Thursday, June 22, 2017

Suburbia

Films: Little Children
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

It feels like forever since I’ve watched a movie. In a way, it kind of has been. The last two reviews I posted were reviews I had written some time ago to use on days when I didn’t have something new to post. Part of the reason for that is work. Ends of quarters can be tough and I spend a lot of time grading, which means movies are hard. Another part of that is the movie Little Children. I had a very hard time getting through this, and I’m not entirely sure why. Something about it was like surgery for me.

Little Children was directed by Todd Field, who also directed In the Bedroom, a movie I thought was surprisingly good. While there is some similarity here, this felt a lot more like a Todd Solondz movie. It felt like watching Happiness, which was brutally difficult to get through, ugly, and horrible in so many ways. Little Children doesn’t go that far, of course. At the same time, it is oddly reminiscent of Magnolia. There are traces of David Lynch in here as well, with the horror that lies behind the front porches of suburban homes.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wednesday Horror: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Films: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Every now and then, a movie shows up that becomes the flavor of the month. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night was one of those movies for a little while, enough that I’d heard a great deal about it almost as soon as it appeared on NetFlix streaming. There are a number of things that make this an interesting film. First, it’s a modern black-and-white horror movie. Second, it’s a feminist vampire movie. Third, it’s a feminist vampire movie that is in Persian and was written and directed by an Iranian woman. Sure, it was filmed in California, but there’s a lot going on here that seems to be aimed at screwing with those in religious authority in a large part of the world.

This is an unusual movie even beyond all of the things that make it an unusual movie in terms of what it is. Since we’ve got a vampire here, this is at least marginally a horror movie and the truth is that it doesn’t ever really get that far away from being marginally a horror movie. It’s a lot closer to social commentary, specifically on feminism, than it is on anything else. There are only a couple of actual vampire attacks, one of which is pretty brutal. Instead, this focuses more on the characters and the lives they live in a place known as Bad City.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Off Script: House (Hausu)

Films: House (Hausu)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on laptop.

This is going to be an interesting 750-800 words. I’ve just watched House (Hausu) and I’m not sure I have a way to react to it. For clarity, I’m going to call it Hausu from this point forward to distinguish it from the 1980s horror movie House and the Hugh Laurie television show. Hausu is a psychedelic drug trip of a horror movie/comedy/fever dream. Things happen and there’s sort of a story, but I have no way to make sense of it at all without looking outside of the movie itself to the life and experiences of its director. I think I need to be chemically altered to even have a shot at it.

So we’re in Japan at a girl’s school, completely with sailor uniforms. We’ll be dealing with a collection of seven students, each of whom goes by a nickname, and each of whom has a defining characteristic rather than a personality. Of primary importance are the fashion and cosmetics-obsessed Gorgeous (Kimiko Ikegami) and Fantasy (Kumiko Oba), who lives almost entirely in a fantasy world. Eventually we will meet the other five: the ready-to-fight Kung Fu (Miki Jinbo), the glasses-wearing Prof (Ai Matubara), the nice and genial Sweet (Masayo Miyako), the musician Melody (Eriko Tanaka), and the food-obsessed Mac (Mieko Sato).

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Film: Mary, Queen of Scots
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I can’t say I was overly thrilled at the prospect of watching Mary, Queen of Scots. While it’s clearly a different story from Anne of the Thousand Days, I figured it would roll pretty much in the same basic territory. The story here is of Mary Stuart (Vanessa Redgrave), queen of Scotland and, according to some, the rightful monarch of England instead of her sister, Elizabeth I (Glenda Jackson). I’ve seen bits and pieces of this, of course. Plenty of movies have touched on this subject, perhaps none that I’ve seen as much as the two Elizabeth movies with Cate Blanchett. Regardless, I figured on a lot of flowery language and dry history.

How wrong I was! Mary, Queen of Scots is filled with intrigue, plots and counterplots, murder, and betrayal. There’s also a bit of romance, religious wars, infidelity, and a lot more. It’s backed up with a great cast who all appear to really buy into the roles and the period—no real shock that this was nominated for (among other things) Best Costume Design. It’s a fairly sumptuous film in a lot of respects, and in looking the period, feels authentic in a lot of ways.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actress 2011

The Contenders:

Glenn Close: Albert Nobbs
Rooney Mara: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Viola Davis: The Help
Meryl Streep: The Iron Lady (winner)
Michele Williams: My Week with Marilyn

Off Script: Stake Land

Film: Stake Land
Format: Blu-ray from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

I promise I won’t get maudlin here. Many of us, even this far removed from the event, still miss the presence of Chip Lary. As it happens, Stake Land was the last review Chip ever posted, and it was a film I asked him to watch. Truthfully, Chip didn’t like the film as much as I do or nearly as much as I would have liked him to. This is a film that I genuinely enjoy. Stake Land isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it gets a lot of things right. It also does a nice job in rewriting many of the tropes of a well-established genre, and also manages to create a believable and interesting post-apocalyptic world.

The monsters in Stake Land are vampires, but these are not the typical blood suckers. The classic vampire has a sense of romance about him. The original Dracula was certainly a romantic character. Even most of the violent and bloody vampires from the films have a certain sex appeal to them. Of course, in the past decade or so, vampires have become genuine love interests. In Stake Land, the vampires are feral. They are classic vampires in the sense that they die when staked in the heart or exposed to sunlight, and they feast on blood. That’s where the similarities stop. These vampires are feral, essentially blood-sucking zombies, operating on instinct and attracted to the scent of blood, but unable to think their way out of even simple traps.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Haunted Palace; The Resurrected

Film: The Haunted Palace; The Resurrected
Format: MGM Channel on rockin’ flatscreen; Internet video on laptop.

You can say what you want about Roger Corman, but the man does have a couple of particular talents. First, judging by the people who made films for him, Corman was a great judge of directorial talent. Second, he was capable of doing a great deal with a limited budget. Third, the man found a tremendous niche with films specifically based on the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. With The Haunted Palace, Corman stepped a little outside of that comfort zone, making a film that is clearly based on Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” but he made this essentially as one of his Poe films, so that strange connection of making something watchable carried through.

