Thursday, September 30, 2010
Like Any Good Horror Film, A Sequel or Remake is in the Works
Last October I was able to provide a Horror movie (or music) themed blog entry a day to the surprise of, well, myself mostly. For those who missed it, or want to relive the past, click here.
Well folks, schedule and life permitting (and as this year has showed me, take nothing for granted), I should be continuing the Horror themed post a day schedule for this month. Starting tomorrow look forward to Horror tinged posts in my usual categories (The 80s Project, Posterized, The Movies Go to the Movies, etc.) around 8:00pm every night.
Elsewhere let me recommend the sure to be fascinating John Carpenter Blog-a-than that Radiator Heaven is hosting. Hopefully I will contribute to it, if I get around to writing a review for The Fog, and he'll have it!
P.S.: RIP Arthur Penn, Greg Giraldo, and Tony Curtis!
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Sally Menke 1953-2010
I know everyone else is posting these today, but in case you haven't seen it, here are the takes that Tarantino and his actors made specifically for Menke from Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds, they show the respect and love he had for his editor.
Here's a link to a brief eulogy from writer-director Edgar Wright.
Rest in peace, Sally.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
The Great Unwatched DVD/Blu-Ray Project or The Quixotic Foibles of a Cinephile: A Collector's Lament in A Minor
The Card Player (04, Dario Argento)--My first post-Opera Argento, and it was an awful slog. So sad to see the master craftsman's complete discretion of his skills as he tries vainly to recontextualize the tropes of earlier films like Deep Red to the modern day, never realizing how uncinematic online poker truly is. (1st Viewing)
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
1980 B-Movie and Theatre Memories plus Reviews of The Octagon and GORP
Forewarning: More time and energy is spent on describing my memories of film exhibition in San Jose circa the early to mid 1980s than on the actual film reviews. Sorry.
By time I became cognizant of theatrical exhibition practices in my hometown of San Jose, CA (this would be around 1982, when I was six years old) I don't believe the city had any grindhouses left, if they ever had any to begin with, though it had a few theatres that still showed porn and at least one that programmed martial arts films only, and unlike the 1970's sex and violence programmed counterparts, Drive-ins were pretty much extension of mainstream theatres, showing the hits of the day with an older film from the same studio as a co-feature. So, sadly I do not have nostalgic memories of catching high quality trash exploitation fare at either a grimy bum-ridden theatre or in a drive-in (I did see a lot of things at the drive-in however).
If you will allow further tangential discussion before getting to today's reviews, let me describe a bit how films tended to open in the early to mid 1980's in my hometown. There were generally two levels of release. The bigger budgeted, studio produced, films would open exclusively at the Century theatres, a collection of high quality domed theatres. At their height there were a total of eleven screens between the 6 theatres (those theatres being the Century 21, Century Town and Country, Century 22, Century 23, Century 24 and Century 25), so there was a more exclusive nature to what played there. These films also generally opened concurrently at the local drive-ins too. As for the more cheaply made usually genre fare that was also frequently produced in the era, they opened wider and played for shorter engagements in theatres that generally had six to eight screens and were located either within or next to malls (they would often play the films that just left the Century theatres too until they made their way to the Dollar theatres). Towards the latter stages of the decade, larger multiplexes with ten or more screens began popping up throughout San Jose and neighboring cities such as Mountain View and Milpitas. As a result, wherein in 1982 something like say E.T. would open only on one or two in-door theatre screens in San Jose, by 1990, something of say Dick Tracy's caliber would open in about four or five theatres, and due to the size of multiplexes which could open bigger films on multiple screens, about eight to ten screens.
Today those small mall multiplex theatres have vanished and been replaced with bigger models that now show every first run feature that is released (save foreign and edgier independent films that are still ghettoized to urban areas), and films open wider and play theatrically for less and less time, not unsimilar to the patterns of the b-movies of the earlier decades. Iron Man 2 for example probably opened on something close to 25 to 30 screens in the San Jose area this summer during its opening week, but was done with its main theatrical release after seven weeks versus the months long engagements films of equal success enjoyed twenty five years ago. Most depressingly, these bigger model mall located multiplexes have replaced the beautiful one screen palaces as the destination theatres, just look at Los Angeles, where the more popular cinemas are located within such shopping plazas as The Grove, Americana, Westside Pavilion and the Paseo. Consequently, most of the smaller budget exploitation fare being produced today has been relegated to cable or straight to DVD premieres.
