Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Babadook

The Babadook (2014)

98% on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 126 reviews)

Runtime: 93 minutes

Directed by: Jennifer Kent

Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West

From: Causeway Films/Smoking Gun Productions

Yes, this is the last review I'll be doing until Monday the 29th. I will be leaving on vacation on the 22nd and I won't have time to watch anything between now and then; I will be back next weekend. Now, onto the Letterboxd review of a movie most love... but I don't.

Note 1: This will be my last review for about a week and a half. As most well do, I'll be out of town for the holiday season and I won't have a lot of time to spend on the site.

Note 2: Before I get to talking about this little Australian horror film that has gotten near universal acclaim, let me tell some backstory about my history with it. This past spring it actually played at the local film festival in Orlando. Sad to say due to circumstances beyond my control I wasn't able to attend what was then a little-known movie that sounded interesting. I could have seen it on the big screen last night at the local arthouse joint. But, to save time and money I instead saw this from the comforts of home via Xbox Video; I am pretty sure that I'd still feel the same about this movie if I saw it in a theatre last night... or even in the spring before all the hype and praise appeared.

I presume most know the plot by now of how the film follows single mom Amelia as she raises a 7 year old boy named Samuel. The father died on the day she gave birth via a car accident, and maybe that's why Samuel is a hellacious brat but that kid has massive behavioral problems; I wonder why she doesn't try other methods besides yelling at the kid. I mean, how about spanking or literally whipping his ass with a belt? But I digress. One night a book seems to be placed on the shelf via magic and she starts reading it to the kid. It's actually a terrifying tale about a spooky creature known as The Babadook and from there on the kid believes it's real, which greatly annoys the mom, but, things start happening...

To make it clear right away, I have no problem with the general idea of the story, it being a psychological horror tale and a look at how grief still haunts someone and the horrifying realization that you may not actually like your own child. That sounds like something I'd enjoy The performance from the kid is pretty good but it is the mom who does a fantastic job. There are creepy moments, for sure. Scary ones? Well...

To me, the scariest aspects were how terrible that little brat acted and the poor parenting job the mom did. I know I shouldn't focus on that but I bring it up as this resulted in me hating both lead characters, which is an issue as the main plot point is Amelia changing as she deals with the pressures of her brat kid and now that mysterious entity. The film just never grabbed me even with some effective scenes. I am being vague to avoid spoilers but I had more than a few issues with this. Also, most of the characters you see are pretty terrible, which makes it even worse; the actual nice people are only seen on rare occasions.

Then, the final act happens and to me it flies off the rails by being totally ridiculous and I don't even want to get started on the final 5 or so minutes before the end credits begin, except that I think it's flat-out bad and at best, dopey. That did not help my opinion of the film, which I wish would have remained more psychological and not brought in such goofy elements.

I really do wish I could love this like most do. I imagine that in the future newbie director/writer Jennifer Kent will deliver an effective scary film I will enjoy. If it has the same issues as this does, though... while I have seen some quality films this year, I will forever think of this as a disappointing 2014 for motion pictures as too many just let me down, including this one.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Housemaid

The Housemaid (Hanyo) (1960)

Runtime: 111 minutes

Directed by: Kim Ki-Young

Starring: Jin Kyu Kim, Jeung-nyeo Ju, Eun-shim Lee, Aeng-ran Eom

From: Hanguk Munye Yeonghwa

This is a random film likely unknown to most, yet it's worth seeing and it's proof South Korea has had not just a brief history of making challenging intense films. The Letterboxd review is below and I'll return Saturday night.

I picked out this-what is likely an obscure film to most-for a few reasons. In general it's an Asian movie and I haven't watched one of those in a few months. To be specific it is a Korean movie and I haven't seen one of those in many months. It is part of Criterion Collection's Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project boxset and I have only watched one of six movies from it since I got the set this past summer (Turkey's Dry Summer). I pretty much kill several birds with a shotgun blast by choosing this particular motion picture, one that I understand is regarded by quite a few as one of the best ever to come out of the country.

The plot: an upper middle class family is now in a new house but the wife needs rest due to overwork; thus, the music teacher father asks one of his pupils for help in finding a maid. This was a BIG mistake as that maid turns out to be a very crazy young woman and she doesn't kick over the apple cart that's the happy family of the husband, wife and two young kids (one of whom presumably has polio)... she eats all the apples then lights the car on fire. The family just gets destroyed by that monster of a woman.

I imagine people generally assume it was just in recent times that Korean films were well-made but bold and with some shocking scenes; well, this movie does all that and from 54 years ago when South Korea was a lot different than it is now. There are some jaw-dropping moments, especially considering I wasn't expecting it from a 1960 motion picture. Of course I won't spoil any of it; just note that some mentally cruel and harsh things happen to these characters. It's a melodrama for sure, and it is a proper grandfather to the acclaimed movies from the country that have gotten worldwide attention in the past 15 or so years, what's been called the Korean New Wave.

