What can be creepier than evil, sadistic children? Sometimes scary things come in small packages, especially spooky because horrific deeds are creeping up from where we least expect. I find these movies so unnerving that I never watch them. But I have seen these three. Thanks again to Wandering Through the Shelves for hosting this chilling month of Thursday Movie Picks.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)– At least here we don’t have to look evil in the face. The Spawn of Satan rests comfortably in the womb of the great Mia Farrow. Rosemary can’t shake the feeling that something’s wrong with her baby and is starting to think that she’s been getting some bad prenatal advice from sweet creepy old lady Ruth Gordon. It takes a sick mind to play on the anxieties of an expectant mother and Roman Polanski is just the guy for the job.
The Exorcist (1973)– It’s hard to blame a kid for the cruel things they say and the dastardly things they do when you know it’s just the demonic posession talking but Linda Blair and and the make-up crew make Regan a memorable villain. I don’t believe in possession or exorcism so I sleep just fine after watching it but Ellen Burstyn does such a great job as a mom who just wants to know what’s wrong with her daughter that the film holds up even today.
The White Ribbon (2009)– No need for demonic possession when you’re a future Nazi. In a small German village, suspicious “accidents” escalate into brutal assaults and the local children seem to be at the center of it. Like most Michael Haneke films, The White Ribbon is disturbing without technically being a horror movie. I’m not the only Asshole who’s struggled with this one.
Wandering Through the Shelves has us celebrating Halloween all month, representing a bit of a blindspot for me since I have a pretty low tolerance for being scared. So, when paying tribute to the Master of Suspense, I have selected three of my favourite (but not necessarily the scariest) of his films.
Lifeboat (1944)– I watched Lifeboat last night in a Greyhound bus station. It was the first time I’d seen it in over a decade and I couldn’t believe how well it holds up. Set entirely in a lifeboat, it’s staged and written like a play with some of the best dialogue in Hitchcock history.
Rear Window (1954)– I’ve already written a full post about my weakness for characters that share my love of voyeurism. James Stewart and Grace Kelly find themselves wrapped up in a murder investigation when eavesdropping on their neighbors.
Vertigo (1958)– I’ve watched Vertigo several times but almost always skip the last scene. It just gets to me. Most of you will know this classic well but, if you haven’t seen it, the less you know going in the better so I will avoid giving much away. Just see it.
I don’t have much to contribute for Thursday Movie Picks this week and- in two out of my three picks- adopted/foster familes are mostly incidental to the movies as a whole.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)– This is really the story of one big unhappy family where only one of the kids (Gwyneth Paltrow) is adopted. According to narrator Alec Baldwin, “Royal always noted this when introducing her (‘This is our adopted daughter Margot’)”. The family dynamics get even more complicated when Margot and her adopted brother Richie (Luke Wilson) fall in love, which is either illegal or just frowned upon. Possibly his most ambitious film to date, this is still my favourite Wes Anderson movie and he and co-writer Owen Wilson manage all the chaos like the pros that they are.
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)– I felt so guilty that I couldn’t find room for The Darjeeling Limited when we did Trains a couple of weeks ago that I opened up two slots for him this week. Ranking a close second to Tenenbaums in the Wes Canon, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of a troubled young Khaki scout (Jared Gilman) who causes so much trouble with his foster family that they “can’t invite him back”. On the run from his troop and the dreaded Social Services (Tilda Swinton), our hero bonds with a sad dumb policeman (Bruce Willis) who is willing to adopt him so that he can be with his true love (Kara Hayward).
Philomena (2013)– Not written by Wes Anderson, this adoption story doesn’t end happily. Director Stephen Frears and writers Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope do a brilliant job with the true story of Philomena Lee and her journey to reunite with the son that she was forced to put up for adoption by the Catholic Church 50 years ago. It’s a sad story but Frears, Coogan, and Pope give it a light touch, focusing on the chemistry between Lee (Judi Dench) and journalist Martin Sixsmith (Coogan). It’s less of an angry story about unquestionable injustice and more about one woman’s faith and resilience.
On Monday, I attended the North American premiere of Spotlight, an entertaining and infuriating film about four reporters at the Boston Globe who investigated the Catholic Church’s cover-up of sexual abuse at the hands of their priests. Seeing the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Liev Schreiber walk onstage was exciting enough but the good people at TIFF really brought the house down with the surprise appearance of the real Pulitizer Prize-wnning journalists themselves to, of course, a standing ovation and a speech from Ruffalo about “unsung heroes”.
Somehow, as usual, Wandering Through the Shevles seems to know what’s going on in my life because this week we’re paying tribute to these “unsung heroes”.
All the President’s Men (1976)– Pretty much every movie about investigative journalism that I’ve ever loved has been compared to this movie. “In the tradition of All the Presidents Men”, the TIFF website wrote of Spotlight. It’s been years since I’ve seen this story of the two Washington Post reporters who investigated the Watergate scandal but what has stayed with me is the way that it manages to hold our attention and build suspense from behind a desk. Instead of car chases, we get phone calls, research, and checking sources. It doesn’t hurt that the journalists are impeccably played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.
The Insider (1999)– In his best film by far, Michael Mann tells the story of 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman’s battle with the brass at CBS to get his interview with a whistleblower against Big Tobacco on the air. Having Al Pacino’s and Russell Crowe’s names above the title wouldn’t be as exciting today but Mann was lucky enough to catch both actors in their prime. Only Crowe managed to earn an Oscar nomination from his performance but the great Christopher Plummer (doing an uncanny Mike Wallace) was somehow overlooked.
