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The Boogie Man Will Get You (1942)
Screwball B horror-comedy with Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff
This film was quite enjoyable for what it was. A cockeyed optimist(Miss Jeff Daniels) buys a rundown colonial era inn with high hopes and decides to allow the current inhabitants, among them a scientist working on a device that will help the Allies win the war(Boris Karloff)and an old woman who obsesses about chickens, to stay on. Her bumbling ex-husband has followed her. The scientist is soon joined by the sheriff/coroner/justice of the peace (and purveyor of baldness cures),played by Peter Lorre. The big question is: Is there are or aren't there a room full of corpses in a secret room off the wine cellar? They have been experimenting on travelling salesmen who happen by the house,using the standard bulb- and- helmet type of contraption that should be familiar to moviegoers. Lorre's character packs a huge pistol and keeps a Siamese kitten in his pocket, claiming that "she has a incredible sense for crime and corruption." Good thing.
Funm, campy noir
When I went to see this lesser known noir, the person introducing it described it as "almost a parody" of this kind of film and said not to take it too seriously. Nevertheless, it is a film about con artists and their techniques, and I love those. Especially well showcased is the technique of letting a mark think something is his or her own idea, and people are always more determined to do things that they think are their own ideas. The story features a group of globetrotting, high-rolling grifters led by John Payne and noir regular Dan Duryea, who decide to target a wealthy but naive young war widow(Joan Caulfield) with a scheme to build a youth center memorializing her husband. This necessitates Payne pretending to be a buddy of her late husband, who in reality, he had never met. At first the plan is to raise money from wealthy friends, but she then decides to bankroll the whole project herself. Things are further complicated when a sometime girlfriend of both of the men, played by a tough-as-nails young Shelly Winters, refuses to stay under wraps. This film seems to have been largely forgotten, which is a shame.
Shallow Grave (1994)
All the Makings of a Cult Classic
This film opens with three hip, cynical young Scottish professionals, David, Juliet and Alex (Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox and Ewan McGregor)who are looking for a fourth to share their spacious flat. That they aren't very nice people is clear in the opening scenes. when they taunt and mock the hapless applicants with insults and absurd questions, it is a foreshadowing of future nastiness and some of the choices they make. Finally an older man who seems to be their match takes the room, then immediately up and dies on them--and leaves a suitcase full of money. Did the guy commit suicide? And if so, why? More than likely the money came from some ill-gotten source, so why not keep it? But first, his corpse, which is, as Alex puts it, starting to "go off and smell" must be dealt with, hence the title. Scotland is such a great setting for a horror thriller, it's a shame more of them aren't set there. These are the people who gave us Burke and Hare after all. Add to that all the stereotypes about Scottish people and money and it's a perfect set-up for this plot. The sexual tension among the three also adds a suspenseful twist. Ewan McGregor was even more heartbreakingly handsome in those days, long before he was a Jedi knight, but in spite of that, he does an amazing job playing a lout.
It may be my imagination, but Danny Boyle seems given to "Clockwork Orange" references here as he was in "Trainspotting" (Watch for the scene at the charity ball with Ewan McGregor on the floor with Fox's foot on his face. There are others.) Nothing wrong with that. And as with "Trainspotting", there are some flights of pure fantasy, though none as protracted as the toilet scene.
Though not heavy handedly, I think that this film, perhaps even more so than "Trainspotting" makes a pointed comment on the spiritual condition(empty) of young people in the nineties. These are very much films of their time--they could not have been made in an earlier time, and not just because of explicit drug and violence scenes.
Like Betty Blue Without the comedy
This very dark film, set in England in the lae 1950's is definitely not for children since it contains some very disturbing scenes and events. Though most of it is set in a mental hospital and deals with mental illness, it is not one of those films like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" or even "Angel Baby" that romanticizes and sentimentalizes the subject. So don't expect that. Rather it is a more realistic examination of the fine line that sometimes separates so-called normal people from the mad. But make no mistake, there is a line.
