The Cobalt Screening Room Balcony

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Post by ghemrats on 7/21/2019, 2:47 pm

Hello, Friends, and welcome to the Balcony, hovering over the concession stand at the Cobalt Screening Room. Don't let the scent of popcorn and Sno-Caps deter your enjoyment of film posts and observations, as this is the place I'll be sending out some suggestions for your viewing pleasure.

The cushions here are a beautiful blue, as you'd expect, and the gold ornamentation really glistens as the lights dim. Daily I'll be up here offering my insights into films of all genres and ages, with trailers cued up for your entertainment. Please recognize that I'm offering only my observations, not advising you what to see and what not to see. As Seamus and Space Cadet can tell you, I'm not here to push my opinions on anyone--just toss out some ideas in the spirit of fun that is a hallmark of Cobaltia.

Now I should point out another of my self-imposed rules: I will probably stay away from Blockbusters and undeniable Classics like *Casablanca* and Marvel Universe films. I want to share this little block of Cobaltia with misplaced movies, independents, little- or underappreciated gems (in my eyes), and the occasional offbeat film that was so far beneath the radar it might have trawled Mars's underground caverns.

So let's start today with a little morsel of movie madness.

I am not a drinking man, and never have been. But after watching last night's film noir, *Julie* (1956), I am proud to announce a new drinking game: Watch this movie and take a drink of your favorite potent or impotent potable every time someone utters the eponymous heroine's name. Chances are you'll be drunk shortly after the credits roll.

And that condition might help you to enjoy the film, as Doris Day slowly (perhaps dimly) comes to realize her new husband Louis Jourdan is bedbug crazy. That point is hinted at underneath the opening credits, a long shot of a woman in obvious pursuit. Okay, I thought, the ads say they're on their honeymoon--maybe it's a cute game of Slap-And-Tickle. Nope. The husband is so possessive he'll only breathe in when his wife exhales. And if that's not blunt-force trauma directing (screenplay by director Andrew Stone), let's add a fraught-with-terror Doris Day narrative voice-over.  

Now I like Doris Day--she's done this sort of Woman On The Verge Of Panic before in Hitchcock's remake of his own *The Man Who Knew Too Much* (1956, the same year she made this) and *Midnight Lace* (1960). But this goofy picture kept surprising me. Just when I thought it could not possibly get any more goofy, this little movie--no doubt inspiring the Obama campaign promise, "Yes We Can!"--pushed its Nut Factor higher. Literally.  Interestingly this film holds the distinction of being the first movie to introduce a flight attendant (Spoiler Alert) flying a plane, while the pilot and co-pilot either die or wish he had. But step back for a moment (are you drunk yet?), as this film stretches incredulity even further: It was nominated for two Academy Awards including best song (sung by Doris Day) and--wait for it--best original screenplay. (Whoops, almost used an exclamation point there).

So if you want a movie to make fun of, or allow you to bend your elbow until you get bursitis, here you go, . . . Safe landings, folks who like schmaltz (or Schlitz).

Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 7/21/2019, 5:50 pm

Hilarious. Though Dot can do no wrong in my book that movie was a little out there. When asked about it Dot said Que Sera, Sera.... ever the joker we got the point.

Brilliant first entry into what will surely be a well viewed new section of the old CC.
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Post by ghemrats on 7/22/2019, 2:50 pm

Today's offering takes us into the strange landscape of serious human complexity, so I'll apologize immediately for the ponderous tone (since it's starring one of my western heroes Sam Elliott, maybe I should label this review "Ponder-osa". . . no, maybe not).



I don't know, maybe it's my collegiate concentration in medieval morality plays, or my exposure to Antonello's *Ecce Homo* (1475), but my more serious sensibilities (which I try to keep in check most of the time) inform my honest appreciation of last night's movie, *The Hero* (2017) with Sam Elliott.

A quick review of Amazon ratings shows around 20% of the audience hated it while roughly 40% loved it. So let's make this clear: *The Hero* is a meditation on mortality, a "memento mori" (remember you're going to die) with the iconic Sam in the saddle.

In no way is this a comedy, even though there are some touching light moments. And Sam Elliott is not the Lebowski's Stranger. To help him carve out his story, his supporting actors are splendid, top notch talent--Laura Prepon (probably remembered most from *That '70s Show*), Nick Offerman (from everything he's ever done), Sam's real-life wife of 39 years Katherine Ross (*Butch Cassidy. . .* and countless other films of note), and Krystyn Ritter (*Jessica Jones*) all bring dynamic depth.

For me, Sam Elliott does not disappoint, even though many decry his character, as I understand it, because the character doesn't live up to their expectations of what Sam SHOULD do. Some viewers complain the film is slow (sure, it is; it's supposed to be measured), there is drug usage (I don't like it either, but--news flash--people do drugs, sometimes for medicinal reasons [Spoiler Alert: They are not real drugs in the film--they're herbals], there's a May-December relationship (Oh Lord, how blasphemous), and it's depressing (Well, sure, if you're not used to human interactions and think all life is a freaking Hallmark movie).

But to me, co-writer, editor, director Bret Haley wrote this especially for his best friend, Sam Elliott, as a quiet tribute to a man's coming-to-terms with contracting pancreatic cancer. (Such things do happen--my mother died from it in fact. It is not a carnival of fun). It seems the majority of the negative audience does not understand metaphor in film: "The flashbacks made no sense," they scream in unison. Well, that's because they're not flashbacks--they are DREAMS the character has, and one specifically to which he returns often is his confronting HIMSELF as a discarded lynching victim. Those dreams are beautifully shot in high saturation to provoke life and death comparisons. For me, this is a heartfelt, textured, methodical "love letter to Sam Elliott," as Haley calls it, a bitter and sweet "Ecce Homo" (Behold a man) who is, in his own words, a grain of sand.

Sometimes films SHOULD slow down, refrain from exploding cars and heads and interminable chase scenes, and confront those great questions of how we live, especially in those early morning moments when "Have I been a good man/woman?" ticks in our heads alongside the bed table clock. . . .

