Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Fight or Flight

Film: The Fugitive
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m not going to play here: I really like The Fugitive a lot. It’s an easy step to call it an action movie, and while there’s plenty of action here, I wouldn’t qualify it as one, or at least not as simply an action film. No, it’s one of the finest crime thrillers since the heyday of the noir era. It’s also one of the few properties that successfully transitioned from the television screen to the big screen. I still have trouble believing that this didn’t make the 1001 Movies list and cannot for the life of me understand why it wouldn’t. Along with horror and science fiction, movies heavy on the action are underrepresented on the big list. If any pulse-thumping film deserves to be given this sort of accolade, The Fugitive ranks just behind Die Hard for me.

Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) attends a fundraiser with his wife Helen (Sela Ward). On their way home, he is called into emergency surgery. When he gets home, his wife has been murdered. A great deal of circumstantial evidence serves to convict him and put him on death row. When he’s being transferred to his new prison, a bungled escape attempt by other prisoners causes the bus to end up wrecked on railroad tracks with a train coming. Kimble saves the life of one of his guards and escapes a few seconds before impact.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Round Trip

Film: Voyage of the Damned
Format: DVD from Bourbonnais Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

When Voyage of the Damned showed up from at the library, I didn’t really know what I was getting. And then I looked at the cast list. This is a cast that, and I say this with only slight hyperbole, made me pee myself a little. Now, admittedly, a great number of the notables only appear in a couple of scenes. Denholm Elliott, for instance, has about half a dozen lines in the first couple of minutes and never appears again. Seriously, though, the cast is astonishing. Voyage of the Damned also happens to be Jonathan Pryce’s first film and Oskar Werner’s last film. Just to name drop more of the cast, it features James Mason, Faye Dunaway, Max von Sydow, Orson Welles, Malcolm McDowell, Michael Constantine, Jose Ferrer, Julie Harris, Wendy Hiller, Ben Gazzara, and Lee Grant (the only person here to earn a nomination). Seriously, I peed a little.

Voyage of the Damned is a “message” film in that we’re going to be getting a big, important story about the sort of thing that filmmakers love to deliver messages about. In this case, the main theme is one of anti-Semitism in Europe and the world before the outbreak of World War II. In a sort of public relations stunt, the German government has loaded a collection of close to 1000 Jews with the intent to ship them off to Havana. It’s a sort of goodwill gesture/refugee dump with an ulterior motive. Captain Schroeder (Max von Sydow) is a noted non-Nazi, which is why Otto Scheindick (Helmut Griem) is placed on board to make sure that there’s no seditious behavior going on.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Off Script: Hardware

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

Budget science fiction from the 1980s and early 1990s is always interesting to me. In the case of Hardware, we have an interesting premise that suffers from some significant issues. The first issue is the $1.5 million budget for a film that has a great deal of ambition. Particularly for a film that wants to show off a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the budget just wasn’t there. A bigger issue is that the plot has holes big enough to drive a train through. I can live with the small budget. The bigger issue is that this really needed to spend another couple of weeks in rewrites.

We’re thrust into a post-apocalyptic world where, at least for the first few minutes, everything is red. A scavenger finds what looks to be a robot of some type, but he is unaware that the robot was moving slightly before its discovery. He picks it up and drags it back to what passes for civilization where he sells it to Moses “Hard Mo” Baxter (Dylan McDermott). Mo keeps the head of the robot and sells the rest as scrap to Alvy (Mark Northover). He gives the head to Jill (Stacey Travis), his reclusive artist girlfriend, who incorporates the head into a piece of art.

Saturday, June 27, 2015


Film: Corpse Bride
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

I first saw Corpse Bride in what could not have been better circumstances. The local theater ran it as a double feature with The Nightmare Before Christmas, which made for a great double bill. In retrospect, I think less of Corpse Bride now than I did 10 years ago. There’s quite a bit to like in this film, but it has a massive flaw that prevents me from liking it as much as I want to.