Stella Raphael(Natasha Richardson) arrives with her husband (Hugh Bonneville) and young son Charley at the hospital where he has accepted a live-in position. There are rumors that another psychiatrist, Peter Cleve(Sir Ian McKellen)may have been in line for the same position. Stella does not fit in with the other wives. She is younger, more smartly dressed(one of her hats looks for all the world like a UFO) and less traditional in every way. And the hospital culture is clearly one that expects women to keep a low profile and not make waves. Since their posh living quarters have a full-time servant, there is not a lot for her to do, but she does take up gardening, and Charley makes friends with Edgar(Marton Csokas, a trusted "pet patient" of Dr. Cleve). Stella is also drawn to the handsome and magnetic Edgar,a sculptor, despite being warned that he is there for killing his wife violently. They dance together at a staff-patient party, and soon after have a hurried coupling in the garden shed. After that, it is furtive, animalistic sex whenever and wherever they can. One day Edgar, against Stella's better judgment comes to her in her own bedroom, where he is seen by her mother-in-law, a disdainful woman who has clearly never liked her. After Edgar steals some cash from the dresser and seizes the opportunity to escape, things rapidly deteriorate in the Raphael home. There is also another shift. Stella's husband, who at first, seemed cold and repressive, almost deserving of being cuckolded, becomes more likable, and in one of the final scenes of the movie, shows that he has probably loved Stella after all. Edgar, on the other hand, reveals himself to be jealous and unpredictable at best, and at worst, violent durng a time when he and Stella attempt a beatnik life in London with another Australian artist friend of his. And what of the inscrutable Dr. Cleve? Does he really want to help patients or is he a power-hungry manipulator? One of the reasons I compared this film to Betty Blue is aprtly because of some of the disturbingly violent acts of characters, but also because it shows that survival instincts sometimes don't have anything to do with madness or sanity. Whatdoes not kill me does not necessarily make me stronger--sometimes it just makes me crazier and more self-destructive.
Martin Csokas is an actor I had never heard of before but would certainly like to see more of him.
Wedding Crashers (2005)
Below the Belt Inside the Beltway
(I don't know if revealing a surprise cast member is considered a spoiler) "Wedding Crashers" isn't great cinema, but for what it is, I felt that I had gotten my $9 worth. The plot is not complicated. Two divorce mediators(Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson) who live in the DC area make a hobby of crashing weddings to take advantage of free food, free booze and most importantly, young women who dispense sexual favors freely. Predictably, Wilson's character falls hard for a girl at one especially posh event celebrating the nuptials of her sister. The girls are daughters of a Kerryesque senator played by Chritopher Walken. Vince Vaughan's character becomes entangled with a third sister.According to the credits, John McCain and James Carville have bit parts playing themselves, to add realism, I suppose. I missed them, and in any case realism is a term to use advisedly in a film where a little old lady cusses like a muleskinner, the senator's horny wife(Jane Seymour) traps Owen Wilson in a bedroom demanding he feel her newly-overhauled breasts, and Vince Vaughan's mentor, a silly character named Chaz Reingold(surprise cast member Will Farrell) is reduced to picking up babes at funerals. For the most part the ending is predictable, though there a few surprise turns. But since the movie is to some extent a romantic comedy, and they generally have happy endings, who cares? The controversial purple heart scene, if it's any consolation consistsofVince Vaughan merely showing Owen Wilson the medals for a few seconds and explaining how they will be used to get free drinks at a cash bar event. They don't actually show them being used, so we don't know if they are. Perhaps there existed such a scene and it was cut and will resurface when "Wedding Crashers" comes out on DVD. Owen Wilson's rival for the affections of the senator's daughterisn evil preppiemuch like generations of other preppies with no redeeming virtues in generations of earlier comedies. There are other parallels. In "Caddyshack" you have to accept a world of animatronic gophers. In this film you have to accept a man getting a handjob under a table(through his clothes yet) In one scene, one of John Beckwith's(Owen Wilson's) conquests,whose name he has forgotten, gets up from bed and asks "Are you completely full of s--t or just half?" His remorseful response is that he was hoping just half, but he doesn't know. That's kind of the way the whole film is, though there is a tipoff that true love may win out or at least be a contender in the opening scenes when the boys are dealing with a sniping couple(Dwight Yoakum and Rebecca DeMornay) who are fighting over frequent flier miles. I recommend this movie only with reservations for anybody under 16, and don't recommend it for children under 12 at all. There is nonstop filthy language, the aforementioned handjob and a bondagescene. And Owen Wilson gets beat up rather badly in a dirty fight. The nudity is brief, and mostly of girls. Very little of Wilson and Vaughan's flesh is seen. From their viewpoint, I suppose that this is one of the advantages of being the big stars that they now are.
