Friday, December 2, 2016

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Picture 1946

The Contenders:

The Best Years of Our Lives (winner)
Henry V
It’s a Wonderful Life
The Razor’s Edge
The Yearling

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Man Needs a Maid

Film: Diary of a Mad Housewife
Format: Internet video on laptop.

IMDB lists Diary of a Mad Housewife as both a comedy and a drama. Having watched it, if it qualifies as a comedy, it is only as the blackest sort. This movie is absolutely oppressive. Seriously, I’ve seen Holocaust documentaries that were less unrelenting. What we’re going to see is what we see in the opening couple of minutes as the housewife in question, Tina Balser (Carrie Snodgress) is run ragged with doorbells, phones, the dog, and just about everything else in rapid succession.

This is likely going to be a short review because there isn’t a great deal here to talk about. This is, at least the version that I saw, two hours of seeing a woman deal with being trapped in a life that she chose and that turned into something far different than she wanted or expected. Everyone in her life treats here with an astonishing amount of contempt. Not anger, not frustration, but pure contempt. She tries her best to deal with it, but everywhere she goes and everyone she meets treats her exactly the same way.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Late for Thanksgiving

Film: Alice’s Restaurant
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

Alice’s Restaurant is one of those movies I’ve put off for a while. I’ve had a copy sitting on my desk for almost a month and just haven’t gotten around to it. I think a part of it is that I was unsure of Arlo Guthrie being enough to carry an entire film. Guthrie, who may well be a decent songwriter and talent in the folk music world, is someone who, it seems to me, is famous because his father was Woody Guthrie. I’m not sure Arlo gets any press or fanfare without his dad opening the door for him.

This is a difficult movie to pin down as well. It’s at least partly autobiographical, as is Guthrie’s song of the same name. The film, since it covers only a small portion of Guthrie’s life, is more a memoir than an autobiography, though, and a great deal here is fictionalized. However, there’s no getting around the fact that this is Arlo Guthrie playing Arlo Guthrie, dealing with the illness and eventual death of his father and with a few other things as well. Sure, it’s a somewhat fictionalized and (mildly) sanitized version of Arlo, but he’s not playing a character. He’s basically playing himself.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Long Mile

Film: Dead Man Walking
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

The best opinion I’ve ever heard on capital punishment is one I can’t quote directly and can’t attribute to a specific person. Essentially, it goes something like this: “If it were my child that were killed, I’d be for the death penalty. If it were my child that had done the killing, I’d be against it.” When a movie shows up like Dead Man Walking, it brings up a lot of these questions. It puts me in a strange position. I’m not sure I really want to spend that much time thinking about capital punishment. It’s a hell of a movie with a number of tremendous performances and a great cast, but the issues are ones I’m not sure I really want to spend that much time thinking about. I realize that’s cowardly in a sense, but at least I admit it.

Dead Man Walking is based on the book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon). Sister Helen works with the poor, and is told that she has received a letter from a man named Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) who has been on death row for six years. Poncelet claims that while he was a part of the crime that put him on death row—the rape and murder of two young people—he didn’t actually kill anyone. He’s out of his legal chances now and needs someone else to attempt to push for additional appeals. Sister Helen is his choice, and as a nun, she feels compelled to help him in any way she can.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Completed Once Again

Film: Son of Saul (Saul Fia)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When the latest version of the 1001 Movies list came out, I’d seen seven of the new 10. It would seem, then, that finishing up would have been something I could pretty much handle in a weekend. And yet here we are, after Thanksgiving and close to the end of November, and I’m just putting the bow on the additions now. The reason for that is that I haven’t really wanted to watch Son of Saul (Saul Fia) that much. I’m not sure I can fully explain why, although I can try.

I understand on a rational level why there are so many films about the Holocaust. It’s the sort of thing that we need to remind ourselves happened. This is a part of history that needs to be constantly refreshed in the minds of the world, especially now that we are generations away from the actual events. But there’s also a limit, I think, to how much I want to spend in these events. I know a great deal of what happened. I understand, at least on an academic level, the horror of what happened. On an emotional level, I’m not sure how many more times I want to go through this wringer.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful for YouTube

Film: Thunderbolt
Format: Internet video on laptop.

I’ve mentioned before the usefulness of YouTube when it comes to tracking down some obscure films. Thunderbolt is one that has appeared on my personal database as “unfindable” since about the time I started this project. I was extremely pleased, one might even say thankful, to find it on YouTube this morning. There’s something really interesting about pre-Code talkies, and Thunderbolt is one of the first.

Make no mistake here; this is absolutely a pre-Code crime drama that turns on the romance that is forced into it by the evident necessity of needing a romance in every film of the time. Because this is such an early talkie, a lot of the clichés that play into the genre certainly got part of their start here, at least in terms of the talkies.Thunderbold hits all the notes: unrepentant criminals, jailhouse confessions, a good girl gone bad, secret romance, and even a police captain who is trying really hard to sound like what Edward G. Robinson sounded like in his early talkies. Sure, there’s a lot of cliché here, but there’s a lot to like as well.