website, blog and vanity nexus of writer R F Brown

Posts tagged ‘films’

“UNDER THE GLASS” (1992)

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Did you RFanatix know that your’s true appeared in a 1992 documentary titled “Under The Glass?” Directed by @TimothyShary , thirty 20-somethings obsess about being defined by others. If you’re a glutton for Gen X self-absorption watch all 102 minutes, or you can scroll to the good parts which are me talking. https://youtu.be/rJxwcAeMKUg

12 MOST EDIFYING MOVIES OF 2017 (and 9 disappointments)

faceIn 2017 there were at least 800 feature-length, English-language movies released, of which I screened 63. Having seen only of fraction of what came out, I can hardly claim to know which were the “best” movies of 2017. Making a list of my favorites might be fair to the movies I didn’t see, but the expression lacks specificity. Instead I’ve generated a list of movies exceeding my expectations to which any artistic work should aspire:

Art should seek to edify understanding of the human experience, improve intellectual or moral knowledge, and expand contours of the form.

Thus, in order of release date, my list of the most personally edifying movies I saw in 2017.*  This is followed by a list of nine films I thought in some notable way failed to achieve my precept.

 

TWELVE PERSONALLY EDIFYING MOVIES IN 2017

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

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A live-action musical fairy tale. Belle, a self-reliant young woman taken captive in a castle by a hideous half man-half beast, looks beyond his ugliness and transforms him into a kind prince. I wouldn’t say this film is a feminist revision, but Belle is an enjoyable, smart heroine. The mosaic of live actors, motion capture and CGI is fascinating, and the musical experience is spectacular.

 

IT COMES AT NIGHT

In the aftermath of a near-future apocalyptic plague, a survivalist family hazards on allowing desperate strangers inside their remote cabin. Mistrust and paranoia intrudes, itcomesand heat between the families detonates into barbaric violence. The monsters residing in the human mind are mysterious and terrifying.

 

 

 

WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APESwarapes

Roger Ebert once wrote that sequels are marketing decisions yoked to creative ideas somewhere farther down the food chain. It is evidential that, as the objective of profit precludes substance, the quality of the cinematic experience decreases (For empirical proof, try watching the progressively depreciative first POTA pentology,1968-1973). Somehow the current Planet Of The Apes series defies this rule. Each film has improved over the last in creating compelling stories, intense action, and emotional appeal for the ape heroes.

 

 

ATOMIC BLONDEAtomic Blonde (2017)

A British secret agent assigned to recover stolen documents in Cold War era Berlin, uncovers a cauldron full of double crossing international spies. Charlize Theron playing a bisexual, badass, James Bond is just fucking cool. So are the amazing Kung Fu sequences.

 

SHOT CALLER

shotcaller

A white-collar family man botches his life and earns a prison sentence. Through violent rites of passage, he becomes the leader of a high-stakes criminal gang. The film is adept at presenting the protagonist’s identity transformation, as well as sustaining his long strategy of self-sacrifice, played against other gangsters, in order to protect his family outside of prison. It’s too bad SHOT CALLER was a sleeper in 2017, its business is thrilling and smart.

 

ANNABELLE CREATIONannabelle

Attempting to overcome the undying grief of their daughter’s tragic death, an aging and weird farm couple take five orphan girls into their care. The presence of young girls in the house rouses the resentful ghost of the dead child inhabiting a homemade doll. This sounds like the kind of goofy plot that would inhabit an over-ambitious, under-funded freshman effort, but between the solid children’s acting and the filmmaker’s command of the haunted house space, this mid-budge horror succeeds. It is genuinely freaky and well-crafted.

 

GOOD TIME

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A small-time crook goes to spectacular extremes trying break his handicapped brother out of police custody. What at first seems like a boilerplate heist story, veers into epic Sisyphean failure for the skilled, if unrecognizable, actor Robert Pattinson.

 

BRAD’S STATUSBrads-Status

A middle-aged dad touring New England colleges with his teenage son declines into a distressed state of existential underachievement. While not a particular achievement in filmmaking (I think the subject matter would be better suited to the stage), BRAD’S STATUS is well-acted, funny, and genuine. One of the most profound screenplays of the year.

 

BLADE RUNNER 20492049.jpg

The futuristic story of a policeman assigned to kill renegade, autonomy-seeking androids. It is bigger in universality, special effects, and plot complexity than its 1982 antecedent, although it does not achieve the predecessor’s bleak, emotional allure. BR49 is among the most stunning visual achievements of the film year and deserving of more accolades.

 

BEACH RATS

beachratsFrankie, a Brooklyn teenager, spends his summer getting high with his hooligan friends, meeting girls on the Coney Island boardwalk, and experimenting with clandestine gay sex escapades. Lacking confidence and direction, Frankie’s life is muddled by his attraction to men, his straddling of blue and white collar culture, and the creeping expectations of adulthood versus the lingering indolence of his youth. All of this is presented with a spare and sullen indie cinema vibe. BEACH RATS, with its frequently bare chested male actors, may look like a highly-sexed Abercrombie & Fitch catalog adapted for film, but there is also an interesting, inconspicuous story and a beguiling minimalist aesthetic.

 

THE POSTthe-post-2

Journalism drama drawn from true events and key players surrounding publication of the infamous Pentagon Papers. I’m usually uncomfortable with movies mounted on political bias, even when the bias accords with my own sentiments. However, what the U.S. requires right this second is an elementary refresher on the necessity of an independent press to investigate tyranny, and for reluctant influencers like the late Katherine Graham to be bold. Most impressive in THE POST is Meryl Streep’s ability to employ the shortcomings of her character so genuinely in an otherwise heavy-handed chronicle. THE POST isn’t made with a sense of environment like the great, paranoid ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, but it earns its credentials being both exciting and apropos.

 

THE STRANGE ONESstrange ones.jpg

An adult man and a teenage boy pretending to be brothers on a road vacation, are revealed to be running from a bizarre secret past. Viewers familiar with the dream motifs of Russian fillmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky may discover themselves on a similar metaphysical plane, questioning the certainty of what’s real or imagination. The surrealistic atmosphere, furthered by disturbing subject matter, gets progressively darker as does the performance of James Freedson-Jackson, playing the adrift teenager. He is an overlooked prodigy. THE STRANGE ONES is an overlooked prodigy.

Worth mentioning that the creepy tension is enhanced by an excellent electronic score by same composer of the similarly excellent IT COMES AT NIGHT.

 

Honorable mentions: GET OUT, BEFORE I FALL, CREEP 2, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, SHAPE OF WATER, MOLLY’S GAME

 

 

and now… NINE DISAPPOINTING MOVIES OF 2017

BABY DRIVER

Speeding toward you, BABY DRIVER looks like a stellar cast and a unusual take on heist genre (the getaway driver’s POV). Going away you might realize you raced pass any substance to see a lot of faux-hipsterism, overacting, and improbable robberies.

 

DUNKIRK

Certainly the task of creating an epic experience out of the WWII British evacuation of Dunkirk by land, sea and air looked worthy in writing. The raw elements of any of these three coterminous stories as a stand alone project would have made for a good movie (except for the air one). Unfortunately, what came out the other end of this massive endeavor was a dull, meandering, emotionally dry, muddle.

 

IT

I was told by I had to read the novel to get IT, which I tried and found IT, like the movie, both incomprehensible and lightweight, except protracted over hundreds of tedious pages. So to you ITidots, who love this thing, mazel tov. I’m bored.

 

MOTHER!

I dig surrealism as much as the next avant-gardiste, and I thought act one of Mother was intriguingly weird. What happens in the second act is an absurd abandonment of aesthetics that serves the filmmaker’s desire to shock, not to edify.

 

KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

The first KINGSMAN movie was a successful James Bond for millennials. GOLDEN CIRCLE is Kingsman for people who are shallow and easy to amuse.

 

BETTER WATCH OUT

The Home Alone movies of 1990’s, specifically the casual, cartoonish violence appear to be the object of critique in this dark comedy. What they have produced here is something simply trashy, sadistic and unfunny.

 

JEEPERS CREEPERS III

Like other Creeps, I waited fourteen eager years for the next chapter of this literate, idiosyncratic horror series. JCIII is not just a let down – it’s insulting, uncreative junk.

 

I, TONYA

Maybe there is retrospective humor to be found in the imbroglio of the 1993 Nancy/Tonya figure skating incident. I don’t see what’s funny in 2017 about a man smashing a woman’s head into the wall to the beat of a Dire Straits ballad. Such video collages with music from the period seem to fill-in for the filmmaker’s lack of figure skating i.q. Also, I would like to mention that the athlete to whom this movie gives disadvantaged bonafides was sent to the Olympics twice by the elites that were supposed to be discriminating against her, and yet she still conspired to maim Nancy Kerrigan. I TONYA is a skewed, irresponsible, alteration of Harding’s story. It is also not a particularly creative movie.