Must Love Dogs (2005)
Two Leads Saved This Movie
This would have been a pretty mediocre romantic comedy if the two leading roles had not been in the capable hands of John Cusack,who has made a career of these kind of roles,and Diane Lane,an actress who has certainly paid her dues. The two do have chemistry. Yes,it's a bit predictable. And while in some ways it's a pretty realistic depiction of the loneliness of single life and the humiliations of middle-aged dating, in other ways,it's not. Most of us don't have a chorus of amateur dating coaches in the form of friends and siblings. Inreal life while people may occasionally fix us up or offer advice, most of the time people are too busy with their own problems to get so deeply involved with others' lives. And I for one would not want that many pop-ins anyway. It seems everybody has a key to Sarah's(DianeLane's) house. One thing that was refreshing: The humor was adult, not gross-out--pretty amazing that a film featuring dogs and young children(Sarah is a preschool teacher)can get by without potty or poop jokes. Though there is a reference to "emergency pants" and one kid gets a nosebleed.
I felt I got my money's worth from this film.
I'm a sucker for Diego Luna--love that boy! I also like movies about con artists, and I think that this one stacks up well against things like The Grifters, Body Heat, House of Games and even The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. I think the film made a great point with the disconnect in the con artist mind--on the hand Geddis sees himself as just another businessman trying to make a living, but on the other hand he clearly sees himself as above and apart from the rest of society and its rules. To a leser extent, Rodrigo has the same disconnect--he is devoted to family, but has few other principles. Nothing in it lagged for me--I was engaged at every moment. I have to agree that the inconsistency of Hannigan's accent bothered me as well, but this is a minor detail. Good guys versus bad guys? I think part of the point of the film was that there really weren't any good guys(with the possible exception of brother Michael). I got to see this as part of a special promotion, but would have been happy to pay $9.
Festival Express (2003)
They were all so young...
...Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, Ian Tyson, Bob Weir.(Although Janis' frequent partying miles were beginning to show in her face, fortunately it didn't extend to her voice. She would be dead in a few months. How could these people play so wasted?) I loved this film. Great concert footage alternating with interviews of people like Buddy Guy and Sylvia Tyson in her gently clipped Canadian accent. This was the music I grew up on as a teenager, so I am probably biased. I think it makes a good companion piece to "The Way the Music Died" on PBS a few months ago. Popular music really has changed a lot in the last 3 or 4 decades. Who today would want to see a documentary about Britney Spears or other Top 40 icons on a train across Canada or any other place? Bob Weir comments that while most of the performers were users of marijuana and halucinogens, that alcohol was a new thing for them, "and it worked just fine." He also noted that the giant display bottle of Canadian Club they persuaded the liquor store in Saskatoon to sell them "had some sort of gel caps in the bottom of it." The rioting kids who decided that the concert should be free angered me with their brazen sense of entitlement. It was another sign of the times, I guess. That's how impractical people really were in those days. The musicians consented to an additional free show in Toronto. This is another difference between them and today's less generous and permissive stars, who would say, "F--k this". Again Bob Weir: "the kids weren't interested in the music. They were just anti- authoritarian. I know. I'm that way myself."