Wait a minute, I think I just figured out why *The Hero* didn't register with so many: They have digital phones and clocks that emit no ticking, and incredibly short attention spans that cannot appreciate contemplation and awkward pauses that used to be called "pregnant" with meaning. Maybe I'm just upset because a beautiful little film like this evidently cannot stand alongside "the highest grossing movie of all time, surpassing *Avatar*--*Marvel's Endgame*" and be considered a moving experience. Now, I loved *Endgame*, just as I love peanut butter, but every once in a while I'd like a nice, meaty steak too. And *The Hero* satisfied that need; maybe some time you'll be ready to dig deep, savor the slow unfolding of the meal and enjoy the flavor too.

Sorry for the rant, and I promise tomorrow I'll change the pace and tone down the indignation.

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Post by Seamus on 7/22/2019, 3:58 pm

I enjoyed this movie. A big fan of Sam Elliot. This movie unfolds like a slow sunset you sit back relax and enjoy. And I throw my phone in a draw when I watch good movies. Because phones are drugs. Alert response causes endorphin release. Look at me I got a like a email I am so happy.... Please..............
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Post by Space Cadet on 7/22/2019, 5:36 pm

Jeff, the average movie goer can't appreciate a movie like this. And it's not their fault. Very few engrossing, encompassing or subtly mentally provocative movies are released today. And if they are released, it tends to be a limited release. Hitting just enough screens to qualify for awards, which quite often, is the only reason the films are made. And made on a minimal (by today's standards) budget.

I blame the symptom, which seems to be undermining so many corners of society today, simple greed. I also blame the death of reading in our world today. We aren't training our young people to use their imaginations. They can't read a story and have it unfold in and engross their minds. Instead, they absorb everything in video format on a screen. Howard Johnson's has stopped offering 31 flavors of ice cream. They now offer 5 variations of vanilla. There's action vanilla, slasher vanilla, hormonal vanilla, gutter laugh vanilla and violent vanilla. And it costs the average couple $60 to absorb the vanilla, while having a couple of soft drinks and a tub of popcorn...

Apologies for the rant. It's not the movie. I miss compelling movies. I miss being challenged by an engrossing story. I miss being moved by finely crafted performances, delivered by actors who pride themselves on bringing characters to life. I miss movies being entertainment, rather than greed fueled cash grabs.

And I need to stop. Soapbox carefully stowed away.

But please keep bringing the movies. I need to find what else is out there. And your pointers have yet to disappoint.
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Post by ghemrats on 7/22/2019, 8:24 pm

Space, I'm treading a fine line every time I sit down to type out a recommendation. I completely agree with you, and I can tell you from 42-years' experience teaching at the university that reading is quickly becoming a dying art.  And as a result, such quaint notions as metaphor and figurative language are being bulldozed over by literal mindedness. . .

As you've correctly determined, VISUAL metaphors are all but invisible to so many. The special effects machines have driven imagination to cower in dark corners for the most part. Isn't that why we love radio?  (More often than not, I have to bite my fingers so they don't type in frantic frustration at what we now herald as "genius" on the screen. I'm trying to be humbly objective as possible and not torque off anyone . . . I'm not an elitist, nor are you, Space. But we surely do see on the screens a lot of trash in a pretty bucket).

To quote Sean Connery in *The Untouchables*, Here endeth the first lesson.
Thanks so much for your contributions. By the way, which vanilla is your favorite?
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 7/23/2019, 2:54 pm

Today's offering is a little change of pace: an American drama that debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, then never came anywhere near my town. So it's DVD Land to the rescue.


I keep hearing Simple Minds' "Don't You Forget About Me" running in a loop in my head after having watched *The Public* (2018) last night. And it's there for a couple reasons:

Emilio Estevez wrote, directed, co-produced and starred in this socially conscious drama, and he's back in the library serving detention again as he did in *The Breakfast Club*. More importantly, the song takes on razor sharp significance juxtaposed against the intentions of this film. It's a very earnest, relevant and heartfelt film, especially in these times, as it wrestles with human dignity, bureaucratic vs. ethical proceduralism, and political expediency, not to mention the media's quest for fire.

On the *Breakfast Club* soundtrack, you might recall David Bowie's quote from "Changes" being requisitioned: "And these children that you spit on, as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations/They're quite aware of what they're going through." Well, some of those children are now homeless, and not by their own design, and we meet them in *The Public*.

Along with Estevez's silent temper being pushed to a pressure cooker boil, we have Alec Baldwin (as a conflict mediator whose son is facing his own demons), Christian Slater (ever the narcissistic DA on the political move), the terrific Michael K. Williams (as the instigator of the action), Taylor Schilling (Estevez's neighbor and potential love interest), Jena Malone (whose activist leanings take her only so far), Jeffrey Wright (a stand-out in HBO's *Westworld*, whose administrator is hamstrung by regulations) and Gabrielle Union (as a headline grabbing, self-serving newscaster). The remaining supporting staff do their best to carve out their own unique personalities in quick order shorthand.

The film, for me, really picks up after a rather leisurely start, but its movement and rather unexpected yet perfect conclusion make it a thoughtful viewing. For me, it's not bombastic, as it easily could have been, evoking a *Dog Day Afternoon* urgency, but it still throws all its problems squarely in our laps. I'd say Emilio Estevez seems to me the flip side of his father Michael Douglas in *Falling Down*--both men make their stand, but boy, what a difference a generation makes.

As an aside, this one hits pretty close to home. When my son was on a mission trip to Washington DC (home to America's greatest number of homeless), he met a man named Ray with whom my son spent an afternoon and a cup of coffee. Ray lived in alleyways after a lifetime of meaningful work, but circumstances conspired against him. My son told us Ray's heartrending story, culminating in a handshake and a request of my son: "Please," Ray said as they parted, "Remember me."

So this movie is for anyone who is one paycheck away from joining these men in the library. . . .don't you. . . forget about them.

Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 7/24/2019, 2:13 pm

It must be Substitution Wednesday, as the film I watched last night, another Sebastian Gutierrez film, was a little too salty to post here, even though it was a sharp satire and a wonderful sequel to *Women In Trouble*. I really enjoyed it because I secretly drop my jaw over Carla Gugino, who was the focus of this film, *Elektra Luxx.* But I won't review it here. . . it set the already high humidity here in Michigan even higher. . .

