Monday, February 28, 2011

Quentin Tarantino to Program the New Beverly in March


The cinema event of the season was not last night’s Academy Awards and will not be at the Kodak theatre, no sir, it will be at the New Beverly cinema starting this weekend when writer-director (and New Beverly theatre savior) Quentin Tarantino takes over programming for the entire month of March. Films scheduled so far are from such typical QT favored genres as hillbilly films, martial arts, Eurocrimes, et cetera. But the big announcement is the US premiere of the complete and uncut (running over 4 hours) version of Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair, which will be screening for a week starting at the end of March.


I am hoping to catch as many films as my schedule will allow, including most definitely, the Whole Bloody Affair. If you’re interested in anything, shoot me a comment (or email if you know me in “real” life) and we’ll see if we can organize something.

The whole schedule (which is still being updated as of this writing) can be found on the New Beverly’s website:

http://newbevcinema.com/calendar.cfm


Edited to add 3/3/11: And of course the entire The Whole Bloody Affair run sold out before I could get my ducks in a row. Damn, as happy as I am for the New Beverly having so much success, selfishly I miss the days when for even big events you could get tickets at the box office a half hour before the film started. Hopefully these screenings preclude a larger theatrical release. Oh well, I still plan on going to some of the other screenings.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Movie Theatre Memories; Meridian Quad 6

With my father’s first birthday since his death just passing on Saturday, I am feeling particularly nostalgic for the time we spent together, and as anyone who spent time with my father knows, a lot of that time involved going to the movies.

As I discussed in my GORP/The Octagon review’s opening paragraphs (here), San Jose, California, where I grew up, had in the 1980’s two different types of theatres: the first runs where the blockbusters of the day would play (the Century cinedomes, you can read what I wrote about those here), and a flurry of (usually) mall located (of both the inside and strip variety) cinemas that would show second tier releases such as horror, low budget action, and kids fare as well as second run of those aforementioned blockbusters before they made their way to the dollar theatres (there was also the still in existence Camera cinemas which specialized in art, independent and foreign titles, but I didn’t start watching those until I became a teenager in the 90’s); Cannon, Crown International, Vestron and New World produced programmers were the province of these theatres.

Opening in the late 1960's, as the population of San Jose, a more suburban bay area city located fifty miles south of San Francisco, was exploding, and located on Stevens Creek boulevard, a major thoroughfare, the Meridian Quad was what is today an increasingly uncommon entity, an independently ran theatre. While Century, AMC and United Artists had a presence in the area, there were also several theatres operated without the affiliation of a major corporation at the time.

The Meridian Quad 6 had its own personality and specials including children’s matinees on summer weekdays, frequently playing double features and something that my father took advantage of, especially after his divorce to my mother, two dollar Tuesdays, where admission to any film at any time of the day only cost two bucks every Tuesday.

While the exterior building, located in the same structure as a small strip mall, wasn’t anything special architecturally speaking, especially compared to the space age domes of the Centuries, and the seating for each individual theatre probably hovered around 250, relatively small then, but actually standard in today’s huge multiplexes that try to jam as many screens in a building as possible. Each theatre had its number (one through six) plastered on the walls in a sort retro futuristic font (here's a good example), think Disneyland’s Tomorrow land circa the 1960/1970s. Since it was a small operated enterprise, and they probably did whatever was possible to keep costs at a minimum, I remember sometimes they didn’t clean the theatres between films, and it wasn’t uncommon to get your shoes stuck to the floor. But it was never the filthy havens of the disenfranchised that the grindhouses were.

