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 Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018 
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Apex Predator wrote:
Oof at that part of We're No Angels. Not sure I can watch it now, even with the recommendation. If this was taken seriously, I don't know. But for laughs? Uh, nope.


It wasn't enough to spoil the film. Like I said, it was almost more confusing than anything and primarily happens in about a 5 minutes stretch of the first third. Later, it's almost as if that subplot didn't exist. Aldo Ray's character even gives Isabelle advice when she's trying to woo the guy she likes. The film has a whole set of dialogue toward the end where they again assert that he's in prison because he attacked his uncle. At the end, the men are trying to find a nice guy for Isabelle, and Ray's character is grumpy about it. It's like the writers could never decide the nature of Ray's character or how to frame his relationship with Isabelle.

I would liken it to the racism in Casablanca--it's one of those dated elements that puts a stain on the film but doesn't totally derail it.


Thu Jul 12, 2018 2:27 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

Made it through Honors Lit, but the only 100+ year-old English fuddy-duddy books I had to read were by Edith Wharton and Charles Dickens. I mean, other than Shakespeare, obv.


Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:12 am
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A film about an animal: Piranha

From one of the very first shots of the main character playing a Jaws video game, this film never even pretends that it isn't just a knockoff of that movie.

Maggie is a private investigator who (for reasons that make zero sense) is sent to investigate the disappearance of a young couple (who we see eaten in the opening scene). She quickly takes up with backwoods drunk Paul and the two find the secret army facility where a deadly strain of piranhas have been bred. Because Maggie is an idiot with no respect for private property or the environment, she drains a pool of liquid without knowing what it is or what is in it. Because she is dumb. This releases the piranhas into the local river and it becomes a race against time as the school of razortoothed fish make their way down river heading for a summer camp, a lake-side resort, and the ocean.

This is a movie that is graced with some fun actors in secondary roles (Keenan Wynn as a fisherman, Barbara Steele as the obligatory evil British scientist). There's a subplot involving Paul's daughter who is at the summer camp, and the relationship she develops with one of the counselors--enough to add some emotional heft to the ensuing slaughter.

For the most part, this movie is dumb fun. For me one of the only real drawbacks was the way that the nudity was shot. There are lots of shots that are just women's breasts centrally framed. Incidental nudity can be really sexy, but there are just countless boob shots and it got really old for me (funnily enough the male swimming shorts seemed to prove well-nigh invincible!). This piece of trivia from IMDb is completely unsurprising: A waitress from the Holiday Inn where the director and crew were staying stood in for Heather Menzies during the topless shots because Menzies was concerned that her husband might not approve of the nude scene. The topless scene in question also doesn't make sense. Whatever, movie.

The film also struggles with how to film the attacks. For the most part, watching actors clearly pulling fish puppets at their own faces adds to the low-rent charm of the film, but unlike Jaws the film doesn't really find a way to build that sense of suspense. There are lots of underwater shots of swimmers splashing, and a few meh shots of some fish puppets or drawings (couldn't tell which) moving through the water without moving their bodies at all. The piranhas just don't have much presence and imitating the Jaws strategy of menacing music only works medium.

There are some good one-liners ("It's the piranhas sir" "What about the piranhas?!" "They're eating the guests, sir." OR "Terror. Horror. Death. Film at eleven."), and for the most part the movie moves along pretty well. I can't see myself watching it again, but it was 90 minutes of dumb fun.


Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:21 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
A film about an animal: Piranha

From one of the very first shots of the main character playing a Jaws video game, this film never even pretends that it isn't just a knockoff of that movie.

Maggie is a private investigator who (for reasons that make zero sense) is sent to investigate the disappearance of a young couple (who we see eaten in the opening scene). She quickly takes up with backwoods drunk Paul and the two find the secret army facility where a deadly strain of piranhas have been bred. Because Maggie is an idiot with no respect for private property or the environment, she drains a pool of liquid without knowing what it is or what is in it. Because she is dumb. This releases the piranhas into the local river and it becomes a race against time as the school of razortoothed fish make their way down river heading for a summer camp, a lake-side resort, and the ocean.