I've decided to post another satire instead, *Ingrid Goes West* (2017), which looked to me initially as summer fun. Uh. . . no.


Aubrey Plaza and Elizabeth Olsen are paired as besties for the Instagram Age, and O'Shea Jackson Jr. (Ice Cube's eldest son) is along for a ride over the rocky road of modern relationships [Insert David Bowie's *Modern Love* here].  *Ingrid* may well shake your fillings loose and compel you to draw comparisons among your acquaintances. It is a searing portrait of neediness, obsession and social media madness I'm afraid I've seen (black) mirrored too closely in many people.

Let's be simple: It. Is. Dark. It is also clever and insightful with flashes of comedy.  Aubrey Plaza brings her dead chameleon to life again but with a strange sympathy that simultaneously pulls you in and pushes you away, a human Pushme-Pullyou that would cause Doctor Doolittle, even in his kindest moments, to run screaming in self-preservation. But all of this is what makes the film work:

It's a cautionary tale for a society whose President issues public policy via Twitter and marriages are made in not heaven but on cell phones or television game shows filled with pneumatic hunks and honeys who have the sexual attention span of a gnat.  

*Ingrid* presents a fierce commentary on shallow vapidity masquerading as sincerity--and for that reason, some of the people who watch the film will completely miss the message and squeal in delight as they see their friends on the screen.

Now, look: I am not a cynic; I do not, as Mencken suggested, smell flowers and look for the coffin. Nor am I some curmudgeonly luddite who yells at "those damn kids who won't get off my lawn." But I do like the hard punch of a satirical fist now and then, and this one is cotton candy filled with asbestos. . . . Ohmigawd! That is such a kewl phrase! Maybe it will get me trending!! (Incidentally, that is sarcasm, complete with exclamation points used purposely. . . but then, you knew that, didn't you because none of you kind friends will find yourself in this film, and you can smile and groan from a safe distance.)

Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 7/24/2019, 6:35 pm

I put the Public on my to watch list. Ingrid goes West I liked as I am a fan of the strangeness that is Aubrey Plaza. And yes its dark and off kilter but I enjoy that.

These reviews are boffo box office I stop in everyday to enjoy them so no pressure there my friend just keep them up to this brills standard..... Just saying....
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Post by ghemrats on 7/25/2019, 1:54 pm

You are way too kind, Seamus, but I appreciate your comments and will keep doing this as long as people don't start firebombing my house.  And I think you'll enjoy today's offering, as I found it very satisfying indeed.



My unvarnished disdain for today's marketing of movies is no secret. Too many idiots making trailers telegraph the entire film with spoilers and ruin whatever suspense there may be lurking in the movie. So it's with a heaving grateful sigh that I offer this trailer for today's movie, *A Perfect Getaway* (2009) written and directed by David Twohy (arguably best known for *Pitch Black*).

Here he has assembled a top-notch cast including Timothy Olyphant, Milla Jovovich, Kiele Sanchez, and Steve Zahn, not to mention Chris Helmsworth--each of whom seems to relish his/her role. And the scenery (filmed in Puerto Rico and on location in Hawaii) is simply breathtaking, becoming its own character in the story which twists and turns and ends up being a very satisfying thriller.  

Now, from what I gather, many people were surprised by the ending(s), so that's gratifying, though I held my own suspicions comfortably throughout the proceedings. I watched the Director's Cut, so I can't say what was added to the film, but I suspect the changes were more a succession of grace notes rather than buckets of blood: The Director's Cut--thank the Gods of Arguable Restraint--does not go hyperbolically psychotic but remains relatively restrained in the violence, another plus for me. Oh, you definitely understand the horror of the proceedings, but it's all in service of the story.

Oh, did I mention the tension simmers without being intolerably creepy? Of course, the creep factor is present, especially in the last reel, but all of the actors move seamlessly through their emotional transformations.  (I'd be interested to know, if you watch it, which actor did the best job--it's a tough call). For me, this perfect getaway was a perfect summer suspense-fest in the old "Most Dangerous Game" tradition. Eerie without being grossly mean-spirited, with moments of sweetness without being saccharine.

Just keep shaking that bush, as this is for anyone who's considering a honeymoon (first-, second- or otherwise) in deserted, hard-to-find paradisiacal hideaways where, as Fernando says, you can "looooook mah-velous, my friends."

More tomorrow. Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 7/26/2019, 2:22 pm

In the mornin', in the evenin', ain't we got fun today! Hot diggety dirt, this is not your Saturday morning western or your afternoon noir. It's a little hybrid we call. . . .


An excursion into metaphor to start the weekend: Imagine you're playing Cat's Cradle with its intricacies of bridges and gaps growing more complex as you play. Now imagine you're not using string but gum, and all the connections are adhering themselves to one another.

There.

You now have our offering for today: *Desert Fury* (1947) starring Lizabeth Scott (who gets the full Technicolor close-up treatment befitting Hollywood glamour), John Hodiak (more on him later), Burt Lancaster (in his fourth film), Wendell Corey (stoic and monolithic) and Mary Astor (chain-smoking her affectations through long cigarette holders). You know, technically the reason I was pulled to this film was because it's been described, variously, as a Desert Noir (it is), a modernistic western (yeah, there are horses), a melodrama (oh big time) and a film freighted with controversial undertows (not undertones--undertows, because they really suck you in when you're alert).

Based on a much more graphic, racy novel serialized in *Colliers*, *Desert Fury* is not your average love/sexual triangle--it's a freaking love/sex trapezoid, if not a decahedron, that starts out plainly (or plane-ly since it's in flat lands of Arizona and California, dotted with majestic panoramas, gorgeously filmed in saturated Technicolor--wow).

The great Hal Wallis produced this, casting Lizabeth Scott in the pivotal role of Paula who--okay, let's cut to the chase, which is what this film is all about: chasing--informs the sensibilities and desires of two men directly, one indirectly, and (ahem) her own mother obviously (Mary Astor) who is a pretty butch casino owner with a troubled past. Wallis reportedly was infatuated with Lizabeth Scott, running her films in his old age repeatedly, and she's worth all the bother and lather. But--whoa--the homosexual and lesbian dynamics inch this noir up into near-camp levels. Especially for 1947!

