Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Evil (1980, Lewis Jackson)

Part of the 80's Project

If Christmas Evil (aka You Better Watch Out) teaches us anything, and really who doesn’t go to cheaply made Troma-produced 80’s horror films for instructions on how to live your life, it’s this: Be conscientious of where you engage in your fetishistic sexual transgressions, especially if you have children. If having your partner dress as Santa Claus while making sweet love to you is your cup of tea, all the more power to you, but please do it behind closed and preferably locked doors. This film depicts one such possible worst-case scenario for parents who do not adhere to this rule.

Harry, aged 8, his younger brother Phillip and mom sneak down the stairs and what to their wondering eyes should appear? Santa Claus himself leaving presents, filling the stockings hung with such care and pilfering the cookies and milk left out for him. When in bed, the younger but more world savvy sibling confides to Harry that it wasn’t really Santa, but dad in a costume. Ever the believer, Harry denies his brother’s cynicism, but has to see for himself, so he sneaks back down the stairs where he sees Mommy kissing Santa Claus, and Santa Claus kissing her back and not just on the mouth, if you catch my drift.

Cut to thirty some odd years later, Harry still possesses a child-like obsession with Christmas. His apartment is decked out in Christmas paraphernalia, when he shaves and the cream is across his face beard-like, he talks in character as Santa Claus (while we only see this once, I assumed it was a daily routine), works as a manager in a toy factory (get it?), and most distressingly, spies on the neighborhood children, keeping large binders journaling whether they’ve been naughty or nice. I was never a Psych major, but I have to think there’s something interesting Freudian-wise about a man who after seeing his mother in flagrante delicto with Santa as a child lives a life dedicated to the holiday. Unfortunately, as is par for the course with the film writer-director Lewis Jackson ignores any insights into Harry’s relationship with his mother post opening sequence or sexuality, preferring to focus on the voyeuristic angle with the kids, while disturbing on the surface, is not predatory.

If Christmas Evil teaches us two lessons, the second is: Beware of false charity! What eventually leads Harry off the precipice of sanity and into cuckoo land is when his bosses at the toy factory reveal that their charitable cause is actually a scheme to have the employees make all the donations and the corporation claim them as theirs (I may not have explained that well, but hey, neither did the movie!) on Christmas Eve of all nights! This bout of un-Seasonalness leads Harry to believe that he is, in fact, Santa Claus. He sneaks into the factory, steal toys and goes around giving them to the good boys and girls. Of course since this claims to be a horror movie, he also punishes the naughty people. His punishment ranges from the fairly innocuous, spooking out the bad neighborhood kid to the lethal: murder!

While the ingredients are all here for an interesting, entertaining or at the very least, since this is Troma, funny film, it’s actually a bit of a chore to get through. With two exceptions, the film is really drably shot. I consider myself fairly forgiving to cheaply made films, as Maniac displayed, you can still compose interesting shots with small budgets and on location filming. The two exceptions to the overall blahness of the cinematography are the scenes that bookend the film. The initial childhood scenes actually has expressive use of color and a fantastical look, as does the final scene, where Harry, being chased by the cops, drives his sleigh (actually a white molester van painted to look like it has reindeer on it) off a cliff where it doesn’t crash, but flies (to the North Pole?). This depiction of the separation of fantasy and reality elements using lighting, framing, etc. however is the only thing in Jackson’s film that is remotely cinematic.

The fact that the DVD Netflix sent me had a horrible transfer, looked like the source material was a VHS tape edited with scotch tape, didn’t help. It doesn’t appear that I got the 2006 special edition, but rather the 2000 extraless version, so if you want a better looking copy of a crappy movie, I suggest seeking out the former, which also includes a commentary between Jackson and John Waters. As far as Christmas slasher films go, this lands itself way below Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night and probably somewhere in between Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: You Better Watch Out and Black Xmas (the 2006 remake).

Hope you have a Happy Holiday, please don’t kill anyone…or feed your Mogwai after midnight!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

When Bad DVD Covers Happen To Good Movies (Sort of) #3

Although I mentioned it in another context in the postscript of my Maniac review, I failed to evoke Black Christmas when discussing other horror films that open with a shot of the killer’s subjective point of view. An especially glaring omission since not only does it predate the other films mentioned (yes, even Halloween) but because since the age of 16 when I randomly discovered it in the horror section at the Wherehouse (Where? The Wherehouse!) , I’ve become slightly obsessed with the film and count it amongst my favorite films of all time, regardless of genre.

With the holiday season in full bloom, this month will mark my annual viewing of Bob Clark’s 1973 masterpiece, and hopefully unlike a few years ago when I arrived to a sold out sign, I will be able to see it theatrically for the first time at the New Beverly on December 18th when it plays with 1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night in a Christmas slasher double bill. Perhaps after that screening I will discuss in further detail my appreciation for the film itself, but now to the subject at hand: the overall sucky-assness of Critical Mass’s Collector’s Edition DVD cover, circa 2003. There are several different DVD releases of Black Christmas with several different covers, but I am focusing on this one because it’s the DVD most leaden with extras, and it happens to be the version I own.

Apparently employing the same graphic designers assigned to create the many radio talk show host billboards in Los Angeles, the Black Christmas DVD cover is a mess of composition, fonts gone crazy and a lame tagline. Let’s start with the composition, I have no issues with the background shot of the sorority house that serves as the setting for the majority of the film, but egads, that foreground picture is horrendous, having seen the movie numerous times it took me a close inspection before I realized that the person in close-up is not in fact a victim of the invasion of the body snatchers or a burn ward patient, but rather the film’s first victim, suffocated by a plastic bag. What would someone who hadn’t seen the movie think? As for the mixed fonts, was that the result of a late night compromise between someone who wanted to go with an X-Files inspired glowing uncapitalized typewriter feel with someone who is a big fan of the shattered glass effect? In the future, someone has to just give up their pride and say, you know what bro, I’ll get the next cover. Lastly the tagline “’Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, a creature was stirring…”, while not as lame in comparison to the other atrocities, it pales next to the original tagline which is still one of the all time greats: “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl…IT’S ON TOO TIGHT!”

BUT…and here’s where Critical Mass redeems itself, when you tear through the shrink-wrap, you have the option of reversing the cover where you can display the classic hand drawn poster containing a clear view of the suffocated victim in a Christmas wreath, with the original awesome tagline and the title in one continuous font throughout both words. Black Christmas was released under several different titles including Silent Night, Evil Night and the less festive Stranger in the House, but each release featured this classic design. While I have to slag Critical Mass for not making this the cover buyers will see displayed at their local DVD retailer, I do give them huzzahs for including it at all! This is the cover that prompted my initial rental and began my 15 plus year love affair with the film. If this was the cover when I was 16, I probably would’ve walked out with the latest Children of the Corn sequel instead.

Special Note: This is the third or fourth time I’ve mentioned Black Christmas on this blog, and the first time I didn’t reference last year’s crappy remake. Yay for me! Oh, whoops…

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Maniac (1980, William Lustig)

Part of the 80's Project

Much like it’s main character Maniac is a schizophrenic film. Equal parts exploitative 1980’s slasher film, show-offy gorefest for the talents of its make-up artist extraordinaire Tom Savini, intimate character study courtesy of its star and co-writer, the great character actor Joe Spinell (probably best known for his roles as Will Cicci in the first two Godfathers and Tony Gazzo in the first two Rockys) and grimy cheap late 70s/early 80s New York independent art vibe (I’m thinking Abel Ferrara territory).

