Thursday, October 20, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Science Fiction Horror

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join the fun (and scares!) by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them.

Full disclosure: I was so caught up in the Presidential Debate last night that I completely forgot that today was Thursday. It was appropriate, though, since last night really was its own kind of horror movie, and we are devoted to things that go bump in the night this month on Thursday Movie Picks! Unfortunately, it's not science fiction, it's all too real... UNLIKE MY PICKS FOR THIS WEEK! #SeamlessTransition

My picks for this week all have something in common. Can you guess what it is?

The Invisible Man (James Whale, 1933) It's a bit of a risk casting a huge star as the lead of your movie and then keeping their face off the screen for the entire running time, but when you have a voice like that of Claude Rains, who needs a face? (And besides, this was Rains's American film debut, anyway) Rains is terrific in this, fully capturing the tension and the mania of someone being slowly driven insane by his own genius, which as resulted in a procedure that has rendered him invisible to the naked eye. The film also does a great job of capturing the feeling of HG Wells's book, equal parts funny, smart, and scary.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956) When a number of his patients appear to be suffering from Capgras delusion (the belief that their loved ones have been replaced with identical impostors), Dr. Miles Bennell at first thinks it's probably just a small case of mass hysteria. But then he and a former flame find two giant pods with exact copies of themselves growing inside. And then they start to notice that the denizens of their small California town are increasingly losing all human emotion. What is going on? Are aliens behind this? Or is it.... even worse.... COMMUNISTS?!?!? One of the foundational texts of American cinema and pop culture, Invasion of the Body Snatchers still retains all of its icky paranoid power today, despite being remade - both directly and indirectly - countless times since.

The Fly (Kurt Neumann, 1958) A brilliant scientist has perfected a transportation machine. Or so he thinks. Well, I mean, it works. It works really well, actually. But the thing is, it can really only transport one thing at a time, in one direction. "Fine," you say. "What's the problem?" Well, the problem is, a fly happened to buzz its way into one of the transportation chambers when the scientist was testing it, and... well... I think you know what happens from there. Nowhere near as visceral as David Cronenberg's '80s remake, the original is very much a product of its time, meaning it's pretty scary, a little dated, and equal parts intentionally and unintentionally funny. Oh yeah, and it stars Vincent Price.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Creature/Monster Features

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves, in which participants pick three films that fit the week's theme and share a bit about them. Join us! It's fun!

Halloween Month continues on Thursday Movie Picks, and this week, we're talking Creature Features. Now, for purposes of this assignment, said "creatures" may NOT include: werewolves, vampires, zombies, or aliens. So, in other words, no extraterrestrial or supernatural creepy-crawlies. OK. Let's see if we can do this....

Them! (Gordon Douglas, 1954) Probably my favorite classic '50s creature feature, Them! is the one with the giant ants. During the height of the fears of nuclear fallout following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many B-movies exploited the mood, crossing people's ordinary everyday fears with the timely fears of science. I think Them! pulls it off the best, especially since the giant ants don't look too fake. I mean, don't get me wrong, they don't look REAL, but they don't look as far away from it as you might expect. It's just a corny, cheesy, campy, good time all around!

Creature From the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold, 1954) A fossil has been discovered in the Amazon - a possible link between man and fish. When a team goes to find the rest of the creature's skeleton, they discover that one of the creature's descendants is still alive and well - and it's coming for them! This definitely isn't the best of the classic Universal Monster Movies, but it's still fun in its way - that way that old pictures had of going "over the top" in exactly the right ways to be fun. It's a movie meant to be enjoyed with the lights off, sitting next to your date, with a big bucket of popcorn between the two of you, as you both laugh, jump, and gasp at the exact same moments.

Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984) Aw, look at that sweet little furball! Cute isn't he? He'd make a great pet, wouldn't he? There's just one slight problem.... if you get him wet, he'll multiply, and if you feed him or his offspring after midnight... well... let's just say all hell could break loose. Gremlins is hilarious fun, sending up American consumerism, dependence on technology, and old-school creature features (like my two other picks this week), and countless other things with gleeful abandon. Slightly scary and plenty funny, this is a near-perfect horror comedy, and one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Witches/Warlocks

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

It's October, which means it's Halloween Month at Thursday Movie Picks! Time for the creepy, the spooky, and the scary. I have a strange relationship with horror movies - I generally don't like them, but I'm kind of fascinated by them. This week's horror is witches (and the male version, warlocks), and they can certainly be scary. But they can also be sexy and funny. Personally, my favorite witches are the Charmed Ones, but this isn't Thursday TV Picks, so let's go with these instead...

Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977) It's a tale as old as time: Young beautiful American ballerina gets accepted to prestigious ballet school, discovers the school is actually a front for a coven of witches. Suspiria is legendary for its opening scene, a notoriously bloody chase through the ballet school that ends with a brutal hanging. Giallo master Argento saturates the colors throughout the film so that it's undeniably beautiful even when it gets gory, and ratchets the tension up so well that the terrible acting almost doesn't matter. But for my money, the best part of Suspiria is the score by Goblin, which will creep up and down your spine and give you shivers for days after the movie is over.

The Witches of Eastwick (George Miller, 1987) Jack Nicholson is the Devil, tempting the all-time great trio of Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon into ever more sinful acts. And poor, poor Veronica Cartwright gets caught in the crossfire. As funny as it is macabre, this prime slice of '80s popular cinema is still super enjoyable thanks to its supremely watchable leads.

The Crucible (Nicholas Hytner, 1996) The belly of the beast of the Salem witch trials, exposed for all its hypocrisy in Arthur Miller's classic play. The film isn't perfect, but the script still is, and Daniel Day-Lewis and especially Joan Allen are All-Time Great as the central couple torn asunder by the machinations of a scorned teenage girl (Winona Ryder, giving a good performance hampered by Hytner's worst directorial impulses). This isn't as good a film as Miller's Great American Drama deserves, but it's still pretty good, with Allen deserving of an Oscar for her tremendous performance.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Teen Angst

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and posting something about them.

Teen angst, this week's topic for Thursday Movie Picks, may look different for everyone, but it pretty much feels the same. Feelings so big that you can barely express them to anyone, let alone yourself. And that's the common thread with my picks - they are all deeply, DEEPLY felt in all aspects of their production.

Rebel Without A Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) Has there been a better-filmed vision of teen angst than this one? James Dean's Jim Stark is what everyone remembers the film for (pretty tough to remember anything else in the movie when it practically opens with him drunkenly blaring "Ride of the Valkyries" and later slaying the line "YOU'RE TEARING ME APART!"), but Sal Mineo's Plato and especially Natalie Wood's Judy are even better visions of what it was like to be a misunderstood teenager in the 1950s, where suburban conformity and outward appearances meant everything. Nicholas Ray's florid direction sets the tone, and the entire cast responds in kind, performing on a near-operatic level that is totally appropriate given the emotions on display. There's a reason this one still resonates with teens now, 60 years(!!) later.

Heavenly Creatures (Peter Jackson, 1994) Based on the true story of two 1950s New Zealand girls who killed one of their mothers, Heavenly Creatures is a knockout of a film, one that came early in the careers of director Jackson and stars Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey, and that is very nearly the best work any of them have ever done. Like Rebel, this one puts its homosexual subtext only just barely beneath the surface, as it explores the close, nearly obsessive bond that forms between Pauline and Juliet, including the fantasy world they create... and what happens when their parents decide they are becoming too close. It's a stunning vision, with a completely unique tone that Jackson, along with his fantastic cast, perfectly balances on a knife's edge.

Donnie Darko (Richard Kelly, 2001) Has there ever been a character that looks more like contemporary teen angst than Jake Gyllenhaal's Donnie? Dark hair combed forward, with a haunted, far-away look in his eyes, this is turn-of-the-millennium teen angst incarnate. Kelly's film incorporates aspects of sci-fi and horror to give teen angst a physical presence in the form of Donnie's visions of an apocalyptic event and a man in a bunny suit. Donnie Darko is a weird, strange, unforgettable trip of a film.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - Sororities/Fraternities/Secret Societies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and telling us about them!