Corpse Bride in a way feels like the culmination of many of Burton’s themes. There are elements of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Sleepy Hollow in this film, and I like two of those movies pretty well. It also has the look and animation style of The Nightmare Before Christmas, which Burton produced (and is frequently credited with directing, although he didn’t). We start with a marriage of convenience. Young Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) has had his marriage to Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) arranged by his parents. This is an important move for both families. The Van Dorts are nouveau riche fishmongers looking to move up on the social ladder. The Everglots are aristocracy rich in land and tradition but poor in cash. The wedding, then, will give both families something that they either desperately want or desperately need.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Three's a Crowd

Film: The More the Merrier
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

Screwball comedies/screwball romances are kind of hit-and-miss with me. There are some that I adore and some that I’m supposed to like that I really end up disliking. I approach them with a certain amount of caution as I did with The More the Merrier. I don’t even trust a cast implicitly. I didn’t think a ton of Bringing Up Baby, and it has one of the great casts of its era. But I do generally try to go into each film I watch expecting to like it. Preconceived notions have a way of invalidating a review.

Movies like The More the Merrier are why I try to stay positive, because this one is worth it. It’s appeal is almost entirely based on the presence of the great Charles Coburn, who won a Supporting Actor Oscar for this role. I can’t say he didn’t deserve it because he’s clearly the best thing in the movie. That’s not a put down. Coburn is funny all the way through and displays a genius for comic timing and some great physical comedy. It’s all the more impressive coming from an overweight man in his sixties.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Off Script: The Blob (1988)

Film: The Blob (1988)
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of the things I love about the original version of The Blob is that it’s the first major starring role for Steve McQueen. It’s also a really fun idea. So what do you do when you have a fun monster movie idea and the ability to update it with more modern sensibilities and especially with gore? Well, you change a few things, figure out a way to make the horror that ensues the fault of the government, and do your best to gross people out. In this case, the result is the 1988 remake of The Blob. It has some plot holes and plenty of goofiness. But so what? This is a movie made to be a carnival fun house with some scenes of 1980s-level gross-out.

The plot is only mildly different from the original version. In the original, an organism that is essentially an amorphous splotch of acid-based protoplasm, lands on Earth in a meteor. It then proceeds to devour anything organic (especially people) and grow. The blob is more or less a mobile sack of stomach acid that grows larger as it ingests food. We have the same thing here, with the difference that the consuming protoplasm is actually a biological weapon gone amok.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Medicine Show

Film: Lorenzo’s Oil
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

If you are a fan of the movie Lorenzo’s Oil, I’m going to ask you politely to back away now. Go to another website for a movie review and check back here on another day. If this is a film that you find inspiring and filled with heart and spirituality, I’m probably going to piss you off in the following paragraphs. If you’re an anti-vaxxer or a proponent of “alternative” health therapies and see Lorenzo’s Oil as justification for your beliefs, I’m going to much less politely ask you to leave, because that is precisely where I have issues with this film.

Let’s hit the meat of this. The Odone family begins the film living in the Comoro Islands. Father Augusto (Nick Nolte) works for the World Bank and mother Michaela (Susan Sarandon) takes care of young son Lorenzo (Zack O’Malley Greenburg). The family eventually returns to the United States when Lorenzo suddenly begins acting out. He begins throwing massive, unexplainable tantrums and showing signs of physical deterioration. Stumped by this, the family eventually receives the diagnosis of adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a degenerative genetic illness that strips the myelin from the brain and generally leads to death within two years of diagnosis.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Pole Position

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

There aren’t a lot of guarantees in life. When it comes to the 1001 Movies list, though, whatever has won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Foreign Feature are going to show up on the list come August/September. Fortunately for me, Ida is currently streaming on NetFlix, which makes it easy to locate and watch. It’s also scarily, almost “not feature length” short, which is a nice feature on a busy day.

For a movie that won such a prestigious Oscar, I haven’t heard a lot about Ida that made me really want to watch it. Watching it today was more or less heading things off at the pass since I’m as certain as I can be that if I didn’t watch it now, I’d have to watch it in a couple of months. Critical acclaim for Ida has been pretty universal, but otherwise, the reaction has been pretty bland. I won’t keep readers in suspense: I pretty much concur with the general reaction over the critical one. Ida isn’t a bad movie, but I also wouldn’t go so far as to call it a great film.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Technicolor Yawn

Film: Becky Sharp
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Somebody had to be first. Becky Sharp was the first feature film made with the three-strip Technicolor process. When we look at film firsts and film history, this is the one that gets remembered for pioneering this particular process. Why am I going on and on about this? Because that fact represents the only noteworthy thing about Becky Sharp, a film that runs a touch over 80 minutes and feels like double that length.