The first shot immediately reveals its intention to put the audience in an intimate relation with Spinell’s character, Frank Zito. The very first image is a shot of one of those beach pier telescopes you put a quarter into, the next shot is a subjective POV through the telescope’s lens at a couple frolicking about who will be the film’s first victims. A slasher film opening with the subjective POV of its killer is nothing unique, even as early as 1980, having been done beforehand most famously in Halloween (lil’ Michael Myers attack on his sister) as well as another 1980 film featuring the work of Tom Savini, Friday the 13th. However, we never get to follow Myers or Mrs. Voorhees having a post-murder schizophrenic conversation with their dead mother as we do in Maniac. In these scenes Spinell gives a fearless, personal and an intimate, some, hell most, would say uncomfortably intimate, performance. We always call actors like Charlize Theron “brave” for gaining weight, wearing bad make-up and not washing their hair for a couple of weeks in Monster, but Spinell’s turn as Zito earns that distinction because this is his actual body and he allows Lustig to film it in unflattering close-ups, in all his flabby stomach, sweaty balding head and acne scarred faced glory.

The first half hour or so of Maniac is structured thusly: Zito picks a target, follows that target around until they are in an isolated location and then kills them in a graphic manner (thanks to Savini). What’s interesting is Zito’s improvisational process of killing people. In the Friday the 13th sequels, Jason mixes things up from time to time, but he’s a machete man at heart, Myers usually sticks to the tried and true kitchen knife, but Zito is the type of guy who sees what he has around the house and says to himself “hey, that’ll do”, as a result we get strangulations, shotguns to the face, even a sword as murder methods.

An interesting aspect of this structure is that while he's stalking his victims we stay with Zito’s perspective, but once we get to the chase our perspective shifts, and we find ourselves in the victim’s shoes, not knowing when or how Zito will strike. I’m not sure exactly whom we are to sympathize with. We have spent more time with the killer and know him more intimately, but then again, he is a maniacal killer, I mean it’s in the title! But due to the nature of his random victim selection there’s less character definition with them than we’d have if we were introduced to them earlier, like the typical camp counselor in a Friday film, and yes, that is the first and only time a Friday the 13th movie will get credited with any form of character development.

After awhile it must have occurred to Lustig, Spinell and co-writer C.A. Rosenberg (who has no other film credit, is it a pseudonym for Lustig or Savini?) that 90 minutes of Zito going around killing someone and going home and having conversations with his dead abusive mother would seem repetitive and go nowhere. So we are then introduced to a fashion photographer who will become Zito’s “love interest”. This part drags the film down, not because there’s no murder, but due to the fact that a.) it’s more than a little unbelievable that this trendy, beautiful, popular woman would have any romantic interest in Spinell, even when he’s playing “normal” he still looks like Spinell and has more ticks than Norman Bates, and b.) the filmmakers seems indifferent to these scenes. Spinell saves most of his acting energy for the schizo scenes, Lustig shoots them boringly, saving his savvier cinematic tricks for the suspense and kill scenes, and Savini is not around. Eventually Zito decides that he’d rather be a serial killer than an arty New York hipster and while it’s a commendable choice, his attachment to her and the fact that he attempted any sort of an emotional relationship with a woman who is not his dead mother ultimately costs him.

Despite borrowing liberally from not only Halloween, but also aspects of other horror classics such as Psycho (killer channeling and conversing with his dead mother), Carrie (let’s just say hands pop out a grave at one point) and Dawn of the Dead (in a dream sequence, Zito gets torn to pieces by his zombified victims, where Savini pays tribute to one of the great horror make-up artist, one Tom Savini), the sum is greater than its parts. If you’re a fan of the genre, and have a strong stomach, Maniac is definitely worthy.

Extra Spoiler Type Comments Below:

Maniac receives runner-up honor on my list of idiotic work by police officers in a horror movie climax. The winner is of course Black Christmas (don’t make me have to specify the original) where after Olivia Hussey survives the traumatic experience of being stalked and nearly killed by her boyfriend (or was it?) everybody leaves her asleep alone in her sorority house bed. With, it turns out…the real killer…duh duh dun! Well in Maniac, after Frank unsuccessfully tries to kill his fashion photographer girlfriend he returns to his apartment, has the aforementioned dream that he’s torn apart and apparently dies from self inflicted stabbing wounds. It turns out his lady friend didn’t cotton to being nearly murdered and ratted him out, so two Serpico wannabes bust into Zito’s apartment only to find him dead (or is he?). So what do they do? Shrug and leave. Of course after they leave, it’s revealed that duh duh dun…he’s still alive! Seriously guys, I know its pre-cell phone, but you have a CB radio in your car, right? The correct procedure, I am guessing, is not going “well, shit happens”, but rather having one of the cops stay in the apartment as the other goes to contact a coroner or one of them CSI guys. Hell, if you don’t have a CB radio, find a goddamn payphone, man. Its 1980, they still exist, plus you just found the killer that has been plaguing New York for a few months, I’m sure your boss would accept a collect call.

I guess what the Strokes said about New York City cops in that one song was pretty spot on.

Extra Special Random Fun Fact

While this was definitely Joe Spinell’s biggest role of 1980, probably biggest role ever, it was one of 8 films and 1 TV movies featuring a Spinell performance in the year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Trailer of the Week: Colonel Mortimer’s Policy Trailer

If you attended a movie at a Syufy theatre (better known as the Century Theatres) sometime in the 1980’s or 90’s you no doubt remember the floodlight policy trailer that preceded every film. Movie-theatre-going-wise, I was lucky enough to grow up in San Jose, CA and pretty much the entire film going of my formative years were at their landmark “dome” cinemas, Century 22, 23, 24 and the crown jewel of them all, Century 21, the great single screen theatre that was also the first of the Syufy chain to carry the name “Century”, christened as such because its futuristic design (circa 1964) was heralded as be the type of theatres that one would presumably expect to be the norm in the 21st century (unfortunately that was not to be the case).

Sometime in the early 90’s the Syufy corporation officially changed it’s name to “Century Theatres” since pretty much every post-Century 21 was subsequently labeled as a “Century”. With the name change, the popular floodlight policy trailer was scraped and replaced with something more non-descript.

What makes the floodlight trailer stand out is the interaction it inspired amongst loyal crowds. On YouTube it is labeled: The Syufy Clapping Trailer. And yes, clapping is what I associate most of all with it. Psyched film fans witnessing the further adventures of Luke Skywalker, James Bond and Indiana Jones would form a cacophony of claps to its syncopated beat. There even floated around rumors and stories of people who would stand up to simulate the floodlight movements with their arms (though I never personally witnessed or participated in that particular activity). I remember attending a matinee of A League of Their Own with my mother and even a crowd of middle-aged soccer moms clapped along (to be completely honest, at the time I thought it was kind of lame that adults had so blatantly co-opted “the clap” that their children, if not invented, perfected, if the phrase “jump the shark” existed at the time, I’m sure I would have applied it to the events of that summer afternoon in 1992).

I realize that this posting originates from a place of nostalgia, but it’s not necessarily just for the carefree days of my youth or the kitschy retroness of the trailer’s design, but rather a time when film going represented something a little more special: a sense of community, something that has been lost a lot what with the ever-decreasing quality of Hollywood filmmaking, crowds who seem more interested in their Blackberrys than the film they paid to see, and the fact that movies open so wide that on any given day a film can play on as many as 10-15 screens per town. Sadly, the Syufy/Century theatre is partially responsible for this, opening multiplex after multiplex and cutting some of it’s domes in half to increase screening capabilities (the 23, 24 and 25 included) instead of focusing on larger one or two screen theatres, resulting in the abandonment of the quality of the theatres and their designs in the process.

Last year, Cinemark bought out the Century Theatre corporation with one sole exception, the three original domes and their drive-in screens which will revert back to operating under the Syufy name. And for discerning San Jose movie fans, there still is no better place to see the latest hit films. Now let’s hope they bring back the floodlight policy trailer!

Thanks for reading the long preamble, it’s now time for today’s featured entertainment. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show!

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Changeling (1980, Peter Medak)

Part of the 80's Project

Since it's been about a month and a half since I actually watched The Changeling, I am going to do something a little different here, instead of forming some kind of cohesive review (not to imply I've ever written a cohesive review) I am just going to go through notes I took during and after the film and just bulletin point my thoughts. Act like it's one of those progress reports your boss makes you waste time drafting, just try to refrain from coming into my blog and shooting the place up like you've been strategically planning the last fifteen years.

