Thursday, March 27, 2008

Death Pushes An Elderly Wheelchair Bound Woman Down the Stairs

Richard Widmark 1914-2008

I'll be honest with you, I didn't realize Widmark hadn't already passed away years ago when I heard the news of his death yesterday. He had retired from acting in 1991 and I didn't really discover him myself until a few years after that when I began to delve into film noir and recognized his distinct talents at playing manicial and tortured men. I probably assumed at the time that he had, like the majority of that era's stars by the mid 1990's, long since left us.

His forceful screen presence was already evident in his debut film performance as the psychopathetic ex-con Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death which instantly made him a star. He had a long sustained and varied career, but, like Humphrey Bogart and John Garfield, Widmark will be best remembered most for his vivid potrayls in the post-war American suspense dramas that would later be labeled "film noir" such as the aforementioned Kiss of Death, Sam Fuller's Pickup on South Street and Elia Kazan's Panic in the Streets.

My personal favorite Widmark performance is as the ambitious con artist Harry Fabian that plans a big scheme for finacial freedom that fatally backfires on him in Jules Dassin's Night and the City. His bravura performance in the film's final scenes where a sleep deprived Widmark desperately runs through desolate streets for a shelter that does not exist are still etched in my mind despite the fact it's been nigh ten years since I saw it (note to self, pick up the Criterion DVD already). It actually reminded me a bit of the performance of Roy Schieder at the end of Sorcerer when he reached his physical and mental limit (as discussed in my Schieder write-up).

Night and the City marked the final film Dassin would make in America before escaping to France after being labeled a "communist" by HUAC, he would go on to achieve great recognition and would craft another crime masterpiece, Rififi.

EDITED TO ADD ON 4/1/08--After I wrote this, I learned that Jules Dassin passed away this weekend. Please consider this a tribute to him as well.

Here is the trailer for Night and the City which only hints at the tenor of Widmark's performance.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Death Takes the Ultimate Trip

Give Me Your Answers Do

Arthur C. Clarke 1917-2008

The co-author of one of the greatest achievements in cinema history (if not the greatest), 2001: A Space Odyssey, passed away yesterday at the age of 90. Read more about him and his foundation here.

He didn't die as much as evolve into his next lifeform.

I found a great quote from Clarke concerning the film: "If you understood 2001 completely, we failed. We wanted to raise more questions than we answered."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Just What You Needed: More Things to Spend Your Money On

Let me preface this by saying that I am not receiving money or kickbacks from either of these retailers. With that said, there are currently two separate deals on some interesting DVDs that can be described for lack of better words as "hella good", resulting in a significant chink to my "reduce credit card debt" New Year's resolution.

The first one is at a site called, which is having a clearance sale on a wide variety of 20th Century Fox and MGM titles, many of them currently out of print, each priced at $6.98. Also, after reaching a certain spending point, you get free shipping. I picked up Alfred Hitchock's Lifeboat, Big Trouble in Little China, All That Jazz, Planet of the Vampires (an out of print Mario Bava sci-fi/horror hybrid and progenitor of Ridley Scott's Alien), The Bride Wore Black (another out of print title, this Francois Truffaut mystery/thriller was an inspiration for Kill Bill), two Stanley Kubrick's I didn't have: Killer's Kiss & Paths of Glory (unfortunately The Killing another MGM owned title is not included in this deal), Scorsese's The King of Comedy, The Knack...and How to Get it, Kiss Me Deadly, Laura, Cutter's Way, River's Edge, The Thin Blue Line and one of those Roger Corman Midnight Movie double bills: The Trip & Psych-Out to list just a few.

Other titles included in this sale that might interest you include a lot of the United Artists/Orion era Woody Allen films(pre-Soon Yi scandal), many James Bond films (though the earlier/non-remastered versions), a lot more of MGM's Midnight Movies series (both single and double bills), a few from recent Academy Award winning directors, the Coen Brothers (Barton Fink, Fargo), some great Brian DePalma thrillers (Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Phantom of the Paradise), David Lynch's Blue Velvet, The Day the Earth Stood Still (still pondering if I should go ahead and get this or wait for the inevitable super deluxe special edition that will (most probably) be released in tandem with the Keanu Reeves starring remake opening), Fellini's Satryicon, many of the Soul Cinema Blaxplotation series (including Hell Up in Harlem, Blacula), both Hot Shots! movies, some Igmar Bergman (Hour of the Wolf, The Serpent's Egg, Passion of Anna, Persona though), a lot from 20th Century Fox's Film Noir Series (including Kiss of Death, House on Telegraph Hill, Panic in the Streets), the Pink Panther series, some 80's era Schwarzenegger (Predator, Commando), and This Is Spinal Tap, amongst many, many others. And either my memory is worse than I thought or they keep adding titles weekly.