It was not well received at the time of its release, even though the performances are strong, Burt Lancaster and John Hodiak present a strange yin-and-yang definitions of manhood, and Miklos Rosza's score scales the emotional precipices of the characters' interactions. *Desert Fury* has been labeled "subversive," and Wendel Corey's possessive lording over John Hodiak is always high fun, but under less skilled direction and production, this could have been a lurid throw-away. But it's weird fun in which slapping faces becomes a motif--and I mean REAL cuffing here. Woo, I thought several times, that's gonna leave a mark.

And the film does just that, even while an extra tacked-on coda (to ensure audiences would not be bummed out) resolves some of the sticky mess of criss-crossing relational threads. Try it out if you don't mind a handful of gum that never loses its flavor on the bedpost overnight.  This is for anyone who enjoys the gradual unearthing of secrets with sinister undertows.  It's a good one for summer--it's all heat, but it's a dry heat.

Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 7/26/2019, 6:48 pm

I enjoyed A Perfect Getaway. Some of my fave actors in this movie and its spun out well and I did enjoy the ending as we describe stuff without giving out huge spoilers.

Adding Desert Fury to my list to be watched. After dinner I am all dessert fury so I am hoping its as good as when I pounce upon bread pudding and custard.
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Post by ghemrats on 7/26/2019, 7:04 pm

I certainly can't compete with custard and bread pudding, but I can put you onto something good. . . .


Sorry, but it's Double Feature Day for no special reason except this movie will flash past you if it hasn't already. But it shouldn't.

I saw *Inside Moves* (1980) when it first came out, then when the Age of Video splashed down, I searched until I found it. The first five minutes alone are worth the search, but stay to experience growing attachment to characters and story.  I vividly recall tuning in to the opening scene and suddenly finding my jaw on the floor--Who starts movies like this? Well, director Richard Donner right on the heels of his classic *Superman* with Christopher Reeves, that's who.  Perhaps not completely inconceivably (because it was not a blockbuster), this is another film that somehow escaped most folks' attention.

The cast is a marvel of "misfits"--John Savage, David Morse (his film debut, then two years later, most notably known for *St. Elsewhere* if that doesn't date me), Diana Scarwid (who deserved her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination that year), Amy Wright, Tony Burton, Bill Henderson, and Harold Russell (a disabled veteran whose last film won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1946 for *The Best Years Of Our Lives*). Every one of the characters has been broken one way or another by life's vicissitudes, and together in the sanctity of Max's Bar (the type of establishment that seems to exist only in the imagination) they forge bonds of dignity and self-effacing brotherhood.

And for those who worry this film might be too dialogue-heavy, rest assured, it's got BASKETBALL to dunk your attention in.  But at its heart, who'da thunk a movie about depression, suicide, alcoholism, crippling disability (internal and external) and self-absorption leading to betrayal in the face of modest success could be such a life-affirming experience?  And no, it's not morose, failed humanity that pushes the drama--it's the strength and resilience of the heart and spirit.

Hemingway, famously quoted out of context, said, “If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places." In *Inside Moves* the characters have faced their own killing, by their own hands or by circumstance. But contrary to Papa's melancholy end, these folks seem to take a breath of air from Elie Wiesel: "Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing."

I make no bones about it: this is a film of great sorrow and beauty, and since I value your friendship so, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to share it with you and anyone who needs a little poke in the arm or a hug of the soul to augment the exquisite pleasure of custard and bread pudding.

Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 7/27/2019, 2:58 pm

The balcony is full today, as I'm embarking on a real change of pace.


Caveat Time: Today I'm going to attempt something different as last night was Double Feature Night. Strap yourself in, if you're ready for an experiment, for I'm hitting two COMPLETELY different films with COMPLETELY different aims--one promoting empathy and understanding and the other just making money.

Film 1: On the recommendation of my son and daughter-in-law, I watched *The Florida Project* (2017) co-written, produced, edited and directed by Sean Baker, a strong voice in independent film. The film was chosen by both the National Board of Review and American Film Institute as one of the top 10 films of the year. Star Willem Dafoe earned Best Supporting Actor nominations at the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and BAFTA Awards, and the heartbreaking Brooklyn Prince, just seven years old, won the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Young Performer.

Regardless of what you might expect, you will have your expectations upended: Like summer, the plot is aimless, drifting along on waves of heat and happenstance, which will upset many viewers who are used to the classical structure of drama. And as filmmaker Sean Baker has asserted, it leisurely invests its time on the under-represented, in this case children whose biological families are homeless, living in low-cost motels by their fingernails, spit and waning hope.

For me, the pain is real, adults scrapping along in primal anger at a system of living that requires them to live on the kindness of strangers and their children to fend for themselves while being recipients of their parents' dying dreams of dignity. Set in Kissimmee, Florida, a child's awkward pitch of a stone from Disney World, the film sets up two realities--the Disneyfied Small World of eternal harmony and the tangible world struggling in vibrant pastels (like the motel The Magic Castle, a genuine, real world housing of actual homeless people, and the tacky Futureland motel across the way) to simulate a happy place. Reality becomes an alternate reality evincing the notion that a fresh coat of pretty paint can cover decay. Boy, what a metaphor.

But for children who are called upon to endure the constant barrage of crude language and even cruder behavior from their mentors, innocence wrestles to take fun where it can be meted out. One of the more powerful throw-away scenes comes when Moonie (our focal point) and her friend gaze in awe at a double rainbow (which incidentally was not CGI but real, showing that God does allow for beauty even in the most bleak environs). They speak of the pot of gold at its end, guarded by a leprechaun, but Moonee says, "We'll probably have to fight him for it. . . " because that's what underpins her joy--the fight for it.

All right, I've made it all seem so heavy. . . but Sean Baker also has taken inspiration from The Little Rascals, the gleeful flights of imagination and order amidst the chaos. I came to love Moonie and her indefatigable spirit, her unflagging acceptance of her mother (Instagram model and untrained actress Bria Vinaite whose rawness is apparent every moment she's on screen). And our gang, kids who all wear their names--Dicky, Jancey, Scooty--with buoyancy and carefree abandon. support each other as only children can.

