Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Salem's Lot

Film: Salem’s Lot
Format: IFC on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of the reasons I enjoy horror movies is that I find them to be similar to roller coasters. They’re a huge adrenaline rushes. I am occasionally scared in the moment, but rarely for long, partly because I don’t have a belief in the supernatural. It’s rare that I find something truly scary, but the (surprise surprise) made-for-TV version of Salem’s Lot from 1979 qualifies. The truth is that I probably saw this when I was too young, so it’s one of those things that hits me on a more visceral level. It’s honestly probably not as frightening as I’m saying it is, but it’s something that always strikes me as being genuinely scary.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know why it works as well as it does. Certainly there are parts of it that I can say work really well for specific reasons. There are a couple of great jump scares and a few moments of building tension that work nearly perfectly, but as far as why the whole three-hour experience works as well as it does, I’m not sure. In a lot of ways, it shouldn’t. It almost seems like a joke to have this staring David Soul, most famous for playing Hutch on “Starsky and Hutch.” And yet it works. When I went through the They Shoot Zombies list, I was incredibly pleased to not just see this on the list, but to see it in the top-200 where it belongs.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kiss My Grits

Films: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you think of Martin Scorsese, chances are good that you think of his more mob-related movies (Casino, Goodfellas) or his more violent films (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull). I would have never pegged him as the director of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, a film that was eventually turned into a long-running television sit-com. I remember the show; my mom loved it. Naturally, I went into the movie thinking that it was going to be a clear inspiration for a good-natured show that took place in a diner. Well, I was wrong, and in this case, that’s not a bad thing.

What I didn’t know was that Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore was a project that was controlled almost from the start by Ellen Burstyn, who was still riding high from success in The Exorcist. Burstyn hand-picked Scorsese to direct, and Scorsese then surrounding himself with women to act in many important crew roles. The entire point behind the film was to make a film about a realistic woman with realistic problems.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Jokerman

Films: Toni Erdmann
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I finished the 1001 Movies list, I thought that I was done with really long foreign language movies. In the four years since finishing, there have been a few pretty long movies added, but only Leviathan approached the 150-minute mark and wasn’t in English. That’s until Toni Erdmann showed up. At 162 minutes, Toni Erdmann was a daunting undertaking. I won’t say I didn’t want to watch it, but I did have to check it out of the library twice. When I’m particularly busy with work, non-English movies are harder for me. I generally have to wait for a day off (I don’t get many as a teacher) or the end of a term. Since I want to complete the current 1001 additions before the end of the year, I bit the bullet.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

You'll Want to Escape, Though

Films: Escape Me Never
Format: Internet video on laptop.

When I drop back into the earliest years of Oscar, I generally know a couple of things. One thing I know, at least with a movie like Escape Me Never is that I’m watching a movie that probably no one reading this blog has seen. There is a version of this from the 1940s starring Errol Flynn and Ida Lupino that is much better known, but the version that was nominated for an Oscar for 1935, so that’s the one I watched. I think it’s safe to say there’s a reason that not a lot of people have seen this.

Oh, Escape Me Never isn’t terrible. One of the real problems is that it desperately needs to be restored based on the version that I was able to find online. At one point early in the film, we’re shown a letter that I’m sure is important to the plot, but there was no way in hell I could read it because of the blurry nature of this print. It’s a shame, and as I say whenever this happens, I do my best not to let something like technical difficulties do anything to affect my overall opinion of the film itself.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Films: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Format: DVD from Mt. Morris Library on various players.

I remember when Kenneth Branagh’s version of Frankenstein, sometimes called Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was released. I was interested in it because I like Branagh as a director and liked him in 1994 as a director. This was the guy who appeared on the directorial scene with Henry V, the most bad-ass version of Shakespeare’s most bad-ass history. I liked Dead Again probably more than it deserves. And here he was directing a classic horror tale with Robert De Niro as the monster. How could it be anything but awesome?

And then the reviews came in, and most of them were disappointing to say the least. So I never got around to it. I was married, had a wife who didn’t (and still doesn’t) care much for horror movies, and a job that took up a ton of time, so I essentially forgot about it. And then, boom, here it is, several decades later and Frankenstein falls into my lap. I remembered seeing the previews. I remembered the poor critical reception. But this blog is all about figuring these things out for myself at some point, so why not check it out?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Be Fruitful and Multiply

Films: The Seven Little Foys
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

I’ve checked out The Seven Little Foys from the local university library a couple of times and never pulled the trigger on it. I’m not sure why that is aside from the fact that it was a movie I didn’t desperately want to watch. But, I knew I had to get to it eventually, so it made sense to finally knock it out today. I mean, how terrible could it be, right?