 

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

The intent of dark comedy is to create humor out of non-humorous subject matter, such as ridiculous and ironic human behavior in the wake of young woman being raped and murdered in fictional Ebbing, MO. It is a big ask for the audience to empathize with these flawed characters, but we are also are expected to give a humor license to policemen’s racism, homophobia, brutality, willful neglect, and incompetence. We are asked to tolerate all these offenses for the final justice of a racist policeman being given a mulligan by the surviving mother and the two together beginning a vigilante roadtrip as if they were Hope and Crosby. THREE BILLBOARDS produces some fine acting and dramatic poignancy, but at a time when America is perhaps starting to listen to the voices from embedded cultural oppressions, this movie is dreadfully tone deaf.

 

 

* Arbitrarily all selections are feature length. Also, 12 and 9 is of no significance. These were movies that stood out to me most positively or negatively.

 

REBLOG: VANITY FAIR INTERVIEW: SO THE GREAT PAUL WILLIAMS STILL GREAT. BUT WHO WAS/IS HE?

I actually am often trying to explain “who was Paul Williams” to younger people or to my peers who don’t know pop culture of the 1970s. As this V.F. writer points out there is no contemporary equivalent entertainer like Paul Williams to compare to Paul Williams. The guy was everywhere: pop music (genius), talk shows, game shows, movies. I think what was interesting about him was that he didn’t look like Bobby Sherman, or Burt Reynolds. He was comical, but he had a serious artist side, and he didn’t seem to care about looking like a gay Troll Doll. Part of his high profile can be attributed to the ubiquity of network television. Everybody was watching the same shows on 3 channels so our labor pool of celebrities was smaller. Also people from that time did real stuff to become famous. Famous people then wrote great songs, were not funny on Dinah, or walked on the moon.  Entertaining, even attempts at entertaining, are less important enterprises in becoming famous today. You only have to be talented now at looking beautiful or saying something outrageously stupid on a reality show. – rf brown 

Paul Williams, Writer of “Rainbow Connection,” on His 1970s Neighbors: “Borrow a Cup of Sugar? Maybe a Cup of Vodka” | Blogs | Vanity Fair

Paul Williams, Writer of “Rainbow Connection,” on His 1970s Neighbors: “Borrow a Cup of Sugar? Maybe a Cup of Vodka”

1:30 PM, JUNE 8 2012
BY JIM MCCRARY/REDFERNS.Paul Williams In the A&M Photo Studio, 1970.

Paul Williams, the songwriter, actor, and all-around 1970s media personality, is the subject of a funny, fascinating, and ultimately moving documentary that opens today in New York and Los Angeles. The title, Paul Williams Still Alive,will give you some idea of the movie’s arc, as well as its tone.

Short, witty, and possessed of a signature look that combined aviator glasses and a Jan Brady hairdo, Williams enjoyed Kardashian-like ubiquity in the 70s. (If “enjoy” is the right word.) Though he cut his own records, his songs became far bigger hits for acts such as the Carpenters (“Rainy Days and Mondays,” “We’ve Only Just Begun”), Three Dog Night (“Just an Old Fashioned Love Song”), and Kermit the Frog (“Rainbow Connection”). He and Barbra Streisand co-won an Oscar in 1977 for “Evergreen,” from A Star Is Born. You know: “Love soft as an easy chair . . . ”

But that’s not all. Williams also appeared in films such as Smoky and the Bandit and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, along with pretty much every 70s TV show you can think of, including Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, where, by IMDb’s reckoning, he turned up 14 times between 1971 and 1978. Paul Williams Still Alive includes a very funny clip of him being gunned down by Angie Dickinson on Police Woman and a less funny clip of him guest-hosting The Merv Griffin Show, where he appears to be coked up and makes jokes about screwing around on the road behind his wife’s back.

I can’t quite think of a contemporary equivalent to Williams, only earlier songwriter-actor-personalities—that was once a job description, as with Hoagy Carmichael and Oscar Levant. Unfortunately, Williams’s career flatlined in the 1980s when he disappeared into the proverbial haze of drug and alcohol abuse, but he’s been sober for 22 years now. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that the new documentary takes a couple of surprising turns, traveling way past “Behind the Music” territory to become a kind of meditation on how people do and do not let their pasts define them. I wouldn’t have thought a film that includes numbers from Circus of the Stars and The Brady Bunch Variety Hour would have something to say about the human condition, but there you have it. Williams has led a more colorful life than most of us, but here he evinces a stubborn, heroic modesty.

The director is Stephen Kessler, who, I should note, is an old and good friend of mine. The film begins with him essentially stalking Williams, and in some sense, it’s as much his story as it is Williams’s—Roger & Me with a happier ending and two much nicer guys at its center. As the following slide show demonstrates, it also serves as a delightful, if occasionally eye-searing, survey of trends in costume and set design on 1970s variety shows.

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The Tonight Show, 1975.

Bruce Handy: How did Steve first approach you about doing the film?

Paul Williams: It was an e-mail that I answered nine months later. There’s a wonderful, ethereal place where you look at a message that you don’t want to say yes to, and you don’t have the balls to say no to, so you just keep it “save as new” for seven months and every time you look at your mail you’re like, “Oh, my God.” Eventually we talked.

He said from the very beginning, “Someone needs to do a documentary on you and I’d like to do that.” I was like, “I don’t know.” The line I’ve used again and again is that I’ve never found anything more pathetic than some little old man saying, “Please, sir, may I have another cup of fame?” The last thing I wanted to do was a behind-the-scenes “Where Are They Now?” If Steve had found me living behind a trailer behind a junkyard, working at the Red Lion singing “Rainbow Connection” to a sock-puppet Kermit, he would have been thrilled.

Was that the reluctance, that you were afraid Steve was going to make fun of you?

Partly, and I didn’t want to poke the bear again. I had had the full-tilt celebrity experience to the max. I always was a little embarrassed. I had acting agents for a little while after I got sober, and they’d want to send me out to audition, and I just found it embarrassing, going out to ask for something. I had my share. I had all that attention. I don’t need that now. Financially, I’m at a place where I’m O.K. I have a great family. I have good relationships with my kids.

The climax of the movie, really, is the scene where Steve has you watch that footage of you guest-hosting Merv Griffin where you’re clearly high and kind of smug and obnoxious. And present-day Sober You eventually tells Steve to turn it off—that you can’t take it.

I said, “It’s like A Christmas Carol. Steve is taking me back and showing me my past.” The Ghost of Christmas Past. Look at you being an asshole. But it’s a really important piece because you can see the footage practically made me ill. You can see how much I hated that. I was just fried [in theGriffin footage]. I was arrogant, grandiose, shallow, making jokes about marriage infidelity on the road. I asked Steve, “Why would you make a film about that?” Who wants to know about that guy? He’s terrible.

That Griffin footage is pretty extreme, but in earlier clips, it looks like you’re having a good time. I know that’s partly the performer’s craft of appearing on a show likeThe Tonight Show, but still.

I had a lot of fun! The 70s were fabulous. But we rolled into the 80s . . . and suddenly you moved from use to abuse to addiction, where all of a sudden the general party has moved on, and where I’ve moved back to a place where I’ve lost touch with what is my reality, in a sense—where all of a sudden I’m doing stuff on television that was totally inappropriate. That’s what made me clean up.

I want to talk about your music, too. Today it’s Monday and it’s raining. You must get that all the time: Oh it’s a rainy day and it’s Monday!

When it’s raining and it’s Monday, that’s a win-win.

I had thought you were mostly a solo songwriter, but the film mentions your various collaborators.

Kenny Ascher and Roger Nichols were the two main collaborators throughout the years. [B.H.:Williams wrote “You and Me Against the World” and “Rainbow Connection” with the former, “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” with the latter.] The first Academy Award nomination [in 1974, for the song “Nice to Be Around,” from Cinderella Liberty] was stuff I wrote with John Williams. My collaborators were my music school.

As a listener, I’d say that if anyone besides you did your songs the most justice, it was Karen Carpenter. Did you work with the Carpenters directly on those records?

No. I knew them and was friends with them, but I hung out with actors. I lived next door to Bob Mitchum.

Did you go over and borrow a cup of sugar?

Not sugar. Maybe a cup of vodka.