SPOILERS AHOY! (*especially the ending!*)

* General plot synopsis portion: George C. Scott plays a classical pianist whose wife and daughter die in a car accident. He moves from New York to a quiet Washington (Pacific Northwest, not District of Columbia) town where he teaches music at a university (and is wildly popular for some reason, like 500 kids crash his first class, I guess Washington is wild for their mourning classical pianists) and moves into an old house with a mysterious history. Creepy stuff starts happening, stuff like for an example an antiquated wheelchair appears out of nowhere and moves by itself and a rubber ball very dramatically falls down the stairs. Ends up this house is haunted by the spirit of a dead boy. Through copious amounts of research and mediation with a spiritual we discover that the boy’s father stood to inherit a significant sum under the one guideline that it would actually go to the boy, but since this kid suffered a fatal disease one night the father drowned his son, secretly buried him and hightailed it to Europe with no one ever the wiser, in Europe he adopts a similar looking kid who he brings back to America a few years later and cha-ching gets the inheritance. In the present day, the adopted son has become a Washington state senator and one cannot help but speculate his first initiative in office was some kind of inheritance reform. George C. Scott decides to stay at the house and help the kid gets some form of vengeance (we'll discuss this a little later), but it kind of comes back to bite him in the ass since after the boy's vengeance is satiated, the house burns down. Hope Scott had insurance! (I did say there would be Spoilers, right?)

* The film begins with a great opening sequence and title card. George C. Scott's wife and daughter are killed in an auto accident in the snow while Scott watches helplessly in a phone booth. Close-up on Scott's grieving face...and...FREEZE FRAME...The Changeling. What I especially like about the film is it‘s non-explotative nature concerning the death of Scott‘s family, evidenced by the fact that his assisting the child offers him no emotional resolution or cathartic reconciliation with the spirit of his deceased loved ones (a la this year's 1408), obviously their death inspires him to help the boy but that’s more a character trait than a plot contrivance.

* The fact that this film continually pops up on various "Scariest Movies of All Time" list is due to the deft direction, sound design and quiet atmosphere director Medak--a journeyman director who resume includes on anarchistic British satire (The Ruling Class), many television credits (ranging from Tales From the Crypt to Seventh Heaven to Magnum P.I.), neo-noir (Romeo is Bleeding) and one of the crappiest films in the history of films (Species 2)--employs. The house is quiet and so is the film, until you know, shit goes down, Medak effectively mines suspense by contrasting the silence and Scott's character classic piano playing with loud disruptive sounds. Today it's a cliche, I know, but it’s always effective when done right. Too often filmmakers hijack their own suspense by wallowing in poor sound design filling what should be quiet moments with lame rock songs that serve only to attempt to sell the soundtrack (this is a Miramax specialty) and avid farts editing style (copyright Vern), Saw and those horrible Michael Bay produced remakes being primary offender.

* The best scene of the film occurs when a psychic comes to the house to communicate with the spirit. The acting and direction remains contained. Nowadays, the woman would be portrayed like a Zelda Rubenstein type kook and the scenes where she communicates with the spirit would be over-edited with flashes of some ghostly images too you know, freak you out. Instead we get a nice drawn out scene which is treated not like a crazy event, but rather a woman nonchalantly just doing her job, sure her job involves being in a trance like state and communicating with the dead, but hey to her, it's just another fucking Tuesday.

* But what I find most interesting about The Changeling is that the ghost of the kid is actually a bit of a jerk. I’ve already mentioned how after George C. Scott helps the kid out by finding his skeleton and confronting the senator/impostor he repays him by burning down the house. “Thanks, bud, that'll be the last time I ever try to assist spirits of murdered children.” But the whole act of vengeance on the senator/impostor is kind of petty. Yeah, it sucks that this guy got your fortune and is now a senator, but hey, money alone didn't ascend him to his position, it's mentioned that he's served several terms, so hey, people liked him enough to re-elect him. Hell, the senator doesn't even know the truth about his past until the film's climactic scenes. So he ends up dying for the sins of his father, only it wasn't really his own father, but his adoptive father. On the flip side he had a fairly long and prosperous life and was able to avoid any Dickensian-like orphange abuse and calling everybody "guv'ner" all the time. All in all, the measure of payback perfectly gels with what the five year old mindset would consider fair.

This wasn't really much shorter than most of my reviews was it? At least I still have the lack of cohesion thing going on.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Let's Hear It For the Best Month of the Year!

October or as its sometimes referred: Rocktober (by your local hard rock, less talk radio station), Shocktober (by cable channels with horror movie-thons) or Frocktober (amongst the Monk community)is by far my favorite month of any given year for one simple reason, two of my favorite hobbies, watching horror movies and drinking beer are not only considered socially acceptable but are actually encouraged. This October particularly holds a special place for me as I am getting married on October the 13th (no, not a Friday)! The only down side is I will miss some cool blogging and horror movie related events (as well as Oktoberfest!). I have one more 80's Project entry I hope to get done before I leave town (and it's a horror movie) and I am hoping that when I return to town (on the 29th) I can revisit Halloween III finally.

In the meantime, let me make some suggestions on things to do while you are going through Colonel Mortimer withdrawls:

New Movies:

Sadly, October is no longer a fertile time for new horror movie releases, unless you count the new Tyler Perry joint. Why is that? Wouldn't Rob Zombie's Halloween remake be greeted with a bit more enthusiasm had it been released this month instead of August, sure it would have still sucked or to use the nomenclature of Mr. Zombie "skullfucked", but at least people would have been in a horror movie state of mind. This year's horror slate is limited to all of three releases, and one is a 14 year old children's movie. Seriously film studios and independents, get your shit together, I want a minimum of eight horror films released October 2008. Let's look at the slate:

30 Days of Night (October 19th)
Vampires attack a small Alaskan town where it's dark all month long in this horror thriller based on a graphic novel (as is everything these days), any film with Josh Hartnett as its main star is already missing something in the charismatic lead role department, but the premise is interesting enough. David Slade directs, his last film was Hard Candy where he had some nice tension created until the film unraveled in the final act. Hope this script is decent. According to IMDB, Slade has also directed some Aphex Twin videos, and that dude's video are creepier than 90% of modern horror.

The Nightmare Before Christmas 3-D (October 19th)
What's this, what's this, Disney is remarketing an old film? Simply shocking! Disney's (by way of Henry Selick, Danny Elfman and Tim Burton) first spooky animated film since the Adventures of Ichabod Crane short has become quite the merchandising bonanza since it's initial release in 1993 thanks to Hot Topic and it's dual Halloween and Christmas setting.

Saw IV (October 26th)
While I cannot endorse this horror series, I checked out after the lame first film, after watching Zombie's idiotic retelling of Michael Meyers origin, I do have to concede some props for creating a new horror character and series instead of remaking a classic.

Repertory Theatres (Los Angeles):

The NuArt, October 19th at Midnight: Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn

A brand new 35mm print of Sam Raimi's gory and hilarious sequel that I would gladly give up a hand to catch (as long as I can replace it with a chainsaw!)

The Egyptian, October 30th at 7:30pm: Seed of Chucky

While I am of the opinion that the Child's Play series results from morphing into comedy terrain is not quite as clever as the makers think it is, I grant them that Seed has some choice meta moments, and this screening should be fun with both writer-series creator-director Don Mancini and Jennifer Tilly in attendance, but where art thou, Brad Dourif?

The Aero:

This Santa Monica theatre is the only rep theatre in Los Angeles going full on horror as it dedicates the last few days of October to horror movie programming:

October 25th at 7:30pm
The Haunting & The Uninvited
Robert Wise's (who passed away earlier this year) classic The Haunting is still the movie that all haunted house films are judged by, just ask Jan de Bont. It plays with another haunted house story, the lesser known and unavailable on DVD, The Uninvited, directed by Lewis Allen and starring Ray Milland.