This is a movie that is graced with some fun actors in secondary roles (Keenan Wynn as a fisherman, Barbara Steele as the obligatory evil British scientist). There's a subplot involving Paul's daughter who is at the summer camp, and the relationship she develops with one of the counselors--enough to add some emotional heft to the ensuing slaughter.

For the most part, this movie is dumb fun. For me one of the only real drawbacks was the way that the nudity was shot. There are lots of shots that are just women's breasts centrally framed. Incidental nudity can be really sexy, but there are just countless boob shots and it got really old for me (funnily enough the male swimming shorts seemed to prove well-nigh invincible!). This piece of trivia from IMDb is completely unsurprising: A waitress from the Holiday Inn where the director and crew were staying stood in for Heather Menzies during the topless shots because Menzies was concerned that her husband might not approve of the nude scene. The topless scene in question also doesn't make sense. Whatever, movie.

The film also struggles with how to film the attacks. For the most part, watching actors clearly pulling fish puppets at their own faces adds to the low-rent charm of the film, but unlike Jaws the film doesn't really find a way to build that sense of suspense. There are lots of underwater shots of swimmers splashing, and a few meh shots of some fish puppets or drawings (couldn't tell which) moving through the water without moving their bodies at all. The piranhas just don't have much presence and imitating the Jaws strategy of menacing music only works medium.

There are some good one-liners ("It's the piranhas sir" "What about the piranhas?!" "They're eating the guests, sir." OR "Terror. Horror. Death. Film at eleven."), and for the most part the movie moves along pretty well. I can't see myself watching it again, but it was 90 minutes of dumb fun.

Try Killer Fish.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnqKrZNd9K0

Lee Majors!


Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:49 am
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I've never read an Austen book. Heck, I've never read any Shakespeare. But then again, that's not common nor required here.

Any recommendation other than Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice, which Takoma mentioned?

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Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:52 am
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Wooley wrote:


Better? Worse? Cheesier? Funnier? Fishier?


Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:53 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

Better? Worse? Cheesier? Funnier? Fishier?

I can't remember, it's been like 30 years, but I actually saw Killer Fish first and since they're both pretty low-rent, I actually thought Killer Fish was the real thing and Piranha was the knock-off. Of the knock-off.

Of course, I also thought Barracuda was good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKcJtI-bu_Y

It is not.


Thu Jul 12, 2018 4:28 am
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I have not only read Jane Austen, but I've also seen all of Whit Stillman's films so that I can say with some authority that Love & Friendship's strength is in how Stillman's dry satire of status-obsesssed society translates her own skewering of the same. Stillman's Metropolitan and Last Days of Disco may as well be modern day (relatively) versions of Austen's "study of manners" among the vapid elite, and the fact that Beckinsale's Lady Susan is a mirror image of her Charlotte from Disco helps this bridge.

But then again, speaking of Disco, I think that Love & Friendship could have used a more prominent Chloe Sevigny, but that's a personal choice unaccommodated by Austen.


Thu Jul 12, 2018 8:56 am
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Jinnistan wrote:
could have used a more prominent Chloe Sevigny.


Probably true of most things she's in.

A film about parenthood: A Simple Curve

This was a gentle Canadian drama about a 20-something young man living with his widowed father and the increasing tension between them as they cannot agree on how to pursue their joint woodworking business.

The theme of parenthood in this film comes from the way that it reflects on how parents build the history of their children, and how children must choose which elements of that identity to reject as they become more independent. Caleb, the young man (played by Kris Lemche who maybe you all remember as the guy from Ginger Snape), enjoys woodworking and understands his father's aesthetic and passion for the craft. At the same time, he cannot take his father's casual attitude toward living on the financial edge, lacking even a functioning toilet.

