Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Film: Spoorloos (The Vanishing); The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop (Spoorloos); DVD from personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player (Chainsaw).

Since it’s Halloween, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to watch a couple of films that I was pretty damn sure would scare me. I like horror movies in general. More accurately, I like smart horror movies, ones that don’t play to the lowest common denominator. Stupid horror movies don’t really do anything for me. I’m not scared when I know what’s going to happen, or when the victim in the film is dumb enough to walk into something obvious. So the films of today are interesting in the sense that in both cases, I know where the film is going. I’ve had access to both films for months. But I haven’t watched them because where they go freaks me out a bit (or a lot).

Spoorloos (The Vanishing) is the first of these. I admit right now that I am something of a claustrophobe. I don’t mind small places like elevators, but I have an intense fear of being physically confined or restrained. That comes into play in Spoorloos, and I knew that going in. What I dreaded more than anything was that ending I knew was coming. What I didn’t understand was how what was essentially a simple story could be expanded into something that lasted close to two hours.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Why I Skipped Prom

Film: Carrie
Format: DVD from personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I like a lot of smart horror movies from the 1970s and 1980s. It was sort of a golden period for horror films, and while there’s plenty of dross, there’s also a crap-ton of quality films. Carrie is one that passed over me. In fact, it’s one of the few pre-1990 Stephen King books I haven’t read. I guess I was never interested enough in the story to get through it. Still, eventually I’m going to see everything on the giant List o’ Doom, so the night before Halloween is as good a night as any to finally put it in the spinner and see what I’ve been missing.

Carrie is the story of a shy, awkward high school girl named Carrie White (Sissy Spacek). Essentially friendless and even mocked by her teachers sometimes, Carrie is very much the social outcast through and through. She isn’t helped by her mother, Margaret (Piper Laurie), who is religion-obsessed. Actually, that puts it mildly. Margaret White tends to favor the Old Testament over the New except for the blood of Jesus. Everything in her world is a sin. Our introduction to Carrie comes when she experiences menarche (go look it up) during a shower after gym class. True to her pathological religious roots, her mother claims that this is due to sin. Carrie is frequently punished by being thrown into a closet and forced to pray to a pretty gruesome Christ statue.


Film: Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

If you say that you don’t like anime, fans will tell you that it’s an unfair thing to say. Anime, they will tell you, is a style, not a genre. Anime comes in all different stripes and genres, so claiming to dislike it is very much like saying you don’t like movies. Fair enough—it’s a style and not a genre. In general, though, it’s a style I don’t like that much. I never feel centered watching most anime. There never seems to be enough exposition for me to feel like I know what’s going on. Fans of the style typically cite Hayao Miyazaki as the best choice for a hater.

Okay. I’ve seen a few Miyazaki films. This, in fact, is the second time I’ve seen Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke). I will admit that there is a particular beauty to this film, and a toughness I didn’t recall. But I still don’t really understand what the hell is going on through a lot of it. Incidentally, I don’t typically watch dubbed versions of films, but with animation, it seems to matter less. Also, the English language version of this film feature some pretty good voice talent, so I went with it.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Off Script: House on Haunted Hill; Bay of Blood

Films: House on Haunted Hill; Reazione a Catena (Twitch of the Death Nerve, Bay of Blood
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

It might be coming out of an anti-intellectual closet to say this, but I tend to like the films of William Castle because they are so damn silly. Castle was the king of entertaining film promotions, having moviegoers sign waivers against the possibility of having a heart attack from fright while watching his films. It’s ballsy and fun. Seriously, there’s not a person alive today who would be so scared to be in any danger from one of Castle’s films. They’re scary sort of like Chris Kattan is funny, so, y’know, not. They also frequently have plot holes you could drive a truck through. Fortunately, they’re entertaining, and really that’s all I need. Castle’s films are probably an acquired taste, but it’s a taste I acquired pretty quickly.

It helps a film like House on Haunted Hill to have a legitimate actor like Vincent Price starring. Price, of course, made his name in cheap, not-very-scary horror movies, but he’s still Vincent Price, and he’s pretty damn awesome. The truth is that he’s really the best thing going in this one, but he’s also more than enough. Even when the movie was stupid, Price was worth watching.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Old Souls

Film: Cloud Atlas
Format: Kerasotes 16 theater.