The film starts a few years before the American Revolution in Arkham, MA. Women in the town are mysteriously drawn to the rebuilt palace of Joseph Curwen (Vincent Price). The townspeople have decided that Curwen is a warlock and storm the palace. They drag him out and burn him at the stake, although they are convinced not to attack his mistress, Hester Tillinghast (Cathie Merchant). Before he dies, Curwen pronounces a curse on the town, saying that those who are burning him, their children, and their children’s children will suffer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Finding Your Pride

Film: Lion
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When the Oscars were announced in January, I was surprised that Dev Patel was nominated in a supporting role rather than a starring one. I mean, he was clearly the star of Lion, wasn’t he? It seemed like one of those situations where someone is stepped down in a category specifically to give him a better chance of winning. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I understand the reasoning here. This is clearly Patel’s movie in the second half, but that’s because he doesn’t appear in the first half at all.

Lion is the story of Saroo Brierly (played by Dev Patel as an adult and by Sunny Pawar as a child). At five, Saroo lived in Khandwa, India, where he and his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) steal coal from trains to trade for milk and food. One night, Saroo is to stay home while Guddu goes out and works for the money the family desperately needs. Saroo convinces his brother that he should come along and help, and eventually Guddu relents. But Saroo really is too young and falls asleep. Guddu leaves him on a bench at a train station, telling his brother to stay and wait for him.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Front Page News

Film: Teacher’s Pet
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve never been as entranced of Clark Gable as I’m evidently supposed to be. I don’t mind Gable in general, but I don’t specifically seek his movies out. I’ve got nothing against him, but I’ll sit down to a weak Cary Grant or John Garfield movie in a heartbeat. With Gable I’m somehow less impressed with his onscreen persona. This is probably the reason it’s taken me this long to get to Teacher’s Pet, which I watched today when I finally realized that NetFlix has it streaming but doesn’t have it on disc. What I expected was a creepy rom-com featuring a Clark Gable nearing 60 trying to woo a mid-30s Doris Day. Fortunately, that’s not really what we get here.

James Gannon (Clark Gable) is a hard-bitten newspaper city editor in New York who is convinced that the only way to learn the trade of a reporter is to start at the bottom, get a few swift kicks in the backside, and learn the ropes the hard way, through work and practice. Therefore, he’s not even amused when he is contacted by a local college and asked to come as a guest to a journalism class. He responds with a rude letter and is then upbraided by his boss. It turns out the paper’s publisher is a big fan of this local college, having received an honorary degree from them. Gannon, thus, is forced to go and eat a little crow. This is despite his discovery that the professor for this class is (gasp) a woman.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Off Script: The Twilight Zone: The Movie

Film: The Twilight Zone: The Movie
Format: DVD from Byron Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

If you’re older than about 30, you watched The Twilight Zone on television at some point. This was the television version of M. Night Shyamalan’s career, except that the twists almost always worked on the television show. Weird, creepy little stories that sometimes packed a moral lesson and sometimes just wanted to give people the shivering willies made for good television. Seriously, when I was younger, it was probably the only show I knew of where people my age would voluntarily watch a black-and-white television show because the stories were frequently that good. So, it’s only natural that eventually The Twilight Zone: The Movie was conceived of and released.

What I remember most about it from 1983 (it’s release date falls squarely between my sophomore and junior years in high school) is the controversy that surrounded it. Specifically, that controversy was the rather horrifying deaths of actors Vic Morrow, Renee Chen, and My-ca Dinh Le (the latter two being 6- and 7-years-old respectively), who were killed when a helicopter crashed on them while filming the first segment. This accident led to multiple court cases and almost led to the cancellation of the entire project. What I remember most was people being more than a little outraged that the film itself seemed to take no notice of this tragedy, not following the typical pattern of dedicating the film to someone close to the production who had died.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

David and Goliath

Film: In the Valley of Elah
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

While I still have a lot of movies on my Oscar list, I’m starting to hit the point where some of these are getting to be a chore. There are still a few that I’m looking forward to seeing and I’m sure that there are some I am ambivalent about now that I’ll end up really liking. But it’s admittedly getting a little harder and harder to ramp myself up for some of these movies. After all, they’ve been movies I specifically haven’t watched since I started this part of this blog. In the Valley of Elah fits into that category. It’s not a film that I was actively avoiding; it’s simply a film that I didn’t really feel like I had much of a reason to watch.

Ex-military policeman Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) receives word that his son Mike (Jonathan Tucker) has gone AWOL after returning from Iraq. Hank tells his wife Joan (Susan Sarandon) that he is going to find their son. Hank drives off to his son’s location and begins his search for Mike, attempting to enlist the support of the local police. So, when a body turns up dismembered and horribly burned, it’s not a shock for anyone who has ever seen a movie that the body in question turns out to be Mike.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

City of Lights

Film: Midnight in Paris
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

When Woody Allen is on, there aren’t many people who are better. Allen’s stories have a distinctive style to them and a particular flavor. When he’s able to restrain himself from getting too crazy, his screenplays are some of the best in the world. When he doesn’t restrain himself, he’s prone to fall deep into his own navel. The track record is a good one, though, so it’s probably strange that it’s taken me this long to get to Midnight in Paris. It might have been the presence of Owen Wilson that kept me from wanting to watch it. I’m not much of a fan of Mr. Wilson in general. I find him tolerable at best and insufferable at worst.

I’ve said before that Radio Days is my favorite of Allen’s screenplays. What I love about it is just how much it shows Allen’s love for the era he’s writing about. There’s such a wonderful rosy tint to everything in that movie. It has an adult’s knowledge and recollection, but still has a child’s view of the events. I bring this up specifically because where Midnight in Paris takes us is to a realization about that nostalgic view of the past.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Off Script: Wasting Away (Aaah! Zombies!!)

Film: Wasting Away (Aaah! Zombies!!)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Ah, the zombie subgenre. It’s all been done, of course. There have been serious ones, funny ones, and even romantic comedies (zom-rom-coms, if you will). Wasting Away, (sometimes called Aaah! Zombies!!) is a comedy with a touch of romance fully centered on the zombie subgenre of horror films. It’s also a film from the perspective of the zombies themselves. In fact, in this case it’s focused on a group of people who are not just zombies, they’re not aware that they are zombies. It’s a fun idea. Unfortunately, there’s not enough here to sustain an entire film.

