This Week in Rixflix #11: May 19-25, 2017

Forgive me if I am still trying, eleven attempts deep, to figure out exactly how I want to do things around here. I have been seeking the best approach in how to present these (meant to be) brief looks at the films that I have seen each week, without either overwhelming the reader with nearly two dozen reviews through which to sort nor destroying my own personal goals by not leaving any time for me to work on other projects and writing.

A couple of notes on what you have seen on these posts up to now and where I plan to go this and the following week in experimenting with my form...

Header Images
When you see a header image at the top of each article (which appears even larger on the home page at first), the tiny posters seen within that image really do represent the films that I have seen that particular week. They are not just random posters that have been assembled to form a backdrop. I seek out the original poster images, format them inside sizing templates I have built, and then combine them for the final image to give you a quick glance at the previous week's viewing. I have templates built for various quantities of 12, 15, 18 or 21 films; if I miss any of those numbers in the week, I can fill it in (as I have a couple of times) by dropping in other things that I have seen along the way, such as posters for stand-up specials, miniseries, or TV shows that have dominated my mind in the course of the previous seven days. In one case, I built a graphic inside one header to represent the National Film Board of Canada animation festival that I spent poring over one weekend. It all goes towards the same purpose: I have been watching, and this is how it looked.

Choosing Films for Focus
Like anyone, it's no surprise that I get emotional about things I see on a movie or television screen. We all have loves and hates. When I watch new movies or revisit old favorites each week, it is inevitable that I will get truly excited about a couple of them, like several others, but dismiss most as mere product. Because I try to keep things on a mostly even keel, however, and try not to generally watch things purposefully that would upset me or that I would obviously think were stupid and annoying, there is less chance that I will get really riled up in a negative way about most films. Every once in a while, though, something will catch me completely by surprise, and have me straining for adjectives of the lowest form to describe that film. It is the reason why it is important, even if you are highly anticipating the release of a project to the public (as I do with super-hero and giant monster flicks), to approach the film as composed and centered as possible before finally watching the film, so that all stories are given equal opportunity to either capture your imagination or repel you.

I will not go into why I choose to watch certain films at this juncture. That is a massively intricate and even more long-winded discussion that I have already spoken about in pieces elsewhere all over this website. The real question here is: After having watched 14 to 20 (or so) films per week, why do I choose what I choose for inclusion in these pieces?

Let's take a look at this week for an immediate example. Going through the movies from left to right in the image and down through each row, the first that stands out is Alien: Covenant, which was released on the Friday of that week. Clearly, as the original Alien is in my Top Ten films of all time, I will probably have something at length to say about the latest film in the series, so I put that one to the side. The next that stands out is the 1983 monster rat film, Of Unknown Origin, which I had not seen for over 30 years when I watched it that week. I am planning to launch a potential new series about movies that went into the vaults for me until I rewatched them more recently, and so that title too gets set aside for future plundering. Next up is Jonathan Demme's Ricki and the Flash, which naturally will be included soon in the next installment of All or Nothing. Angels Hard as They Come (while seen previously) will likely be discussed at least tangentially in All or Nothing at some point (possibly Part 5) since Demme wrote the screenplay for it. Certain types of films are always up for further expansion on the site, such as Godzilla flicks or David Lynch's work (especially with the buildup to the new Twin Peaks, which premiered during this week), so they too go into the File Later pile. The 1972 Disney flick Napoleon and Samantha falls into two categories: 1) a film I have not seen since I was a kid, and 2) a Disney flick, for which I am hoping to start yet another new series. As a result, that film is set aside for further commentary.

That leaves me with about 14 other films in the graphic, and because I saw more than 21 films that week, there were a couple more titles that did not make the final cut (mostly out of not being to find appropriate posters). So, out of 16 films, I have decided to review six of them; in future installments, I hope to get the total number of reviews up closer to the full amount of films that week.

Sizing Down the "Capsule Reviews"

Now this has been a problem. It's my site, and I have no lack of space for expounding upon a film as much as I would like, and no editor but myself to hold me back. However, in some scenarios, I would rather practice some form of brevity. I have been calling the reviews in these pieces "capsule reviews," but they hardly ever are, and so it has become a joke to me. I might go into a review hoping to write just three or four lines at most, but those few lines become full paragraphs pretty quickly for me, and then that one paragraph becomes several. This would be fine if I were referring to a larger quantity of reviews, but the expansive and exploratory tone of my writing seems to take over nearly every film. 