My friends were more actors than they were music guys. The Carpenters [Karen and her brother Richard] were like these kids. But they knew what Roger Nichols and I had done, when nobody else did. We’d been writing album cuts and B-sides. These guys knew it. They walked into my office and said, “We love this Small Circle of Friends record ‘Drifter,’ and the Peppermint Trolley Company record of ‘Trust.’” [Two obscure “sunshine pop”-style records Williams and Nichols had written.] We were shocked. “Wow, somebody knows what we do.”

Media Log: 02.19.2012 – PARADISE LOST 3, THE GREY

West Memphis 3, Paradise Lost 3

(cinema) Paradise Lost 3, Purgatory (d. Joel Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 2011) It’s been 16 years and two sequels since I saw the first Paradise Lost documentary at the Film Forum in New York City. I’m glad the wrongfully accused are set free but I still feel the truth rots a in dark, incarcerated place. I remember that the first documentary, a compelling story of wrong compounded by wrong, was also a frustratingly unthorough piece of journalism. The synopsis is that in 1993 three eight year old boys were murdered and thrown in a ditch in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three teenage boys, to be nicknamed the West Memphis 3, were convicted of the murders under highly questionable investigatory and judicial procedures. The first film fell well short for me in providing a sufficient account of the prosecution’s so called case. A year after seeing the first PL the friend I went to see it with called me up and said, “I heard those documentary guys made it all up to make the teenagers look good. When you hear the whole story they are totally guilty.” Really? What’s your source? None, really. Is there a whole story?  I have always been convinced that the teenagers were railroaded. But after years of sequels, cult-like public outrage, websites, Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp I still have no idea what happened back in 1993. If the WM3 were not murdering cub scouts that night in 1993, where were they? None of these films have ever discussed an alibi. If a documentary is presenting itself as the balanced account of its subject matter and one side of the argument is being left out, there must be a reason. I can’t speculate the reason because facts in this case have always been overshadowed by emotions, self-righteousness on behalf of the WM3 supporters, stubborn obfuscation by law enforcement, and repeated attempts by the filmmakers to offer alternative accusations that frankly are as shoddy and irresponsible as the lousy case against the teenagers. There is another feature documentary ,West Of Memphis, in circulation as well as many tv magazine pieces which may provide more information. I’d like to know if there is more to know about what happened the night those young boys were murdered, and I’d like to know more about what the police actually had on the WM3. In Purgatory the defense has gone to all the trouble of pulling together world renown criminal profilers and DNA experts. Yet the new documentary doesn’t reveal one thing we didn’t already know. These films succeeded in calling attention to injustice perpetrated on the accused and the fact that the real killer will never be brought to justice. The Arkansas court system created an outcome in which the case will never be reopened. The whole story is fascinating and sad, but these movies aren’t very good either. ๏ ๏ outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… The Grey(d. Joe Carnahan, 2012) An airplane transporting ruffian oil workers

The Grey. Your enemy or your conscience?

crashes in barren Alaska. The men must try to survive arctic conditions, interpersonal conflicts, and attacks by an aggressive pack of wolves. The wolves are of course metaphor for the organizational behavior of a pack of men on the brink as well as the haunting pasts that brought each man to this frozen Purgatory. The challenge includes lots of tense survival action and man-chewing wolves, but what keeps the film interesting are the metaphysical elements, both in the blurry camerawork and the cryptic storytelling. Is this situation real or are we in the self-exiled imagination of the central character? Not brilliant but  an experience, however harrowing. ๏ ๏ ๏ out of ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… (theatre) West Side Story (RISE theater company at Stadium Performing Arts Center, Woonsocket, RI) I go to a lot of community theater and you might think I am fortunate to live in a place where there are many local companies. One has to approach community theatre with prejudice of lowered expectations. Some of the worst crap in the world gets to Broadway with multi-million dollar underwriting. Under what circumstances can one expect no-budget theatre to be any better? Surprisingly often the risk does pay off in community. I see performers all the time who have dedicated their lives to craft and not to making it big. But “big” took on new meaning for me in seeing this production of WSS when the curtain went up on a cast of teenagers who were mostly all overweight. I’m not kidding. I don’t know anything about casting a play in suburban area where your company may also be completing with a lot of other companies, but surely someone had to realize the absurdity. WSS is as much a dancing show as it is musical as no one wants to see roly-poly people rolling around on the stage floor. I will say that the lead vocals were excellent. But the show itself seemed out of the director’s grasp. The pacing was awkward, the actors were bad, and the choreography was an embarrassment waiting for wincing audience. Whoever you are RISE, you need to set your ambitions lower for now and find material that is appropriate for your acting pool.

Media Log: 01.08.2012, incl CHRONICLE and SMASH

CHRONICLE: CAN ANDREW CRUSH HIS PROBLEMS?

(cinema) Chronicle, d. Josh Trank, 2012. There’s a quote attributed to Will Rogers, a very practical guy: When you find yourself stuck in a hole, stop digging. I offer this aphorism for consideration to the lead character Andrew in Chronicle and to the filmmakers behind Chronicle as well. Andrew, a shy teenager, finds himself part of a trio of boys who discover a strange crystal artifact in an underground cavern. The crystal, for some reason, gives the boys telekinetic powers. They can move objects with their minds and even figure out how to fly above the clouds. The external benefits of Andrew’s new physical power include making new friends, becoming popular at school and even attracting the interest of girls. But ultimately Andrew’s damaged ego and personal problems at home are more powerful than his abilities his father is an abusive drunk and his mother has a terminal illness. As Andrew’s telekinetic powers strengthen, his emotional self-control weakens. Instead of being a hero, he becomes a menace of violence and destruction. The “chronicle” part of this is that the whole movie is shot in so called “found footage” style. I call it faux-verite. Andrew carries a video camera and his recording of everything that happens is our viewpoint into his rise and fall. There are a lot of movies using faux-verite but experimenting with the form, Chronicle ventures into original territory. I like the special effects work of the suspended objects and flying teenagers. I also like the story in the first two thirds a lot. Is all this really happening to Andrew or are we a voyeur into his fantasy life? Is this an origin story of Andrew as a comic book style hero, or super villain?  There are probably a hundred interesting places Chronicle could have taken us but it doesn’t go to any of them. Instead the story runs out of gas creatively and begins to get boring, even at under 85 minutes. In the desperate feeling last act, Andrew goes on an I-can-destroy-you-all-if-I-chose power binge. The filmmakers have no idea what to do with their own character. So they drag Andrew into a hole of explosions, nihilism, and waste. Unfortunately, Andrew lacks the ability to think of any better solution than to just keep making things worse. In the same manner Chronicle goes from good, to boring, to bad, to worse. I should mention that I saw a strong homoerotic subtext here as Andrew’s fantasy-come-to life seems to be finding a phallic object in a cave and using its secret power to convince attractive, popular boys to runaway with him- just something I was thinking about as I watched this movie go to pieces.  ๏ ๏ outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… The Harvey Girls, d. George Sidney, 1946. Not everybody knows who Johnny Mercer was but everybody knows a Johnny Mercer song: “MOON RIVER”, “JEEPERS CREEPERS”, or “YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY.” Mercer wrote lyrics for and recorded hundreds of songs in the Great American Songbook including “ON THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND THE SANTA FE”  for the movie musical The Harvey Girls (music: Harry Warren). That song is used in a grand Hollywood production number at the beginning. What happens after that are some less fantastic numbers and a thin story. Judy Garland plays a 19th Century mail order bride from Ohio whose train stops in an old Western American town. Garland takes a job as a Harvey Girl. That’s an ebullient, hard working server in a friendly whistle stop restaurant called Harvey’s. It’s a respectable opportunity for a young, unmarried woman, especially compared to the girls who “entertain” men more provocatively across the street at the local casino and dance hall. A cultural conflict is set up here between the two kinds of girls in town, a conflict repeated in the battle of affections over the same man by both Garland and the leader of the showgirls. There is a longer discussion to be had about how these microcosmic conflicts attempt to play out familiar value themes in musicals: work versus leisure and chastity versus sexual promiscuity. But the case is well summarized at the end when all of the town drunks and gamblers come over to Harvey’s to learn how to waltz. As the town parson says, “For the first time the men in this town chose having a good time over having a wild time.” This movie is a good but not wild time and there are some great, less recognizable Mercer/Warren tunes as well as an amazing tap dance specialty number by Ray Bolger.๏ ๏ ๏outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ … (television) Smash. This show premiered on television after a great deal of marketing and other ballyhoo. It’s premise is to follow the evolution of a fictional Broadway musical and the lives of its creators and performers. So far I don’t quite give it a “smash.” The pilot was more of a “ring” or a “bang” to me. The characters started out kind of flat but they promise to be much more interesting than the nitwit cartoon characters on Glee (Hate it!). I’m impressed with the quality of Smash’s original music by Marc Shaiman, composer/lyricist for musicals like Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can. I wonder if they’re going to be able to maintain the quality of that music over the course of a television series. One of the principle character conflicts is going to be the two young singers fighting for the lead role. I thought Megan Hilti, the blonde, was amazing and that Katherine McPhee, the brunette, was just really good. However my unbinding straw poll revealed that there are people who feel completely opposite, that McPhee clobbered Hilti. What did you think? I think Smash could turn out to be a lot of fun to watch. WATCH IT… In my continuing power screening of old Golden Girls episodes I just finished the 3rd season. LARCENY AND OLD LACE (S3, Ep.21) Sophia is dating a retired gangster and finds a wad of money she thinks he robbed from a bank just to impress her. One of the big problems I have with GG is that they enlist a lot of great Hollywood and Broadway actors as guest stars and then never give them anything funny to do, perhaps to contain them in upstaging the regulars. However, this episode features Mickey Rooney as the old crook and he’s in great form. WATCH IT. BTW, Mickey Rooney was older than any of the GG actresses. They’re all dead except for Betty White and Rooney’s still alive. ROSE’S BIG ADVENTURE (S3, Ep.22) Rose has to convince her newly retired boyfriend to do something with his life. Also, the girls hire an old Sicilian architect to remodel their garage. This isn’t a bad episode but neither story line is particularly believable or funny. SKIP IT. MIXED BLESSINGS (S3, Ep. 23) Dorothy forbids her son to marry a woman twice his age. Meanwhile the bride’s family is forbidding the marriage because they are black. It’s a weird pattern to me that the adult children are always flying into Miami to spring shocking news to their Golden Girl mother at the front door. Ever hear of a telephone? And what’s with all the parental forbidding? It’s okay though, the white people come out looking really tolerant in this one. SKIP IT.  MR. TERRIFIC (S3, Ep. 24) Now Rose is dating a television kiddie show super hero named Mr. Terrific. What happened to the good for nothing she was seeing two episodes ago? Through sitcomy circumstance Dorothy gets Mr. Terrific fired from his gig and has to fill in for him on the air. I wanted that situation of comedy to be funnier. Also, I’ve always disliked the character actor Bob Dishy who plays Mr. Terrific. He never fails to irritate. SKIP IT.  MOTHER’S DAY (S3, EP.25) Each GG recalls a memorable Mother’s Day story. Again, the show goes to the lengths of getting the great comedian Alice Ghostley as a guest star and she’s barely in it. But the writing in this episode is pretty touching. WATCH IT.

