Saturday, January 31, 2015

Off Script: The Beyond

Film: The Beyond(L’aldila; E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldila; Seven Doors of Death)
Format: Streaming video from Hulu+ on The Nook.

Eventually, my wife will cancel our Hulu subscription, something I’ve asked her to do for the past month. Until such time as that happens, though, I’m going to continue to watch movies on it. I was in the mood for something scary today, or at least weird and disturbing. The Beyond seemed like a good choice. This is one of the classic Italian horror films by Lucio Fulci. I know more about Fulci’s work than I’ve seen and I know that 1980s Italian horror tends to be pretty gruesome, so I sat down expecting an entertaining ride, which is what I got, at least in part.

In reality, The Beyond doesn’t make a great deal of sense, but it kind of isn’t supposed to. It’s really just an excuse for a number of really nasty splatter scenes, most of which involve eyes popping out of people’s heads. There is something like a plot here, but it genuinely doesn’t make sense through most of the film. Things happen without much cause and the vast majority of the cast is made up of really dumb people. Again, that’s not a terrible criticism of this film because it’s not a film that anyone watches for the scintillating plot.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


Film: Bad Girl
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

The “idiot plot” is a movie plot where all of the problems of the plot could be solved if the principle characters just had a conversation about what was going on. For a modern film, it’s pretty unforgivable, but it’s easier to overlook in a film that was released a couple of years after the advent of sound. Bad Girl is exactly this sort of film. Our two principle characters spend the entire movie not communicating with each other, which leads to everything that happens until the end.

Dot Haley (Sally Eilers) has a job modeling clothing, particularly bridal gowns, to patrons of the story she works in. She finds that the male customers in the store do little but try to pick her up. She does her job as best she can and enjoys her evenings at Coney Island with her friend and coworker Edna Driggs (Minna Gombell). For these two, men are little more than things there to harass them, so it comes as a shock to them both when they discover a man at Coney Island who seems completely uninterested in flirting with them. This turns out to be Eddie Collins (James Dunn), although he offers Joe as his name. “Joe” and Dot get to talking and more or less insult each other. Before you can say “doodley-doodley-doop” we’re back at Dot’s place and the pair are making plans to see each other again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Gender Politics

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

On days when the weather is bad and I have to go to work, I tend to drive west on Highway 38 until I hit the town of Rochelle, IL. Rochelle is a town of about 10,000 people, a pretty standard Midwestern town in a lot of ways. It also happens to be the home town of Joan Allen, who I almost always enjoy in films. Joan Allen and I share an alma mater, too. This and a couple of dollars will get me a cheeseburger somewhere. Still, there are times when I wonder if my appreciation of Joan Allen is at all because of the fact that I could get to her childhood home in less than 20 minutes. And then I see a film like The Contender and realize that I like Joan Allen in front of the camera because Joan Allen is damn good in front of the camera.

< The Contender is a political thriller, a film of high power, intrigue, and politics at the highest level. What that means more or less is that this film is going to get lurid quickly and stay lurid for most of its running time. That means sex, double standards, glass ceilings, criminal accusations, and plots and plans within plans. This is a surprisingly gripping film for having what is essentially an incredibly simple plot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

American Dream

Film: Death of a Salseman (1951)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Certain stories become legendary. In American theater, there are few more well-known and respected stories than Death of a Salesman. The story is on of a man crushed by the weight of his life and the extent of his own failures. Needless to say, this is not a happy story. In a lot of ways, Death of a Salesman depicts the opposite of the American Dream. This is the tale of a man who wanted nothing more than that dream but was ground down by life, but missed opportunity, by his own bad decisions, and by his own blindness to the realities around him.

Willy Loman (Fredric March) is the salesman in question. Now in his 60s, Willy is still a traveling salesman. He comes from a world where a smile and a firm handshake were all that were needed to seal a deal. Back when he started his life on the road, sales were made because of personal connections. But the world has changed and left Willy behind. Older and no wiser, his drooping sales have put him back on full commission.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Skirting the Hays Code

Film: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

You’ve got to hand it to Preston Sturges. Once you realize exactly what the plot of The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek is and exactly when this film was made, it’s staggering that it made it past the Hays Code at all. Seriously, it would be mildly shocking today, but in 1944, it was positively scandalous.