Sometimes I love what I do.

I don’t go to the movies very often. It’s not the expense (I watched today’s film for a paltry $5.00), but the time. I tend to watch films piecemeal because I have to. Twenty minutes here, half an hour there. There are times when it takes me a full day to get through a 90-minute film. When I do have a chunk of time to watch something, it’s usually because I’m doing something else. I’ve paired a lot of socks and done a lot of ironing while watching a movie. Since theaters don’t allow me to come and go as I please or pause when I ask them to, and since they won’t allow me to bring in my ironing board, I find myself without the necessary chunk of consecutive hours most days. But I do make exceptions, and Cloud Atlas is just such an exception.

Before I get too much into the heart of this, let me say this now and like this: I officially forgive the Wachowskis for Matrix: Revolutions.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Singin' on Sunset Blvd.

Film: The Artist
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Wow. Really, just wow. I heard all of the hype for The Artist, of course; it would be pretty much impossible not to have heard something of it last year and at the start of this year. It was the darling of film people for a couple of solid months, and even as someone who hadn’t seen it until tonight, it was not a surprise when it walked away from the Oscars with a fistful of statues. According to its IMDB page, in addition to its five Oscars, The Artist has received another 109 awards of various sorts and types. Yeah, that’s a lot.

What I expected, of course, was a silent movie, but it’s not precisely that. Instead, it is a modern film that happens to be silent for the bulk of its running time. The difference here is really all the difference. Except when it actually makes sense within the narrative, there’s no painful mugging to the camera or overacting of the sort common to 100-year-old films. It is a film for now that pays homage to these classics and a few others besides. There are definite shades of Sunset Blvd. here and more than a smattering of Singin’ in the Rain.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Film: Ceddo
Format: Internet video on laptop.

There’s a certain pleasure in seeing a film that you’re pretty sure no one else you know has seen. Such is the case with Ceddo, a Senegalese film that manages to be as obscure as just about anything I’ve sought in the past three years. As often happens with the more obscure films I watch, I went into this completely cold, not knowing the first thing about this film other than its country of origin and that the director is named Ousmane Sembene. I would never have expected what this film is—a slow-paced discussion on religious persecution.

It’s difficult to tell the time period this film takes place in. In a lot of respects, it looks modern. On the other hand, it’s evident that the slave trade is taking place in the world of the film. In fact, at one point a collection of characters discusses the very real possibility of selling their own families into slavery. My guess is that Ceddo takes place during the 18th or early 19th century. I suppose, in all honesty, that I know too little of West Africa to be able to speak more relevantly than that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Seeing a Man About a Horse

Film: War Horse
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

About a year ago, an anonymous commenter told me on this blog that if I couldn’t understand art films and didn’t want to dedicate myself to truly learning about (in the case of The Color of Pomegranates) the Armenian surrealist tradition that I would be better off sticking to Spielberg. That’s an odd quantum level above typical trolling; normally, I’d be told to drool over the latest Michael Bay film. I like Spielberg sometimes. At the very least he has the potential to make a great film whenever he sets out to make one. Sure, sometimes you get 1941, but sometimes you get Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’ll always give him a chance.

That said, I knew going in to War Horse that I was setting myself up for Spielberg’s favorite movie pastime—black belt-level emotional manipulation. Spielberg has never seen an emotional moment he couldn’t milk nor has he come across an honest moment of real emotion he couldn’t play for that last tug of the heartstrings or slowly falling tear. The problem with being as emotionally manipulative as Spielberg can be is that I’m aware of it, and because of that, I’m on my guard against it. Any time there’s a Dickensian-style coincidence or a particular swelling of music, my heart hardens. I know what’s coming because I know he flat-out can’t resist going there.

Monday, October 22, 2012

I Get Knocked Down, but I Get Up Again

Film: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Format: VHS from Freeport Public Library through interlibrary loan on big ol’ television.

I love going into a film cold. Truth be told here, before I popped in the tape of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, I couldn’t have told you anything about it. In fact, I was mildly surprised that the film was in English; for whatever reason, I expected it to be German or Scandinavian. That changed the minute I heard a broad East Midlands accent.