In the nineties when I was self-efficient enough to take the bus and my friends and I started getting our driver’s licenses, I would take advantage of their lax rating policy enforcement (it probably also helped that I was six feet tall by the age of fourteen) and watch R rated movies there that I couldn’t get into at the much stricter AMCs. The Meridian Quad was where I was introduced to Quentin Tarantino, catching Reservoir Dogs on a double bill with the Ice T/Ice Cube starring, Walter Hill directed Trespass in early 1993. After Trespass ended I convinced my two friends that the next film had received some good notices and we should stick around, I think it was in Entertainment Weekly’s Top Ten films of the year (ironic because I now consider the two critics for that magazine amongst the worst in major publications), and well, I was blown away, it was truly a defining moment in my cinematic history, and I and my tastes would forever be changed. I don’t think I remembered a single thing from the preceding movie (though I am now a huge Walter Hill fan, so I owe it another shot). A few months later, at the age of sixteen, my friend Steve and I purchased ticket for some PG or PG-13 rated movie and snuck into see our first NC-17 film, Bad Lieutenant, needless to say that was another formative experience for us.

Looking at the release dates for the films I remember seeing at the Meridian Quad, it appears the last film I would watch there was the Disney released Three Musketeers movie featuring Kiefer Sutherland and Charlie Sheen that was released in the fall of 1993. I would move to San Francisco to go to college in August 1994. By that point the major exhibition corporations now operated theatres with ten to sixteen screens, some of which competed for bookings with the Quad, resulting in the smaller theatre to fall further down the totem pole in prime selections. Coupled with the shrinking window of time between theatrical release and home video premiere dates, the Meridian Quad would close its doors forever in 1999 and was eventually demolished. I remember the first time I drove down Stevens Creek and realized the exterior marquee was missing feeling a large sense of grief.

With the gap between a film’s theatrical release and it being available on a portable device or your home system shrinking to about three months (Warner Brothers announced recently plans to cut that down even more) as well as the vast amount of illegal copies available online, there are obviously some impending clouds over the future of film exhibition. I understand the desire to see films in a controlled environment free from twenty minutes of commercials, parking fees and other filmgoers more interested in talking or texting instead of watching the actual film they paid ten plus dollars for, but as my generation tends to do, this would be a tragic favoring of convenience over quality. We need more temples of cinematic viewing free from easy home distractions like the internet or our phones and pets. Otherwise, the quality of the product will further suffer.

I am forever grateful that my dad took the time to instill his passion for cinema, and going to the cinema, in me and hope one day to pass my love to a child of my own. I just hope there are still some wonderful theatres like the Meridian Quad to take them to.

Below are some other specific remembrances I have of the Meridian Quad, of course, the most important memory is just spending time watching films with my father and brother.

· Being fascinated with the poster for Fletch (which I don’t believe I saw there) on display in the coming soon frame, and studying all of Irwin Fletcher’s various disguises

· Gasping in disbelief as Autobots swore and Optimus Prime died in the animated Transformers film

· Being so bored with the film The Trouble With Spies that I left the theatre about a half hour into it and played video games in the small arcade for the rest of the running time

· Sneaking in large sandwiches from Togo’s under my dad’s huge Members Only jacket

· Talking to some cute girls outside after a showing of Sleepwalkers, only to be disrupted by my mother honking her horn and calling us into her car while loudly complaining about how late it was for her to have to pick us up

· Trying and failing to convince my friends to watch another movie, any movie, than Cop and a Half. What can I say, they drove.

And here are some films that I saw at the theatre in chronological order (I am probably forgetting a few titles), included are some truly awful films, and a handful of decent ones:

The 1980's
Mickey’s Christmas Carol

Rustler’s Rhapsody

Once Bitten

Transylvania 6-5000

Rocky IV (must have been after its first run)

The Care Bears Movie (uh, it was my brother’s choice, yeah that’s it!)

