TBT: Happy Halloween!

Halloween is nearly here!  I love Halloween, so I had to dedicate this week’s TBT to last year’s Halloween post.  This Halloween is particularly fun, as I’m hosting my annual Spooktacular this Friday evening (information here).

It’s been a good Halloween season.  My girlfriend and I carved pumpkins this weekend.  It was her first time, but she carved far more elaborate ones than I did.  See for yourself:

Pumpkins 2020

Her’s are the ones on the left—the bat and the drooling pumpkin.  Mine are on the right—the more traditional snaggle-toothed variety.  The one on the bottom right reminds me of King Kong.

We’ve also watched both Halloween and Halloween II, so we’ve pretty much checked off all the boxes.

With that, here’s 31 October 2019’s “Happy Halloween!“:

Read More »

Monday Morning Movie Review: Interview with the Vampire (1994)

It’s Halloween Week, and—appropriately and chillingly enough—today’s post marks my 666th consecutive post.  Yikes!  What better way to observe this unfortunately demonic milestone than with a review of 1994’s Interview with the Vampire?

The film itself is a frame story, with Cajun vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) sharing his “life” story with a reporter (Christian Slater).  Louis had intended on feeding on the reporter, but decides instead to grant him the interview of a lifetime—the titular interview with a vampire.

Louis’s story begins in colonial Louisiana, when it was a Spanish colony (the territory traded hands between French and Spanish rule).  Louis’s wife and child died, sending Louis into a self-destructive spiral of risky behavior—drunken brawls, prostitutes, the works.  All he wants is death.

Into this mix comes Lestat (Tom Cruise), a flamboyant, nihilistic, haughty, obsessive vampire.  Lestat “turns” Louis, inducting him into the world of the living dead.  Louis immediately recoils at the implications of this new “life,” particularly the feeding upon humans for sustenance.

He instead attempts to live on the blood of rats and other animals, but his slaves grow suspicious when their master stops eating, and cattle and other creatures end up dead.  Lestat does not share Louis’s sense of restraint and humanity—indeed, Lestat is fascinated by Louis’s dogged persistence in maintaining what humanity he has left—and instead views humans as mere cattle.  Louis finally breaks, feeding upon his loyal house slave, Yvette, and then encourages his slaves to destroy his mansion as he flees into the night.

Lestat, naturally, is enraged at the loss of their home and their wealth, but the two find new accommodations in New Orleans.  A plague is sweeping through the city, and a distraught Louis stumbles upon a young girl trying to awaken her mother, who has died from the plague.  In a fit of hunger and shame, Louis feeds upon the child, and leaves her for dead.

Upon returning to their shared flat, Louis is horrified to find Lestat with the young girl.  Lestat feeds the young girl some of his blood, thus turning her into a five-year old vampire.

Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) becomes a voracious, childlike pupil of Lestat, and something like a daughter to both Lestat and Louis.  They dress her in finery, give her piano lessons (she feeds upon her teacher at one point, horrifyingly and humorously), and generally dote over her.  But as time marches on, Claudia’s mind develops, though her body is perpetually trapped at five-years old.

That perpetual childish body drives Claudia increasingly mad, as she yearns to be grow and develop into a woman.  She grows to despise Lestat, who dresses her “like a doll,” and draws closer to Louis.  Eventually, Claudia and Louis escape Lestat’s obsessive, controlling nature, and flee to Europe, where they encounter other vampires in Paris—with fatal consequences.

I won’t reveal any more of the plot there, but the film does an incredible job of creating investment in and sympathy for these characters.  Louis never fully embraces the vampiric life, and yearns for his lost humanity—and mortality.  Lestat is flamboyant—he reminded me a great deal of Milo—and wicked, even by vampire standards.

But the most interesting and tragic figure is Claudia, capably played by a very young Kirsten Dunst.  Claudia is “saved” from death, but is thereby denied any chance at a real life.  Her very existence is a travesty, and is considered by the European vampires to be taboo and dangerous.  Claudia’s own mental deterioration and rage clearly illustrate why.

Vampires are interesting and terrifying figures in folklore, and they are inherently demonic:  they represent a horrible inversion of Christ.  Christ died for our sins and shed His Blood for our salvation.  When we accept Christ, we are covered in His Blood, and our sins are washed away.  There is redemption and new life—eternal life—in Christ’s Sacrifice.

But vampires offer a perverted undead—an “un-life”—through their blood.  It is a form of immortality, but one that is entirely tied to this world, and completely separated from God.  Thus, the vampire is an eternal nihilist.  The implicit bargain of the vampire is a Devil’s Bargain:  enjoy as much of the world as you want, but you can never truly leave it.  The vampire is also damned—a common theme in vampire movies and books—and can only hope for Hell, or walking the Earth for all eternity, like Cain (who is often considered the father of vampires).

As for the film itself, I highly recommend it.  Anne Rice’s books about vampires quite good, too, and the film does justice to the source material.  It’s also fun seeing a pale Tom Cruise running around in flouncy eighteenth-century garb.

Tip The Portly Politico

Support quality commentary on politics, education, culture, and the arts with your one-time donation.

