Monday, January 26, 2009

A Famous Movie Still That Perfectly Captures My Frame of Mind at This Moment in Time

Hopefully once work and life slow down a little I can get back to posting here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"I Am Not a Number. I Am a Free Man!"

R.I.P. Patrick McGoohan, star, writer and co-creator of the landmark 1960's cult series, The Prisoner.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Make Room for Rickey

Colonel Mortimer would like to wish congratulations to Colonel Mortimer's all-time favorite baseball player. Of course, Colonel Mortimer could be referring to none other than the greatest lead-off hitter in league history, Rickey Nelson Henley Henderson.

While Rickey the man may have had his faults--an ego equal to his impressive skills (upon surpassing Lou Brock to become the all-time stolen base leader, he humbly announced that he was now "the greatest of all time!"); his responsibility in the popularization of the trend that saw athletes referring to themselves in the third person, and he perhaps stuck around far too long after the effects of aging took their toll on his abilities, even playing a year or two in the minor leagues in his mid-forties. But all of these components are part of his overall persona, and damn if his charm is not only despite these traits, but because of them. And besides, I'll take his bravado over the false modesty of the likes of Alex Rodriguez any day of the week.

In 2003, a year that would prove to be his final season in the major leagues, I was lucky enough to see Rickey play in person one last time. It was during his half-season stint with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He didn't start, but late in the game, with the Dodgers holding a several run lead, Rickey came in to pinch hit for the starting pitcher, Hideo Nomo, if memory serves. He swung at an early pitch, hit an easy one hop grounder to the shortstop and was promptly thrown out. But Rickey, then 44 years old, ran towards first base with the same passion and intensity he displayed in his earlier and more fortuitous years as a World Series champ with the 1989 A's team (and the '93 Blue Jays) and in his 1990 AL MVP campaign.

My excitement at Rickey's should-have-been-unanimous induction into the Hall of Fame is tempered somewhat by the fact that once Jerry Rice gets enshrined at Canton next year, no more players from the greatest era (the late 80's/early 90's) of my two favorite sports teams (the A's and 49ers, natch) are left to be celebrated (well maybe Mark McGwire, but that is seeming less likely due to the cloud of steroid abuse and anyway that fucker would probably go in as a Cardinal anyway) with no modern players from either teams worthy of mention. But weeping for the last vestiges of my youth's prosperous sports franchise success is for another time, let's celebrate the man, the legend, the Rickey Henderson!

Bringing Justice to the Streets

When we last left mild mannered architect turned unmild mannered vigilante Paul Kersey in Death Wish 2, he had withdrawn from his bourgeois society trappings and embraced the underground where he lived amongst the slums of Hollywood to best protect the innocent from the savage punks that run amok, like a modern day Tom Joad with better weaponry. As is their want, the creative team behind Death Wish 3--returning director Michael Winner, star Charles Bronson and producers Menheim Golam and Yoram Globus, completely toss continuity aside and the third film opens with Kersey on a bus returning to the city that he fled at the conclusion of part one, New York.

In my review of DW2 I inferred that the sequel was superior to the original due to its lack of pretense and accepting of the revenge film's true exploitative nature. My thesis gets sullied a bit in part 3 where Winner tilts the scales far too much in the exploitation side. It is a Cannon film through and through and very much a product of it's company's idiom as well as the mid 1980's, where bloodless warfare was seen by many impressionable action cinema/television viewers of all ages via hit products like The A-Team and the cartoon G.I. Joe. Of which DWIII is of the same ilk. There's literally a scene where kids dance next to the dead bodies of the gang members to Jimmy Page's funky score (yes, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page!)

In DW3 the impetus that drives Kersey back into the punk blowing away game is the murder of an old war buddy who refuses to take part in the extortion of the dwellers of a downtrodden apartment complex in a never mentioned New York borough (the film was shot both in Brooklyn and London). This provocation that drives the film is a bit of a limp catalyst after having his wife and daughter murdered in the first two films. My only wish is that the hushed voiced narrator would have solemnly intoned something along the lines of "First they killed his wife. Then his daughter. But this time, they have pushed Paul Kersey too far...they have murdered an acquaintance that he kind of liked!" in the film's trailer.

