Five Cool Things and Run

There's a little bit for everyone - Stephen King fans, French film buffs, Italian horror fans, arthouse nerds - in this week's cool things.
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Last month, I watched, on average, over one movie per day.  I knew going into February I would not keep up with that schedule. My plan was to watch some of the many television shows I'd missed that everyone keeps talking about.  I've managed to not only not watch as many films but also I've hardly watched any series.  It has just been one of those months where my pop-culture consumption has been down. Luckily, this week the things I did consume happened to also be pretty cool and so I have plenty to talk about.

Bed and Board

The fourth film in Francois Truffaut's loosely autobiographical Antoine Doinel series.  In this one, he is now married to Christine, the girl he wound up with at the end of Stolen Kisses.  They live a happy life in an apartment building filled with interesting characters.  He begins the film working for a florist but loses that job when he tries to turn some flowers the most perfect shade of red and instead kills them all in a firey blaze.  I love that one of the continual quirks of this series is how Antoine cannot keep a job.  He winds up working for an American company and his only duty seems to be controlling some toy boats by remote control.  It is there he meets and has an affair with a young Japanese woman.  This is after Christine has just given birth to their first child.

Truffaut magically takes tragic moments like this and turns them into light, romantic comedies.  Over and over through these films, I have watched Antoine do stupid and awful things and yet I cannot stop liking him.  This may be the funniest film in the series (thus far I hope to watch the last one, Love on the Run, next week).  There are a lot of lovely little scenes between Antoine and Christine both as a loving couple and one on the ropes.  Truffaut captures that intensity, romance and humor just perfectly.

The Case of the Bloody Iris

the case of the bloody iris poster.jpg

Amazon Prime gets short shrift when it comes to streaming video.  Oh, people talk about their original series and movies, but discussions of back catalogs and classic films tend to skip over the fact that Amazon actually has a lot of great, older movies.  It is true they don't have a lot of the "classics" but they beat out services like Netflix by a landslide when it comes to movies made before the 1980s, and while most of those films won't show up on any "greatest movies of all time" lists, there are still plenty of good and interesting movies to be found.   But you might have to look for them.

They've been especially great at their foreign horror film game of late.  I was googling the other night for lists of giallo films that have made it to Blu-ray then adding the interesting ones to my Amazon wishlist when I found out that this one was streaming on Prime.  Had some time the other day and decided to give it a shot.

The Case of the Bloody Iris isn't particularly innovative or brilliant giallo, but it has almost all the hallmarks of the genre and those are done quite well.  If you were looking for a film to introduce someone to giallo or define what the genre was about, you could use this film.  Which is strange considering it was directed by Giuliano Carnimeo, a guy who had never made a giallo before and never made one again.  He spent most of his career making low-budget westerns.  That's too bad because he could have really made a name for himself in the horror game.

The film stars Edwige Fenech (the quintessential giallo leading lady) as Jennifer Osterman, a model who moves into an upscale high-rise apartment complex after the previous tenant was murdered in her tub.  Soon enough, a black-clad, leather-gloved, knife-wielding killer starts stalking her (and killing off other people she knows).  The police investigate but there are a gaggle of potential suspects including her strange neighbors - an elderly religious nut, an old professor who plays the violin at all hours, his sex-crazed lesbian daughter, Jennifer's ex-husband who leads a sex-cult, and her new boyfriend Andrea (played by another giallo stalwart, George Hilton).

Carnimeo gives the film plenty of bright colors, off-kilter camera angles, and reflections in mirrors to make any fan of the genre giddy with delight.  Cinematographer Stelvio Massi should be given lots of credit here for the film looks amazing. As noted, this film isn't particularly innovative, it is pretty paint-by-numbers giallo, but the painter is really good at it making this a must-see for fans.

Manon

manon - arrow academy.jpgThe story of Manon Lescaut is one of the most popular tales in France.  The 18th Century story by Prévost has been adapted into several operas, ballets, and multiple films including this one by Henri-Georges Clouzot.  He moved the timetable up to the tail end of World War II.  In this version Manon (Cécile Aubry) is a beautiful young woman being accused by her village of having collaborated (or at least slept with) the Nazis.  They are about to shave her head when some French Resistance soldiers save her (but only enough to put her on trial when they get to the next town).  She seduces a young man named Michel (Robert Dégrieux) and runs away with him. 

Clouzot turns the central part of the story into a film noir with Manon acting as the femme fatale and Michel her dupe.  He fills the screen with shadows as black as the hearts of his central character. She is happy with Michel for as long as he can keep her in nice things but the moment the money runs dry, she turns to high-class prostitution or forces him into running black market schemes.

It isn't nearly as good as Clouzot's great films, but for fans it is quite worth watching.  You can read my full review of Arrow Academy's recent release of the film here.

The Outsider

stephen king the outsider book cover.jpgIf you've been reading these articles for some time, then you've followed me along in my Stephen King fandom.  If you've been reading closely, then you've heard me say something similar on several occasions.  What you might not have noticed is my burgeoning fandom of the audiobook, which is mostly due to Stephen King. 

