Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Month 40 Status Report

The goal of any month for me is 25 films. In April, I knocked out 28, so April was wildly successful, particularly when compared with March. Of course, I only got there by putting together a large number of interesting double features (thanks to Chip Lary for suggesting some of them).

The count is now 132 films left to review. Based on April and what is left, I'm looking at being done in September, which is pretty much what I figured at the end of last year, just in time for the 10th edition.

My biggest issue right now is staying focused. There are so many films I want to watch that aren't on the list that it's really easy for me to get distracted.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Dogme 95

Film: Festen(The Celebration); Idioterne (The Idiots)
Format: DVD from NetFlix (Festen) and video from The Magic Flashdrive (Idioterne), both on laptop.

When Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg created the Dogme 95 idea, the point was to get back the most basic of ideas in filmmaking. Films were to be made quickly, without special effects, without massive budgets, without even much in terms of lighting, makeup, or costuming. The whole point of the movement was to hammer home the point that great and important stories could be told without all of the tricks that the audience has grown used to seeing. In short, Dogme 95 is about the power of storytelling rather than the power of technology. It makes some Dogme films difficult to watch, but it’s a noble idea if nothing else.

Festen (The Celebration) is the first Dogme 95 film ever released. To sum the film up as quickly as possible, a family gathers to celebrate the 60th birthday of the family patriarch and everything goes to hell, hits bedrock, and starts mining. It becomes evident that there is a lot of bad blood right away and a lot of baggage that will be unpacked as the film progresses.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Are You My Mother?

Film: La Historia Oficial(The Official Story)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Any time a foreign language film gets nominated for something in addition to Best Foreign Feature, it’s pretty much a lock to win that category. La Historia Oficial (The Official Story) was nominated for its screenplay, so it’s no real shock that it won for Foreign Feature, is it? But even were it not nominated for screenplay, it would have had a better than average shot at the award. This is the sort of film that Oscar loves to give statues to. It’s a real, human drama, it deals with oppression and guilt, and it’s the sort of story that is moving regardless of how aware the audience is of political realities in Argentina.

Alicia (Norma Aleandro) and her husband Roberto (Hector Alterio) are a well-to-do family of three with their daughter Gaby (Analia Castro). They are well enough off that they have help around the house. Roberto is some sort of business executive or consultant and Alicia is a history teacher. We learn a few important things right away. First, Gaby is adopted. Second, there is some repression of information happening in the country, because even in class, Alicia is not too pleased with the more liberal, rebellious comments that pop up from a few of her students. They’re a relatively happy family despite Roberto’s frequent absences on business.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Off Script: The Ugly

Film: The Ugly
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Until the release of the Lord of the Rings films, I had no idea that New Zealand even had a film industry. I mean, I know they did because there’s a national cinema everywhere, but I was relatively unaware of films from New Zealand. In my defense, if you look up New Zealand film, there aren’t a whole ton produced there until relatively recently, which is odd considering the fantastic landscape a filmmaker has to work with. I was unaware that then 1997 film The Ugly was a Kiwi film. Of course, until I located the Fangoria list, I didn’t know this film existed at all.

This is an odd little number of a film. It wants desperately to be a real horror movie, but had evidently very little budget, and so used some worn down locations for filming and made use of what make up and special effects it could to get the point across. It feels very much like a freshman effort, a film that has a few good ideas and a nice film school trick or two, but doesn’t have the complex plotting or pacing of a more experienced director and writer. As it turns out, it is the debut full-length writing and directing credit for Scott Reynolds.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Open Break

Film: The Hustler
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Most of the first 45 minutes or so of The Hustler is a series of straight pool games between up-and-coming pool hustler Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) and established legend Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). Felson is young and brash and filled with a massive self-confidence as well as ridiculous skill on the pool table. Fats has the confidence of years of being unbeaten and the faux genteel habits of a gentleman. The play for more than 25 hours, with Felson up $18,000 (about $150,000 today) at one point and end only when Felson is all the way back down to his original $200. At the end of this marathon pool session, Felson is punch drunk and barely able to stand while Fats looks as fresh as he ever has. When Fats calls it a game, Felson collapses.