And Willem Dafoe presides over it all as manager of The Magic Castle, gruff and no nonsensical but all-knowing and understanding. He is the Walt in this alternative Kingdom, doing his level best to care for these transient families who could never afford to attend the park down the street and who keep having the possibility of happiness denied them.

*The Florida Project* is sometimes painful to watch, sometimes hopeful to inspire, as its title serves a dual purpose--"The Florida Project" was the original name of Disney World in its planning stages, and The Florida Project is an appropriate description of the housing in which our characters' reality sits. There you have it, folks: two alternate realities sharing the same space and title--one promising a land where you never have to face the under-represented, and the other offering the whisper of magic just beyond the arch of a rainbow fading over the orchid-painted motel you call home. . . for now. Embrace it, anyone who will take the chance to be moved in one way or another.

For contrast, Film 2 is a heavily promoted blockbuster. . . and for me, this was no viva la difference. . . Coming up next.

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Post by ghemrats on 7/27/2019, 4:44 pm

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. We're so glad you could attend. Step inside, step inside. . . And so with the plaintive strains of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's *Karn Evil 9* wafting in the breeze, I return with Film 2 in this marathon:



*Shazam!* (2019) with the incomparably nice guy Zachary Levy as Captain Marvel (even though he's not called that in the film and he's far from Brie Larson's character) forms the second half of my Study In Opposites.

Now, I have admired and respected Zach Levy since his days on NBC's spy-comedy *Chuck*, but here he is subjugated to all manner of tropisms.  Interestingly (to me), our family has criteria we use to gauge films, which fall into two categories: Mom will love this, and This isn't Mom's kind of movie at all, so watch it alone in the bedroom when she's getting ready for bed.  

Now it's been firmly established in past posts that I am stupid, and evidence of that rests in this film, which I figured would give my wife an evening of mindless fun. Well, I was half right.  Costing $100 million and entered as the seventh DC Universe summer blockbuster, *Shazam!* (exclamation point mandatory--it should have been my first tip-off) has grossed at the box office alone $364 million, and I hated just about every tedious minute of it.

Within the first twenty-five minutes alone, we have kids being: verbally abused by family members, bullied and physically kicked and beaten because a boy is disabled (which goes beyond unconscionable in my book), abandoned with casual apathy at a carnival, dismissed by bureaucratic indifference, and treated with general disdain by nearly everyone. Having fun yet?  

Hold on, it gets better, if you're a misanthrope: The cardboard-cutout villain, ever the neglected child, has now grown to full megalomanical bald-headed superiority, gaining the caustic support of The Seven Deadly Sins, all hideous, sniveling, drooling CGI monsters. He cockwalks his way into his family's forty-story headquarters (for God's sake, couldn't the screenwriters have procured one of those stories to serve this movie better?) to mete out revenge for his toxic upbringing--first let's throw our big bully brother through the plate glass window to plummet to his death, then unleash a deadly sin saber toothed CGI monstrosity to devour a board member's head while we get to watch his legs dangle, jerk and writhe over the table, allow another deadly sin-sational Alien-cousin to lasciviously run its tongue over one of the female board members, saving dead old Dad to cower in the floor before being savagely ravaged by yet another big baddie while Sonny Boy saunters away.  In case, you didn't get it, this is not a comedy.  . .

. . . By the time Billy Batson (what cynical, sarcastic fifteen year old still goes by Billy today?) claims his powers and lifts this dreary darkness into the light as Zach Levy's CM, we're so beaten down it's hard to sit upright.  But Levy leverages a good fifteen minutes of fun before the Gods Of Redundancy and Cliche and Redundancy return with run of the mill heroics we've seen at least seventy times before on TV and film and in comics.   . . . .

Okay, full disclosure: I am and have always been a comic book geek, Mr. McCarthy. I grew up on DC comics with a smattering of Marvel and Archie along the way. I used to delight in the innocent, joke-worthy scratches and brushes of CC Beck in *Shazam!* comics, and I held my breath that this would pay respectable homage to those memories.  But in true fashion of late, the sole saving grace of the filmatic DC Universe being *Wonder Woman* which to me was spectacular joy, DC's films have come to stand for Disappointing Crap.  

To quote the great twentieth century philosopher, "I pity the poor fool" who grows up today thinking heroes are narcissistic boobs trapped by existential trauma in their tortured souls, that unhappiness is a sign of intelligence.  . . . .

Look, I will admit that I teared up at the tender moments of Marvel's *Endgame*, but I did because I cared about the characters.  Marvel has usurped all other entries into superheroics by presenting the humanity in the empowered. DC, on the other hand, reaches new lows and finds them.  And comedy to the writers of *Shazam!* includes watching two boneheaded bullies laughing uproariously as they spit from the top of a ferris wheel and hit a baby with their expectorate.  Oh, wait, I have to catch my breath before I continue, I'm laughing too hard at their zany antics. . . . . But who am I? DC already has the sequel in the works, buoyed by their 1,200 select screens and 40 exhibition circuits as opposed to *The Florida Project*'s limited release of four screens initially, while earning an unprecedented 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.      

So there's a lesson to be learned here: [Employing that deeply satisfying sotto voce voice-over you so often hear in movie trailers] In a world where fantasy requires the Gross Domestic Product of a small country and reality, however romanticized, drives people away in stampeding masses, one moviegoer stands in the suburbs. [Pausing as music swells to a crescendo before the final tag line is delivered] "I'm sorry, Honey, I thought it would be fun."

Stupid me. This review is for parents who, as I, wanted to believe *Shazam!* would conjure wonderful memories while embracing heartwarming slides of the Depression--it most certainly didn't--and for others who wish for genuine heroes like seven-year-old Moonie.

Anyway, it's just my one-fifth of a dime.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 7/28/2019, 4:41 pm

After a spate of really good but really serious films, I decided last night it was time for a comedy, so here we have *The Oranges* (2011) starring a personal favorite Hugh Laurie (most memorably, for many, for *House* which ran for eight seasons on Fox), the clueless but earnest Oliver Platt, the radiant Leighton Meester, the put-upon Catherine Keener, the uber-helicopter parent Allison Janney, and *Arrested Development*'s Maeby Alia Shawkat.