1.00 $

Monday Morning Movie Review: Archive (2020)

It’s Monday morning, which means it’s a good time to ease into the week with a movie review.  Readers may be concerned that my blog is turning into a movie review site, given the slew of recent movie-related posts.  Even Friday’s guest post was a movie review!

What can I say?  October seems to be prime movie-watching season, what with Halloween approaching and the general fun and merriment of the holiday.  It’s also getting coldalbeit gradually, and only in fits and spurts—which makes for prime film viewing conditions.  Toss in RedBox‘s generosity with coupons, and it’s a recipe for weekly movie reviews.

So it was that I came to pick up 2020’s Archive.  It’s a British sci-fi flick that follows a familiar Frankenstein plot:  a man’s obsession with restoring his deceased wife in the form of a hyper-advanced AI leads him down a dangerous road.

Read More »

Guest Contributor – photog – “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Blogger photog and I decided to swap posts this Friday as a bit of cross-promotion for our sites.  photog is a multi-talented man—a writer, a photographer, and a reviewer—and he possesses a real knack for writing great movie reviews.

So when he asked me what he should write about, I proposed something related to science-fiction, a genre he knows well.  I was thrilled when he came up with a review of an Atomic Age gem, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, from 1953.  The film was apparently a major influence on the Godzilla films, and spawned a number of “creature features” in the 1950s.

You can read more of photog’s reviews, as well as his political writing, at www.orionscoldfire.com.  It’s worth checking out!

With that, here is photog’s review of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms:

This 1953 movie is the grandaddy of all the atomic monster movies.  The next year saw the appearance of “Them,” the giant atomic ants and Godzilla which really was a sort of knock off of the “Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.”  At least theoretically this movie is based on Ray Bradbury’s short story “Fog Horn.”  But other than the one scene where the Beast attacks a lighthouse there isn’t anything in the story that informs the plot of the movie.

So, this is the story of an arctic atom bomb test that predictably thaws out an amphibious dinosaur.  After killing one member of the military team via avalanche the beast heads south to re-enter his old stomping grounds in the Hudson River undersea canyon.  On the way it capsizes a couple of Canadian fishing ships, demolishes a Maine lighthouse and flattens a Bay Stater walking along the shore of Massachusetts.  Well, for that one you really can’t blame him.  I’m sure the guy had it coming.

And as these movies usually go, the military gets in touch with an academic expert on dinosaurs who is always an old man with a funny accent who always has a somewhat attractive young woman working as his assistant.  The military provides the old professor with access to a bathysphere and the scientist descends into the Atlantic Ocean adjacent to the Hudson River and is promptly eaten (or something) by the beast.

Now the protagonist (a French scientist who was somehow associated with the US Army’s arctic A-bomb test) rallies the military and leads the effort to destroy the monster as it rampages through lower Manhattan.  Early on it eats one of New York’s Finest in the person of a cop who attempts to take down the giant reptile with his service revolver.  Then the beast goes on a stroll down Broadway and crushes various cars and small buildings.  Finally, the Army moves in some bazookas and draws blood from the beast by blowing a hole in its neck.  But, wouldn’t you know it, its blood is full of virulent germs that have the soldiers keeling over after only minutes.

Fearing that explosives would start a plague the French guy proposes that a radioactive projectile be shot into the wound on the beast’s neck and thereby kill him without spreading his germs.  After swimming back into New York Harbor, the beast resurfaces at Manhattan Beach (which is in South Brooklyn) and the beast heads straight for Coney Island and begins destroying the Cyclone, the big rickety wooden roller coaster at the famous amusement park there.

The French guy and an army marksman don radiation suits and take a roller coaster ride to the top of the coaster’s highest hill in order to have a clear shot at the beast’s neck.  From that vantage point the marksman hits the bullseye and then they clamor down the side of the coaster before the beast’s death throes bury them in the rubble of the demolished ride.  Of course, the wooden ride bursts into flames proving just what a death trap it really is.  But by then the beast is dying and as we watch he breathes his last.  French guy and somewhat pretty paleontologist are now free to explore the romantic relationship that almost always await the survivors of atomic monster incidents.

This is one of my favorite old monster movies because New York is my old stomping grounds.  In fact, the beach in Brooklyn (Manhattan Beach) where the beast resurfaces was where I first met Camera Girl forty-five years ago.  So, we have that in common.  There weren’t a lot of famous actors in this movie but the special effects were handled by Ray Harryhausen and the sharpshooter was played by Lee Van Cleef of spaghetti western fame.  Now there isn’t any detectable acting going on except for the old professor played by veteran actor Cecil Kellaway.  But it combines the gung-ho attitude of all military movies before the Vietnam war era along with the silly mayhem expected when giant monsters are eating and stepping on people.  I highly recommend this silly romp but warn millennials that it was shot in black and white (the horror!).

The Future of Cinema

Over the past year or so, I’ve become far more interested in film as an artistic medium.  I’ve always enjoyed going to the movies, but I’m beginning to seek out more interesting and unusual fare, particularly the classics.  One reason I’m watching more films from the 1960s-1990s is because so many flicks these days are full of social justice pandering and parroting of the Leftist bromides du jour.  It’s refreshing watching movies in which people act like people, and not drones from the HR or Diversity Departments.

