Erin’s Top Films Reviewed in 2015

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1. Crimson Peak (2015) – Guillermo del Toro writes a love letter to the Gothic Horror genre.  The classic tropes of isolation, bloody histories, unnatural relationships, menacing architecture, Victorians, obvious symbolism, endangered virgins, and things that gibber and chitter in the night are explored in a visually luscious theatrical feast.  Del Toro’s use of visual metaphor is appropriately heavy, and the acting is beautifully overwrought to match.

2. Road House (1989) – A classic story of the Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold and a Dark Past, Road House lets every one revel in the simple pleasure of barroom brawls and Patrick Swayze’s oiled up body. Watch it.  Enjoy it.  It’s ridiculous and satisfying.

3. The Man Who Laughs (1928) – The only silent movie that I reviewed this year.  It’s a fun look at the pre-Hayes Code Silver Screen.  It’s a melodrama based on a Victor Hugo novel, and it is played to the hilt.  Enjoyable and accessible if you are interested in trying out silent films.

4. Shanghai Noon (2000) – Thoroughly enjoyable ramble through Wild West tropes.  Jackie Chan makes an interesting and unlikely hero for a Western, and the good-looking cowboy played by Owen Wilson only manages to be a sidekick.  Fun and funny, with trademark Jackie Chan physicality and stunts.

5. Innocent Blood (1992) – A French Vampire in Pittsburgh instead of an American Werewolf in London.  A fey vampire accidentally turns a mob boss, and spends the rest of the movie chasing them with Joe, an ousted undercover cop.  The best part of this movie are the vampire mobsters and their scenery chewing, bombastic scenes.  Not John Landis’ strongest entry, but a fair attempt at the vampire genre.

6. Grandma’s Boy (2006) –  Lowbrow stoner humor.  It is what it is, but it’s pretty solid for an Adam Sandler movie.  Funny in a juvenile way, but manages to portray actual character development for Alex, the schlubby programmer protagonist.  The best performances are from the titular Grandma and her elderly roommates.

7. Crime of Passion (1957) – Barbara Stanwyck is Kathy, an ambitious Lady Reporter cum Stifled Housewife cum Conniving Murderess.   The 1950s were not kind to women with a mind for more than card parties.  Kathy’s situation is first sympathetic, but she walks down a dark road of Femme Fatale turns.

8.  The Little Mermaid (1989) – Childhood favorite.  The Little Mermaid makes an interesting watch as an adult – King Triton’s fairly reasonable attempts at parenting are definitely not appreciated by the 16 (!) year old Ariel, who should really have been grounded forever.  The movie, however, is gorgeous, the soundtrack is perfect, and it’s definitely a great watch.

-Erin Kinchen

Crime of Passion (1957)

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fourstar

(Viewed 9/4/2015, available on Netflix)

Maybe the moral of this story is that ambitious women shouldn’t get married. Maybe the moral of this story is that ambitious women are unstable and will come to unsavory ends. Maybe the moral of this story is that forcing social roles onto people creates monsters.

Barbara Stanwyck’s Kathy goes from an ambitious journalist to a stifled housewife to a conniving and manipulative antihero. One of the reasons that I love and return to Film Noir is the presentation of flawed, but still very human characters. Viewers can identify with Kathy up until her last couple of turns. Who hasn’t been so caught up in the excitement of love that they make bad decisions? Who hasn’t been so bored by a mediocre party that they wanted to run screaming? We start losing her when she begins to manipulate the people around her, first out of “love” for her husband, and then out of the pleasure of fulfilling her own ambition, and we get to follow her dark journey towards violence and desperation.

I think that, maybe,at the time of its release, Crime of Passion was meant to convey a moral tale about learning to be happy in your station in life. Crime of Passion was made during the Hays Code era, and therefore bad behavior must be balanced with punishment. Not that Kathy should get away with her transgressions . . .

Despite the emphasis on punishing characters for behaving outside of carefully stipulated norms, I see a feminist subtext that makes the movie work for a modern viewer. I watched Crime of Passion like a tragedy about a woman trapped into a stifling life without any outlets for her own needs and wants, slowly descending into darkness.

I can recommend this movie for anyone looking for a drama or would like to see some solid acting from well-known silver screen actors. It’s a pretty accessible movie even though it comes out of a different era in movie making. Barbara Stanwyck delivers a fair performance, and Fay Wray (yes, that Fay Wray) plays a small role in the movie as well. The leading man, Sterling Hayden as Police Lieutenant Billy Doyle, comes across convincingly as a manipulatable rube. Raymond Burr (yes, that Perry Mason) does well as the hard-boiled Police Inspector that has Kathy’s number from the start.

-Erin Kinchen