I have loved Hugh Laurie's comedy (dark or otherwise) since he was teamed with Stephen Fry, through the television series *Fortysomething* and into his jazz albums.  What a talent and a wicked sense of timing. . . which brings us to the tight little utopia of suburbia.

Set in New Jersey at Christmastime (yup, I'm offering Christmas in July just like the Hallmark Channel), this film was met with limited release after its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, receiving mixed reviews--but I was thoroughly entertained by it. Yes, I laughed out loud several times, while many critics considered it a dark comedy that wasn't edgy enough. To that I say Nertz. Not every comedy has to sharpen its edge; sometimes just watching the principals go through their conflicts is enough to entertain me.

At the center of it all is the "scandal" of Hugh Laurie embarking on an affair with his daughter's former best friend (aka the daughter of his best friends' parents who live across the street), and the comic fallout that irradiates everyone's dynamic. These May-December romances have been fodder for overwrought dramas for years, but for the most part here, the laughs come from the adults' reactions, ranging from hilarious outspoken parental vitriol (Allison Janney, who coaxed a couple big laughs from me) to flummoxed confusion mixing indignation with the put-upon need to appear angry (Oliver Platt, who would much rather spend his time on electronic gadgetry than macho posturing) to detached but low-boil betrayal (Catherine Keener, the wife who knows she must be angry but has difficulty indicating a solid reason why beyond her socially-induced platitudes regarding infidelity).

If there's a problem with the age differential in this relationship, the actors present solid rationale for the leap into the affair: Mother Allison Janney is perfect as the quintessential Tiger Mom who's pressuring her only daughter into a significant--if class-appropriate--settling with *a* man (yet to be determined), wife Catherine Keener is a palpable ice queen who wears her respectability like a sandwich board even as she distances herself from her husband, and daughter Alia Shawkat holds stagnation and self-cynicism around her like a nappy sweater.

This leaves the doe-eyed Leighton Meester, fresh from her own case of betrayal, to seek some sip of affection from the empty suburban well that perpetuates the myth that it's better to look good than to feel good (You know what I'm saying, and you know who you are--that's a Billy Crystal Fernando allusion, in case you didn't catch it).

As an aside, it's fun to recall Leighton Meester's two-story arc on *House* when she played a seventeen-year-old tumor victim who stalked the cranky doctor and tried to impose a sexual relationship on him. Well, here she succeeds, but the attraction is mutual. And it's interesting to realize (no big spoiler here) how the characters come to find some semblance of real happiness through the scandal.

Reasons for all the hoopla are pretty clear, hinging on the rules of perception--what people SHOULD do to present the socially "correct" image versus what people ACTUALLY do when they stop caring about social assignments of "propriety" and go with their emotions. And those shifts from OUGHT to do, to WANT to do for personal fulfillment power the film all the way down the line touching every character who feels hamstrung by convention.

Now I'm not advocating social upheaval, nor is the film. But it's a not-too-serious examination of how people can find themselves confined by their stations and choices in life; how do people come to grips with the knowledge that the Promised Land of Happiness has eluded them, even though they've followed all the rules that were supposed to lead them there?

Of course, this serious theme resorts to near-slapstick actions, which peeved some critics, but for this one, I can easily handle the fun. . . after all, life's not called a Human Comedy for nothing.  

So this film is for anyone who wants to see Gregory House in a believable, perhaps even nearly understandable, if not totally justifiable set of suburban actions. PS--Leighton Meester met her future husband Adam Brody (the cheating fiance) on the set of this film, and today they share a daughter. So I guess there is a happy ending in this film.

Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 7/29/2019, 1:11 pm

David Mamet has long been one of my favorite playwrights, so his leap to film has yielded some real winners, including my all-time favorite Mamet *Glengarry Glen Ross*. So *State And Main* (2000) was a welcome comedy last night.


While his bulletproof dialogue is the real star, the people populating his sardonic view of filmmaking in a small town are no slouches either: William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin (who also was the executive producer as a nod to his friendship with Mamet), Sarah Jessica Parker, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Stiles, Broadway's Patti LuPone, David Paymer, Rebecca Pidgeon (who incidentally is married to Mamet), Charles Durning, and predating the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Clark Gregg. Even John Krasinski has an uncredited cameo as the Judge's assistant caddie.

Nominated for twelve awards and winning six of those from various festivals, *State And Main* holds a very favorable rating of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I enjoyed it even before I knew those accolades. In many ways Mamet's direction and screenplay harken back to Howard Hawks' frenetic masterpieces like *His Girl Friday* and *Bringing Up Baby* (one of my Top Ten Comedies of all time). Overlapping dialogue, frayed nerves, multiple plot points spinning like plates on a vaudevillian's poles keep the film clipping along with a great group of screwballs all in it for themselves. William H. Macy is the grace-under-pressure-cooker steam powered director of a film in small town Vermont, careening from meltdown to scandal with schizophrenic devotion to his craft. Among the distractions: a charismatic horn-dog mega star with a penchant for underaged girls ("You gotta have a hobby" says Alex Baldwin); an underaged vixen more than ready to share his hobby (Julia Stiles); a leading lady who refuses to do a topless scene (Sarah Jessica Parker), but is quick to bare her soul (and her dear old et cetera) to the harried first-time screenwriter (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who has lost his typewriter and therefore cannot write revisions demanded of him hourly; the venal shark of a producer (David Paymer) with the morals of half-dollar hooker; and obsequious townfolk who've sniffed the cork of fame and become nasty opportunistic intoxicants (the politico-in-training Clark Gregg and the fluttery social barracuda Patti LuPone who is the Mayor Charles Durning's wife obsessed with redecorating). Only Rebecca Pidgeon's frustrated book store artist seems above the madness, but then she's got her own issues that she takes in stride. . . . .

Amid this whirling galaxy of miscommunication and conflict Mamet's direction holds steady. While individual planets spin out of their own orbits in regulated panic, Macy's adaptive narcissist pilots it all with a fiercely divided mind and an endless supply of homilies to fit any situation. It's controlled fury with all the characters riveted to their own spheres of influence while being totally oblivious to anyone else's supernovas--but the film displays ensemble production and chaos theory at its best. And oddly, I didn't feel drained at all, the direction is so sure-footed.