There are no surprises as to the type of person Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) is when we are first introduced to him. We see him working on a factory line counting out his piecework, hoping to get to his quota of 1000 pieces so he can knock off for the weekend. He tells us that he could easily get his work done in half the time allotted to him, but that this would mean his employers could cut his pay, and he refuses to let that happen. Arthur loves a good time more than anything. His days during the week are there to mark the time until Friday night. He gives his mother a bit of his pay as room and board and then spends the rest on booze and women. In particular, he spends money on Brenda (Rachel Roberts), the wife of his co-worker Jack (Bryan Pringle). Arthur has complete contempt for anyone who wants to get ahead, anyone married, anyone who doesn’t spend his time drinking and womanizing, and is in particular disgusted with Robboe (Robert Cawdron), his boss.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I Wonder if They Serve Punch

Film: Da Zui Xia (Come Drink With Me)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on big ol’ television.

The wuxia genre is a fun one, but not one I know very well. There are only a couple of films from this genre on The List, so I won’t be getting too familiar with it in the near future, either. Da Zui Xian (Come Drink With Me is a relatively early entry in the genre, and an early one in the career of direction King Hu. It shows its age and its relative ineptitude in places, but it stil proves to be a movie very much worth seeing, if only for the history of the genre.

Like many a wuxia film, I’m not completely positive I followed every nuance of the plot. Only the most diehard fan will have the desire to unravel all of the different plot threads here. It’s perhaps too complicated for a film that is based on seeing people punch each other repeatedly. A group of bandits has had their leader captured by the authorities of the area. The leader is being led off for execution. In retaliation, they kidnap the son of the governor, hoping to enact a trade—the leader for the son. If they don’t get their leader back, they’ll kill the son, no questions asked.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

What's in a Name?

Film: Lucia
Format: DVD from Chip Lary’s personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

One of the issues I have with The List is that there is very much a sense of some films being on the list strictly because of their obscurity. While a many, perhaps even the vast majority of films on the 1001 Movies list foster a nod from those who have seen them, there are some that instead cause a head scratch in response. It’s not that the films are specifically bad, but that they are incredibly difficult to find. Lucia from director Humberto Solas is one such film.

The idea of the film is fascinating. We follow three individual stories, one after the other, at specific times in the history of Cuba. In each case, the main character is a woman named Lucia, and it’s a different woman every time. (In other words, it’s not the same Lucia at three different stages of her life, but three different women at key points in the history of Cuba.) Additionally, while historical events swirl around our three heroines, the stories themselves are essentially romances.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hate Crimes

Film: Romper Stomper
Format: DVD from personal collection on big ol’ television.

If one assumes that all of the World War II films about the Holocaust are, on a deeper level, about race, then race relations are the most frequently filmed topic on The List. Naturally, when it comes to film, mixing it up with various races isn’t apple pie and ice cream. With a film like Romper Stomper, race is front and center, and what happens is pretty damned ugly.

I’m going to guess that most of the readers here are more familiar with a couple of other films, one older and one newer than Romper Stomper, but it’s the best comparison I can think of. A great deal of this film comes across like A Clockwork Orange had a lovechild with American History X. We have the sort of random gang violence of Kubrick’s film, the thoughtless crime and rampant destruction for no purpose other than to destroy something. All of this is motivated by race, though, since the bulk of our characters are Australian white supremacists. What this means for those of us watching is that there’s plenty of Nazi regalia and lots of swastika tattoos. The violence tends to be perpetrated against the Vietnamese—a bit of a change from what Americans might be used to—but it ultimately results in the same thing.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Off Script: 28 Days Later

Film: 28 Days Later
Format: DVD from personal collection on big ol’ television.

The first time I looked through the 1001 Movies book, I was surprised to see that Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later didn’t make the cut or had been eliminated in a previous edit. I was slightly more perturbed when I realized it was the former, not the latter. People there are who complain of the third act in this film (not me), but it remains as an innovative and exciting horror film, a possible genre rewrite, and an exercise in truly virtuoso filmmaking.

First, let’s get this out of the way right now: depending on your point of view, 28 Days Later either definably is or is not a zombie movie. I know the arguments on both sides, and I do have an opinion on it, but I’m not going to offer it here. There are solid arguments on both sides. Be warned, gentle reader—any comments below that address this question, either is they is or is they ain’t some zombies, will be deleted. I’m not turning my comments section into a war zone.


