Wednesday, July 27, 2016


I'm taking a break from blogging. A few things have come up in life that require my attention.

I think it's likely I'll keep posting on Fridays for awhile and I'll do Chip's and Nick's movies in the coming months, but regular reviews are going to be spotty for some time.

Talk to you soon.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Gender Roles

Films: Woman of the Year
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

When you think of great screen couples from the golden age of Hollywood, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. The two had magnificent chemistry together both on and off screen, which made them a natural pairing. Their typical film was light romantic comedy and Woman of the Year is no different in that respect. In many respects, this explores the same territory as a lot of other Tracy/Hepburn films: the sexual politics of the day.

It also feels in many ways like the beginnings of what would become a modern sitcom situation. One of the conceits of many a sitcom, at least in the past, is putting a man in a relationship with a woman who is far too smart, accomplished, and good for him. This is close to the territory we’re treading here, although not entirely. What we’ll find as we dig into the story here is that she may well be too smart and accomplished for him, but he may be too good for her.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Off Script: The Ring

Films: The Ring
Format: DVD from personal collection on rockin’ flatscreen.

In the 2000s, particularly in 2008, there was a spate of American remakes of Japanese horror films. Arguably this trend started with 2002’s The Ring, a remake of Ringu from 1998. A lot of these remakes (see One Missed Call or Pulse) have gotten nothing but a critical panning and ended up giving this trend a deservedly bad name. The Ring is different, though. It sticks to the original story well, maintains a solid air of mystery throughout its running time, and packs in a few quality scares. I don’t like the insta-remake trend more than anyone else seems to, but when the results are this good, it’s hard to object.

I do like the original version better, but not a lot better. I’m just enough of a purist to think that a remake has to be significantly better than the remake for me to think it was worth making. The benefit of The Ring for an American audience is that it’s simply more accessible than the Japanese version for an American audience. The benefit of this version is that anyone who isn’t willing to watch a film with subtitles will be able to get a very good, very accurate version of a damn good horror story.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Everyone Gets Hit

Films: Champion
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

Baseball might be America’s national pastime and football may well be our sport of choice, but when it comes to the Oscars, it’s all about boxing. There’s something about boxing that wakes Oscar up. In a world where the premier sports documentary (Hoop Dreams) can’t wrangle a nomination, it seems like every other film about boxing shows up on one or more of my lists. Champion from 1949 is yet another film about the fight game, putting Kirk Douglas in the ring and giving him plenty of battles outside of it as well.

Part of the lure of boxing is probably that there’s no need to manufacture drama. Oh, sure, we can add a bit here and there and plenty of filmmakers do, but once the two fighters step into the ring, the drama unfolds naturally. It’s about as pure a dramatic moment as can be imagined: two men step in to do battle until one of them falls or time is called. We don’t need anything more than that. It’s inherently dramatic, and so it’s a natural place to put a story.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

We're All Puppets

Films: Anomalisa
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

There are movies that frustrate me. The whole string of them is probably too long to mention, but the fact that it happens is worth mentioning. Anomalisa is the latest in that list. This is a movie that by all rights I’m supposed to like. The fact that an R-rated animated movie was nominated for Best Animated Feature is the sort of thing I’m supposed to like as well; I’ve commented in the past something to the effect that Best Animated Feature is essentially “Best Kids’ Movie” every year and that the Academy never looks beyond that for this category. Here they did. That’s good—it expands the category in a meaningful way. And yet there’s something about Anomalisa that I find difficult. It took me far too long to get through this movie, and I’m still not sure why.

Anomalisa is a story of a loss of connection from reality and the world and a desperate search for that connection. More prosaically, it’s an exploration of the Fregoli delusion, a strange combination of paranoia and persecution complex in which the person suffering the delusions beings to believe that different people are, in fact, the same person in disguise. This is ground that writer/director Charlie Kaufman touched on in that brief “Malkovich Malkovich Malkovich” sequence in Being John Malkovich. In that respect, it’s not hard to see a direct line between Kaufman’s earlier work and this one.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Shakespeare as it Shouldn't Be

Films: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Strap in, because this one is going to hurt a little. I consider myself a fan of Shakespeare in the sense that I’ve read all of his plays and a good chunk (possibly all) of his poetry. Hell, I majored in English, so appreciating the man’s work is sort of a requirement. That said, it figures that I would be interested in the 1935 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play I had to read for multiple classes. This is an interesting production for a couple of reasons. It’s Shakespeare, which means that it’s going to be a prestige production in 1935. It’s also going to feature a lot of key players from the era, the sort of actors not typically associated with the Bard, which makes it doubly interesting.

