Thursday, August 17, 2017

War, Baby

Films: A Farewell to Arms
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on laptop.

This is another of those reviews where I feel I have to come clean at the start. I studied literature in college and have a BA in it. That means that I’ve read a bunch of classics including my share of the works of Ernest Hemingway. The truth of the matter is this: I think Hemingway was one of the finest craftsman of short stories the English language has ever seen, but I hate his novels. I hate them. I find his style to be oppressive when it goes on too long, and the man was incapable of writing a woman character who was anything other than a conduit for a man’s ego. This left me with scant hope for A Farewell to Arms.

And sure, I expected this to be grim. This also happens to be a case where my set against the source material could be slightly mollified because the movie diverges significantly from the book to the point where Hemingway himself evidently hated this film. But, it’s still Hemingway and it still manages to use a lot of his dialogue from the book. Worse, the characters are absolutely drawn from the novel, and that’s where I have the biggest problem with the story.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Borrower

Films: The Borrower
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Strap in, folks. This is going to be interesting.

I do try to give each movie I watch a fair shot, but I had literally no real hopes for The Borrower. The fact that it was directed by John McNaugton as the film following Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer did not fill me with hope. There were several reasons for this. First, this movie has not managed to show up on the They Shoot Zombies, Don’t They list of 1000 best-reviewed horror movies. That puts it as less than a lot of really shitty movies. Second, the top-billed actor is Rae Dawn Chong. Not even the potential awesomeness of having Antonio Fargas in the cast can counteract that.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Proud Mary

Films: What’s Love Got to Do with It?
Format: DVD from Lena Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I’m not sure where to start with What’s Love Got to Do with It? except to say that I’m a fan of Tina Turner despite not really being a huge fan of her music. I like her attitude; I think she’s bad-ass and I don’t think I need to love her music to think that. I’ve been trying to get this movie from NetFlix for some time, but it’s always on a very long wait, so I finally broke down and ordered it from a library. I didn’t want to see this specifically because it’s more or less Tina Turner’s biography (although Turner herself claims it’s not really close to factual) but because it stars both Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne, and I really like both of them.

So, as I just said, this is essentially the biography of Tina Turner, but highly fictionalized. From what I understand, it covers the broad strokes without getting much right in the way of detail. I think I’m okay with that, although I often object to a complete rewrite of history, but it does present an interesting problem with the film. The fact that Ike Turner (Fishburne) was an abusive asshole and Tina (Bassett) had to fight for her right to perform independently and keep her own name is pretty well known. Because of that, it’s the details that are of interest here, and evidently the details aren’t close to the reality.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Lord of the Dance

Films: Billy Elliot
Format: DVD from Somonauk Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I’ve almost certainly mentioned on this blog before that both of my daughters are dancers. When you tell someone that your daughter does ballet, they tend to assume that your daughter is about six and can do a clumsy plie while wearing a little tutu. My older daughter is 19 and graduated with a four-year degree in dance performance at 18. My younger daughter is 14 and spent last summer at the Joffrey in Chicago. I’m not fucking around when I say that they are serious dancers, and neither are they. Because of this, I’m not really sure I can be objective about Billy Elliot.

This is a story you’ve seen even if you haven’t seen this version of it. Our title character, Billy (Jamie Bell) is about 11 and lives in coal mining country in England. His mother has died unexpectedly, leaving him to be raised by his father Jackie (Gary Lewis) and his aggressive brother Tony (Jamie Draven), both of whom are miners and both of whom are on strike. He also lives with his grandmother (Jean Heywood), who is suffering from either Alzheimer’s or dementia. Money is tight, but Billy’s dad scrapes together 50p for Billy to take boxing lessons once per week.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Maui...Wowie!

Films: Moana
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

It’s not often that a studio gets two films nominated for Best Animated Feature in the same year. I think that is generally because it’s hard for a studio to release two animated features in the same year. In the case of 2016 and Disney, though, both Zootopia and Moana were released and both were nominated for Best Animated Feature. I watched Zootopia months ago and enjoyed it well enough. Moana made it to NetFlix streaming, which meant I knew its time was coming.

Here’s the thing. The basic story of Zootopia is that racism is bad. Admittedly, that’s not like a staggering revelation, but the entire story is based on the idea that racism is destructive. It’s a fine message even if the movie misses a great deal of the actual problems with racism as experienced in the real world. Moana is an adventure tale about a young girl going to sea to save the island of her people and to connect with the wandering explorers of her people’s past. And Moana is a better argument against racism than Zootopia despite having not a damn thing to do with it.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The World is Full of Angry Young Men

Films: This Sporting Life
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Sometimes, you can see a progression of a particular type of movie across the years. In the case of This Sporting Life, there is a line that starts in a movie like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, goes directly through this, and ends at Raging Bull. It’s almost impossible to watch This Sporting Life and not see the influence both on Scorsese and on De Niro’s portrayal of Jake La Motta. Sure, the sport in this case is rugby rather than boxing, but the personalities are similar in a lot of ways.

