Sunday, November 22, 2015

In Defense of the Movie Tomorrowland (2015)

Note: this is a revised and expanded version of the comments I left on Letterboxd after seeing this film a few weeks ago.

Back in 1999 parents were crying out for a well done animated movie they could take their kids to, one that wasn't incredibly stupid and/or made primarily to sell toys.  Brad Bird answered that call and came out with The Iron Giant. The result?  It was a blip at the box office and quickly went to video.  I saw it when it came to VHS and loved it.  I couldn't get anyone to watch it, though.  “No singing?  No toys for my kids to play with?  What kind of animated movie is that?”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Orphan Black

I still owe a post on the movie Tomorrowland, but I’ve just spent the last three days watching all three seasons of the BBC America show Orphan Black and I was so blown away by it and its star Tatiana Maslany that I had to write about it.

For some of you reading this I’m very late to the party because it has been airing since 2013.  For the others, though, I’d love to say, “Just take my word for it and watch it” and let you go in knowing as little as possible so that you could get the full effect of it.  Unfortunately, that would both make for a very short post and also likely cause some people to shy away from it.

Picture the following scenario: it’s late at night on an empty train platform.  You’ve just finished a phone call and notice one other person in the distance, their back to you.  Out of curiosity you walk towards them and notice they are acting oddly.  They take off their expensive shoes and jacket then finally turn towards you.  This person has your face.  As you stand in stunned disbelief this person calmly steps in front of a moving train, killing themselves.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Steve’s Selections #11 – Auto Focus (2002)

We have come to the eleventh of twelve movie selections Steve Honeywell at 1001plus has made for me.  This one is Auto Focus, a look at 15 years in the life of actor Bob Crane who is best known for his starring role as Colonel Hogan on the TV show Hogan’s Heroes, and for being the victim of a still unsolved murder.  Not as well known is that he was an early adopter of video camera and video tape technology which he then used to record himself having sex with any number of female fans.  This movie delves into that quite a bit.  From listening to the separate commentary tracks from both the director and the two main actors it’s apparent that they saw Bob Crane in completely different lights.  The result is a mixed view of the man.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

October Movie Status

In the month of October I saw 27 new films, plus re-watched 2 films, plus rewatched a season of a TV show.

After watching a whole bunch of Oscar Best Picture nominees in September – enough to get me within range of being able to finish them off in October – I didn’t watch a single one this month.  I actually noticed on the 20th that I had only seen a total of two films so far in October.  I took a look and just didn’t have any desire to dive back into the Oscar nominees again.  I don’t know why.

Instead I saw that the movie this month for Steve’s Selection also happened to be on the 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die list put out by the same people who do the 1001 Movies books.  I knew that among the six genre lists Horror was one I had more left to see for than, say, Action or Sci-Fi.  I’ve always felt watching horror movies in the month of October was a cliché and I’d avoided it in the past, but I decided to get off my high horse and get with the masses this year.

I figured I’d get some of the gorefests out of the way, sort of an “eating my broccoli” approach (except I doubt any of these movies were good for me.)  Once I did that I decided why not watch the earlier entries on the list, ones from back before they were putting gore in movies.  That then led to me just trying to knock off as many as I could, usually in sittings of several at a time.  One of the advantages of doing these is that they were almost always less than 90 minutes long.

The result of this work is that while I started the month with 27 entries to see I’ve now got only four films left to finish off the 101 Horror Movies list – better than Action (12), Cult (18), Gangster (28), Sci-Fi (16), and War (26).  I may watch three of those four and then just wait for the last one to come to me someday from Netflix (The Bad Seed).  Even then I won’t be done with horror movies, though, since there are several others on the Cult list.

As I sit here and write this I do feel a lot more energy and interest in working on the 101 genre lists, and not much interest at all in the 35 remaining Oscar Best Picture nominees.  On the other hand, having a goal of completing the Oscar films by the end of the year would be good because I’ve set them aside before and it took me the better part of two years to pick them up again.

One thing that will help is I will have a reduced work schedule in November so that will leave a lot more time to watch movies, if I want to.