All of this takes up a third of the film, but its time well spent. It establishes just about everything we need to know about four of the five major players in the film. We learn that Fast Eddie Felson is that young, brash man who has a singular talent but almost nothing else. He drinks far too much, smokes too much, and is constantly in danger of crashing. We learn that Fats is as much smoke and mirrors as he is pool talent—that part of the reason he is capable of winning back everything he’s lost is simple endurance and an unwillingness to quit until he has.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fifty Shades of Quebecois, Part I

Film: Declin de l’Empire Americaine (The Decline of the American Empire)
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Oh, this is going to be interesting, at least initially. Here’s a film that has everything going against it in terms of what I normally look for in a film. Decline de l’Empire Americaine (The Decline of the American Empire) is a film almost exclusively about the sex lives of a group of really, really awful people. I mean that pretty much literally. There are parts of the film that deal in brief with other topics, but it always, always comes back to sex. It’s all these people talk about. Only in film do people obsess this much about their own genitalia.

Almost the entire first hour of the film splits between two groups of people in two different places. A group of four men, three of them teachers at a university and one evidently working on his degree, are making a meal. While they make this meal, two of them in particular talk about their wide variety of sexual escapades and conquests, the multiple times they have cheated on their spouses (although one is evidently divorced), and how nearly constant sex is a necessary thing for them. A third is evidently gay, and talks about his less-than-constant but still overwhelming need for sexual conquest, claiming that he lives alone specifically so he can bring sex partners home whenever he wishes. The only one who doesn't live with his dick outside his pants is the grad student.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Antonio Salieri

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

I had forgotten just how good Amadeus really is.

I mean that just as it sits. I remembered it as great in a way that few films are, of course. It’s great and grand in that “really earned Best Picture” way that even fewer films are. It’s the sort of film that, even if you had another horse in the race, you couldn’t really object to its winning. It’s a piece of Hollywood legend that Laurence Olivier announced the winner without even opening the envelope, but there really wasn’t any doubt which film deserved to win. I remembered all of this. I remembered Tom Hulce’s insane giggle and F. Murray Abraham’s combination of adoration and hatred. But I forgot just how damn good this film is, how entertaining it is, and how much I enjoy watching it all unfold.

And the music. Oh, the music. The glorious, unreal music that runs through this entire film from start to finish. The music is so sublime that even without the rest of the things that make this film so watchable and so both good and great, it would still be worth nearly three hours of your time simply to listen to it. Throughout we are graced with compositions from Salieri and Mozart, and are given key pieces of Mozart’s great works including The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, and his epic requiem mass. How the hell did I forget all of this?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Off Script: The Asphyx

Film: The Asphyx
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

There is a particular joy that is typically denied the horror fan: period pieces. Sure there are horror films set in the future, especially in space, but there’s something particularly entertaining about seeing the supernatural world depicted in a Victorian setting. Such is the world of The Asphyx, an odd little British film that rather goofily explores the razor-thin line between life and death.

Enter Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens), a man of wealth, philanthropy, and science who conducts experiments of “psychical research.” He arrives home with his new bride-to-be, Anna Wheatly (Fiona Walker) to meet the rest of his family. These are his son Clive (Ralph Arliss), his daughter Christina (Jane Lapotaire), and his adopted son Giles (Robert Powell). We also learn of his current investigation. He and his friend Sir Edward Barrett (Alex Scott) have been experimenting with photography. Specifically, they have been taking pictures of people at the moment of their deaths. In each case, they notice an odd smudge near the person, and they determine that this smudge is photographic evidence of the soul leaving the body.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


Film: Rocky; Million Dollar Baby
Format: DVDs from personal collection on laptop.

When you think about Rocky, it’s likely that you think about the fight at the end of the film or the fantastic training montage that leads up to the fight. That’s natural, because it’s a film about boxing and about a guy who gets a once-in-a-lifetime chance. It’s easy to forget the first hour of the film that sets up those scenes at the end. It’s easy to forget, in the career he had in stupid cop and revenge films following this breakthrough role that Stallone is a smart guy and a capable actor (he did, after all, write the screenplay). With the jingoistic and maudlin series of sequels that followed the original film (Rocky V, anyone?), it’s easy to forget just how damn good the original Rocky really is.

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a bum of a fighter and a part-time legbreaker for a cheap loanshark named Gazzo (Joe Spinell). We start with one of his fights, which he wins. He takes a beating and a cheap headbutt, and walks away with the grand prize of about $40. The next day, Mickey (Burgess Meredith), who trains boxers at the club Rocky uses, kicks him out of his locker. Rocky and Mick have never had a good relationship because, as Mick tells him, Rocky had the makings of a contender but wasted his talent.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Moves Like Jagger

Film: Performance; Gimme Shelter
Format: DVDs from NetFlix on laptop.

