All I want to do in October is watch scary movies!

I am generally disappointed in how many I cram in.

I thought at least I would get to watch The Phantom Carriage Halloween night but . . . that's just not how Halloween goes.

Oh, lah, my life is hard.


Century 16 Hilltop
A Haunting in Venice (2023)

Okay. This is not a great work of art or anything but it was marvelously entertaining and shot beautifully and, so long as you can turn off your ability to make small complaints (the poor writing for and direction of Tina Fey, a photo that should not have been in color, a couple overexpository moments, some modern terminology dropped to make sure we feel our fragile sensibilities are respected), it is really quite wonderful.

That said, do you mind if I just dive into spoilers and discuss the rare similarities between the movie and its source material? Thanks. Because they have so little in common that what they do share is fascinating.

As I said, spoilers. For both book and movie.

First, I was so happy Tina Fey's character was Ariadne Oliver whom I quite liked in the book and who thus, I hoped, would become a series regular, appearing in every two or three films. But they were never able to let us really believe that she and Poirot were actually friends and the movie ends such that I doubt we'll see her again. Also, her whole plan made her rather dumb. Disappointing all around. As much as she loves Tina Fey (we'll be seeing her and Amy Pohler live in Oakland in a few months), Lady Steed felt that her casting was the weakest part of the film. Me, I blame more the writing and the direction (decide whether you want Tina Fey to be Tina Fey or not!).

The initial murder happens for a similar reason, but in the book it's a girl in a bobbing-for-apples bowl. The eventual apples twist shook me more than anyone else in the audience because it was book-adjacent but not book.

The boy Leopold in the movie is entirely different from the book and I was thinking it was just a shared name but then, in what I found the most satisfying twist in the movie, they shared a key action. But not at all for the same reason. I like the movie Leopold much better. He's an actual character for one thing, and interesting to boot.

I suppose you could argue both book and movie give Poirot a local retired police officer friend, but that seems a bit stretched.

A couple other characters shared names and this and that, but the major stuff I've already covered. Pretty much everything else is different, though I'm happy to enjoy both on their individual merits.

Rialto Cerrito
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

What an absolutely WONDERFUL movie this is to watch with an audience. Which, yes, I did back in 2005, but that was a long time ago. And yes I've seen the movie at home more than once since then. But apparently not since 2013.

Anyway, theaters are the natural home of movies. Yes, I would've enjoyed watching on my laptop as I lay in bed, but with a room full of adults and children laughing at different things? Exactly what movies are for.

We're at risk of losing this experience. Don't let that happen! GO TO the movies!!!

library dvd
Oink (2022)

Given how many awards the film racked up in its native Nederlands I suppose it must have been better in Dutch. The English dub, however, is terrible. No character escapes bad line readings and I'm not sure the protagonist got a single good one. As far as I can tell, the same actors did both recordings (?) so that could explain it.

I appreciate this was someone's labor of love and, again, maybe it's better in Dutch, but the script is dumb through and through. It's fine in animation to throw away bits of realism (that's not how sausage makers work, but whatever), but how can you decide to tell us the pig's getting fat when the pig looks exactly as he always has? And none of the character development (or lack thereof) makes any sense. The jokes are dumb with an overreliance on the (also not funny) scatalogical).

I think it wants to have the sort of yay-vegetarian effect allegedly Okja has had on people (though I was underwhelmed by that film as well), but it's so lazy in it's storytelling its convictions fall flat.

In short, it's a bad movie. Sorry, Holland.

Barbie (2023)

This is my third viewing and I still love it. I weep off and on throughout the final half, I laugh regularly, I see layers I've missed before. Since my last viewing (and my recording) I've listened to a couple podcasts (or at least parts) and while I found much to agree with and much to disagree with, watching it this time I realize the movie is generous and rich enough for all sincere readings to be correct. The movie has honest and earned depth. All the things I heard that I thought were wrong I realize are also right. And frankly, isn't that what good literature does?

I love Barbie. Movie of the year.

This Magnificent Cake! (2018)

Holy moly. I mean—I read about this film when it came out and I knew that it was serious (I've seen their stuff before) (incidentally, why is it now distributed by GKIDS??), and maybe it's just because five years have passed, but I was not prepared for this quiet, quiet, quiet yet hella distressing look at colonialism. Even just starting with King Leopold in Belgium, you know it'll be awful. And it is. In the most horrifying banal ways imaginable. This is what happens when a bunch of suburbanites decide they deserve your land.

Anyway, I don't teach Heart of Darkness, but if I did, I would most certainly show this film. It would upset the kids in all the right ways.

It'll upset you too.

Prime Video
Cymbeline (2014)

Modernize Shakespeare! This team did a very silly Hamlet (I mean---I like it okay, but still, you know?) and now they're tackling a play people don't already know. I'm not sure you will by the end.