October 26th at 7:30pm
Demon Seed & The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (78)
A supercomputer wants to impregnate Julie Christie (can you blame it!) in this thriller from Performance co-director Donald Cammell, it plays with Phillip Kaufman's remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers which is not only miles better than this year's The Invasion, but stands with John Carpenter's The Thing as exhibit A in the remakes don't have to suck debate.

October 31st at 7:30pm
The Omen
The original, Richard Donner directed non September 11th and Hurricane Katrina referencing version. "It's all for you, Damien!"

October 27th at 7:30pm
By far the most interesting option for your Halloween needs, the Aero is hosting an all night horror movie-thon, for a mere $20 you can watch 7 films all night with snacks and foods included, that is if you can survive, muwahahah!

The line-up:
Return of the Living Dead
Acid rain and punk rock zombies!

Tod Browning's classic follow-up to Dracula. One of us! Gabba Gabba! One of us!

From Beyond
Stuart Gordon's follow-up to Re-Animator adapts a HP Lovecraft story that according to the Aero's calendar (sorry haven't seen it yet, need to queue this up) involves "sixth sense, mutating humans and monster unleashed from the netherworld."

The Beyond
Directed by Lucio Fulci, about a Louisiana hotel that contains a gateway to hell...aka The Superdome! (rim shot)

Last House on the Left
Wes Craven's debut is one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen, it's a revenge story inspired by Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring. Just keep telling's only a movie...only a movie.

The Children
Basically City of God, only instead of gang members, this time the children are zombies!

The Gates of Hell
The night ends with another from Italian gore maestro, Lucio Fulci, and again its about a gateway to hell. Hey, Wes Anderson has his recurring themes, Fulci has his gates to hell ruminations.

Non Horror Related Repertory Screenings of Interest

Since I won't be in Los Angeles for much of the month, I am not going to do the New Beverly calendar like I did for September. But here are a handful of double bills worthy of your attention.

October 7,8,9

Rushmore 7:30pm (plus 3:50 Sunday)
Bottle Rocket 9:20pm (plus 5:40 Sunday)
Speaking of Wes Anderson, his fifth film, The Darjeeling Limited opens this weekend, what better time then now to catch up with his first two and arguably best films.

October 10,11

Il Grido 7:30pm
Zabriskie Point 9:45pm

This is a double bill I am really sad to miss, two of Michelangelo Antonioni's lesser seen efforts play together, Il Grido was the film he made before his first international success, L'Avventura. And Zabriskie, his only American financed film, has been out of print for decades. Its considered a disaster by some and masterpiece by others, I would like to see it for myself and decide, but alas, maybe another time.

October 23rd
God Told Me To 7:30pm
Bone 9:30pm

This month's grindhouse double bill is two from cult writer-director Larry Cohen. In God various New Yorkers go on a murdering rampage because, well god told them to. Kind of like how he "told" Bush to invade Iraq. Bone stars Yaphet Kotto as a thief who breaks into a wealthy Beverly Hills mansion and discovers the dark secret of the couple who resides there, I actually prefer it's other title: Beverly Hills Nightmare!


It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown--Friday, October 27th at 8:00pm, ABC
This year marks the 41st airing of this classic Peanuts Halloween special, maybe this time Linus will finally stay up and see the Great Pumpkin and Charlie Brown will get candy instead of rocks!

Halloween Marathon--Wednesday, October 31st at 10:00am, AMC
If you like your horror movies edited for television, tune into the channel formerly known as American Movie Classic for an all day festival of the first six films of the Halloween franchise, beginning with John Carpenter's classic and all the way to Donald Pleasance's last appearance, in the Curse of Michael Meyers.

Classic Horror Movie Directors Series, Fridays at 8:00pm, Turner Classic Movies
The cable station that still actually plays classic movies has the most interesting programming, dedicating all Friday nights in October to a series of film by a classic horror director:

Friday, October 5th--Jacques Tourneur Night: Curse of the Demon, Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man

The French director who made several artistically solid films for producer Val Lewton also directed the Robert Mitchium noir classic, Out of the Past.

Friday, October 12th--William Castle Night: Homicidal, Straight-Jacket, 13 Ghosts, The Tingler

Castle was a showman above all, Joe Dante's Matinee starring John Goodman was loosely based on his life and the gimmicks he used to sell his films. Make sure to electrically shock whomever you watch these films with at the appropriate time.

Friday, October 19th--Tod Browning Night: Mark of the Vampire, Freaks, The Devil Doll, London After Midnight, The Unknown

TMC proves the director of Bela Lugosi's version of Dracula was no one trick pony with these four films that display his range, directorial fortitude and experimental techniques.

Friday, October 26th--Roger Corman Night: A Bucket of Blood, Creature From the Haunted Sea, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Terror

Before introducing the world to such diverse talents as Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme, Corman directed many of his own low budget horror films. My only complaint, no X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes!


Sadly, I will not be able to participate in any of the interesting blog-a-thons that will pop up this month, but that doesn't mean I won't be reading them. And so should you:

31 Days of Zombie at The Projection Booth

Who doesn't love zombies? No one, that's who, and what better way to prepare for the inevitable uprising of the undead by checking out the Projection Booth's month long discussion of a different zombie movie a day? From the new to the classic to the obscure this blog is sure to rattle your "brainnnnsssss". So far essays include reviews of Zach Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later.

31 Movies That Give You Willies at Shoot the Projectionist

Shoot the Projectionist is also devoting the month of October to a discussion of horror movies, the most intriguing is his survey of several bloggers to create a list of 31 Horror Movies That Give You the Willies.

Various Fun at Final Girl

Much like the Ministry song, for Stacie Ponder, everyday is Halloween. She is a devout lover of all facets of horror, especially the cheesy. She participated in the Shoot the Projectionist survey and all month long she is writing extensively on some of her picks and runner-ups.

2 Horror Movie Reviews a Day at Horror Movie a Day Blog

Likewise, at the Horror Movie A Day Blog, it's always time for horror movie discussions. This October though, instead of just reviewing one horror movie a day, he will be discussing two horror movies a day, one he's never seen and one that is a classic.

Well I think I leave you with many an option for the month ahead. Hope you have fun with your "tricks or treats" and remember folks, caro syrup and red dye = best fake blood.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Loulou (1980, Maurice Pialat)

Part of the 80's Project (returning after a three month hiatus)

A lazy critical fallback is praising a movie by referring to it as being "realistic", but isn't "reality" the very antithesis of what films accomplish best? Don't misinterpret me as the type of viewer that seeks solely from films only escapist fare (another lazy fallback, this by average filmgoers). But if you think of your favorite scenes in film history, be it Psycho's shower scene, Citizen Kane's montage of a disintegrating marriage or Chief Brody on a crowded beach getting closer and closer as each beachcomber passes by in Jaws, the directors employed editing, music, framing and among other various methods to create a cinematic language that as art far transcends realism. In William Goldman's book Which Lie Did I Tell he addressed one of film's most tried and true cliches, the protagonist (in his book he used Lethal Weapon as his example) always finding a parking space in front of whatever place they stop at by writing a scene where the cops spend a good five minutes driving around looking for an open space. In a Film Theory class back in college, our professor showed us two scenes from two films that depicted a minute of time and asked us which related most to our sense of the passing of time. The first scene was from Ingmar Bergman's Hour of the Wolf, where Max Von Syndow looks at his watch for exactly one minute, the scene is one static shot, taking place in real time. The next was from Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage. In the scene, a woman unknowingly has stowed a bomb on a bus, set to go off in one minute. In the scene Hitchcock cuts between the unsuspected passengers, the bomb ticking, the bus wheels, the city outside, etc. This montage takes about thirty seconds. The overwhelming response was that Hitchcock's depiction of a minute represented people's relationship with the passage of time that everybody agreed that people tend to lose track of time and never register an exact minute in time.

Maurie Pialat's Loulou is a film that attempts to represent "reality" in direction, stylistic choices, acting and screenplay. The first thing that stands out is its complete lack of a score, in fact the only time we ever hear any music is when a character is listening to a radio either in a car or at home, and once we exit car the sound ebbs out like it would in real life. Pialat also stages most of his actions in the most objective angle possible, framed mid-screen.