Here are the 27 films I saw in October.  Ones I would recommend (give at least a three star rating to) are highlighted.

Oscar (0):

101 Genre (24): The Orphanage (2007), The Brood (1979), Cannibal Holocaust (1980), Friday the 13th (1980), The Beyond (1981), The Golem (1920), White Zombie (1932), Island of Lost Souls (1932), The Old Dark House (1932), The Tingler (1959), Drunken Angel (1948), Carnival of Souls (1962), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Devil Rides Out (1968), Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), Blacula (1972), The Last House on the Left (1972), Deathdream aka Dead of Night (1974), Deep Red (1975), The Howling (1981), Re-Animator (1985), Hellraiser (1987), Ju-on: The Grudge (2002)

Other (3): Black Dog (1998), Inside Out (2015), Tomorrowland (2015)

Re-Watches (2): Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Back to the Future Part II (1989) – you should all know why.

The Orphanage (2007) – This was Steve’s Selection for October.  It is a truly great film.  You can read my review of it here.   5 stars

Black Dog (1998) – I happened to run across this while skimming channels.  I missed the beginning, but with this kind of film it took maybe 45 seconds to figure out what was going on.  There are some decent crash scenes, but the villain is just silly.   2 stars

The Brood (1979) – Way too much psychobabble, way too little suspense.  Not one of Cronenberg’s better efforts.   2 stars

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) – Much like Snakes on a Plane or Hobo with a Shotgun you don’t need to wonder what to expect from a film titled Cannibal Holocaust.  I watched this just to check it off from a movie list to complete.   1 star

Friday the 13th (1980) – For a long time this was probably the most famous film that I had never seen.  I’m not sure what that might be now.  This had the typical set of too-dumb-to-live teenagers.  Nice reveal on the killer, but not enough to save the movie.   2 stars

The Beyond (1981) – Is it a demonic possession film? Yes. Is it a haunted house film? Yes. Is it a satanic film? Yes. Is it an animal terror film? Yes. Is it a creepy crawly film? Yes. Is it a zombie film? Yes. Is it a gorefest? Yes.  Is it a really bad movie? Yes.   1.5 stars

The Golem (1920) – It's a little tough to know how to interpret this film. Was it made by Jewish people and all the fantastic powers given to the Jewish rabbi were hyperbole and artistic license or was it made by non-Jews and it's incredibly anti-Semitic?  In this film we see a rabbi practicing black magic, summoning a demon, creating illusions that can kill, etc. The golem is an old Jewish legend, of course - a man fashioned out of clay to protect the Jews, but that can also bring great ruin on them. What little I know of the legend had nothing to do with demons and the dark arts, though - it was not evil because of its origins; it was simply stupid and literal so if you set it to doing a chore it would keep doing it even if it knocked down the entire house.  Regardless, this film is engaging and the breaks between the five chapters are well placed to keep the viewer wanting more.   3 stars

White Zombie (1932) – This clocks in at not much more than an hour, but even at that length it was kind of slow and boring. Other than lots of piercing stares by Bela Lugosi there's not much in this movie that makes an impact. In fact, the most lasting thing about it is probably that it gave Rob Zombie the name of his first band.  Oh, and you've got to love the main setting being a huge stone castle high on a rocky Haiti.   2 stars

Island of Lost Souls (1932) – This movie is really dark in tone. Combine that with several things either overt, or heavily suggested, and there is no way this film gets made a year later when the Production Code finally gets enforced full time.  Laughton is very fey in the role of Dr. Moreau. I'm not exactly sure what he was going for, except maybe that was the way "decadent" was communicated out to audiences at the time.  And any fan of Devo should see this movie. "Are we not men?!"   3 stars