Media Log: 01.25.2012

Owen "Woody" Wilson with Marion Cotillard

(cinema) Midnight in Paris, d. Woody Allen, 2011. A few years Woody Allen got to old to play himself. Being a septuagenarian and casting himself as the male romantic lead against the likes of Marion Cotillard would seem as unseemly as, well, as Woody Allen’s real life romantic life perhaps. Anyway, the guy playing the Woody Allen character in Midnight in Paris is Owen Wilson and his Allen-esque comic delivery is an adequate replacement. Although, I prefer my neurotic nebbishes a bit more Jewy. With all the attention drawn to this movie, including Academy Award nominations for best picture, director and screenplay, one might draw the conclusion that Woody Allen has returned to making great films. I don’t know about that. The character in the movie is a writer who travels back in time to Paris in the 1920s, meets F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and other artistic heroes of the era. What he learns is that everybody thinks the era before their’s was better. I didn’t find this revelation all that profound. Nor did I think the comedy was consistently side-splitting. There are many intended to be funny scenes that come off completely flat. Midnight in Paris, like Woody Allen himself is likeable but too awkward to love. ๏ ๏ …(television) Alcatraz. Last week I reviewed the new J.J. Abrams vehicle and determined that I would watch one more episode to see if it was going to go with its mysterious premise or go with its boring cop-show gimmick. This week’s episode got no closer to investigating where all these prisoners went for 50 years and I got bored. Alcatraz is closed for me. Skip it…. Golden Girls, AND MAMA MAKES THREE, S3-Ep.20. Sofia is lonely and Dorothy is sorry when her mother starts attending all of Dorothy’s dates with a new beau. Sofia’s obliviousness to the imposition she becomes is inconsistent with her character as is Dorothy’s inability to tell her mother to get lost. But the episode is, overall, really funny. Watch it.

I Handicap The Oscars

You didn’t ask for it, so here are my guesses for Oscar winners based on today’s nominations:

Sup. Actr – Christopher Plummer (Beginners)

Sup. Actrss – Octavia Spencer (Help)

Actr – Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailr)

Actrss – Viola Davis (Help)

Adapt Screnply – Moneyball

Orig Screnply – Artist

Directr – Hazanavicius (Artist)

Picture – Descendants

Media Log 01.23.12

(cinema) The Innkeepers, d. Ti West, 2011. “Let’s go to the basement and find out what that fucking ghost’s problem is.” That’s a funny line from this horror movie that is playful in its script without ever degrading to farce and stupidity. It is the lobby level of Innkeepers where the movie works, at least for the first three quarters. Two slacker clerks in a New England hotel kill time on their long shifts by trying to record proof the old place in haunted. Besides the funny banter between the clerks there is the role of the horror movie “last girl” presented here as quirky, nerdy, and on time with her slap stick. You don’t see girl characters like this in any kind of movie except for maybe one with Drew Barrymore. Kelly McGillis also makes a strong appearance as a psychic guest in the hotel who warns the clerks against waking up spirits. Yep, Kelly McGillis was the sex object in Witness and Top Gun back in the 80s who never did anything again except come out of the closet. I don’t know if I can say McGillis is slumming now in indy horror. The cast is the best part of The Innkeepers. The worst part is the proposed ghost story. That fourth quarter is fairly suspenseful, scary and bloody but the back story on why the place is haunted never comes together. ๏ ๏ ½

Media Log: 01.20.2012

(cinema) We Need to Talk About Kevin, d. Lynne Ramsay, 2011. The IMDB entry for this movie says: The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief and feelings of responsibility for her child’s actions. I lived in Colorado at the time of the Columbine High School murders and I’ve thought a lot about what life must be like for a parent whose kid has does something so awful. It’s an intriguing script idea but it doesn’t happen to be what Kevin is actually about. The high school mass murders here are a sort of foregone conclusion to the story of a mother who is emotionally terrorized by her son, beginning when he is an infant. This is a unique piece in that the story is told in non-linear flashbacks and the cinematography is experimental. Yet the story to me plays closer in genre to horror than to a psychological drama you might see at the arthouse. I can recommend this movie if it’s only on the multiplex at the mall level. Otherwise we’re looking at something that it is on the edge of camp. Witness the

Ezra Miller as Kevin

scene where the mother tries to explain reproduction to her little boy via the Mama Bear and Papa Bear and the boy interrupts, “Is this about fuckin’?” If it isn’t highbrow horror Kevin is just Mommy Dearest with the abuse roles switched around. Did you want the gays to love your movie like that? ๏๏๏… Afterschool, d. Antonio Campos, 2008. The actor who plays the

Miller in Afterschool

sociopath in We Need to Talk About Kevin was in this earlier movie where he also plays a disturbed kid but with a bit more subtlety. Ezra Miller is great actor in addition to have grown up to be pretty hot. Anyway, in Afterschool, Miller is a nobody kid at a prep school who accidentally videotapes two popular girls die overdosing on tainted cocaine. As the school goes into damage control trying to shake out all the drugs, Miller starts to act erratically believing he is under surveillance. Surveillance, public image and acts of watching are huge themes in movie. Apparently a lot of people don’t care for the slow pace of the story and static camera scenes. I could write a book on why every shot matters. I think it’s brilliant.๏๏๏๏๏

Addendum: If you want to a see an excellent movie about the psychology behind school shootings I recommend Zero Day, from 2003. Both Afterschool and Zero Day stream on Netflix.