Unfortunately, it’s really hard to watch. It’s easy to think that Shakespeare wouldn’t be any more or less difficult than any other type of stage work, but half an hour of this production will demonstrate the folly of that position. None of these actors are trained in this sort of work, and that is rapidly evident, especially when the fact that a large percentage of the people on screen were often involved in light comedy and musicals. Sure, A Midsummer Night’s Dream isn’t one of Shakespeare’s most serious works, but that doesn’t change the fact that people who aren’t really trained to do the work are going to be obviously untrained to do the work on camera.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Real Problems are Too Scary

Films: Life with Father
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Comedies don’t always transfer well from age to age. Life with Father is a dandy example of this. I imagine that in the world of 1947, with the war over and prosperity just starting to return, a comedy about life in the late 19th century would have sold quite well. Life with Father is just that film, the sort of comedy where our titular father simply can’t fathom the life that goes on around him. While he’s a captain of industry in his office, he is constantly befuddled and confounded by everything around him at home, mainly because no one acts with any sense. It’s a tried and true formula, and because of that, it hits a lot of obvious notes.

What this means, though, is that Life with Father is just a series of events with only the characters to tie them together. There are a few running points that carry through a great deal of the film, but no real plot to speak of. In essence, the entire film is about how the father of the title, Clarence Day (William Powell) can’t make sense of his wife Vinnie (Irene Day) or the goings-on of his four sons, Clarence Jr. (Jimmy Lydon), John (Martin Milner), Whitney (Johnny Calkins), and Harlan (Derek Scott).

Monday, July 18, 2016

Nick's Picks: Kiki's Delivery Service

Films: Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyubin)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is the seventh in a series of twelve movies selected by Nick Jobe.

Six or seven years ago, I’d never seen a film from Hayao Miyazaki. Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyubin) is my seventh, and not the first that Nick has had me watch. This is from early in Miyazaki’s career, which can be kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, there’s The Castle of Cagliostro, which is entertaining but hardly great. On the other hand, there’s My Neighbor Totoro, which is damn near perfect. Kiki leans a little more toward the Cagliostro side of the spectrum. It’s Miyazaki, after all, but it feels like second-tier Miyazaki.

Fortunately, the story we’re given isn’t filled with much of the science fiction/fantasy anime problem that I often experience. Frequently, I feel like I just don’t know what is going on. In Kiki’s Delivery Service, there is only one piece of license from the real world taken. That license is that witches exist, and thus magic exists to some extent in terms of the witches’ potions, spells, and ability to ride brooms. Kiki (Kirsten Dunst, I watched the English language version) is a young witch. The tradition is that at 13, witches go off on their own to a new town to train for a year, and Kiki has decided that since the night is supposed to be clear and have a full moon that she will leave to find her own path that night. Her mother (Kath Soucie) is worried because she never had time to teach Kiki a lot of the spells and potions she’ll need. Kiki’s cat Jiji (Phil Hartman) is also a little worried about the sudden plan to leave.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mission: Impossible--Jerusalem Branch

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

I knew going in to Munich that it was about what happened with the Israeli Olympic team in the 1972 Olympics. I’m not quite old enough to remember this when it happened, but I new about it soon enough. I assumed that this was about that event, the Palestinian terrorists, the taking of the Israeli team as hostages, and the eventual, terrible conclusion. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Aside from a few imagined sequences that operate as flashbacks, the entire kidnapping of the Israeli team occupies only the first few minutes of the film. No, this is about the terrible retribution that came afterward.

The death of the Olympic athletes and coaches left Israel in a terrible situation. While Germany had nothing to do with what happened, it had to resonate that the terrorism took place on German soil. What the Golda Meir’s government wanted was swift retribution, a message that the targeting of Israelis and Jews in general would not be tolerated. To head that retribution, Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana), a Mossad agent, is recruited. His contact Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush) tells him that he will be heading a team of four other operatives tasked with the job of hunting down the men responsible for planning and carrying out the deaths of the Israeli Olympic team.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Off Script: The Mist

Films: The Mist
Format: IFC on rockin’ flatscreen.

Frank Darabont hasn’t directed a lot of movies, and those that he has directed have been almost exclusively based on the writings of Stephen King. Admittedly, he did both The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, so he’s certainly working in an area where he is comfortable. The Mist is another Darabont film based on King’s writing. This time, though, it’s clearly a horror movie—blood, body parts, monsters, and all of that joy. It’s a very calculated stretch for Darabont here. He’s still in familiar waters in some sense, even if he’s going somewhere new cinematically.