Jake Speed

Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home

Transformers (animated version)

King Kong Lives

Trouble with Spies (before walking out of it)

Million Dollar Mystery

Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

The Monster Squad

Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

Dead Bang

How I Got Into College

Cyborg

Halloween 5: The Curse of Michael Myers

The 1990s


Heart Condition

Loose Cannons

The Perfect Weapon

Sleepwalkers

Trespass

Reservoir Dogs

Bad Lieutenant

Cop and a Half

The Dark Half

Menace II Society

The Three Musketeers (1993)

Finally, the one picture I could find of the theatre online (the exterior sign at the start of the article) was from the CinemaTour website, there's some more photos of the theatres there, but they are protected from pilfering, so check it out for yourself here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Tale of Two Mechanics

The Mechanic (1972, Michael Winner) opens with a dialogue free ten minute sequence as we witness Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) carefully preparing for an assassination attempt with the pulsating Jerry Fielding score and background noises emanating from the Downtown Los Angeles slum apartment he's staying in providing the only sound before Bishop successfully get his target in an explosive triumph. It’s an impressive cinematic achievement for Michael Winner who could show, and had in several films, a knack for phoning it in, a claim that could not in any way be foisted upon this film. Bishop is a solitary man, successful at what he does, namely kill people, and is highly compensated for it. He would be at home in one of French auteur Jean-Pierre Melville's muted color crime epics like Le Samouri. He does the research, keeps his mind and body agile, and always gets his target.

Early though we see the cracks in his loner faƧade, he pays a prostitute (Bronson’s wife, Jill Ireland) to put on a charade where she’s emotionally devastated that he hardly ever visits her, and upon blacking out at an aquarium, the routine questions the doctor asks about family drive the point home that he’s got no one. An unlikely bond is formed with the son of a friend and recent mark, Steve McKenna (Jan-Michael Vincent), who on the surface is Bishop’s polar opposite: young, petulant and extroverted. But McKenna impresses Bishop when he watches his cool detachment at the suicide attempt of a girlfriend. The culmination of the longing for some connection and guilt at killing the young man’s father leads Bishop to taking the young man under his wing. I won’t give away the ending, but needless to say, it’s dark, tragic and completely appropriate considering the character of these two men.

Winner’s direction is superb. Unlike something like The Transporter (starring, well, who do you know, Jason Statham) he’s completely confident enough in the strength of the Lewis John Carlino’s script to not have to resort to lazy voice-overs detailing the myriad “rules” of Bishop, they come across via action and the expressions on Bronson’s impenetrable face. Winner and cinematographer Richard H. Kline often frame Bishop in off-kilter angles that serve to remove his character from normal clear views or place him amongst crowds where he disappears in anonymity. Even his home in the hills of Los Angeles is symbolic, not only in a location that like Bishop provides voyeuristic opportunity to look at people from a distant high locale but also in it’s architecture with walls that tilt downward. Recently, many people have read the film through a homosexual lens, saying it’s really a love story between the two men. While I think it’s a little more innocent than that, more of a father and son relationship, it’s worth noting for those reading into that particular subtext that there’s at least three shots where either Jan Michael Vincent’s crotch or butt are in the foreground and Bronson's smiling face is in the background.

The Mechanic stands the test of time, it’s status as a Bronson vehicle probably led it to be undervalued by mainstream critics of the day, but like many of the best American films from the era there’s a depth and respect for the art of filmmaking coupled with it’s still enjoyable on the surface action. Winner and Bronson would continue to collaborate, most notably on the first three Death Wish films, but their collaborations would never yield the highs they do here.

Surprisingly, Simon West’s 2011 faithful in plot details if not tone remake, also opens with a dialogue light assassination attempt, albeit it one about a third of the length of Winner’s film. However, the major difference is that there’s absolutely no time spent on Arthur Bishop’s (Jason Statham) preparation, with the emphasis instead placed on the heavy difficulty of the task at hand: the countless armed bodyguards, the limited amount of time he has, an underwater haven and a jump off a large bridge. Which is telling for the film, a decent action movie on its own that suffers immensely in comparison to the original.