The screenplay is sans any major plot points, it revolves around a woman, Nelly (Isabelle Huppert) who leaves her husband and bourgeois lifestyle for an affair with poor ex convict Loulou (Gerard Depardieu). Plot-wise, that's pretty much it. There is never any specific reason given, its implied she herself isn't entirely aware, other than Loulou represents a dramatic shift from her stale and demanding husband Andre (Guy Marchand), perhaps it's his magnetism, his sexuality or just his je nais Deparideuness. That's not to say its a boring film or nothing happens, just the drama is all derived from the characters actions or inaction. The best scene occurs when Andre starts a scuffle with Loulou, he weakly pushes him and they end up in an alley swinging and badly missing one another and getting exhausted before incurring any physical damage. They keel over and just sort of stare at each other no longer interested in fighting, Nelly consoles both of them before they settle on a truce and go to a bar to share a drink. Pialat is able to pull this off so that it combines awkwardness, humor and honesty. It's a tone that the film straddles throughout, like in another scene where Loulou's ex girlfriend visits him while he's in bed with Nelly, Loulou invites her to join them, and as she starts to undress, Nelly gets up and leaves, the ex follows her out, leaving Loulou who had been having visions of threesomes dancing in his head, alone.

In addition to this "realness", Pialat minds some interesting thematic ideas about class distinctions. Nelly seems to be at war with her instincts and desires, she rejects her bourgeoisie lifestyle, but not the tendencies that come with it. She still is an avid reader, but when her husband asks if she discusses literature with her new amour, she blithely retorts, "I read books, what do I need to talk about them for", as a rejection to one of the sole benefits of their relationship one assume. Still, in the brief period when she returns to her husband mid-affair she does seem more at home in the comfy bed in Andre's nice loft then she ever appears in Loulou's cheap flat, lying on a mattress in the middle of the floor. Since no explicit reason is ever given for her affair, one senses she has reconsidered her impulses at comfort in place of passion.

No one will ever mistake Loulou with being representative of any sort of "reality", no matter what cinematic pretension Pialat may present us with, still like life it features internal struggles, questionable decision and most importantly, messiness. Due to the stylistic choices it's a film that's not entirely engaging upon watching, but improves substantially upon reflection.

Monday, September 10, 2007

LiveBlogging: 49ers v. Cardinals Monday Night Football (Fourth Quarter)

The offense looks tepid, but on the bright spot, teams the 49ers have outscored through three quarters this week: Cleveland, Atlanta, Kansas City, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and the NFC Championship representatives New Orleans and Chicago.

So I hesitate to type this, because I don't want Wisenhunt to realize it, but two quarterbacks that the 49ers could never beat, no matter how bad or good their teams are: Brett Favre and Cardinals backup Kurt Warner (shh).

A third down Blitz, I saw it coming, how couldn't the Niners' coaching staff?

After this game, I doubt will be seeing many 49ers or Cardinals games scheduled in primetime, in fact, I think I heard all the major stations are trying to work out a deal to see if the Cowboys could just play every televised night game for the next three years.

Again the referees help out the Cardinals with a crappy personal foul call on an incidental face mask.

Thanks to the referee and a stupid penalty on Mark Roman for taunting (after a 20 yard run by Leinart) the Cardinals take the lead 17-13. Can't really blame the defense, they've been playing great but have been on the field way too much. Now its up to our offense. Crap.

Mr. Woodcock trailer, wow two penis jokes in the title. That's got to be worth something, huh? No. It actually reminds me of a slapstick version of that episode of Freaks and Geeks where Haverchuck's mom dates his P.E. coach.

I know they didn't have Gore for the pre-season but the offense looks holes for Gore, no time for Smith to throw, when he does he's missing open receivers, this does not bode well for the season if they can't fix this. Sorry I know its getting repetitive, but after seeing the vast improvement of the defense, it becomes that much more apparent.

Is Joe Montana around somewhere? Let's get him dressed for a last minute comback.

Stop saying "San Fran", Gollic, what does not saying "cisco" truly save you, .04 of a second?

Darrell Jackson misses a possible game winning reception.

Nice 4th and 1 pickup by Smith, I would like to see him run a little more, especially if the coverage is good, may cause the safety to play up and open up the receivers.

A questionable false start penalty against the Niners (appears the Cardinals jumped off) makes it the fifth questionable penalty to go against them, home field advantage ain't what it used to be.

Wow, how did this all of the sudden become an exciting game?

Jackson redeems himself with that fumble pick-up.

The Niners take the lead, Walsh lives! Walsh lives!

And the second interception, game over, man. Somehow the Niners win.

LiveBlogging: 49ers v. Cardinals Monday Night Football (Third Quarter)

Thoughts thus far:

The 49ers defense is looking much better than last year. The one touchdown drive was only for thirty yards due to the Alex Smith fumble, the field goal was after a 4th down penalty. Fitzsgerald and Boldin have been quiet and that opening interception. However, they need to do a better job stopping the run.

With the exception of a few Gore runs, the offense has looked bad. Play calling too conservative and the line is not giving Smith any time.

Nice way to start the second half for the 49ers, two false starts to start on the Cardinals. Nice stop by Walt Harris. First round draft pick Patrick Willis in the backfield before Leinart gets a hold of the ball.

Where's the intentional grounding? Leinart tosses it away to no one to avoid a sack. Third crappy call or lack thereof against the Niners thus far.

6 Plays, 5 Penalties for the Cardinals in the third quarter so far, way to go taskmaster Ken Wisenhunt.

This offensive play calling is atrocious, spread it out man. Couldn't Norv Turner work two jobs?

Lame third down call, even if Gore caught it he wouldn't have scored or got the first down.

13-10. 49ers regain the lead, but this is no way to pay tribute to Walsh.

Another nice defensive stop. Eventually we need to actually sack Leinart. This game is more Ditka than Walsh.

Cialis commercial. "E.D." now impotent men have a hip slang word for their homosexuality, er, inability to make love to their wives.

Um, offensive lineman, little advice, it helps to block the defensive guy running towards your quarterback a little bit.

Look at that, give the guy some time, and a third and eight completion! Wow, let's try that a little more.

Alex Smith's soul patch is not helping him hit wide open receivers. Or block for himself.

Wow Ditka says these offenses are too conservative.

Patrick Willis is looking like a great pick so far.

Any crackheads still awake in the East Coast just drifted to sleep at 12:41 AM Eastern Standard time, after that, the 98th punt of the game.

And another quarter ends..hopefully I can stay awake to compose some thoughts for the fourth qu......ZZZZZZ (when I fall asleep I type Z's)

LiveBlogging: 49ers v. Cardinals Monday Night Football (Second Quarter)

Do you think Marvin Harrison or Peyton Manning ever called Edgerrin James during the summer and were all like, "Hey Edge, remember that Super Bowl win, that was awesome, I mean the highlight of my life...oh yeah, you signed with Arizona last bad, I forgot. Hey, how are the Suns looking? Oh, that's right the Cardinals...Well good luck with that, yeah, I'm fine, we're going to go for that repeat, which is nice."

7-3. Dumb penalty is costly, perhaps now the offense can put a scoring drive that involves more than ten yards.

I'm sorry, horse collaring is a penalty in the NFL, isn't it?

Hey it's the fourth drive, time to introduce the offense, ESPN!

SHIT! The offensive line has to try this whole blocking the defender thing out, hard to blame Alex Smith for the fumble when he gets turned around and finds two 300lb linemen jumping on him.

10-7 Cardinals. The offense needs to start sustaining a drive or put up a big play.

Mike Ditka is shocked, shocked I say that a wide receiver provided a block! In other news, this is the first game Mike Ditka has watched since 1987 (considering he was coaching until 1999, not a good sign).

When you throw that immediate line of scrimmage throw to receiver, usually nice to gain some yards or at least not lose any.

Smith shows a pair and dives for the first down!

