Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Player One

Film: Wreck-It Ralph
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I have a long connection to video games despite not having been an active gamer for a dozen years. I won’t go into it beyond saying that it was my career for 12 years or so as well. When Wreck-It Ralph showed up, I knew it would be a film that either pissed me off to no end or that I would love completely. It would depend entirely on how much respect was given the various source materials used to make the film. If it dealt with video games and video game culture without making it a joke, it could be the best thing going.

Thanks to smart writing, good characters, great use of classic video game characters, and a great deal of respect, Wreck-It Ralph is one of the great animated movies of the current decade. I went into this the first time with my fingers crossed and left the theater a believer. When people care about the story and not just about making a buck on their film, it shows, and Wreck-It Ralph was made by people who understand not only how to tell a story well, but who also know the culture they’re involving themselves in. Wreck-It Ralph was made by people who like video games.

Monday, March 30, 2015

In the Navy

Film: Operation Petticoat
Format: DVD from Plano Community Library District through interlibrary loan on laptop.

War comedies are a strange breed of film. War, by nature, is deadly serious, and yet something so terribly serious does lend itself to a particular type of comedy. Black humor is the obvious guess, but a film like Operation Petticoat opts instead for something much closer to screwball. It’s also worth saying that 1959 was a good year for both Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. Both are top billed in this, and both had even more successfully financial films in the same year; Grant had North by Northwest and Curtis did Some Like it Hot.

Rear Admiral Matt Sherman (Cary Grant) boards the submarine Sea Tiger a couple of hours before the sub is to be decommissioned. Inside, he discovers the captain’s log. Since he was the first captain of the sub, it’s his own log, and the entire film is spent in flashback as Sherman goes through the log of the Sea Tiger’s particular adventures during World War II in the Pacific.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Et Tu, Manager?

Film: The Ides of March
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Everyone knows that politics is a dirty business. There’s a saying that anyone who wants to be president shouldn’t be trusted with the job. In my experience that same statement goes for Congress, state legislatures, and possibly most county and other local positions as well. Everyone pretty much knows this, but we tend to forget it at times. Films like The Ides of March serve as something like a vaccination for that forgetting. We need to be reminded frequently that our political process, still potentially the best one in the world, is still pretty shitty in a lot of respects and probably will be for the foreseeable future.

The Ides of March tells a highly fictionalized version of the Democratic primary leading up to a presidential election, presumably, based on the year of release analogous to the 2008 election. That said, it could have really been any year when there was an actual primary, and for that matter, it could have just as easily been Republican candidates. The story is told through the point of view of Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), the assistant campaign manager for Pennsylvania Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney). Stephen is a true believer, someone who refuses to compromise or play dirty because he feels that he doesn’t need to, thanks to the integrity of his candidate.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

It's Afrikaans, not Africaan't

Film: Invictus
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Someone needs to talk to marketing people. There are times when you can be assured that most of a film’s audience knows the history and there are times when the film audience doesn’t. In the case of Invictus, which follows both Nelson Mandela’s early days as President of South Africa and the 1995 Rugby World Cup, it’s much more the latter than the former. I’m sure there are plenty of people who know all about rugby, but the bulk of an American audience views the game with the same quizzical expression we do Australian rules football and cricket. So putting a picture of Matt Damon on the front of the DVD case holding up the trophy? That kind of spoils the ending.

Anyway, that really is what Invictus is about. Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is released from prison and shortly thereafter, with black South Africans given the right to vote, elected to the presidency of the nation. Naturally, this is a tense situation, since organized and authorized racism had been the law of the land for so long. Mandela seeks to change all of that, first be assuring the white staff members of his government office that they are welcome to stay at their posts. This is further reinforced when, needing additional security, he brings in a team of white, military trained personnel who a few years before had been trained to repress more than half of the population. None of this sits well with his head of security, Jason Tshabalala (Tony Kgoroge).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Here We Go Again

Film: Les Miserables (1935)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve said for some time that my problem with the 2012 version of Les Miserables is that it’s a well-made version of a story that I don’t like that much. With me, though, there is always the danger that the reason I didn’t like this latest version is that it is a musical, and musicals are the genre I tend to be the hardest on. Tonight seemed a good chance to test this belief. The 1935 version of Les Miserables is essentially the same story (albeit a much shorter version) without all of the music and singing.