Where to start? We begin in the early 19th century with Becky (Miriam Hopkins, whose nomination is the reason I watched this) who is graduating from school. Her classmate Amelia Sedley (Frances Dee) is graduating as well, and a great deal is made over this. Amelia, you see, is from money and nobility. Becky, on the other hand, is poor and an orphan and was more or less a charity case for the school. This leads to a great deal of hurt feelings on Becky’s part, who is intensely jealous of the wealth and privilege of everyone around her and simultaneously bitter and sarcastic.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Second Helping

Film: Kung Fu Panda 2
Format: DVD from Genoa Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I probably had too high of hopes for Kung Fu Panda 2. The original Kung Fu Panda is my choice for the best animated feature film of 2008 (see here) and would rank pretty high in my list of favorite animated films. It’s not a perfect film, but lately, many sequels have the habit of improving on the original film in notable ways. I wanted more from the secondary characters in the first film; that was my main complaint. Sadly, it’s my main complaint from the sequel as well.

Kung Fu Panda 2 delve much more deeply into the backstory of Po the Panda (Jack Black), the newly-minted Dragon Warrior, which makes him essentially the defender of Kung Fu. He is assisted in his task of destroying evil and defending the good and helpless by the same five martial arts masters he idolized as a child: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross). He is still under the tutelage of Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), who is alternately pleased with and frustrated by Po.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

White People Problems

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

I have a feeling that the effect of the film The Impossible on me is very different from what was intended. The Impossible is a much more modern take on an old school disaster film. It benefits greatly from being a much more realistic version because it is based on a real disaster and a real story. That should be enough to make the film a compelling one, and I won’t say that it’s not compelling or well-made. But there is a serious problem lurking in the festering heart of this film, and it more or less ruins a great deal of what it sets out to do.

The Impossible is a survivors’ tale of the 2004 tsunami that swept through the Indian Ocean causing mass devastation and a death toll that number in six figures. That in and of itself should make for a truly compelling story. To put a human face on the story, something I would argue is required for something of this scope and magnitude, the film is focused on the Bennett family, who are vacationing in Thailand around Christmas. After a couple of uneventful days, the tsunami hits. This—the total devastation of everything within miles of the ocean—is what the audience comes to see. It does not disappoint. This is disaster filmmaking at its best and grandest, and this alone makes the film worth seeking out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Walking the Party Line

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

When I think of comedies with a more sexual edge, I don’t generally think of the late 1950s as the go-to era. That is what we get with Pillow Talk, though. This is one of those “of its era” movies because the plot turns on something that simply has no real modern adjunct. I expected this to be squeaky clean in terms of sexual content and innuendo and I was pleasantly mistaken on that front. Oh, there’s no nudity here, but there’s a great deal of implied sex and at one point, an unmarried young woman goes off to a wilderness hideaway with a man. That seems forward for a film in Eisenhower’s America.

That old school conceit here is a party line telephone in New York. In this case, the line is shared by Jan Morrow (Doris Day) and Brad Allen (Rock Hudson). Brad, as is often the case in this sort of movie, is a wildly successful creative type. He’s a songwriter currently working on a new score for a Broadway show. In addition to being a successful songwriter, Brad is also quite the ladies’ man and has a habit of tying up the line talking to the women in his substantial little black book. He frequently plays these women a song he’s written “just for them.” It’s actually the same song regardless of woman, with the appropriate name tacked in at the end of each line.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Only the Young Die Good

Film: Romeo and Juliet (1968)
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

Every now and then I find it necessary to hammer home a point. This is one of those times. I really don’t like the story of Romeo and Juliet. There are two versions of the story on my Oscar list, which means that despite my wishing it weren’t so, I’ll have to sit through it twice. Not wanting to be put in the situation of watching them back-to-back, I figured it made sense to knock one out now. Romeo and Juliet from 1968 is widely considered the best example of the story put to film. It’s also the one that was available.

If you don’t know the story, you’re either very young or very sheltered. It is the classic tragic love story, the yardstick by which all such love stories are measured. It’s curious in that sense that I don’t like it very much. I like tragic romances more than I like happy ones. What it comes down to is that I don’t really like the characters and I don’t really like the way that the plot turns. I’m not going to do a long summary of the story here (really, you should know the story and know at least some of the characters). The essential plot is that two horny teenagers from feuding families fall desperately in lust with each other (and call it love) and get married in secret. Then everybody acts like an asshole and everybody dies.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Your Face Picks Movies (Nick): Aladdin

Film: Aladdin
Format: DVD from Reddick Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

This is the sixth in a series of twelve films suggested by the guys at YourFace. This is Nick’s second pick.

