Wednesday, November 14, 2018

More Boris

The Walking Dead/Frankenstein: 1970 (1936/1958) are a pair of Karloff horrors. One of them is pretty good.

That is, The Walking Dead. Karloff plays a recently released convict - convicted for what isn’t  mentioned, I think. He is a gentle, humble man, and an accomplished pianist. But a bunch of gangsters, lead by Ricardo Cortez, frame him for the murder of the judge that originally convicted him. As he is being lead to the chair, another prisoner plays a melody on a violin - and in another part of town, a group is working to get him pardoned. At the last minute, the governor calls for a stay of execution, but it’s too late.

Scientist Edmund Gwenn convinces them to let him have the body for dissection, but instead revives it with an artificial heart. So he comes back to life, bent on revenge. And he gets it, too, mostly by giving the crooks his Boris Karloff glare, and letting them throw themselves out the window.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, this has all the little touches you look for in a B-movie, like Eddie Acuff as Betcha, the gambling henchman comic relief. Karloff is as charismatic as you would expect, both before and after his demise.

Frankenstein: 1970, made 20 years later by Red Barry, isn’t so great. It has a typical monster movie start, and that’s because we’re watching a movie company making a monster movie. The current Baron Frankenstein (Karloff) is renting his German castle to them to get the money to buy an atomic reactor. Which is an interesting premise, at least. He was tortured by the Nazis and has horrible facial scars, which also adds something. There’s quite a bit of gore, as the good doctor starts killing the actors and crew for parts. But it doesn’t add up to much more than the trashy movie they are making.

It also doesn’t seem to take place in 1970 (the Future!), although TV movies may have been a little futuristic.

Feel free to skip this one, but catch Walking Dead.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Get Your Boots On

Sorry to Bother You (2018), written and directed by Boots Riley, is another one of those Black/black comedies of manners that seem to be all the rage now. OK, there's really only one other example, Get Out. But I think that one counts a lot.

It starts with Lakeith Stanfield as Cassius Green in bed with his girlfriend Tessa Thompson as Detroit. Then the garage door opens because he is living in his uncle’s garage. He needs money badly.  A friend helps him get a job as a telemarketer, which looks hideous. But Danny Glover explains that he just has to use his “white voice” and people will buy from him. And it works. He climbs the corporate ladder to become a Power Caller, selling “life contracts” - in this version of America, you can sign up to have all your food, housing, and clothes supplied in exchange for a lifetime labor contract - which is different from slavery in some way.

Meanwhile, Detroit is rocking some amazing earrings and getting ready for her gallery show, and Steven Yuen is unionizing the telemarketers. Will Cash make it to the show? Will he cross the picket lines? Of course, but that’s not what’s weird. What’s weird is what the life contract people, lead by celebrity entrepreneur Armie Hammer, are really up to.

That’s the outline of the setup, more or less. It leaves out a lot of the absurdity - like when Stanfield telemarketing someone, his desk crashes into their home. It leaves out the Left Eye rebels, fighting the system. It leaves out the incredible cuteness of Detroit and her awesome earrings. Mostly, I just can’t describe the density of this movie, the rich, realistic picture of a crazy world, pretty much like the one we’re living in. I don’t think it’s as funny as Get Out, and maybe not so focussed, but it’s beautiful.

And if you don’t think it’s a horror film, just wait until the end.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Crooked Tale

When we saw the previews, we had hoped that Crooked House (2017) would be at least horror adjacent. We got a good old Agatha Christie movie, with just a smidge of horror - and a great cast.

It starts when Stefani Martini visits private detective Max Irons in post-war England. Her grandfather, a super-rich business tycoon Aristide Leonides, is dead, and she fears murder. Irons is reluctant - it seems he has history with Martini, when he was a diplomat in Cairo. But he goes along and heads out to the mansion of the title.

There he meets Leonides' various offspring, wife and ex-wives, and related hangers-on. First and foremost is Glenn Close, his sister-in-law, who is a no-nonsense gardener type lady. There's also Julian Sands writes plays for his wife. Gillian Anderson. But Leonides would never give them the money they need to produce them. They also have several children, including one who likes to spy and gossip.

Another son is Christian McKay, who has been managing the company, and doing a poor job of it, leading to low self-esteem - he's also held in low esteem by his wife.

There's also sexy showgirl Christina Hendricks, who be having an affair the children's tutor. She was also the one who administered the poison that killed her husband, although it looked like an accident.

And then people start getting killed, a new will shows up, and someone tries to kill the gossipy little girl, maybe because she knows too much.

This is all done in the most lovely luxe style. The titular house is beautiful, with the private quarters of the different sub-factions done in different, fancy styles. McKay's wife, for instance, has their quarters done in mid-Century Modern.

All in all, pretty much your standard Agatha Christie movie: High production values, some big names in the cast, and a few twists in the ending. We did not get much in the way of old-dark-housiness, but that's ok, this was fine.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Warwilf?

You know, I should have tacked The Undying Monster (1942) onto the last post, or combine it with The Lodger. They both have the same director, John Brahm, who later did a ton of TV. Also, I don't really have much to say about it, even less than about The Lodger.

It breaks down like this: The Hammond family has been cursed for centuries, and now someone or something is killing members of the family and threatening folk round the mansion. James Ellison from Scotland Yard, along with Heather Thatcher, his lab assistant and comic relief, are called in to get to the bottom of it. We get the usual old dark house adjacent stuff, like dungeons, clanking chains and hidden compartments, as well as a werewolf rhyme that isn't about what happens when the wolfbane blooms.

