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 Thief's Monthly Film Challenge 2018 
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Ok, this is the November assignment...

A Spanish language film:
A Bollywood film:
A road trip film:
A film starring an SNL regular (past or present):
A film written by an African-American:
A Palm D'Or winner:
A Best Picture winner from the 1950s:
A film that was a box-office bomb:
A British film:
A film or mini-series over 240 minutes long:
A non-Best Picture winner from the 1940s (nominated, but lost):
A film about food:
A film with no CGI or special effects:
A period drama film:
A film directed by a woman:
A film by Kobayashi Masaki:
A film based on a play:
A film from Sweden:

18 categories instead of the usual 25, but I ran out of categories :( I'll see what I can come up with on December to close out the year.

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Fri Nov 02, 2018 6:24 am
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The November assignment:

A Spanish language film: The Secret in Their Eyes
A Bollywood film: Taare Zameen Par
A road trip film: To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar
A film starring an SNL regular (past or present): Stripes (Bill Murray)
A film written by an African-American: Hollywood Shuffle (Robert Townsend)
A Palm D'Or winner: Man of Iron (1981)
A Best Picture winner from the 1950s: Marty
A film that was a box-office bomb: Monkeybone
A British film: The Company of Wolves
A film or mini-series over 240 minutes long: 1900 (1976) - 317 minutes
A non-Best Picture winner from the 1940s (nominated, but lost): Battleground (1949)
A film about food: Eating Raoul
A film with no CGI or special effects: American Graffiti
A period drama film: The King's Speech
A film directed by a woman: Howard Stern: Private Parts
A film by Kobayashi Masaki: Black River
A film based on a play: Ten Things I Hate About You (The Taming of the Shrew)
A film from Sweden: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

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Fri Nov 02, 2018 7:52 am
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This is what my October looked like:

A horror film based on a book: Frankenstein (1910)
A horror film with a number in its title (not a sequel number): The 400 Tricks of the Devil
A classic horror film you've never seen: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
A horror film under 90 minutes long: A Page of Madness
A horror film with a color in the title: Black Moon
A horror sequel: The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
A horror science-fiction film: The Corpse Vanishes
A horror film in a foreign language: The Yotsuya Kaidan (1949)
A horror cult classic film: The Wasp Woman (1959)
A horror exploitation or B-movie: The Killer Shrews (1959)
A horror comedy film: Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
A horror film with less than five major characters: The Third Eye (1966)
A horror film with a character's name as the title: Simon, King of the Witches (1971)
A horror film considered a box-office bomb or one of the worst ever made: Track of the Moon Beast (1976)
A horror film with a child protagonist: Invaders from Mars (1986)
A horror film featuring a non-human lead character: Child’s Play (1988)
A horror film directed by a woman: Dolly Dearest (1991)
A horror film made for under $5,000,000 made after 1990: The Grave (1996)
A horror film starring someone you dislike: Bottom Feeder (2007)
A documentary about horror or horror films: Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue (2009)
A horror film about an animal: Backcountry (2014)
A horror film with either a RT score above 95% or from the IMDb Top 250: Shelley (2016)
A horror film famous for its twist/ending: Dance of the Spider Woman (2018)/The Executioners (2018)
An animated horror film: Existence on Earth (2018)
A horror film with a season in the title: Season of the Witch (1972)

Plus, to keep things more interesting, try to fit each film into one of the following decade slots:
A horror film from the 1900s: Frankenstein (1910); The 400 Tricks of the Devil (1906)
A horror film from the 1920s: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920); A Page of Madness (1926)
A horror film from the 1930s: Black Moon; The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
A horror film from the 1940s: The Corpse Vanishes; The Yotsuda Phantom
A horror film from the 1950s: The Wasp Woman; The Killer Shrews
A horror film from the 1960s: Little Shop of Horrors; The Third Eye
A horror film from the 1970s: Simon, King of the Witches; Track of the Moon Beast
A horror film from the 1980s: Invaders from Mars; Child’s Play
A horror film from the 1990s: Dolly Dearest; The Grave
A horror film from the 2000s: Bottom Feeder; Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue
A horror film from the 2010s: Backcountry; Shelley
A horror film from the current year: Executioners; Existence on Earth

Favorites were Season of the Witch, Page of Madness, Black Moon, The Yotsuda Phantom, The Third Eye, Shelley, and Child's Play.

I highly, highly recommend The Third Eye. It is bonkers, but in a good way.


Fri Nov 02, 2018 8:27 am
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Eh, might have done a bit better if Netflix had cooperated a tad more. But I'll wipe the floor on Coraline and The Vault in the next couple.

October Results:

Director's Cut: B-Movie
Hellraiser: Horror classic not seen
Murder Party: Horror Comedy, Made for under $5 million, Under 90 minutes long
The Devil and Father Amorth: Horror Documentary, Less than 5 major characters
Les Diaboliques: Horror with a classic twist/ending, RT Score above 95 percent, Foreign language horror

Ended up seeing 11 films. Best were Les Diaboliques and Dark Money. Also recommend Murder Party and The Workshop.
Worst? The Devil and Father Amorth which felt fake even during its real exorcism.