I’m not going to rehash the story here save the basics, but even the basics will take a few paragraphs. Jean Valjean (Fredric March) is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread. For this crime, he is sent away for 10 years, overseen by the dictatorial Inspector Javert (Charles Laughton). Upon his release, he is shown kindness by a priest, and eventually recreates himself as a captain of industry under a pseudonym. In so doing, though, he violates his parole, making Jean Valjean a wanted criminal.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Film: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
Format: DVD from Oregon Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

I can’t call myself the world’s biggest Sherlock Holmes fan, although I did name my dog after one of Doyle’s books. (My dog’s name is Baskerville if you’re playing the home version of my trivia game.) I feel about Holmes roughly the way I feel about, say, Star Trek. I’m enough of a fan to follow it and know the main players, but it’s nothing I particularly seek out. I was interested in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution mainly for the cast, which includes Robert Duvall and Alan Arkin. Now that I have a little time away from work (first time in months), I can work a little more with interlibrary loan, which is why I ordered this one for today.

This, it should be noted, is not a story by Arthur Conan Doyle, but Nicholas Meyer using Doyle’s characters. It’s kind of a two-part story. The first half deals entirely with Holmes and the second half with a case that arises suddenly. Despite this, the film doesn’t feel disjointed. Events of the first half creep into the second, and the narrative actually works despite there being two legitimate conclusions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I Hear that Train a-Comin'

Film: Runaway Train
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

A couple of weeks ago when I discussed Best Director for 1985, I brought up the film Runaway Train and the work of Andrey Koncahlovskiy. Shortly thereafter, a couple of thoughts occurred to me. First was that it had been a number of years since the last time I had seen the film. Second is that Runaway Train is currently streaming on NetFlix. Third, and this was the deciding factor, is that this film is unavailable on disc from NetFlix, meaning that if it vanishes from streaming, I’d have a harder time finding it. Sometimes, the decision is really no more difficult than that.

As it happens, I remembered the bulk of Runaway Train pretty well. At least I remembered Both Jon Voight and Eric Roberts, who were nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively. I remembered that it was a prison break film and that the Voight character and the prison warden had an enduring psychological battle. I forgot that Rebecca De Mornay was in this, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Travelling to Infinity

Film: The Theory of Everything
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Most of my current heroes are mental heroes rather than physical ones. I don’t give a flying crap about sports these days, so it doesn’t affect me how many yards one quarterback threw for or how many home runs some left fielder hits. No, I tend to reserve my admiration for people of distinct and definable mental acuity, at least in the world outside of movies. At work, I often feel like the only person who can speak about someone like Krzysztof Kieslowski. I sometimes feel like I’m also the only person who can talk about a guy like Lawrence Krauss, although I suspect that isn’t true. It’s no surprise that The Theory of Everything was thus high on my list of films I wanted to see.

I can see people objecting off the top to the name of The Theory of Everything since the film itself doesn’t encompass an actual theory of everything. This is also true when the source material for the book has a great title: Jane Hawking’s book “Traveling to Infinity.”

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Piper Advanced and the Children Followed

Film: The Pied Piper
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on rockin’ flatscreen.

I choose movies to watch on a given day for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, depending on my day, it comes down to length. I’ll watch a short one on a busy day and a long one on a day where I have much less to do. Sometimes, though, it comes down to the year and particular awards the film was nominated for. With The Pied Piper, it was a blend of this. I was extremely busy today and this film was available to me. Additionally, it was nominated for Best Picture in 1942, a category where I have a lot of work to do.