Things really come to a head as an old friend of his father's visits their small town and tries to lure Caleb toward more of a commerce mindset. Also arriving at this time are a hippie couple, Erika and Buck, who are "escaping" a city life and idealize the life that Caleb isn't sure he wants anymore.

Generally I liked this one. It's certainly low-key, but it also examines some painful elements of parent-child relationships and the necessity of pushing parents away in order to truly find an independent identity.

I also really enjoyed watching the (far too few!) sequence of wood working. Some of my favorite memories are of helping out in the wood shop, building shelves and trunks--and while I am not a super-skilled woodworker myself, it's a craft that I really appreciate. A recurring element of the film is that people do not want to have to pay much for the work the men do, and I really appreciated that it showed how much time and effort goes into something as simple as a chair.


Thu Jul 12, 2018 12:13 pm
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Takoma1 wrote:
A film about an animal: Piranha
Never seen this or any other entry in the Piranha series, but I do know that Piranha II: TheSpawning gave a young James Cameron his first ever directorial gig, so there's that at least.
Takoma1 wrote:
I would liken it to the racism in Casablanca--it's one of those dated elements that puts a stain on the film but doesn't totally derail it.

I've only seen it once, and that was a good 5 & 1/2 years ago, but I don't remember any part of Casablanca that struck me as being racist in any way, shape, or form, so... could you elaborate on this point for me, please?

:oops:

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Thu Jul 12, 2018 2:01 pm
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Death Proof wrote:
Great casting all around, but Frank Morgan really stole the movie in the four or five roles he plays, especially Professor Marvel.

Great write-up. I've been watching this movie probably since I was 5 years old. It's refreshing to see that someone who has seen it only recently can still be entranced by the magic and filmmaking.


I got an actual jaw-drop from my kid the other day when we went to the cemetery down the street from our place the other day, showed him a grave and told him that this is where the Wizard of Oz is buried. Trivially, I learned that Frank Morgan's real last name was Wupperman.

Anyway, I wholly endorse that Morgan was terrific in this. I hesitated to show it to my kid because it gave me nightmares when I was 5, but he's a hard-edged Brooklyn kid so he was fine.


Thu Jul 12, 2018 10:34 pm
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Stu wrote:
I've only seen it once, and that was a good 5 & 1/2 years ago, but I don't remember any part of Casablanca that struck me as being racist in any way, shape, or form, so... could you elaborate on this point for me, please?


The only "explicit" form of racism in the film is when Ingrid Bergman refers to the 50-something black man as "boy."

The more implicit issues are with the only black character being a singing, happy man who is subservient to the main white characters.


Thu Jul 12, 2018 11:12 pm
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A Spanish language film: Deep Crimson

This is a Mexican film that takes the story of the Lonely Hearts killers and sets it in 1940s Mexico. I actually quite liked the 2006 version (with Salma Hayek and Jared Leto as the killer couple), and this one is pretty good as well.

The story follows a couple (Coral and Nicolas) who meet via a Lonely Hearts column. Coral quickly figures out that Nicolas is a con man who murders women for their money, and she enthusiastically becomes his partner in crime. Posing as his sister (after dropping her own children off at an orphanage), the pair cons women into a romance with Nicolas, though Coral's jealousy often threatens to thwart their plans.

The film portrays the pair as ruthless and brutal, but is especially vicious in its portrayal of Coral. She is overweight and the film repeatedly brings up her strong, sour body odor (something she says comes from her exposure to formaldehyde in her work at a morgue) and shows her as being cruel and unsympathetic toward children. The real Nicolas also had children he abandoned (four of them, in fact), but that doesn't make it into the film version. The film often leans toward showing Coral as a monster and Nicolas as being sort of hapless in the face of her anger and neediness.