Film: Yi Yi (A One and a Two)
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Each new film is its own particular adventure. There are some that I go into with a particular idea in mind, of course, and others that I walk into cold. Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (A One and a Two) is such a film that I watched with little or no expectations. I knew only that it came recommended and that it tipped the scales at close to three hours. Since watching the longest films is always one of my goals in a given month, it seemed time to knock this one off the list.

Now that I’ve watched it, I’m not really sure how to react to it. Yi Yi has moments of beauty, flashes of brilliance, hints of genius. And yet despite this, I feel strangely disconnected from it in a way I didn’t expect. I don’t dislike the characters or the film itself. For whatever reason, though, I never felt compelled by or as invested in the characters as I should have been. Yi Yi is a slice of life, but it’s nothing more than a slice of life. The drama here is real, but the dramas that unfold on the screen are small dramas, important to those who experience them, but ultimately life on a small scale. Perhaps it’s this that left me less than compelled. I’m not sure. Something did, though, because try as I might, I simply couldn’t become as emotionally invested in these characters as I should have been.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Strange Cargo

Film: Le Havre
Format: DVD from NetFlix on big ol’ television.

Up to this point, my one and only dealing with director Aki Kaurismaki was the strangely emotionless Ariel a couple of years ago. I didn’t hate that film, but I had a difficult time understanding what it was all about. I mean, I got the plot; I just didn’t understand why no one in the film expressed any emotion. Now with Le Havre, I’m seeing this as indicative of Kaurismaki’s style, because there’s not much in the way of facial expression in this film, either.

This is the story of Marcel Marx (Andre Wilms), a former bohemian author who was mildly successful back in the day. In the present day of the film, he has given up all of his artistic goals and pretensions and now makes a living shining shoes wherever he can—train stations, in front of stores, and down by the docks in the port city of Le Havre. One night a cargo container filled with illegals from somewhere in Africa. While they are being attended by the Red Cross, a young man named Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) walks out of the shipping container and runs away into the city.

Watching Oscar: Witness for the Prosecution

Film: Witness for the Prosecution
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I have been having a serious problem lately with spambots. For whatever reason, the original version of this review, posted September 20, has attracted 20-30 spam posts per day. I'm deleting the original post and reposting here in an attempt to fix this issue. On the plus side, Blogger's spam filters are evidently excellent, because not a single spam comment has made it through. Fingers crossed, here we go again.

Charles Laughton evidently once said of himself that he had a face that could stop a sundial. Be that as it may, the man could bring it on the big screen. When he bit down into a role, he made it his. He more than anything is the centerpiece of Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution, and that’s saying a lot. When Laughton is on screen with Wilder directing, in a Wilder script based on a work by Agatha Christie and a cast that features Elsa Lanchester, Marlene Dietrich, and Tyrone Power, you’re saying quite a bit.

Tubby, cigar-smoking, monocle-wearing barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) has just returned to his law offices after a long stay in the hospital due to a heart attack. He’s returned against the wishes of his doctors and most especially his nurse, Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester). However, returned he has, and he’s been given a nice load of calm cases to try—nothing exciting and most especially no murders. These plans go immediately awry when we meet Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), a man who is accused of murdering an old widow for her money.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Watching Oscar: The Lives of a Bengal Lancer

Film: The Lives of a Bengal Lancer
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television.

I sometimes wonder about the lives that may have been negatively affected by the Hollywood-ization of stories. Take for instance The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. This is very much in the old school tradition of the action film, featuring a trio of soldiers who take on ridiculous odds and rout the enemy with a single punch. A man doesn’t show emotion in this world, and certainly doesn’t break under pressure. I wonder how many men expected to act this way under pressure and didn’t, and thus had that added layer of guilt thrown on top of them. Of course, there’s also the possibility that several managed to hold out under duress trying to live up to this ridiculous ideal.

As the title implies, we’re deep in the heart of the British Raj for this one. The British are fighting against an insurgent named Mohammed Khan (Douglass Dumbrille, in a case of old school whitewashing), and are trying to get him to make a fatal mistake and thus capture him. The mastermind of this plan is Colonel Tom Stone (Guy Standing), the CO of the 41st Bengal Lancers. A brief skirmish backfires, and Lieutenant Alan McGregor (Gary Cooper) leads an attack against both Khan and his orders, for which he is reprimanded. It also teaches us that McGregor is a man of action.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Pimpin' Victorian Style

Film: Wuthering Heights
Format: DVD from Chip Lary’s personal collection on kick-ass portable DVD player.