There are three major differences between the third entry and parts 1 & 2. The first two dampen the essence of the Death Wish series for me, while the third makes for the film's main (and almost sole) pleasure. The bad elements first: The captain of an ineffective and indifferent police squad (played by character actor extraordinaire Ed Lauter) gives Kersey carte blanche to kill any goons that would help clean the city, thus robbing a crucial element of Kersey's character by removing the prefix "folk" or "anti" before hero from the equation. It also fully endorses the vigilante actions of the hero, removing whatever trace elements of the questioning of Kersey's motives or sanity the source material and the third acts of the previous two films had built. The film is redeemed slightly by giving Kersey his first true adversarial equal, Manny Fraker, played by Gavan O'Herlihy, a wonderful cross between Gary Busey and Klaus Kinski, sporting a hairstyle due for a fashion rediscovery, a reverse mohawk: the sides are grown out and the middle is completely shaved with red war paint streaked vertically across. Neither of the predecessors featured a worthy main opponent for Bronson, and in the original film, Kersey didn't even have the opportunity to go after the specific perpetrators responsible for his wife's death.

DWIII eventually develops into an all out war between the low income dwellers of the apartment complex and Fraker's gang. Kersey fighting side to side with the city's poorer residents provides some nice counter balance to the first film's depiction of the financially challenged, but by that point the film has became an all-out cartoon featuring elderly couples creating Home Alone style booby traps, convenient store owners tossing handmade bombs and the aforementioned children dancing over corpses. Admittedly, writing this out makes it sound actually pretty awesome. Sadly, the execution is mishandled by Winner and the ridiculousness of the proceedings is never fully embraced.

I understand the need to throw a wrench into a long-running series to stave off repetitiveness, especially something with the narrative limitations of Death Wish, but the essence of the series is completely lost in part III and Kersey is now just a urban Rambo figure. Part Four is next, hopefully we will see some playful shifting of the formula while returning Kersey to his lone avenger and outlaw status.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Two Literary Passings

I realize this isn't necessarily the up to the nanosecond "current" news one expects from the immediacy of the internet, but two men passed away in the last week for whom I would like to offer brief, if belated, tributes.

Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008) was an extremely proficient author of pulp fictions who in addition to writing under his real name, wrote under several pseudonyms. He also dabbled in screenwriting, of which his work includes the underrated thriller The Stepfather and the adaptation of Jim Thompson's The Grifters. As part of my 52 books read in 2008 goal I finally delved into his intimidating oeuvre, reading Somebody Owes Me Money and The Busy Body. Both novels displayed his gifts for witty prose, quick pacing, unique and humorous takes on the crime genre and most impressively, his emphasis on strong, well defined characters. Under his most famous nom de plume, Richard Stark, he wrote the Parker novels (such as The Hunter and The Outfit) which have inspired many film adaptations, most notably John Boorman's Point Blank starring Lee Marvin. I have not yet read any of the Stark novels, but they have recently been reissued for the first time in years via the University of Chicago Press publishing company.

And if you are interested in purchasing any of Westlake's novels, and are a Los Angeles resident, might I suggest a trip to the historic Sunset Strip book store, Book Soup, one of the last remaining independent book retailers in the city's west side?

Sadly, Book Soup's founder Glenn Goldman (1950-2009) passed away on January 3rd from pancreatic cancer at the age of 58. At the time of his death, he was considering selling the store. Hopefully, if some good can come from his untimely passing it's that people who may have taken Book Soup for granted over the last few years will insure that whoever takes over day to day operations will continue to run the store by the same principles and practices, and more importantly keep it a book store period, something along the lines of what occurred after New Beverly Theatre founder Sherman Torgan passed away in July 2007: repertory theatre fans and filmmakers who frequented the New Beverly before fame rallied together, coming to the theatre in droves and assisting in the programming. As such, today the theatre is operating stronger than ever.

For additional reading, I recommend this entry from the author of Seagalogy, Vern, who offers a heartfelt eulogy to Westlake over at Ain't It Cool News.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Colonel Mortimer's 2008 Film Journal Stats and Assorted Sundries

Every year like any film nerd worth his salt I kept a viewing journal notating each film I saw, method of viewing (theatre, DVD, quarter peepshow), director, year of release, and if watching a film I have seen before, the number of times I have viewed it in total (when known). Inspired by this posting at Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot, I decided to take a closer look at some of the more esoteric details in my 2008 film viewing habits and share the results.

Total Films Seen: 293

Three more than 2007, but less than the 300 plus titles I was averaging circa 2004-6, last year's downturn being a result of it being the year of my marriage. This year's is due partially to my first full year in wedded bliss coupled with my New Year Goal of reading 52 books in 2008 (Mission Accomplished! More on that in another post) and watching more full seasons of television series than normal (The Wire being the biggest perpetrator of time consumption; a full list is included below).

Films Seen Theatrically: 86

Which is an average of over one and a half cinema trips a week, somewhat misleading due to my penchant of sneaking into an additional movie after watching the one I paid to see and four programmed double bills at repertory theatres.