The film is at its best when it demonstrates the the gruesome co-dependence between the pair---such as a scene where Nicolas cowers in a closet with a migraine as Coral matter-of-factly figures out how to finish off a woman she has seriously wounded. Their warped sense of love and loyalty leads to horrible acts--it's a terrible intersection of cruelty, sociopathy, and neediness.

I felt like this film was a better examination of the relationship between the two, but I did like the procedural element from Lonely Hearts.


Fri Jul 13, 2018 2:55 am
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A dark/black comedy: The Sightseers (Make-up work from June)

Back-to-back films about serial killing couples!

Tina is a woman in her mid-30s who has never been anywhere or done anything. She meets Chris and agrees to go on a camping/RV holiday with him, despite her mother's strong disapproval. After a shocking (and accidental?) killing of a littering tourist, Chris and Tina go on a spree of murder and mayhem through the English countryside, in between visits to ancient ruins and the Pencil Museum.

Much like Deep Crimson, The Sightseers begins with the notion of the woman going along with the male murderer, only for her to be revealed as the truly sick one. Tina sees the murders as a way to bond with Chris, but when he starts to grow bored with her, her behavior becomes more and more unpredictable.

Chris is more of a "classic" murderer, in the sense that he directs his violence and anger at those who disrespect him or who see themselves as being better than him. Chris rants and raves about a man who drops a wrapper on a ground, but later when a man demands that they clean up after their dog, Chris gets just as belligerent.

Tina as a character is harder to get a handle on. She seems more deeply disturbed, and yet even quite far in to the film she still displays a naivete and lack of worldliness. She is careless and impulsive, and her character arc is pretty unhinged.

I've seen several films by Ben Wheatley: Kill List, High Rise, Free Fire. I started to watch A Field in England a few years back, but bailed after about 20 minutes because it just wasn't doing much for me. I'd actually put this one lower in terms of his films. It was funny, but it got a tad repetitive in the middle and Tina, the film's anti-hero, remains just enough out of reach emotionally that I didn't quite click with her. It's a movie that feels like it should have been about 20 minutes shorter.


Fri Jul 13, 2018 11:40 am
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A film with a title that's a sentence or sentence fragment: Don’t Look in the Basement!

The out-of-control mental hospital is a go-to horror trope. In Don't Look in the Basement a mental hospital in a rural area is run by a lead doctor, Dr. Stephens, who believes that by indulging their delusions, patients' minds will eventually naturally revolt against their own illness. In the very first few minutes, Dr Stephens is indulging one patient in some, like, axe therapy when the axe is accidentally redirected and Dr Stephens takes a direct hit. On the same day, the hospital's head nurse decides she's had enough, but she is also killed by an angry patient. The only remaining doctor, Dr. Masters, tries to take commend of the hospital. On this very same day (put a star on the calendar!) Charlotte Beale arrives as a new nurse at the hospital.

The hospital is chock-full of every "insanity" stereotype ever to grace the screen: the young female nymphomaniac, the guy who thinks he's a general in the army, a woman who thinks a doll is her baby, the doomsaying old lady, the child-like large black man, the young white guy who is just . . . . hyper and annoying.

As a series of worrisome events takes place, it seems that one or more of the patients has some serious homicidal inclinations.

I always have mixed reactions to movies that take place in mental hospitals or asylums. I get that they are a great setting for horror or thriller directors to show off outlandish and upsetting behavior. I get that the treatments of mentally ill people historically make for gruesome content. But it always bothers me that mentally ill people are treated as people to be afraid of and also people to laugh at.

This film has some genuinely horrific moments, specifically when a patient's tongue is removed in order to preserve a secret. There are a few moments of empathy for most of the characters, even the ones who are most frequently mocked like the nymphomaniac character.

In terms of using such a setting, I think that films like Shock Corridor and even Stonehearst Asylum do a much better job of showcasing shocking behavior but still treating the patients as human beings. Charlotte Beale, the main character, is kept too distant. She is purely a reaction machine. I'm not sure if this is weak writing, or if she is kept deliberately undeveloped so that the audience will (mild spoilers, sort of)
wonder if she herself is an escaped mental patient or something
.