The truth is that it’s not that terrible, but it’s also not that great. It’s a semi-biography of stage comedian/vaudevillian Eddie Foy (Bob Hope) and his, well, seven children and how all of those children wound up in his act. What I find interesting here is that, while this was made in 1955 and is thus a part of that Hollywood era that whitewashed a lot of bad behavior from the focus of its biographies, The Seven Little Foys isn’t really that flattering to Eddie Foy.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Show Me the Money

Films: Jerry Maguire
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

For whatever reason, I’ve avoided watching Jerry Maguire for more than two decades. I seem to prefer Tom Cruise in science fiction and action more than I do drama. And yet I think two of his best performances, Born on the Fourth of July and Rain Man are straight dramas. I don’t know what the hang up was, but I just couldn’t come around to pulling the trigger on it. It might also have something to do with Patton Oswalt’s epic stand up routine (seriously, google “Patton Oswalt Jerry Maguire”).

Since I’m probably the last person in the world to see this (even my wife has seen it), I won’t go too deeply into the story. Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is a sports agent, and a very successful one. One day, while dealing with yet another concussion for one of his hockey clients, Jerry is confronted by the man’s son, who more or less tells Jerry that he’s full of shit. Jerry has an epiphany and spends the night writing a 26-page manifesto of everything that is wrong with the business. This earns him accolades in the moment and costs him his job and all of his clients but one a week later. The engineer of his career demise is Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr), Jerry’s protégé. When he leaves the company, he takes with him one person, Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), a widowed mother with a young son named Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki) who has some health issues.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Reservoir Hunde

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

I’ve been ignoring the latest version of the 1001 Movies list for too long; the last movie I removed from those remaining was Moonlight, and that was almost three weeks ago. I figured I should get to the ones I could get to while they were still easily available on NetFlix streaming. Of the two currently streaming that I need to see, Victoria, which is longer and at least marginally in German, seemed the bigger commitment. Since work is going to get a little harrier in coming weeks, I figured now was the time.

The draw of Victoria is that it was done in a single long take that runs over two hours across a number of different locations across Berlin. The single take film has been done before, of course. Hitchcock faked it with Rope; Russian Ark is a single take shot through the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and involves massive costuming, sets, and orchestras, and Mike Figgis did it four times over with Timecode. Victoria Is perhaps less technically impressive than Timecode, but uses real locations and uses a lot of them.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

I'm Okay with My Decay

Films: Leaving Las Vegas
Format: DVD from Cortland Community Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

There was once a time when Nicolas Cage was not a parody of an actor. There were flashes of what he’d become during this period, but for years, Cage was a bankable actor in the sorts of movies that you didn’t watch just to see how insane his performance was. In the middle of that period was 1995 and Leaving Las Vegas, the film for which Cage won an Oscar.

Leaving Las Vegas is perhaps best described as a completely nihilistic romance. Ben Sanderson (Cage) is a screenwriter who has fallen on hard times. He’s not sure if his wife left him because of his alcoholism or if he became an alcoholic because his wife left him, but he’s gone far past the stage of being a functional drunk. Shortly after the movie starts, Ben loses his job, and with a sizable severance check, he decides to move to Las Vegas. He burns most of his belongings and leaves with the intent of drinking himself to death.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Reptile

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

When you talk about classic horror movies, you have to spend at least a little bit of time talking about Hammer films. Hammer horror films are kind of what made horror films stay around for a few decades. They were fun, had a touch of class to them, and some of them were genuinely good. There was a sense of wanting to keep the gothic feel of the classic horror movies, but also move them a little bit more into the modern world. Hammer remade all of the classics, of course, but also created their own monsters and scares, as they did with The Reptile. Instead of banking on the name recognition of the monster, this film tries to blaze a new path by giving us a creature that certainly has ties to the classics but is different in significant ways.

As fitting with the ties to the gothic, The Reptile takes place at the turn of the previous century. We see a man exploring an old house when he is suddenly attacked. He runs from the house and dies, the skin on his face turned black and a white foam coming out of his mouth. Nice way to set the scene, huh? Anyway, flash forward a day or two and we’re sitting with the dead man’s brother, Harry Spalding (Ray Barrett) and his new wife Valerie (Jennifer Daniel), who have learned that Harry’s brother has willed them his little cabin. They are warned off staying there, but since they are newly married, they decide that it’s as good a place as any to start their life together, and off they go.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Lone Wolf(verine) and Cub

Film: Logan
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

Let’s talk for a minute about what movies based on comics are and what they can be. What they are when they are at their best is fun action movies with great special effects and big action set pieces. We get villains who are purely evil set on world domination or world destruction and acts of great heroism. We get some thrills and some laughs and have something that serves as a vehicle for popcorn and Sour Patch Kids. What they can be is Logan.

