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Monday Movie: The Little Shop of Horrors, by David Bax

27 Jun

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Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors is, in retrospect, kind of an important film in my personal development as a cinephile. As a young boy, I was more than a little taken with Frank Oz’s uneven but definitely watchable film adaptation of the musical version. This is why one day, my father brought home for me a bargain bin VHS copy of the 1960 original, which I had no idea even existed. The box exuberantly touted the appearance of a young Jack Nicholson. It was to be the first Roger Corman film that I would ever see, an important enough milestone on its own. Yet it was also a first in other, more abstract ways. It was in black and white but it wasn’t like the stately, old-seeming black and white movies I would have seen up to that point. It was loose, irreverent and fun, assembled in a charmingly slapdash but nonetheless competent manner. I realize now that it was my first exposure to the independent spirit and it has remained with me, in ways both conscious and subconscious, ever since.

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Monday Movie: ¡Three Amigos!, by Sarah Brinks

20 Jun

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¡¡Three Amigos! is a classic 1980’s comedy starring some of the best comedians of our time: Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short. This is one of those films that defined my childhood and my sense of humor. The premise of the film is that three silent film stars of a series of films about three wealthy Spanish land owners called the “Three Amigos” are mistaken for real heroes and hired by a small Mexican village to stop an evil crime lord from terrorizing them. The Amigos think it is a real acting gig, when in fact it is a real cry for help. Hilarity, of course, ensues.

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Monday Movie: Viy, by Scott Nye

6 Jun

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Viy is officially noted as the first horror film released in the USSR, and it is the debut film from two filmmakers who would never direct together again. But where these two factors could easily lead to something derivative, stealing from decades of genre work done in the U.S., Italy, and Germany, Viy (pronounced simply “vee”) is entirely its own beast. Adapted from an 1835 story by Nikolai Gogol, it deals with a priest who, after accidentally killing a witch, is forced to say prayers over her for three nights before she is buried. There are a lot of mechanics to get there, but that’s the gist. Naturally, the witch is not about to let him get away unscathed, and those three nights are anything but pleasant. Directors Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov realize this story with astounding special effects – utilizing rear projections, rotating sets, and false surfaces at all sides of the room, ensuring no piece of the small environment in which the priest is shut away can keep him safe. The priest himself is something of a fool, easily taken advantage of and boundlessly prideful as he tries to wriggle out. This lends an element of comedy to the film, as though the priest is using every distancing technique the audience might try themselves in the face of the clearly-artificial effects work and sometimes-silly character designs – make all the jokes you want, they’re still going to steal your soul.

Monday Movie: Lucky Number Slevin, by Sarah Brinks

30 May

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Lucky Number Slevin is a difficult movie to describe. It is a long-con/con artist film but it is also a comedy, an action film, and a gangster film. It is also one of those films where it better if you go in knowing as little as possible. So let’s see how this goes.

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Monday Movie: The Cheap Detective, by David Bax

23 May

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While it’s not at all unusual for teenage weirdoes to become obsessive fans of things, it probably was a bit odd for a Midwestern teen in the late 90s to be a Neil Simon completist. Yet, by the time I finished high school, I had read every play Simon ever wrote, most of them twice. (Have you read the script for I Oughta Be in Pictures? I have!) Somehow, though, it had never occurred to me that the man ever wrote anything that wasn’t intended for the stage. Of course, I’d seen film adaptations of his plays, like Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple, but it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college, when I shared an apartment with Battleship Pretension cofounder Tyler Smith and his massive, idiosyncratic VHS collection, that I found out about Simon’s career as a screenwriter. I started with 1976’s murder mystery spoof Murder by Death and, like Simon himself, followed it up with the subject of this week’s Monday Movie, 1978’s The Cheap Detective, a parody of gumshoe noir movies.

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Monday Movie: The Slog Movie, by David Bax

16 May

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This week’s Monday Movie comes from a list I did for the Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog, detailing the best older movies I discovered in the year 2015. You can find the rest of the list here.

Director David Markey is probably best known for his Sonic Youth tour documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke. Ten years earlier, though, he was a 19-year-old punk rocker in Los Angeles editing a fanzine, playing drums in a band, and filming things with his Super 8 camera. The latter resulted in The Slog Movie, an hour-long, breakneck account of the early 80s L.A. hardcore scene. It features interviews with and performance footage of legendary bands like Circle Jerks, TSOL, Fear and Black Flag as well as lesser known groups like Circle One and Red Cross. It also features some shots of a swarm of young punks hanging out at the original Oki-Dog, a treat for fans of the scene and its lore like myself.

Monday Movie: All Quiet on the Western Front, by David Bax

9 May

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I came to Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front backwards. I saw the silent version (shot alongside the primary, sound version) first, attending a screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago in 2004. Gobsmacked by its power, I immediately went out and rented the DVD of the standard classic (RIP Specialty Video on Broadway). World War I was described as “the war to end all wars.” In a perfect world, that would be true. In that same world, this would be the war movie to end all war movies, so definite and forceful is it in its anti-war stance, while also exhibiting such grace as to place it among the best cinema has to offer in any genre.

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Monday Movie: Appaloosa, by David Bax

2 May

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Ed Harris has only chosen to direct two movies in his career so it stands to reason that he must feel pretty passionately about a project before stepping behind the camera. With 2008’s Appaloosa, he sought to pay homage to old-fashioned, non-revisionist Westerns. And so he did, but with an emotional sensitivity at its core that lends itself to a 21st century look at the heart and mind of the classic, “strong, silent type.”

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Monday Movie: Picnic, by Scott Nye

25 Apr

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Released in cinema’s greatest year with a gloriously pulpy poster, Joshua Logan’s Picnic is a postwar masterpiece. William Holden stars as a former football star / army vet / failed actor who drifts back to Kansas in the hopes his old college chum (Cliff Robertson) can land him a cushy job at his father’s grain business. Unfortunately for both of them, he meets his chum’s sweetheart before getting there. She isn’t too keen on the life of trophy-wifing her beau’s proposal promises, but is rather taken with well-built men who do yard work with their shirts off in exchange for pie. If this all sounds a little trashy, it is (a little bit), but it’s also beautiful, brutally honest, and captivatingly performed.

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Monday Movie: Phantom, by David Bax

18 Apr

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F.W. Murnau’s Phantom was a follow-up to his landmark Nosferatu and it represents a different kind of horror film altogether. Lorenz (Alfred Abel) is a directionless young man, a wannabe poet who lives with his worry-stricken mother. Then, one day, he is hit by a carriage while crossing the street.

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