Everyone has a couple of movies they’ve somehow missed. I’m sure there’s a blogger out there who hasn’t seen Jurassic Park or Fight Club. For me, one of those movies is Aladdin, which is a generation-defining movie. The truth is, though, that it defines the generation before mine. When this was released, I was in my mid-20s and didn’t have any kids. So you can give me grief about not having seen Aladdin until now, but was there really a reason for me to have seen it when it was new?

Since I’m probably the last person in the free world to see Aladdin I’ll be quick with the summary. Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), Grand Vizier to the Sultan of Agrabah (Douglas Seale) has been searching desperately for the fabled magical lamp that contains a magical genie capable of granting three wishes to whomever owns the lamp. Through some magic, he locates the “diamond in the rough,” the only person capable of collecting the lamp. This turns out to be the titular Aladdin (Scott Weinger), a street rat who lives by stealing food for himself and his pet monkey Abu (Frank Welker).

Sunday, June 14, 2015

In Training

Film: The Tin Star
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When I did the 1001 Movies list, I knew there would be some duds. I figured the same would be true watching films off a list of Oscar categories. I was right; there are definitely some hills and valleys. It’s easy to get discouraged by films that I hope are good and turn out to be cruddy. Every now and then a film like The Tin Star shows up and it makes the whole thing worthwhile. I’m not a die-hard fan of Westerns and don’t choose them often given a free choice, so I’d likely have never watched The Tin Star on my own. That would have been a shame. While there are some real issues with the screenplay (despite that being its nomination), there’s a lot more here that more than makes up for any problems.

Morgan Hickman (Henry Fonda), former lawman and current bounty hunter, rides into a stereotypical Western town with a body strapped to a second horse. This earns him nothing but scorn from the local residents, who like to have their criminals brought in alive. Morgan discovers that the sheriff of the town is Ben Owens (Anthony Perkins), who looks barely old enough to shave, let alone shoot. We’re also soon introduced to Bart Bogardus (Neville Brand). Bogardus runs a stable and is the cousin of the man Morgan dropped.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Josephine Who?

Film: Conquest
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are times when I could wish that my interests in film were not as focused as much as they are on plot and narrative. Were that the case, I’d have more to say about a film like Conquest, which can so easily be summarized in a single paragraph. That’s not too rare with a lot of earlier films on my Oscar lists. It wasn’t until we started getting massive epics and the twisty plots of film noir that things got more complex on the plot front in general (yes, I’m aware of exceptions).

Put simply, Conquest is a love story between Napoleon Bonaparte (Charles Boyer) and Polish countess Marie Walewska (Greta Garbo). When the film beings, Napoleon is conquering Europe and is moving through Poland. It is here that he meets Marie, who is married to Count Anastas Walewski (Henry Stephenson). After a second meeting, Napoleon falls madly in love with her and basically forces her to give up her marriage for him. She does, and at the moment of his triumph, he marries a daughter of the Hapsburg family for the political connections, not knowing that Marie is pregnant with his son already. In more socially liberal terms, Conquest is the story of a woman who gives up her entire life and everything she wants for the man she is essentially forced to love and continues to do so regardless of how she is treated.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Nips and Tucks

Film: Transamerica
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

A number of years ago, I was a fan of the show Sports Night, which was my introduction to Felicity Huffman. It was a well-written show and completely entertaining, but like a lot of television shows, it’s not one that screams that the actors involved are necessarily ones who will be discussed in contention with Oscars. Don’t get me wrong—I like most of the cast of that show. But Sports Night isn’t the kind of show that prepares someone for Felicity Huffman’s performance in Transamerica. Additionally, knowing that Felicity Huffman is more well-known for the trashy Desperate Housewives only makes the juxtaposition of her television roles with Transamerica that much more surprising.