Most of the film takes place in the two story house the family lives in. You get to see the stars often as they actually factor into the plot. It's quite claustrophobic and unnerving, Grand Guignol entertainment as I saw someone here state. What happens can be rather ludicrous at times and yet because in part the movie's filmed so well in his own style confidently by Kim Ki-Young and the story being strong, it does not veer into being overwrought or comically ridiculous. Instead it's a strong intense film that I was engrossed with, to see what would happen next. The maid (Eun-shim Lee, in her only known credit) is an incredible character and the performance from the actress is astounding.

Additional commendations go to the score, which fits what you see on screen, and the social commentary present where it states how you may not way to aspire to live above your means; the wife stays at home and has to work at a sewing machine to help pay for the house, which leads to the maid's arrival. The ending... I am not sure what to make of it. It's unexpected, and personally I can say you can either ignore it, laugh at how it ends or do both.

I recommend this to everyone, but especially those that enjoy the cinema of the Korean New Wave.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Talk About The Interview

I didn't see anything last night or today but I at least have this whole crappy situation to talk about.

No matter the reason for Sony getting hacked, their entertainment division looks rather terrible with all the bad info that's come out about them, with executives arguing with each other and such idiocy; although, I do realize that all big corporations have similar stupid things happen. I bet that Sony wishes their Internet security was better... not to mention not move the movie from October to December for no reason at all. Maybe this wouldn't have happened.

As for the movie, I never thought it looked really all that funny and even then, I think it's crappy what happened with the movie, misguided as it may be from the very beginning and no matter who it was that hacked them then made those disgusting threats. As others have said, Sony bowing to pressure due to the theatres being afraid to show it... it has set a dangerous precedent for what could happen in the future for theatrical films that are “controversial”. This situation just sucks all around.

I will return tomorrow night and it will be a review.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gunga Din

Gunga Din (1939)

Runtime: 117 minutes

Directed by: George Stevens

Starring: Cary Grant, Victor McLagen, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Sam Jaffe, Joan Fontaine

From: RKO

This was a random watch on TCM and I am glad I finally sat down and checked this out after having the desire to see this for a long while. I'll be back tomorrow night but I don't know what I'll be reviewing or even if I'll be reviewing anything; plans for tonight changed due to exhaustion from me but I still have a few things in mind to watch the next few days. Now, onto the Letterboxd review: 

This film was on last night on TCM and as I've been interested in the film for years I figured it was about damn time I checked it out. It was a good move on my part.

I haven't read the poem from Rudyard Kipling but I understand that isn't so important for watching this movie as it's rather loosely based at best. What you get here is an adventure tale where three young soldiers in the British Army in Colonial India during the 19th century (Cary Grant, Victor McLagen and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) enjoy having a good time but are good soldiers also. They have to do with the Thugee cult, a real-life group of assassins who terrorized India for a few hundred years but were eradicated by the late 1800's but here they have returned so the troops have to deal with that. Also, one of the three men is going to get married soon and settle down and as they're stereotypical men, the other two think that is awful. Along for the ride is the titular Gunga Din, who is a water-bearer for their regiment.

The movie is just an entertaining old romp. You have entertaining action scenes but the focus is on the three leads and Din and how they interact with each other. What really gets things set in motion is the search for a temple made of gold. It's a rousing adventure and I had heard it was an obvious influence on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; this belief is not in error.

All across the Internet (including this site) I've seen arguments and conflicting claims about how the movie supports imperialism and colonialism. I won't step on that hornet's nest and get into that whole debate. All I'll say is that while it's true “the white men” were trumpeted as the heroes at the end and you have several egregious examples of “brownface” (Din and the main villain of the film), I wasn't too offended by such elements and at least Din (who wishes to be a soldier) is portrayed in a positive light and he does get his moment to shine.

In short, I ignored the stuff that doesn't look so good today and I was able to enjoy the movie and what it presents, which includes a good amount of comedy, a cute elephant and getting to see Grant play not a suave romantic ladies man but rather a boisterous and sometimes silly character.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Thin Man Goes Home

The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)

Runtime: 101 minutes

Directed by: Richard Thorpe

Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Lucile Watson, Harry Davenport, Gloria DeHaven

From: MGM

Yes, I changed my mind and I actually only watched this last night; why did I do this? I explained it all in the Letterboxd review I have below but basically it's “audience fatigue” with me. I will eventually watch that last movie in the series but it will be sometime next year. I'll be back tomorrow night but for now, the Letterboxd review:

It looks like I will have to be different from the norm in that I am not as big a fan of this as many seem to be. I will explain.

In this entry things are noticeably different. The director was not the same from the first four (W.S. Van Dyke, who unfortunately had passed away) and I don't know if that was the main reason or not but it isn't the same old same old. Trying to freshen the formula is one thing; when Nick and Nora seem like entirely different characters more often than not... Nick spanking his wife in front of his parents and then dad making a joke about domestic violence? What is this?