Fri Nov 02, 2018 9:58 am
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Just call this month, the revenge of the skipped over film:

A Spanish language film: Desierto (2015)
A Bollywood film: Chennai Express (2013)
A road trip film: Chennai Express/Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)
A film starring an SNL regular (past or present): Ghostbusters (2016; with Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones)
A film written by an African-American: Moonlight (2016)
A Palm D'Or winner: Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
A Best Picture winner from the 1950s: Alright, none of these are streaming. Unless I can find something somewhere, may be a pass.
A film that was a box-office bomb: Monster Trucks (2016)
A British film: Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)
A film or mini-series over 240 minutes long: Not really liking my options here. Advice?
A non-Best Picture winner from the 1940s (nominated, but lost): The Philadelphia Story (1940)
A film about food: Barbecue (2017)
A film with no CGI or special effects: Moonlight (2016)
A period drama film: Eight Men Out (1988)
A film directed by a woman: The Apology (2016)
A film by Kobayashi Masaki: Black River (1957)
A film based on a play: An American in Paris: The Musical (2018; based on the Broadway play. Technical, but it counts!)
A film from Sweden: I Love You (2016)

If you have better suggestions, I'm open to some changes. I have Prime and Netflix.


Sat Nov 03, 2018 8:09 am
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Apex Predator wrote:
A film or mini-series over 240 minutes long: Not really liking my options here. Advice?


I thought that 10th Kingdom was decent enough, if a bit dated.

On Amazon Prime there's also the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. I haven't watched but am intrigued by the Picnic at Hanging Rock miniseries. Angels in America is great. There's a mid-90s miniseries of Middlemarch that has a pretty high IMDb rating.

I really liked Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which might still be on Netflix.


Sat Nov 03, 2018 9:05 am
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It's November 4 and I still haven't been able to see anything, and it seems I won't be for the next two days.

I'm usually not very inclined to share personal details, but I guess I will add a bit of a personal note to the thread now. Me and my wife are starting the process of adoption, which means that we will be subject to what they call a "home study" so they can determine our "suitability". And this month, we will be receiving periodic visits from our assigned social worker so she can interview us and inspect our home. Needless to say, we both are going crazy trying to have the house ready for the first visit, which is Tuesday, and I'm... tired... as... hell! :( There's still a lot we have to do so I probably won't be able to watch anything until then. Maybe Tuesday night or Wednesday.

So, since we're on it, I'd like to share this page we started:

https://www.gofundme.com/jess-and-cj-are-adopting

Here in Puerto Rico, the process of adoption is free, except for the legal fees that will come once we are paired with a child. However, if we also want to try our luck with international adoption, that will obviously carry bigger costs, but increase our chances of being paired. So if any of you would like to lend a hand, or just share that link, we will really appreciate it. Sure, on the long run it would mean more reviews of Paw Patrol and whatever film Disney is releasing then, but it's something we look forward to.

My apologies for the long blurb. Carry on with your film chit-chat.

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Mon Nov 05, 2018 7:34 am
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Thief wrote:
Me and my wife are starting the process of adoption, which means that we will be subject to what they call a "home study" so they can determine our "suitability".


Whoa! I hope that the process goes well for you.

And donated, of course.

Remind me, did you watch Lion? Nicole Kidman's character has a short monologue about adoption that I thought was really lovely.


Mon Nov 05, 2018 8:06 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

Whoa! I hope that the process goes well for you.

And donated, of course.

Remind me, did you watch Lion? Nicole Kidman's character has a short monologue about adoption that I thought was really lovely.


Ha! Our social worker recommended that film to us. I had seen it a while ago, but I don't think my wife has seen it yet. She has it on her schedule.

Thanks for the well wishes and the donation. :heart:

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Mon Nov 05, 2018 8:08 am
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Good luck with the adoption process!

An American in Paris: The Musical (2018):
See a film based on a play

I had to debate for the last week whether to see this or not. At the end, I decided to record it and try to watch something else. As it turned out, I sat through to the end.

Based on the Broadway musical which was taken from the 1951 film, this filmed play deals with an American soldier named Jerry (Robert Fairchild) who decides to stick around after the war. Yes, it's because of a woman named Lise (Leanne Cope), an aspiring ballet dancer. He befriends fellow soldier turned expatriate Adam (David Seadon-Young) and aspiring nightclub singer Henri (Haydn Oakley) who has to hide his dreams from his parents who also wonder why he hadn't married Lise.

But when Lise gets her big break, things between Jerry and Lise start to sour because Lise is engaged to Henri and Jerry has another possible paramour in Milo Davenport (Zoe Rainey), a rich benefactor who takes an interest in his art.

The production design is superb. How they're able to move various structures back and forth so quick is just mindblowing. One minute, you're at a nightclub. The next, a wall by a small river. The dancing is pretty good and the singing is solid. They do keep the Gershwin music which is one of the strengths.

If anything, some of the broad as barn comic performances by Seadon-Young with a comically thick New Yawk accent and Jane Asher channeling Christine Baranski in Cybil kinda grates at times. And as innovative as the set designers are at making the most of a limited space, the people filming could have done a better job making it more of a performance than a filmed play.

Perhaps they could have done more to update the play because a few elements feel aged.

Overall, not a bad way to spend an evening. It's available to stream from PBS if you are so inclined. I give this a mild recommendation.


Mon Nov 05, 2018 9:58 am
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Thief wrote:
And this month, we will be receiving periodic visits from our assigned social worker so she can interview us and inspect our home.

Yeah, you wouldn't want them to make a surprise visit while you're in the middle of watching Naked You Die or something. :P
Just kidding-best of luck! I'll start compiling a "Best kid's movies" list in the meantime.