I've always liked audiobooks or at least the idea of them.  The trouble comes with the listening.  I'm not someone who is going to listen to an audiobook while sitting at home.  That time is for movies or reading an actual book.  I used to listen to books while walking but I don't walk all that much anymore (hmmm, maybe I should pick that up again and take an audiobook with me), and when I do, it is usually with my wife who wouldn't be pleased with me ignoring her for a book (oh yeah, maybe that is why I don't walk with books anymore).  I do listen while I'm driving around in my truck and my job entails quite a lot of that.

I've found that audiobooks have to be of a certain type in order for me to really listen all the way through.  Because I listen while I'm driving and speeding around all over the county in my truck takes a certain amount of concentration, I cannot listen to anything challenging.  Classic literature and the like demands me pay close attention to the words and that's not happening when I've got to weave in and out of traffic.  But I also cannot choose some poorly written paperback novel either (or paperback audiobook, or whatever you might call mass-market books in audio form).  I tend to like well-written crime fiction for my drive.  Those tend to be action-oriented and plot-driven which keeps my mind from wandering, but not overly detailed or important that if I miss a few sentences it really matters.

Stephen King hits my audiobook sweet spot.  He's a good writer and his stories are almost always fascinating, but he also blathers on a bit so if I miss something I know it will probably be ok.  If I look back on all the King books I've read over the last couple of years, I expect I'd find that most of them were via the audiobook format.

So it was with Mr. Mercedes, the very first Stephen King audiobook I listened to and the one that made me a fan.  That book was King's attempt to write a hardboiled detective story.  It was also Part One of a trilogy that eventually turned into a more King style supernatural horror story. 

So it is with The Outsider.  It begins as a murder mystery.  A young boy has been brutally raped and murdered.  There is substantial physical evidence that Terry Maitland, a beloved baseball coach, school teacher, and all-around good guy, did the deed.  Trouble is, there is loads of evidence - eyewitnesses, fingerprints, and even television footage - that he was in Cap City at the same time the deed was done.  How could he have been in two places at once?

King creates some interesting characters and a thrilling story for its first half and then turns quite a corner for its back half.  As you might have guessed, the answer to the central mystery is supernatural.  Reading reviews on Good Reads will show you that this gear change turned off a lot of readers.  It is quite a change in the story, but I dug it.  Unlike End of Watch, the third book in the Bill Hodges trilogy where the supernatural elements came out of nowhere, making it feel completely out of place in the ending at what had been a perfectly natural set of books, here it seemed ok to me.  A little weird, yes, but not out of the ordinary for King. 

Holly Gibney, the socially awkward woman from the Bill Hodges trilogy shows up in this book as well.  She wasn't my favorite character from that story and she's best dealt out in smaller doses, but I've enjoyed her overall arc.  King has officially announced the character will feature in at least one of his short stories in the upcoming If It Bleeds collection. 

I've learned that I am more forgiving of novels than I am of films.  What that means is that if a novel has interesting characters and tells an interesting story, then I'm willing to let some things slide.  Whereas my critiques tend to be harsher when a film does stupid things.  King here does several stupid things from the minor (no one calls Oklahoma City "Cap City" and we live on Central Time so there is no "11 o'clock news" as by that time The Tonight Show is already on) to the larger (which I won't get into due to spoilers).  But I don't mind any of these so much as I liked the characters and was interested in where the story went.

The Piano

the piano poster.jpgThe summer after college I worked for a law firm in Montgomery, Alabama as a courier.  It was a great job as I spent most of my time delivering papers all over the city.  The people I worked with were pretty cool too.  I used to talk about movies with one of the legal secretaries and one day she loaned me two of her favorite films: Doctor Zhivago and The Piano.  I took them home and mostly ignored them.  Doctor Zhivago, with its two VHS tapes, was daunting.  I knew it was a classic but trying to start it seemed too difficult a task.

I did start to watch The Piano, but I never finished it.  I no longer remember where I stopped watching but it couldn't have been very far. It was too weird, too far out of my comfort zone, and so I turned it off, never to return to it again.  Until last week.  The Criterion Channel is doing a feature on Jane Campion films.  She's someone I've always meant to check out and so I thought I'd start with The Piano.

It is a strange film.  Holly Hunter plays Ada McGrath, an unwed mother who, along with her daughter (a young Anna Paquin), is sent to an island off the coast of New Zealand for an arranged marriage with Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neil), a British ex-patriot who has etched out a life there.   She brings a piano with her but Alisdair refuses to move it from the beach to his home more inland.  Another man, George Baines (Harvey Keitel), who is more wild and improper than Alasdair, fetches it from the beach and takes it to his home.  He initially asks Ada to teach him to play the instrument but quickly this reverts to him asking for sexual favors he will trade for a certain amount of piano keys, slowly allowing her to earn the instrument back.

It is a difficult story.  Ada must learn to scratch out what little bit of power she can while these two men try to own her body.  Campion takes it in some challenging directions, but the sumptuous photography and the incredible acting from all cast members create a mesmerizing spell that allows me to forgive some of its odd choices.

Run

I'm a sucker for horror movies starring crazy moms.  The trailer for this new film from director Aneesh Chaganty just dropped and it looks like so much fun.  Sarah Paulson stars as a mom with some serious issues.  Kiera Allen is her wheelchair-bound daughter who starts to suspect that maybe her seemingly super kind mom is maybe a bit more super psycho.  I can't imagine this will be an actual good movie, but campy, cheesy fun horror is the best horror.

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