As I get to my actual reviews (I know, finally) I wish the films I am discussing were better or that I had more to say about them. Regardless, what I find more interesting than the quality of the movies is the circumstances in which there were released and thrived. They represent a bygone era that may not have always resulted in great product, but to me is much more interesting than today’s theatrical experience.
The Octagon (Eric Karson)
I should start this review by stating that before viewing The Octagon, I had only seen two films by 1980's Cannon action superstar and current internet meme favorite Chuck Norris, not counting numerous out of context moments from his television show Walker, Texas Ranger courtesy of Conan O'Brien. Out of those two, one was Revenge of the Dragon in which he battled Mr. Bruce Lee, and the second, which I saw earlier this year, was the enjoyable if slight Andrew Davis' directed Code of Silence. While I strive to see as much as I can and want to give Norris as much of a chance to win me over, I find him too stiff and personality less; based on the two starring roles I've seen in him, he’s also unwilling to play any characters displaying anything but the whitest shade of good (ironic for someone who acted in a film titled Good Guys Wear Black). Your Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwoods, even your Schwarzeneggers, Seagals and Van Dammes infuse some personal quirks into their films and/or play characters of some ambiguity.
In the present day retired karate man Scott James (Norris) takes a gal pal home only to discover that her entire family has been slaughtered, as she will too be shortly, by...ninjas! While this would by all accounts qualify as a pretty bad first date, Norris doesn't seem too shaken up about the death of his lady and more concerned with seeing an supposedly non existent ancient warrior such as the ninja. Through his impressive detective skills, which pretty much amount to sitting down and talking with Colonel Mortimer himself, Lee Van Cleef, the leader of a militant anti-terrorist squad and being tricked into helping some rich broad, who of course wants to jump his bones, that informs him there's a secret society of terrorists being indoctrinated by a rogue ninja. That rogue ninja was Norris' training partner, who got all pissy when Norris defeated him in their training battles. Maybe because he's Asian it was a cultural reaction to losing a karate regimen to a white guy, but that's not really inferred, he's just eeeevviilll!!
The main problem with The Octagon is that for how awesome the events of the film sound when described, it's executed so blandly that the film is a boring slog. The best exploitation works know full well what they are and make up for lack of certain resources like big name actors and large budgets by heavily emphasizing what it does have going for it (e.g. car crashes, gore, ninja vs. ninja action!) and amping things to a level that are a step further than the mainstream usually allows. Unfortunately, Karson is operating under the impression that he's making a film of James Bondian scope, with an actor of Humphrey Bogart's personality. Screenwriter Leigh Chapman gives Norris' character of bevy of bon mots and witticisms that completely thud when spoken by its wooden lead, not to mention, most hilariously, an over explanatory voice over crutch which finds Norris character really slowly and with heavy echo and reverb revealing, to himself more than anything, the proceedings. The plot is too convoluted; I wasn't sure how Van Cleef's militant group even played into the whole thing. And for a film which promises ninjas and karate fighting, its lead actor and fighting coordinator Chuck Norris doesn't actually partakes in any karate action until about the fifty minute mark. I am a fairly easy mark with this type of film, but there's one thing I can't abide by, and that's boredom, which regardless of it's "sounds awesome on paper" plot or ambition, The Octagon ultimately is.
G.O.R.P. (Joseph Ruben)
Sadly, I was 0 for 2 on this round, with this Animal House imitator being an even harder watch. The character templates are replicated almost step for step from Landis' film: two smart aleck slackers, an overweight slob, the nerd, and a military obsessed member (an early performance from Dennis Quaid) but lacking any of the wit, strength of character or performances of the quality of John Belushi, Peter Reigert, et al, though Quaid does try to enliven his stereotype with some bravado exuberance. The film itself is comprised of meaningless bits of pranks, insults and sexual humor strung together with a lack of any attention paid to what came before or follows it, it's like a best-of hits compilation by a bad cover band. It's a movie made by checklist, not by any interest in entertainment. The only thing not by the numbers is the fact that it's very specifically Jewish. Admittedly, this type of humor and film is not my cup of tea, I appreciate Animal House but it's far from a benchmark for me cinematically.