Performance is not one film, but two. That these two films have the same characters and that one ends specifically when the other begins is of little importance. That the two films eventually meet and merge at the end, though, is of very great significance, and it’s equally significant that the two experiences placed under this single name are packaged as a single entity.

Let me explain. At the beginning, Performance is a fairly standard British crime drama. We’re introduced to Chas (James Fox), who works for a man named Harry Flowers (Johnny Shannon). Chas is a foot soldier whose main job is intimidation. We get the sense that Chas is in it for both the money and the violence. The trouble starts when Harry decides to take over a bookie joint owned by a man named Joey Maddocks (Anthony Valentine). He expressly forbids Chas from being involved in the takeover because Chas and Joey have a rocky history.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Boredom Made Flesh

Film: Uzak (Distant)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

With Uzak (Distant), Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan has given me something of a poser. I’ve been sitting here looking at this almost-blank document for 20 minutes trying to think of something to say about this film and honestly, not much is coming. I’m not sure that this is a fault in the film. Ceylan’s film is simultaneously a brilliant piece of cinema and dreadfully dull—but it’s dull by intent.

Mahmut (Muzaffer Ozdemir) is a commercial photographer living in Istanbul. There was a time when he was greatly interested in art and the more artistic side of his profession, but time and necessity have turned him into a sort of wage slave. Mahmut seems to be passively dead from the neck up. Things change, or at least have the potential to change, when his cousin Yusuf (Emin Toprak) arrives from the country. Yusuf has lost his job in a factory when the factory closed. He’s come to Istanbul with the dream of working on a ship, hoping that not only will he see the world, but also make money.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


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

The opening 15 minutes of Tsotsi is one of the most intense film experiences I have ever had. In this 15 minutes or so, our title character (Presley Chweneyagae) kills a man in a subway, beats one of his friends half to death, shoots a woman and steals both her car and her infant son. The genius of the film, much like the genius of a film like Peeping Tom, is forcing us as the audience to eventually come to respect and even like a character as reprehensible as Tsotsi (which translates as “Thug”), and to do it in the very short running time of the film. It’s remarkable.

Tsotsi is the leader of a gang of four. His seconds are the large and somewhat genial Aap (Kenneth Nkosi), Butcher (Zenzo Ngqobe), and the more scholarly Boston (Mothusi Magano), who the gang also call “Teacher Boy.” Instigating a mugging on the subway, Tsotsi stabs the man and the others hold him up until the other train riders depart. Afterwards, Boston reacts badly to the murder, confronting Tsotsi on his evident heartlessness. This leads to Tsotsi beating Boston badly, then running away on his own. It is here that he sees a woman struggling to enter her home. He jumps into her car and shoots her when she protests, not realizing that she wasn’t going back for the car, but her son.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Ingrid Meets the Proletariat

Film: Europa ‘51 (The Greatest Love)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

There’s a strange tenor to Europa ‘51 (also known as The Greatest Love). I’m half convinced that Rossellini’s message as presented is dangerous rather than uplifting or in any way enhancing of the human spirit. This is a film that attempts to have a huge emotional impact on the viewer, and in my case mostly failed to move me that much. More to the point, I genuinely can’t tell if Rossellini’s morality tale is pro-communist, anti-communist, or if (in the words of Tim Curry in Clue) communism is just a red herring.

Irene Girard (Ingrid Bergman) is a well-to-do socialite living in Rome in the years just after World War II. There is hope of a continued peace, but the country is in some turmoil. The Girards have enough money to not only live well but to entertain fairly lavishly. The relationship between Irene and her husband George (Alexander Knox) have an evidently distant relationship. It’s not at all adversarial, but it doesn’t seem to be very close.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Defining "Lynchian"

Film: Mulholland Drive
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Oh, my poor, naïve brain. Here I thought I’d go through life with Southland Tales being the weirdest, most unexplainable film I’d ever seen. No, leave it to David Lynch to concoct something more convoluted, more twisted in upon itself. Mulholland Drive is possibly a fever dream, possibly an endless loop of repeating time, and possibly both. Okay, I’m overstating my confusion a bit, but Mulholland Drive is not an easy thing to work through.

