Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Cloverfield

Film: Cloverfield
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on The New Portable.

Life is short, so I really try to focus on watching movies I’ve never seen before as much as I can. Sure, I rewatch some, but I really do try to watch things that are new to me when I can. Some of my rewatches are to have something on in the background while I work. Some are because I have a desire to revisit a movie I like. Some, like Cloverfield, I rewatch for this blog. I didn’t love Cloverfield when I watched it the first time, but I didn’t hate it either. That said, it’s not like I was aching to see it again.

What I find interesting is that Cloverfield has spawned an odd collection of…not really sequels, but sort of related films. Cloverfield is a found-footage kaiju-style movie in which a huge monster attacks New York as in the best of the Japanese giant monster movies. 10 Cloverfield Lane, released a few years later, is related to the first film in that they seem to take place in the same world, but the style is completely different. A third film, The Cloverfield Paradox is just out this year; I haven’t seen it yet, but I assume that once again it will be mildly related to the original film without really being anything like it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Films: The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell
Format: Internet video on the new internet machine.

Casting a biopic is a weird thing. Do you cast for looks or the “essence” of the person? Or do you just go with a name and hope that everything works out? In the case of The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell, the answer to these questions was evidently “none of the above.” Gary Cooper was cast as the title character in what Mitchell’s family believed to be a huge mistake. Where Cooper was tall and laconic, Mitchell by all accounts was short and fiery. Apparently, no one in Mitchell’s family thought this casting made any sense at all because the two men couldn’t have been more different.

Anyway, the title of the film tells you pretty much everything you need to know regarding the plot. Billy Mitchell (Cooper) is a staunch advocate for air power in the years following World War I. It’s Mitchell’s belief that air power is the future of the military and the future of warfare. No one else seems to believe him, though; both the Army and the Navy haven’t even pretended to throw a bone or two toward the fledgling air corps.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Off Script: Starry Eyes

Films: Starry Eyes
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

The movie industry is obsessed with itself in ways that would be evidence of psychosis in just about any other industry. When it wants to pat itself on the back, we get movies like Argo that posit our movie makers as selfless heroes. When it wants to be nostalgic, we get Hugo, touting the history of films as something like a history of humanity itself. When it wants to make fun of itself, we get things like Hail, Caesar!, showing Hollywood to be a place of insane self-obsession and detached from reality. In its sardonic moods, we get The Player, which is everything Hail, Caesar! is turned nasty. So what happens when someone decides to take this sort of navel gazing and slip it into a horror movie? You get Starry Eyes.

Sarah (Alex Essoe) desperately wants to break into the movie business. She’s marking time working as a server in an exploitative Hooters-like restaurant called Big Taters. There are a few things that stand in her way. One is that most of her friends either aren’t supportive or actively subverting her goals. Erin (Fabianne Therese) actively goes on auditions that Sarah has done and attempts to steal her roles. Second is that she is a trichotillomaniac, pulling out her own hair in moments of stress. The only people in Sarah’s life who seem to care about her at all are her roommate Tracy (Amanda Fuller), and Danny (Noah Segan), who talks about making a film and wanting Sarah to star in it.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

It is Balloon!

Film: The Red Balloon (Le Ballon Rouge)
Format: Various media on multiple players.

DVDs are a lot like sports officials and autocorrect in one important respect: we don’t really notice them until they screw up badly. As I get closer and closer to the end of these Oscar lists, I’ve discovered that, outside of last year’s nominations, there are a few spots where I still have a couple of movies in the same category and year to watch. I’m trying to get rid of those as much as I can. That’s why I requested The Red Balloon (or Le Ballon Rouge if you prefer) from NetFlix; I still had two 1956 nominees for Best Original Screenplay to watch. So imagine my frustration when about 10 minutes in the disc got stuck and started glitching. Fortunately for me, I found it streaming on Kanopy and finished watching it that way.

It would be fair to ask why, since I watched only 10 minutes off the DVD, I didn’t just say at the top that I watched this on Kanopy. Well, in many instances I would. In the case of The Red Balloon, though, watching 10 minutes approaches a third of the film’s running time. This runs under 35 minutes total. It remains the only short film to win an Oscar outside of the short film category. You read that right—this short film about a six-year-old boy being followed around Paris by a balloon won this Oscar despite having almost no dialogue and being shorter than an episode of Matlock.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Bug

Film: Bug
Format: DVD from Manhattan-Elwood Public Library through interlibrary loan on The New Portable.

Bug is one of those movies that I think you either really appreciate or really don’t. At least that’s sort of my impression of it. It’s the sort of film that would have really strong advocates on the one hand and people who were either upset by it, hated it, or were at least mildly traumatized by it. It says a lot that this was based on a play written by Tracy Letts, who also wrote Killer Joe. That should give you some idea of the sensibilities.

Bug is a paranoid fever dream, the sort of film that starts out looking like a potentially strange little romance and increasingly becomes more and more deranged over time until it devolves into a full-blown shared schizophrenic hallucination. It also does something so subtle that I didn’t catch it the first time I saw it and didn’t really catch it this time until I was close to done watching. I really like it when a film turns out to be smarter than I thought it was.