The supporting townspeople are picture perfect Norman Rockwell subjects, especially two old codgers in plaid who wander through the movie with a laser sharp understanding of the economics of the film industry; they are the calm in the eye of the storm while just about everyone else spins like drunker dervishes.

So when you're in the mood for an examination of Murphy's Law in action, or just ready for sustained smiles from seasoned professionals, stop by *State And Main*--you can't miss it: It's marked by the cavernous pothole on loan from Michigan and the smashed light post illuminating the car spinning on its roof. This is for anyone who like satirical dialogue delivery in perfect cadence.

Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 7/30/2019, 11:06 am

Once again, it must be Redundancy Rewind Redundancy Time, as I pose the question one more time: How have so many truly wonderful films escaped my attention? And this time--for nine years! (Exclamation point necessary for today's film.)

*Get Low* (2010) is a moving testimony to humankind's unfathomable ability to punish itself more deeply than any court. I double-dog-dare you to watch this beautiful film and not choke back honest tears after 75 minutes of gentle, smart, lingering human comedy.

And for once, I am excited to promote a film's trailer--in many ways, it is the perfect trailer, as it lets you in on the story but refuses to offer too much. O, the cast, gathered together, I swear, by some divine alchemy (if there is such a thing): Two Academy Award winners (who should have won for this one) and nearly everyone's favorite Academy Award Nominee in the Deadpan Delivery Category--Yes, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray, aided and abetted by fine performances from Lucas Black (splendid), Gerald McRaney (always solid) and the great Bill Cobbs. The on-screen chemistry among them all is striking, understated, and heartfelt.

Set in 1930s Alabama, the story coaxes suspense, pain, joy, regret and the hope for salvation, sometimes all within a five minute sequence. You would never guess that this is director/editor Aaron Schneider's first film. It is downright gorgeously shot, employing amber candlelight in log cabins and richly textured forestry to enhance the emotional landscape. It all seeks to offer us an exquisite backdrop for an inquiry into legacies and judgments we are all heir to.

But really, who wants to ponder abstractions like dignity, self-imprisonment and atonement when in the googleplex next door is raucous fourteenth installment of *The Up-endables* with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Dwayne Johnson, Jean-Claude Van Dammitalltohell and Rainier Wolfcastle?

No, a sweet-tempered movie like *Get Low* is usually lost in a thundering stampede cramming the cinemas for a glimpse at yet another Jennifer Lopez drippy basket of cliches wherein Bradley Cooper or Matthew McConnaughey takes off his shirt after the fey Ms. Lopez, a moonstruck wine steward of a posh restaurant, "accidentally" sprays him with a bottle of wine in front of his beeyotch of a fiancee whom he will (SPOILER ALERT) dump in the third act for the woman of his dreams, the wine steward. That celluloid super-goop will rake in $27 million while the unassuming, sweet *Get Low* will pull in $9,513,225 worldwide. As the Twentieth Century sages, The BeeGees, said, "Tragedy. . ."

Add this one to the formidable list of movies that EARNED my simple tears while prodding me to reflect on Life's Big Questions, including why it never occurred to me to ask the why hermits are good cooks and coffins might have locks. . . . Just see it, do yourself a favor and hunt it down.

Enjoy.
Jeff


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Post by ghemrats on 7/31/2019, 1:36 pm

Sugar Torch was a long-limbed stripper who was developing a routine guaranteed to get a rise out of her audience. She was shot in the back in the heat of late night Los Angeles traffic, destined to prompt an intense love triangle in the mean streets two men, partners and best friends investigating her case and wrestling with the demons of racism at every nasty alley. Yes, friends, we're in Noir Town again, this time with writer/producer director Samuel Fuller pulling at the roots of latent racism, urban alienation and hotbed jealousy, themes at which he excels.


*The Crimson Kimono* (1959) earns an impressive 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and stars Glenn Corbett, James Shigeta and Victoria Shaw, propped up for examination by Anna Lee, Paul Dubov and the short-lived Gloria Pall. If you've seen any of Fuller's other films (my personal favorite *Pickup On South Street**Shock Corridor*, "The Naked Kiss* and *The Big Red One*), you'll find yourself on familiar ground: a gritty feel, sharp editing, a reliance on controversial topics (usually well ahead of his time), a pulpy hard-edged cynicism mounted handsomely with a low budget, and a fierce anti-racist bias that makes this film stand out.

This time out James Shigeta brings that theme to the forefront, bursting with a self-loathing centerpiece as he breaks tightly coiled tradition and discipline in a martial arts Kendo demonstration, ending in dishonor to himself and the art. Undercurrents of violence and identity underscore the entire film, as Sugar Torch's mystery takes a cracked leather backseat to the romantic tensions between Corbett and Shigeta.

Not at all well received in its release in 1959, *The Crimson Kimono* has gained a powerful following since Fuller's death in 1997. Quentin Tarantino lists him as a strong influence, as does Curtis Hanson, who saw Fuller through his self-imposed exile to France in 1982 after Paramount temporarily shelved (and all but buried the release) of *White Dog*, an in-your-face morality play of anti-racism, after which Fuller never made another American film.

But the noir in *Kimono* is among the best of the late fifties. It bears arguably the best jazz score by Harry Sukman I can recall: face punching saxophones pull us into the opening shot, a night shot of LA that tells us right away this is a hard country of shadows and passion. Then Fuller pushes it further with bold, zooming, backhand slaps of title cards pinpointing the place and exact time of murder and burlesque bumping (and grinding) into one another.

It's 83 minutes of sweat and sorrow carving out demarcations in the gut. (Is that too harsh? Aww, forget it, Jake. . . it's the Japanese quarter of LA where a look can be all you need to pull of a gun, metaphorically or literally). ​ This is for folks who like simmering performances.

Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Space Cadet on 7/31/2019, 4:42 pm

I'm never gonna catch up. Not until I retire. And if I retire soon enough... Rolling Eyes
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Post by Seamus on 7/31/2019, 7:33 pm

The Crimson Kimono has Kendo and Zefram Cochrane from Star Trek the original series in one show has to be a winner.
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Post by ghemrats on 7/31/2019, 9:33 pm

O Turban'd One, how many people would catch that reference to *Star Trek*? Wow, I am so impressed. . .