As a result, this time around I have given myself a hard-centered limit of 250 words per review, which is approximately the amount of text that I need to carry the review just past the sizing of the accompanying poster image to the right. (Really, that's the only reason for the choice of number of words.) When I reach the limit, allowing for some room to breathe on either side (perhaps 300 words maximum, 200 minimum), then I must move on to the next film. 

I am treating this as a writing and editing exercise, as an opportunity to see if I can produce something short and to the point. In future installments, I hope to have shorter reviews for more films each week, though because of a time crunch, I am only going to do six this time. Let's see how it goes...

The Numbers: 

This week's feature-length film count: 23; 16 first-time viewings and 7 repeats.

Highest rated feature-length film: Eraserhead (1977) – 9/9
Lowest rated feature film: Spine (1986) – 3/9
Average films per day in May so far: 2.80
Average films per day in 2017 so far: 3.03
Consecutive days with at least 1 feature-length film seen per day: 163

One note: I have added a new line at the bottom about the number of consecutive days in a row, I have watched at least one feature-length film. This number extends back to mid-December after I lost the job at Amazon due to injury. (I will add that the current total is nearing 170 at the time of this writing.)

The Reviews:

Viral (2016) Dir.: Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman – A perfect choice with which to start, because I would normally go on quite easily for about three years regarding my struggle with watching the zombie horror subgenre today. With my new rules in place, I now just have to dig in and say that I was rather rooting for this film in its early stages. The lead actress, Sofia Black-D'Elia, is well cast and quite appealing as Emma, a recently displaced teen who not only has to deal with a zombie apocalypse outside her door in a new town, but also with the fact that her older sister Stacey, played by Analeigh Tipton, is being slowly taken over by the parasitic worms who are the cause of the outbreak which has already killed billions worldwide. Seeing the rest of the world turn into hell before them, they barricade themselves in their own home, but Stacey goes more than a tad stir crazy, hence the results of her infection. The tone in the early going of this film is pretty much dead on, helped immeasurably by the surprising turns from the two main actresses. But as parasitic worm living dead films go, it is hard to top Night of the Creeps and Slither for me. Despite this, I wish the film had gone a little deeper into the science fiction angle to distinguish it from the hordes of other undead pretenders to George A. Romero's legacy. However, idiotic plot turns (that dumbass party sequence) and needless jump scares (surprise, the same directors gave us Paranormal Activity films 3 and 4, not to mention the odd documentary Catfish) rather ruin the early promise. – TC4P Rating: 5/9

The Desert Rats (1953) Dir.: Robert Wise – It is possible that I may have skipped this film out of confusion with The Desert Fox: The Edwin Rommel Story, released two years earlier (in 1951) with James Mason in the lead. Since I am watching these films eons later than their release, that shouldn't be a problem. The twist here is that Mason plays Rommel in this semi-sequel to that film, and he plays it mainly in German, which is a nice touch. (Heck, they don't even subtitle him.) I am very pleased that I decided a while ago to become a completist of Robert Wise's filmography in the past year, and finally hit films like The Set-Up (now one of my favorites) and Odds Against Tomorrow (which may one day be on that list as well). The Desert Rats doesn't quite reach that same level, but it is still a fine example of a tense, nerve-rattling war picture. Burton is his usual tense, spitting self, which comes in handy as his character is supposed to be disliked heavily at first by the Australian division of troops under his command who are called upon to hold the important port city of Tobruk against the Rommel and the Nazis in 1941. Robert Newton, Chips Rafferty, and Torin Thatcher are the main supporting actors at Burton's side, and they bring a lived-in, seen-it-all humanity to a film that could have been nothing but a rote actioner in lesser hands than Wise's, who knows exactly how to ratchet up the tension when needed. – TC4P Rating: 7/9