If a modern day actor had to take over for Bronson, Jason Statham is a good choice. He’s got the look, chops and a sense of humor, and is one of a very small number of modern action stars that I could actually see being on the Canon Film roster if he was around in the early to mid 80’s. However, and more the fault of the reworked script than the actor, his Bishop is a completely neutered creation. He seems to assassinate only “bad guys” whereas Bronson’s character didn’t care, the one questionable murder he does commit he’s ultimately let off the hook for by a third act twist, he even seems to be have a better relationship with his frequented prostitute, and gives her a puppy at one point! There’s little sense of the nihilistic streak or even the pride of his work displayed in the original. And due to Statham’s younger age and more defined physique compared to a then fifty-one year old Bronson, the sense of someone whose life is nearing the end and not having any companionship is completely lost. As for Ben Foster in the McKenna role, I don’t think anyone would doubt he’s a more capable actor than Vincent, however Vincent nails the role, and Foster plays him as a brooding broken man cliche whose true emotions are never hidden below the surface.

Director West who has helmed some of the worst movies of the last decade or so: Tomb Raider, The General’s Daughter, the When a Stranger Calls remake (hey, are you noticing a trend), actually does an admirable job here, it’s quickly edited and features perhaps the lamest of recent special effect trends: the dreaded CGI blood squibs, but the cuts are never of the avid fart variety and it’s shot clearly and crisply, using a few good New Orleans locations. It’s a solid modern day action movie, but there’s no such need for such qualifiers for the original, which is a great film pure and simple.

I did watch a film this week that I found closer in spirit to the original Mechanic than its remake, and that’s the Anton Corbijn directed, George Clooney starring The American. I know that this film gained notoriety for featuring some of the worst scores in Cinemascore history (speaking of which has anyone ever actually been given a Cinemascore review card following a screening? It’s never happened to me), and was considered “slow” by modern audiences, but I don’t know, I was enthralled from start to finish. It features a minimal amount of dialogue, appropriate for Clooney’s character, a lot of attention and detail is spent on his creation of an assassination weapon, and hints and clues of his character traits are revealed organically via action, dialogue and Clooney’s reactions. Shot in Italy and Sweden, it’s full of exquisite cinematography, a sense of rising dread, and beautiful locales and women. Considering its reputation, it’s very straight forward, and I recommend it to fans of the original Mechanic and director Jean-Pierre Melville.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Before He Was Expendable

Part of the 1981 Project

Sylvester Stallone’s career was at a small crossroads when 1981 rolled around. Four years after the tremendous box office success of Rocky, which netted him Academy Award nominations for his performance and screenplay, and won the Best Picture Oscar, Stallone had earned favorable notices for FIST and Paradise Alley, and began a directing career which included the successful sequel Rocky II. But he was not yet the brand he would become later in the decade, and the two films he’s featured in that were released in 1981 show a Stallone still attempting to be acknowledged for his acting skill rather than his brawn, and while he may be top billed in both films he shares equal screen time in Victory with thespian heavyweights Michael Caine and Max von Sydow (and, uh, Pele) and in Nighthawks with Rutger Hauer, making his American film debut.

Neither film were sizable hits, and Stallone wouldn’t have his first crossover success in a non-Rocky character role until 1982, when Vietnam Vet John Rambo’s plight in First Blood led to the other monosyllabic speaking character for which he’s now synonymous. The year 1982 also featured the release of Rocky III, which saw that franchise divorcing itself further from the more realistic world of the first film. Much like Rocky in the third film, Stallone would no longer be the underdog, and even though he would be featured in multiple films with disastrous reputations in the 1980’s (Rhinestone, Over the Top and the Saturday Night Fever sequel he directed, Staying Alive), this transformation to a muscular, hulking visual symbol of Ronald Reagan’s American values made him one of the most bankable stars in the world. Between 1982 and 1990, Stallone would play either Rocky or Rambo a total of six times.

However, this is the 1981 Project, so we will reserve further conversation of First Blood or Rocky III until next year, and focus on a Stallone who was still very much finding his niche after the phenomenal success of Rocky.