The movie starts with a military test of a super soldier serum that backfires, killing the subject and turning him into a zombie. Because the serum is a failure, the military decides to get rid of it, but the men charged with transporting the serum get lost and a barrel of it falls off the truck. This barrel leaks, tainting a batch of ice cream mixture that is then eaten by our four main characters: slacker Mike (Matthew Davis), ambitious Vanessa (Julianna Robinson), bowling alley assistant manager Tim (Michael Grant Terry) and dippy Cindy (Betsy Beutler). Tim has been carrying an evidently requited torch for Cindy for years. Anyway, the four eat the tainted ice cream, which turns them into zombies.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

My Mother Was a Saint!

Films: I Remember Mama
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m actually surprised that I hadn’t seen I Remember Mama before today. This seems like exactly the sort of movie that would have been shown on the old WGN Family Classics show when I was a kid. That was a Sunday morning show that ran old family films like Going My Way, Mysterious Island and Boys Town. I Remember Mama absolutely fits into that. Honestly, it may have been too long for the show.

This is one of those “year or so in the life of a family” films where we’re going to see a series of events that happen to a particular family as they (switching into television announcer voice) struggle through the joys and tragedies of life in pre-World War I America. Our family in question is the Hansons, headed by father Lars (Philip Dorn), but really run by mama Martha (Irene Dunne). The Hansons have four children: son Nels (Steve Brown), youngest daughter Dagmar (June Hedin), middle daughter Christine (Peggy McIntyre), and oldest daughter and the storyteller of this film, Katrin (Barbara Bel Geddes). Also in the mix are Marta’s three sisters. These are the unpleasant aunts Jenny (Hope Landin) and Sigrid (Edith Evanson), and the timid but sweet aunt, Trina (Ellen Corby).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Hello, I Love You, Won't You Tell Me Your Name

Films: Love with the Proper Stranger
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve been ignoring the DVR lately, and that’s kind of a mistake. The unit I have is nearing the end of its life expectancy, and there are a half dozen or so movies that I’ve had trouble locating stored on it. I’d love to say that there was a good, solid reason why I watched Love with the Proper Stranger today other than that, but there isn’t. Honestly, this is going to be a common refrain for the next couple of weeks as I get rid of the last remnants of what I have recorded. Suffice to say that based on the title I wasn’t too excited and that beyond knowing it starred Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen, I knew nothing going in.

Here’s the set up: Rocky Papasano (Steve McQueen) is a musician looking for work one day at the union hall when he is paged to the front. Here he meets Angie Rossini (Natalie Wood), a woman he had a one-night stand with some time earlier. Angie is pregnant and isn’t expecting Rocky to marry her, but to at least help her locate a doctor to help with the little problem. Rocky is naturally surprised by this and she storms out, but he tracks her down to her job at Macy’s and tells her that he’s located someone for her. What he doesn’t tell her is that he has located someone through the auspices of his some-time girlfriend Barbie (Edie Adams), whose apartment he sometimes stays at.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Dolls

Films: Dolls
Format: Internet video on laptop.

There have been a number of movies that feature creepy dolls. Old movies like The Devil-Doll from the ‘30s, another of the same name (minus the hyphen) from the ‘60s, the ventriloquist segment from Dead of Night, the ventriloquism-based movie Magic, the clown from Poltergeist, and of course the Zuni doll from Trilogy of Terror are all pretty memorable. These days, Chucky and Annabelle are probably the ones that jump to mind, although there’s certainly no shortage of such films. Is it the idea of the corruption of something that should be innocent? Whatever the reason, the modern turn of toy-based horror seems to have gotten its start from Dolls.

The truth is that I went into this prepared for it to be derivative in many ways of Child’s Play or even Puppet Master or Demonic Toys. The opposite is actually true, since Dolls was released before all of these. It’s tamer in a lot of respects. There’s a much bigger dose of fantasy in this film, and while there is a body count, it doesn’t really amp up the gore that much. This came with an R rating when it was released, and it might just struggle down to a PG-13 released today.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Off Script: The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Films: The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I know Roger Corman made a lot of shitty movies, but I’m really getting to the point where I have to admit that I like a lot of them. He didn’t make a lot of loser films in terms of box office, and when he was on, he was really on. He also managed to work with a lot of great people during his career, including making a lot of movies starring Vincent Price, one of the gold standards of ‘50s and ‘60s gothic horror. The Pit and the Pendulum is a film that plays on a couple of important Corman tropes. First, it’s a period piece, which means capes and poofy costumes. Second, this is one of his Poe films, and his Poe films rank among his best.

Another of Corman’s touchpoints in his Poe films is that there’s a lot of material added here. Many of Poe’s stories were really short and might make a dandy short film. To make something of feature length, a great deal needs to be added. In this case, it’s the entire first hour or so of the movie, which was created in service of getting on character strapped to a rack while a bladed pendulum slowly descends toward him with the intent of chopping him in half. Hey, you want ao good scary moment, you need to work for it.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Blood Libel

Film: The Fixer
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I have sat here looking at the base template for my reviews for a good 10 minutes before I typed in anything beyond the why/why not, the tags, and the titles. I honestly don’t know what to say about The Fixer other that it seems like John Frankenheimer found a book based on a real-life case that seems to have been ripped straight out of the mind of Franz Kafka. Going through Oscar movies means spending a great deal of time dealing with the Holocaust, something I’ve complained about before. In this case, we’re not talking about that, but we are absolutely balls-deep in discussing the persecution of the Jews. It seems endlessly fascinating and horrifying to me that we live in a world were a century ago crimes like blood libel and host desecration were taken seriously.

I should probably explain what those two things are, since they are so spectacularly bizarre that I have trouble wrapping my mind around them. Host desecration is easy to figure out once you realize that the host in this case is blessed communion wafers and not someone holding a party. Since in Catholic belief the pasty wafers become the literal body of Christ once they have been blessed, someone doing anything to a blessed wafer is essentially committing a crime against the bodily person of Christ himself. Blood libel is even more staggering. There was a common thought that when the Jews celebrated Passover, they baked their matzos with the blood of Christian children. Because of this, plenty of Jews were accused, tried, sentenced, and punished for the murder of children.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Paint by Numbers

Film: Pollock
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Ed Harris is someone I trust as an actor. This doesn’t mean that I immediately trust his characters, since Harris has played a few nasty, evil people. But I trust him in the roles he’s been given. I feel confident that Ed Harris will do good work and that he is capable of being brilliant, as he has been many times in his career. For me, Ed Harris will always be Gene Kranz in Apollo 13, and that might be a part of the reason I trust the man to handle any role he’s given. With Pollock, Harris joins a select company as someone who directed himself to an Oscar nomination, which makes me wonder why he hasn’t directed more films.