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Mon Nov 05, 2018 10:07 am
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Captain Terror wrote:
Yeah, you wouldn't want them to make a surprise visit while you're in the middle of watching Naked You Die or something. :P
Just kidding-best of luck! I'll start compiling a "Best kid's movies" list in the meantime.


Yeah, and even though we are probably a couple of years away from being paired, feel free to accompany that list with any parenting advice, please :D

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Mon Nov 05, 2018 10:14 am
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Apex Predator wrote:
Good luck with the adoption process!


Thanks, man!

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Mon Nov 05, 2018 10:29 am
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A film directed by a woman: There’s Something Wrong with Aunt Diane

This documentary follows a horrible incident and delves into the emotionally brutal aftermath.

A woman named Diane Schuleris driving her two children and three nieces home from a family weekend at the lake. Following an only partially known sequence of events, Diane drives her family minivan down the wrong side of a highway at a high speed, eventually crashing into another car and killing a total of eight people (five in her car--including herself--and three people in another car). A revelation later that she had high levels of marijuana and alcohol in her blood sends her family into a spiral of denial and confusion.

The main focus of the documentary is the effort of Diane's husband, Danny, and her sister-in-law, Jay, to prove that something "medical" must have happened to explain Diane's erratic behavior on that day. As their insistence that Diane "wasn't a drinker" comes up against the cold hard facts of toxicology reports, the film enlists the expertise of psychiatrists and medical examiners to try to explain what might have happened.

This was a hard watch on many, many levels. Jay and Danny see themselves as defending Diane, but as another interviewee points out (the daughter of one of the men killed in the other car) their denials make it seem as if this couldn't happen to a "good" person. Then again, it's easy to understand their desire to defend Diane as the internet is quick to villainize her. Jay shows the camera that Diane is featured on a website called "People You'll Meet in Hell."

The third act is particularly rough, as witnesses and first responders to the crash give their version of events. One man talks about pulling one of the girls from the minivan, laying her on the grass, and praying for her to wake up, "But she didn't wake up." The film plays a chilling series of 911 calls, in which horrible details come out. An off-duty police officer reports that there are "multiple fatalities". And, something I wish had come with a warning, we are shown a photo of Diane's dead body at the scene.

I appreciated the empathy displayed by all of the professionals who were interviewed, and I thought that they gave very clear insight into the dynamics that may have led to the tragedy. For all that the documentary is about her, I never felt that I understood Diane. I do feel pretty sure of what happened on that day.

This was a much more intense film than I'd anticipated, but I would definitely recommend it.


Mon Nov 05, 2018 1:44 pm
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G-g-g-g-get back... I'm back to the rocking horse!


A horror film based on a book
A horror film featuring a non-human lead character
A horror film under 90 minutes long
A horror film with a character's name as the title
A horror film with less than five major characters
A horror film from the 1910s



Frankenstein (1910)

Quote:
"Instead of a perfect human being, the evil in Frankenstein's mind creates a monster."


I'm not familiar with the original novel from Mary Shelley, so my knowledge of the Frankenstein story comes solely from popular culture and the classic 1931 film (which I saw for the first time in 2012). So when Takoma mentioned this short earlier in the thread, I thought it would be cool to watch another take on the famous creature. Barely a notch below the 15 minute mark, there's not much that can be done with the story, but it was still a fairly interesting watch.

Directed by J. Searle Dawley for Edison Company, the film follows the titular scientist (Augustus Phillips) who leaves his hometown and his fiancée (Mary Fuller) to dedicate to his work. It is there that he discovers "the secret of life", which he puts to the test by trying to create a living, human being. The film's peak moment comes here as we see the creature forming itself inside a furnace-like contraption. Considering it was 1910, the neat special effect manages to overcome the inherent silliness of it happening inside a glorified furnace while Frankenstein impatiently waits outside while frequently peeking inside to see his creation.

The other thing I found interesting was the route the script took about the monster being more of a manifestation of Frankenstein's own "inner evil", instead of a creature per se. This lends itself for more visual tricks from Dawley and crew, as well as a bit of a more profound meaning, even if it's not fully addressed by the film. The plot, as is expected from this early shorts feels very abbreviated and simplified, and the performances very theatrical and "play-like". Regardless of that, I think it is well worth a watch.

Grade: B-

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Tue Nov 06, 2018 5:28 am
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Thief wrote:
I'm not familiar with the original novel from Mary Shelley, so my knowledge of the Frankenstein story comes solely from popular culture and the classic 1931 film


It's an easy read. And especially powerful when you consider the intense way that pregnancy, birth, and death all played a role in Shelley's life.


Tue Nov 06, 2018 8:26 am
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Quick note: if anyone is still looking for a film for the road trip category, a very sweet little comedy/romance called Take Me Home is on Amazon Prime and I'd highly recommend it.

A film starring an SNL regular (past or present): Welcome to Me

I had incredibly mixed feelings about this film.

A woman named Alice (Kristen Wiig) lives a lonely life, largely confined to her room where she watches VHS tapes of old episodes of Oprah and other talk shows. When Alice wins the lottery and $86 million, she hires two desperate brothers to produce her own talk show called Welcome to Me, in which she cooks, talks about her life, cries, and uses actors to reenact key moments from her past.

As Alice realizes just how much power her money gives her, she goes off of her medications and her show goes truly off the rails.