Logan is set in the future of the X-Men universe, and it’s a future that hasn’t gone well for the mutants. It has been 25 years since a mutant has been born and in this world, most of the X-Men are dead. Logan (Hugh Jackman), known to the wider world as Wolverine, now lives in secret as a limo driver in El Paso. His former mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) has lost control of his mental abilities and lives in an abandoned smelting plant just over the border in Mexico where Logan keeps him heavily medicated to prevent his mental attacks that inadvertently wiped out the X-Men the previous year. With them is Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant with the ability to track down other mutants. Logan’s mutant powers are starting to slow down. While he still heals injuries, he doesn’t always heal as quickly or completely, and he now has scars covering his body from previous battles. He’s in constant pain, which he medicates with pain killers and alcohol.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Rain on the Scarecrow, Blood on the Plow

Film: Country
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I don’t remember the 1984 Oscars because I didn’t really care that much about them toward the end of my senior year in high school. I do remember some of the music and events of that time, though. I remember that 1985, the year of those Oscars, was the year for Farm Aid in Urbana-Champaign, where I happened to be a student at the time. It was also the year John Cougar Mellencamp released Scarecrow, an album that, at least in part, talked about the fading of the American dream. The title track was very specifically about the fading of the American family farm. As it happens, 1984 was a year for movies about a similar theme. Three of the Best Actress nominees were for stories focused on farms. There was The River with Sissy Spacek, Places in the Heart with Sally Field, and finally Country featuring a nominated performance from Jessica Lange.

And guess what? Country is about a family that is about to lose a farm that has been handed down for generations for more than a century. They simply can’t make the farm work because of the drop in crop prices and the rise in costs of operation. The villain of Country is not a specific person, but the FHA, who loaned money to farmers based on inflated land prices and then came to collect when those loans couldn’t be paid off. I’m not kidding when I call this the film’s villain. Evidently, Ronald Reagan took this film as a personal attack on his administration’s farm policies.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Misery Parfait

Film: Biutiful
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

When a movie like Biutiful shows up, I wonder why I pursue the films that I do for this blog. As evidenced by many of the horror movies I post, I don’t object to a crappy movie now and then, but Biutiful is something else entirely. I cannot say that it’s not a well-made movie. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu doesn’t make cheap or shoddy films. But it’s depressing to the point of making the audience suicidal, and that always gives me pause.

“Misery parfait” is the term I started using a number of years ago to describe movies where nothing good happens to anyone and instead, the entire length of the film is a spiral of one depressing thing to something even more depressing. It starts out with a lot of potential for terribleness from all sides and manages to fulfill all of the promise of every horrible thing that can happen by the time the end credits roll nearly 150 minutes later.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Because an Eggplant Would Be Weird

Film: My Life as a Zucchini (Ma Vie de Courgette)
Format: DVD from Coal City Public Library on laptop.

I’m happy to complain about Oscar’s nominating habits all the time, but there are moments when they do it right. A film like My Life a Zucchini (Ma Vie de Courgette in its original French) is a Swiss-French stop-motion collaboration that would be virtually unheard of and completely unknown without its nomination. The truth is that a film like this has very little chance of actually winning Best Animated Feature. Even with screeners being sent out to voters, it simply doesn’t have the cachet of a film from the bigger studios. And yet, this is precisely the sort of film that should be nominated to give it greater exposure.

My Life as a Zucchini features stop-motion animation with a particular look unlike anything I’ve seen. The characters are clearly human, but somehow off. Their arms are far too long, for instance. Everyone’s eyes are rimmed with a color that matches his or her hair and everyone’s nose is a shade of red. Because of this, in many ways My Life as a Zucchini is the least attractive of the five nominees, and that is a part of how I judge films in this category.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Hunger

Films: The Hunger
Format: Streaming video from TCM Watch on laptop.

I knew going in that The Hunger as a sexy vampire movie from the time before vampires became the go-to teen love interest. I knew it had to be stylish since it stars Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie. The one thing that doesn’t scan is that The Hunger was directed by Tony Scott. Tony Top Gun, freakin’ Days of Thunder Scott. Who would have guessed that he had a stylish and sexy horror movie lurking in those veins?

Anyway, The Hunger really is about sexy vampires. While even the classic vampire stories have a great deal of gothic romance to them, The Hunger goes out of its way to make them dead sexy (you see what I did there?). Our vampire couple is Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) and John (David Bowie), who teach classical music (her on piano, him on cello). At night, they cruise discos and nightclubs to find new prey, something we see in the opening scene.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Off Script: Scarecrows

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

There’s a vibe to both ‘70s horror and ‘80s horror, so I find it entertaining when a film from the late 1980s has a feel that is a lot more similar to one from the late 1970s. Scarecrows is that movie. I’ll give you one guess as to what form the monsters take in this movie.

While a lot of this does seem to come right out of the 1970s, the plot is right out of the greed-obsessed 1980s. A group of special forces types hijack the payroll from Camp Pendleton and then hijack a plane to escape with the money, probably to somewhere without extradition, although they seem to be planning on going to Mexico. We learn soon enough that there is no honor among thieves, since one of them, Bert (B.J. Turner) tosses a couple of smoke grenades into the plane along with a real one and jumps out with $3.5 million.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Oil's Well that Ends Well

Film: Syriana
Format: DVD from personal collection on various players.