This entry in the werewolf chronicles (SPOILER?) is good, but sort of unnecessary. It looks very atmospheric, and the cast gives it their all. It doesn't seem to add to the canon, or bring anything new, except maybe a non-mad scientist and his comedienne sidekick. However, at one-hour three-minutes long, it does it all pretty quickly.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Random Movies

Random Harvest (1942) is a classic, sure, but we generally aren’t big on melodramas, and so we had missed it. But it stars Ronald Colman and Greer Garson, directed by Melvyn LeRoy, so we figured it would be good. And then we found out about the double amnesia.

It starts with Coleman going AWOL from a mental institution. He was apparently a soldier in WWI who lost his memory - and no one knows who he is. While hungry and broke, he meets music hall dancer Greer Garson, who starts taking care of him. To help him recuperate, she takes him to a cottage in the country, where he starts writing.

When he sells a story, he rushes to Liverpool to get a job with a newspaper. But he is struck by a cab, and - BOOM! - double amnesia. He now remembers who he was before the war, but not what he’s been doing since. Since he doesn’t have any ID, he heads back to his rich family and takes up his role as captain of industry. He has a cute teen-aged cousin of some sort who wants to marry him when she grows up - I mainly mention this because she’s played by Susan Peters, who is astonishingly beautiful. He is even running for Parliament.

But did you notice his secretary? It’s Garson. She took the position to be close to him, hoping he will recognize her, or maybe just fall in love with her. But she won’t tell him what was going on during his first amnesia, because she wants him to want her for herself, or something. I think you know how it comes out.

This is truly a romantic film, with great stars. But it is far from perfect. I had problems with the structure - in the second amnesia, it seems like Garson just sort of appears as Colman’s secretary, without showing how she got there (unless I fell asleep for a scene or two - it happens). It makes the second part seem disconnected from the first, and not in a good way. For double amnesia movies, I prefer the Joseph Cotton/Jennifer Jones Love Letters.

Speaking of men in tragic relations with music hall dancers, we also caught up with The Lodger (1944). While loose women are being killed all over Whitechapel, formerly well-to-do Cedric Hardwicke and Sara Allgood take in a lodger. It is Laird Cregar, a devout but somewhat mysterious man. Although they sometimes think he may be up to something, their daughter, dancer Merle Oberon, is quite taken with him. She keeps insisting that he come see her show, although he thinks such goings-on are ungodly. She should have left him alone.

I was quite taken with the atmosphere of this one, and of Cregar’s menace. I now feel like the Lodger should have been a member of the classic monster cadre, at least a junior member, like the hunchback.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Bus that Couldn’t Slow Down

OK, here’s on that has been on my Saved list for a long time that finally came off: Speed (1994). Yes, even though I am a legit Keanu Reeves San, I’d never seen this one.

It starts with Reeves and partner Jeff Daniels as a bomb squad trying to get a bunch of businesspeople off of a bomb-boobytrapped elevator. They succeed through a combination of action movie banter and unlikely contrivance. But the bomber (Dennis Hopper), even though Reeves shoots through a hostage to get him.

Later, Reeves gets a call from the bomber, telling him about a bus that is rigged to blow up. The bomb will be armed when they first go over 50 mph, and blow when they go below 50. He makes it onto the bus and tries to keep things cool until he can figure out what to do. That doesn’t work out, and the driver gets shot. So America’s Sweetheart Sandra Bullock has to take over the wheel.

And that’s about all you need to know about the plot. The movie was directed by Jan de Bont, from a script by George Yost, with quipped dialog by Joss Whedon. The “elevator pitch” of Die Hard on a bus” is pretty accurate: cool protagonist in impossible situation, lots of amazing set pieces and cute banter. But it doesn’t all take place on a bus - it starts on an elevator and ends on a subway.

There’s also a cute romance, and one of the better quips: Bullock tells Reeves that relationships built on extreme experiences never work out. “So we’ll have to base ours on sex.”

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Encore?

Deadpool 2 (2018) is sort of the answer to “What do you do for an encore?” Deadpool itself was a kind of new thing when it came out, all goofy and meta. So, where do you go from there?

Well first, they kill off the love of his life before the credits. So instead of being written by “The Real Heroes Here”, the writing credits go to “The Real Villains Here.” Then Deadpool commits suicide. You know what they say about suicide: What do you do for an encore? It’s a pretty good suicide, but it doesn’t take - he heals too well, even if it means growing a new body. Colossus takes him to the X-Mansion where again, the only X-Men he meets are Collosus and Teen-age Negasonic Warhead (because all the other X-Men are hiding from him). They offer to take him on as a Trainee, with the first mission to calm down an encounter between a young mutant and the authorities.

The young mutant is Julian Dennison as Firefist, and chubby adolescent who can hurl fire and is being treated in the Icebox, a sort of anti-Xavier School. He is rounded up and re-imprisoned, but Deadpool thinks they are abusing him in the institution and decides to break him out.

This requires a new team of heroes that he decides to call X-Force, in a fit of unoriginality. He holds tryouts and picks up quite a group, including Domino (Zazie Beets), who is just very lucky, and Rob Delaney as Peter. Peter doesn’t have powers, he just thought it sounded fun and a good way to meet people.

I haven’t mentioned Cable (Josh Brolin), the cyborg from the future whose family was killed by the older Firefist. Guess what his agenda is.

Even though this movie shares a lot with the previous (including running gags), it has a bit darker tone, due to the death of his love, and later —SPOILER— the death of Peter and pretty much the entire X-Force. But it also has plenty of laughs and thrills, plus real feelings and a happy ending - believe it or not.

This may even be a better movie than the last - more focused, better plot, no origin story. But it didn’t feel as fresh as the first one, which really seemed to be breaking new ground. Be interesting to see where they take this next - maybe just integrate Mr. Pool into the overall MCU. That should be interesting.