In The Age of The Virus, we’ve been encouraged to stay home and watch TV—a commentary on our diluted sense of “sacrifice” in the twenty-first-century West.  But that’s had an interesting impact on the cinema, by which I mean movie theaters.  With endless content on streaming services and bigger, cheaper televisions, it seems that the old movie palaces and multiplexes are increasingly obsolete.

Regal Cinemas re-shuttered its theaters across the country after making a go at reopening.  When I went to see The Empire Strikes Back and The New Mutants, there were very few people there, even during prime weekend screening times.  The New Mutants was a full-freight flick, but Empire and other classics were just $5!  Even then there were loads of empty seats—and that wasn’t just because of social distancing requirements.  I asked a manager how he was doing and he said, “Well, at least we’ve got some people here tonight.”  It does not sound good for the future of theaters.

Read More »

Movie Review: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)

After returning from Universal Studios yesterday, I decided to ease back into the week with a couple of flicks.  Hulu isn’t the best of streaming services in terms of content, but lately I’ve uncovered some good older films on the platform, and occasionally I’ll uncover some hidden gems.

To be sure, there’s a good bit of garbage, too, especially this time of year, when the budget horror flicks pop up like weeds.  I watched 1972’s The Last House on the Left last night before catching the subject of this review, and it was a lurid bit of early 70s exploitation.  It didn’t necessarily endorse the violence and depravity it depicted, but it certainly seemed to revel in it.  At its best, it was a morality tale about the dangers of the hippie movement and misguided youthful energy; at its worst, it was an excuse to torture pretty girls on screen.  I’d recommend giving it a pass.

The second film I watched, however, is one I will highly recommend:  1976’s The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.  It stars a barely-thirteen-year old Jodie Foster in a command performance, along with a young Martin Sheen, who must have been about twenty-six at the time.

Read More »

Phone it in Friday XVI: Week in Review (5-8 October 2020)

I’m out of town for a few days, so I’m resorting to something I rarely do:  a week in review post.  Some bloggers feature these weekly, such as my blogger buddy Mogadishu Matt.  I sort of did one back with “Lazy Sunday LVIII: Spring Break Short Story Recommendations Recap,” but that was more a review of a week-long series of posts, not a review, per se, of the week itself.

Ah, well.  That’s just nit-picking.  Here’s what I wrote about this past week:

That’s it for this edition of Phone it in Friday.  Here’s hoping I wrote some material good enough that you don’t mind reading it (and reading about it) again.

Happy Friday!

—TPP

Tip The Portly Politico

Support quality commentary on politics, education, culture, and the arts with your one-time donation.

1.00 $

Morning Movie Review: Brazil (1985)

In continuing with last week’s review of The Empire Strikes Back—and this week’s unofficial theme of keeping posts light—I decided to jot off this quick review of a very good, very deep film, the dystopian dark comedy Brazil.

This film has been on my watch list for some time, and a timely RedBox 50% off on-demand streaming coupon made it a compelling rental for a Monday night.  It was well worth the $2.15; indeed, I may even watch it again tonight, just to catch details I likely missed the first time.

The basic premise of Brazil is to envision an excessively bureaucratic society, in which filing the proper paperwork and avoiding blame—the hallmarks of any bureaucracy—matter more than doing what’s right or decent.  Indeed, the highest good in the nameless society of Brazil is to keep the bureaucracy chugging along, and to wrap everything up in red tape.

Read More »

Monday Movie Review: The Empire Strikes Back

The brouhaha over Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court will provide ample blog fodder in the days ahead, but there is plenty of time to get into senatorial wrangling.  Mondays should be eased into a bit, so I’m taking today to write a short review of one of the best (and probably most over-reviewed) films of all time, The Empire Strikes Back.

Growing up as a chubby kid in the 1990s, I was a huge Star Wars fan.  That was long before the new trilogy retconned/soft-rebooted everything and destroyed the legacy of classic Star Wars, and even before the prequels made the flicks even more cartoonishly ridiculous.  I’m not even a huge critic of the prequels—they were never going to live up to the perfection of the original trilogy—and I enjoyed some of the fun world-building and thorny trade blockades of Phantom Menace (although that’s all a bit too technocratic for a space opera).  But the magic of the original trilogy is more than the sum of its parts, and it’s based on rich storytelling and exceptionally strong character development, with nearly every major character growing and evolving over the course of the three films.

That was readily apparent in Empire, which my girlfriend and I saw (for five bucks!) on the big screen Saturday evening.  It has been many years since I’ve watched the original trilogy, and I’m regretting that now.  Empire catches the main trio of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo at transitional points in their development:  Luke at the beginning of his Jedi training with Master Yoda; Leia assuming great command responsibilities in the Rebellion while also wrestling with her feelings for Solo; and Han feeling the tug of his old life (and debts) while maturing as a man capable of great self-sacrifice for his friends.

Read More »