Pollock is the biography of artist Jackson Pollock, who caused a massive revolution in the art world and died far too young in his mid-40s. Harris had evidently been fascinated by the man’s life for years and bears a passing physical similarity to him. The film starts at a gallery showing in 1950, flashes back to his early career and his early relationship with fellow artist Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden, who won for a supporting role) and the beginnings of the movement he started in the art world thanks to the patronage of Peggy Guggenheim (Amy Madigan) and influential art critic Clement Greenberg (Jeffrey Tambor).

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Off Script: Constantine

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

Constantine is the sort of movie that I really want to like. It’s more or less The Matrix with overt theology rather than implied theology. Constantine has a clear position in terms of the spiritual world. Like many a film that deals with demons not just as monsters but as actual characters, we’re dealing with a more or less Catholic world view. The world of Constantine purports that God and Satan have essentially a pact that Earth is off limits. They can’t use direct influence on the world but can influence the world through agents that exist in the world, people who are angelic or demonic half-breeds.

Our hero is John Constantine (Keanu Reeves), a man with the ability to see these half-breeds in their true form. Constantine has always had this “gift,” and when he was a young man, these visions forced him to commit suicide. Technically, he didn’t survive the suicide attempt and was dead for two minutes, which he spent in Hell. As a suicide, Constantine is forever damned despite anything he might do in this life. Either in spite of this or because of it, he spends his days finding demonic agents and sending them back to Hell, knowing that it might be the right thing to do and similarly knowing that because of his motivations, it will do nothing to save his soul.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Dark Waters (Temnye Vody)

Films: Dark Waters (Temnye Vody)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

A lot of horror movies get a good amount of mileage through the use of religious imagery. I’d love to say that started with The Exorcist, but it certainly comes from earlier than that. I think there are plenty of possible reasons for this. Horror movies frequently deal with overt evil, and for many religion is the opposite. Even if it isn’t the idea of a god is frequently taken to be the opposite of evil. But I mean the idea of using religion and religious trappings in a much more significant way. In American culture, the church in question tends to be the Catholic church. Half the time, the church is the savior while the other half of the time, the church is corrupted or complicit in the evil. With Dark Waters (also known as Temnye Vody), it’s a little bit of both, but really, it’s the second option.

Elizabeth (Louise Salter) arrives on an isolated island that contains a secluded convet and not much else. Her backstory is that 20 years earlier, she was born on this island and in this convent and that her mother died in childbirth. Her father took her away soon after, and has given a yearly bequest to the nuns to keep the place running. When the film starts, Elizabeth’s father has just died and has charged her to maintain that yearly stipend. She has arrived to check the place out and see if it’s worth funding.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Sticky Situation

Films: The Big Pond
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Finding movies on the internet, particularly those from the first few years of Oscar, is always a mixed bag. I’m never entirely sure I’m getting the whole thing. For instance, The Big Pond is listed at a spare 72 minutes but the only copy I could find ran just under 68 minutes. Are there really four minutes missing from the copy I found? Are those four minutes important? When you add to this the fact that my notes (yes, I keep extensive notes) list this film as being available only in an incomplete form, the anxiety grows a bit. That said, the movie did get to an actual conclusion, so my guess is that if I am missing something, it’s not critically important to the film.

We start in Venice where the fabulously wealthy Billings family is on vacation. Mr. Billings (George Barbier) is the sort of person who had movies made about him during the Depression. He owns a chewing gum factory, which essentially makes him the Wrigley of this fictional film world. His wife (Marion Ballou) is pretty much a non-entity in the film the follows, essentially here so that we have a wife one of our potential foils. Daughter Barbara (Claudette Colbert) is out when the film starts, much to the consternation of Ronnie (Frank Lyon), who has just arrived from the States. Ronnie works for Mr. Billings and is sort of engaged to Barbara. However, Venice has changed Barbara’s perspective on the world. She has been surrounded by businessmen (and chewing gum) her entire life. She wants romance.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Crazy

Films: Frances
Format: DVD from Mokena Community Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I don’t know why I haven’t really warmed to Jessica Lange as an actress. You don’t get six Oscar nominations with two wins without being good at what you do, though. It’s strange, because I tend to like her when I see her in films. I just don’t really think of her that often. I’ve said before that I thought Sweet Dreams was her best work on camera, but that was before I saw Frances.

Frances is a biopic of the life of actress Frances Farmer (Lange), who was the definition of a troubled star. The film opens with Farmer as a junior in high school winning a contest for an essay about believing that God is dead. Since this is in the ‘30s, this naturally causes a great deal of controversy, putting her in the crosshairs of some of the locals in her native Seattle. She finds herself back in the news a few years later by winning and accepting a trip to Moscow to visit the Moscow Art Theater. This is before the Cold War (before World War II, in fact), but still raises some eyebrows. After all, people already have her pegged as an atheist, and she’s apparently doubled-down by visiting the godless communists.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Sisters are Doing It for Themselves

Films: Hidden Figures
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I first heard about Hidden Figures, I knew it was going to be a movie that I really wanted to see. As I’ve said multiple times on this blog, I’m a sucker for anything involving space and NASA, and space race stuff is what gets me the most excited. A story I knew nothing about? Involving the early days of NASA? I’m all in. That it also happens to be a civil rights story and feature the work of American treasure Octavia Spencer is just added bonus. Seriously, it had me at “space race.”

Hidden Figures follows the stories of three African-American women working for NASA as “computers,” which really was the term before people actually had computers. Their jobs were to more or less work on doing calculations for various aspects of the space program. Without trying to be too maudlin or sappy, the story depicts the struggles that these women face in accomplishing their jobs in a world where segregation was still in force and where a lot of people thought that a woman’s place was in the kitchen. That’s a lot to unpack, and there really are three different, fully-realized stories here.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Dubliners?

Films: Ulysses
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I don’t claim to be a genius, but it’s a rare film where I don’t have something to say. It’s entirely possible that what I have to say might be completely insipid, of course, but at least I’m bringing something to the table. A few times a year, though, I get a film like Ulysses where, at the end, I have no idea what to say and no idea where to start. And yet, here we go; the film is watched and on the Oscar list, so I’m more or less committed.