Director Joseph Ruben's directorial career began with soft-core sex romps, but he would go on to have a decent career, most notably for me he directed one of my all-time favorites (since catching and recording it on HBO in 1988), The Stepfather. Here he's yet to make the transition to clear narrative storytelling, not exactly a requirement for the soft-core genre. The cast of primarily unknowns feature future stars Quaid, Fran Drescher (pre-obnoxious laugh) and “introducing” credit recipient Rosanna Arquette. Combined with the usually intriguing American International imprint and Samuel Z. Arkoff production credit, I assumed from the talent on hand the results would be a few laughs or something engaging. I was wrong. The other folly I made is thinking that since it’s never been released on DVD (but is now on Netflix Instant Watch) that it may be an undiscovered gem. But one must remember, for all the diamonds in the rough, there’s also more rough some times.
Monday, September 13, 2010
The Gong Show Movie (1980, Chuck Barris)
Though known primarily for his stint as the host of the "un talent" game show The Gong Show, Chuck Barris is quite the Renaissance man. He was a successful television producer who at the height of his career was a cottage industry unto himself responsible for hours of programming; he's authored several books (both fiction and non-fiction), and lives in the South of France. And that doesn't even mention his career as an in demand CIA operative! So it's no surprise that when his smash hit game show ended up getting a film version, he not only starred as himself, he also produced, directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Putney Swope director Robert Downey (the father of the Zodiac and Iron Man star). The resulting film is a slightly interesting mess and the most simultaneously self obsessed and self loathing film this side of The Brown Bunny, sadly the film does not conclude with Barris receiving fellatio from the Unknown Comic (though the infamous "popsicle twins" footage is included).
I am sure that Universal's thought was that Barris would transform the series to theatres with a bawdy possibly nudity filled version of the game show a la Allen Funt's What Do You Say to a Naked Lady that would fit in with it's other comedy hits like Animal House, but instead Barris offers his own personal 8 1/2 wherein he's suffering a crisis of identity as he's reached a point where he cannot go anywhere without being bombarded by strangers from all socio-economic backgrounds (we're talking from the homeless to doctors) showing their "talents" while being told what a disgrace to society he and his show is by network censors and those with discerning tastes. This loosely episodic plot is intercut with highlight reels of uncensored footage from rehearsals and the show, including its two most infamous moments: the aforementioned popsicle twins and judge Jaye P. Morgan flashing her breasts, that help pad the film’s ninety minute run time.
Chuck Barris constantly slouched and frequently adorned in a big hat that covers his eyes (the first scene of the movie shows him waking out of bed, and tossing a hat on whilst still in the clothes he slept in), became The Gong Show host by necessity, but was the perfect embodiment of the show's ethos. The ramshackle show where any person off the street could display their negligible talents for the world of course should be hosted by a man who though quirky and charismatic had a ramshackle presence and negligible credentials in comparison to other of the game show host ilk.
Just as his may not be the typical talk show host, neither is Barris a typical director. The Gong Show Movie is not a quote unquote good movie. It's plotless (which is a positive attribute all things considered), repetitive and meandering, but it's still not without a certain charm. Barris shows little visual flair as a director, but he's competent, and there are a few other much more highly regarded films released in 1980 that I've seen with less visual prowess, and with an occasional gift for a visual joke--Phil Hartman has an early career cameo as an armed terrorist getting on Barris' flight; a doctor who assails Barris with his piano playing, randomly appears on call when a fry cook needs a pianist for an impromptu audition. Barris' and viewer's best interest would probably have been for Downey to write and direct the whole thing himself, it may not have been a more successful movie but it probably would have been more memorable.