The plot is that Nick & Nora (the kid is written out with the excuse that he's “at school”, which is fine by me) go to Nick's old bucolic hometown to visit his parents; father-a doctor-and son don't always see eye to eye for various reasons. As joked about in the movie, murder seems to follow the couple and indeed that's what happens. This case involves such things as paintings, a fancy ball (as in a party at a ballroom), and people snooping around in bushes. It does in fact end the same as the previous four, something that was joked about in a meta way; I don't think the odd editing in the climax was a meta thing too, though.

Like I said the two leads don't seem the same as the characters you've seen in the previous films; they come across as clowns too often and there was definitely plenty of comedy... not all of which works. The story and the mystery also comes across as slight compared to the previous four, even if the family stuff was a nice idea and did provide some decent moments. Personally I don't rate it as high as many others, although I still say that it's average overall and your mileage may vary. At least there is some amusing physical humor and Loy does get more to do than the past few movies. The charm of those two is a big help.

I just wouldn't have minded if-for example-they went more in-depth on the idea of that idyllic little town actually holding many dark secrets and they don't like an outsider snooping about; they only skimmed the surface there and it wasn't a harsh look like you'd expect from, say, Hitchcock.

Anyhow, I was thinking about also watching the last film in the series-Song of the Thin Man-but I'll wait to do that until sometime next year; maybe watching all the sequels in a few days wasn't the best idea, even if overall the series I would still rate pretty highly.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Shadow Of The Thin Man

Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)

Runtime: 97 minutes

Directed by: W.S. Van Dyke II

Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Barry Nelson, Donna Reed, Sam Levene

From: MGM

I'll cut to the chase: last night I watched this film and tomorrow night I'll return with a review of the last two movies in The Thin Man series. After that, it'll be a variety before I leave on vacation Monday the 22nd. Now, the Letterboxd review:

Last night I watched the fourth film in The Thin Man series and it was largely what I expected. It's fine as I enjoy its formula and while it may not be as great as the first three it's still a nice 3 star movie. This time the family's back home in California (which allows for the grumpy police Lieutenant known as Abrams from the second film to appear here) and the case revolves around a murder that happens at the racetrack and from there you get such things as professional wrestling, racketeering/gambling, feuding newspapermen and characters with such names as Rainbow Benny & Whitey Barrow.

The movie is pretty much what you expect from the series, including the trademark ending where all the suspects are gathered together in a room and Nick explains the case and who the culprit or culprits are. The one different thing is that their son Nick Jr. is a toddler now and at first I thought he was going to be an annoying precocious kid (for example, referring to your dad by his first name) but after that first scene he acted more like a normal kid and he only appeared in a few scenes anyhow.

I mentioned that the last film was more on the serious side and maybe because of that this entry leaned more towards the comedy, which was fine; there were such things as dizziness on a merry-go-round and a brawl in a restaurant. Why there were two moments where their dog Asta moved in slow motion... that I cannot explain. I unfortunately can explain why there's a black maid character and she is made to look dumb by not knowing the right words to say, and that's the racism of the time period but at least that was a minor character so you don't have to do too much cringing.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Another Thin Man

Another Thin Man (1939)

Runtime: 103 minutes

Directed by: W.S. Van Dyke II

Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Virginia Grey, Otto Kruger, C. Aubrey Smith

From: MGM

I soldier on going through this franchise by watching the third in the series. The Letterboxd review is below and I will return tomorrow night, with the fourth movie.

I continued my journey in The Thin Man series by watching the third film, one that is most noteworthy as it introduces a kid, Nick Jr. I was hoping that isn't a bad sign as I have heard more than one person note that a kid appearing in a movie can be trouble. I'll have to wait until the later films to find out as here he was just a one year old infant and really, you only saw him a few times throughout.

This movie is set once again in the New York City area (which allowed them to bring back a character from the original, Detective Guild) and this time Nick and Nora are wrapped up in a case involving the estate of Nora's father and the exectuor of the estate is an old man who is threatened by an old partner. Of course he's killed and once again the happy couple are dragged into yet another murder case (something that is brought up at one point, how they seemingly often stumble into such situations) and it's as complex as the first two and has various twists & turns and the big reveal is of a suspect you may not have, well, suspected... but here it's even wackier than the first two.

The movie is more serious than the first two; sure, there are jokes but not as many; the same goes with the drinking that you see. There are wisecracks about such things as infidelity and yet there are some rough moments too, one of which isn't for the dog lovers. Oh don't worry, it isn't the beloved terrier known as Asta. There's such things as a baby party for Nick Jr.-which involves a bunch of shady characters-and a memorable scene at a “Latin” nightclub which includes a nice rumba routine.

While it's not the first two in the series it's still a satisfactory entry; the chemistry between the two stars and how they play off each other is always a treat. Plus, I did not look deep into the cast listing so as a Three Stooges fan I was quite delighted to see Shemp Howard in a small role.