I wasn't in a fraternity in college. I thought about it, certainly. There's definitely something appealing about being part of a "brotherhood" and obviously the parties are a huge plus. But when it came down to it, for me, my people weren't in a frat. So I decided not to rush. And I don't regret it at all, even though I probably would have had a great time had I ended up joining.

But either way, movies about fraternities are usually lots of fun, and I will always have those!

The House Bunny (Fred Wolf, 2008) I don't care what anyone else says, this movie is HILARIOUS. Mostly thanks to Anna Faris, who is sublime perfection as an airhead Playboy bunny who gets kicked out of the Playboy mansion and ends up becoming "House Mother" to a sorority of outcasts in danger of getting shut down. Of course, the supporting cast, including Emma Stone, Kat Dennings, and Rumer Willis, is also pretty damn good. I have such fun whenever I watch this movie, even if it isn't "good".

Legally Blonde (Robert Luketic, 2001) Our heroine, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), manages to make it into Harvard Law School ("What, like it's hard?") in order to chase after the dreamy beau who dumped her for not being "serious" enough, but soon finds out that if she works hard, she might actually succeed at this whole law thing, too. In the process, she upends people's expectations of her, including her own. Not much of the movie outside of the first ten minutes or so takes place at a sorority, but Elle's status as a Delta Nu sister is important - people judge her because of it, and she uses the network of sisterhood the sorority established to get ahead without abusing it. Enough cannot be said about Witherspoon's performance as Elle, which is one of the great "dumb blondes" in movie history - Elle may be superficial and silly, but the way Witherspoon plays her, she never feels like a caricature. Bonus points for memorable support from Jennifer Coolidge (the kindly, stupid manicurist Elle becomes friends with), Holland Taylor (the hard-as-nails law professor who pushes Elle to greater things), and Selma Blair (bringing many different shades to her performance as the bitch who "stole" Elle's beau).

Van Wilder (Walt Becker, 2002) Van Wilder doesn't belong to a fraternity, but he doesn't have to. As a seventh-year senior, he throws all the best parties on campus anyway. Unfortunately, the fraternities on campus don't take too kindly to this, and when a frat president's girlfriend's interest in Van seems to grow into something besides professional curiosity (she's a journalist writing a story on Van for the school newspaper), a war begins between the frat and Van. Look. This isn't anyone's idea of a good movie. It certainly isn't mine. But, in its way, if you can get on Ryan Reynolds's smug-but-beautiful douchebag-with-a-heart-of-gold level, it's kind of stupidly enjoyable. Kind of.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Sunshine Blogger Award

In an incredibly sweet gesture, the lovely Sati over at the awe-inspiring Cinematic Corner nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award. I am humbled and honored, and sorry that it has taken me so long to accept this award. But accept it I do, so here's what I have to do:

As given, every award has a set of tiny rules for accepting it, here are the ones for Sunshine: 

1. Post the award on your blog
2. Thank the person who nominated you
3. Answer the 11 questions they set you
4. Pick another 11 bloggers (and let them know they are nominated!)
5. Set them 11 questions

Herewith, Sati's questions and my answers.

1. Who would play you in a movie based on your life?
Well, whoever it is would have to be able to tap dance, so.... Chris Evans? Sure, he's WAY better looking than me, but I have NO PROBLEM with that.

2. What is your favorite movie ending of all time?
Oh God. This is impossible. What to choose? "Well, nobody's perfect"? "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship"? "So long, partner"? Honestly, though? I kinda think I'd have to go with Summertime, which I wrote about here. It's just so fucking beautiful. (NOTE: I reserve the right to change this tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that. And....)

3. Who is your favorite cinematic Batman?
I have no opinion. I firmly believe we have gotten the exact right Batman for the times in which each movie was made. If you're forcing me to choose, then I'm going to have to go with the first one I saw, Val Kilmer (who I think is quite underrated as Batman).

4. What is the funniest movie you've ever seen? 
When I saw Armando Ianucci's In The Loop in the theater, the people sitting in front of me actually got up and moved in the first five minutes because I was laughing so loud, so I'm guessing that's probably the one.

5. Your sexiest movie character ever choice?
This is going to sound so wrong, and it may just be the actor, but Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman in American Psycho has always made me feel all the tingles. Until he tries to feed that cat to the ATM, anyway...