To begin with the positives, this film had some really funny moments. This is largely due to the amazing cast that they assembled: Wes Bently and James Marsden as the producer brothers; Linda Cardellini as Alice's long-suffering best friend; Joan Cusack as the show runner; Tim Robbins as Alice's therapist; Alan Tudyk as Alice's brother; and a number of other famous names in small roles. They all do good work. And for better or for worse, the film emulates Alice's state of manic-depression, swinging from a broadly comic scene to a deeply morose one without warning.

And that brings me to the negative: I sometimes felt like the line between laughing with Alice and laughing at her got blurred. And when it comes down to it, you are laughing at the manic behavior of a woman who is suffering from mental illness and possibly has a history of being physically abused and/or sexually exploited. As we watch Alice throw around her money and throw herself sexually at several men, I just felt uncomfortable feeling like she wasn't in a place to really consent to a lot of what she was doing.

I do think that the film makes a good point about the way that people with money can sometimes get into pretty bad situations (mental illness, drug addition) partly because no one around them wants to say no out of fear of cutting off the money. Because she has money, there are people who are willing to indulge Alice in actions that would see any other person in jail or worse.

I'm glad I watched the movie, but a part of me felt uncomfortable as I watched it because a bit too much of Alice's manic, unhealthy behavior is played for laughs.


Tue Nov 06, 2018 10:50 am
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After a whole month of horror films and an extremely hectic week, I guess I was looking for something light and fun. This one fit the bill...


A British film


On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Quote:
"This never happened to the other fellow."


With this somewhat "in-your-face" line, Australian George Lazenby starts himself off as the suave British spy James Bond. Despite its obvious self-awareness, the line works and serves as a parallel to how Lazenby, and this film overall, sets itself apart from previous Bond installments.

The film follows Bond as he romances Tracy (Diana Rigg), the daughter of a mob boss on an effort to locate his arch-enemy and head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas). This takes him all around Europe as he uncovers Blofeld's plan to hinder the world's food supply via a group of brain-washed women dubbed the "Angels of Death".

From the beginning, this film takes several routes to distance itself from other Bond films at the time. To begin with, there is a lot of friction between Bond and M (Bernard Lee), which I don't remember seeing in the previous five films. Second, although Q (Desmond Llewelyn) is briefly present, there are no gadgets introduced. Instead, the film takes a rather grounded approach, although still with a healthy dose of humor and wit.

Lazenby was a competent replacement for Connery. Even if he didn't have as much charisma, he managed to exude confidence in the role and as an actor. Rigg is a solid partner, and Savalas plays Blofeld in a more subdued and less-cartoonish manner than Pleasance had. The plot is equal parts silly and convoluted, but I don't think it matters too much at the end of the day. The action is solid and director Peter R. Hunt shows skills behind the camera.

Overall, this film is unlike most of the Bond films that preceded it. If anything, it reminded me of From Russia with Love (which is my favorite Bond film) in terms of tone and approach to the story. As it is now, it would probably sneak into my Bond Top 5. At 2 hours, 20 minutes, the film is still a bit overlong, but still manages to be effective. Despite some elaborate setpieces (most notably, one where Bond and Tracy ski away from the bad buys), I appreciated the focus on the characters, which in the end, makes the decision to play with Bond's emotions feel earned and real. That certainly never happened to the other fellow.

Grade: A-

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Fri Nov 09, 2018 10:10 am
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A road trip film: Retake

This film (available on Amazon Prime) follows a man named Jonathan who hires a male prostitute, Adam, to accompany him on a cross-country road trip. As part of the deal, Adam goes by the name Brandon, and it quickly becomes apparent that Jonathan is using Adam to recreate a road trip that he took years earlier with another lover.

I thought that this was a pretty good little low-budget film. The performances are strong, it's well-written, and it has clear and compelling story arcs for both lead characters.

Right from the start, Jonathan is really bossy with "Brandon"--at several points in the film he doesn't hesitate to remind him that he's a prostitute, that Jonathan is "in charge", etc. While there is a sexual element to the road trip, it's pretty clear that Jonathan is after some emotional closure from whatever happened with the previous lover. As the two get closer to their destination (the Grand Canyon), Jonathan grows more anxious and controlling, and Adam begins to push back against Jonathan's insistent recreation of the past.

Also appearing in two scenes is a couple, Iris and James, who provide the two men company and act as a catalyst for some conversations about their "relationship". I have to give huge props to the actors playing these characters, because they are fun but also feel much more like real people than most movie characters.

One of the things that I think serves this film really well is how tightly it keeps its focus on the internal states of the characters. There were several scenes that I thought might segue into the two men being attacked for being gay, but the two most common boogeymen of gay male-focused stories (AIDS and homophobes) are actually entirely absent from this film. Just to be clear, these are both really important issues that deserve to be explored in art/film, but I feel that in many low-budget films focusing on homosexuality, they have become the go-to conflicts far too often. Not having those elements here meant that the plot moved in directions I didn't expect, and it allowed the conflict to remain between the characters as opposed to an outside villain.

The film is a little slow at the start, but I felt like it really picked up steam and stayed compelling until the end.


Sun Nov 11, 2018 5:24 am
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A Spanish language film: La Leyenda de Llorona

This film is clearly part of a series, so it's somewhere between a film and a TV movie.

This was a children's cartoon, following a group of adventurers (Don Quixote, a dragon, a boy, a ghost, two skull-headed dolls) who arrive in a small town to investigate the disappearance of several children. The group digs into the legend of Llorona--a woman whose children have died (in some versions she kills them, but in this film she accidentally loses them in a boating accident) and whose spirit now haunts the village, wailing in grief and stealing other children to replace the ones she lost.