I knew absolutely nothing about this film going in. The title only makes sense after the opening couple of scenes. It has nothing to do with the old story about the man removing rats and then children from the town of Hamelin. No, this is a war tale that doesn’t have a great deal of war in it, at least in terms of our main characters. We have an older British gentleman named John Sidney Howard (Monty Woolley) who is currently in France despite the advancing Nazi war machine. We learn soon enough that he has fled England because despite his desire to help in the war effort in any way possible, he is repeatedly told that he is too old to be of any use. We also eventually learn that he has lost a son who flew for the RAF.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Pirates of (New) Penzance

Film: Moonrise Kingdom
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating here: it must be kind of great to be Wes Anderson. Moonrise Kingdom is a film with a cast list so deep that no less a luminary than Harvey Keitel doesn’t even appear on the cover of the DVD case. Anderson can evidently just call people up and ask them to appear in his films and they evidently show up to do it. Anderson is definitely an acquired taste, but it’s a taste I’ve managed to acquire without much trouble. I often need some time between Anderson films because of how astonishingly quirky they are. In this case, though, I enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel enough that I figured I was in the mood for more of him.

Like a lot of Wes Anderson movies, I’m not exactly sure where I should or even can start with discussing this film. At its heart, it’s the story of two kids, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) who have fallen in love with each other. As could only happen in Anderson’s world, Sam and Suzy have something more substantial than just puppy love. They are united by their outcast status. Sam is a recent orphan and basically friendless. Suzy acts out frequently getting violent. The two meet the summer they are 11 and become pen pals, deciding to run away together the next summer when Sam returns to New Penzance Island for his annual summer as a Khaki Scout, the Wes Anderson version of the Boy Scouts.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wilder a Little Wilder

Film: Irma la Douce
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I like the work of Billy Wilder. There may well have been more competent or capable directors within specific genres, but there has never been a more versatile director. Wilder apparently could do and did do just about everything. Irma la Douce is the tenth of Wilder’s directorial efforts I’ve seen. I can’t honestly say that I’ve disliked any of his work. Irma la Douce doesn’t rise to the level of Wilder’s best work, but considering Wilder’s best work, that’s hardly a knock on this film.

Irma la Douce is a romantic comedy, but much like Wilder’s The Apartment, it’s a romantic comedy with a good bit of darkness to it. After all, it is the story of a prostitute and her pimp. Irma la Douce (Shirley MacLaine) is a streetwalker in a Paris neighborhood where it seems that every woman is a hooker and every man has a woman working for him. Irma is the most successful of these women, which is good because her “manager” Hippolyte (Bruce Yarnell) is a thug. Enter Officer Nester Patou (Jack Lemmon).

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sidewalks of New York

Film: Dead End
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve discovered that when I have a list of films I’m pursuing, there are a few that become ones that I wonder if I’ll ever locate. There are a number of films that I haven’t been able to locate yet, but there are always one or two that stick in my mind Dead End was one of those films for me. So when it finally appeared on Turner Classic Movies, I was excited to see it.

Dead End isn’t exactly a plotless film, but it’s pretty plot-light. There are three intertwined stories going on, each of one which feels like less than a third of the movie. The action takes place in a changing New York neighborhood. While much of the area is covered in slums, the wealthy have built luxury apartments for the views of the East River. Naturally, such a situation creates a great deal of conflict.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sex and the Suddenly Single Girl

Film: An Unmarried Woman
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I had some qualms going into An Unmarried Woman. There wasn’t really anything to it beyond the name of it. As it turns out, there are things about this film that I genuinely like and a few things that I don’t. For me, the main detraction from this film is that if we switched the genders of the characters, we’d have a very different movie on our hands and a very different reaction to it. For all of its “I am woman” roots, there’s something sexist about An Unmarried Woman.

For the first 20 minutes or so, we’re involved in the apparently happy marriage of Erica (Jill Clayburgh) and Martin (Michael Murphy). They have a very active sex life and a teenage daughter named Patti (Lisa Lucas). So what happens after the first 20 minutes? Martin tells Erica that he’s been having a year-long affair and wants a divorce. Naturally this throws Erica’s world into an uproar.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Your Face Picks Movies (Nick): The Castle of Cagliostro

Film: The Castle of Cagliostro (Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is the third in a series of monthly reviews suggested by the guys at Your Face. This is Nick’s first pick.

Nick Jobe loves to make me watch animated films. At the very least, he likes to talk about making me watch animated films, and his list for this year demonstrates that. The Castle of Cagliostro (Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro) is Nick’s first push into anime this year, chosen I’m sure in part because it’s also the first feature film credited to Hayao Miyazaki as the director. So I went into this a little leery of how a less seasoned Miyazaki would fare, but also confident that this was a film made by a man with miles of talent.