Media Log 01.17.2012

50/50 : Gordon-Levitt/Rogen

(cinema) 50/50, d. Jonathan Levine, 2011. Can you take a movie seriously that starts with the line, “I can’t have cancer, Doc. I recycle”, even if it’s a comedy? What if  it’s a comedy about cancer? The script for 50/50 attempts to straddle a fence between being a wise cracking comedy about a young guy facing death, and an insightful drama about a young guy facing death. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the young cancer patient adequately, he isn’t given much to do. When his mother, his best friend and his girlfriend all react in different ways badly to his condition, Cancer Boy comes off a bit blase to me. I don’t think he even looks that sick. But most of the characters in this movie aren’t very convincing. The girlfriend’s shallowness seems forced, all the doctors wouldn’t be so robotically insensitive, the perky new psychologist couldn’t possibly be so badly trained, and don’t tell me the mother would have actually said “I smothered him too much because I loved him.” The problem with 50/50 isn’t with any of the actors or even with trying to milk comedy out of a sad subject. I think Seth Rogen as the funny, knucklehead best friend who has no filter is the best character. But, on the whole, 50/50’s dialogue and characters just aren’t genuine enough for laughs or tears. When Gordon-Levitt’s character finally has an emotional catharsis near the end it’s too much too late… (television) Star Trek DS9, PROGRESS, S1-Ep.14. Major Kira, assigned to evacuate a Bajoran Moon for mining, confronts a stubborn farmer and an ethical dilemma about repeating the abuses perpetrated by the Cardasians on the Bajoran people. To this point in the show I have found Nana Visitor’s performances as Kira to be annoyingly at full volume. For once her over-excitement seems to have collided with a good script. I like Kira in this one and the turmoil she has with hating and having to do what’s right. Brian Keith as the irascible but wise old farmer is great too… The Golden Girls, BLANCHE’S LITTLE GIRL, S3-Ep.14. Blanche’s estranged daughter shows up after three years with a fiance and a lot of pounds heavier. When it turns out the fiance is a mean creep, Blanche is torn between protecting her daughter’s interest and butting into her life. This one is a better comedy episode than it is a drama, especially Sophia’s fat jokes about the daughter. It’s a little weird that the Goldies get so ticked off about the fiance making fat jokes when they were being just as mean.

Media Log: 01.14.2012

(cinema) Drive, d. Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011. I just watched Drive for the second time. On closer inspection I figured out that if this movie with the same L.A. crime underworld story had been edited too fast and too furious and amped with a soundtrack of Kidd Rock anthems it would have come off as total trash. As one gangster character who used to produce low-budget films says, “One critic called them [movies] European. I thought they were shit.” For Drive the filmmakers adopted highly stylized and deliberate editing with brilliant, catchy, 1980s sounding synth music are these are the two elements that hide all the flaws in this movie and make it so captivating. As produced, Drive is brilliant in its turns between the actors subtleties and violent action excesses. Drive is the best movie I saw in 2011 and goes on a list of great of great American films. ๏ ๏ ๏ ½… The Mothman Prophesies, d. Mark Pellington, 2002. Richard Gere is a recently widowed reporter who inexplicably wakes up in a West Virginia town four hundred miles from home. He starts encountering townspeople who are having their own paranormal encounters with a moth-like man who whispers warnings of a looming catastrophe. Mothman is a successfully weird and suspenseful thriller that never tries to over-explain its phenomena. We are never told exactly what is going on between life in the town and whatever dimension the Mothman comes from, nor is it resolved why reporter id dragged into it. I like that these mysteries stay in tact. I like that we don’t really know how much of what is transpiring is just shadow of the reporter’s unresolved trauma. Is he imagining everything? Is he Mothman? In the end it’s a well acted drama about the reporter trying to move beyond his tragic past. But this is a false ending as we find out there really is tragedy about to collapse on the town. Apparently the story is adapted from an investigation into a real incident in 1968 where a West Virginia bridge collapsed and killed forty-six people. That part of it may be factual but it didn’t make for a better ending. One other issue with this film is the terrible casting of Laura Linney as the town cop and love interest for Gere. I love Laura Linney in everything else. Would Elizabeth Taylor have made a good Barney Fife just because she was a good  actress? If the movie had got its priorities straightened out it could have been a modern classic.๏ ๏ ๏… (television) Star Trek DS9, THE STORYTELLER. O’Brien and Bashir visit a village of idiotically superstitious Bajorian yokels who think only O’Brien can save their village from the wrath of a giant cloud entity that looks a lot like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters. In an equally idiotic subplot, a teenage ambassador, negotiating for the future of her own village, gets the best advice from the only other kids on DS9, Jake Sisco and his Ferengi chum Nog. This episode plays like it was written for and by children. Not the worst of the first seasons episodes, but quite irritating.

Media Log: 01.13.2012

(television) Project Runway All Stars, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. Design a gown that will only be worn to the opera. This is the sort of challenge I watch the show for. Ambitious, fantasy gowns where the designers can show both their modern creativity and nod to formality. It’s a much more interesting challenge to me than make a dress out of only things sold at Radio Shack. The opera episode was great too because the competition was truly all star; there were at least six designs which could have been a winner. But first, the judges definitely got all the losers right. One trend across the competition seemed to be a lack of knowledge about what a night at the opera looks like, manifest in high waisted hoop skirts. She’s going to the opera in 2012, not playing the part of Violetta in La Traviata. In the case of designer Sweet P’s losing gown it was a hoop skirt with a summer free festival color palette. Her girl looked like Violetta smokes hash at a Joni Mitchell concert. At the better end  I liked Rami and Mondo’s designs best and neither of them made the final judging. Some of middle-of-pack finishing gowns may have been deliberately left out of the final. Are the producers keeping the show fresh by holding back their ringers while the also-rans play out their role, which is to be cannon fodder? This may sound cynical but I’m beginning to question the veracity of reality shows… (cinema) Tree Of Life, d. Terrence Malick, 2011. This movie got a lot of attention last year and deservedly for being an amazing achievement. Frankly I’m surprised that something so abstruse and non-plot driven garnered so much attention. The late Andrei Tarkovsky made films that were just as lyrical and ambitious but nobody ever heard of him. Lars Van Trier makes films that are perplexing and unorthodox and nobody goes to see them. Perhaps at least part of the draw into Tree of Life is Brad Pitt and the reputation of the ascetic director. Terrence Malick has only directed five feature films over nearly forty years, most of them great. It turns out the middle-class family depicted in Tree is at least partially autobiographical. These are memories of Malick’s own childhood in a film he’s apparently been making since 1973. It’s highly personal but it’s also universal. In fact Malick depicts both the beginning of the universe and the end of it as bookends around the mundane experiences of his family. I thought the creation of the universe, special effects sequences were amazing (real photography techniques, not CGI). The family stuff I didn’t respond to as strongly. If I can get personal on you, the ontological questions, what is the meaning of suffering, is God responsible stuff didn’t evoke in me the kind of response I think was intended. It just made me think “Look, there’s no God, get over it.” But Tree of Life is an epic poem spoken though film and it’s extraordinary.

MEDIA LOG – 01.10.2012

(cinema) Tinker Tailor Solider Spy, d. Thomas Alfredson, 2011. I’m sure there are people who love this British Cold War cloak and dagger stuff. I’m either too dumb or too impatient to keep up with mysterious plots that turn on a word mumbled over a reel-to-reel tape recorder in a dark room. I might also benefit from an English to English lesson as everything including the title in TTSS requires having foreknowledge of British noir lingo as well as the political context. I’m pretty sure Gary Oldman is great playing the role of soft spoken detective who struggles to contain his outrage, but I miss Robert Mitchum. The ending where Oldman sets a trap to draw out the mole totally confounded me. I watched it twice and I still don’t get it. If anyone can explain it, I come with a degree in media studies and I’m all ears. 2 movie spotlights… Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, d. Guy Ritchie, 2011. The reboot of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead a couple of years ago set out to depict the iconic detective character as uninhibited, amoral, Saturnalian, and manic. If the original Holmes was a little neurotic, the new one is supposed to be bat-shit crazy. That was an update I could live with as Robert Downey was so good and the movie was well produced. There were great effects and modern editing trends but Victorian London was believably dark and pugilistic. The action sequences were an engaging addition to a good detective story. Game of Shadows abandons the detectiving of Holmes and Watson to show them instead as adventure characters. And I find the whole adventure pretty uninteresting. What we get is an endless series of escape sequences from boring villains. Sherlock’s sleuthing acumen has become either quasi-supernatural or silly and defiant of logic. The special effects are impressive, but what Guy Ritchie has done with Holmes is turn the legend and the franchise into a video game. 1 movie spotlight… Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, d. Nicholas Meyer, 1982. Somebody just told me that after Wrath of Khan all the makers of subsequent Star Trek movies felt they had to unfairly compete with Khan, that the series reached its high watermark early. I think a lot of the films are great, especially the last two from Next Generation, Nemesis and Insurrection. Wrath of Khan is great because the characters are familiar enough that the story has time to explore Kirk’s anxieties about reaching middle age. As a character study this is manifest in Kirk being chased around the galaxy by his demons- an old enemy, his illegitimate son, the death of a friend. I hadn’t seen this movie for years and for the first time I picked up on some big holes in the science. Ironically Khan could be the best script in the series but there are better overall post-Khan Star Trek movies. 3 1/2 movie spotlights.