I seriously do not understand AMPAS. The closing credits of Syriana say that it was based on a book, and yet it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Seriously, I simply don’t understand how something like that happens. It certainly cheapens the idea of the specific categories if a movie that is specifically based on a book can somehow be nominated for original screenplay simply because the production company wants it nominated for that award.

Anyway, Syriana is one of those movies like Babel that has a bunch of different stories all circling the same set of issues. The early and mid-2000s seem rife with films like this: Crash and Traffic spring to mind. It was as if everyone suddenly decided they wanted to make Soderbergh movies, or perhaps there was a sudden revival of interest in Robert Altman. Movies like this are certainly potentially entertaining, but they are also a pain in the ass for someone like me, who tends to focus on narrative structure. I don’t know that Syriana is easily summarized.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Prepping for Surgery

Film: The Hospital
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I haven’t been shy about my reasons for doing the Oscar round-up posts every week. These aren’t so much a celebration of Oscar as they are an accounting of just how often AMPAS gets it wrong. Still, there are times when I have to admire the balls they sometimes show. In 1970, George C. Scott won the Best Actor Oscar for Patton and he was my pick as well. Scott turned down the Oscar, though, becoming the first person to do so. So the Academy nominates him the following year for The Hospital anyway.

Scott was known for, among other things, being able to turn on the anger at the drop of a hat, something he shared with Lee J. Cobb, and the main reason I sometimes get the two mixed up. In The Hospital, he plays Dr. Herbert Bock, Chief of Medicine at a teaching hospital. The problem is that at the hospital, everything is coming off the hinges, much like his own life. Bock currently lives in a hotel since he has separated from his wife, he’s kicked his son out of the house, his daughter has had two abortions and has been busted for dealing drugs, and he’s currently impotent.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

If It's Thursday, This Must Be Italy

Film: The Four Days of Naples (Le Quattro Giornate di Napoli)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

Sometimes, I can’t always get a great version of a film to watch. That’s certainly the case with The Four Days of Naples (or Le Quattro Giornate di Napoli in the original Italian). The copy of the film that I found was a bit grainy, which I can deal with. A bigger problem was the inconsistent subtitles. There are chunks of the film that don’t have any subtitles, so the screen is filled with shouting Italians saying things that I can’t understand. I get that they are excited or angry or at least passionate, but I’m not always sure of the specifics of those emotions.

That said, The Four Days of Naples tells a truly interesting story. The film takes place in the latter part of World War II, and as the story opens, Italy has surrendered to the Allies, causing a brief celebration among the people of Naples. The city lies about mid-way up the Italian boot, a touch north and west of the ruins of Pompeii and southeast of Rome. So, while the Allies are marching up the Italian countryside, they haven’t reached Naples yet.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Castle Freak

Film: Castle Freak
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

You’re not going to get a great deal of subtlety from a direct-to-video movie directed by Stuart Gordon. What you are going to get in this case, though, is plenty of Jeffrey Combs, and that’s never a bad thing. When the movie is named Castle Freak, you should have a pretty good idea of what is on offer. There’s going to be a castle, and there’s going to be a freak inside the castle. Honestly, I had a hard time not having “Super Freak” running through my head for most of the film’s running time.

Enter the Reilly family, John (Jeffrey Combs), Susan (Barbara Crampton), and daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide). John Reilly has inherited a castle in Italy. We learn soon enough that the Reilly family has suffered some significant tragedies at the hands of John. One night, while driving drunk, he got into an accident that killed his young son J.J. and blinded daughter Rebecca. Things are naturally tense in the family, with Susan blaming all of the problems, evidently quite deservedly, on John.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Off Script: Quatermass and the Pit; Quatermass 2

Films: Quatermass and the Pit (Five Million Years to Earth); Quatermass 2 (Enemy from Space)
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I tend to like movies from Hammer Studios in its heyday. Sure, they’re not all great, but there’s an earnestness to them that I appreciate. Quatermass and the Pit is later in their run, but it’s a fine example of what Hammer could do on a very small budget. This is actually the third Quatermass film, based on a character created for the BBC. Despite it being the third film, the character name didn’t have the same recognition in the States, so it was released here under the awesome title Five Million Years to Earth.

In London in the mid-1960s, construction is going on at a tube station in Hobb’s End when a set of skeletal remains are unearthed. Dr. Matthew Roney (James Donald), a paleontologist, is called in to examine them. He determines that the remains are of a pre-human ancestor and he estimates them at five million years old—far older than any other previous finds of definably human ancestry. Around the same time that Roney reaches this conclusion, evidence of something metallic is located. It is decided that this metallic object is likely an unexploded bomb from World War II, and a bomb disposal squad is called in.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Little, Chiron, Black

Film: Moonlight
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

Every year in January, the Oscar nominations are announced, and that means I need to get to work on knocking out the films that have been nominated on the blog here. I typically put some stress on Best Picture nominations because there are more of them than there are for the other categories, and because knocking out Best Picture nominees means that I’m usually reducing the numbers in other categories as well. I often watch the Best Picture winner soon after the awards, because there’s generally that brief span of time where I’m missing having viewed a single Best Picture winner. This year, I did the opposite, waiting to watch Moonlight last of the nominees.