The biggest strike against the film for me becomes evident right off the bat—this is a film that is in the middle of a series of films. While we get some backstory on the characters, there are a number of things that simply aren’t explained. This is different from my typical anime complaint of a lack of exposition. I’m guessing that if I went back and watched all of the previous films and the television show, or read the manga, I wouldn’t have a single issue with knowing who the characters were and all of the relationships. This is key with a couple of characters in this film. It’s not a huge issue, but it did bother me a little.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Tell Me About the Rabbit

Film: Harvey
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

I’m not really sure how to explain Harvey to someone who hasn’t seen it. It certainly falls into the realm of screwball comedy, and is also a film that makes hay with the idea of the “funny drunk” in the main character. There’s also an odd darkness to Harvey that creeps in at the edges. It’s never really apparent when the film is playing, but in thinking about it afterwards, there are some moments that could easily take a dark turn played just a little differently. Fortunately, it sticks mostly to comedy, which is appropriate for a film about a man with an invisible rabbit has his constant companion.

Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) is the local eccentric of his home town. Part of this is because he likes nothing more than a martini in the local bar and thus indulges himself at every opportunity. The main reason, though, is his friend Harvey. Elwood describes Harvey as a pooka (or puca), a Celtic spirit that is sometimes mischievous but generally benign. Harvey and Elwood have been companions for years, and Elwood loves to introduce his friend to everyone he meets. The problem, of course, is that no one can see Harvey or interact with him in any way.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

If It Bleeds, It Leads

Film: Nightcrawler
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Movies love to show us sociopaths. There’s something inherently fascinating about that particular flavor of mental illness. A film like Nightcrawler takes that idea and runs very hard with it, taking the idea of sociopathy in some very new directions. Our main character is remorseless, relentless, and driven and willing to do anything to get what he wants, but for all of that, he’s also not a serial killer, at least not specifically.

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a petty thief who rips off construction sites for copper wiring and other metal items that he can sell to a scrap yard. He attempts unsuccessfully to turn this into a job. Later that same evening, he sees the results of a car accident and also sees two men led by Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) filming. Loder is a stringer, filming crimes and accidents and selling the footage to the highest bidder from the local news teams. Lou is inspired by this and decides that this is what he wants to do. The next day, he steals a racing bike and trades them at a pawnshop for a camcorder and a police scanner and starts his own stringing career.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Director 1985

The Contenders:

Hector Babenco: Kiss of the Spider Woman
Sydney Pollack: Out of Africa (winner)
John Huston: Prizzi’s Honor
Akira Kurosawa: Ran
Peter Weir: Witness

End of the Line

Film: The Last Station
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I find movies like The Last Station to be frustrating to write about. This is a film with a solid pedigree in terms of its cast, but a film where, a couple of hours after I watched it, I have no solid memory of what it was about. Oh, I know what it was about, of course, but it left almost no impression on me whatsoever.

The basic story of The Last Station is this: an aging writer is being told by a number of his protégés and hangers-on that he should rewrite his will to have the copyright of all of his work revert to the state and the people upon his death. His wife, naturally enough, is terribly concerned that this will leave her and her family completely destitute and with no way to make an income. There’s a lot of fighting and a lot of maneuvering amongst the various players and eventually the old guy dies. The end.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Career Opportunities

Film: A Star is Born (1937)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I’m always a little surprised when I dip down into the 1930s and find a film that was done in color. In this case, the 1937 version of A Star is Born surprised the hell out of me when the opening moments showed up in color. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to watch this tonight, but every now and then I need to get through something I’m not looking forward to. Most of the reason is that I’ve seen the first remake of this story. I liked the Judy Garland version of this well enough, but I tend to be leery of a story when I know precisely where it’s going.

Esther Victoria Blodgett (Janet Gaynor) is a North Dakota farm girl who has dreams of making it in the motion picture business. Her aunt and grandfather think here dreams are nothing but a waste of time, but her grandmother (May Robson) gives her all of her savings to head out to California to attempt to make her dream come true.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Not Quite My Tempo

Film: Whiplash
Format: DVD from NetFlix on various players.