I should probably come completely clean at the top on this as well. Despite the fact that I have a degree in English literature I can’t really call myself a huge fan of the work of James Joyce. I’m not opposed to Joyce; I just haven’t read a great deal of his work. Ulysses is based on his book of the same name, so while I know the book by reputation, I’m essentially going into this completely cold.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Cannibal Holocaust

Films: Cannibal Holocaust
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

Watching from a list means opening yourself up to a lot of possibilities. In the case of Cannibal Holocaust, I was prepared for nastiness. The legend of the movie is that director Ruggero Deodato was arrested and charged with murder of several of the lead actors who he had demanded stay hidden for a year to build up the legend of what happens on camera. He had to produce the actors themselves to avoid facing life in prison.

Cannibal Holocaust is a legendary horror film because of the brutality of the footage. It’s also more or less the progenitor of the found footage concept, since a good portion of the last chunk of it is exactly interspersed with scenes of characters discussing the footage that they have seen. The footage itself is of those four filmmakers heading into the Amazon rainforest to encounter cannibal tribes and learn about them. Naturally, the four filmmakers, director Alan (Gabriel Yorke), script girl Faye (Francesca Ciardi), and cameramen Jack (Perry Pirkanen) and Mark (Luca Giorgio Barbareschi) have disappeared. Anthropologist Professor Harold Monroe (Robert Kerman) has decided to follow their expedition to discover what has happened to them.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

You Ain't Nothing but a Hound Dog

Films: My Life as a Dog (Mitt Liv som Hund)
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

In the last few months, I’ve gone on a tear about Holocaust films wearing on me a bit. I’ve said the same thing about coming of age films in the past, and it’s still true. My problem with coming of age films is that about 90% of them fall into two specific categories. Coming of age films about boys mean encountering and dealing with mortality. This means that something or someone in the boy’s life will die before the credits roll. If it’s about a girl, it will be about sex, and before the film is over, our heroine will have sex, quite probably with someone inappropriate. Yes, there are notable exceptions (the teen sex comedy tends to be about everyone coming of age through sex, for instance), but the bulk are exactly this. So I can’t say that I genuinely looked forward to My Life as a Dog (or Mitt Liv som Hund if you prefer it that way).

The film concerns the life of Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius), a 12-year-old Swedish boy. He lives with his brother Erik (Manfred Serner) and his ailing mother (Anki Liden). Imgemar isn’t a bad kid, but he could be best described as “misadventurous,” a sort of classic schlimazel on whom misfortune simply happens. Case in point, while talking with a young local girl, the two shelter under a railroad trestle. Her father finds them, assumes the worst, and chases Ingemar away, who decides to run away and live on his own. He builds a fire to keep himself and his pet dog warm, and the fire gets out of control. In short, his intentions tend to be good, but the results are not generally that favorable.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Math Majors Hate Him! Click to Find Out Why!

Films: Good Will Hunting
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

So I finally caught up with Good Will Hunting. It’s only taken my 20 years to get there. The first thing to say about it is how strange it is to see Matt Damon and Ben Affleck this young. Good Will Hunting is one of those movies that fully entered public consciousness, the sort of movie that can be referenced by just about anyone old enough to remember its release whether they have seen it or not. I knew the basic story before I watched it, needing only the details.

Because of that, I wonder about the necessity of the sort of serious plot rundown I normally offer. The basics are pretty simple. Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is an orphan and former abused foster kid who works as a janitor at MIT. As it happens, he’s also a genius of the sort that seems to exist about once a generation or so. Math and some scientific topics seem to come to him intuitively. When a professor (Stellan Skarsgard) posts a difficult proof on a hallway chalkboard, it is Will who solves it despite not being a student and never getting past high school.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Off Script: Wes Craven's New Nightmare

Film: Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I love Wes Craven’s work. I think even now, two years after his death, we’re still figuring out just how much of a genius the man was. He created a bunch of really pivotal and important horror movies and franchises, not the least of which is A Nightmare on Elm Street. Let’s not forget, though, that he also made The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, The Serpent and the Rainbow, and the Scream franchise. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is one that seems to have slipped under the radar of a lot of people. I think it’s one of his best films. What Craven often did was create things that were completely new, things that took the genre in new directions. New Nightmare is a film that is both firmly in the heart of the horror genre and is also a smart commentary on the genre itself.

What I especially like about New Nightmare is that it does something that few films that are a part of a larger series can do: it stays completely within the established mythos of the series and also does something entirely new. This is what was attempted with Halloween III, and it took years for people to figure out that that movie was actually pretty good. Aliens did some of this, making a film that still had horror elements but was much more a science fiction action movie than the almost straight horror of the original. New Nightmare weaves a complicated story that exists both in the film world of Freddy Krueger and also with the film world of the actors who played in the original film.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

She's So Modern

Films: Bridget Jones’s Diary
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve never really cottoned to Renee Zellweger. This has been a problem for this blog because I’ve avoided a lot of the movies that feature her specifically because I’m not a fan. I’m not precisely sure what it is. Bridget Jones’s Diary even comes from before the time she looked continuously like she had been sucking on lemons. There’s just something about her that strikes me as off. I can’t place it, which makes a movie that stars her problematic for me.

Bridget Jones’s Diary is the story of Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger), of course, but it’s also a significant throwback to Pride and Prejudice. It is, in fact, very much a reworking of that story put in a modern setting. Bridget works at a publishing house but feels that her personal life is in a shambles. At her mother’s (Gemma Jones) yearly New Year’s Eve party, she is reintroduced to Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), who she evidently knew as a child. Her mother, constantly trying to set her up with someone, has zeroed in on Mark. Things go poorly, though, when Bridget admits that she drinks and smokes too much and later overhears Mark telling his own mother that he has no interest in a woman who drinks too much, smokes too much and dresses like her mother (leaving off the fact that he is in a ridiculous reindeer-emblazoned sweater).

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Sleepy Hollow

Films: Sleepy Hollow
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I’m not what anyone would mistake for a Tim Burton apologist. I like plenty of his movies, sure, but there are a bunch that leave me pretty cold as well. It seems sometimes that he is too focused on the look of the film and not enough thinking about the content. There are notable exceptions, of course. One of these is Sleepy Hollow, which suffers a little from being a Burton gothic/steampunk fantasy but manages to transcend most of its problems with good storytelling and a lot of visual pizazz.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a classic American fable. In the story, a schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane competes with local tough guy Brom Van Brunt for the hand of the richest farmer in the area. Eventually, Crane is run out of town by the appearance of an evidently headless man on a horse, a legendary figure in the apparently ghost-addled area. After this encounter, Crane is never seen by the townsfolk again, leading to a legend that he himself was spirited away by supernatural means, although the most likely case is that his headless attacker was a disguised Brom.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Off Script: The Stone Tape

Film: The Stone Tape
Format: Internet video on The Nook.