Nighthawks (Bruce Malmuth)

Opening with our two buddy cops (Stallone and Billy Dee Williams) in an undercover sting operation that features Stallone in drag, disguised as the ugliest prostitute in the Bronx (now that’s saying something!), Nighthawks calls to mind the Eurocrime thrillers of the prior decade, as well as one of the major progenitor of that genre, William Friedkin’s The French Connection. In fact, Nighthawks script originated as French Connection III, before Gene Hackman rejected the notion of returning for another go as Popeye Doyle. Our heroes now introduced, the film then cuts to our villain, Wolfgaur (Rutger Hauer), a terrorist of unspecified affiliations (though his character seems more motivated by fear and destruction than politics) who leaves a bomb in a crowded London shopping area.

Much like the poster which features half of both Stallone and Hauer’s faces split down the middle to form a single image separated only by a gun, Nighthawks, works best when it contrasts the hunter, Stallone, in a rare role as a pacifist with no interest in collateral damage, and the hunted, Hauer, impressive here as a force of violence and sexual dalliances. The screenplay ignores some very specific details, like for example the origin of the intel that reveals Wolfgaur is in New York, which I understand could have led some critics to see it as a mere collection of set pieces, but I actually liked this aspect, and this structure best serves the strengths of both the leads and director Malmuth.

Stallone, with a thick beard and glasses, is a bit up and down here. His character is given two modes: either he screams everything in impotent fury, or he understates his lines, most hilariously in a scene where Wolfgaur drops a hostage from an air tram and he mutters “goddamit, he killed her” with less emotion and conviction than the robot Paulie owned in Rocky IV. Pairing the script down to its barest roots while an advantage at first, becomes problematic as it cuts out most of his relationship with his on again off again girlfriend, Lindsey Wagner, thus lessening the impact of the film’s final scene, which for those like me grew up watch Terror in the Aisle, have had spoiled many years ago.

Victory (John Huston)

With his frequent writing, producing and directing credits, it’s safe to say that Stallone has more cinematic ambitions than either of his two brethren in the 80’s/90s action heroes with Republican ties: Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis. But, at least both Arnold and Bruce seemed more willing to allow a strong willed director like Quentin Tarantino, Paul Verhoveen, James Cameron or John Milius to push their range or challenge their image. With all due respects to Ted Kotcheff, John Landis and Renny Harlin (heh), and not counting Woody Allen (Sly portrayed hood on the subway # 3 in Bananas), John Huston is by far the strongest director that Stallone has ever collaborated with in his career, even if it was towards the end of his life and he was honestly in check cashing mode (Annie directly followed this), in fairness, his wonderful, eccentric and deeply personal Flannery O’Conner adaptation Wise Blood was only two years prior. Huston provides the film with an epic sweep but cannot save it from the silliness of the script and its ludicrous finale.

Victory (or Escape from Victory as it’s known in England) concerns British POWs, amongst those a soccer coach (Michael Caine) who makes a gentlemanly bet with a sympathetic SS officer (Max von Sydow) that using only prisoners he can form a squad that can compete against and even defeat the best that Germany has to offer. Thinking themselves the master race, and impervious to losing, Germany accepts the wager. I know what you’re thinking reading that description: sympathetic SS officers? British POWs? Soccer!?!?! I have a feeling the producers had the same thought, and as a result they shoehorned Stallone’s brash, desperate to escape, and (the only) American POW, to entice US audiences. And frankly, they could have fit him in more seamlessly, however, it does provide Stallone the opportunity to play in a Steve McQueen type role, though he (or the character) is too whiny and petulant (remember this is a British film’s depiction of an American, albeit it one directed by an American) to pull off the cool that McQueen effortlessly projects throughout his career, including most notably, comparatively speaking, The Great Escape.

Huston keeps the film running at a good clip, but ultimately the ridiculousness of the final climactic soccer game sinks it into mediocrity. SPOILER WARNING: It all comes to a head during halftime of the match, through his work with the French resistance; Stallone has procured their assistance in an escape via the locker room. The players have to choose between prideful competition and freedom, an especially heavy decision seeing how the team features two Polish players on temporary release from a concentration camp. Ultimately, they choose to play on, and the film descends into the most crooked sporting event this side of the Hannah Barbara Wacky Racers cartoons, and the previously dignified German team becomes the more typical personifications of evil we are more used to (and to be fair, they are Nazis), a far cry from the more Grand Illusion inspired relationship between Caine and von Sydow. The film culminates in a historically and intelligently inaccurate absurd “everything works out great” conclusion where the team gains not only sporting superiority, but their freedom.