First, it’s immediately evident that this is not going to be merely a comedy but a screwball comedy when we learn the names of our principle characters. Marx Brothers movies and plenty of screwball comedies give us character names that are far beyond the pale. Look at a film like Ball of Fire, with Professor Bertram Potts and Sugarpuss O’Shea. Well, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek gives those names a run for their money. Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton) is a patriotic young woman who wants nothing more than to see the troops off to Europe. This is strongly protested by her father, local policeman Edmund Kockenlocker (William Demarest) and her wannabe boyfriend Norval Jones (Eddie Bracken). Norval has been classified as 4-F because of his nerves and his high blood pressure, both of which are caused by his fear of being classified as 4-F.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Service with a Smile

Film: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I realize that not everyone likes Wes Anderson. I don’t think he’s an acquired taste. I think he’s either a director that you like or that you don’t. I tend to like him, although I find that a little Wes Anderson goes a long way. It had been awhile since I watched a Wes Anderson film, so when I saw that The Grand Budapest Hotel was available from NetFlix, I put it at the top of the queue. Even if I hadn’t heard almost entirely good things about it, it was a film I was looking forward to seeing.

In many ways, it’s the least Wes Anderson film I’ve seen him do. Oh, the people involved still have that unique Wes Anderson-style OCD and a series of oddities and quirks, but there’s considerably less of that here than in most of his films. I’ll go so far as to say that of the Anderson films I’ve seen (not all but most), this is the one most likely to be enjoyed by people who don’t typically like Wes Anderson.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Oskar Bait

Film: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I’d like to say that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is the movie most likely to be forgotten as a Best Picture nominee, or the one that will seen as most unworthy of a nomination from 2011, but I’m not sure either claim would stick. After all, both Hugo and War Horse were Best Picture nominees from the same year. To my knowledge, though, it’s the only film in the Internet age to have a negative Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic score (46 on both sites) to be nominated for Best Picture. Make of that what you will, but I have to say that I agree with Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a post-9/11 film. Admittedly, everything that was produced after September 11, 2001 is a post-9/11 film, but in this case, it’s relevant to the day in question. Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is a kid who lives in New York. Oskar’s particular quirks are never officially diagnosed for us. He’s right in that middle space between Asperger’s stereotype and home-schooled kid stereotype. Anyway, he has a close relationship with his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks). Thomas likes to propose strange questions and quests for Oskar that force the boy to talk to people, something he allegedly has a problem doing. Much of their conversation revolves around a mythical sixth borough of New York.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wild Montana

Film: A River Runs Through It
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I have never understood the allure of fishing. I don’t like the taste of freshwater fish that much for starters, and it seems like such a waste of a day. I’d rather do almost anything else than sit in a boat or stand in a river like a goober hoping that a fish will be dumb enough to bite on a lure. A great deal of A River Runs Through It is spent watching people fly fish in rivers in Montana. I suspected as much going in, but figured since it was disappearing from Instant Watch, I should try to knock it out.

And I’m not kidding about the fly fishing. We’re told in the opening moments of the film that the father of our main characters was both a Presbyterian minister and a dedicated fly fisherman, and that in their house both fishing and church were considered sacraments. The father, Reverend Maclean (Tom Skerritt) runs a tight household filled with discipline and order. The two boys (played as youths by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Vann Gravage) are home schooled, an education that consists almost exclusively of reading and writing with afternoons spent on their own, frequently fishing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

More Like "Averse"

Film: Anthony Adverse
Format: Streaming video from TCM Watch on laptop.

I typically use Turner Classic Movies for films that I can’t find anywhere else. There’s a real temptation to record pretty much everything I haven’t seen, but I’d fill the DVR in a couple of days doing that. Anthony Adverse is a film I can find in a library, but can only get on VHS. I missed it on TCM, but caught the film today on TCM’s online service. I gotta say, I dig the online TCM since it allows me to catch films I either missed recording or forgot to record.