The Old Dark House (1932) – This was interesting. It takes a very basic concept - a group of travelers seeking shelter from a storm in a large old house with a strange family living in it - and does a lot with it. This movie had to have been the direct inspiration for the opening of Rocky Horror Picture Show. It might also be the first horror film to use the crazy, dangerous family concept. I'm far from an expert on the genre, but off the top of my head I can't think of any earlier ones.  And this is the second 1932 horror film in a row with Charles Laughton in it that I saw.  In this film he's just part of the ensemble - one of the travelers. It was also interesting seeing Gloria Stuart (old Rose in Titanic) in one of her very first roles. She's 21 or 22 and spends much of the movie in a slinky dress and looks great. Boris Karloff yet again wears some intense makeup while playing the mute butler-who's-way-too-scary-to-be-a-butler.   Director James Whale throws in some weirdness and humor - such as having a scene where an elderly man is very obviously being played by a woman.   3 stars

The Tingler (1959) – I'm sorry, but this is a completely ridiculous concept, even for a B movie from 1959. And this film somehow not only made it onto the 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die list, but also the They Shoot Pictures Don't They list for three straight years. Is it a crime against humanity? No, it's just not very good (and not "so bad it's good", either.)   2 stars

Drunken Angel (1948) – This is an earlier Kurosawa film set in (then) present day post-WWII Japan. I immediately recognized Takashi Shimura as the title character - a (probably unlicensed) doctor living in a slum and who has a serious drinking problem. His main patient is a young Yakuza leader who has tuberculosis. I remember thinking at one point, "isn't Toshiro Mifune supposed to be in this somewhere?" It wasn't until after the film was over that I found out Mifune WAS the Yakuza patient. He's quite young and in makeup to make him look like death warmed over.  The story in the film is uneven. It starts out focused on the doctor and establishes his drinking problem, his caustic personality, and his hopeless fight to keep the people in this neighborhood from the many diseases running rampant there. (Hell, they all live around a literal cesspool.)  While we mainly see the doctor there are scenes of the Yakuza man interspersed among them. However, after around an hour the film switches focus over to the Yakuza and the doctor becomes a background character. Both his vices and his crusade are forgotten about. Then for about 20-30 minutes the doctor disappears entirely and we only see the Yakuza. We don't see the doctor again until the end of the film.  I read afterwards that Kurosawa intentionally did this because he liked what Mifune was bringing to the Yakuza role and so shot a lot of footage there that was never originally intended. Unfortunately, this leaves us with an unfocused film.  It's still Kurosawa, though, so that means it's still well worth seeing.   3 stars

Carnival of Souls (1962) – On what is obviously not much of a budget the filmmakers crafted an effectively creepy movie. It relies on the simple things such as big empty spaces and key scenes with a loss of human contact. I wonder if this movie got in trouble when it came out for showing that organ music in a big empty church can be very creepy.   3 stars

Inside Out (2015) – I was a fan of the TV show Herman's Head back about 20-25 years ago. I finally got to revisit it when I watched Inside Out. It's the exact same concept. Just because the movie rips off an earlier concept does not make it bad, though - far from it. Hell, The Incredibles is a rip off of the Fantastic Four and it's hugely entertaining. So is Inside Out.  This is Pixar fully returning to form for the first time since Toy Story 3. I would place Inside Out in the top five movies Pixar has done, which is saying something.  Just a side note: I didn't read IMDB's message boards for the film (because I assumed they'd be insane), but I'd bet a lot of money that some people there are having conniptions over the fact that Anger is male, Joy is a tall, slim, attractive female who doesn't like to think, and Sadness is a short, fat, dumpy, female who wears glasses and is smart.   4.5 stars

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) – I'm guessing that the enduring appeal of this film is based more on the fact that it's the first onscreen pairing of longtime Hammer horror stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee than it is the movie itself. Don't get me wrong: there's nothing particularly dislikable with it. It just doesn't really add anything to the Frankenstein story, other than color photography. All in all I felt it was just okay.   2.5 stars

The Devil Rides Out (1968) – This movie certainly doesn't waste any time getting to the "there's evil about and we've got to stop it!" plot line. And it pretty much stays full bore the entire film, too. They pack about 3 hours of plot into not much more than half that time. That's accomplished by having Christopher Lee constantly spew exposition explaining everything we need to know about the dark arts and how to stop them. He's practically a running narrator for the film. In fact, I was figuring he'd turn out to be one of the evil people, considering he knew so much about what they were doing, but after a while I realized it was just a way to get across what the audience needed to know.  There are some good production values for this Hammer horror film, including several classic 1920's British roadsters that are put to the test during a couple of well-shot chase scenes.
Ultimately, the movie wasn't bad, but it also didn't do much for me.   2.5 stars

