Welcome to the 797th Edition of my series. Yesterday, I joined the ranks of many and got my first shot for the Covid vaccination. I feel okay for the most part, just a little arm pain from the shot. I have been against flu shots for myself for well over a decade but I understand this is far more important so I did it and look forward to round two next month. We're also getting closer to ARSENIC AND OLD LACE which goes from April 23-25. You can get tickets by calling 765-639-3282 or go to the website https://www.thecommonstheatre.org/ to reserve your tickets. I'll get on with my selections for the week.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018): I start the week out with this animated superhero film which was directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman. We have always known Spider-Man as Peter Parker, but now we look at a whole new universe which centers around teen Miles Morales, voiced by Shameik Moore, who gets bit by the radioactive spider. He finds some similar abilities to Peter Parker but has different ones as well. Threats come where other he must team with various people bitten by the spider including Gwen Stacy, voiced by Hailee Steinfeld, Peter B. Parker, voiced by Jake Johnson, Spider-Man Nori, voiced by Nicolas Cage, Spider-Ham, voiced by John Mulaney, and Peni Parker, voiced by Kimiko Glenn. Each of them have their own unique spider abilities and Miles must learn his powers to help them and become the Spider-Man their town needs. Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, Zoe Kravitz, Liev Schreiber, Chris Pine, Natalie Morales, Oscar Isaac, Stan Lee, Joaquin Costo, Marvin 'Krondon' Jones III, Lake Bell, and many others co-star in this film. This was a really good look at the more diverse universe that most of us do not know in the Spider Verse as they call it. This was Stan Lee's last cameo in a Marvel film and possibly his best one. This might be the best animated superhero out there and a very fun watch.
Hod Rod (2007): I follow up with this comedy which was directed by Akiva Schaffer and I'm sorry to disappoint some but it has nothing to do with the wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper or Ronda Rousey for that matter. Andy Samberg stars as Rod Kimble who believes he is a stuntman like his late father that he has been told is Evel Knievel's back-up. Rod puts in a lot of effort but is amateur at best and that does not mean he stops. Ian McShane co-stars as Rod's stepfather whose respect he has been trying to get and needs an operation so Rod plans a stunt to jump over 15 buses in hopes of raising the money needed for the operation. Jorma Taccone, Bill Hader, Danny McBride, Isla Fisher, Sissy Spacek, Will Arnett, Chester Tam, Mark Acheson, Chris Parnell, Brittany Tiplady, Ken Kirzinger, Britt Irvin, and many others co-star in this comedy. This is one of the few comedies where I laugh from start to finish. I feel Samberg is someone that doesn't even have to put any effort into being funny.
Atonement (2007): Now my first two selections were a lot of fun but now I get a little more serious. Joe Wright directed this film which is based on the novel by Ian McEwan. Saoirse Ronan stars as 13 year old aspiring writer Briony who wrongly accuses her older sister Cecelia's, played by Keira Knightley, lover Robbie, played by James McAvoy, of something and sets the course for the lives of many to change through the years. Brenda Blethyn, Harriet Walker, Juno Temple, Alfie Allen, Patrick Kennedy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Wight, Michelle Duncan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Minghella, and many others co-star in this film. I had to just give a basic plot on this one as it is a very complex film. It shows the need to put thought into the things you do before unreasonably ruining a life. This is a very compelling film that deserves a look.
Betty Tells Her Story (1972): This is my short film for the week. This is a documentary short which features a woman named Betty. She tells her story about trying to find "the perfect dress" and looking forward to wearing it only to lose it. This may sound rather petty and trivial but it was one of the first independent films of the women's movement to explore body image, self-worth, and beauty. This is available to watch on the Criterion Channel.
Stagecoach (1939): This is my western for the week which was directed by John Ford. This movie centers around a stagecoach trip as the title implies. It was supposed to be an easy one but things get complicated when they learn Geronimo and his Apaches are on the warpath. They are helped by the fugitive the Ringo Kid, played by John Wayne, who is being taken to jail but is needed when attacked. Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, Louise Platt, George Bancroft, Donald Meek, Berton Churchill, Tim Holt, Tom Tyler, and many others co-star in this classic western. This does have a really good group of characters and some good action to go along with it. This is kind of a transitional film for Wayne who had been doing more B-westerns and this transformed him into the Duke we know today. This is available to watch on Amazon Prime.
The Haunted Strangler (1958): I decided to bring in some horror this week which is directed by Robert Day. Boris Karloff stars as writer James Rankin who believes the wrong man was hanged for serial murders and starts to investigate. When picking up the scalpel used for the murders, he becomes possessed in Jekyll and Hyde like transformations and begins committing similar killings. Jean Kent, Elizabeth Allan, Anthony Dawson, Vera Day, Tim Turner, and many others co-star in this horror film. This is a pretty decent horror film that has gone overlooked through the years and an underrated performance for Karloff. This is available to watch on the Criterion Channel.
The Life Ahead (2020): Edoardo Ponti directed this Italian film based on the book by Romain Gary. Sophia Loren stars as Holocaust survivor Madame Rosa who runs a daycare business and reluctantly takes in a young boy named Momo, played by Ibrahima Gueye, that robbed her. Slowly, they form a bond as Rosa tries to get Momo out of his crime ways and Momo is trying to understand some of what appears to be PTSD with things that went on during the Holocaust. Renato Carpentieri, Massimiliano Rossi, Abril Zamora, Babak Karimi, and many others co-star in this film. The director Ponti is the son of Loren and is their third collaboration together. This is Loren's first role since 2010 and was evidently just waiting for something she could really sink her teeth into and did so very well. This is a really good look at someone dealing with PTSD and trying to maintain her current life. This is available to watch on Netflix.
The Deadly Mantis (1957): This is my sci-fi horror movie for the week which was directed by Nathan Juran. Craig Stevens stars as Colonel Joe Parkman who investigates his post at the North Pole when he sees his men aren't responding only to find they disappeared. As the title indicates, a dormant giant mantis is loose and wreaking havoc. William Hopper co-stars as a paleontologist that tries to help. Alix Talton, Pat Conway, Florenz Ames, Paul Smith, Phil Harvey, Floyd Simmons, and many others co-star in this movie. This is a pretty good creature feature in my opinion with pretty good special effects for the time. This is available to watch on the Fawesome app for free with commercials.
Mark Twain Tonight (1967): Paul Bogart directed this tv special of Hal Holbrook's live one man show where he portrays the legendary author Mark Twain. He portrays Holbrook at 70 years of age mostly reflecting on his life, reading passages from his books, and expressing a lot of his viewpoints. This was something Holbrook would do throughout his career where he would perform what was essentially a stand up comedy act. Years ago, I got to see him perform this at Emens Auditorium in my town which is in Ball State University. My friend Lisa and me went to see this and as students, I believe we got out tickets for free. It was a very good experience with Holbrook doing what was likely his favorite project as he researched everything and wrote his own material.
The Beaches of Agnes (2008): I end the week with this documentary which was directed by Agnes Varda and Laura Obiols. Varda reflects on her memories from childhood to her career in film and photography. This is done through photographs, film clips, home movies, interviews, and even reenacting times from her life. I really did not know anything about Agnes Varda but she is clearly a very fascinating person and will likely start looking into some of her movies. This is available to watch on the Criterion Channel.