In this case, it’s not TCM’s fault that Anthony Adverse isn’t very good. This isn’t even a case where it’s a film that was good for its time but hasn’t aged well. I’m not convinced that Anthony Adverse was a good film for 1936. It’s overlong, for starters. The drama is drippy, the romance doesn’t work. In fact, the only thing I like in it is something that I found funny that certainly wasn’t intended to be humorous.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lend Me Your Ear

Film: Lust for Life
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

A number of years ago we took a family trip to Paris. In addition to my wife and me, my father and his wife, one of my brothers and his wife, both of my sisters and one of my sister’s husband were there. Spend a little time in Paris and you can’t avoid going to a few art museums. It’s sort of what you do. While my preferences tilt more toward the Louvre, pretty much everyone in my family peed themselves a little over the Musee D’Orsay. That’s the impressionist museum, filled to the brim with Degas, Manet, Monet, and of course Van Gogh. I say this to point out the fact that I didn’t pee a little over the D’Orsay. The impressionist school doesn’t do a lot for me. This is important because Lust for Life might well be called “The Vincent Van Gogh Story.” As a side note, if you’ve seen the movie Hugo, you’ve seen the D’Orsay. It’s housed in the old Paris train station used at the heart of that film.

We should clear up the pronunciation of the name, too. If you’re an American, you almost certainly pronounce the painter’s last name as “Van Go.” It’s pronounced myriad ways in the film, though—Van Goff, Van Guff, Van Go, Van Gog, Van Gah. Pick the one you like; I’m not going to care how you say it. The actual Dutch pronunciation is evidently Van Gokh, with the final sound being akin to hacking up phlegm. But I digress.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Your Face Picks Movies (Jason): Three the Hard Way

Film: Three the Hard Way
Format: DVD from Somonauk Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

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

If you read Jason Soto’s reviews over at Your Face, you’ll find that the sort of movies Jason tends to review are substantially different from the sort of movies I tend to review. In truth, that’s one of the reasons I agreed to have him pick some movies for me. It’s too easy to get into a rut, and I need to be broken out of that. What better way to get away from a long string of Oscar movies than a little Blaxploitation? And so, Three the Hard Way, a film featuring three of the biggest African-American action stars of the period seemed like just the ticket.

Like a lot of films in this genre, Three the Hard Way offers up an extreme plot without much exposition. The plot isn’t really the point here. What is the point is a boatload of action, cars exploding, gun battles, martial arts fights, and a touch of gratuitous nudity. All of this is packed into 90 minutes, so such niceties as plot are secondary considerations at best.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Big Bad Bear

Film: Ernest et Celestine (Ernest & Celestine)
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

If you have a library card, I can’t recommend looking into Hoopla Digital strongly enough. Download movies for free, keep ‘em for a few days, watch ‘em at your leisure. I wish I’d discovered it earlier. Tonight I checked out Ernest et Celestine (Ernest & Celestine), watched it immediately, and returned it pretty much without leaving my chair. And since the titles get returned automatically, I didn’t even really need to return it. Okay, if you’re a purist and insist on watching this subtitled in the original French I’ve got nothing for you. That matters very little to me with animated films, so I honestly didn’t care.

Like many a movie made for children, there is a moral at the heart of Ernest & Celestine, which is obvious once you get to it but no less worthwhile because of its obviousness. We start in the mouse world with Celestine (Mackenzie Foy), an orphan who enjoys drawing pictures and making up stories. The mice live in terrible fear of bears, who they believe will eat them without any provocation. However, the mice are necessarily thrust into the city of the bears above their underground city. The entire mouse civilization is built on their incisors, and the best replacement for these should they wear out is bear teeth. In fact, the bears tell their children that mouse tooth fairies take their teeth, when it’s really just mice looking for replacement teeth.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Up, Up, and Away

Film: Test Pilot
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

As TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar rapidly approaches, I find myself in a position of still having a DVR that is disturbingly close to full. Part of that is that I have a backlog of films that I just haven’t watched yet. Part of that is that I live with a wife and two daughters who record shows and evidently have no desire to ever watch them once they are recorded. I can only do my part to clear my stuff to make room for more, so here I am, watching films that I put on the DVR months ago. Eventually, I’ll catch up. At least that’s what I tell myself. I realized recently that among my recordings are the last three Best Picture films I haven’t seen from 1938. I picked Test Pilot for no real reason save that it was one of those three.