I don’t know where to begin in terms of synopsis of this film, which is precisely why I compared it with Southland Tales. Rather than going chronologically, it’s probably a better idea to do this in terms of story line. Hell, the film isn’t chronological, so I may as well not be. There are a lot of things going on here, and rarely is anything what it seems.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Most Apt Title I've Seen

Film: Vidas Secas (Barren Lives)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop

It’s not often that I find a film that makes me long for the fun and pleasant pastures of El Norte, but Vidas Secas (Barren Lives) is just such a film. A prime example of the Brazilian Cinema Novo style, which was itself influenced almost exclusively by Italian Neo-Realism, this is a film in which very little that is good happens. More specifically, it seems like everything bad that can happen does, and everything bad is focused on one family group. It’s one step forward, two steps back without the step forward. It’s The Grapes of Wrath with even less hope and joy.

In fact, that’s the biggest issue I have with the film. It’s not that bad things happen, it’s that bad things appear to happen exclusively to the family that is the center of the film. For one very long stretch of film, there’s a celebration going on while one of the characters sits in jail after receiving a beating for a crime he didn’t commit. I hate watching films like this. They seriously make me question why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

One Man Alone

Film: Ride Lonesome; Shane
Format: DVD from NetFlix (Ride Lonesome) and personal collection (Shane) on Sue’s Mother’s Day present.

There is no genre of film more quintessentially American than the Western. Not even film noir is so American, and yes, I’m including spaghetti Westerns in this; they’re American, too, in their own way. The American myth is all about the one many alone who stands up against overwhelming odds and still triumphs. In a large part, the concept of the American Dream comes from this basic Western story. With a classic Western, you know that the white hats are going to win and the black hats are going to lose. Most importantly for that myth, there are many Westerns in which one man stands alone against those who wish to cause him harm.

Ride Lonesome is pretty good at squeezing all of those Western tropes into a single film. Like many Westerns, it’s incredibly straightforward. There’s not a lot of subtlety in the plot, which makes sense with the film’s almost disturbingly short running time. A man with the awesome Western name of Ben Brigade (Randolph Scott) captures a wanted outlaw named Billy John (James Best). There’s a ransom out on Billy, and Brigade plans to bring him to Santa Cruz to collect, and to make sure that Billy meets his appointment at the end of a hangman’s rope.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Behind the Mask

Film: Onibaba (The Demon)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

I’ve had Onibaba on my queue for months, and it’s been sitting there on Hulu since about the time I first got a Hulu account. There it sat, unwatched until today. Why? Why did I wait this long? I don’t know; I just did. Onibaba is a film I wish I had seen a few months or a few years earlier, though. It’s strange and compelling, and while not particularly scary in the traditional horror sense, it is nonetheless an effective horror film. It even comes (as all good horror stories and fairy tales do) with something like a moral.

In medieval Japan, two women live in a massive plain of tall grasses. The older woman (Nobuko Otowa) is waiting for the return of her son from the wars currently being waged by a number of different warlords. In the world of the warlords, peasants don’t matter, so entire groups of population are scooped up and conscripted, and this is what has happened to her son. Also waiting is the woman’s daughter-in-law (Jitsuko Yoshimura).

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bird is the Word

Film: S’en Fout la Mort (No Fear No Die)
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

Ever get one of those films that pulls you strongly in two completely opposite directions? S’en Fout la Mort (No Fear No Die) was like that for me. There’s a lot here to like and a lot here that borders on the stomach-turning, especially for anyone concerned even a little with the rights and well-being of animals, since one of the main plot threads concerns an illegal cockfighting ring. It’s difficult to watch despite the film being completely compelling in all other ways.

Dah (Isaach De Bankole) and Jocelyn (Alex Descas) have signed a deal with a man named Ardennes (Jean-Claude Brialy). The deal is that they will train roosters to fight in an illegal cockfighting ring for a small percentage of the take. Ardennes, for his part, will maintain them, give them a place to live and work, and do everything necessary to ensure a constant flood of bloodthirsty bettors on the fights. Dah has more of a head for business while Jocelyn trains the birds to fight. He has a way with birds, and he soon attaches himself to one he names S’en Fout la Mort.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

With Friends Like These...