MEDIA LOG 01.09.2012

(cinema) Deep In My Heart, d. Stanley Donen, 1954. This is a tall tale biography of 20th century composer Sigmund Romburg. MGM did this same type of movie for Jerome Kern (Till The Clouds Roll By) and Rodgers & Hart (Words and Music) where the biography  is manipulated into the connective tissue for a review of musical set pieces highlighting the artist’s career. The idea is to also employ a parade of big stars doing cameos. Deep In My Heart includes fabulous stage productions with Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Rosemary Clooney, and my favorite hot-as-lava dancer Miss Ann Miller. But the Oscar goes to Jose Ferrer playing the role of Romburg. Ferrer was not famous for being a singer, but if you watch five minutes of this picture go right to the Jazza Doo number. Ferrer is brilliant and hysterical. He actually only got a one Oscar for something else. But he puts a tremendous performance into the otherwise dull bio sections. 3 movie spotlights… (television) Star Trek DS9, “Vortex.” Odo transports back to the Gamma Quadrant a prisoner who claims to have knowledge of a colony populated by other shapeshifting Odos. I think this is the first Odo-centered episode and it’s excellent. The evolving relationship between Odo and the prisoner characters from enemies to allies is well written and the space chase through the vortex is genuinely suspenseful. 3 1/2 spotlights.  “Battle Lines.” Commander Sisco is giving the Pi Opaka (she’s sort of like the Bajoran Pope) a tour through the wormhole when they crash land on an abandoned penal colony. The colony’s prisoners are condemned to fight a bloody war in which nobody ever dies. It’s a cool sci-fi concept but kind of a mouthful for 45 minutes. More backstory would have been more interesting to me than the opportunity to see Kira (Nana Visitor) overact. 2 1/2 spotlights.

Media Log: 01.07.2012

(cinema) The Help, d. Tate Taylor, 2011. I didn’t know anything about this movie or

from "The Help"

it’s source novel before screening it (In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that I was under the impression it was a comedy about black people who hire a white maid). I enjoyed it overall but I couldn’t stop thinking the whole thing doesn’t seems inaccurate. The conservatism of the Southern whites seem behind the times of the setting and the black characters are patronizingly simple-minded. The telling of America’s civil rights struggles in the 1960 is territory that has been well covered in better movies. It’s interesting that this story about black domestic help is told mostly from the white character points of view. And while I hate to say it, there is something cloyingly liberal about the depictions of “proud” black people and “good” white people. The movie is well made and well acted but the level of story telling never goes above something you might see on Lifetime. 2 1/2 movie spotlights… (television) Star Trek DS9, “Move Along Home.” Quark is forced to participate  in a game with a gang of gamblers who all look like roadies for a Southern rock band. The stakes of the game involve transporting the DS9 senior officers into a holographic maze that is filled with trap doors and dangers. You would like to trip with our characters into this Alice In Wonderland like fantasy game. But the episode fails completely to ever establish a plausible connection between what’s happening in Quark’s game room and what’s happening in the hologram. It all comes off to me as under imagined and lazy. 1 spotlight. “The Nagus.” Quark is put in charge of the Ferengi trade alliance and becomes the target of assassination plots. This is the first episode in the ST universe that gives us some flavor and background of who the Ferengi people are besides cartoonish filchers (and vaguely anti-semitic stereotypes). It’s a fun episode even it is light on sci-fi and drama. 2 1/2 spotlights… Golden Girls, “Charlie’s Buddy.” Rose falls for a con-artist who is pretending to be an old friend of her deceased husband. This a pretty well-balanced episode that handles both its dramatic story and its comedic subplot with some maturity – a quality surprisingly lacking in many episodes of this show. 3 spotlights.

Buying Me Love: 1980s Class-Clash Teen Romances

Link to article in the Journal of Popular Culture from 2011 by Timothy Shary

link: sharybuyingmelove

Timothy Shary is an associate professor of Film and Video Studies at the University of Oklahoma. He has published three books on youth in cinema and is currently researching the depictions of elderly characters in movies. In addition to PCA, he has presented his work at FWPCA and SPCA.

IMAX-imum Drama

Hubble 3D (2010, d. Toni Myers)

There isn’t much going on at the movie theater this week so I got dragged kicking and screaming to Hubble 3D which has been hanging around our local IMAX for months.  Pretty neat, I have to admit.

Leonardo DiCaprio narrates this 45 minute doc.  Half of the film follows NASA astronauts on a 2009 space walk mission to repair the storied, giant telescope.  The other half is impressive 3D sequences of distant gallaxies through Hubble’s eye.  The experience is spectacular and I think Hollywood has a lot of catching up to do given some of the recent $15 dollar 2 1/2 D chazerai their bringing out lately.

I do  have a couple of caveats.  First, Hubble in reality takes 2D, black and white pictures and I think the film needs to be more upfront about that.  What we’re watching are “visualizations”, computer painted 3D models rendered from Hubble photography.  Second, at just 45 minutes running time, I found certain details of the Hubble story discounted.  We’re told it will be the final mission to repair Hubble.  Why?  Last, despite all the flux-capacitor type babble about Hubble’s delicate technology I still have no idea what the astronauts were repairing.   I would gladly sit through an additional 15 minutes to find out.  Instead the film’s emphasis is that it’s just really important it get repaired precisely and in a hurry or the mission will be catastrophic failure.  This is what film critic Anthony Lane would call a binding rule of melodrama:  all escapes shall be narrow, no more than the breadth of a hair.  To save oneself and others at one’s leisure, with room to spare, would be an insult to the satisfaction of the moment.  So it is with Hubble 3D that every stuck bolt, every literal turn of a screw balances success and disaster on the head of a pin. Again, what are the consequences?

link to video on the production of Huble 3D images:

link to trailer:

BSD Movie Log: I Monster

I, Monster (1971, d. Stephen Weeks)

A turn of the century British doctor is on the verge of a medical breakthrough: he’s devised a drug capable of releasing deepest inhibitions. But when the good doctor uses the drug on himself, he releases a dangerous alter ego. With each transformation, he becomes more powerful and hideous. The doctor is caught in a deadly struggle with his inner self.

If this sounds to you like a movie version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde”, you’re spot on, as the British would say.  In addition to starring both the greats of Hammer Horror Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it’s a fairly loyal translation of the original story, accept for the main character’s names.

If anybody knows what happened with this movie in getting made with the name change, please comment.

BSD Movie Log: Audrey Rose

Audrey Rose (1977, d. Robert Wise)

A married couple and their daughter, Ivy, find their happy, cosmopolitan life turned tumultuous when a disturbing man attempts to convince them Ivy is his deceased daughter, Audrey Rose, reincarnated.  At about the same time, Ivy starts having terrifying sleepwalking episodes in which she takes on the personality of Audrey Rose, and acts like a lunatic.  The movie is organized as two discreet parts.  The first half follows the family and their uninvited interactions with the strange man.  It’s excellent phychological drama performed by a classy cast.    The second half  is mostly courtroom and hospital drama.  A dozen or so lawyers or doctors walk in and out of professional decisions in regard to Ivy’s welfare that were harder to fathom than the concept of reincarnation.

A post script on the Audrey Rose movie poster.  When I took a closer look at it I wondered if it was designed by somebody who didn’t see the movie.  First, there is a very prominent illustration in the bottom right of a girl walking out of a grave that’s surrounded by flames.  Trust me there no scene like that.  Second, they depicted a weird apparition over Ivy’s face which I take to be the ghost of Audrey Rose.  Although in the movie we only see Audrey Rose as a 5 year old girl at the time her death played by the actrees who played Ivy, or some similar looking child.  Then it occured to me that the apparition is not Audrey Rose at all but actually David Bowie:

Kill More, Talk Less

My Soul To Keep (2010, d. Wes Craven)

The reason I never really followed the Nightmare On Elm Street horror series beyond the first movie was because the concept never attacked  me, so to speak.  I know people enjoy their serial killers, or blood and mayhem but I have to believe in what I’m watching for 93 minutes.  Nightmare, directed by Wes Craven was about a serial killer, Freddy Kreuger, a nine-inched nailed spector who hunts teenage victims in their dreams.   The teenagers are the surviving children of a mob who burned Kreuger to death because he had murdered children (molested in the 2010 remake).  It’s a pretty simple, although supernatural,  slasher concept that was understandably popular and basically repeated for 10 sequels.  I, personally, found it too simple and too separate from my anxiety portfolio to ever be interesting.  Craven has returned now with something called My Soul To Take and comparing the coherency of this new concept makes Nightmare On Elm Street read like “Ulysses.”