I'd give this one a C. It's very much for kids (pratfalls, squeaky-voiced characters, and goofy sound effects are common).

I thought that it wasn't that bad, but I'm not sure I'd want to watch any more from the series. The only girl in the group, a ghost, tends to say things like "Women like to cry" and frequently go on about her clothes and fusses over losing some perfume. It's like a more slickly-animated version of something I feel like I would have watched in the late 80s. And despite being only 75 minutes long, it definitely pads the running time with a subplot about evil living dolls.

Not one to avoid, but I can't exactly recommend it.


Sun Nov 11, 2018 5:52 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
A Spanish language film: La Leyenda de Llorona

This film is clearly part of a series, so it's somewhere between a film and a TV movie.

This was a children's cartoon, following a group of adventurers (Don Quixote, a dragon, a boy, a ghost, two skull-headed dolls) who arrive in a small town to investigate the disappearance of several children. The group digs into the legend of Llorona--a woman whose children have died (in some versions she kills them, but in this film she accidentally loses them in a boating accident) and whose spirit now haunts the village, wailing in grief and stealing other children to replace the ones she lost.

I'd give this one a C. It's very much for kids (pratfalls, squeaky-voiced characters, and goofy sound effects are common).

I thought that it wasn't that bad, but I'm not sure I'd want to watch any more from the series. The only girl in the group, a ghost, tends to say things like "Women like to cry" and frequently go on about her clothes and fusses over losing some perfume. It's like a more slickly-animated version of something I feel like I would have watched in the late 80s. And despite being only 75 minutes long, it definitely pads the running time with a subplot about evil living dolls.

Not one to avoid, but I can't exactly recommend it.

Ah. This has been on my radar for a while but sounds like it is absolutely NOT my cup of tea. Thanks for the heads-up, I'll give it a pass.


Sun Nov 11, 2018 5:59 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
A Spanish language film: La Leyenda de Llorona

I watched that a long time ago and gave it a glowing 4 stars out of 5 rating, but I don't remember anything about it.
I only give 4 stars when I really like something so I guess I was in a good mood that day. :)

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Sun Nov 11, 2018 6:20 am
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Wooley wrote:
Ah. This has been on my radar for a while but sounds like it is absolutely NOT my cup of tea. Thanks for the heads-up, I'll give it a pass.


It's just kind of goofy.

Captain Terror wrote:
I watched that a long time ago and gave it a glowing 4 stars out of 5 rating, but I don't remember anything about it.
I only give 4 stars when I really like something so I guess I was in a good mood that day. :)


I mean, I'd give it a 3/5. It's not bad. If I was in the mood for something on the light goofy side I might have enjoyed it more. But the frequent casual sexism, the squeaky voices, and the meandering narrative kept me from really liking it.


Sun Nov 11, 2018 8:13 am
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A film that was a box-office bomb: Man Down

I first heard about this film because of a news story about how it only sold one ticket in its opening weekend in the UK. Since then I'd seen some mentions here and there deriding the film.

Okay: is this film good? No. Is it awful? No. But there's something about big name actors (Kate Mara, Gary Oldman, Shia LeBeouf, etc) being filmed in a way that looks super low-budget that just gives the film an air of amateurism that the cast just can't elevate. At one point in a scene it looks like there was one light on set and they just pointed it at the side of Oldman's face. Other touches (like a clunky close-up of someone writing a word on a notepad) only add to the amateur vibe.

The main problem with this movie (and something that makes it exasperating and borderline unpleasant at times) is that it cuts between FIVE DIFFERENT TIMELINES. There's the past-past-past when the main character gets into the Marines. There's the past-past where the main character is deployed. There's the past where he is being interviewed by a therapist. There's the future where the country has descended into a dystopia in a matter of months, apparently. And then there are other scenes. It is dizzying and confusing, and the film tries to clarify through things like costuming and facial hair, but . . . no. The disjoint nature of the film mirrors the cluttered mental state of the protagonist, but not in a way that feels meaningful.

These days it's kind of hard for me to watch Shia LeBeouf. Based on the things that have happened with him, it seems to me that he's a person struggling with some combination of mental illness and substance abuse. And it's really sad because he seems like a really talented performer. His dancing and acting in the [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWZGAExj-es]Elastic Heart music video[/youtube] is maybe one of my all-time favorite music video performances. I think he's fine in this film, but the writing is a bit clunky and the way that the character is written makes it difficult to connect to him.

This felt to me like the kind of film where someone imagined the final sequence and then wrote the movie backwards from there. It's not without its merits, but certainly not something to seek out.


Sun Nov 11, 2018 8:48 am
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A film based on a play: His Girl Friday

This is a classic, and I thought I'd seen it, but since I couldn't remember it I decided to revisit it. Based on what I saw, I'm pretty sure that I must have started it and then somehow never finished it.

The story follows Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell), a reporter who has decided to marry a man named Bruce, an insurance broker. Hildy returns to her old newspaper to say a farewell to her ex-husband, Walter Burns (Cary Grant). Unwilling to lose his ex-wife to the bland Bruce, Walter lures Hildy back to cover one last sensational story--a man who is about to be executed for killing a police officer, but who may be legally insane.

This film is a classic screwball comedy, with one-liners zinging past one another. Russell and Grant are sharp as the two leads, Ralph Bellamy is enjoyable baffled as the milquetoast fiance, and the entire supporting cast delivers their lines with great aplomb.