Film: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Momentous anniversaries and milestones often are a cause for reflection or something special. I’d love to say that I have something special planned for this; as it turns out, this is the 1,000th review to be posted on this site. I’ve (after this) written 952 from The List and put up another 48 of one type or another. But there’s no retrospective here, nor a film that I love especially much. Instead, it’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which just happened to be what came in from NetFlix today. Nothing particularly meaningful to me. I guess the momentous thing will happen when I hit this number from The List or 1,000 posts. Or maybe not.

This film was directed by Sam Peckinpah, and that means a few things. It means slow-motion violence for one thing. It means that when someone gets shot (and someone gets shot a lot in this film), the bullet tends to go through the person and out the other side. It means a lot of blood spray. It’s what made Peckinpah who he was, and especially with Westerns, it’s not that easy to step away from what made you a great director in the eyes of the viewing public.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Death in Sweden

Film: Det Sjunde Inseglet (The Seventh Seal); Viskingar och Rop (Cries and Whispers)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on rockin’ flatscreen.

The idea of death as a chess player probably first appeared about twenty minutes after the rules of chess were solidified and codified. The most enduring image of death as a chess player comes from Ingmar Bergman’s Det Sjunde Inseglet (The Seventh Seal). I’d seen bits and pieces of this in the past, but I’m not sure I’d seen the whole thing until today. Of all Bergman’s films, this is the most well known, and the one people seem to know. At the very least, people know the image of Max von Sydow and Bengt Ekerot playing chess near the sea (as in the picture above).

As I say, I’d seen bits of this, and it would appear that the bits I had seen were those of the chess game. I expected Det Sjunde Inseglet to be a sort of My Dinner with Andre where the two play chess and have deep existential discussions about the meanings of life and death. I’m not sure why I thought that, and I’m pleased to have been wrong. I’m not sure that this would have become the classic it is had it just been a literal chess game instead of the much more figurative chess game it is.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Watching Oscar: All the King's Men

Film: All the King’s Men
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

There was a time when America was at least perceived as being pretty naïve. Films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington played with this idea. So does All the King’s Men. The main difference is that some of that naivety survived Mr. Smith and it most definitely does not make it through All the King’s Men intact. This is the story of the rise and fall of a man. There are shades (but only shades) of MacBeth here, but that’s often the case when this is the base story. In truth, it’s more Citizen Kane than anything else.

Newspaper reporter Jack Burden (John Ireland) is ready for a vacation, but is instead sent to an out of the way corner of his state to report on a man named Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford). Stark is upset because he feels (rightfully) like his state is being run for the personal gain and pleasure of the few instead of for the good of the people. Burden is entranced by Stark and is disappointed when Stark runs for treasurer of his county and loses. Stark decides to concentrate on getting a law degree and fighting for the people as an attorney.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Only the Silent Survive

Film: The Killing Fields
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I know very little about the reign of terror that inspired The Killing Fields except what I saw in that film today. I’m not sure how much of it I could take, and I’ve watched countless films on the Holocaust. Am I suggesting that the depredations of the Khmer Rouge was somehow worse than what happened in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s? I am not. But at what point do we really measure atrocities? At some point, evils on this scale are all equally horrible, equally terrible, and need to be stopped and prevented equally. But as with anything, the first step is knowledge. Knowing what happened, we may be able to stop it from happening again.

The Killing Fields is a story about the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the fall of Cambodia, but it is also the story of two men. American journalist Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) has come to Cambodia to cover the parts of the Vietnam War that has spilled over the border and what would eventually become the growing conflict in Cambodia itself. Assisting him is Cambodian journalist Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor). Also in the area is photographer Al Rockoff (John Malkovich) and British journalist John Swain (Julian Sands). Schanberg fights with the military, personified here by Major Reeves (Craig T. Nelson) and the U.S. government, personified by the U.S. Consul in Cambodia (Spalding Gray).

Friday, April 5, 2013

Family Business

Film: Ukigusa (Floating Weeds)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on laptop.

I don’t have a great deal of experience watching the films of Yasujiro Ozu. Ukigusa (Floating Weeds, and sometimes spelled Ukikusa) is only the third of his films that I’ve seen. I’ve noticed some themes, though. First, Ozu hated to move his camera. While he’s happy to cut between shots, almost everything he does is a static shot. This lends an unusual quality to his films—despite people moving within each scene, there is very much a sense of a static world, almost a still life with people in it.