As a member of the community of 1001 Movies bloggers, it’s nice to reach out and help every now and then. Chip Lary over at Tips from Chip generally goes above and beyond in this department, sending me a few films with the promise of more. Yes, I’m sending some back to him. Not a bad deal for the price of postage. Anyway, one of the films he sent along was the difficult-to-locate 1939 version of Wuthering Heights, which also happened to be the only film left in the 1930s for me.

The film is, of course, based on Emily Bronte’s book of the same name. There’s plenty of sighing, requited but unfulfilled love, and the consistent razoring of the thin line between love and hate. The film is bookended by the arrival of a man to the desolate house of Wuthering Heights where he meets the angry and impolite Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier). The newcomer then sees an apparition out on the moors and Heathcliff runs out after it. Not knowing what to think, we’re given the full story of Heathcliff and Cathy (Merle Oberon), his long-dead love.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Trouble in Paradise

Film: The Descendants
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on big ol’ television.

What I found interesting initially about The Descendants is the setting. The film is set in Hawaii, and it immediately affects how one views the proceedings. That is until George Clooney’s voiceover comes in and tells us it shouldn’t. He says something I never consciously thought of—Hawaii is just a place like any other. Sure, it’s paradise, but people still live and work and die. Things are just as fatal, just as dangerous, just as sad. This is relevant, because as the film starts, we find ourselves in a hospital.

Matt King (Clooney) is a lawyer as well as the sole trustee of a massive land trust inherited from generations back in a direct line from King Kamehameha. The trust runs out in seven years, though, and so the family is considering the sale of their final parcel of land—25,000 acres of pristine beachfront on Kauai. Just as the sale is preparing to go through, King’s wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie, in a role that required her to essentially lie in bed with her mouth open) is in a serious speedboat accident and rendered comatose. We learn early on that this is a permanent situation; she will never recover. Because of her living will, the family pulls the plug and begins saying goodbye.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Mama's Boy

Film: Le Souffle au Coeur (Murmur of the Heart); Mat i Syn (Mother and Son)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player (Le Souffle au Coeur) and internet video (Mat i Syn) on laptop.

I’ve railed before that the typical coming-of-age story comes in two varieties. For boys, coming of age is all about coming to grips with mortality; you’re not a man until you realize that you will be dead someday. For girls, coming of age is all about coming to grips with sex and the possibility of motherhood; you’re not a woman until you realize that you have the power to bring new life into the world. At least, those are the twin realities of this basic story when it comes to film. So, when we’re presented with a story that looks and talks like this but is actually about a young adult male dealing with sex, well, it’s a bit of a surprise.

That, honestly, is about the only thing I really liked about Le Souffle au Coeur (Murmur of the Heart), which otherwise plays like “Adventures in Assholery” set to a jazz soundtrack. The people in this film are precisely the sort of people that I don’t like spending film time around. They are rude, arrogant, too rich for their own good, spoiled, entitled, and arrogant (yes, I said "arrogant" twice. They're really arrogant). And it gets worse. My impression is that in many ways, our title character is supposed to be something like a wealthy French version of Holden Caulfield. That might well be the case, because I hate A Catcher in the Rye and I hate that whiny little prick, too.

Film Within a Film

Film: Zire Darakhatan Zeyton (Through the Olive Trees); 8 ½
Format: Internet video (Olive Trees) and streaming video from NetFlix (8 ½) on laptop.

Just as there are dozens of musicals that are essentially about musicals, there are plenty of films in the world about films, filmmakers, and the filmmaking process. For me, this is a much more interesting topic. I mean, most musicals about musicals are about the necessary pluck and determination needed to put on a show at any cost, and basically indicate that those people who are show people (and who thus smile when they are low) are particularly special and wonderful. Filmmakers might well do this, too, but they don’t seem to do it exclusively. Frequently, films about film are filled not with unashamed promotion of directors as saints, but frequently as people just as confused and lost as anyone else.