Typically, I spend a good portion of movie reviews going through the basics of the narrative of the film under discussion. I do this mostly because narrative and plot and how these things work within the context of a film are what interest me the most about film in general. I’m not going to do this for Whiplash. The reason is that Whiplash turns out to be a film that is very personal for me for a couple of reasons.

For all of the music, for all of the legendary abuse heaped onto the main character, at its heart, Whiplash is the story of the relationship between a teacher and a student. I am a teacher, and I have a number of students with whom I’ve developed a relationship over the years. That’s true with anyone who teaches. I have former students as Facebook friends and who talk to me if they see me out in the world. I’m certain that I also have former students who think I’m a massive jackass. But I can look at students who honestly took a leap of faith to trust me as a teacher. Far be it from me to call anything sacred, but if anything is, that sort of trust is in the running.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Picks from Chip: Death at a Funeral (2007)

Film: Death at a Funeral (2007)
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

This is the third in a series of twelve films suggested by Chip Lary at Tips from Chip.

Funerals suck. Like most people, I’ve been to my share of them and I’ve been a pall bearer enough times that I don’t look forward to any of it. Funerals, it has been said, are for the living and I think that’s true. In the case of Death at a Funeral, the funeral is very much for us, the audience. This is a very good example of the genre of comedy in which everything goes wrong at the same time with ridiculous and often hilarious consequences.

It’s worth saying right off the top that this is a genre that is very difficult to do well. Too much insanity and the film spins out of control. Not enough, and there’s not enough humor to warrant watching the rest of the film. Make things too improbable and it’s not believable enough to make watching worth the time. To work as well as it can, a movie like Death at a Funeral has to walk a knife edge, keeping the humor happening and upping the ante at just the right pace to keep things understandable, funny, and consistently moving. And for what it’s worth, I think it helps that it’s British in this case. There’s something about British comedy that pulls all of this together.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Off Script: Swamp Thing

Film: Swamp Thing
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on The Nook.

I know about Swamp Thing despite having never seen all of it. In its own way, it’s a legendary film. Its legend comes in no small part from its three main stars, Adrienne Barbeau and her chest. I knew enough to know this was based on a DC Comics character and shouldn’t be confused with the Marvel Comics equivalent Man-Thing, which technically came first by a couple of months. Swamp Thing got the movie, though, and Marvel’s giant plant/swamp critter only got to star in one of the most ridiculously named comics in history, Giant-Size Man-Thing #1.

What I didn’t know going in was that this was directed by Wes Craven, which potentially raises the bar. Potentially. In reality, the main reason to watch this is the Adrienne Barbeau’s co-stars under her shirt and the amazing potential for camp, all of which is exploited to the hilt.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Island Hopping

Film: Sands of Iwo Jima
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s something unique about American war movies made in the years during and just after World War II. It’s not terribly surprising that the films of this era are patriotic to put it mildly. In truth, a lot of them are pretty jingoistic, and Sands of Iwo Jima leans this way. We are at least spared the indignity of watching hordes of non-Americans pretend that they want to be Americans, though, since we’re dealing strictly with the battlefield here, and strictly with the island hopping campaign in the Pacific.

A new group of marines is assigned to Sergeant John M. Stryker (John Wayne), a notorious hardass. Stryker spends the first portion of the film running his troops through a massive amount of training and beating them down heavily. All of the men object to this naturally, but two are particularly vocal in their objections. The first of these is Pfc Peter Conway (John Agar) who is in the unfortunate position of being the son of one of Stryker’s former commanders. Worse for Conway is that Stryker was a huge admirer of Conway’s late father, and in fact named his own son after the man. Conway wants to be nothing like his father and enlisted more out of a sense of tradition than anything else, knowing that this attitude will make him a constant disappointment to Stryker.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ring of Fire

Film: Walk the Line
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I don’t like country music as a rule. More specifically, I don’t like the modern brand of “I have a pickup truck and my woman left me, but God bless America” country music. That said, Johnny Cash was pretty damn awesome. Like his music or not, the guy wrote some pretty damn good songs. I happen to be a big fan of Warren Zevon, and Zevon had the same songwriting style in a lot of ways. My appreciation for Saint Warren is the most likely reason that I appreciate Johnny Cash. So I was happy to revisit Walk the Line today.