Hey the banjo guy is still alive and attending Niner games! Bay Area sporting legend.

2005 49er MVP, Kicker Joe Nedney ties the game.

What a weak ass penalty call on Shawntae Spencer, and considering that there was no way it was going to play any part in that play makes that a pathetic illegal contact penalty call, way too keep the Cardinals drive alive referee, good to see Tim Donaghy found employment after his NBA career ended.

Wow Matt Leinart looks like a scared child running away from Michael Jackson in the open field. Sorry lame joke, but what do you want, I am improving whilst watching the game.

Nice third down stop. Apparently the 49ers secondary is doing a great job, Ditka keeps telling us so, but ESPN doesn't find it necessary to actually show visual evidence.

Don't run into the punter. Don't run into the punter. Close.

10-10 halftime tie. I wonder if the 49ers are what Dennis Green thought they were. Possibly.

LiveBlogging: 49ers v. Cardinals Monday Night Football (First Quarter)

No wonder there is such an East Coast bias, this game doesn't even kick off until 10:25pm Eastern Standard time. Hopefully this game will at least entertain the thirty inomniac crackheads that will be awake by the game's East Coast end time.

Mike Nolan in a suit! Esquire's 11th Best Dressed man in the world, 2007. The 49ers in their classic 80's unis. Your nightly fashion report.

So far Ditka's been nice to the Niners. Forgiven...for now.

Alex Smith is 1-1, 100% completion percentage so far!

Nice offensive line there Niners. False start then cave in for a 2 yard Gore running loss.

Love the one yard throw on 3rd and 17. Great call, offensive coordinator.

Now the 80 million dollar cornerback will get to test his mettle against two of the better receivers in the game, Larry Fitzsgerald and Anquin Boldin. I don't think there's anyway for a cornerback to live up to that salary, but as long as he doesn't bring back memories of the last expensive free agent cornerback the Niners signed, Antonio Langham, that'll be okay.

Nice! The cornerback not making 80 million dollars intercepts the first Leinart pass.

What happened to the starting lineup announcing? Does ESPN not do that?

Gore is not touched and the Niners score first. At least they won't have to worry about being blanked at home like last year's bay area football team who opened the season with a Monday Night doubleheader.

Arizona calls its patented quarterback about to get sacked tosses it to running back who fumbles the ball and watches the ball bounce off the cornerback grasp and back to the hands of the running back for a first down run play again.

Keith Lewis blows a defensive stop...but at least that gives us a shot of his cool mohawk.

First quarter far, so eh. Niners leading and looking strong on defense but thanks to the running in to the kicker penalty, the Cardinals are driving.

The Mikes seem to be striving for respectibility knowing that their ESPN's Doubl A announcing team.

LiveBlogging: 49ers v. Cardinals Monday Night Football (Preamble)

Are you ready for some typos and poorly constructed sentences? Duh duh duh dun.

In celebration of the San Francisco 49ers first telecast night game* since turning Mexicans off American Football for good in 2005 when the NFL generously pitted the 49ers coming off a 2-14 year against tonight's opponent the Arizona Cardinals coming off a (I'm guessing here) 5-11 campaign. Who could forget the 49ers prior year's sole night game, the Ken Dorsey/Craig Krenzel 2003 Orange Bowl rematch? I'll tell you who, Rex Grossman, I believe he has that game on DVD and sends it as a response to every Chicago sportswriter who asks week after week "could it get any worse?" It will also be the first Monday Night Football game in San Francisco, the stadium is now apparently titled Bill Walsh Field in Monster Park at Candlestick Point, since their 2003 trouncing of the Tommy Maddox-led Pittsburgh Steelers.
*the Niners did have a game on the NFL Network last year (a victory over eventual division champs, Seattle) but seeing how that channel operates as a soverign station telecast solely in the mind of the elves that live under your younger brother's bed.

What better way to end the first week of the season then a head to head match up of two teams that ended with a combined 13 wins last year? ESPN thinks so highly of this game that they resorted to the gimmickry of having it announced by three guys named Mike (Golic, Ditka, and some other dude), surely forgetting NBC's disatrous early 90's pregrame show Dickin' Around featuring Dick Enberg, Dick Stockton and Dick Vermeil. Seriously though, I do have issues with Ditka announcing a game that will serve as a memorial to Bill Walsh. Ditka and Walsh were contempories and Ditka often times talked smack about him and his team, most famously dismissing the 49ers as a "finnesse" team. How's this for finnesse Ditka, in their two NFC Championship match-up, Walsh's Niners beat da Bears by a combined score of 51-3, Walsh's defenses sure finnessed your teams out of the end zone.

Okay, rant over. Let's try this thing out. Best case scenario: the 49ers soundly beat the Cardinals and look like the play-off team people are saying they could be. Worst case scenario: a fifth straight loss to the Cardinals, Frank Gore sustains a injury that keeps him out for the year, and my fiancee comes to her senses and leaves me.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

New Beverly Cinema's September 2007 Calendar

Caught Alejandro Jodorowsky's psychadelic epic The Holy Mountain at the New Beverly last night (side note: Wow) and was informed that the September/October 2007 calendar weren't ready yet. Their website, however, lists the double features for September and I wanted to reprint the listings so you can get a sense of why I am so devoted to the theatre. This is the first calendar that recently passed away owner Sherman Torgan had no part in (there is a nice collage of photos of Torgan at the theatre), the new programmers did a great job perserving his aestheic on this month's (Bergman heavy) calendar.

September 2, 3, 4:

Vanishing Point 7:30 (also Sunday at 3:45)
Hells Angels on Wheels 9:25 (also Sunday at 5:40)

Quentin Tarantino is a big fan of the theatre and held a two month long Grindhouse festival here in March and April. Here are two of his favorite films, if you've seen Death Proof you no doubt remember all the references to the car from Vanishing Point, and he has programmed director Richard Rush's (The Stunt Man) Hells Angels on Wheels at various events, it stars Jack Nicholson as a Hells Angels member who gets in trouble when he falls for the leader's girl.

September 5,6:

Sawdust and Tinsel 7:30
Summer with Monika 9:20

Get better acquainted with the works of late auteur Ingmar Bergman with these films, neither of which are available on DVD currently (though Sawdust will get the Criterion treatment in October).

September 7,8:

The Karate Kid 7:30 (also Saturday at 2:50)
Rocky 9:50 (also Saturday at 5:15)

John G. Avildsen directs both of these inspirational underdog sport stories which each spawned countless sequels (there are ten combined Rockys and Karate Kids!). One can only hope Ralph Macchio has a script in the works called Daniel LaRusso where Daniel-san coping with the death of his teacher Mr. Miyagi decides to get back on the mat for one more event.

September 9,10,11:

Harold and Maude 7:30 (also Sunday at 3:30)
A Thousand Clowns 9:30 (also Sunday at 5:20)

The younger generation bonds with their elders in completely different ways in these two films, Harold is a certified classic, but A Thousand Clowns is also a gem, with a great energetic perfromance by Jason Robards, it is also currently unavailable on DVD.

September 12,13:

Fanny and Alexander 8:00

Ingmar Bergman's autobiographical penultimate feature takes a nostalgic, tragic and magical look at two siblings who are uprooted from their comfortable family when their mother remarries a priest who turns out to be the most evil step-parent this side of Cinderella.

September 14,15:

Boogie Nights 7:30
Roller Boogie 10:20

Do you like the Boogie, you like the disco? The film that put Paul Thomas Anderson on the map screens with a film from the era Nights is set in, the 1979 Linda Blair rollerskating epic, Roller Boogie.

September 16,17:

Playtime 7:30 (also Sunday at 2:55)
Mon Oncle 9:50 (also Sunday at 5:15)

Two of Jacques Tati, the revered Frech director influenced by Buster Keaton and the silent movie comedians, most well regarded films, watch as Monsieur Hulot contiues his battleun against modern technology.