Frank Machin (Richard Harris) is a coal miner in Yorkshire who picks a fight with some local rugby players one night at a bar. This aggressiveness is a prized commodity on the rugby pitch, and he’s recruited by the local team. Frank soon becomes a rising star on the rugby team, changing his lifestyle at least in terms of available money if not in his actual surroundings.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Blade

Films: Blade
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I remember when it was first announced that Ant Man was going to be turned into a movie, allegedly with Edgar Wright directing. I’ve since seen Ant Man and it was okay, but hardly the movie it could have been, since it was tied into the Marvel Comics Universe. The reason for my initial excitement was that Marvel had previously made a few movies based on properties that they really didn’t care much about. One of those was Blade.

Blade isn’t a great movie. It might honestly not even be a good movie, and it’s certainly a case where the first sequel was better than the original film. What it is, though, is a really fun and entertaining movie. Blade is only marginally a horror movie in that there are a couple of gory moments and the main antagonists are vampires. What it really is is an action movie where Wesley Snipes gets to kill a shit-ton of vampires with a variety of weapons. Oh, there’s plenty of stuff that doesn’t work in the movie and a lot of things that defy all sorts of logic. But it’s hard not to be entertained by martial arts battles with swords and general ass-kicking.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

First and Ten

Film: The Blind Side
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I should probably start this by stating that I’ve never been entirely sure of the talents of Sandra Bullock. I don’t dislike her, but I think she makes a lot of bad choices. She makes some damn good ones, too; Gravity comes to mind as being not only outside of what seems like her wheelhouse but one in which she excelled. So I’ve backburnered The Blind Side for some time now, knowing that I’d get to it eventually. Well, it’s eventually.

Chances are good that you know the story already. This is a classic rags-to-riches tale with a dash of either Great Expectations or Pygmalion thrown in for good measure. That it’s based on a true story gives it some street cred and that it involves America’s actual pastime of football means that it’s got the sort of mass appeal that makes movies a hit. It’s also the movie that earned Sandra Bullock a Best Actress Oscar, a hurdle I’ll jump over sometime in the future.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Happy Endings Only in Songs

Film: Pennies from Heaven
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When you think of musicals in general, you think of happy and fluffy. At least I do. Sure, there are some that go against that trend: West Side Story, Oklahoma, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but most of them shoot for the happy ending and pure entertainment from start to finish. That’s what I was expecting with Pennies from Heaven. It’s not at all what I got, though. In fact, Pennies from Heaven is tonally very close to a film like The Purple Rose of Cairo.

Arthur Parker (Steve Martin) is a sheet music salesman around Chicago during the Great Depression. Sales aren’t good and worse for him, his wife Joan (Jessica Harper) is frigid and unaffectionate. Arthur would like to own a store that sells records, but Joan will not loan him the money she’s inherited from her father. In fact, she won’t even let him borrow from the bank using that money as collateral. This is Arthur’s reality, but in his head, everything in his world is perfect, just like the lyrics of the songs he sells.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Let's Go for a Walk

Film: Wild
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are a few movies in my Oscar list that I’ve come close to watching several times and have just never gotten to. Wild is one of those movies; I’ve checked it out of the library on several occasions and always returned it unwatched. In fact, that almost happened this time, too. I had to renew this to avoid either paying a fine or having to check it out again in the future.

It’s also worth noting that my immediate association to this film was not the expected Into the Wild, but with my internet buddy Kevin, who once thought to walk across the U.S. and made it through the state of Washington before being sidelined by medical issues. The difference is that Kevin wasn’t walking as some sort of redemption for having his life devolve into meaningless sex and heroin.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Fright Night (1985)

Film: Fright Night (1985)
Format: DVD from Peru Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

While it’s probably not the first one, Fright Night from 1985 is the first time I can remember watching a vampire film where the idea that vampires actually exist and everyone knows they don’t is considered a significant part of the plot. Like I said, I’m sure there are others and earlier ones, but I think this is the first film I saw where that was important. There’s a lot to like in Fright Night, and when it showed up through interlibrary loan, I was excited to watch it again, since it’s been years.

The story is pretty simple when it comes to vampire films. A young man named Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is a relatively normal high school kid who has a girlfriend named Amy (Amanda Bearse) and a fascination with old horror movies, particularly those shown on late night television by former horror actor-turned-local crappy movie host/Vincent Price stand-in Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell). Someone new moves in next door to the Brewsters, and even on that first night Charley gets a sense that there’s something odd going on. While Amy is prepared to offer sex, Charley is busy watching his new neighbors, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) and his “roommate” Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark) move a coffin into the basement.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mr. Belvedere

Film: Sitting Pretty
Format: On Demand on big ol’ television.

From 1985 to 1990, there was a sitcom called Mr. Belvedere that featured a cultured English gentleman acting as a live-in nanny/servant for a typical American family. It ran for six seasons and is one of many television shows that featured a male caretaker of children. It, however, had a much better place from which to start, since the show was based on Sitting Pretty and its two sequels. Sitting Pretty features a typical American family in desperate need of a maid/nanny who, through a few miscommunications, end up hiring Lynn Belvedere (Clifton Webb) to take care of their children and help around the house.

That miscommunication is wrapped up in Belvedere’s first name. Harry (Robert Young) and Tacey King (Maureen O’Hara) are desperate for help with their three rambunctious boys and large dog when their current maid walks out. Tacey places an ad that is answered by Lynn Belvedere, who she assumes is a woman. When Lynn Belvedere arrives, wackiness ensues. Harry is keen to get rid of the man immediately, but Belvedere proves his competence quite quickly and within a day, the three children are quiet, polite, and well-behaved.