The budget led to some peculiar choices (battles off screen) and nonchoices (missing foley). But other stuff is less explicable. For instance, they reduced the dream scene to just one ghost, and the ghost still delivered a physical message, but no one ever reads it. That's strange.

Other choices I found more interesting. I love when they move lines around to make a movie work. For instance, some lines from scene one are put into new mouths about three-quarters through to share information. That's problemsolving!

The acting was mostly good, but with about 70% of the dialogue gone and the modern setting, some things are just bizarre. Why did the kid cut off Cloten's head, for instance? Why do he and his brother want to go fight in a gang war? What is that all about?

The actor's mostly did well. Nice to have John Leguizamo and Vondie Curtis-Hall back from Baz's Romeo + Juliet. The big stars held their own, generally. I thought Ethan's Hawke interpretation of Iachomo as a man motivated entirely by fear was an instructive choice. And Delroy Lindo was an unexpected standout with a severely truncated character. Looking at his IMDb page, I can see my thinking of him has been based on a teeny subset of his career. I need to move Da 5 Bloods up my to-watch list.

Anyway, some great moments. But not a big winner with my teen audience.

Rialto Cerrito
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

Like my last wait-for-the-theater David Lean experience, this is an amazingly large and epic movie. Huge. Enormous. Deserving of the largest screen you can find. But the film isn't about hugeness alone. It's about complicated and fascinating characters, their relationships and motivations. The way they change over time. The way heroism may not be. The way we can lose our way, how we can find it, what that even may mean.

The cast is terrific. The film occasionally seems like a two-hander, with old pros Sessue Hayakawa and Alec Guiness, but the top-billed actor is William Holden and he does snarkily comic American well but still lets us believe the man has an actual life beyond that surface and will have an actual death at the end he must protect against. Characters with medium- and small-sized roles also do well. Some don't even have speaking roles.

Also, this movie in one sense ages better than the younger Lawrence of Arabia—in that film, Alec Guiness wore brownface; this film has no yellowface.

I'm most surprised how little I knew about it. Given how much imagery was in my head and that I could give you the film's logline, I expected that it would unfold as expected—even though I didn't have particular expectations.

But it was great and the 16yrold dug it as well.

library dvd
Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)

First, watch this movie.

Go for the Criterion edition because you will learn some amazing things from the special features. For instance, the heaven sequences, which to me seem pivotal, were a last-minute decision to spend the remaining budget on. And Dick Johnson is so vital in those scenes, it's shocking they were the last things filmed.

If you don't know the concept of this documentary, filmmaker Kirsten Johnson's father has dementia and she is making a film about it, including fictionalized sequences, such as variations on his own death.

This is creative and moving filmmaking. We are manipulated at every turn but always in search of truer truths about dementia, love, family, loss.

It is a beautiful and heartbreaking film.

And, as a sidenote, I learned I've been saying Seventh Day Adventist wrong all these years. The accent is on AD, not VENT. Good to know.

Rialto Cerrito
The Shining (1980)

Lady Steed has never seen it and it would be fair to complain that my first viewing did not give the film a fair shot and here it is in theaters so let's go see it!

Yeah, it's not good. I did keep myself from from scoffing out loud because of the other people in the theater, but come on. Jack doesn't fall; he always sucks. The camera work is cool but the music is a joke. The death of Dick is stupid. The hauntings make no sense. The pacing is wrong. The ending is dumb. The relationships are absurd. In short, I agree with the critics of the time.

The final chase does occasionally build tension but that's entirely because of Shelley Duvall's performance. Watching Jack Nicholson in The Shining is to feel like the Joker is the only role he should ever be allowed to play.

Lady Steed's theory is he was at the hotel in a previous life which makes sense mostly but if he's always been the caretaker, why is he the focal point of that dumb photo. (And the photo is just a dumb gimmick, is my opinion. Let Kurick think he's clever's my opinion. The man's dead.)


The Toxic Avenger (1984)

I first remember hearing about this movie from tshirts about ten years after its release. I honestly never had an interest. But then I saw some still from the upcoming reboot and, well, suddenly I was.

The movie had much more budget than I expected. I mean---they had tanks! They had the sort of carchase where a bunch of 1970s sedans get flipped over! The appearance and acting wasn't far removed from a pre-1980 Disney comedy, just with grotesque (and ridiculous) violence and some absurd '80s tanlines on breasts.

The movie was pretty bad but also weirdly charming, in a Mel Brooks-offensive sorta way. I was tempted to take the suggestion to start the second movie. But I refained. And I'm sure I'll get over it.

Moroni for President (2018)

The tale of a gay Mormon Navajo running for president of the Navajo nation. Although his plan does seem doomed from the beginning, he's inspiring to watch.

Maybe these trees will bear fruit in a few more years.

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