the Gifts was very different in many respects, probably the pinnacle of innovation in the subgenre for the last decade. Innovation isn’t always necessary, of course. Train to Busan is straightforward and almost entirely plotless, and it’s fantastic. And that brings us to 2009’s Doghouse, a film that desperately wants to ride on the Shaun of the Dead coattails, albeit half a decade after the fact.

The big innovation for Doghouse is that our zombies are exclusively women, so our main characters are going to be exclusively male. Vince (Stephen Graham) is going through a divorce. His friends decide to cheer him up by taking him to a tiny little village called Moodley, where the women are said to outnumber the men four-to-one. Friend Mikey (Noel Clarke) has managed to secure his grandmother’s house for a few days, and so off the crew goes. In addition to Vince and Mikey, we have Neil (Danny Dyer), Matt (Lee Ingleby), Patrick (Keith-Lee Castle), and Graham (Emil Marwa). The seventh member of the group, Banksy (Neil Maskell) has a number of problems and won’t show up until the third act.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Southern Gothic

Film: Ghosts of the Ozarks
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Movies can be the most frustrating thing sometimes. Ghosts of the Ozarks is a really good example of this. This is a film that desperately wants to have an interesting story to tell and does a lot of things right. And when we get to the end, it spoils all of that with perhaps the most contrived ending possible. There’s a tremendous sense of mystery here that holds promise right up to the point where that mystery is revealed, and it really damages the entire movie.

I’m calling this a Western because there very much is a sense of this being a part of that genre despite it taking place in Arkansas. A doctor named James McCune (Thomas Hobson) is recruited by his uncle (Phil Morris) to attend their community. James goes, but is accosted along the way by a man who, when a red mist comes through the forest, is dragged away by something unseen. James soon locates the town of Norfork, which is hidden behind a massive wall. It’s here that he learns about the ghosts, the creatures that surround the area and both protect the town and harass anyone who goes out at night.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Everything Gets a Reboot Eventually

Film: Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers
Format: Streaming video from Disney Plus on Fire!

A lot of people have told me in one way or another that the Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers movie was something I should really watch. I honestly don’t watch a lot of animated movies that aren’t specifically on the Oscar list these days, mostly because my kids aren’t hoe any more. I like animation, but it’s not necessarily a style that I seek out. Given all of the hype that I got about it, though, it seemed like it would be a huge mistake to not watch it.

I’m going to drop the take now, so that if you don’t want to read the full review, you don’t have to click the like. It’s good. I enjoyed it a great deal. The voice work is good, the characters are smart, and it’s just self=aware enough to be winking at the audience without really dancing around the points its making. It’s also a film that is very much made for a particular age—later Gen-X and perhaps early Millennials.

Saturday, March 11, 2023


Film: Blonde
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

I can’t say I went in to Blonde with anything other than trepidation. I’d heard enough about it, and nothing really that good about it, so I watched it mostly out of obligation. I decided to get as many movies as possible watched before the Oscars ceremony tomorrow (I’ll still have a lot to do), and this was the longest one I had left that I have immediate access to. And, aside from the Avatar sequel, it’s the one I didn’t want to watch the most.

I’ll say about Blonde something I said about Elvis. Critic Mark Kermode, in his epic takedown of Sex and the City 2 commented that in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick took us from the birth of the human species to the birth of the next species in 2 hours and 29 minutes, while SatC 2 is 2 hours and 26 minutes and goes essentially nowhere. Blonde is 2:47, nearly three hours.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Mirror Mirror

Film: The Night House
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on Fire!

Is there anything in the world more frustrating in movies than a film that doesn’t live up to the promises of the first two acts and ends with a lackluster third act? That’s the situation I have with The Night House, a film that is in that rare group of stories that in places made all the hair on my arms raise up. This starts with such a great premise and builds on it, going in some truly unexpected and wonderful directions, and then ends with such a tame conclusion that I ended up wonder how it could have lost such power.

Beth (Rebecca Hall) lives alone in a house on a lake. We learn soon enough that she is recently alone and that her husband Owen (played in memories and the like by Evan Jonigkeit) took a boat out on the lake and shot himself, leaving a cryptic note. She does her best to hold things together, but her friend and coworker Claire (Sarah Goldberg) and her neighbor Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) are concerned about what has happened and the toll it is taking on her.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Witchy Woman

Film: Hellbender
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

Indie films are such a crapshoot sometimes. Sometimes you get The Evil Dead and sometimes you get The Room. Horror is a genre that works really well for indies, though, and for low-budget filmmakers. If you’re making your own thing, you can take stories in a lot of strange directions. If you don’t have a studio breathing down your neck, you can avoid the sort of narrative tropes that are demanded of you for monetary reasons. Hellbender is that sort of vision. It’s a film that has a singular vision and is carried out by its creators, who happen to be a family; most of the cast and main crew of this film are related to each other.

We are presented with teenaged Izzy (Zelda Adams) and her unnamed mother (Toby Poser, who is actually Zelda Adams’s real-life mother). They live in a house in the forest, isolated from the rest of the world; Izzy is homeschooled and we eventually learn that she has been told that she has a serious immunodeficiency, although we will also learn that what she is told she has is general experienced only by genetic males and usually causes them to die in childhood. Among the things that Izzy and her mother do, aside from eating what they can forage from the forest, is play original heavy metal as a bass/drum duet in a band they call Hellbender. They rehearse in full costume, which usually involves heavy makeup, but because of Izzy’s condition, they never play out anywhere; it’s just for them.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Eat the Rich

Film: Triangle of Sadness
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on various players.

Every year, I have good intentions of watching as many of the Oscar movies that are relevant to me before the ceremony as possible. I usually fail pretty miserably and am still struggling to complete the short list at the end of the year (or even in January, as happened this year). So, I was excited to see Triangle of Sadness appear on Hulu the other day, because it was another one to cross off the list, putting me at more than half of the Best Picture nominees with a few weeks still to go. That’s pretty good for me.

I went into this completely cold. I knew nothing about it, and didn’t even know that this is a comedy. It is, but it’s going to take us some time to get there. It starts as a sort of ugly romance between two very superficial people. We’re going to be dealing with Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), who are both professional models. Yaya is also an influencer, which is a big part of how the two of them live. What we learn early on is that the two of them are a couple, but it’s in large part for show. Yaya, despite making more money than Carl, expects him to pay for everything. We also learn that Yaya is with Carl in large part because it helps her get more followers on Instagram. Her eventual goal—her “way out of this life”—is to snag a very wealthy husband and live as a trophy wife, a fate that Carl decides he will save her from.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

What I've Caught Up With, February 2023

So February was interesting. We've been remodeling our kitchen, which has thrown life in disarray. It looks like another two weeks to finish things up. That kind of affected my movie consumption, but not terribly. I also made it through all of Elementary and we finished Ted Lasso until the next season drops. It never feels like I make any real progress on the big list, though--every time I watch a movie, someone else suggests a new one.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Next Stop: Violence

Film: Bullet Train
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last decade plus watching movies that would often be classified as important and meaningful. I’m okay with that, but sometimes you don’t want to think or have deep feelings. Sometimes, you just want to watch things blow up. Fortunately for those of us who sometimes just want to watch the world burn, one of the few things that we have done well in the last 10 years is that we have just about perfected the action movie. While I wouldn’t call it Exhibit A, we need to put Bullet Train on that list.

For the record, I think this trend probably started with Die Hard and has continued (but is not limited to) Dredd, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Raid: Redemption among others. Bullet Train is very much an action-comedy. What this means is that we’re going to have a lot of fights and a substantial number of deaths, but a lot of it is going to be done (successfully) for laughs.