Zire Darakhatan Zeyton (Through the Olive Trees) is a film deeply connected to the idea that life and art blend into each other and overlap, often becoming confused, one for the other. I had thought that Kiarostami’s Close-Up was the most convolutedly meta film I had ever seen, but that’s only because I had not yet seen this one. This is the final film in his “Koker” trilogy. The first film, Where is the Friend’s Home?, is a treatise on civic duty and friendship. The second film, Life, and Nothing More concerns Kiarostami searching for the stars of the first film after a massive, destructive earthquake, putting a layer of meta onto the first film. This one is essentially about the filming of the second film, which is about the first film, making a meta parfait of Iranian film goodness.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Watching Oscar: Séance on a Wet Afternoon

Film: Séance on a Wet Afternoon
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on big ol’ television.

One thing I love about pursuing a list of films is that I frequently encounter films that I’ve never heard of that I really enjoy. I admit that I was predisposed to like Séance on a Wet Afternoon based on the title alone and became far more interested when I learned of the premise. One of the classes I sometimes teach is a class in critical thinking, and I make it a point to spend a portion of the class debunking the sort of thing that the gullible waste their money on, people who speak with the dead being one of those things. Séance takes the sort of attitude I have, thankfully, placing a charlatan front and center and dealing with the consequences of her private madness.

Myra Savage (Kim Stanley) is a medium who communes with her dead son, Arthur. She conducts séances and is assisted by her husband, the sick and weak-willed Billy (Richard Attenborough). Her plan, which she claims comes from Arthur, is to “borrow” a child from a wealthy family and hold the child in seclusion. Then, using her powers as a medium, she will tell the family where the child can be found, rescuing both the child and the ransom, thereby becoming famous as a medium. They put the plan into action immediately. Billy distracts the driver of Amanda Clayton (Judith Donner) and then drives away with the girl.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Prelude to War

Film: The Mortal Storm
Format: DVD from Oak Park Public Library through interlibrary loan on kick-ass portable DVD player.

I get the impression sometimes that I’m really jaded. The List sometimes feels like it consists of about 90% films concerning World War II. I’ve lost count of the number of World War II epics, holocaust documentaries, and other similar films on the list. I suppose it’s only fair—it is one of the most important events of the last 100 years and in many ways one of the two or three most defining moments of the last century. It’s only natural that a lot of our art would concern it. But it’s getting more and more difficult to get me that interested in it any more since I’ve seen so much. So when another film pops through the transom and appears to be about the same thing, I breathe a heavy sigh.

The lesson for the day, though, is that I should learn to trust a little more. All I knew about The Mortal Storm going in is that it took place in Germany during the rise of Hitler, so I fully expected it to be just more of the same. I watched the trailer before starting the film and discovered, no shock here, that it was banned in a number of countries—all Axis powers, I would assume, as it does not paint a very flattering picture of the Austrian corporal and his oppressive social system. Again, this is not too terribly shocking. What I didn’t expect was how fully engaged I would be in this film, and how quickly that happened.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Toon Town

Film: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on big ol’ television.

I remember when Who Framed Roger Rabbit? came out. I was probably too old to really be as excited by the idea of it as I was, but I knew it would be something I had to see. The whole sell of this is that all of the great cartoon characters from the past would appear on screen at the same time. We’d see Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse on screen at the same time. I mean, if you grew up on classic cartoons, it was something that had to be seen, even if it sucked. Happily, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? doesn’t suck. Instead, it’s both an homage to all of these classic cartoons and an homage to film noir.

The conceit here is that cartoons, or “toons,” are real and actually exist in the real world. In this world, we have Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), a real man who used to work private detective cases for various toons. He’s been on the skids lately because his brother was killed by a toon during an investigation. Since that time, Eddie has avoided toons, Toon Town, and most things that don’t involve a whiskey bottle. However, he’s called in by cartoon maker R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) to perform a job. One of his stars, cartoon Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) has been unable to concentrate on his work because his wife Jessica (a cartoon human voiced by an uncredited Kathleen Turner) has been seen around town with Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), a man who owns a joke factory. Roger is devoted to his wife, and Maroon wants pictures to get him to realize that she is two-timing him by playing patty-cake (yes, literally) with Acme. So Eddie gets the pictures.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sweden vs. America

Film: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Format: DVD from NetFlix on big ol’ television.

