Thursday, April 19, 2018

Everybody Hurts

Films: Rabbit Hole
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on various players.

As I get closer and closer to finishing up the Oscar lists I have set for myself, each movie I watch brings up a particular question: why have I not watched this one yet? For some, it comes down to availability. For others, it’s more about the film’s subject matter. There are some films I just don’t want to watch because of what they’re about. Rabbit Hole is about parents who lost their four-year-old son in a terrible accident. This is precisely why I haven’t seen it until tonight.

I don’t like stories involving the very real grief of losing a child. I mind it far less when this is attached to a horror movie because of the inherent unreality of that situation. With a realistic story involving a child’s death, I end up feeling a lot more vulnerable as a parent. I end up watching films like Rabbit Hole rocking back and forth in my seat. As good as the movie might turn out to be, I know I’m in for a rough ride. At least Rabbit Hole has the decency to not have us live through the child’s actual death. The movie starts eight months after the accident.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wednesday Horror: Shadow of the Vampire

Films: Shadow of the Vampire
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

When you talk about great silent films, there are a few names that are going to pop up right away. Nosferatu might not be the first film named, but it’s likely to be one of the first five and almost certainly one of the first ten. Shadow of the Vampire explores the making of Murnau’s film with a very interesting twist. In this version, we have a real vampire to give the film a particular authenticity.

That’s the high concept of Shadow of the Vampire: Murnau’s classic vampire film was made with a real vampire who called himself Max Schreck. It’s a great idea, actually a little surprising that no one thought of it before this. Schreck’s costume as the nosferatu Count Orlock is so strange and otherworldly that it almost makes sense that it truly was an undead creature. The film shifts between the filming of Nosferatu and the cast and crew, shifting from the sepia-toned world of the movie to color as appropriate. Whenever we are in the world of the movie within the movie, it’s made abundantly clear by this small but effective artifice.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

...Burma Shave

Films: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Format: DVD from NetFlix on The New Portable.

Going into Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (hereafter called simple Three Billboards to save space), I knew only a couple of things. I knew first that it won a couple of Oscars in acting categories. I also knew that of the Best Picture nominees, it was probably the most controversial one. A lot of people really liked it; some people didn’t. What makes this different from normal is that the people who didn’t like Three Billboards really didn’t like it. There wasn’t a great deal of casual dislike for it is what I’m saying, at least in my experience.

Having now seen it, I find myself in the position of seeing both sides. I understand why people like it as much as they seem to (the overwhelming ratings on Letterboxd are four and four-and-a-half stars). I also understand why there are people who are upset by it. Three Billboards is a movie that has grand pretensions and lives up to most of them. It’s also a film that is deeply flawed in serious ways.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Colonizers Gonna Colonize

Films: Indochine
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on various players.

I’m not sure what it is about an epic that makes me a little bit cockeyed going in. Sure, there are epic films that I love. Lawrence of Arabia, for instance, is a true classic, and I’m a huge fan of The Bridge on the River Kwai. But many epics seem to get to that point by some means of unnecessary bloating and padding. You may also notice that the two epics I’ve said I’m a fan of are specifically epics that have no real romance plot or subplot. That’s important, because the romance often seems to be the padding of choice. That’s certainly the case with Indochine.

In fact, Indochine is one of those epics that is essentially a romance set against a huge story. We’re going to get the romance that we (evidently) crave set against the full sweep of history, where the world is changing dramatically and our star-crossed lovers are caught up in those changes and both pushed together and pulled apart by forced beyond their control. I’m not saying anything here that you haven’t seen at least a dozen times. The difference is that this time, that story is happening in what used to be called Indochina (essentially Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) and it’s going to be in French.