One must credit for Stallone for trying different type of roles post-Rocky superstardom, especially since the major knock on him is the lack of range displayed in Rocky, Rambo, Cobra, Over the Top, etc. He seems a strange fit for both of these roles, perhaps this is me just projecting my image of who he is and would become, but he comes across as being out of his element in both Victory and Nighthawks.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Now Playing: February 1981

My first reviews for the 1981 Project are way overdue, but trust me, they are in the works. In the meantime, let's hop in our time machines and take a gander at the films that were opening theatrically in the United States this month thirty years ago, The Roomates of the day, if you will.

Waiting for those who braved the winter elements to make it to their local theatres were an intriguing blend of genre fare, foreign curios of all stripes and an assortment of films by noteable directors such as Ralph Bakshi (American Pop), recently deceased Peter Yates (Eyewitness), Francois Truffaut (The Last Metro), Paul Verhoveen (Spetters) and Academy Award winner for Patton, Franklin J. Schaffner (Sphynx). But to this viewer, based on the titles I've seen, the gem of the month is the Richard Franklin (Psycho II) directed taut Rear Window inspired thriller, Road Games, featuring Stacey Keach as a truck driver in the outback of Australia who witnesses a murder on the road, and Jamie Lee Curtis as the hitchhiker he picks up and falls for.

The Last Metro, which due to the general fuzziness of foreign film release dates in America, was reviewed here last year as part of my 1980 Project.















Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

Serving as both a sequel and prequel to the original Psycho (and it’s two “official” sequels), Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990, Mick Garris) is indicative of a trend that started popping up in the late 80s through mid-90’s where long standing horror franchise were coming to the realization that as the millennium was coming to a close, most likely, so were they. Henceforth, in a storyline that encompassed both Halloween 5 (1989) and Halloween 6 (1995), Michael Meyers was revealed to be under the control of some kind of druid cult; in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991) it’s unveiled that three demonic trolls allowed Freddy Krueger satanic squatter’s rights to terrorize the dreams of teenagers and making him impervious to any real world death, save of course being pulled out of the real world via his anaglyph 3-D glasses wearing daughter; and last and perhaps least in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), we learn that Jason Voorhees heart possesses all of his strength and that it can be transmitted person to person a la a poor The Hidden rip-off. Psycho IV: The Beginning would be the last Anthony Perkins starring entry in the series, and the first to eschew theatres, premiering on pay cable channel Showtime on November 10th, 1990, four years after Psycho III’s theatrical release (my review). Bates Motel (my review) which began as a potential pilot for a new series also was made for television; however the events in that film are completely ignored, much as it ignored the two sequels.

Norman Bates has been rehabilitated since the events of Psycho III, or at least in the eyes of the extremely lenient Fruitvale judicial system which lets a multiple murderer off after serving less than half a decade behind jail. He’s now living in suburbia and is married. One night during a radio call-in show where the host (CCH Pounder) is interviewing his old psychiatrist, Norman anonymously phones in and relates the story of his past, told via flashback, and this present day quandary: his wife against his will, has become pregnant with his child. Is his child destined to the same fate of a life of cross dressing, peeping tom foolery and murdering? And if that’s even a remote possibility, doesn’t Norman owe it to any potential future victims to kill his wife and unborn child!