Here goes.  A guy who has been mis-diagnosed as schizophrenic, stabbs seven people  to death, stealing their souls, while in unconscious thrall to his evil personality nicknamed “The Riverton Ripper.”  When he is captured and demobilized, the souls within him escape and infiltrate the bodies of seven babies born that same night at Riverton General.  Fast-forward 16 years.  The Riverton Seven, now teenagers, are marking the solemn anniversary of Ripper Day by participating in a ritualized puppet show that is supposed to call The Ripper back for a confrontation.  Among the seven is Bug, the fearful, perhaps schizophrenic, perhaps telepathic, surviving son of The Riverton Ripper (Bug, doesn’t know he’s the son, but everybody else in town does).  Someone wearing the ugly, lifesize Ripper puppet costume, acquires the Ripper’s signature weapon, a fold-out knife with  the word “vengence” engraved, and starts the business of murdering the Riverton Seven one-by-one.  As it appears The Ripper is finally coming for him, Bug goes through a mild metamorphosis and decides to face his fears.  When only Bug and his best friend Alex are left, they accuse each other of carrying the inhabitant soul of The Ripper.  Bug, stopping to explain in great deatail how he traced back Alex’s movements, proves how only Alex can be The Ripper.  He stabs Alex in the abdomen with The Ripper’s knife.  Bug, once the object of everyone’s quiet pity is now a hero for rescuing Riverton from The Ripper, even though everyone The Ripper returned to kill is now dead.

Come to think of it, an ugly, vengeful killer returning from the dead to possess people and murder a circle of impartial teenagers is the same story as A Nightmare On Elm Street!   But what’s most ironic about this convoluted supernatural/natural movie is the amount of time dedicated to having characters try to explain it to the audience.  The murders aren’t very gory and The Ripper’s appearances are never much of a surprise.  Given all of Craven’s experience in depicting bloody murder and horror cinema’s advancements in senseless torture, I find the killings here rather uninspired.  Yet, characters take an inordinate amount of on-screen time explaining what they’re going to do, what they’re doing as they’re doing it, and why they did it.  There is a lot of dialoge but I’m not sure what it’s ever  in service too.  It doesn’t help much in combing out all the tangles over who The Ripper was, who The Ripper is now, and what’s really bugging Bug.    I’m not a fan of violence for violence sake, but this movie would have benefited from not taking itself so damn seriously, telling less, showing more, and hacking up more pre-maritally lustful teenagers.

By the way, My Soul To Take was cynically released as 3D.  There’s not much real 3D in it.  It was a trend-driven afterthought, added to bump the ticket price up by $4 and probably is not the least of  reasons why it flopped at the box office.  Don’t fall for it either.  Any of it.

BSD Movie Log: Blood and Lace

Blood and Lace (1971, d. Philip S. Gilbert)

Ellie, a teen girl, who witnessed the violent murder of her prostitute mother, is sent to an orphanage run by a mentally unstable woman.    The girl uncovers a secret that the sadistic woman is murdering the children and storing the dead bodies in the basement freezer, as to continue collecting a local county subsidy.   Ellie must protect herself from becoming the next victim at the orphanage as well as hide from her mother’s hammer-wielding killer.

It might be acceptable if Blood and Lace weren’t all that scary or gory, but it also isn’t even camp.  It’s just a dumb idea, poorly administered.   It might have been more effective to find actors to play the callow, terrified orphans who didn’t all look age 35.  Even jail-bait perverts will be disappointed.  The movie does feature the late Vic Tayback, although the material he’s given is pretty dull.

BSD Movie Log: Cat's Eye

Cat’s Eye (1985, d. Lewis Teague)

An anthology of three shorts based on stories by Stephen King and written for the screen by Stephen King.  The connecting device is a stray cat that is traveling to save a little girl.

Quitters Inc. –  A cigarette smoker attends a quit smoking clinic using mafia-like intimidation methods on its clients.  If Dick smokes a cigarette, violence will befall his family.  Ultimately he can’t resist the temptation.

The Ledge –  A former tennis pro is about to run off with woman whose jealous husband is a ruthless crime boss.  The husband kidnaps the lover and blackmails him into a wager that he can’t walk the exterior ledge of  a skyscraper penthouse apartment.  This is the best of the three shorts.

The General –  The stray cat is adopted by a little girl, and must protect her from a malevolent troll who’s trying to steal the sleeping child’s breath.  This is definitely the worst of the three shorts.

Is It In You?

The Killer Inside Me (2010, d. Michael Winterbottom)

I hate torture porn.  That’s the name given to a popular horror sub-genre not far removed in style from what I thought were all called slasher movies.  I also just picked up on the slingo  “gore-nography.”  That’s cute, but it doesn’t make me hate it any less.  I hate the all the Strangers, and Saws, and Hostiles for their moral and artistic bankruptcy.  Also, despite seeming on the surface to be just shocking and acquitting eew-gross-me-out fun, the fun is rife with conservative indoctrination on the profit in retribution, violence toward women, and conformity to traditional sex norms.  The Killer Inside Me wasn’t deliberately created or marketed as torture porn.  But the impression is much the same for me.

A rural county sheriff (Casey Affleck) sets up a blackmail scheme involving his prostitute girlfriend and the son of a rich local family.  However, what’s slowly revealed is that the sheriff is double-crossing the players in the scheme for benefit of some personal revenge, and not the blackmail money.  The sheriff, who has successfully portrayed himself as a mild-mannered young man with polite, Southern ideals, is also slowly revealed to be a complicated sociopath who methodically murders the witnesses in his plot.  The idea is for Affleck to play a completely bland character (maybe too successfully) whose moral rheostat is broken.  He is at once sympathetic to his victims, who are his lovers and friends, and ignorant of their well being.  He is the masked psycho killer with a heart of gold.

I think the film itself has a kind of divided pathology.  What we see superficially is a gritty, indy noir with first class actors and an established director.  The source material is a Jim Thompson novel, an icon from pulp crime fiction.  But what we get isn’t a great crime story.  It’s indicated that the sheriff comes from an unexplored background of physical and sexual abuse, which I guess made him the monster he is.  The back story around the blackmail plot is vague both in motivation and result.  It’s not clear whether the sheriff is a hot boiler that has just erupted or if he is veteran of casually murdering anybody who gets in his way.  If the later is so, the character is pretty sloppy about the trail of cinchy clues and discoverable corpses he leaves behind.

But all these unexplored streets are really just scenery for the real motivation of the film.  It is, I think, to enjoy by proxy the images of a docile, somewhat sympathetic man graphically beat women to death with his bare hands.  The film, in lacking other clear ambitions, doesn’t have much else going on.  It has no address or resolution of its inner dichotomy, impulse versus self-restraint.  As in torture porn, The Killer Inside Me takes no moral position on its violence or sexism.  The killer gets to satiate his violent urges, act out his revenge fantasy, and is rewarded with the fulfillment of his psychotic death wish.  Further, the film draws the audience into vicarious experience of the killer’s violent fantasies and ends with a near Bible lesson that acting out these impulses will be judged, as it is in the whole last scene, by the burning fires of Hell.

Liar, Liar

The Last Exorcism (2010, d. Daniel Stamm)

Most faux documentaries are phonies.  I don’t mean to state the obvious.  I mean to say that a sub-genre of horror films (and an innovation in internet marketing) was started in 1999 with the Blair Witch Project.  Blair was the first, to my knowledge, to incorporate elements of cinema vérité, reality television, and teen-oriented horror into a truly different kind of scary movie.  It spawned many off-spring most of which are either Blair knock offs – The Last Horror Movie, June 9 – or routine horror narratives wearing a hand-held camera for post-modern disguise – Cloverfield, Rec, The Fourth Kind. What was neat about Blair, and what I like about The Last Exorcism is that the phony documentary conceit isn’t just a different way of telling a story, it’s that the making of a supposed documentary and the fictional filmmakers themselves are the story.  The Last Exorcism doesn’t exhibit the, now overdone, “true story” or “found footage” artifice.  There’re all fake.  We know that.  In this one the hand-held camera, in real time, is our voyeuristic guide into a very weird mystery.  We also identify with the documentary filmmaker characters themselves who get over their heads in dilemmas of ethics and personal responsibility, and in attempting to determine what is real.