I knew very little going in other than that it won. I knew it was the first LGBTQ-themed film to win Best Picture, or at least the first that had overt homosexual themes (you could argue, for instance, Midnight Cowboy had some leanings in that direction). I knew it was based on an unproduced play called “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.” And I’d heard that Mahershala Ali was great, something kind of unsurprising given that he’s good in Hidden Figures and one of the two best things in the second season of Daredevil on NetFlix.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Homeward Bound?

Film: Ironweed
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’d love to tell you that Ironweed is a fun-filled romp of joy and happiness, but it is completely the opposite. This is one of those movies I have dubbed a “misery parfait” in the past, a film in which nothing good happens to anyone, and there is little but layers of sadness and misery piled one atop the other. That it stars both Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep only means that the misery we witness is going to be acted about as well as it can be. It’s not going to make it any easier to experience, but it is at least going to be done well.

It’s evident right from the start that we are in for this sort of experience. Francis Phelan (Nicholson) is a bum who has wandered around the country for a few decades. Now, in 1938 around Halloween, he has returned to Albany, NY, his old home town. Over the course of the first act, we learn a few things about Francis. We learn that he was married and had children, but abandoned his family because he dropped his infant son, killing him.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Free at Last

Film: Selma
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I tend to save my Oscar rants for Mondays and Fridays, but in the case of Selma, it’s hard not to start off there. Selma, perhaps the most ambitious movie about the Civil Rights movement since Malcolm X, was nominated for exactly two Oscars: Best Picture and Best Original Song (which it won). For all of its efforts to be visibly color blind and progressive in many things, the Academy is still very traditional at heart in many ways. Ava DuVernay, a black woman director, was overlooked, as was the powerhouse of a performance by David Oyelowo. There’s still a long way to go, evidently.

Selma is not the biography of Martin Luther King Jr. (Oyelowo), nor is it the story of the Civil Rights movement as a whole. It is instead the story of the march in Selma, in many ways the spiritual beginning of the movement. The film attempts to take a comprehensive look at everything that happened immediately before and during those days in Selma, both in Selma itself and in the rest of the country, particularly in Lyndon Johnson’s (Tom Wilkinson) White House.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Stepfather

Film: The Stepfather (1987)
Format: Internet video on laptop.

An inventive screenwriter can find horror anywhere. Some of the most interesting horror movies around started with odd little premises or simple “what-ifs.” In the case of The Stepfather from 1987, that what-if question concerns just how far someone might go to try to create the perfect family. It’s an incredibly simple idea, and The Stepfather takes that question in a particularly disturbing direction.

The film opens with an unnamed man (Terry O’Quinn) washing blood off his hands. He then cuts his hair and shaves off his beard, altering his appearance dramatically. When he is done transforming, he goes downstairs and we see that he has evidently brutally murdered his entire family. He walks out of the house with a suitcase, gets on a boat, and when the boat is in the middle of the water, he drops the suitcase over the side.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

It's in the Way that You Use It

Film: The Color of Money
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

When you discuss Oscars, eventually the conversation will get around to people who won a career Oscar in the guise of a competitive one. None may be more clearly a case of this than Paul Newman’s win for The Color of Money. Newman had so definitively deserved an Oscar before 1986, but lost for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Hustler, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Absence of Malice and The Verdict and wasn’t nominated for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or The Sting, and so, finally, the Academy gave him one for a 25-years-after-the-fact sequel to The Hustler. Don’t get me wrong; Newman deserved an Oscar in his career, and while The Color of Money is a lesser film in many respects, he’s still worth watching in it. It just seems a shame that he won for something that pales in comparison to so much of his other work. Sad, but true.

Anyway, The Color of Money is a sequel to The Hustler 25 years later. Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) has given up the pool hustling game and now works as a whiskey salesman, something for which he is well suited. He also functions as a stakehorse for Julian (John Turturro), covering his bets and taking the lion’s share of the winnings. One day at one of his stops while flirting with his girlfriend bartender Janelle (Helen Shaver), he watches Julian lose over and over to a new player named Vincent (Tom Cruise). After spending a little time observing both Vincent and his girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), he offers them a proposition. Go out on the road with him for a few weeks, learn how to really hustle pool, and then show up in Atlantic City for a 9-ball tournament and clean up both in terms of winning and in betting.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Marriage Gone Bad

Film: Two for the Road
Format: Turner Classic Movies on big ol’ television.