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) – This reminded me of something Jodorowsky might have done, except there were no naked little boys running around. Instead there is a teenage girl who never wears underwear and is occasionally naked, along with a whole lot of sexual and religious iconography mixed together.   1 star

Tomorrowland (2015) – I feel that this movie unjustly got a bad rap when it didn’t do well at the box office last spring.  I wrote a longer than usual review on Letterboxd – about the length of one I would usually post here – so I’ve decided to not try to condense that down for this post, but instead I will do a separate post reviewing Tomorrowland here in a few days.   4 stars

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) – Interesting early 1970s horror movie, although it's more campy than scary. It's actually an early version of Se7en. The Saw movies lifted some key elements from it as well.   3 stars

Blacula (1972) – I went into this film with a smirk on my face and a chuckle already forming. I mean, c'mon - "Blacula"? How can anyone take that title seriously? Then the film started and William Marshall appeared right away. He was a victim of Dracula, cursed to become a vampire himself. He brought a great deal of dignity and presence to this role. So much so that it almost saves the movie. I read afterwards that he had played Frederick Douglass in another production and I could immediately see him in that role.  The rest of the movie is a little goofy, but there is some good music from The Hues Corporation (although not their biggest hit Don't Rock the Boat.)   2.5 stars

The Last House on the Left (1972) – This appears to have been Wes Craven's take on A Clockwork Orange (or further out, The Virgin Spring), at least in part (not enough to get sued, though). It also appears that Haneke had this for inspiration for his film Funny Games.  Neither the brutality with the psychos nor the stupidity with the Sheriff and Deputy (hey, it's that guy from The Karate Kid) did anything for me. Frankly, I'd be worried about anyone who had the brutality scenes work for them.   2 stars

Deathdream aka Dead of Night (1974) – Boy, Vietnam screwed people up more than we thought.  There were long stretches where the returning soldier just sat in a chair as if he had PTSD. I'm guessing this was intended to increase tension wondering when he was going to do something, but after a while it got boring.   2 stars

Deep Red (1975) – This is really more a murder mystery than it is a horror movie. Yes, the deaths are slightly more graphic than the norm for the time, but they wouldn't even get a blink from TV show viewers now, let alone people in a movie theater.  I thought I had the killer figured out because of a pointless scene early in the movie that would only be not pointless if the person in it was the killer, but I was wrong. I guess Argento just wanted to shoot that scene for no apparent reason.   3 stars

The Howling (1981) – Like An American Werewolf in London this film has some impressive (for the time) practical effects in regards to the werewolf transformations. Unfortunately, I couldn't take the one in this film as seriously because Dee Wallace Stone just stands there for minutes apparently admiring the great practical effects work instead of getting the hell out of there. It's a film that is still worth checking out, though.   3 stars

Re-Animator (1985) – Let me just say right off the top: not the strangest sex scene I've ever watched in a movie, but definitely in the top 5.  Cartoonish levels of gore, bad acting, really stupid characters, but also a decent amount of bizarre, goofy fun.   2.5 stars

Hellraiser (1987) – "Hey babe. I'm back from the dead and have sort of reanimated myself by using my brother's blood. Hows about you go out and bring back a whole bunch of other men so you can kill them and I can get more blood to become more human so we can go back to having mass quantities of sex again? Don't worry about how to get rid if their remains, all the clothing you'll ruin from their blood, or the stench they'll leave behind. No one will notice."   "No problem honey. Be right back."   "Oh, and hey, have you seen my hot niece anywhere?"   "Why do you ask?"   "No reason."   1 star

Ju-on: The Grudge (2002) – I saw the remake first, so that took some of the edge off of this when I watched it just now. It still made the hair on my arms stand up in places, though. I did have kind of a problem with the very loud score that played when there was no dialogue. It was pretty obtrusive. Maybe I just got a copy with a bad sound mix on it.   3 stars