I’m a long-time fan of David Fincher. I decided that he was a director to start watching the minute I saw Se7en. For whatever reason, though, I didn’t really have any interest in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo despite the amount of hype it received. If I had to think of a reason why, it’s because I’m always a little suspect of immediate American remakes of foreign films. I kind of object to them on general principles; it speaks to a dumbing-down of American culture. Somehow, a huge percentage of our population can’t appreciate something unless it shows up in English.

My other issue with the Fincher remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that I’d been told by no small number of people that it’s very slow to start. This, by the way, is accurate. I wouldn’t call it a slow burn because once it gets going, there’s nothing slow about it. The film is more than 150 minutes long, and it starts out slowly and with a good amount of confusion. It picks up right about the time there are two hours left, becoming increasingly compelling as the stories unfold.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

All the Colors of the Rainbow

Film: Gabbeh
Format: DVD from Reddick Library through interlibrary loan on big ol’ television.

I don’t often watch the same film twice in a row, but there are times when I find it necessary. With Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh, it was necessary, but that’s not a bad thing. I was willing to watch a second time because even though I didn’t completely understand it the first time (or, in the interest of full disclosure, the second time), I enjoyed it very much. Gabbeh is one of the most visually rich films I have ever seen, even if its meaning is pretty opaque. I think there’s also some truth to the idea that I didn’t understand it was well as I could have because I’m not immersed in Iranian film, or Persian myself.

The film is a mixture of fairy tale and magical realism, and it works on many levels at the same time. We start with an old couple (Hossein and Rogheih Moharami) who are walking to a pool of water with the intent of cleaning their rug, called a gabbeh. Before they begin cleaning it, a young woman appears on the rug and claims her name is Gabbeh (Shaghayeh Djodat). And here’s where the multiple levels kick in. She might be the spirit of the rug, since gabbehs traditionally tell stories, and specifically tell stories of the weaver. She might also be the old woman in a younger form. She might also be the sort of idealized version of a woman, or the old woman.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Family Matters

Film: Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I took a long look at the films still remaining for me today. There are (with today’s film out of the way) 306 films left, and a hefty chunk of those are films that are difficult to find. So after a bit of searching around, I decided it was time to concentrate a little more on these more difficult films, knowing there’s all the time in the world for those films that are easily located. Since I’m also being conscious of film length, I opted for the longest remaining film that was otherwise difficult to locate, and thus I spent close to three hours watching Rocco e i Suoi Fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers), a film straight from the heart of Italian neo-realism.

The Parondi family moves from a little down in the south of Italy to Milan in the hope of making a better life for themselves. The family matriarch, Rosaria (Katina Paxinou) comes with four of her sons: Simone (Renato Salvatori), the eponymous Rocco (Alain Delon), Ciro (Max Cartier), and the young Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi). Her fifth son, Vincenzo (Spiros Focas) is already in Milan, which is why they came there. Vincenzo is currently engaged to Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale), but things immediately go awry at the arrival of his family.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Watching Oscar: 5 Fingers

Film: 5 Fingers
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

Everyone has an actor or two that he or she loves and will always watch. Barbara Stanwyck is one of mine. James Mason is another. When I saw that Hulu was losing the rights to Mason’s 5 Fingers, I knew it was time to watch. Even if I didn’t love the movie, I knew I’d appreciate Mason, and I was right in that opinion. Of course, it helps that the film was good enough for a couple of Oscar nods, but it’s really all about James Mason for me, with Michael Rennie as an added bonus.

The opening moments of the film suggest that what we are about to see is a true story of espionage from World War II, and as far as I know, this is the truth. Like many a good story of spying during wartime, this film takes place not in one of the belligerent nations, but on neutral territory, Turkey, in this case. Since declaring itself neutral in the conflict, both Axis and Allied powers maintain embassies, and there is a great deal of maneuvering around the idea of getting aid both official and unofficial from the Turkish government.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

And You May Find Yourself Behind the Wheel of a Large Automobile

Film: Senna; Drive
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t pay attention to sports at all. But it wasn’t always this way; I used to be as into sports as the typical guy. I was a big football fan and would watch even a bad football game (American football for those of you outside of the U.S.) over just about anything else. I gave up on sports a few years ago and have never looked back. I’m fine not caring about them. Even when I was a sports fan, though, I never cared at all about any sort of auto racing. NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One…it was all the same to me and I didn’t care about any of it. That makes a film like Senna an especially hard sell for me.