Cotton is an evangelical preacher who has had a crisis of religious doubt. He is now an admitted huckster in his longtime use of magic tricks, con-artistry and performance, particularly in the stagecraft of demonic exorcism.  Cotton is getting out of the phony exorcism business and brings in a video crew to document his last exorcism; his last production.  Cotton and crew stumble into helping a rural Louisiana family, whose teenage daughter has been slaughtering livestock while purportedly in the trance of a demonic possession.  Cotton attempts to sell an effective exorcism but circumstances reveal the girl and her family have very complicated psychological and inter-personal problems.  The documentary from this point explores a numbers of mysteries:  Is the girl’s so-called possession in actuality the product of abuse or mental illness?  Are members of her family and people from the local town representing themselves truthfully?  Most important, is she really possessed by a demon or is the video crew capturing her performance; her lie?  The layers of mystery within the confines of the story are as thick as a Bayou swamp.  And don’t forget the film’s mediated interaction with us, the audience.  It’s only pretending to be a documentary.  This is a lie horror fans have apparently now come to accept without other truthy marketing gimmicks, as would the audience of a musical or professional wrestling.

An interesting thing about The Last Exorcism in its unrehearsed documentary abstraction,  it’s also an excellent piece of screen writing.  The plot and the dialogue have a very sophisticated way of keeping you wondering what in Hell is going on, trust me.  That being said, I don’t want to say too much.  I’m docking the movie half a point on my scale for its ending.  I think the story leads its characters into a very difficult moral trap.  That’s the challenge of good drama and I have to say that the last two minutes feels tacked on and, well, artificial.  I’ll be positive and call it the shocking last twist.  I’m putting The Last Exorcism on my list as qualifying for the top 10 movies of the year.  Can you believe that?

Violence is as Violence Does

The Experiment  (2010, d. Paul Scheuring)

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, “Fascism is not defined by the number of its victims, but by the way it kills them.”  The prison guards in The Experiment must maintain order but the way to do so cannot involve physical violence.  Therefore they use what’s available – psychological weapons.  20 men are profiled and hired to live together in a vacant prison.  14 act as prisoners and 6 act as guards.  The experiment is to last 2 weeks.  It lasts for only 6 days.

Very quickly the neophyte guards find a need to establish their authority through duress and humiliation of detainees.   The prisoners are kept in crowded cells and their names are replaced with numbers.  When the prisoners start to protest their mistreatment, the guards turn up the burner.  Prisoners are sprayed with fire extinguishers, gagged and bound to their cell door, deprived of medicine, placed in solitary confinement, urinated on; every creative and “non-violent” torture the guards can dream up within the laws of the experiment (enhanced interrogation, Anyone?).  In the end, the situation does devolve into beatings and killing, even rape, and the experiment ends early.  Or does it?  Perhaps it succeeds ahead of schedule.

Das Experiment, 2001 movie

The Experiment is a remake of the German film Das Experiment which itself is adapted from a novel based on the real Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971.  In the real situation, the subjects were all students and the scientist running the experiment placed himself in it among the guards.  Subjects were arrested, booked, and tried on mock criminal charges.  Nobody died in the Stanford experiment, but I think fictionalization more similar to the real circumstances may have been material for a better overall movie.  The Experiment focuses largely on the most defiant of the prisoners (played by Adrian Brody) and the unelected leader of the guards (played with brilliant sadism by Forest Whitaker).   But the characters lack back story, as do the scientists, represented mostly by robotic cameras on the prison walls.  A better script for me would have included more insight into the exploitation of the guards by the real captors, the so-called

Images: 1971 Stanford Experiment

scientific minds behind the experiment.   Still, the deliberate deterioration of circumstances, to where the psychological need for some to grasp power and allegedly non-violent means used to assert that power, come into violent conflict with the desire for the oppressed to act in protection of their autonomy, is a thought provoking and disturbing scenario.

A Little Opera

It seems weird to think of opera singers as Hollywood celebrities.  Although operatic musical conventions are frequently still borrowed on Broadway – Rent, Spring Awakening, American Idiot – and at the movies – Evita, Moulin Rouge, Repo! A Genetic Opera.  Staged opera in popular perception is thought to be entertainment for the affluent, the culturally elite, public television viewers, and the age 60+.  Some artists crossover – Sarah Brightman, Il Divo, Andrea Bocelli, even Josh Groban – but even they are not, well, rock stars.   In mid-20th century Hollywood film there was a call for talented operatic singers who happened also to be young and sexy.  The golden age of Broadway musicals occurred roughly between 1940 and 1970.  There was a market in Hollywood not just for musicals turned into movies, but to provide an additional product, adapted in form and content from traditional opera, the movie operetta.  An operetta is a light opera. It has more acting than an opera and more singing than a musical.  The stars of this era were usually better singers and worse actors.

The Desert Song (1953)

In Desert Song, Gordon McCrea’s acting performance is characteristically frigid and Kathryn Grayson’s singing is,  I think, tremulous.  But she is gorgeous.  In the story McCrea lives a double life as a docile anthropologist and as the secret leader of a rebellious Arab tribe.  Kathryn Grayson is a French general’s overindulged daughter who finds herself an unwitting pawn in the local Arab war.  Intended to capture vast Saharan mystery and danger, the scope of the musical looks and feels small compared to similarly set epics of the period.  Yet, I have to admit that there is an almost inexplicable charm.  Part of it is the sophisticated musical score (with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein).  The other part is that the cast seems to take their participation in a ridiculous story quite seriously.  I want to believe.

That Midnight Kiss (1949)

Less ambitious is That Midnight Kiss.  An aspiring opera singer seeks theatrical greatness for herself and her talented, truck-driving boyfriend.  What’s lacking in scope is made up for in singing.  The singing does seem like the central entertainment purpose.  This was the first film role for the great tenor Mario Lanza.  His voice is magnificent and his acting is convincing, if a bit too enthusiastic.  Kathryn Grayson stars in this one to, and she’s less affected.

These aren’t great films overall, but I enjoy the format.  Outside of revisiting movies from this era, it’s a type of movie experience that is gone forever.

Silver Bull

Silver Bullet (1985)

Like currently fashionable teen vampires, Hollywood in the 80s made werewolves vogue in movies:

The Howling (1981), Wolfen (1981), An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Beast Within (1982), The Company of Wolves (1984), Fright Night (1985), Teen Wolf (1985), Howling II- Werewolf Bitch (1985).

Concurrent with this were a spate of movies adapted from stories by Stephen King:  Cujo (1983), The Dead Zone (1983), Christine (1983), Firestarter (1984), Catseye (1985).

Silver Bullet is a pretty lame offering on of both crazes.  Corey Haim plays an 11 year rascal-with-a-heart-of-gold who is also paraplegic.  His quaint Maine village is being terrorized by someone who furtively stalks townspeople at night in the guise of a werewolf.  Haim, unwittingly becomes knowledgeable of the werewolf’s human avatar.  He is chased through the countryside while riding an odd motorized vehicle, more motorcycle than wheelchair, and faster than an oncoming werewolf.  Common to movies from this era all adults in the town are hysterical, petty, and stupid.  Parents are AWOL.  When the frenzied adults can’t organize a successful lynch mob, it is Haim who must kill the werewolf. He does so with a totem silver bullet, furnished by an irresponsible, alcoholic uncle, played convincingly by Gary Busey.

Is Silver Bullet supposed to be scary?  I can tell you the werewolf creature is about as frightening as a fur hat.  I can’t tell you whether the movie is intended to be goofy or if it’s just a silly and cheap trifle trying to cash in on popular genre.

Pajama Lame

Pajama Game (1957)

An excellent book I read on the history of American musicals –  Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social History of the American Musical Theatre – divides mid-20th century shows into roughly two groups:  the social message shows, such as Show Boat or West Side Story, and the “diversionaries”  like Annie Get Your Gun or Pajama Game; pure entertainments.  And Pajama Game, despite looking at a glance about labor union strikers in the garment industry is, in fact, about absolutely nothing.  There is a flimsy love story, and perhaps an accidental excursus on sexual harassment in the workplace.  But the production numbers are so diversionary and separate from what storyline there is, that it’s more similar to the Busby Berkeley musical revue movies of the 30s than it is to Rogers and Hammerstein.  That said, the score and the production numbers are very good.  Below is a scene depicting “the entertainment” that takes place at the so called labor rally (Note the signature Bob Fosse choreography.  He was the best!):

I’d like to see a real Broadway production of P.G.  The film, by the way, is very G.  They take out all the damns and hells and randy sexual innuendo that were in the original stage show (And in my sister’s high-school production back in the 70s.  There they set “Hernando’s Hideaway” as a disco!).   I wouldn’t rank it a necessity among films or stage shows.  I don’t make requirements for these diversionaries as a whole, but there are much better ones, e.g. Gypsy.  Everything from Pajama Game worth your time is on YouTube.