Zodiac (2007)– This movie scares the shit out of me. The murder scenes are as chilling as they come but David Fincher’s return to the serial killer subgenre isn’t really about the Zodiac killer at all but about a small group of people who became obsessed with finding him and practically had their lives ruined as a restult. Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. do some top-notch reporting (even though Gyllenhaal is employeed only as an editorial cartoonist). What’s most impressive about Zodiac is the ammount of information they throw at us without it being impossible to follow and how much of the information we already knew without it being boring.
I haven’t exactly planned on taking three months off from Wandering Through the Shelves’ Thursday Movie Picks. Every week I plan a post for Thursday but haven’t seemed to manage getting my shit together in time.
I couldn’t miss the chance to talk about train movies though. I like trains. Wanderer’s timing is impeccable as usual given that my father just retired at the beginning of the month after 39 (I think) years working for CN Rail. Also, Jay, Sean, and I leave for TIFF today. Taking the train to Toronto is a treasured TIFF tradition for me and how fitting to pay homage to trains today as we start a new annual tradition of The Assholes at TIFF.
From Russia With Love (1963)– One of my favourite Bond movies devotes more than 30 minutes of its 115-minute running time to a chapter aboard the Orient Express. Sean Connery’s 007 and gorgeous Russian spy Tatiana Romanova dodge Russian agents and the great Robert Shaw’s sadistic Grant and still find time to shag in the berth and visit the dining car. Bond and Grant’s final fight in the cramped sleeping quarters ranks among one of the best fights in the whole series.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)– Still on the Orient Express, still Connery. Sidney Lumet’s murder mystery is set almost entirely aboard the train and is apparently the only adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel that Christie ever liked. Lauren Bacall, Anthony Perkins, and Ingrid Bergman stand out among a dream cast that has almost as many Oscar winners and nominees as it does speaking parts.
Snowpiercer (2014)– Living on a train that circles the globe sounded like my dream come true until director Joon-Ho Bong showed me all the things that could go wrong. A strict class system keeps the poor in the back of the train in claustrophobic conditions while those at the front of the train call the shots. We get to see more and more of the train as a group of rebels from the caboose make a daring run to the front. The design of the train is just brilliant with every car looking significantly different from the last.
Sorry to arrive a few hours late to this unusually sad edition of Thursday Movie Picks, hosted by Wandering Through the shelves. Since I’m posting this late, I’ll get right down to it but I will mention that, given the topic, I will be making no effort from here on to avoid spoilers.
Citizen Kane (1941)– Often called the greatest American film of all time, Citizen kane may have one of the saddest and most profound endings I’ve ever seen. Most people know by now that Rosebud was the sled. a dying rich man who had everything he could ever want except for the ability to really connect with another person calling out for his childhood, wishing he could do it all over again, is just plain tragic. I don’t think there’s a single silver lining in this movie.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)– There’s a bit of a silver lining here. Chief does make a break for freedom after all. But poor Jack. He was so full of life throughout the movie and had such a rebellious spirit. He’s finally broken though and the only relief he gets is when Chief euthanizes him. Depressing stuff.
Blue Valentine (2010)– Watching Dean and Cindy’s marraige fall apart along with the sweet excitement of new love when they first met is depressing enough. When we start to realize that it’s the things that brought them together that are now tearing them apart, the whole thing seems inevitable and tragic. When Dean and Cindy are played with such raw honesty by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, it’s just plain heartbreaking. And when it was released just two months after my own marraige fell apart, it felt personal.
One of the most iconic Hollywood images of the ’90s was, well…
I was 15 at the time and loved every minute of Independence Day. It was, if not the first, the most impressive alien invasion of earth that I’d ever seen. If you’ve seen the movie, you know the aliens lose. There are smarter aliens out there (and smarter writers than Dean Devlin) who know that if you attack us from the sky with lasers, it’s just going to piss us off. Hiding in plain sight and attacking us from within? That’s just crazy enough to work and it’s a theme in all three of my picks this week.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)– Some of the scariest movie aliens I’ve ever seen are plants from space that take control of a human hosts body. The catch is that, once they’ve got a hold of you, you need to fall asleep for the snatching to take effect. When I first saw this when I was in high school, I couldn’t imagine anything more scary or more relatable than having to fight off sleep to stay alive. This has always been one of my favourite sci-fi movies and, rewatching it this week, I couldn’t believe that I had visited one of the filming locations when I was in LA last month without even knowing it!
The Faculty (1998)– The modern-day king of B-movies Robert Rodriguez teams up with Scream screenwriter Kevin Williamson in this nearly perfect union between witty and silly. A Breakfast Clubish mix of students from different walks of student life must fight for their lives and their community when they start to realize that their teachers are being controlled by body snatching aliens. Usher is the star quarterback. Jon Stewart is a nerdy science teacher. Salma Hayek is the nurse. This is the perfect movie to treat yourself to after sitting through…
Under the Skin (2014)– The alien doesn’t exactly hide in plain sight here. After all, there’s nothing plain about Scarlett Johansson. She cleverly uses her appeal though to lure men into her clutches though, with graphically aroused men continuing to walk towards her even as they are already starting to sink into her black pool of doom. Under the Skin is creepy as hell (check out Jay’s excellent review of the score) and not much fun. Alien invasion here is more a metaphor for… what exactly? I’m only about halfway there in figuring that out.