One of the benefits here is the same benefits that Darabont reaped with both of his previous Stephen King movies—it’s based on a novella, which means that the bulk of the story can actually be included in the movie. There aren’t a lot of cuts that need to be made here to get the story on the screen, and that’s a huge benefit to what we see. Certainly there are changes from the original story (we’ll get there), but there aren’t significant gaps, or things that need to be otherwise explained. No, it’s pretty accurate.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Films: The Desert Rats
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’ve said before that I grew up at least in part on war movies, so when I encounter one that I haven’t seen before I get a little excited. More than that, for many years, a lot of my pleasure reading was history of World War II, and of that war, I was the most interested in the North African campaign. That means that The Desert Rats hits on all of my trigger points. It’s a war movie I hadn’t seen before, it’s a World War II movie, and it focuses on the siege of Tobruk and at least in part on the Afrika Korps. Better, it even has James Mason reprising his role as Irwin Rommel that he played two years previous in The Desert Fox.

So I’m sorry to report that The Desert Rats did not live up to my expectations. This isn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just not a great one. It’s too short, for one thing, at just 88 minutes long, and it tries to pack far too much into that 88 minutes, where a film that ran two hours would be able to much more account for all of the story. More seriously, it treads on the same ground as a lot of war movies that have come before it, and that have in many cases done this better.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Picks from Chip: Incendies

Films: Incendies
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

This is the eighth in a series of twelve movies suggested by Chip Lary.

We all classify films in a bunch of different ways. I’m not talking about genre, but about personal classifications. There are movies that we love, ones we love more than we should because we saw them as kids, guilty pleasures, films we hate that everyone else loves, and more. For me, one of the most interesting personal categories is films that I respect but never want to see again. That’s precisely where we are going with Incendies, a film that takes us to some dark places and concludes on some very dark territory.

Truthfully, though, Incendies falls into a few personal categories for me. It is an impressive film that I plan to never watch again, but it’s also a movie that I think I like a little less than other people do. I’m about on average on Letterboxd, but the way that people talk about this film, it would seem that I’m damning it with faint praise giving it a four out of five on that site. This isn’t a film that people seem to be tepid about, and I get that. There’s a lot here to unpack.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Still Depressing with the Sound Off

Films: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Format: DVD from Manhattan-Elwood Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I should’ve know what I was getting into with The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, based as it is on the work of Carson McCullers. McCullers depresses me. Her stories tend to focus on misfits who don’t fit in with society and who can’t decide if they want to be a part of society or remain apart and aloof from it. Many of her characters have grandiose dreams that far exceed their ability to achieve them. That’s not specifically the case with our main character here, but it’s certainly the case with just about everyone else in the story.

This is the story of John Singer (a nominated Alan Arkin), a deaf-mute living in the South. His lone friend is Spiros Antonopoulos (Chuck McCann), an overgrown man with the mind of a child. Spiros is constantly in trouble because he doesn’t fully understand the idea of consequences or that (for instance) breaking the front window of the bakery and taking the cookies is a problem. Shortly after this incident, Spiros is sent off to an asylum by his frustrated uncle. John, having nothing to keep him in town, moves closer to where Spiros is and attempts to gain legal guardianship of his friend.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Election Year

Films: The Candidate
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

Think of any political campaign movie you’d like, scratch the surface, and you’re bound to find cynicism. In fact, in many of these films you don’t have the scratch the surface at all—the cynicism is right there for you to look at. That’s certainly the case with The Candidate, a film that is almost a retelling of All the King’s Men in more modern clothing. As the name of the film implies, this is the story of a political campaign, and specifically the story of a particular candidate as he goes from the early stages of his political career to a surprisingly hotly-contested race.

In California in the 1970s, posits the film, one of the state’s senators is a man named Crocker Jarman (Don Porter). Jarman has been a fixture in the Senate for California. He’s well-respected, well-liked, and a shoe-in to be re-elected. This is a problem for the Democrats, who don’t really have anyone they can run against him. Anyone they run is guaranteed to lose, so the campaign becomes not about winning but about putting their ideas out in front of the public. Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) needs someone to run, and having no better ideas, he taps Bill McKay (Robert Redford). Bill has several important things going for him. He’s idealistic, he’s photogenic, and he’s the son of former governor John J. McKay (Melvyn Douglas).

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Convert to Mormonism, Maybe?