I'll start with the only two negatives that I felt while watching. The first is the side plot itself. In the film, a white man has killed a "colored" police officer. The entire conspiracy to execute him comes from the idea that the mayor wants to appease the "colored vote". I mean . . . whaaaaat? The detail of the officer being black seems like a weird way to attempt to make the murder less important. Are we to believe that if a white police officer had been murdered that it wouldn't be problematic to give the killer a reprieve? And what compounds this element is the fact that there are no actors of color in the film. Black people in the city (who are apparently plentiful enough to sway an election) are treated as a monolithic group that needs to be appeased for political reasons. The whole thing feels like it dehumanizes the black officer who was killed and the black citizens who are apparently angry about his mother.

The other thing that bugged me was how frequently the female characters were manhandled. It's not entirely one-way, because Hildy kicks Walter in the ankle and takes a swing at him with her purse in another scene. But the female characters are constantly being grabbed, picked up, physically restrained (seeing Walter grab Hildy by her wrists to stop her from leaving a room and holding her there made me uncomfortable). I get that it's a "that was then" thing, but it still bothered me.

On the positive side, though, this is a really funny film. There are several fun running jokes (such as Bruce frequently being arrested after being set up by Walter for various crimes), and the plot moves at a break-neck pace. Maybe one of the best things about it is simply the recognition that Hildy is really good at her job, and that not seeing her waste her potential is part of what bothers Walter about her marriage plans. Hildy is torn between her work (and she refers to herself as a "newspaperman") or being a "woman". Now, yes, it is annoying that the film sets up a choice between being a woman (stuck in a house churning out kids) or being a "man" (having an interesting job). But I appreciate that Hildy is able to make a choice on her own. You can see that she loves her job, and whether or not her relationship with Walter works out, I liked that she feels more empowered to make that choice.

This one is on Amazon Prime (thought the print isn't great), and I'd recommend it if you haven't seen it yet.


Mon Nov 12, 2018 1:27 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
This one is on Amazon Prime (thought the print isn't great), and I'd recommend it if you haven't seen it yet.

I saw where Prime also has The Awful Truth which is also worth seeing. No word on the video quality.


Mon Nov 12, 2018 3:24 am
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A film about food: Forks Over Knives

This is a documentary about diets (a favorite pet topic of mine).

Essentially, this film is extolling the virtues of eating a plant-based diet and exploring the dangers of eating meat. Most of the information it contains is stuff I've seen or read before, but it is presented in a very clear and compelling manner. The film does include anecdotal stories, but it also presents data from huge, sometimes decades-long studies on the impact of eliminating meat from a diet. Perhaps the most powerful information, for me, was the study about the relationship between animal proteins and the growth of tumor cells.

I do wish that the film was a little clearer in the way that it presents its studies regarding the impact of plant-based diets on people who already have cancer. The film is a bit sloppy in this regard, and I think that it's a little reckless to suggest that simply switching to a plant diet can reverse or even cure cancer. I wish that the film had distinguished better between preventative and curative effects of diet changes, and made it clear that these diet changes should exist side-by-side with other treatments like chemotherapy or radiation. A woman was recently exposed as having scammed a huge number of people in claiming that her vegetarian diet had cured her brain cancer (she never had cancer to begin with). I don't think that the film is being intentionally misleading on this front, but I do think they aren't clear enough about that distinction.

If you've been thinking of cutting down on the meat or other animal products that you consume, this film has some pretty compelling arguments that might tip you over to the side of the vegans.


Mon Nov 12, 2018 6:33 am
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A Spanish language film (Some slight SPOILERS)


Abre los Ojos (1997, rewatch)

Quote:
"There are no simple dreams"


Dreams are a mystery. Philosophers, scientists, and religious figures have tried to find meaning behind them with little to no success. They can be pleasant or terrifying, simple or complex, vague or very real, and almost always quickly forgotten. Dreams can easily turn into nightmares, which is what life feels like to César (Eduardo Noriega), our main character in this thrilling Spanish film from Alejandro Amenábar.

Abre los Ojos follows César, a wealthy, handsome womanizer that relies on his looks to carry him through life. But everything falls apart for him when he falls in love with Sofia (Penélope Cruz), which threatens his friendship with Pelayo (Fele Martínez). Meanwhile, Nuria (Najwa Nimri), an obsessive ex-lover starts stalking him. This is all intersected with future scenes where César is in prison, for reasons we don't know yet, and interviewed by Antonio (Chete Lara), a psychologist that's trying to help him through this nightmare.

Crossing boundaries between romantic drama, erotic thriller, and science-fiction, one of the best aspects of Abre los Ojos is that the plot twists and turns are not that evident. Sure, on a rewatch, it is more obvious to catch the hints that Amenábar sprinkles around, but on its own, the film manages to be a perfectly woven thriller; and how good it is to unwind it. It is perfect to see how we get a chance to experience this "nightmare" through the eyes of César, and discover things as he discovers them. Because of this, most of the dramatic weight falls on Noriega who delivers a solid performance. Cruz is better here than I've ever seen her in any American film. The rest of the performances all range from competent to pretty good, although I would've liked it if they fleshed out the character of Nuria a bit more.

But the real stars of the film are Amenábar's direction, his script (co-written by Mateo Gil) with its broken narrative, and the editing of María Elena Sáinz; all of which are excellently put together, like a dream. This is probably the fourth or fifth time I see it, but after probably 10 years without seeing it, it's good to see that I still love it as much as I loved it back then. This is not a simple film, but unlike dreams, it is one that's not quickly forgotten.