The second thing is that Ozu appears to be obsessed with family relationships. Even in a film like this one, where a huge percentage of the main characters are a part of a traveling theater troupe, it’s all about family and about the relationships between people. The problems here are the problems of real, believable people. We aren’t changing the world, but dealing with life. Of course, for these people, it is the world.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mann and Stewart

Film: The Man from Laramie
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on Sue’s Mother’s Day gift.

Roger Ebert died today, which is completely shitty. I kind of didn’t want to post anything because of it, because we’ve truly lost a giant and a real inspiration. Would I have started reviewing movies without Ebert? In the long sense, no. It was Ebert along with Gene Siskel who made me think that being a geek for movies was okay. They made it socially acceptable to nerd out over this stuff. But then I thought I should put up a review. Ebert worked pretty much until the day he died. Reviewing a film today is the best way to honor the man who has been an inspiration to me and almost every reviewer and critic I know.

Evidently, director Anthony Mann and James Stewart collaborated a total of eight times, five of them Westerns. The Man from Laramie was the last of their collaborations, and according to the text on the back of the DVD case, the best of them. Going in, I had my doubts; a Western needs to be more than just well-made to rank above Winchester ‘73 in my books. This is a pretty standard horse and saddle picture, in a lot of respects. We’ve got cattlemen and people trying to keep more land than they need, bullies, natives, and a revenge plot. What more could a picture ask for?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Deep Cover

Film: Cache (Hidden); La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher)
Format: DVDs from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Michael Haneke is a strange director in a lot of ways. I don’t know if I like his work or not. In that way, he sort of reminds me of Darren Aronofsky. I love Aronofsky’s work, but I always get the feeling that I’m not sure I want to see it again. Haneke also reminds me of the author J.G. Ballard. Nothing good ever happens in Ballard’s work, and nothing good happens in Haneke’s work, either. Haneke tends to deal with the uglier side of human emotions, the parts we don’t like to talk or think about. He winds people up in unpleasant ways and forces them to fight for their very souls. In that respect, he also reminds me of David Lynch. A good deal of Haneke’s work is exposing the rot underneath the surface of everyday life.

Cache (Hidden) presents a world very much like that of Haneke’s other films. We have, on the surface, a fairly normal upper-middle class Parisian family. It consists of Georges Laurent (Daniel Auteuil), the host of a television program about literature; his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche), a book publisher; and their son Pierrot (Lester Makedonsky), who is about 12 and swims competitively. Out of the blue, the family starts receiving unsolicited videotapes that show that their house is under surveillance. More disturbing, the tapes start showing up with drawings. These drawings look as if they were created by a child. Most show a young child spitting up blood, but one shows a rooster being decapitated.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Off Script: Creepshow

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

It seems that whenever I watch and write about a horror film from the late 1970s or 1980s, I reference Video Bug, the video rental place we went to when I was a kid. Creepshow, the 1982 horror/comedy anthology based on the look and feel of old E.C. comics like The Haunt of Fear is yet another film that I was introduced to through the magic of video rental. When? I don’t really know. Sometime between 1982 and 1985, for certain. I have fond memories of Creepshow, as should most people who have seen it.

I have it on very good authority that the sequels, particularly the third one, are crap, but the first one really is a lot of fun. Part of this is the direction from George Romero, who really made a lot of effort to make Creepshow look as much like the comics it’s based on as possible. Another major plus is the presence of Stephen King. King not only takes the main role in one of the five stories, he also wrote three of the five episodes specifically for the film and adapted a fourth from one of his previously published works. That gives this film a lot of credibility, and it’s credibility that really pays off.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Three Minutes to Wapner

Film: Rain Man
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

It’s a cliché that the best way for an actor to win an Oscar is to play a character who is badly broken either mentally, physically, or emotionally but still accessible as a person and a character by the audience. To quote Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder, you never go full retard. I can think of no better example of this than Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance in Rain Man. The film was a phenomenon and is still a cultural touchstone in a number of ways. Despite the fact that I’d only seen it once before today and my wife had only seen it once, too, it’s one of the most frequently referenced films in my house. “I’m an excellent driver,” is a common phrase, and anyone using the word “definitely” can rightly expect to have “not my underwear” quoted as a follow-up.

Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is a somewhat shady businessman dealing in exotic cars. He’s playing fast and loose with his customers and the EPA. He owes a great deal of money, can’t get his vehicles through their emissions checks, and is behind on a loan. When the news of the death of his estranged father arrives, it’s something of a mixed blessing. After all, Sanford Babbitt had millions, and Charlie is the only likely inheritor.