Meanwhile over at Deep Discount DVDs, where as their name suggests, they routinely offer DVDs at a deep discount, there's currently a select amount of Warner Brothers television series DVDs for as much as 78% off, including the entire run of Six Feet Under & Tales from the Crypt (sadly the three HBO series I would have gone buck wild for: The Sopranos, Deadwood and The Wire are not included in the deal), the complete classic George Reeves Superman series, the short lived DC comic adaptation, The Flash, some Dallas seasons, the complete V series, and the one I purchased, the entire run of The Adventures of Brisco County Jr which is selling for a ridiculous $24.95, discounted from the suggested retail price of $99.95.

If you've didn't see Brisco County when it aired Fridays nights on FOX during the 1993-94 season, which I believe was the first time FOX aired programming on Fridays, it's a western/sci-fi/comedy hybrid starring cult favorite Bruce Campbell as the titular character, a bounty hunter in the old west whose search for the gang that murdered his father frequently finds him confronted by a mysterious orb which gives people great physical strength. 1993 was a rare year as it featured two major studio/network projects headlined by Bruce Campbell, the other, Army of Darkness, was released in April by Universal. For a brief moment it seemed there was a conscious effort made to give Campbell a chance as a leading man, of course neither Brisco or Army were financially successful and he soon was relegated back to the cult/horror ghetto. While I am glad he has his own specific niche, I think as an actor he's capable of much more and Brisco nicely displays his range. Brisco was an expensive show and while it had a following, FOX canceled it after one season, preferring to renew the show with a cult following that aired after it, The X-Files, despite both shows getting similar ratings. While that ultimately ended up being the wise decision, The X-Files became a cross-over hit and buzz show which aired for nine seasons, one does have to note that the fact that it was produced by Fox's parent company, 20th Century Fox, perhaps gave it a bit of an advantage.

Brisco County was created by screenwriter Jeffrey Boam (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2 & 3, The Dead Zone, The Lost Boys) who passed away in 2000, and his writing partner Carlton Cuse who would go on to have success as a writer and show-runner on another cult television series, although one with a sizably larger audience and a longer run, Lost.

Well, what are you doing here? You have some money to spend!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bravo for Bava!

In Los Angeles, between the New Beverly Cinema, the newly remanaged Silent Movie Theatre, occasional AFI screenings at the Arclight and the American Cinematheque, to name a few, you have no paucity of repertory movie options. This is often a double-edged sword for me since even though I try, due to other social engagements or lack of energy, I can only attend a fraction and always feel I missing some great series. I cannot imagine the lack of social life and fresh air that I would be confronted with if I lived in New York or the 1970's when the rep theatre was in its renaissance.

One series I will definitely be attending, though not as often as I'd like, is The Egyptian series Mario Bava: Poems of Love and Death dedicated to the Italian master genre filmmaker. As shameful as it is to admit, up until last year I had seen a grand total of one of his films, Black Sunday, but started to make up for it in 2007 by purchasing both of the Mario Bava's Anchor Bay DVD sets as well as two of his films that were not in either set, Danger: Diabolik! (I also saw it at the New Beverly during the Edgar Wright fest where Gremlins director Joe Dante introed it and then sat in the aisle across from me!) and Blood and Black Lace and am becoming a huge fan of his.

Thanks to the DVD sets and the assistance of biographer Tim Lucas, who literally wrote the book on Bava (the 1128 page and 12 pound All the Colors in the Dark featuring a foreward by Martin Scorsese) and drops his knowledge on many of the commentary tracks featured in the sets, Bava has been reassesed and his unique use of color, inventive camera work and the amount of followers he inspired has finally earned him some long overdue respect outside of horror fanatics.

Here's the schedule for the program, most of these are now on DVD so if you do not live in Los Angeles or cannot make it, you can at least recreate the festival at your own home, though good luck getting Joe Dante and Eli Roth to speak at your place.

Thursday, March 13th:
Black Sunday & Black Sabbath:

While Bava's colorful production design is often lauded (and for good reason!), with Black Sunday , his "official" directing debut he proves he can be just as crafty with black and white cinematgraphy. Barbara Steele stars as a witch who returns from the dead 200 years after being forced to wear a mask of spikes and she's not in a particuarly forgiving mood. Black Sabbath is an anthology film featuring Boris Karloff in the wraparounds and one of the stories. Roger Corman distrubted and reordered the stories in America, but they are presenting the European cut of the film that provided the name for Ozzy Osbourne's band. Joe Dante introduces the films.