I think it might be impossible to dislike Audrey Hepburn. When I’ve got an Audrey Hepburn movie on the docket, I’m always at least going to be mildly interested in it. In Two for the Road, she’s paired up with Albert Finney, which makes for an interesting pairing. Two for the Road pairs these two as a married couple who appear to be on the verge of a divorce. What we’re going to get, then, is both a look at the state of their marriage as it stands as well as the story of how they met, courted, and why their marriage began to splinter.

The other thing that we’re going to get is a few solid and well-established tropes. It probably won’t be a surprise to you that Two for the Road features a couple that, while they start poor, has become fabulously wealthy. Much of the attraction of putting Audrey Hepburn in a film, after all, was having her serve as a fashion plate, and that she does with her typical style and aplomb. So, the marital problems we’re going to be witnessing are happening within the context of people who have enough money to ship their car to Europe. The second significant trope here is the profession of Albert Finney’s character Mark. If you had to start making guesses, it wouldn’t be too long before you guessed his profession as architect, the default occupation in the movies for a guy who is creative and has an artistic soul but is also sensible and capable of generating the sort of wealth that puts Audrey Hepburn in designer clothing.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

I've Heard They Make Good Neighbors

Film: Fences
Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are a few things that, when I see them in a movie, I take as something like a warning sign. One of those is an actor turned director. Sure, sometimes you discover that the actor really direct, but that’s not always the case. In the case of Fences, Denzel Washington obviously did a good enough job to get himself an Oscar nomination and Viola Davis an Oscar win. The second warning sign, and one that I take very seriously, is when a film is based on a stage play. Fences is based on the play of the same name by August Wilson. It’s a Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning play, which clearly works in its favor, but there’s always a danger that filming a play will end up just being a filmed version of a staged play.

With Fences, it turns out that Washington is capable of getting really good performances out of himself and his cast. Unfortunately, the fact that this is only his third feature as a director demonstrates the limitations of his directorial experience, because Fences, with the exception of a few shots here and there, really is a filmed version of the play. There are a few scenes added here that almost certainly aren’t a part of the actual play script—montage-like moments as we see the characters living in the world without any dialogue. When we’re back to the script, though, we’re very much looking at something that wouldn’t be out of place for a moment on a stage.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Sensory Deprivation

Film: The Miracle Worker
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I was under the impression that The Miracle Worker was sort of a biography of Helen Keller, or at least something like a memoir. It’s not. It’s actually a memoir of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. I won’t go into a big screed here about who Helen Keller was. You already know, I’m certain. She was stricken with scarlet fever as an infant and lost both her sight and hearing and eventually learned to communicate thanks to the tireless effort of the aforementioned Anne Sullivan.

The Miracle Worker is based on a stage play. Originally, the plan was for a much bigger name to take the Anne Sullivan role. Director Arthur Penn stuck to wanting Anne Bancroft, who had played the role on stage with Patty Duke playing Helen Keller. Because he insisted on this, the studio cut his budget from $2 million to a half million, and Penn still managed to direct his two lead actresses to Oscar-winning performances.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Fire in the Sky

Film: Fire in the Sky
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on The Nook.

I like science fiction as much or more than the next guy, but I put the emphasis heavily on the word “fiction.” I also happen to be a science geek, and a great deal of my pleasure reading (when I have time for it) is in different science fields. In my movies, though, I’m a lot less stringent. If things happen that don’t comport with the known physical laws of the universe, I’m not that put out. Fire in the Sky requires a different sort of willing suspension of disbelief, though. Taken at face value, this is the true account of Travis Walton (played in the film by D.B. Sweeney) and his alien abduction.

So let’s go there for a minute. Our universe is an awfully big place and I think it’s unbelievably likely that life has evolved on other planets. On some of those planets, I’m betting there’s sentient life. However, the distances involved in moving from solar system to solar system are so great that I think it’s unlikely that we’ll ever encounter intelligent aliens, and I doubt very seriously that those aliens have been here abducting people, making crop circles, or performing medical experiments on our livestock.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Queen of the Jungle

Films: Gorillas in the Mist
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.

Gorillas in the Mist has been sitting on my shelf for literally years. I knew I was going to have to watch it eventually, but I didn’t really want to because I know how the story ends, and I knew the end was going to piss me off on some level. That’s kind of the problem when you’re dealing with a story based on real events. If you know the real events and they don’t end in the way you’d like them to, you know you’re setting yourself up for a frustrating finish.

Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver) was a physical therapist who, inspired by the work of Louis Leakey (Iain Cuthbertson) decides to chuck it all and work in the Congo helping to create a census of mountain gorillas. This is a problem for several reasons. First, she has no experience, and Leakey tries to fend her off because she has no real science training. She eventually wears him down, though, and is soon on her way to the Congo. The second problem is that there is a Congolese civil war, which makes the place incredibly dangerous, and a white woman in the middle of the jungle is going to raise some eyebrows. Third, the mountain gorillas are rapidly going extinct because of poaching. Fourth, and in many ways most critically, the poachers aren’t about to let some wannabee scientist end their income stream.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

A Life Unlived

Films: Rachel, Rachel
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’ve commented in the past on the concept of coming-of-age movies and my singular problem with them. The tendency is that coming-of-age movies for boys involve coping with death and coming-of-age movies for girls involve coping with sex, often with someone wholly inappropriate. I get tired of these stories. So what to make of a coming-of-age story for a woman who is 35? That’s exactly the story we’re getting with Rachel, Rachel.

Rachel Cameron (Joanne Woodward) is a 35-year-old elementary school teacher still living in the house she grew up in with her mother (Kate Harrington), her father having died years before while she was in college. Rachel’s life is dominated by her mother, and in many ways, she is still terribly sheltered. Because of the presence of her mother, Rachel has never had a serious relationship and is completely naïve in terms of sex. Most things seem to be terrifying for her, although, Walter Mitty-like, she has a rich fantasy life.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Civil Rights are Human Rights

Films: Malcolm X
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on laptop.

For a long time, I’ve said that my favorite Spike Lee movie is Do the Right Thing. I like the questions it raises, and I like even more the fact that rather than answering them, it just asks more questions. It’s a movie that creates conversation rather than trying to end one, and I respect the hell out of the decisions that Lee made with it. A number of people have told me that my opinion is based on the fact that I hadn’t yet seen Malcolm X. Well, now I have. I think I still like Do the Right Thing better, but I completely understand why I needed to see this.

As with any biopic, there are going to be things here that going to deviate from the truth. However, I also think that’s less of an issue with this film than it is with many others. Much of this comes from the fact that Lee came under a great deal of fire while filming from many people who were concerned that he would damage the story of Malcolm X in some way, or focus too much on negatives. Interestingly, this was exactly the same criticism that forced Norman Jewison off the project years earlier. So, while I’m certain there are some amalgamated characters and scenes created for dramatic purposes, I’m also pretty convinced that Lee stuck to the truth as much as he could.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Pin

Films: Pin
Format: Internet video on laptop.

There aren’t a lot of movies quite like Pin. Actually, that’s not quite true; there’s quite a bit of Psycho in Pin. It is a very unusual horror movie, though, one that doesn’t seem like it belongs in 1988. Aside from some very brief nudity, it’s close to bloodless. It seems very much like it belongs to an earlier time in film history, and yet it’s surprisingly progressive in certain ways.

At first blush, the Linden family seems completely normal. Dr. Linden (Terry O’Quinn) is a typical doctor. His wife (Bronwen Mantel) has a few issues, though. Specifically, she’s a germaphobe and a clean freak. The Lindens also have two children, Leon (played respectively by Jacob Tierney, Steven Bednarski, and eventually for most of the film by David Hewlett) and Ursula (played by Michelle Anderson, Katie Shingler, and finally by Cynthia Preston). The fifth member of the family is Pin (voiced by Jonathan Banks, "Pin" being short for "Pinocchio"), an anatomical dummy used by Dr. Linden in his practice. Dr. Linden, we soon learn, is accomplished as a ventriloquist, and speaks for Pin to the children.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bear Market

Films: Margin Call
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I don’t pretend to understand financial markets. Watching the financial markets collapse a decade ago affected me less than it did a lot of other people because I don’t tend to play in markets, but it was scary nonetheless. For those of us who don’t work on Wall Street, the greatest frustration of the destruction of the housing market was probably the fact that virtually no one who caused the problem suffered any real consequences, or at least suffered the consequences that we thought they should have. Margin Call tells this story with the sort of cold dispassion that it seems to require.

Margin Call takes place over two consecutive days at an unnamed trading firm that seems to have been based on Lehman Brothers. The film starts with a huge percentage of the staff on one floor being let go. Included in that culling is Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), who works in risk management. Eric tells the people who are letting him go that he’s been working on something that he’d like to finish. They send him off anyway, and on his way out, he hands a flash drive to Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto), telling him to finish his work and to be careful.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Casting Decisions

Films: Othello (1965)
Format: Streaming video from Kanopy on rockin’ flatscreen.

When one looks at the 1965 version of Othello, there are a lot of places one can start. Kind of. In reality, there’s a single place to start, and that’s the fact that the title character is portrayed by Laurence Olivier. If you know anything about the play, you may well be aware of the problem. Olivier was about as white as I am. Othello, the Moor of Venice, is a black man. This means that this film is 159 minutes of blackface. Honestly, that’s not an easy thing to overcome mentally.