Grade: A

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Mon Nov 12, 2018 9:40 am
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A British film: Crooked House

A police investigator named Charles Hayward is asked by an old lover, Sophia, to come to her family home to investigate the death of her grandfather. She suspects that he was murdered and she wants him to look into things before the autopsy is finished and the police become officially involved. The house is full of rich, self-obsessed family members, and Charles has to sort through their various motives to get to the bottom of the grandfather's death.

I felt like this was an okay adaptation. I have not read the book, but it feels very much like a murder mystery taken from page to screen.

On the positive side, the performances are pretty good. Glenn Close, as the dead man's sister in law, is pretty excellent. Max Irons as Charles does a fine job. Gillian Anderson is on hand as one of the ungrateful children who still thinks of herself as a stage icon. Christina Hendricks (who, I'm not even kidding, I did not recognize, but thought "Wow, her boobs look so much like Christina Hendricks'!" . . . and yes they did) plays Brenda, the young American showgirl who was married to the old man. Also of note is the actress who plays Josephine, a precocious young girl who has seen and heard more than she is telling.

Also, I watch and read a ton of mysteries, so it is hard to surprise me, but the final act of this one really took me by surprise and packed an emotional punch. That's not too common for me, so I really appreciated that.

On the down side, there are large swaths of the film that are shot in a bland fashion. An extended scene at a dinner table just feels like the camera is just turning to whoever is speaking. It feels like a pale imitation of Gosford Park. Things definitely pick up in the last act, but there are stretches of time where is feels like a bit of a slog.

Another downside to the film is that there are just too many characters and they are given far too little development. It was hard for me to keep track of the different characters, and several of them had little or no actual impact on the plot. I also wasn't all that interested in the scenes that flashed back to the affair between Charles and Sophia. The actors were good in those scenes, but, again, it wasn't really relevant to the plot and I kept waiting for it to matter. By the same token, neither did it give the emotional depth to the characters that it was meant to give. It doesn't help matters that once the killer(s?) are exposed, the film just ends. No closure, no reflection from the remaining characters. Just a "The End" title-card.

I'd still recommend this one, especially for Close's performance and the surprising final act.


Mon Nov 12, 2018 9:46 am
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Abre Los Ojos is really solid.

For more high-quality Penelope Cruz, check out Volver.

For early and creepy (but still sexy) Eduardo Noriega, check out Tesis.


Mon Nov 12, 2018 9:48 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
Abre Los Ojos is really solid.

For more high-quality Penelope Cruz, check out Volver.

For early and creepy (but still sexy) Eduardo Noriega, check out Tesis.


I don't think I've seen any other Cruz' Spanish film. Almodóvar in particular is a blind spot for me. Thanks for the rec.

I did saw Tésis, also from Amenábar, but it was a long time ago as well. I should probably revisit it, and The Devil's Backbone for that matter.

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Mon Nov 12, 2018 9:53 am
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For those that haven't seen Abre los Ojos, I tried to refrain from spoilers, but still put some things there that might lead you to infer what's going on. My advice is that if you haven't seen it, and don't know what it's about, walk in blind.

And FWIW, on a related note, I don't think Vanilla Sky achieved the same level of success. There are several things I appreciated from Crowe's take, most notably the way he weaved music and pop culture into the story, and also how fleshed out the character of the ex-lover was (played by Cameron Díaz here), but overall, not a huge fan of it. Obviously, I already knew the story, but merely from a remake point of view, I feel he botched some key moments in the climax that really dragged the film down for me.

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Mon Nov 12, 2018 9:58 am
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Thief wrote:
I don't think I've seen any other Cruz' Spanish film. Almodóvar in particular is a blind spot for me. Thanks for the rec.

I did saw Tésis, also from Amenábar, but it was a long time ago as well. I should probably revisit it, and The Devil's Backbone for that matter.


Cruz is also pretty good in Carne Tremula (Live Flesh).

I really like Eduardo Noriega, and I think it's kind of neat that you can really see him becoming a better actor over the years. I think he's pretty good in Plata Quemada (he co-stars with Leonardo Sbaraglia, who is the guy who stars in Intacto) and Transsiberian. I liked seeing him pop up in The Last Stand, even though I felt like his character was written to be pretty one-dimensional.

Almodovar makes beautiful films. I have mixed feelings about him at times, though, because while he writes really interesting, complex female characters, there's a repeated use of sexual violence as a good or even desirable thing in his films (sometimes even played as a joke).

I think that Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Volver, and The Skin I Live In are my favorites of his.


Mon Nov 12, 2018 10:11 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

For more high-quality Penelope Cruz, check out Volver.


I love Volver.


Mon Nov 12, 2018 10:29 am
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Jinnistan wrote:
I saw where Prime also has The Awful Truth which is also worth seeing. No word on the video quality.

Probably my favorite Cary Grant film and one of my favorite comedies.


Mon Nov 12, 2018 10:30 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
Cruz is also pretty good in Carne Tremula (Live Flesh).

I really like Eduardo Noriega, and I think it's kind of neat that you can really see him becoming a better actor over the years. I think he's pretty good in Plata Quemada (he co-stars with Leonardo Sbaraglia, who is the guy who stars in Intacto) and Transsiberian. I liked seeing him pop up in The Last Stand, even though I felt like his character was written to be pretty one-dimensional.