The obvious draw for the time was Clark Gable, but there are a few other joys here, at least for me. Primary among them is Myrna Loy, who I love. If I hadn’t already decided that my classic movie sweetheart was Barbara Stanwyck, Loy would be my choice. In addition to being drop-dead gorgeous, she was also a fine actress and possessed of brilliant comic timing, although that is on display here only a bit. Also present is Spencer Tracy, who is rarely disappointing. And there’s Lionel Barrymore, who seems to have been in pretty much every film of this period.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Actor 1939

The Contenders:
Mickey Rooney: Babes in Arms
Clark Gable: Gone with the Wind
Robert Donat: Goodbye, Mr. Chips (winner)
James Stewart: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Laurence Olivier: Wuthering Heights


Film: Affliction
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

I watched Affliction when it became evident that a good proportion of the films on my streaming queue were about to vanish. I’m not sure why I picked this one over all of the others that were about to leave streaming. One seemed as good as another, basically. I went into this cold, knowing only that Nick Nolte appeared on the cover art, and thus assuming that he would be the focus of the movie. What I found was a film with a deep vein of darkness. I used to watch the television show Hoarders. In one episode, the head of the clean-up crew, in reference to a homeless man living on the property of a hoarder, said something to the effect that we’re all five bad decisions away from shitting in a bucket. Affliction is the cinematic version of this, a life that starts on the edge and spirals into the abyss inside of two hours.

Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte) is the policeman in a small New Hampshire town. We learn that he is divorced and that his time with his daughter Jill (Brigid Tierney) is uncomfortable. Wade wants to sue for full custody, a move that virtually no one but he supports. Wade’s unpleasant relationship with his daughter and his custody battle is something that pops up from time to time in the film, and is something that perhaps serves as the catalyst to Wade’s downward spiral. Soon after this, a hunting accident occurs. Hunting guide Jack (Jim True-Frost) reports that his customer Evan Twombley (Sean McCann) tripped and shot himself with his rifle.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

By a Nose

Film: Cyrano de Bergerac (1990)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

It’s always a mild surprise to me that years ago Gerard Depardieu was a sex symbol. This was obviously in the years before his diet consisted entirely of butter and goose livers. It’s hard not to see the man as a sex symbol when watching one of his early films. So what’s the premier French sex symbol to do to enhance his status at the height of his sexy beast stage? One option that would be hard to pass up is the chance to play one of the great tragic romantic heroes in Cyrano de Bergerac.

When people talk about great tragic romances, most go right to Romeo and Juliet. I don’t, because I don’t really like that story. The only character I like gets killed in the middle and our two principle characters are kind of dumb and end up dying mostly because they are kind of dumb. No, for me the best of the tragic romances is Cyrano. I’ve liked every version of this story that I’ve seen, be it the classic tragic version or the upbeat Hollywood rewrite as Roxanne.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Looking High and Low

Film: The Search
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve never been shy about my general dislike of Montgomery Clift. I suppose that “dislike” is too strong a word. He’s just rarely done much for me; he’s one of those actors who tend to make me think that the person doing the casting should have looked a little harder. That’s a position I’m going to revise slightly with The Search, because I think this is the best thing I’ve seen Clift do, and there are a couple of his performances (Judgment at Nuremburg, The Heiress) that I like pretty well.

The Search is a heavier topic than I was expecting. The first part of the film is concerned with, more or less, a primer on the Holocaust. The film is squeamish enough or politically correct enough that it doesn’t go into much detail here. Instead, it focuses more on the low-hanging fruit of children who were affected. We are shown a happy Czech family only to discover that they were eventually captured by the Nazis, separated, and tossed into concentration camps. The father and daughter, we learn, were killed. The mother, Mrs. Malik (Jarmila Novotna), survives the war and is hopeful that her young son Karel (Ivan Jandl) may have survived. She dedicates herself to finding out the fate of her boy.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Picks from Chip: Once Were Warriors

Film: Once Were Warriors
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

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

A film like Once Were Warriors is not the sort of thing that gets summed up in a single sentence or even a single paragraph. Earlier this month I reviewed Father Goose and suggested that it was a film with multiple personality disorder because it encompassed multiple genres. Once Were Warriors doesn’t encompass multiple genres, but it does address any number of problems and social issues. Is it about poverty? The treatment of indigenous cultures? Spousal abuse? Yes to all of these, but it’s really about masculinity and a sort of male impotence in the modern world.