September 18:

Demon Rage (aka Satan's Mistress) 7:30
Scream of the Demon Lover 9:30

This month's Grindhouse Tuesday double bill is simply demonic. Since I am unfamiliar with both titles, I'll let the IMDB plot synopsis describe the goodnes you're in for. Demon Rage: " A woman in an unhappy marriage finds sexual fulfillment in her relationship with a ghostly, speechless presence who doesn't quite say who he is." Scream of the Demon Lover: "A beautiful woman travels to a remote estate to seek employment as a biochemist for Baron Janos Dalmar. She finds herself attracted to him and immerses herself in her work to suppress her lusty desires. A rash of brutal murders occurs in the area and she discovers that the Baron is not what he seems.

For more on the Grindhouse festival, go here.

September 19,20:

The Ritual 7:30
The Magician 9:30

Two more lesser known Bergman films, both not on DVD. Ingmar himself is the lead in The Ritual, his only credited performance!

September 23,24,25:

What's Up, Doc? 7:30 (also Sunday at 3:40)
Paper Moon 9:20 (also Sunday at 5:30)

Director Peter Bogdanovich and star Ryan O'Neal colloborate during the peak of their fame in the early 70's. See O'Neal go verbally mano a mano with his female leads, Barbara Streisand, and daughter Tatum.

September 26,27,28,29:

Mala Noche 7:30 (also Saturday at 3:50)
My Own Private Idaho 9:10 (also Saturday at 5:30)

A Gus Van Sant double bill. His rarely screened debut film (coming to DVD via Criterion) plays with his loose adaptation of Henry V starring River Phoenix and in his first but thankfully not last forray into the Shakespearian tongue, Keanu Reeves. Insert "whoa" joke here.

September 30, Oct 1,2:

TRON 7:30 (also Sunday at 3:35)
The Last Starfighter 9:25 (also Sunday at 5:30)

In 80's movies if you played video games too often in the you often found yourself becomming part of the game! Marvel at 1982 era CGI!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Death Take a Holiday...Seriously.

Okay, I want to finish this month of belated eulogies with a couple of brief mentions and then hopefully not write anything about death for a long time; Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood please take good care of yourself.

Merv Griffin 1925-2007
Sure he may have had a popular talk show and built a game show empire (as a kid I recall pretty much every afternoon game show concluding with an announcer informing us that it was a "Merv Griffin production") , but to me Mr. Griffin will always be the Elevator Killer.

Tony Wilson 1950-2007
One of the biggest behind the scene names in the British punk & post-punk movement, Tony Wilson founded Factory Records whose roster included seminal bands Joy Division, New Order, A Certain Ratio and the Happy Mondays. He also opened the popular Manchester nightclub The Hacienda which brought dance music to rock audiences. He was the basis of Michael Winterbottom's 2002 film 24 Hour Party People where Steve Coogan gave a wonderful and hilarious performance as Wilson (perhaps now we can get a new DVD cover). Here's a 1984 interview with Wilson at the Hacienda where you get a sense of Wilson's personality and wit:

And here's a clip from the movie where Coogan as Wilson converses with God who overall praises Wilson's accomplishments but with one caveat, not signing The Smiths:

Ulrich Muhe 1953-2007
He appeared on the verge of if not international fame at least a long and interesting career as a character actor coming off his great performance as a Stasi agent hired to spy on a playwright in this year's Academy Award winning Best Foreign Language film, The Lives of Others. After seeing Others I had thought that he would make a great Bond villain. His final performance will be in a Italian/German co-production called Nemesis, hopefully it will attract a stateside release.

Jeremy Blake 1971-2007
Artist Jeremy Blake's suicide following the suicide of his longtime girlfriend Theresa Duncan is a fascinating and tragic story of two very talented people pushed to the edge by paranoia. To get a more in depth look at the story, here's an article that sums up what drove the couple to the edge. I'll have to admit that I knew very little about Ms. Duncan before her death, but I knew Blake's work, most notably the cover to Beck's Sea Change album and his inter-scene color animation experiments in Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch Drunk Love.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Death Goes to the Movies, Sees an Arty Foreign Film at a Rep Theatre

The belated eulogies continue as we grieve three giants of film:

Ingmar Bergman 1918-2007
Michelangelo Antonioni 1912-2007
Sherman Torgan 1943-2007

Whether or not you know anything about world cinema, the first two names are instantly familiar to you, and if you are a film buff, then in the last few weeks you probably have read approximately 457 articles or blog entries about their death. I don't feel I have a fresh or interesting new perspective to add to the conversation, I enjoy films by both men, but have seen far too little (three of Antonioni and about eight of Bergman) to consider myself well versed in their oeuvre. For informed opinions, I recommend reading this interview with Bergman fanatic and disciple Woody Allen at Time. And for Antonioni, Martin Scorsese should do.

What I did find interesting was the reaction that their day-apart passings stirred in cineastes. At the Criterion Collection forum, the overwhelming conclusion was that the two auteurs' passing signaled nothing short of the final death blow for the foreign art film. A strange assertion seeing how in the past 25 years, Bergman directed all of one theatrically released film (he was however still very active in theatre in his home country of Sweden) and Antonioni co-directed one feature, in 1995. Agreeing with the assertion that the art film is officially dead was none other than noted feminist author Camilla Paglia, but while she loved her some early Bergman and Antonioni, she doesn't consider the death of art films as such a bad thing(link).Meanwhile, as they are apt to, the contrarians came out to declare Bergman as "not all that", most famously Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, which inspired a reaction from Roger Ebert, basically amounting to: "is so!"
I do see the worrywart foreign film buff's point to some extent. How many modern day foreign filmmakers, or at least those who work solely or primarily in their native country, are the household name that either Bergman or Antonioni were, even by people who never saw one of their films? Pedro Almodovar, perhaps. Maybe Wong-Kar Wai. All the other big name modern foreign auteurs I considered have worked pretty evenly between their country and American features (John Woo, Ang Lee, Alfonso Cauron, et cetera). Let's be frank, there was never a time when Ma and Pa Kettle in the Heartland ever thought "You know what I'd like to watch tonight? A film dealing with ennui amongst the European elite, that's what!" "What? While there's that dreamy meditation on god existsence?" However, there was a time when its was considered a necessity to catch the latest arty foreign fare if you lived in a major metropolitan city or college town (see Woody Allen's 70's input for examples). Many of Bergman's films were theatrically distributed in America via major studios such as Warner Bros, as were three of Antonioni's most notorious (albeit English language) input from the 60s & 70s, including his only American made film, Zabriskie Point , which famously concludes (I must admit I haven't see the film, hopefully his death will prompt a DVD release) with "FUCK AMERICA" written in the sky.

I remember when I was kid seeing the poster for Bergman's Fanny and Alexander in the lobby of the theatre where I saw A Christmas Story (and what a great double bill those films would make, two radically different takes on childhood holiday nostalgia). I grew up in San Jose, not exactly a small town, but in 1982, pre-internet boom, not a major metropolitan city by any stretch. Today, foreign films, unless they have a sellable hook or are genre fare, tend to be stuck mainly to the festival circuit and a one or two week theatrical engagement, even in Los Angeles and New York. Whether that is due to changing exhibition methods or DVD or a shift in general taste in America towards escapist fare is up to a lengthier debate then I am prepared for on this humble blog, but what I will state is that even if Ingmar and Michelangelo lived and made films into their 200s this would not alter the fate of the foreign art film, which will always have its devoted following, but probably never regain their prominence in America.

A death that saddens me more than the two directors (who at a combined age of 187 weren't exactly spring chickens) was Sherman Torgan, a name that unless you live in Los Angeles is no doubt unfamiliar to you (sadly its probably the case even for many that do reside in LA). He was only 62 years old when he suffered a heart attack and died in late June. He was the owner/manager/propertier of the New Beverly Cinema, one of the last remaining repertory theatres in Southern California, and my personal favorite.