This was fine for a one-time viewing, but it didn't particularly hold my attention.


Fri Jul 13, 2018 11:40 pm
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An experimental film: Begone Dull Care

So this is a short experimental film (it's on YouTube), with hand-painted cells accompanying music. While I have tremendous respect for the time and craft, I thought this was merely okay. There were a few dynamic moments of shapes dancing and jumping, but mostly the cells were more independent of each other and very abstract. It was okay for ~7 minutes.


Sun Jul 15, 2018 5:59 am
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A film featured in the Criterion Collection: The Lure

I'm just going to cross-post what I wrote in the Horrorcram.

So The Lure. Hm.

I knew going in that there was a musical element to this movie, but I did not realize it was a straight up musical. A very twisted take on the Little Mermaid story.

I liked that the movie was really weird and I liked the off-kilter fantasy world that it creates (this is a world that's very real but also no one is super shocked to see two mermaids in a nightclub).

The story follows two mermaid sisters, Silver and Golden, who come ashore and become a nightclub act with a set of three musicians. Silver falls in love with the bassist in the band and begins to consider giving up her tail (and her voice) to be with him.

Generally speaking I liked the songs, but the singing/dancing sequences themselves were a bit hit or miss for me. You can tell that in many sequences they used real props for the long mermaid tails and not CGI, and the weight and presence of those props is felt in the scenes. I enjoyed the way that the character of Golden was played, with her thinly-veiled predatory nature coming out in lots of little ways, like a shot of her hunched over naked on a dresser smoking a cigarette. As Silver becomes more entranced with the human world, the mannerisms of the sisters (which used to be almost twin-like) begins to deviate.

I would say that the main down side for me was the romance between Silver and Mietek, the bassist. Look, I know that love is to a degree unknowable and people fall in love for superficial reasons and blah, blah, blah. But stories like these where people or creatures with awesome powers are willing to give those things up FOREVER out of love really need a solid romance for me to buy into them. Mietek is cute. Like, the first shot of the actor before I knew he was the romantic lead, I thought, "Oh, he's cute." But it never really progresses much beyond that. I mean, yes, he's nice. But there just wasn't anything about him that made me believe that someone would be in a sustained state of head-over-heels for him. At one point he point-blank tells Silver that because he can't have sex with her, she's nothing but an "animal" to him. I just wish that the film had done a bit more to make me believe that this is a guy she'd give everything up for.

The real horror, and where the film really kicks into a higher gear, is in the final act. There's a horrific sequence in which
Silver has her tail surgically amputated and replaced with the lower body of a female corpse as she sings and loses her voice as they cut into her. I loved the detail that when we do see her body naked, there is a skin tone difference between her original body and the grafted lower half. When Mietek rejects her (because the sex isn't good enough the first time--what a prince!), Silver must decide whether or not to kill him in order to save herself from dissolving. Much like the fairy tale on which this film is based, the ending left me angry and sad.


This is one of those films that's just different enough that I'm having to take some extra time to sort through my feelings about it. It was certainly something weird and different and I'm glad I watched it. As far as films that loosely adapt fairy tales into a contemporary setting, this is definitely one of my favorites.


Sun Jul 15, 2018 10:42 am
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The first film from a director you like: Bad Taste

I mean, this feels very much like a first film. It's goofy, but you can tell that everyone involved is having a great time. A rag-tag band of men fight an invasion of evil aliens with sinister plans for humankind.

The whole movie wallows in sight gags and gross-out humor and effects. For the most part they land, and the low-budget nature works more for the movie than against it.

I don't have much to say about this one. It's up on Prime if any of you haven't seen it before. In terms of early, Peter Jackson gross-out comedy-horror, I still prefer Dead Alive, but this was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.


Mon Jul 16, 2018 7:55 am
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