The title here is something of a pun. The film involves a trip from Los Angeles to New York and back again. It is also about a transgendered woman just at the point of surgery. Sabrina “Bree” Osbourne (Huffman) was born Stanley Schupak and has gone through a number of surgeries, procedures, and hormone procedures in preparation for surgery. A week before that surgery, Bree gets a call for Stanley…from his son. A son she didn’t know she had who is in jail and needs bail money.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Bad Boy, Bad Boy, Watcha Gonna Do?

Film: Picnic
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are times when I think I should focus more on watching films in chronological order. My first impression of Picnic was that it the natural child of Peyton Place. I thought this by virtue of my having seen Peyton Place first. The truth is that Picnic came out first, so in reality, it got to this sort of small town darkness first. Both films are about repressed emotions and maintaining appearance, at least in part. There’s something about Picnic, though, that feels a little artificial.

Drifter Hal Carter (William Holden) slides into a small Kansas town on a freight train. Hal has a penchant for boasting and nothing to back those boasts up. He went to college on a football scholarship but lost it by not studying. He’s shown up in this particular town because it’s the home of his college friend Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson), the son of a wealthy man who owns all of the grain elevators in the vicinity. The day Hal shows up is Labor Day, and the entire town is turning out for a massive picnic (hence the title).

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

You Think Your Family Has Problems...

Film: Long Day’s Journey into Night
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I can, I like to knock longer movies off the list of films I still have to watch. I recorded Long Day’s Journey into Night a couple of weeks ago, and it’s just shy of being one of the 10 longest I had left. Today I had the chance to knock it out and figured it was a good opportunity to knock out something that hits close to three hours. In the interest of full disclosure, this is a film that I’ve tried to get through before and didn’t get much past the first half hour. Long Day’s Journey into Night is not something that one enters into lightly.

This film is the cinematic version of Eugene O’Neill’s play of the same name. This is soon evident. With the exception of a couple of early scenes that take place outside or in something like a shed, the entire story takes place within a couple of rooms of a large house. There are only five characters here: four family members and a cook (Jeanne Barr), who is only really in one significant scene. It’s the family we’re concerned with, and each one could easily be the main character of another story.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Picks from Chip: Ong-Bak

Film: Ong-Bak (Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior; Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.

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

With Ong-Bak (also called Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior and Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior), Chip has given me something of a poser. For my Letterboxd page, Ong-Bak is right on the border beween 2 ½ and 3 stars. That might not sound like a dilemma, but for me, 3 stars is the cut-off for “liking” a film on that site. Ong-Bak has one major plus and a lot of negatives. That one plus cures a lot of ills, but not all of them.

After we watch a fairly brutal contest to achieve a red pennant from the top of a tree in a small Thai village, the film really starts. Some guys, led by Don (Wannakit Sirioput), attempt to buy a necklace from a village elder. He refuses, so the gang instead steals the head of Ong-Bak, the village Buddha statue. The winner of the tree/pennant contest, Ting (Tony Jaa) volunteers to retrieve Ong-Bak’s head. He’s given money, Don’s address, and instructions to look for his cousin, and off Ting goes.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


Film: Nobody’s Fool
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

When I look at a film like Nobody’s Fool, I’m not terribly surprised that I don’t know the name of director Robert Benton a lot better. While certainly a film that has some Oscar appeal, this is not the sort of film that elicits discussion of his directorial style. His IMDB page has a couple of trivia facts about him and not a single trademark is it often does for well-known actors and directors. And yet this is a guy who has directed eight people to Oscar nominations (with three wins) and has three wins himself. Why the hell isn’t this guy discussed?

Getting good work out of the actors may in fact be Benton’s trademark. In Nobody’s Fool, he more or less gets out of the way and lets the actors do what they’re being paid to do. This is a character-driven movie, which is a good thing because there isn’t a great deal of plot here to speak of.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Off Script: It's Alive (1974)

Film: It’s Alive
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are a bunch of ways that a film like It’s Alive can be explained. Any really good horror movie is about more than just the scares, of course. Just as good science fiction is about more than aliens and robots, good horror speaks to the human condition and tells us something about what frightens us. Horror is always a product of its time. It’s no surprise then that a film that concerns itself with a mutant, murderous freak of a baby came out during an era when people first became concerned about the effects of pesticides and chemicals on people and in the years following Thalidomide.