Helmed by director Mick Garris, who I like to refer to as the horror genre’s Zelig (of Forrest Gump if that’s a more recognizable reference to you) in that he has asserted himself into relationships with many of the greats of the genre, but without a quality input to match his famous friends. He has a tremendously strong relationship with Stephen King, having directed five of the author’s film adaptations, as a college student he hosted a cable access show wherein he conducted a round table interview with many of the modern day horror greats: David Cronenberg, John Landis (who has a cameo as the radio show's producer), and John Carpenter (I posted those clips back in October here), and he hosts an annual Masters of Horror dinner which unites horror film directors of all ages and actually turned those meetings into a Showtime aired anthology show called Masters of Horror which gave work to some filmmakers who had fallen out of flavor in Hollywood such as Joe Dante, Landis and Carpenter. His enthusiasm is appreciated and from all accounts he’s a hell of a nice guy. But here’s the thing, he’s not a good filmmaker in his own right. His films lack a voice or vision and his relationship usually clouds his decision making. Garris is the guy you call when you want a fidelitious remake of The Shining to course correct that meddling madman Stanley Kubrick (King’s opinion, not mine, it was my # 2 film of 1980). For example: I’ve only seen five of the Master of Horror episodes, but amongst the ones I did see include the worst films of both Joe Dante and John Carpenter’s careers.

Whether it’s the result of the script written by Joseph Stefano (screenwriter of the original) or Garris himself, Psycho IV, even though starring Perkins can’t help but feel like fan-fiction. There’s a litany of visual shots, plot devices and dialogue from Hitchcock’s original sprinkled throughout commenting on nothing, just gentle, “hey remember the original?” fan service. So we get another car sinking into the marsh, another peep hole, and, yes, Norman tells the talk show host that a boy’s best friend is, get this, his mother (a bit of catchphrase issue I’ve always have had with sequels, do people in really life always remember that one clever thing they said that one time, like “yippee ki-yay-motherfucker” and repeat them socially ad naseum? If you were friends with that person, wouldn’t that annoy you? Psycho IV reaches so far in the well that they trudge up the “trusty umbrella” line) and the answer is yes, I do remember the original, and I should probably be watching it instead of part IV. Contrast with what Richard Franklin did with part II (my review); Franklin who was literally a student of Hitchcock also referenced images from the original but to perversely play with our perceptions. Credit should be given to Garris and cinematographer Rodney Charter, the film may feel like a made-for-cable enterprise in structure and scope, but thanks to the use of anamorphic framing and a keen eye, it at least looks like cinema.

After my main complaint in my Psycho III review being the sense of routine in Perkins’ performance, it was nice seeing Perkins looking so well so close to his death from AIDS here, that it is hard for me to objectively critique it. Though I will say that he doesn’t have much to do, he’s limited to one set for the first two Acts and mostly talks on the phone in those scenes, before finally making his way back to the scene of the crimes in the film’s finale. Henry Thomas, the lead of another iconic Universal film, plays Norman as a teenager, sexually confused and obsessed with his mother Norma, a still great looking Olivia Hussey, and, frankly can you blame him? Due to the structure of the film: intercutting the telephone conversation between Norman and the talk show host with non-linear flashbacks, neither Thomas or Hussey ever get their performances into any sort of rhythm and they come across as the basest one note of their character—domineering, unstable and needy for Hussey; nervous and timid for Thomas.

Psycho IV again displays the major fallacy of “prequels”: backstory does not result in compelling storytelling. The one interesting aspect that the film raises is the question of nature versus nurture in terms of Bates’ insecurities that his psychological issues will be passed down to his child, although the film stacks the deck against any chance of ambiguity by having Norma be such a crazed (psycho, if you will) unrelatable individual that it’s highly unlikely unless Norman’s wife forces his child to dress in transgendered clothing and locks him/her in the closet for hours on end there will be any repercussions. It also weakens Norman’s character and gives a lame simple prognosis to what should be a much more complex and ambiguous character.

This would be the last time Perkins ever swallowed candy corn on screen, as he sadly passed away in 1992 at the age of sixty. Although he acted in numerous films and plays and had a career as a recording artist (a field his son took up), his obituaries always started and ended with Norman Bates, ironic considering that he was cast against type originally.

Next up: Gus Van Sant, you’ve just had your first huge financial and critically lauded Academy Award nominated success, what are you going to do next? Wait…what?

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