The New Beverly, a former pornographic theatre, was refurbished in the 70s by Torgan and turned into a rep theatre with revolving double bills of classic, cult, foreign and forgotten films, usually changing features every two or three days. When I moved to Los Angeles a few years ago, it was the place that made me fall in love with the potential of the city. I've had two first dates there as well as the second date with my fiance. In the five years living here I've seen theatrically for the first time at the New Beverly: Notorious, MASH, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Sunset Boulevard, The Magnificent Ambersons, Duck You Sucker, Bottle Rocket, and a week before Sherman's passing, Barry Lydon to name just a few. It struck me while watching Barry Lyndon why I loved the theatre. Here I am experiencing a thirty year old methodically paced three hour epic considered at the time of its release a major disappointment with about a hundred others who were caught in just as much rapt attention and awe as myself.

While I never had any conversations with him personally, I will always remember Sherman as the guy who was eternally running low on small bills and would give a little staredown to those that paid using a twenty dollar bill for his cheap (especially in Los Angeles) seven dollar admission. I always tried to make a point of giving him exact change as a small form of gratitude for his work. Sherman made keeping the admission affordable a top priority, and I'd often notice people in the theatre that look downtrodden or even homeless, I assumed Sherman would let them in free of charge, giving them entertainment and temporary respite from outside.

The theatre felt like a secret to many of LA's film enthusiast, if you look closely you can see the famous New Beverly calendar make appearences in Swingers and Border Radio, but in March it gained some exposure as Quentin Tarantino threw a two month long Grindhouse Festival at the theatre to promote Grindhouse. The Los Angeles Times who usually gives the theatre little more than perfunctory notices in its revival theatre listings dedicated a weekend Calendar front page to the festival. When I caught a few of the films in the series I was greeted with a sight I had never experienced, lines around the block. This was one secret I had no problems sharing however, and I was glad that its once questioned future seemed bright for a change.

After much soul searching, Sherman's son Michael has decided to keep the theatre operating, and to that I say "thank you". I know the loss of a father trumps a film geek's loss of his or her favorite theatre, but the New Beverly was Sherman's gift to us and his life's work, and I am glad that it will be around to entertain and educate its patrons for the foreseeable future (though if you want to put in new seats, I will totally be okay with that!)

Think globally, act locally is a famous if simplistic slogan, but Torgan's theatre represents that very ideal. For it and its ilk are the places that will ensure that films by the likes of Bergman and Antonioni will not only still be seen, but seen in a theatre with a receptive audience, where they should be.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Death goes straight, opens up your gates, maybe tells you about Phaedra

Lee Hazlewood 1929-2007

I think what best displays the originality of the recently deceased singer-songwriter Lee Hazlewood is that three of the music stores I frequent all classify him under three separate genres. In one store he will be found with the country western artists, in another, the "oldies" section (alongside 60's psych bands like Love and 13th Floor Elevators and pop harmonists such as the Righteous Brothers and The Ronettes) and in the third, amidst the pop vocalist amongst such icons as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Apropos because where exactly would you put someone who can be considered a hybrid of the likes of Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen and the sixties psychedelic garage movement? Writers invented a genre to try a scratch the surface of Hazlewood's style, "cowboy psychedelia". While he never gained the fame of a Sinatra or Dylan or Cash, his uniqueness is what has kept him relevant long after artists that sold more have been forgotten. In the past ten or so years, younger bands and music collectors have started to recognize his talents. His songs have been covered by the likes of Primal Scream and Slowdive, his music has popped up in films (such as Lynne Ramsey's Morvern Callar) and part of his oeuvre has been rereleased through Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelly's record label, Smells Like records.

If you are interested in Hazlewood's music but don't know where to start, allow me to make three suggestions.

Nancy & Lee (1968) -- After penning Nancy Sinatra's famous kiss-off anthem "These Boots are Made for Walking", the pair teamed up for this duet album. Nancy was Hazlewood's greatest collaborator, on record they have a chemistry that matches Bogart and Bacall's on-screen fireworks. Despite his deep baritone voice, Hazlewood was great at writing songs with equal feminist and masculine P.O.V.s and would continually duet with other female vocalists on later albums. But here is his finest foil. The album contains covers of some standards (such as the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost that Loving Feeling" and "Jackson") along with some original material such as the now classic "Some Velvet Morning" and my personal favorite, "Summer Wine".

Cowboy in Sweden (1970) -- For a spell, Hazlewood lived in Stockholm, while there he recorded this concept album of alienation amongst subcultures, equating the combination of western swagger and European cool as being like, well, a cowboy in Sweden. The song that best demonstrates these contrasting styles is "Hey Cowboy" a duet he sung with Swedish Nancy Sinatra stand-in, Nina Lizell. It's funny, but this album always struck me as being cinematic (I am even in the process of working on a screenplay inspired by the track "The Night Before") but it wasn't until after his death I learned that this album provided the soundtrack for a Swedish television movie by director Torbjorn Axelman. From the look of things, it pretty much a collection of music videos for each track on the album. Here's a clip from the film, the aforementioned "Hey Cowboy".

Requiem for an Almost Lady (1971)-- Another concept album, this time finding Hazlewood readopting the storyteller technique he used on the earlier album, Trouble is a Lonesome Town, to create a narrative revolving around the disintegration of a relationship. Each individual song is introduced with a spoken monologue. This album shares a particularly special place with me because not only was it the first Hazlewood album I ever purchased, I also happened to be going through a break-up at the time I picked it up. Hazlewood perfectly surmises the range of emotional responses of a heartbroken person: sadness, anger, despair, self-hate, and black humor. This is best captured in his introduction to the track "Won't You Tell Your Dreams" where he remarks: "Dreams have never been my friends. When I had you, I never dreamed of you. But since you've been gone, I dream of nothing else. Dreams have never been my friends"

A lot of Hazlewood's work is out of print, I also heartily recommend Trouble is a Lonesome Town and 13, both readily available, and I look forward to picking up The Cowboy and the Lady, a duet album with another saucy 60's chick, Ann Margaret. Last year he released Cake or Death, an album written after he was diagnosed with cancer. If there's one benefit of his passing it's hopefully that his entire oeuvre will soon be assessable. We'll miss you Lee, hope the afterlife is full of beautiful ladies for you to sing with.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Death Scripts His First 15 Plays

Bill Walsh 1931-2007

As I have said before, my very first recollection of any football game was the 1982 NFC Championship game between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers, what is now affectionately referred to as either "The Catch Game" or "The Game That Launched a Dynasty". For the first six or seven seasons that I was cognizant of the game of football, I was lucky enough to root for a team that was coached by William Ernest Walsh, I will consider myself lucky if another 49er coach in my lifetime has half the amount of football savvy or brains that Mr. Walsh possessed.

He is referred to as "The Genius", but genius is a word that gets thrown about too carelessly this days, so I wish to posthumously redub him either "The Architect" or more aptly, "The Artist". Bill Walsh is to the NFL what Orson Welles is to cinema, what Bob Dylan or Miles Davis are to music, what Frank Lloyd Wright is to architecture and hell, what DaVinci was to art (or codes, even). A person who saw past the limitations of his profession and reinvented the form. A person whose distinct influence is more persuasive today then it was in his tenure. Someone whose methods were once considered strange or controversial and today are considered the standard. The NFL is what it is today, the most dominant sporting league in America by a tremendous margin, thanks in large part to Walsh's offensive schematics that changed league emphasis from a primarily run first philosophy to passing early and often. To paraphrase a famous commercial "Chicks dig the Touchdowns!" His "West Coast Offense" spreads across the continent.

Even today, nineteen seasons after he retired from the 49ers, several of his coaching assistants are currently head coaches around the league, including Super Bowl winning coaches Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan and Brian Billick, what more several of these disciples have seen their assistants become head coaches, the Walsh family tree envelopes at least half the NFL. But what I think best displays Walsh's influence on not just the NFL but the sport itself, the University of Nebraska, the program who made prominent the option quarterback who throws about five attempts per game and prided itself on punishing defense and as an institution for strong runners (including 49er alums Roger Craig and Tom Rathman) is now operating out of the West Coast offense.

Goodbye Bill.
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