We live in a golden age of television to be sure. Shows now have actual budgets, for instance. In the past, a television show had enough for the actors and the sets, which meant that shows needing a larger budget—science fiction and fantasy in particular—made do with crap effects. With The Stone Tape, made for the BBC in 1972, we’re very much dealing with that problem. The Stone Tape because of when it was made and how it was made has the same sort of effects as old Doctor Who episodes. That comes into play at the end of this. Fortunately, we have a strong enough base here that it doesn’t matter much.

An electronics company called Ryan Electrics has taken possession of an ancient Victorian mansion called Taskerlands with the intent of setting up a new research facility. The goal of the team, under the direction of the brash Peter Brock (Michael Bryant) is to develop a new recording device, hopefully beating the Japanese to the technology. Brock is hopeful, but is distressed to learn that the men called in to refurbish the old house have refused to work in a back room. While it’s not stated overtly, it’s hinted that the room may be haunted. Since this is a horror movie, it’s a safe bet that that’s the case.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Conscientious Objector

Films: Hacksaw Ridge
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I can’t say that I was really looking forward to Hacksaw Ridge. Mel Gibson has demonstrated in the past that he can be an effective director, but he’s also demonstrated that he’s not unwilling to go over the top in terms of violence. I haven’t seen The Man without a Face, but I have seen his other four major releases, and all of them involve a great deal of bloodletting. Mel likes his violence a lot, and while I’m not shy about it, it can be overwhelming when it’s non-stop the way he seems to like it.

Hacksaw Ridge is the story of Desmond Doss, who was the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The film starts by showing us Doss as a young boy with his brother Hal. The two are fighting and Desmond smacks his brother in the head with a brick, nearly killing him. We learn eventually that it was not this particular act of violence that swore him off the use of firearms, but it will suffice for now. After this opening sequence, we see Doss (played through most of the film by a nominated Andrew Garfield) rescue someone trapped under a car and take an interest in the medical field.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Off Script: Bone Tomahawk

Films: Bone Tomahawk
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I’d heard about Bone Tomahawk and that it was a grueling horror movie worth seeing. Imagine my surprise when I found it at a local library. This isn’t the kind of film that libraries normally carry in my experience. It’s easy to find dramas in the library, not nearly so easy to find horror, particularly horror that hits the gore factor hard. But, as I say, I’d heard about it, and figured it was worth a watch.

Bone Tomahawk is very much two different films. There is the Western part of the film, much of which feels like a pretty standard film in the genre. Then there is the cannibalistic troglodyte part of the film that is anything but. In a sense, writer/director S. Craig Zahler has updated the Italian cannibal films like Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox and put a decidedly American spin on them. Or, if you prefer, it’s a Wild West version of The Hills Have Eyes.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Human Sextipede

Films: La Ronde
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

I don’t particularly like writing two less-than-enthusiastic reviews in a row. In fact, I don’t love writing less-than-enthusiastic reviews. Oh, I admit they are fun and cathartic, at least for me. Honestly, though, I’d rather write a glowing, if milquetoast review and really enjoy the movie. My bitterness and agony might be entertaining for other people, but I’d genuinely rather enjoy my time with a film. It’s for this reason that I try to go into every film with as much of an open mind as I can. I’ve been surprised before and loved films that I was leery to watch. With La Ronde, a Max Ophuls, well, sex comedy, I had high hopes. At the very least, I knew it would be pretty.

Here is where I typically talk about the plot of the film. The problem with La Ronde is that it doesn’t really have much of a plot to speak of. It’s not a character study, either. Instead,m it is a chain of events that link up different people in different sexual partnerships, and by the time we get to the end of the movie, we’ve come back to one of the people we started with. That’s literally it. Slightly more than 90 minutes of watching people imply that they’ve just had a great deal of sex before one person in the couple moves on and has sex with someone else. This is literally the film. I am not embellishing this or exaggerating.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Lighthouse (Dead of Night (1999))

Film: Lighthouse (Dead of Night (1999))
Format: Internet video on laptop.

When a list of movies—any list—is put together by committee, I imagine there is some negotiation that happens. I give in on a movie you want that I don’t so that you’ll give in on a movie I want that you don’t. With the Fangoria list of under-seen horror movies, I imagine that happened quite a bit. Sure, there are some good movies on this list, some that are really worth seeing and truly are more unknown than they should be, but there are some real stinkers, too. That’s why I’ve put myself in a position to have to watch things like Lighthouse (sometimes known as Dead of Night , a name that is not uncommon for horror films in general).

I’m not going to hedge here: Lighthouse is intensely stupid. For a movie that’s supposed to be one of the best horror films I’ve never seen, it manages to play on every possible trope that exists in the genre. It’s unimaginative, derivative, and clunky, and looks 10-15 years older than it actually is. There’s very little to recommend it. I can imagine what the conversation about putting it on this list went like.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Celine and Jesse Go Through Life

Films: Before Sunset; Before Midnight
Format: DVD from personal collection (Sunset) and Sycamore Public Library (Midnight) on laptop.

Years ago, former blogger Nick Jobe ran a review contest. I made it to the third round, which means I made it to the final eight, and I lost to the eventual winner. I lost with a review of the movie Before Sunrise. That contest took place in a world where the sequel, Before Sunset had been released years before and a year or so before the third film in the trilogy, Before Midnight was released. Today, I decided to finally complete the trilogy, deciding that maybe I didn’t need to wait nine years for each installment.

It’s important to understand Before Sunrise going into the second and third movies in the trilogy. I won’t do a full review here, because it’s not necessary, but a quick run-through of the plot will be helpful. Jesse (Ethan Hawke) is a young American on a train in Vienna. He meets Celine (Julie Delpy), who is returning to Paris. Jesse has to spend the day in Vienna before his flight leaves the next day, and he doesn’t have enough money for a hotel room. His plan is to simply walk around and see the city before he leaves. He convinces Celine to leave the train with him and spend the day in Vienna. Over the course of the day, before sunrise, to coin a phrase, the two kindle something much like a romance. But lives call them; Jesse must return home, and so must Celine. They agree to meet again in Vienna in six months.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Book Learnin'

Films: The Reader
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

In the past, I’ve taken a stand on what I think about Holocaust dramas. I get why they are made and I get why this is a period in history that needs to be continually brought up and discussed, but I find it harder and harder to get worked up these days after seeing so many of them. It’s an interesting moral position to be in. I don’t want to say that I don’t care, because that’s not the case. I just wonder how much real-world horror I can handle. So, naturally, it seems like every other movie still on my Oscar lists to watch is a Holocaust drama. Enter The Reader.