Transforming one media phenomena to film is a tricky thing. More often than not what seems like a juggernaut in the moment is more fleeting and ephemeral, and by the time the fame has been repurposed into a movie, the object of the instant stardom's status has been reduced to the discount bin. There are many more Cool as Ice and Spice Worlds than there are A Hard Day's Night in the world. Even perpetual ratings champ (and a show that always struck me as more insidious than the Gong Show) American Idol had a huge flop when it tried to take it's series first season stars into the realm of fictitious cinema. When The Gong Show Movie appeared in theatres on May 23rd, 1980 it was greeted with a disinterested public despite the fact the show would remain in syndication for much of the forthcoming decade. Universal has never released it on home video, and save a few cable screenings (the copy I viewed aired on the Sundance channel of all places!) it's been gonged out of the public consciousness quicker than any critical decisions from Jamie Farr himself.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Posterized: Now Playing September 1980
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
My Answers to Professor David Huxley's Laborious, Licentious Spotted-Leopard Labor Day Film Quiz
Here you go:
1) Classic film you most want to experience that has so far eluded you.
There's a lot of the foreign classics that I have yet to experience. For example, the only film by Andrei Tarkovsky I've seen is Solaris.
2) Greatest Criterion DVD/Blu-ray release ever
I should probably pick something arty or foreign to show my bona fides, but really the answer is the epic Dazed and Confused two disc edition that I waited 10 years for.
3) The Big Sleep or The Maltese Falcon?
I adore both, but The Big Sleep is sexier and not beholden to logic, therefore it wins.
4) Jason Bateman or Paul Rudd?
If it's television, Bateman's the answer, but Rudd's performance in Wet Hot American Summer was one of the greatest comedic turns of the last decade.
5) Best mother/child (male or female) movie star combo
Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis are the first to come to mind.
6) Who are the Robert Mitchums and Ida Lupinos among working movie actors? Do modern parallels to such masculine and no-nonsense feminine stars even exist? If not, why not?
There are no other Robert Mitchums or Ida Lupinos and there will never be. Timothy Olyphant has displayed the ability to play similar head strong masculine tropes as Mitchum, however, his most impressive work has been in television (Deadwood and Justified). I can't think of any parallels even that tenuous to Lupino, and for that, we are lesser people.
7) Favorite Preston Sturges movie
Sullivan's Travels is my favorite overall. The Miracle at Morgan Creek is the one that elicits the most laughs.
8) Odette Yustman or Mary Elizabeth Winstead?
While I hear her work as "Socialite" in Transformers was a performance for the ages, I have no recollection of her from that atrocity nor her role in Cloverfield. Winstead's the winner, she's cuter too.
9) Is there a movie that if you found out a partner or love interest loved (or didn't love) would qualify as a Relationship Deal Breaker?
I had a girlfriend whose taste aligned almost perfectly with mine. It end disastrously. My wife and I have as much common interest (film noir, Hitchcock, Barbara Stanwyck, Almodovar, etc) as we do differences (my love of horror, European genre fare; her taste in Jane Austen adaptations and romantic comedies), and it really doesn't matter. So the answer is no.
10) Favorite DVD commentary
I've always been fascinated with The Limey's commentary where screenwriter Lem Dobbs repeatedly berates director Steven Soderbergh for removing pages of back story. And for comedic purpose, I also recommend the Step Brothers track which is 90% comprised of Adam McKay, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly singing to a live score by composer Jon Brion, plus an appearance from Los Angeles Clipper Baron Davis.
11) Movies most recently seen on DVD, Blu-ray and theatrically
DVD: The Crimson Kimono
Blu-Ray: Enter the Dragon
Theatre: Soul Kitchen, however, Labor Day weekend was a great movie watching weekend for me as I saw two double features at the New Beverly (Deep Red & Suspiria; Tell Them Willie Boy is Here & Ulzana's Raid) and Machete at the Vista (the manager taking tickets was in costume as the titular character)
12) Dirk Bogarde or Alan Bates?
Dirk, for The Servant alone.
13) Favorite DVD extra
Well I usually clamor most for those exciting Interactive Menus, but a close second place would be the "Love Conquers All" edit of Brazil and the two hour documentary about the making of the film also included in the Criterion DVD.