Even though I haven't seen him in many films, he's always a welcome presence. I did see Transsiberian, which was rather bland, but otherwise ok. But he was good in it. I also agree about his part in The Last Stand.

Takoma1 wrote:
Almodovar makes beautiful films. I have mixed feelings about him at times, though, because while he writes really interesting, complex female characters, there's a repeated use of sexual violence as a good or even desirable thing in his films (sometimes even played as a joke).

I think that Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Volver, and The Skin I Live In are my favorites of his.


I think the only one of his I've seen is Bad Education. Not sure why but his films don't seem like my cup of tea. I'll see when can I check one of those.

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Mon Nov 12, 2018 12:47 pm
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Thief wrote:

Even though I haven't seen him in many films, he's always a welcome presence. I did see Transsiberian, which was rather bland, but otherwise ok. But he was good in it. I also agree about his part in The Last Stand.



I think the only one of his I've seen is Bad Education. Not sure why but his films don't seem like my cup of tea. I'll see when can I check one of those.


The Skin I Live In is a thriller, and so might feel a little more accessible.


Mon Nov 12, 2018 9:52 pm
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Takoma1 wrote:

The Skin I Live In is a thriller, and so might feel a little more accessible.


Also featuring a good turn from Antonio Banderas.

Even though I'd vouch for Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, it's been years and a re-watch might expose it.

I'm So Excited might work if you're wading into his films. It's actually a comedy.


Tue Nov 13, 2018 5:30 am
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Apex Predator wrote:
Even though I'd vouch for Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, it's been years and a re-watch might expose it.


While the film sort of acknowledges at the end that
them being together romantically might be a problem, I feel like it isn't strong enough in that regard. And a man having sex with a woman he has kidnapped (and physically assaulted) is just a hard no from me. I also felt like his character was portrayed as far too innocent and likable considering he is a kidnapper, physically abusive, and, in my opinion, a rapist.


Tue Nov 13, 2018 6:07 am
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Catching up with old reviews...


A horror film under 90 minutes long
A horror film with less than five major characters
A horror film from the 1900s


Quote:
"If anyone was able to put Georges Méliès in the shade, it would be Segundo de Chomón."


That's how a website dedicated to Spain's cultural heritage refers to the filmmaker from Teruel. A pioneer, innovator, creator, and a fundamental figure are some of the terms used to describe him on the Internet. A musical homage refers to him as the "impasible alchemist", a testimony to how he managed to concoct some of the most striking visuals in early cinema out of "nothing".

I discovered De Chomón in October, in my quest to watch a horror/mystery film from every decade of the century. This led me to this mesmerizing, visual gem of his, which puts into evidence his undeniable craft. The House of Ghosts follows a trio of travelers that stop and stay at a small house in the woods, where they have to deal with ghosts and other spooky manifestations. This gives the filmmaker the opportunity to play with animation, special effects, and other visual tricks.

As is usual with these early shorts, there is not much of a plot per se, but De Chomon's visual tricks are the real treat; a mixture of elements to create the perfect formula. The house tilts, the cutlery moves on its own, mysterious figures appear and disappear, all peaking with a ghastly image on the wall that haunts our travelers. All of the visual tricks worked perfectly, and considering the time, were really impressive.

With a runtime of just 6 minutes, there's no excuse not to give a chance to this short film. Enjoyable, interesting, and breezy. I'll surely be looking for more of his alchemy.

Grade: B

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Tue Nov 13, 2018 6:32 am
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Takoma1 wrote:

While the film sort of acknowledges at the end that
them being together romantically might be a problem, I feel like it isn't strong enough in that regard. And a man having sex with a woman he has kidnapped (and physically assaulted) is just a hard no from me. I also felt like his character was portrayed as far too innocent and likable considering he is a kidnapper, physically abusive, and, in my opinion, a rapist.


Younger me dug the visuals and the mature story. I think older me may not care so much for it.

It appears this spring at Cinema International they'll be doing some Spanish language films (like they did this fall with French ones). I have some suspicions as to what might show up, but it'll only be revealed in late December or early January. Perhaps we'll end up with Pan's Labyrinth/The Orphanage or All About My Mother/Volver (only seen one of those four)?


Tue Nov 13, 2018 9:00 am
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Takoma1 wrote:
Almodovar makes beautiful films. I have mixed feelings about him at times, though, because while he writes really interesting, complex female characters, there's a repeated use of sexual violence as a good or even desirable thing in his films (sometimes even played as a joke).

It isn't hard to see that you're referring to Tie Me Up here, and perhaps High Heels and Kika as well. Almodovar, especially early on, was fascinated with making sexual transgressions into absurdist tropes. It's debatable the degree that it's aged, but it's worth noting, however abstractly, how radical his approach to sexuality was at the time, and how it was intended to provoke as much as amuse. I like how flip they are. Matador is not a comedy, so maybe its approach would be more amenable. I think it's interesting that the primary difference between Tie Me Up and Skin I'm In is the genre.
Both characters qualify as "a man having sex with a woman he has kidnapped (and physically assaulted)".


I prefer wild Almodovar, and have found his films this century to be more hit and miss. I totally agree that Volver is great, but among his three most popular films, I find All About My Mother to be his weakest, despite being one of his most celebrated, because it takes few chances, seems ready-made and obvious. Live Flesh and Talk To Her are much better, imo.


Tue Nov 13, 2018 12:16 pm
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