This is, more or less, the story of the most interesting and tumultuous years of Johnny Cash’s life. We start just before Cash’s legendary performance at Folsom Prison. A table saw in the workshop sends Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) into a revere that will last us for most of the film. We flash back to his childhood and the death of his brother as well as the difficult relationship he has with his father. We jump forward to Cash joining the army and buying himself a guitar in Germany. Jump ahead a few more years and Johnny Cash is working as a salesman and is married to his first wife, Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Kiss Me, Hardly

Film: The Divine Lady
Format: Internet video on laptop.

The idea of star-crossed lovers has always had a great deal of appeal. Say what you will about the sighing and mooning over each other, if you can make that plot believable, you’ve got a built in audience. The Divine Lady adds a historical element to the idea of lovers separated by circumstance, telling the story of one of England’s greatest military heroes. The war takes a back seat to the romance, though.

Emma Hart (Corinne Griffith) is the dissolute daughter of Mrs. Hard (Marie Dressler), recently hired as the cook for an English noble named Charles Greville (Ian Keith). Greville is scandalized by Emma’s evident sauciness and refuses to let her in his house. Despite her wantonness, Greville relents when she promises that she will work for him and attempt to learn to behave in a more proper and fitting manner.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Film: The Croods
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

A lot of animated features take a great deal of liberty with how they depict reality, but few take as many liberties as The Croods. That’s not always a bad thing, but I do have to wonder why the creators of this film decided to take so much liberty with the reality of the animal kingdom. It seems completely unnecessary. I get the point of the modern references in a film about cavemen, but the flora and fauna of this world are like a human prehistory viewed through the lens of psilocybin mushrooms.

So we have the Croods, a family of cave people who live in an isolated spot that gets very little daylight since they are in the bottom of a narrow canyon. They are led by the father figure Grug (Nicolas Cage) and Ugga (Catherine Keener). Their children are oldest child Eep (Emma Stone), middle child Thunk (Clark Duke), and feral infant Sandy (Randy Thom). Also with the family is Ugga’s mother Gran (Cloris Leachman). Most of the family is scared of everything, coming out of the cave only to hunt for food for a few minutes a day before retreating to the safety and darkness of the cave. Eep, though, wants something more than just life in a cave and being scared of everything.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Matthew 16:19

Film: The Keys of the Kingdom
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

Hyper-religious movies were a lot more popular back in the day than they are now. They were also quite a bit more theologically interesting than the current religious films as well. I don’t have a great deal of interest in modern religious cinema because so much of it seems geared toward people who aren’t very knowledgeable about their own faith. Older films, while just as prone to piling on the Jesus, tended to at least be smarter about it. A case in point is The Keys of the Kingdom, which also happens to be Gregory Peck’s breakout role.

It doesn’t take more than a minute or two to realize that this film is going to be the story of the life of a priest. We meet that priest, Father Francis Chisholm (Gregory Peck) in something close to his dotage at a small church in Scotland. Chisholm, we soon learn, has always been something of a rebel in the church, making statements that seem radically un-churchlike and bordering even on the blasphemous. The church has sent a local monsignor (Cedric Hardwicke) to more or less force Father Chisholm to retire, thinking that that would be better for the church as a whole.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Bad News Bearers

Film: The Messenger
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

Sometimes, you just know you’re signing yourself up for a movie that’s going to make you want to sit in a dark room for a couple of hours. I knew The Messenger would at least be that in part. When your main character is a military veteran assigned to tell people about the death of a loved one in combat, there are going to be scenes that are ugly and painful and filled with the kind of thing that makes you wonder why the hell wars happen in the first place. For all that, The Messenger is not really an anti-war film, although there are certainly elements of that.

Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) has been wounded in Iraq and, having seen enough combat time, has been returned to the United States with a few months left on his tour. Rather than send him back into combat, he is given duties stateside including being assigned as a casualty notification officer. His job is, whenever called, to inform the next of kin of a soldier slain in the line of duty. He is specifically assigned to work with Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), a recovering alcoholic who has been working in casualty notification for too long.