Non 2007-08 Films Seen Theatrically: 10

Which when taken into consideration my membership at the American Cinematheque and the bevy of programming at my favorite theatre, the New Beverly amongst other repertory options in Southern California, is rather pathetic.

Films Seen by Decade:
2000s: 146
1990s: 12
1980s: 36
1970s: 47
1960s: 19
1950s: 10 (all of which were either foreign or directed by Howard Hawks!)
1940s: 12
1930s and before: 11

Note to self: watch more older films.

First film watched: Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter
First film watched theatrically: Juno
Last film watched: George Washington
Last film watched theatrically: Timecrimes

Number of films watched for the first time in 2008: 216

Number of films watched for the third or greater time in 2008: 33

5 Filmmakers Whose Work Was Watched Most Frequently:

Joe Dante: 8 (Hollywood Boulevard, Piranha, The Howling, Explorers, Innerspace, The Burbs, Matinee, Runaway Daughters)

Werner Herzog: 7
(Rescue Dawn, Encounters at the End of the World, Signs of Life, Even Dwarves Started Small, Fata Morgana, Land of Silence and Darkness, Aguirre: Wrath of God)

Howard Hawks: 7 (Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Land of the Pharaohs, Rio Bravo, Hatari!, El Dorado, Rio Lobo)

Steven Spielberg: 5 (Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, ET: The Extra-Terrestrial)

Mario Bava: 4 (Bay of Blood, Lisa and the Devil, Baron Blood, The Girl Who Saw Too Much)

If ever a list presented the schizophrenic nature of my movie taste and viewing habits it's this. Which reminds me I never got around to rewatching The Last Crusade in my Indiana Jones re-evaluations, I guess Crystal Skull killed that project's enthusiasm.

Number of Movies Watched per Month:

January: 28
February: 21
March: 24
April: 29
May: 26
June: 24
July: 26
August: 20
September: 25
October: 24
November: 24
December: 22

Interestingly, I watched at least 20 per month but never more than 29. April, my birthday month, featured the most cinema. August, for some reason, perhaps the paucity of interesting current releases, the least.

Movies by Country of Origin:

United States: 222
England: 19
France: 13
Italy: 11
Germany: 7
Canada: 6
Japan: 4
China: 4
Mexico: 2
Turkey: 2
Sweden: 2
Czech Republic: 1

A few notes, for international co-productions I usually sided either with the origin of the film's director or the language spoken most frequently. Slumdog Millionaire is a British production company with a British director and although English is only spoken for roughly 25% of it's running time, I placed it with England. Edge of Heaven which is a split production between Germany and Turkey, filmed equally in both countries and whose director is a German born Turkish man went to Turkey, since the dialogue spoken tilts Turkish about 60/40. And yes, it is ridiculous how little foreign language films I watched, I will make up for it in 2009.

10 Best pre-2000 Films I watched for the first time in 2008:

1. Deep End (1971, Jerzy Skolimowski)
2. Battle of Algiers (1966, Gillo Pontecorvo)
3. The Bride Wore Black (1968, Francois Truffaut)
4. Ugetsu (1953, Kenji Mizoguchi)
5. If... (1968, Lindsay Anderson)
6. Witchfinder General (1968, Michael Reeves)
7. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933, Fritz Lang)
8. Lisa and the Devil (1973, Mario Bava)
9. Truck Turner (1974, Jonathan Kaplan)
10. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953, Howard Hawks)

Not coincidentally, despite the fact I only saw 61 films from countries other than America, the top eight of this list are comprised of non-US production.

10 Worst Films Regardless of Year (although all are from 2007 or 2008), in alphabetical order:

10,000 BC
Dead Silence
The Happening
The Number 23
One Missed Call
Prom Night
Righteous Kill

One Missed Call being the worst of the lot, and the only film I watched this year that garnered an F from this very forgiving reviewer. All are American productions. Strangely, half of them have a number somewhere in the title.

Television Seasons or Mini-Series Watched in Their Entirety

The Wire: Seasons 1-5
John Adams
Lost: Season 4
Spaced: Seasons 1-2 (forgot this originally)
Star Trek: Season 1
The Twilight Zone: Season 1
Saturday Night Live: Seasons 1-2
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 1
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season 6
WKRP in Cincinnati: Season 1

Curb and Lost were the only series watched during their original broadcast dates, It's Always Sunny is the first series I watched entirely online via Hulu.

Cinephiles, obsessive compulsives and anal rententives are free to share their lists or statistics in the comment section. Psych majors feel free to psychoanalyze me.
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