How did this come about? This version of Othello is a production of the National Theater Company, and evidently Olivier performed the role on stage. It still seems like a very strange choice, especially since there are other options for Olivier. When Kenneth Branagh filmed a version of this play in 1995, he got Laurence Fishburne to play the title role, while he took on the role of Iago. It’s a complete distraction. Olivier doesn’t look like anything other than a white man in black makeup. Even the color chosen for his skin doesn’t look natural.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Down with the Ship

Films: Titanic (1953)
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When it comes to movies, Titanic typically means the 1997 James Cameron film. The 1953 film that covers the same ship sinking is pretty much forgotten these days despite its winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay that year. While this version doesn’t have the tremendous special effects of Cameron’s epic, it does have many of the same beats, and of course it also has a huge ship sinking in the northern Atlantic. It also does this in a spare 98 minutes, almost 100 fewer than Cameron’s film.

We’ll get to the ship sinking by the end of the movie, of course. Since we as the audience know that the ship is going down, it lends that same aura of tragedy and inevitability over everything else that happens. There’s one main drama aboard the ship and a few others that dip in now and then as minor distractions. That main drama concerns Julia Sturges (Barbara Stanwyck), who has boarded the ship with her daughter Annette (Audrey Dalton) and her young son Norman (Harper Carter). She meets a few friends as the ship boards who question why her husband is not traveling with them.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Sixteenth Round

Film: The Hurricane
Format: Showtime on big ol’ television.

As the list of Oscar movies I still have to get through starts to wind down, I realize there are movies I’ve avoided for a bunch of different reasons. Length for a few, lack of interest for others. With The Hurricane, I’ve stayed away for a very different reason. I remember when the movie was released, and while I also remember that Denzel Washington’s performance was widely praised, What I also recall was that the biggest knock against the film was that it was economical with sticking with the actual facts.

So let’s look at the film first, then the history. The Hurricane tells the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter (Denzel Washington), an up-and-coming middleweight boxer convicted of three murders in Patterson, NJ during the Civil Rights Era. Carter spent nearly 20 years in prison for crimes that both he and the film say he didn’t commit. The timeline of the film naturally goes back and forth. We’ll get some of Carter’s fights and some of his youth as well as a great deal of his time in prison.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Under the Shadow (Zir-e Saye)

Film: Under the Shadow (Zir-e Saye)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

How do you deal with a slow burn? For me, it’s something that has to be done carefully. Move too slowly and you lose your audience. Move too quickly, and, well, it’s not really a slow burn. Horror movies are really the best genre for a good slow burn. The trick is to give us an opening that sets up our real world and then, piece by piece removes that normality. Under the Shadow, an Iranian horror film, does this surprisingly well.

Under the Shadow takes place during the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War. Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is a former medical student who, because of her radical political activity years earlier, is prevented from returning to school. She lives with her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) and her young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi). Iraj, who is a doctor, is called to the front to treat wounded. Because Iraq has promised to bomb Tehran to the ground, he wants her to leave the city and go to his parents’ home. She refuses, claiming that she does not feel welcome there.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Off Script: Rose Red

Film: Rose Red
Format: DVD from Bertolet Memorial Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

Sometimes what you really want is a good haunted house story. The classic of the genre, of course, is The Haunting. Rose Red (sometimes called Stephen King’s Rose Red) is a reasonable facsimile, since it’s based in no small part on Shirley Jackson’s classic. It’s got some similarities to The Shining as well, although much more to the novel than the film. It is truly a classic haunted house,

It’s hard not to see this in a directly line from The Haunting through The Shining with a little bit of Carrie thrown in as well. The backstory on the house is that this is a fictional version of the Winchester Mystery House where the owner decided that she had to continue adding on and adding on to stay alive. This is definitely a case where the house was born bad. The body count claimed by the house clocks in at around a couple dozen, and this is with it being unlived in for years and completely abandoned for a few years beyond that.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sing, Sing a Song

Films: Florence Foster Jenkins
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I’m going to say something unpopular here: The Academy needs to end its love affair with Meryl Streep. Don’t get me wrong here. Meryl Streep is easily one of the greatest actors to every stand in front of a camera and likely the greatest living actor (especially now that Daniel Day-Lewis is retiring, and honestly, maybe even if he stayed in acting). But seriously, it seems like we can’t have an Oscar ceremony without Meryl getting nominated for whatever movie she did last. This seems absolutely the case with Florence Foster Jenkins.

Some time ago, I came across the acronym “BOSUD” to describe one of the title characters of Melvin and Howard. The acronym stands for “biography of someone undeserving.” Our title character here seems to be similar in that respect. Essentially, Florence (Streep) is an eccentric (‘cause she’s super wealthy) woman in New York during World War II who is deeply involved in the music scene, especially with opera and the symphony.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

War, Baby

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Borrower

Films: The Borrower
Format: Internet video on laptop.

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

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Proud Mary

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

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

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

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Lord of the Dance

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

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

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Maui...Wowie!

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The World is Full of Angry Young Men

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Blade

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

First and Ten

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

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

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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Happy Endings Only in Songs

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

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

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