6.  What do you like most about our movie blogosphere?
Everyone is so lovely and vocal and willing to have conversations instead of bickering back and forth like trolls.

7. What is your favorite movie blog?
It is now and forever will be The Film Experience. Nathaniel runs an incredible site and is also just the nicest person ever, and the rest of the team there are all great people and writers, too (full disclosure: I also contribute there on occasion, but only because I love reading it so much and Nathaniel indulges me every once in a while).

8. Will Sati survive Blade Runner 2?

9. What is your most anticipated movie at the moment?
So, we were asked about this for a Film Experience Team List recently, and while it was specific to Fall festival debuts, my answer wouldn't change when the pool is expanded: La La Land. Damien Chazelle directing an original musical starring the Hepburn and Tracy of the modern age, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling? I was in the tank for this from the moment it was announced, but then we got that teaser. And that OTHER teaser. And the reviews out of its premiere. And I CANNOT FUCKING WAIT UNTIL DECEMBER.

10. What is the most underseen movie you love?
Andrzej Zulawski's L'important c'est d'aimer (That Most Important Thing: Love). Absolutely astonishing film featuring Romy Schneider in one of the all-time great feats of actressing. The opening scene alone is just stunning, and grabbed me instantly. The film never let me go.

11.What movie character do you identify with?
OOF, this is a tough one. Honestly? A lot of times, it's Ben Braddock in The Graduate (the first half of it, anyway) - just feeling a little bit adrift in life not knowing what to do with myself. But most of the time, it's good ol' Bilbo Baggins, caught between the pull of the sweet safety of home/family and the burning desire for adventure. With the love of food staying constant.


My nominations for the Sunshine Blogger Award!

Actually, pretty much everyone I would nominate has already been nominated (and most have accepted), so that makes this kinda hard. BUT, there is one person who always brings the sunshine when he posts who as far as I can tell has NOT been nominated for this award, so PLEASE JOIN ME in bestowing this honor on Drew (or Fisti, whichever your prefer) over at A Fistful of Films. We all love you, Drew, and while we all know "real life" has to come first, that doesn't stop us from missing you and your posts something awful. Thanks for the light you have always brought to this little corner of the blogosphere. I don't think there's anyone more deserving.

You questions, should you choose to accept them (and anyone else please feel free to answer in the comments, too!), are....

1. What always cheers you up when you're feeling down?
2. When you go to the movies, do you get something from the concession stand? If so, what?
3. Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu Plus?
4. Who is your favorite actress who never won an Oscar?
5. Which performance of theirs is your favorite?
6. What is the first movie that made you love movies?
7. Where is your favorite place you have ever traveled?
8. Who is your favorite Muppet?
9. Jeopardy! or Wheel of Fortune?
10. How should we all feel about the upcoming remake of The Magnificent Seven? Because I am REALLY unsure.
11. What was the last movie you saw more than once in theaters, and why?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Thursday Movie Picks - College Movies

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through The Shelves. Join us by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and saying a bit about them - it's fun! Promise.


Sorry, guys, I'm just back from a long weekend in the woods off the grid and I had such an amazing experience that I'm not quite ready to come back to the land of the living yet. So we're gonna do this quick and dirty style.

Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore, 2012) Fat Amy is a legend, and even now none of us are ready for that jelly. Best college movie in YEARS.

The Rules of Attraction (Roger Avary, 2002) I love every second of this angry, energetic, playful mess of a movie. It's a blast of fresh air every time I watch it, despite Bret Easton Ellis's nihilism. My college experience was nothing like this, but this movie still FEELS like college to me.

Scream 2 (Wes Craven, 1997) How this movie ended up being even half as good as it is given the production history (the script was one of the first victims of an internet leak, prompting instant, on-set rewrites and multiple versions), I'll never know. But it's pretty damn great. Maybe even as great as the original Scream, only one of the greatest horror films ever made. Neve Campbell's Sidney Prescott is now in college, and the movie about the events of the first film has prompted a string of copycat killings. Can she and her friends survive? It's a horror movie sequel. What do you think?