It’s Alive has a bunch of things going for it and one significant negative. First and foremost in the positive category is the basic idea for the story. One of the things that horror movies can do really well is play on our fears of what should be happy moments in our lives, like the birth of a child. There had been films that went in this direction before (Rosemary’s Baby comes to mind), but never to this extent. That this takes the basic idea as far as this does is a stroke of brilliance.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

That's Nobody's Business but the Turks'

Film: Midnight Express
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

There are moments in Midnight Express that I remember. I’m positive that I’ve never seen this before, but I’d definitely seen bits and pieces of it, certainly at an age before I was really old enough to understand it and long before it was appropriate for me to see it. Those few early glimpses gave me a pretty good sense that Midnight Express was going to be a tough ride. I was not disappointed in that respect. This is not the kind of movie one sits down to with a happy smile and a bag of popcorn with the hopes of seeing an entertaining film.

Midnight Express is based on the real experiences of Billy Hayes (Brad Davis). Vacationing in Turkey with his girlfriend Susan (Irene Miracle), Billy decides to attempt to smuggle two kilos of hashish out of the country for personal use and to sell to friends. If he got away with it, we wouldn’t have much of a movie. He’s caught before boarding his plane and hauled away. After an abortive escape attempt, Billy is tossed into jail at the whim of the notoriously corrupt Turkish prison system.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Battle for Breakfast

Film: Wake Island
Format: DVD from Princeton Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve written before about the fact that I grew up on war movies. As a kid, it was absolutely my preferred genre. When I find an old black-and-white World War II movie, especially one made during the war specifically as a propaganda film, I always get a feeling of nostalgia. So when Wake Island showed up, I was naturally excited. Despite having seen a ton of these in my youth, I was pretty sure I hadn’t seen this one before (and I hadn’t). More interesting to me is that this is a film released in mid-1942 about a lost battle in the Pacific in the weeks after Pearl Harbor. It may not be the first World War II propaganda film made, but it’s likely the first really major one.

Except for the opening at Pearl Harbor, the bulk of the action takes place on Wake Island, located in the middle of the Pacific and used essentially as a way station for ships and airplanes between Hawaii and the Asian mainland. Because of its location, Wake had strategic value and the island was manned by a few hundred marines and a larger collection of contractors working to get the island into fighting shape. We start in the days before Pearl Harbor with the appointment of Major Caton (Brian Donlevy) to head the battalion. Going with Caton is Shad McClosky (Albert Dekker), who will be heading up the civilian crew building all of the necessary structures and defenses on the island.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Off Script: The Others

Film: The Others
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

It’s been a few years since I’ve seen The Others. I remembered this as a film that I genuinely liked, but that I wasn’t sure would work on a rewatch. Films that work with a twist ending often have the problem of not wearing well on a repeat viewing. So I had some concerns. It’s exactly what happened to me with A Beautiful Mind, a film I enjoyed on the first viewing and found lackluster on the second. I didn’t really want that to happen with The Others, but I am ever a slave to the list. Fortunately, this is a film that is made well enough that even knowing the ending doesn’t for a second spoil how well the whole thing holds together.

What The Others gets right is the atmosphere. This is a film that foregoes gore and blood. Instead, it’s all about creating a world of suspense. This is about the creeps. The point here is to establish a sense of dread, to give us not something that horrifies, but rather puts us in touch with a space between the real world and the spirit world. In that respect, it is reminiscent of films like The Haunting that depend entirely on atmosphere, shadow, and sound for the creation of scares and tension.

Monday, June 1, 2015


Film: The Fabulous Baker Boys
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I can’t say that I’ve ever been a fan of Michelle Pfeiffer. I can’t quite put my finger on it. There’s something about her that comes across as false somehow. I don’t know where this comes from and if I’m completely honest, I think it’s probably completely unfair on my part. She is the reason The Fabulous Baker Boys showed up on my list of films to watch, though, and it’s only fair that I not prejudge her or prejudge the movie based on her presence. However, the only other adult female role in the film that lasts more than a couple of seconds is played by a young Jennifer Tilly. I love Jennifer Tilly, so in that respect, I’d have preferred to have spent more time with her.

That said, I’m happy I do my best to go into movies with as much of a blank slate as possible, because not only is this a good film, it’s Michelle Pfeiffer’s best performance with the possible exception of Dangerous Liaisons. It’s not that often that I get to see a film that really redeems an actor about whom I am lukewarm, but The Fabulous Baker Boys is that rare thing.