Thursday, December 14, 2017

Dialectics

Film: Half Nelson
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on laptop.

I didn’t know what to expect with Half Nelson, but I was extremely nervous about where we were going a few minutes in. Half Nelson looks like it’s going to be another one of those “white savior” movies where the white teacher is working in an inner city school inspiring all of the minority kids to escape the ghetto. Thankfully, it’s quickly evident that it’s not that at all. This is not going to be one of those inspirational films, but it is going to wind up being depressing as all hell.

That is where we’re going to start, though. Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a history teacher at a middle school where he also coaches the girls’ basketball team. The kids seem to like him; he’s young and relatively hip, treats the kids as if they have intelligence, and tends to avoid the curriculum in favor of something a lot closer to communist philosophy a la Engels. It’s a front, though. At night, Dan Dunne does a lot of drugs, specifically cocaine, often freebasing. Much of this comes from a failed relationship with Rachel (Tina Holmes).

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday Horror: The Girl with All the Gifts

Film: The Girl with All the Gifts
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on various players.

One of the main issues with a film like The Girl with All the Gifts, is that it’s going to create the same arguments that happened when 28 Days Later was released. The biggest controversy with that film was whether or not the infected were actually zombies. Well, the same argument is going to happen with the hungries in The Girl with All the Gifts. They are clearly zombie-like in almost every relevant way (including eating their victims), but they aren’t really resurrected corpses. Whether they are zombies or not is an argument others can have; they are clearly zombie-inspired.

It’s not clear right away that this is a zombie-like film. Instead, it’s not at all clear what is happening. A group of 20 young children are daily strapped into wheelchairs and put in a room where they are taught by a collection of teachers, including Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton). Helen seems particularly taken with the girl sitting in position four, Melanie (Sennia Nanua). The base is clearly military, though, and everyone seems insanely paranoid around the children. We soon find out why when Helen touches Melanie’s head.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Off Script: House of Frankenstein

Film: House of Frankenstein
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

I realize that there are probably people who don’t love the classic Universal monsters, something I find nearly impossible to believe. I do love them, though, even the silly ones that gave up all pretense of being actual stories that dealt with the original source material and became nothing but camp goofiness. That’s certainly the best description of House of Frankenstein, well down into the list of Universal monster films both in terms of when it was made and in terms of its overall quality. There are some solid connections to the movies of the past in terms of cast, but not much else.

House of Frankenstein’s selling point is that there’s not just a single monster here. No, the joy here is to bring in as many monsters as possible. So, in addition to Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange), we’ve also got Dracula (John Carradine!), the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr. reprising his most famous role), a mad scientist named Niemann (Boris Karloff), and his hunchbacked assistant Daniel (J. Carrol Naish). Unfortunately, just as when super hero movies up the ante by adding more villains and end up giving everyone short shrift, the same happens with this many monsters in this case. That’s especially true when the film runs a spare 71 minutes.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Man-Cub

Film: The Jungle Book (2016)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.

Normally, I’m done with the new entries for the 1001 Movies list long before 10 days into December, but I’ve still got a couple to go (well, one more after today). There’s a reason for this. I, Daniel Blake isn’t available anywhere that I’ve found and I really wasn’t that interested in watching a new reworking of The Jungle Book. However, I do want them done by the end of the year, and The Jungle Book is currently streaming, so it made sense to knock it out. It was better than I thought it would be, although at this point that doesn’t say much; remember, I wasn’t looking forward to watching it.

Chances are you know the basic story. Mowgli (Neel Sethi) lives in an Indian jungle, literally raised by wolves. His wolf mother is named Raksha (voiced by Lupita Nyong’o) and the pack is led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito). Mowgli does his best to become the best wolf he can be, but, since he’s human, he’s not always that great at it. Still, he’s accepted in the wolf pack and mentored by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), a panther.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Crunchy Granola

Film: 20th Century Women
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

I’m worried about Annette Bening. I’ve never been her biggest cheerleader, but with good material (The Grifters, American Beauty), she can be tremendous on screen. Of all the movies she has made since 2010, I’ve now seen three, and she plays a variation of the same type of character in each—the Bohemian mom-type who really wants to understand her kids and help them fully realize themselves. Okay, in The Kids Are All Right she’s less that, but the movie has that vibe to it. She’s very much that in Ruby Sparks, a film I hated despite being told how great it is. And she is the full realization of that in 20th Century Women. This is a personality type that I have come to know (through my wife) as “crunchy granola.”

20th Century Women is at least a vaguely autobiographical of writer/director Mike Mills (not the bass player from R.E.M.). The film takes place in Santa Barbara in 1979 and concerns Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), who is 15 and lives with Dorothea (Annette Bening), his divorced mother. Dorothea, in addition to her normal job, runs a boarding house. Two of the residents, mechanic and part-time carpenter William (Billy Crudup) and photographer/cancer survivor Abbie (Greta Gerwig) are going to be important to the story as well. The final piece of the puzzle is Julie (Elle Fanning), who is Jamie’s friend and often sleeps with him in his room, but refuses to have sex with him since she believes this will destroy their friendship.