What happens when a warrior culture can no longer be a warrior culture? More than anything, that’s what Once Were Warriors asks, and it gives a series of different answers. For the five characters with whom we mainly are concerned, the answers are all different, and the answers offered to us at the end as the right ones are probably the ones we though we right going in.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Sheik of Araby

Film: Two Arabian Knights
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Turner Classic Movies is gearing up for their 31 Days of Oscar, which means I need to burn through as much as I’ve got saved as I can to make room for those rarities to come. Two Arabian Knights is one I’ve had sitting there for quite some time. No time like the present, right? Silent films pose their own particular problem in viewing. The conventions are so different from modern films, that it takes some doing to get through without too much frustration.

Two Arabian Knights is both a World War I film and a comedy, a combination of genres that can work if done well. Actually, as I think about it, I tend to like war comedies in general, so it has that going for it. We start with a pair of American soldiers in a trench with the German troops about ready to overrun their position. Knowing their about to die, Private W. Daingerfield Phelps III (William Boyd) decides that this is as good a time as any to finally have it out with his hated sergeant, Peter O’Gaffney (smash-faced Louis Wolheim). The two duke it out, not noticing that by the time they are done, they are surrounded by German troops and taken prisoner.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

His Cross to Bear

Film: The Last Temptation of Christ
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

I’d never seen The Last Temptation of Christ until now, but I certainly remember when it was released because of the controversy surrounding it. Had I been in my more religious phase when the film came out, I may well have been offended by it, too. As it happens, the film came out in 1988 when I was still a believer but had lost interest with religion as organized practice. The controversy surrounding this film was substantial, and now that I’ve seen it, I understand why. I think it’s silly that it was controversial, but I get why it bent a lot of people out of shape.

There’s no good way to really explain The Last Temptation of Christ. It follows the basic Christ story but it gets there by some very strange routes. For the true believer, even the opening of the film, which features Jesus (Willem Dafoe) building crosses for the Romans to crucify Jews, doesn’t just border on blasphemous, it crosses the line completely. Even more, it features a Judas (Harvey Keitel) as a man dedicated to fighting the Romans and who wants Jesus to help him overthrown the foreign yoke.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dolphins are for Wusses

Film: Whale Rider
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

Chip Lary at Tips from Chip has been proselytizing to me about the film Whale Rider. The only reason it didn’t show up on his list of films for me for this year was that it appeared on my Oscars list (and he gave me another New Zealand/Maori film to compensate). This is one of those films that I figured I’d better watch soon so that his head didn’t explode, so when I spotted it on the library shelves the other day, I figured it was time to watch Whale Rider, if only to prevent the possibility of Chip overselling it to me.

We are immediately thrust into a patrilineal culture and witness the birth of the grandson of a tribal chief of a Maori group. As it happens the wife of the chief’s son dies in childbirth as does the grandson. But the wife had twins, and the surviving child is a daughter named Paikea, the name of the original ancestor who is alleged to have come to New Zealand riding on a whale. The grandfather, Koro (Rawiri Paratene), is upset about the death of his grandson and seems not to care much about the death of his daughter-in-law. He’s also upset about the name of his new granddaughter. Paikea’s father Porourangi (Cliff Curtis), unable to deal with the death of his wife and son, leaves, entrusting his daughter to his parents.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Usually, the Wealthy are Called "Eccentric"

Film: The Madness of King George
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla Digital on The Nook.

I’ve very much enjoyed watching movies on my Nook this week, and I’m slightly in danger of going through the necessary films that are available on the Hoopla service if I don’t slow down. But it’s so convenient! The really nice thing is that many of the movies that are available lean toward the obscure or relatively obscure. The Madness of King George is a relatively available film in general, but I’ve never see a physical copy of this film. It’s also worth saying that the title of this film is mildly embarrassing. This is based on the play The Madness of George III. The title was changed because it was feared that people outside of the U.K. would wonder where they could see The Madness of George and The Madness of George II.

The title of this one really says it all. The film takes place in England just after the American Revolution. King George III (Nigel Hawthorne) is dealing with his government, specifically with his Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (Julian Wadham) and Pitt’s opposition in Parliament, Charles James Fox (Jim Carter). He also has to worry about George, the Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett), who desperately wants to be the king.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What Does the Fox Say?

Film: The Little Foxes
Format: Video from The Magic Flashdrive on laptop.