The film is a collection of archival footage of the life of Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna with voiceovers from people who knew him and members of his family. While there is some discussion of Senna’s early life, the film really concentrates almost entirely on his Formula One career, and even here touching only briefly on his first few years on the circuit. A good deal of the story focuses on his rival with some time teammate Alain Prost, on Senna’s three world championship titles, and, ultimately on the crash that took his life and its aftermath.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

He's the Hairy-Handed Gent Who Ran Amok in Kent

Film: An American Werewolf in London
Format: VHS from personal collection on big ol’ television and streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

Certain sub-genres of film get tired. The death knell has been signaled for Westerns more than once, and yet they still show up and some of them are still good. Werewolf movies had a bad reputation for years as low-grade b-movies out for cheap shocks and crappy special effects. In fact, I challenge anyone to name a good werewolf film between the release of The Wolf Man in 1941 and 1980. All of that changed in 1981 with the release of two really good werewolf movies: The Howling and today’s cinematic masterpiece (a term I try not to bandy about lightly), An American Werewolf in London.

According to legend, John Landis got the idea for this film while working on the set of Kelly’s Heroes when he witnessed a gypsy burial. The burial involved putting the corpse into a very deep grave feet first and wrapped in garlic. This was intended to prevent the body from rising again. Landis’s essential starting point was, “but what if it did?” Obviously, that basic premise mutated quite a bit to give us a werewolf picture, but there is a sort of genetic connection here between the idea of a risen corpse and the violent and funny werewolf movie that was actually created.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Don't Trust the Title

Film: High Sierra
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Confession time—until I actually saw the cover of the DVD case, I thought High Sierra was a Western. Really, with that title, who could blame me? It’s not a Western, of course. It’s a film noir starring Humphrey Bogart, who continues to find ways to remind me just how much I like watching him in classic films. That said, I’m not sure just how good High Sierra is when compared with other noirs that seem to have a lot more going for them. I mean, Bogart certainly counts for something, but he can’t count for everything, can he?

Criminal Roy Earle (Bogart) is given a pardon and released from prison for reasons unknown to him at first. As it turns out, a former criminal pal called Big Mac (Donald MacBride) is planning a high-stakes caper at a resort and wants Earle to run the show. The idea is that they will break into the resort and steal everything from the safety deposit boxes—lots of jewelry, mostly. The score should be big, and as an added benefit, there’s a man on the inside helping them out. Should be a cinch. So Earle drives out west from Chicago to get ready to perform the job. On the way, he befriends a family heading west. It’s an older couple (Henry Travers and Elisabeth Risdon) and their granddaughter, the attractive but partly crippled Velma (Joan Leslie). Earle takes a shine to Velma immediately and decides that he’ll do what he can to help the family and to see if he can’t get Velma’s club foot surgically repaired. Yeah, this is actually a pretty major plot point.

Month 33 Status Report

So I went out today all excited that there'd be a shiny new version of The Book at my local Barnes & Noble. And, well, they didn't have it. Damn. I really wanted to see what's new on the list, but it looks like I'll have to wait a couple more days or a week or something.

So, September was good. I watched a solid 28 films, and that's the definition of a good month for me here. As a matter of fact, it's the best month I've had this year. It's surprising, because I expected September to be down from normal.

I'd love to say that October will be all about horror, but it won't be. I might squeeze a few in, but don't expect a lot different from what I've been doing. I'll update the list with new films whenever possible.

Oh, minor milestone, which I didn't announce because I expected the list to expand today. For however briefly, I'm at fewer than 300 to go. Putting up the review of Crash last night pegs me at 299 films left on the current list.

UPDATE! As stated by Jay Cluitt and confirmed by Chip Lary in the comments below, the 14 additions to the 2012 edition of The Book are:
Senna (2010)
Le Havre (2011)
Shame (2011)
The Tree Of Life (2011)
The Kid With A Bike (2011)
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Drive (2011)
War Horse (2011)
A Separation (2011)
Bridesmaids (2011)
The Descendants (2011)
Hugo (2011)
The Artist (2011)

Thanks for your superior sleuthing skills, gentlemen!

And with that, I'm back up to 310 films to go.