14) Brian De Palma’s Scarface— yes or no?
I, like pretty much every teenage boy, loved it at the time. Now I consider it second-tier DePalma, but how can you say no to chainsaws, cocaine mountains, and Pacino's Cuban accent? And hopefully it will serve as a gateway to more intriguing DePalma like Blow Out for future teenage boys. Besides, where would the development of rappers and ESPN commentators be without it?
15) Best comic moment from a horror film that is not a horror comedy (Young Frankenstein, Love At First Bite, et al.)
"My art...keeps me sane."--Scanners
16) Jane Birkin or Edwige Fenech?
17) Favorite Wong Kar-wai movie
Chungking Express is the one I have the greater connection to, though I admit In the Mood for Love is probably his most accomplished.
18) Best horrific moment from a comedy that is not a horror comedy
Ray Liotta's character in Something Wild takes a sweet comedy and turns it on it's head.
19) From 2010, a specific example of what movies are doing right…
Mother--the effective balance of suspense, horror, comedy, character study and emotional impact.
20) Ryan Reynolds or Chris Evans?
Don't feel particularly passionate either way about them.
21) Speculate about the future of online film writing. What’s next?
Hopefully we get to a point where people stop confusing box office receipts with quality for starters.
22) Roger Livesey or David Farrar?
I will skip this since I had to look at IMDB to find out who these gentlemen are. I guess the theme of this question is supporting players of Powell/Pressburger films?
23) Best father/child (male or female) movie star combo
How about, Walter Huston to John Huston, and John Huston to Angelica and Danny Huston?
24) Favorite Freddie Francis movie (as Director)
Tales From the Crypt is the only I've seen, but I loved it.
25) Bringing Up Baby or The Awful Truth?
Bringing Up Baby, due to the fact I've never seen The Awful Truth, which is I guess could be another possible answer to question 1.
26) Tina Fey or Kristen Wiig?
27) Name a stylistically important director and the best film that would have never been made without his/her influence.
While Italians made westerns before Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, and probably would have made more without it, I don't think the genre would have flourished with out the film, meaning no The Great Silence, Django, etc. Not to mention the impact it would have had on the careers of composer Ennio Morricone and star and future filmmaker Clint Eastwood.
28) Movie you’d most enjoy seeing remade and transplanted to a different culture (i.e. Yimou Zhang’s A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop.)
Well since his career was jump started with a homage to City on Fire, it's only fair that Quentin Tarantino allows Jackie Brown (or Elmore Leonard's source novel Rum Punch) to be adapted in Asia, with Maggie Cheung (slight aging makeup applied) as the titular character and Chow-Yun Fat in the Max Cherry role.
29) Link to a picture/frame grab of a movie image that for you best illustrates bliss. Elaborate.
While Death Proof is probably my least favorite Tarantino joint (though still very good) this still of Rosario Dawson's face as it transforms from terror to excitement perfectly captures the bliss we find when we experience the remarkable.
30) With a tip of that hat to Glenn Kenny, think of a just-slightly-inadequate alternate title for a famous movie. (Examples from GK: Fan Fiction; Boudu Relieved From Cramping; The Mild Imprecation of the Cat People)
Apocalypse Five Minutes Ago
The Gangster Whose Visage is Slightly Besmirched by a Scar
The 4 Year Old Virgin
Friday, September 3, 2010
Little Darlings (1980, Ronald F. Maxwell)
In 1980 two films dealing with the burgeoning sexual desire of teenage girls were released. Foxes, starring Jodie Foster, the Runaway's Cherie Currie and Scott Baio, is a typical morality play that employs the sensationalistic sensibilities that director Adrian Lynne would turn to box office gold later in the decade with the likes of Flashdance, 9 1/2 Weeks and Fatal Attraction. The other one, Little Darlings, is a more low key non-sermonizing sensitive portrait that rings true to life. Guess which one is readily available on DVD and which one has been held in limbo, ostensibly due to music rights (admittedly licensing John Lennon and Blondie tracks would cost a lot for a film with only a minor following), and was last given a proper release on VHS twelve years ago?