At the very least, The Reader gives us a story that, while it certainly involves the terrible events in Europe, does so only tangentially. In truth, we’re not even aware that this is a film that touches on this period in history until we are a good way through it. It starts more as a romance than anything else, although it might be the least romantic romance of the last ten years.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Getting Lost in a Part

Films: A Double Life
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I didn’t know anything about A Double Life going into it. What I discovered soon after starting is that I have a couple of very loose connections to it. First, it’s about an actor, and believe it or not, I did a little acting in college (a very little, mind you). Second, it concerns a stage performance of Othello. I have a degree in English literature, so I tend to sit up and take notice when we’ve got Shakespeare on tap. Even better, A Double Life is all about the crazy. Let me tell you from experience, a film about an actor also being about severe mental illness is not a stretch.

Anthony John (Ronald Colman) is an acclaimed stage actor who, as often seems to be the case with artists in general, isn’t satisfied with his life or his career. He has proposed to several people a stage production of Othello with him taking the title role. He’d like to put actress Brita (pronounced like Rita with a b and not the water filter) Kaurin (Signe Hasso) in the role of Desdemona. Brita is his ex-wife; the two are still very much in love with each other but can’t seem to live with each other. This is because Anthony tends to very much live the roles he takes. When he plays in comedies, life is good. When he plays in heavier fare, he becomes moody and difficult. Othello, then, bodes ill.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

For Art's Sake

Films: The Horse’s Mouth
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

Alec Guinness was one of the great cinematic chameleons. Paul Muni could play just about any role, but so could Guinness, who was equally comfortable in comedy or drama and left an indelible impression on millions of childhoods in science fiction. His performance in The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of the greatest acting performances in cinematic history in my opinion. He plays a role as far from that in The Horse’s Mouth as possible in many ways. He also happened to pen the adapted (and nominated) screenplay.

Gulley Jimson (Guinness) is an eccentric and Bohemian artist who, as the film begins, has just been released from a month’s stint in prison after harassing one of his patrons via telephone. He’s greeted by Nosey (Mike Morgan), a young man with a stutter and the desire to be an artist himself. Gulley is alternately encouraging and cruel to the young boy. In fact, hoping to get away from him, he sends Nosey on an errand and steals the boy’s bike.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday Horror: X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes

Films: X (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I do love good science fiction and I always have. I think we’re often guided by the things that are most formative to us. Both of my brothers loved science fiction and many of my earliest film loves were in this genre. There are, of course, plenty of truly great science fiction films with large budgets—the sort of summer tent pole films that are plenty popular. I love the ones from the ‘50s and ’60s, too. Of these, one of my favorites is X, more formally known as X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.

The worst of science fiction takes a stupid premise and does what it can. The best of science fiction takes an interesting premise and offers a view of what might happen. With X, we’re more in the second category by way of the first. What would happen, the film asks, if a man could discover a way to see more than just the visible light spectrum? What horrors might await us with the ability to see below the surface?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Anytown, USA

Films: Our Town
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Our Town is based on a stage play, and it manages to do something that many films do not: it doesn’t specifically look like it was based on a stage play. That in and of itself is noteworthy. The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by Thornton Wilder. I don’t always like stage transfers to screen because they tend to look like someone staged the play and then filmed it. That’s definitely not the case here, and it works very much to the film’s credit.

The drama that takes place happens in the town of Grover’s Corners, NH. We’re introduced to the town by Mr. Morgan (Frank Craven), a local resident (maybe) or perhaps something like a guiding spirit over the town. It’s a little down just over the border from Connecticut and it seems to be pretty much normal in every way. People are born, live, get married, have kids, and die in the town, often never really travelling far from the confines or from the 3000 people or so who live in the immediate area.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Shirley Valentine's Patient Zero

Films: Summertime
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

When you think of David Lean, you probably think of epic films, but those films are from the end of his career. Lean’s last five films were epic in terms of length and most of them were epic in scope as well. Lean’s career contained smaller films, too; Brief Encounter stands out as a prime example, but the strength of The Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, A Passage to India, and especially Lawrence of Arabia (and to a lesser extent Ryan’s Daughter) are what causes him to be remembered as a director of epics. Summertime is the last of his smaller, shorter movies, but with its exotic (for 1955) setting, it serves as a bridge between Lean’s earlier career and his later movies.

Summertime, based on a play called “The Time of the Cuckoo,” seems to have been tailor-made for Katherine Hepburn. Much like Lean is associated with epics, there is a particular kind of role that is easily associated with Hepburn. For a movie from then 1930s-1950s, any female character who has a strong independent streak, often living life on her own terms despite not being married (unusual for the time), Katherine Hepburn was your go-to. So, that’s exactly what we’re going to have here.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Who's Version is Better

Films: The Kids Are All Right
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve said before that I always do my best to go into every movie I watch with hope. I hope it’s good. I want to enjoy it. Some movies have a higher initial hurdle in that respect, admittedly, but there are plenty of films that clear it. Fried Green Tomatoes is a great example—I expected to be bored and ended up enjoying myself watching it. With The Kids Are All Right, the opposite happened. We have a good cast (a great cast in terms of the adults) and I’m not opposed to domestic dramas. I walked out the other side of this not wondering why it was so acclaimed but wondering if we as a society are really that easy. I don’t like bagging on a film that got this much positive attention, but I don’t get it.