Before I started watching movies critically, I couldn’t call myself a Bette Davis fan. That was mostly from unfamiliarity rather than from any specific dislike. Watching the 1001 Movies list turned me into a Bette Davis fan to the point when I see that she’s in something, I tend to look at that film with a certain level of anticipation. I’ve had a copy of The Little Foxes sitting on my hard drive for a couple of years but have finally gotten around to it tonight. Bette Davis does not disappoint.

The Little Foxes is a film that, at least for 1941, pulls no punches in its brutality, and a large portion of this comes directly from Bette Davis herself. Davis could play a sympathetic character when the role called for it, but she was always better as a the height of manipulative evil. In The Little Foxes, she’s joined by other characters just as nasty and conniving as she is, all of these characters coming from the same wealthy, vile family.

Monday, January 5, 2015


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

If you’re roughly my age, you remember what growing up in that part of the Cold War was like. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s been awhile. My friends and I didn’t talk about what we’d do if the bombs dropped; we talked about what we’d do when it happened. It seemed inevitable. This constant dread created an odd little subgenre that wasn’t unique to the 1980s, but really seemed to hit its stride in that decade. The Day After and Miracle Mile are relatively well-known, and Threads is known to a certain collection of film viewers. So it’s odd to me that Testament seemed to slip through the cracks.

Testament comes in at just about 90 minutes, and it uses its time very wisely. The first 20 minutes or so sets up the Wetherly family. Father Tom (William Devane) works in San Francisco and spends his mornings riding his bike with his older son Brad (Ross Harris, recognizable almost immediately as the kid from the cockpit scene in Airplane!). Mother Carol (Jane Alexander) stays at home and helps out at the school of younger son Scottie (Lukas Haas). Oldest child and lone daughter Mary Liz (Roxana Zal) helps out with Scottie’s school play on the piano. We’re given a nice, completely normal American suburban family.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Daddy Issues

Film: Father Goose
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

I’ve often made the comment about films that don’t know what they want to be on this blog. Rarely have I encountered a film with as severe multiple personality disorder as Father Goose. Is it a war film? Yes. Is it a romance? Yes. Is it a screwball comedy? Yes. Oh, it’s all these things and more wrapped up in a packaged just under two hours in length.

Walter Eckland (Cary Grant) is a former history professor turned South Pacific beachcomber. As the Japanese begin island hopping across the ocean and the British Navy prepares to retreat to Australia, Eckland shows up at the British base to confiscate supplies. Here he is coerced by his friend Commander Frank Houghton (Trevor Howard) into becoming a coast watcher. He’s more than coerced—Houghton specifically damages Eckland’s boat, preventing him from leaving. He also hides Eckland’s whiskey around the island, promising a bottle for each confirmed sighting of Japanese planes or ships.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You

Film: Nixon
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on laptop.

If you go into Nixon without knowing it was directed by Oliver Stone, you’d know it was an Oliver Stone film within a few minutes. I’d seen pieces of it before, but only pieces, but I remember those pieces well, much of that coming from Stone’s style. What I find interesting here is that the Stone movie I am most reminded of when watching Nixon isn’t Platoon or JFK but Natural Born Killers. There’s a great similarity in style here—the fragmented narrative, the montage pieces, the shifts to archival footage that unites those two films in particular.

The version of Nixon I located was the director’s cut, which adds almost half an hour to a film already hitting north of three. The main benefit of the extended cut of the film is the inclusion of Sam Waterston as CIA director Richard Helms. I like Sam Waterston, but I’m not sure he was worth the extra 28 minutes.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Blue is the Coldest Color, Too

Film: Blue Valentine
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

The January NetFlix streaming purge ended with the loss of Blue Valentine, a film that I ended up watching specifically to make sure that I got it watched before it disappeared. I can’t honestly say that this was one I wanted to watch today, which made this more of a forced watch out of necessity than anything else. I’m not always in the mood for films that make me hate life, and Blue Valentine is that sort of film.

Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) are a married couple with a young daughter named Frankie (Faith Wladyka). Dean very much gives the impression of being the fun parent while Cindy is the responsible one. This is not a false impression. As the film goes on, we learn that Cindy has a responsible job as a nurse and that Dean, a high school dropout, paints houses and has worked at unskilled odd jobs his whole life. Cindy and Frankie are the center of Dean’s world while Cindy longs for something more or something different, or really just something.