Thursday, September 27, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - TV Edition: Anthology Series

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!

This week, we interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you a special TMP TV Edition. Anthology series have grown in popularity in recent years thanks to the success of American Horror Story, which changed up the formula a bit: Instead of having every episode be completely stand-alone, as in traditional anthology series, now each season is its own story (except that it's not so stand-alone, since Ryan Murphy, et al. decided that the whole thing ACTUALLY takes place in the same universe and characters have crossed over between seasons, but WHATEVER).

But for the purposes of this week's pickings, I'm going with the more traditional, "a bunch of stand-alone episodes unified around a central theme but with no real connection to each other" definition.

The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) Not the first anthology series, but certainly the one that cast the longest shadow, Rod Serling's exploration of paranoia in mid-century America could be anything from episode to episode, and while there was often a touch of the supernatural, many episodes (including series best "Time Enough At Last") were perfectly quotidian. Often remembered as a horror series, and with good reason, it's worth noting that were comedic ("Mr. Bevis") and straight dramatic episodes ("I Sing The Body Electric") as well. More than anything, The Twilight Zone is science fiction, taking American fears about new technology and space exploration and placing them in a funhouse mirror. What's reflected back at us isn't always pretty.
Favorite Episodes: "The After Hours", "Mirror Image", "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street", "Miniature", "The Invaders"

Faerie Tale Theatre (1982-1987) One of the first examples of original cable TV programming, Shelley Duvall produced this series that focused on one fairy tale per episode, with big stars acting in parts big and small. The design of the sets and backdrops were often inspired by famous artists like Gustav Klimt, Norman Rockwell, Pieter Brueghel, and even Jean Cocteau. My sister and I would take these videos out from the library so often as kids that we practically had some of the episodes memorized. There is a charm to Faerie Tale Theatre, cultivated by Duvall herself, that is lacking in a lot of children's entertainment, but gives the episodes a timeless quality, and the opportunity to see such stars as Robin Williams, Eric Idle, Anjelica Huston, Eve Arden, Teri Garr, Ned Beatty, Jeff Bridges, Gena Rowlands, Bernadette Peters, Carrie Fisher, and Christopher Reeve, among MANY others, perform in the glorified children's theater setting is a delight (favorite random casting: Klaus Kinski as the Beast in "Beauty & the Beast" opposite Susan Sarandon's Beauty).
Favorite Episodes: "The Frog Prince", "The Emperor's New Clothes", "The Princess and the Pea"

Black Mirror (2011-Present) If ever there was a true heir to The Twilight Zone, Charlie Brooker's screed against the modern world and its technology is it. Science fiction that feels like either our current world gone sideways or far-too-possible futures, Black Mirror is far bleaker and more pessimistic than Twilight Zone ever was, but it is powerful and thought-provoking. I mean, when the first episode is about the British Prime Minister being forced by cyberterrorists to have sex with a pig on live TV, you get a pretty good idea about what the series thinks about the world. Some of the episodes are genuinely difficult to watch, but others are just ridiculously entertaining, and they are all executed with great care and craft at every level. It's maybe the most essential TV show about our current moment, and that's saying something.
Favorite Episodes: "White Bear", "Be Right Back", "Nosedive", "San Junipero", "U.S.S. Callister"

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - Farms

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!

This week on Thursday Movie Picks, we're going to the country, to visit some farms!

I grew up in the suburb state of Connecticut, where seasonal apple-picking orchards and corn mazes are plentiful. One of my grade-school friends actually lived on a family farm, and while I know we went there a couple of times on field trips, I do not remember anything about those trips. But these farm-based movies, now these I remember really well.

Cold Comfort Farm (John Schlesinger, 1995) This hilarious send-up of British narrative tropes is an underseen delight. Kate Beckinsale, in her film debut, is a perfectly prim (and vaguely lesbionic) Londoner author who goes out to the country in search of "real life", and some long-estranged relatives, and ends up bringing a bit of big city flair to the drab country farm and its inhabitants. If you are a fan of British literature and/or film, there is much to enjoy here, including Ian McKellen as a countryside fire-and-brimstone preacher and Joanna Lumley as Beckinsale's even more lesbionic friend from London.

Babe (Chris Noonan, 1995) "That'll do, pig." This gentle bedtime story of a movie, about a farmer who adopts a runt-of-a-litter pig who becomes a "sheeppig" when the farm's mother sheepdog takes him under her wing, is one of my all-time favorites. The real live talking animal visual effects hold up spectacularly, the performances are all perfection, the production design is lovely, and on top of all that is a message extolling the virtues of kindness and acceptance that plays well to anyone from ages 1 to 101.

Chicken Run (Nick Park, 2000) I am a huge fan of Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit shorts, and this, his first feature, combines a lot of the things that I love about those shorts into one full-length feature-sized package: the fun, endearing characters, the clever and hilarious Rube Goldberg-esque machines, and the ever-so-slightly dark, ever-so-British humor. And a delightfully twisted story: The chickens on Tweedy's farm come up with a plan to escape the POW-camp-like existence with the help of a circus-performer American rooster, as Mr and Mrs. Tweedy develop a new plan to increase production of their chicken pies. The whole film is funny and clever, and endlessly delightful.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Thursday Movie Picks - Good Remakes

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.

Look, as much as I hate to admit it, every once in a while Hollywood remakes one of its own movies and it's... not... bad. And on rare occasions, it even improves on the original.

Shocking, I know. But true! Granted, it doesn't happen very much these days, but by the sound of it, A Star Is Born, of all things, is at the very least as good as the 30s and 50s versions, and better than the 70s version. I remain skeptical, but perhaps it will indeed join the ranks of these great remakes!

The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956) As Hitch himself said, the original 1934 version with Peter Lorre is "the work of a talented amateur," while this remake "was made by a professional." Granted, the original is very good. But this one has Jimmy Stewart, Doris Day, "Que Sera, Sera", and of course the Albert Hall sequence, one of the best, most thrilling scenes in all of Hitchcock's filmography. Accuse it of being overwrought all you want, but this is one of my favorite Hitchcock films, often because its too much-ness is truly exciting.

The Ten Commandments (Cecil B. DeMille, 1956) And as long as we're talking about too much-ness, this film pretty much defines it. But in the best possible way. They don't make movies like this anymore, truly epic in every way. Every performance (Charlton Heston! Anne Baxter! Yul Brynner! Yvonne de Carlo! Judith Anderson! John Derek! DeMille himself!) is iconic, and the special effects sequences capture the kind of grandeur that you wouldn't have thought possible in 1956. It may be over three and a half hours long, but it's so entertaining that you don't even notice. DeMille's own silent version of this story is still worth seeing, but it's got nothing on this, one of the biggest spectacles the cinema has ever seen.

Ocean's Eleven (Steven Soderbergh, 2001) Yeah, sure, The Rat Pack, and all that, but even that classic brand of cool ain't got nothin' on what Soderbergh, Clooney, and Pitt cooked up here. Everything about this remake of Ocean's Eleven feels effortless, from the easy charisma and chemistry of the stars, to the slick cinematography, the playful editing, and most importantly, that iconic jazzy score. This is Hollywood product at its slickest, providing one hell of a good time that you can't replicate anywhere else. It's pure movie magic, with a twist that more than holds up to multiple viewings. Neat trick, that.