Nicole “Nic” (Annette Benning) and Jules Allgood (Julianne Moore) are a married couple living around Los Angeles. Nic is an obstetrician while Jules has more or less been a housewife, raising the couple’s two children, both of whom were conceived through the same unknown sperm donor. Older child Joni (Mia Wasikowska), who is Nic’s biological daughter has just turned 18, meaning that she can now legally ask for information about that sperm donor. She’s not interested, but her 15-year-old brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson), Jules’s biological son, desperately wants her to. She finally relents, and the pair discover that their biological father is Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the owner of a local restaurant.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Off Script: Bedlam

Films: Bedlam
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

If you like horror movies at all, you have to at least respect the work of Boris Karloff. The man was a true master, and like many a horror icon, was evidently kind and sweet in real life. Karloff was typecast as a madman and a monster early in his career, a casting that was only enhanced by his gaunt features and creep-inducing voice. Sure, he made plenty of stinkers but I’m of a mind to suggest that he was never at fault for a movie being bad. With Bedlam, he’s one of the main attractions and with right. This is the sort of low-budget, not-very-scary creep show that Karloff was meant to bring to life.

Bedlam is set in the mid-18th century in London, in and around the neighborhood of St. Mary’s of Bethlehem Asylum, typically called “Bedlam.” As the film opens, we see an inmate fall from a high window of the asylum to his death. A passing nobleman named Lord Mortimer (Billy House) and his constant companion, actress Nell Bowen (Anna Lee) are riding past in a carriage and stop to see what the fuss was all about. It turns out that the dead man was an associate of Lord Mortimer, and the man had been paid for work that had not yet been completed. This angers Mortimer and he demands an audience with the asylum’s keeper, George Sims (Boris Karloff).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Midnight Meat Train

Films: The Midnight Meat Train
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

What can I tell you about The Midnight Meat Train that you can’t get from the title? No shock that this is going to be a horror title and that there’s going to be a good amount of blood in it. What may not be known from the title is that this is based on a Clive Barker story from “The Books of Blood.” I like quite a bit of that collection, and I’ve always thought that “In the Hills, the Cities” would make a dandy short film. Based on the stories in the collection, I suppose I’m not terribly shocked that this one was picked. Good, nasty title and potential for quality gore? How could you pass it up? Throw in Bradley Cooper’s first starring role, and you’ve got the makings of at least a cult film on your hands, right?

Enter Leon (Cooper), a photographer who wants to break into the art world. His goal is to photograph the dirty, gritty underside of the city. He meets with a gallery owner named Susan (Brooke Shields(!)) who tells him that while he’s got some talent, he seems to shy away from staying at a place long enough to get the real, meaningful shot that tells the whole story. That night he heads to the subway where he sees a woman being threatened by two thugs with knives. He stops them, and the woman gets on the train. The next day, he discovers that the woman has gone missing.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Not Another Holocaust Movie

Film: The Man in the Glass Booth
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

I’ve said, ever since watching Son of Saul that it’s getting harder and harder to work me up over a story that concerns the Holocaust. There are, of course, millions of stories to tell about the Holocaust, but there are only so many one can take in one lifetime. Having seen Shoah and Night and Fog, it feels like I’ve hit my limit for how much inhumanity and true horror I can handle. The Man in the Glass Booth managed to do something I thought might be impossible. It presented a completely new Holocaust story.

We are presented with Arthur Goldman (Maximillian Schell), a wealthy Jewish industrialist living in New York. Goldman is highly eccentric and extremely paranoid, particularly about a blue Mercedes that he sees outside of his apartment again and again. He gives very strange commands to his servant Jack (Henry Brown) and his assistant Charlie (Lawrence Pressman). He is also surprisingly anti-Semitic. He is prone to saying completely outrageous things and shocking everyone around him.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Original Cast Away

Film: Robinson Crusoe (Adventures of Robinson Crusoe)
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

Daniel Defoe’s book about Robinson Crusoe is one of those stories, much like Robin Hood, that pretty much everyone knows but that pretty much no one has read. I’m guilty of that myself, although I did once try to read Robin Hood. Anyway, it’s hardly surprising that someone would make the story into a movie. I’m a little surprised it took until 1954, and I’m equally surprised that the person in charge of it was Luis Bunuel. No matter. Robinson Crusoe, also known as Adventures of Robinson Crusoe awaits.

We learn right away that our hero, Robinson Crusoe (Dan O’Herlihy) has gone to see against the wishes of his father since, as a third son, he has few prospects. What we also learn is that our hero Robinson’s first gig away from home is on a slave ship hoping to transport captives from Brazil. We’re off to a rip-roaring, wholesome start for the whole family. A storm forces him to abandon ship and he swims for a nearby island. The next day, he discovers his ship floating and abandoned in a nearby cove. He swims out to it, collects supplies as well as the ship’s cat and dog, and returns back to his island laden down with food, firearms, and other supplies. Sadly, the ship soon sinks, meaning that everything he’s found is all he has, and aside from his pets, he’s now alone.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mistaken Identity

Film: General Della Rovere (Il General Della Rovere)
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

I always find it interesting when a director appears as an actor in another director’s film. I don’t mean this in cases where someone has made a name for him or herself first as an actor, did some directing, and continued to act. No, I find it fascinating that someone who is known specifically as a director is cast as an actor by someone else. In the case of General Della Rovere (or Il Generale Della Rovere in the Italian), the director-turned-actor in question is the great Vittorio De Sica, one of the towering figures of the Italian neorealist style. The director in question is equally important neorealist Roberto Rossellini. That this is more or less just after the great neorealist period is of no importance.

Like many of the great neorealist films, General Della Rovere is without question a war film. It’s also sort of a prison film, at least for the second half of its running time. We begin by concerning ourselves with Vittorio Emanuele Bardone (De Sica), who is something of a hustler and a compulsive (and unlucky) gambler. Bardone is desperate for money, having gambled away everything he had. He already owes a great deal of money to a German officer in occupied Milan. Convinced that he has nothing else to lose, he attempts to sell a piece of fake jewelry with no success.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Public Enemy Number One

Film: Dillinger
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

There’s something fascinating to me about early crime films. In truth, 1945’s Dillinger doesn’t really qualify as being that early, since it’s right in the heart of the noir era. It’s an interesting Oscar nomination, since it was produced by Monogram, considered one of the better poverty row movie studios, which is sort of like the best looking person at a school for the blind. Like many movies of the era, it’s almost ridiculously short, clocking in at a spare 70 minutes. To its great benefit, though, it packs those 70 minutes with as much as it can, which very much includes a lot that doesn’t really seem to have much to do with the real John Dillinger.

In that respect, Dillinger is more of a spiritual biography of John Dillinger than one based in fact. It would seem that only his name is accurate in terms of the people in his life. Some of the broad sweeps—early imprisonment and learning the craft of crime from other criminals while in prison—seem to be accurate as well, but it would seem that none of the details are the real thing.