Look Back in Anger (1959) Dir.: Tony Richardson – Speaking of Burton, I find it hard, merely as an outside observer, to believe that he could have ever been well-liked at all except perhaps by those who were on the same, exact plane of celebrity existence as he. This opinion is based first on my impression of the press that I have seen during his career, but mainly on his performances, where he seems miles beyond the ken of anyone in his presence in the terms of both skillful technique and unnecessary bombast. If there is an actor where I can both admire and be annoyed by him in the same scene, it is Burton. So it goes with Look Back in Anger, a film that I have probably tried to start watching about a dozen times in my life, but had always pulled back because I knew the play fairly well, and just didn't want to deal with it for another two hours. It's a stunner, and I regret not having seen it before, and most of the credit goes to Burton. He is fiery, cuttingly humorous, pouty, spiteful, whiny, drunken, angry (of course), and quite simply monumental in this prototypical example of the "angry young man" subgenre of drama. I have a short span of interest in the type, but when produced with such conviction and an explosive style by Tony Richardson (Tom Jones), where it feels like Burton will quite literally implode if he doesn't spew his rage at his wife, his best friend, and his lover (Claire Bloom, equally his match) at every given opportunity, the film becomes indispensable. This is one of the prime Burton roles, and should be seen to be believed. – TC4P Rating: 8/9

Crime of Passion (1957) Dir.: Gerd Oswald – Yet another find from watching Eddie Muller's Noir Alley on Turner Classic Movies, Crime of Passion is the perfect answer when one wishes to get lost in a film loaded with suburban angst, wifely betrayal, and police corruption. And heavy on the suburban angst, please, as a former S.F. newspaper reporter played by the always terrific Barbara Stanwyck thinks she has found the perfect marriage with L.A. cop (a rock solid Sterling Hayden). She leaves her city for his, and ends up as an intensely bored housewife in the middle of dull tract housing and ceaseless dinner parties which always end up with the women in one room talking about their nothing lives, and the men in another playing poker and talking about their own nothing lives. Worst of all, the women are never supposed to intrude upon the men's time. The still highly ambitious Stanwyck slowly goes nuts in this new arrangement, starting first with manipulating her husband up the chain of command, then with having an affair, and finally, a burst of violence. It is a surprisingly cold film, both in its portrayal of then-modern suburban aspiration and in the relationships between its main characters. I consider Stanwyck one of the top actresses of all time, and so it was revelatory to see her in this role during the final stage of her film career, before she made the leap to television success in The Big Valley in the late '60s.    – TC4P Rating: 7/9

Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's the Fantastic Four (2015) Dir.: Marty Langford – Once upon a time there was a film produced in 1992 by Roger Corman called The Fantastic Four. It was ultra low in budget, was made at the last second in a desperate attempt to sustain a copyright over some comic book characters borrowed from Marvel Comics, and was never released to movie theatres despite having been announced to be released. The people making it, mostly the cast, felt they had been cast adrift during filming by the producers, and couldn't understand when the hard work they had done seemed to disappear into the ether forever. Well, almost forever... the film popped up on the interwebs, becoming a treasured monument of the YouTube age, where it can be found in various places today. The film is not very good, of course, but has a charm and innocence to it that was not captured by the subsequent, high budget films featuring the same characters released in 2005, 2007 and 2013. Doomed!, taking its name from the FF's primary foe, Doctor Doom, is just about as fun as a documentary about a small stakes cult film could be. I watched it on the same day as Batman and Bill, and while that comic book doc has an emotional core that Doomed! can't touch, this one is completely charming and earnest, a mood best captured by the interviews with 1992 film's still bewildered cast members. If you don't care about comics or the films made from them, you still might take a swing at this one. It's a fascinating tale.  – TC4P Rating: 7/9

Ducks and Drakes (1921) Dir.: Maurice Campbell – Whenever I need a real refresher, I turn back the clock to the silent days. I especially love to dig into silent comedies, and am completely happy when discovering a film whose path I had not yet crossed. TCM's Silent Sunday Nights program is usually the source of most of these types of films, and they had a winner with me in their airing of Ducks and Drakes recently. Bebe Daniels was born in 1901 and acted in films from the age of four. She made numerous short subjects, some of which still exist, and became a big star in the 1920s, even though most of her features are lost to time, and eventually broke through in talkies, including 42nd Street, before retiring.. I knew her since I was a teenager in a 1930 comedy called Reaching for the Moon, but I had never seen her silent work until Ducks and Drakes, and she is a terrific comedic presence in the film, as a flibbertigibbet who enjoys ignoring the man to whom she is engaged, but carries on flirting with his two best friends, none of whom are aware of the others flirting with her. Best of all are the scenes where she mercilessly tortures her haughty, bluenose of an aunt, but the comedy everywhere is fast paced and fun, if not more than a tad obvious in places. A grand find even if it is not top drawer, and I look forward to finding more of Daniels' work in the future.  – TC4P Rating: 6/9


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