Films: Enemies, a Love Story
Format: DVD from Hanover Township Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of the problems of doing a series of movies from a large list is that some of those movies are difficult to find. NetFlix is missing a ton of the movies that I need to watch, which means I have to go to other sources. I need to continually remind myself to request those movies from the library when I can—there’s a good 100+ movies I can’t get through the easiest channels. Enemies, a Love Story is one of those movies, and this seems to be a pretty rare one in general—not a lot of reviews on Letterboxd, for instance. That often makes me feel like I’m shouting into an empty room when I review a film like this one.

Enemies, a Love Story is kind of a romance, kind of a drama, and a little bit of a comedy, which means, of course, that it’s none of these things. Herman Broder (Ron Silver) is a Holocaust survivor, who lived through the war by hiding in a hayloft where he was cared for by Yadwiga (Malgorzata Zajaczkowska under the name of Margaret Sophie Stein), his Polish peasant servant. After the war, he and Yadwiga emigrated to the United States and got married, because Herman’s wife had been killed and dumped into a mass grave.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Manic Pixie Damaged Girl

Films: The Sterile Cuckoo
Format: Movies! Channel on rockin’ flatscreen.

With The Sterile Cuckoo, we’re in familiar territory in a lot of places. This is something like a romance, kind of. It wants to be a traditional romance and doesn’t want to be, which gives it a bit of a multiple personality, and that’s familiar. We’re also in a situation where Liza Minnelli (at this point very early in her adult career) gives a very strong performance of a very unlikable character, something she’d do even better in Cabaret a couple of years later. We’re also dipping our toes into the waters of Manic Pixie Dream Girl-dom, although it’s a bit undecided here, too, but in a good way.

Jerry Payne (Wendell Burton) is heading to college in upstate New York. Waiting for the bus, he meets “Pookie” Adams (Liza Minnelli), who sometimes seems like she could use an extra “d” in her last name. Pookie is almost painfully extroverted and aggressively odd, which comes as a shock to the studious, introverted, and somewhat nerdy Jerry. On the bus, she lies to a nun so that she can end up sitting next to Jerry, and she spends the entire bus ride talking, moving from topic to topic as whim takes her. This is who Pookie is, evidently, and it’s well-established. It’s important to note here that Jerry and Pookie are headed to different schools, but schools that are relatively close to each other. This means they won’t be spending all of their time together, but are close enough that weekends are fair game.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Second Samuel

Films: David and Bathsheba
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

I’m not going to pretend that I have a fondness for biblical epics, because I don’t. Sure, there are a few that I think are good and worth watching, but in general, they leave me cold. They tend toward the preachy and also tend to treat Old Testament stories not only as actual history, but as something edifying and filled with moral value. The truth is that I find the majority of the OT to be morally suspect at best and hideously immoral at worst (and in general). So it is with David and Bathsheba, a Hollywood-ized version of a story out of the second book of Samuel. We’re supposed to (I assume) learn about mercy, when this is a really nasty story once you dig even a little below the surface.

As the title suggests, this is the story of King David and Bathsheba. The story goes like this—King David (Gregory Peck) and his troops are fighting a battle. Placed in danger, David is convinced to retreat to Jerusalem. Before he goes, he talks to one of his higher ranking soldiers, Uriah (Kieron Moore). Uriah is recently married, but he hasn’t let that change what he thinks is his destiny—to die gloriously in battle for the benefit of his king.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Marriage 2.0?

Films: Starting Over
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

When you think of Burt Reynolds in the 1970s, you probably think of him as more or less the male sex symbol of the decade, and probably in movies like Smokey and the Bandit or possibly gritty action movies like Deliverance. That’s how I think of him, at least. Starting Over is a change for Burt. In this, he plays a recently-divorced man who wants to get back into the world and begin his life again but can’t quite get over his ex-wife. He’s vulnerable, a little sad, and at times a bit helpless. It’s an unusual role for him, especially in 1979. Much like John Wayne had to prove he could act eventually, like comedians have to do a dramatic role to prove that they can, Reynolds had to do something other than be macho to show that he actually belonged on the screen, and Starting Over was the way to do it.

It’s interesting, because it shows a very different side of the man as an actor. This is a guy who seemed much more at home in broad, raucous comedy, and here he’s playing in a film that is almost a comedy of manners. It’s subtle, which seems like the opposite of who Burt Reynolds was. I’m a little surprised (just a little, mind you) that he wasn’t nominated come Oscar time. I’m a little surprised because his performance really is that good and that nuanced. I’m not surprised because Oscar almost never takes a comic actor seriously on his or her first semi-serious role, or the second, or the third. Jim Carrey is best known as a comedian, and got no love for The Truman Show or The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and it took until Lost in Translation for the Academy to notice that Bill Murray existed.