And, Space, all it takes is one movie a night before bedtime and, depending on the film, the dreams are filled with sensations. Sleep
Jeff

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Post by ghemrats on 8/1/2019, 1:11 pm

"Relax," said the Nightman. "We are programmed to receive. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." You're in *Hotel Noir* (2012) for the duration, pal, an homage to every tough guy and femme fatale who ever checked into hard times and snappy dialogue.


As is customary to any Sebastian Gutierrez film, this one is packed with stars: Rufus Sewell, Carla Gugino (can she make anything without drawing my attention?), Danny DeVito, Malin Akerman, Rosario Dawson, Mandy Moore, Kevin Connelly, and Robert Forster. Again, Gutierrez wrote, directed and produced this excursion into classic noir set in LA in 1958 wherein interlocking stories unfold like a well heeled gangster's silk handkerchief.

Absent is the overtly snickering sexual joking of many of his previous films, this time hovering above it all like the whorls of cigarette smoke escaping from the pouty lips of a spotlit blonde. And once again, this has been shot digitally in fifteen days on a spare budget of $300,000, a paltry sum by today's mega-million studio pieces, raised on a Kickstarter campaign.

With those elements in mind, you might realize its VOD delivery and selected theater release met with lukewarm reviews. Well, that's what you expect from Gutierrez, a mixed bag of responses, a stellar cast, narrative trickery (at one point Malin Akerman's voice-over asks if she's the worst narrator around) that's not too tightly wound, plenty of mood, and truly offbeat comedy. His editing in this film mirrors the fast cuts of a *Dragnet* episode, moving in a call-and-response rhythm that I found a fun throwback to 1940s staccato dialogue exchanges.

People have complained that as a noir it's too clean--no grainy exposures so common to suspense films of yore, to which I respond, well, it's digital, so it is rather like comparing CD sound to vinyl. But for me, for once, that didn't deter my enjoyment of the film; I can see it's a tip of the fedora to the genre, if not a purely faithful borrowing from Edith Head's wardrobe. Shadows are still there, smoky seduction still coils around the particulars, raw knuckled smashes across the mouth are still being doled out, murky motivations rule as money crouches under beds and seat cushions of shiny sedans, and languorous looks of longing mix with sniveling smart-ass smiles turned inward with suspicion.

Don't take it all too seriously and you can enjoy the labyrinthine plot twists (I counted three in the last twenty minutes) and ultimate nihilistic conclusion accompanied by some smooth jazz accompaniment.

*Hotel Noir* invites you in with a crooked finger, lures you to stay with a low-lit wit, and offers up room service complete with flashbacks and a hard rain at opportune times. It ain't necessarily the stuff dreams are made of, but you can't beat the scenery. ​It's for anyone who has access to Amazon Prime and maybe a bottle.

Enjoy.
Jeff

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Post by Seamus on 8/2/2019, 10:05 am

So far a brilliant thread. I am building a list of things to watch. Very nice.

Hotel Noir had me at Noir and my love of both Sewell and Gugino. And of course for me the obscure fact that Sewell gets into a 1953 Hudson Hornet Club Coupe. So this is a must view of that alone.

Trailer looks fab I am in with both feet.
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Post by ghemrats on 8/2/2019, 1:47 pm

Oh, I am sure you'll enjoy it, Seamus. Carla and Rufus and their cars are wonderful. So on to today. . .

You remind me of a man. "A man, what man?" The man with the power. "Power, what power?" The power of Hoodoo. "Hoodoo?" You do. "I do? Do what?" Remind me of a man. . . . and on infinitum. That is my own cheap way of introducing today's real change of pace, a suspenseful horror film of the supernatural, *The Skeleton Key* (2005).


On the advice of my friend​, I checked it out, and then checked out. Starring Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard, and Joy Bryant, quite frankly this one spooked the hooey out of me. It's not a compendium of jump scares and envelope-pushing effects, it's basically bloodless, but it gets the job done as it takes a leisurely stroll through Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana in the (of course) decaying plantation of an aging stroke victim (Gena Rowlands is properly creepy here).

It's a lot of Gothic atmosphere with long dim corridors and the obligatory Don't Go Into The Attic underpinning, But when we learn of the experiments in hoodoo, ancient rites of soul transmogrification and fun like that, things start ratcheting up. It all leads to one of the most unsettling conclusions I can recall in a movie, and for me it has held real staying power in its implications.

Now some folks didn't quite get the ending, and more seasoned horror aficionados find it tame and not scary enough. Not me. For the record I am not a big horror guy--I have a handful of classic that I love and admire, including the perfectly awful *Invaders From Mars* (1953) that gave me nightmares for years when I saw it as a kid [I know, it is pure 100% gorgonzola today, just as it was in 1953], and *Alien* just about had me invoking bathroom privileges in the theater--so I might not be the voodoo expert to rely on for your finer points of a scare-a-thon, but 61% of Amazon viewers gave this one five stars, so it affects some folks as it did me.

I adhere to the Hitchcock formula that what you DON'T see is far more affecting that watching cleaning time at the slaughterhouse. That's why I enjoyed the recent *Happy Death Day* film and sequel released in 2017 and 2019 respectively, and *A Quiet Place* was brilliant; they were fun without incidental bludgeoning of the audience.

*The Skeleton Key* for me creates mood, growing dread and a nice acting turn from Kate Hudson and the other principals. Okay, the build-up might be a bit overwrought, but while voodoo is a religion, what we have here is hoodoo, which speaks to me of a more folkie type of scare. I guess it all depends on how much exposure you have to the whole cache of scary stuff--if you want to analyze it all in this film, if you're more cerebral than glandular, you will probably find plot holes.

I didn't. I just coasted down the bayou and enjoyed the ride without engaging my intellect so much. I'm a reactor to films when they hit me right--don't get me started on the monstrosity called *Hereditary* (2018) which I found tedious, subversive and just flat out nasty, though Toni Collette was fantastic; it was a critical darling and reportedly scary as drinking Drano, but I would have preferred drinking Drano.

*The Skeleton Key* hit me right (in the stomach) and now I listen to my friend Andrew even more attentively when recommends films. Give it a try or let me know I'm wrong again, you gumbo fanatics wherever you are.
Enjoy.
Jeff

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