Friday, March 14th:
Five Dolls for the August Moon & Blood and Black Lace:

Although I own August Moon as part of the Bava DVD set, I haven't gotten around to watching it yet (sadly an all too common occurrence, damn life!), the Egyptian calendar describes it as a Pop Art giallo where the idle rich gather for a swinging weekend only to be murdered one by one, which would make it a great mate for Black Lace which is about fashion designers and models being killed off one by one and is considered the first official "slasher" film, and definitely inspired Scream, but telling you how would be revealing a key element. One nitpick, why does Blood not preceed Five Dolls seeing how it was made six years prior?

Saturday, March 15th:
Lisa and the Devil & Baron Blood:

I have tickets for this already and am psyched since shamefully once again I have not seen either. Lisa features Elke Sommer as a woman lured into a spell by the satanic Telly Savales and Baron Blood with its used of Technicolor has been said to be what a Douglas Sirk horror film would look like. Joe Dante introduces and there will be a conversation with producer Alfredo Leone.

Sunday, March 16th:
Kidnapped & Shock:

The common theme of these two films is Bava's collaboration with his son, a horror filmmaker in his own right, Lamberto Bava. Kidnapped was just recently rediscovered after sitting in a vault in Rome for over 20 years before being completed and edited for the DVD release by Lamberto. This is an extremely rare theatrical print screening. Shock was Mario's final film, at the age of 63, co-directed by Lamberto, three years before Mario passed away.

Thursday, March 20th:
Danger: Diabolik & Planet of the Vampires:

You know I find myself more and more disenfranchised with the overuse of CGI in today's filmmaking, and thusly embracing more and more older filmmakers like Bava's optical tricks and set design prowess, both in full display in Diabolik one of the great (if not the greatest) comic book adaptation. It features an amazing Ennio Morricone score (not available on CD...crap) and inspired the Beastie Boy's video for "Body Movin'". Vampires is another Bava blindspot (although I have recently ordered a copy of the DVD) for me, but like Diabolik Bava proves his diversity with another genre other than horror (sci-fi here), although it does contain horror elements. It's said to be a big influence on Ridley Scott's Alien.

Friday, March 21st:
A Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve) & Four Times That Night:

After inventing the slasher genre with Blood and Black Lace, Bava further redefined it seven years later by creating the limations of a remote location, and thus Friday the 13th and its ilk were born. Bay of Blood features a twist that proves the adage "no one is truly innocent" and a hilarious final scene that comments on violence in a simpler, shorter and more straightforward manner than a Michael Haneke film. While Bava is best known for his horror work, the guy had range; he directed pirate films, westerns, even a James Bond spy spoof along with other genre pictures (the already mentioned Diabolik and Planet of the Vampires) and frequently inserted humor into his horror films. Four Times That Night is inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon and is of all things, a romantic comedy. Introduction by a guy who made some money homaging Bava's work and style, Eli Roth.

Saturday, March 22nd:
The Whip and the Body and Kill, Baby, Kill!:

The Whip and the Body features Hammer alum Christopher Lee who returns from the dead to haunt and entice his brother's wife (again, haven't seen it yet). Kill Baby Kill! besides having one of history's greatest film titles, is one of Bava's most deliberately filmed picture and none other than Tim Lucas declares it his favorite of the director's work. It's atmospheric nature and use of ghosts of dead children has infulenced the latest wave of J-horror films and their American remakes like The Grudge and The Ring. Former Spike Lee cinematagropher and director of the Snoop Dogg zombie film, Bones, Ernest Dickerson introduces the film.

Sunday, March 23rd:
The Girl Who Knew Too Much & Hatchet for the Honeymoon & Cal Tiki The Immortal Monster:

The series ends with a triple bill of films I haven't seen, The Girl as the title suggests is a Hitchcock homage about a woman who sees a murder and finds herself hunted. Features John motherfucking Saxon! Hatchet is a black comedy about a wedding dress designer who murders brides before their nupitals. Bava was a cinematographer on Cal Tiki before original director Riccardo Freda walked off the set and he completed directing duties. Bava worked as a cinematagrapher for many years before he began his directing career and pretty much shot his entire directorial output. How appropos to end the series with the film that launched his career!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Forbidden Zone (1980, Richard Elfman)

Part of the 80's Project

Richard Elfman's nonsensical cult classic (and nonsensical isn't meant disparagingly, though I did not like the film, but rather because it's the most apt description for the film's plot) is in many ways the forebearer to Aqua Teen Hunger Force and much of the Adult Swim lineup. Cheaply produced it, like Aqua Teen , equates randomness with hilarity and revels in the prodding of sacred cows, but unfortunately like it's followers to meaninglessly ends. For wit, in Forbidden Zone we get the following: an elderly man wearing diapers (ha!), a midget king (played by Herve Villechaize) married to a tall overweight woman (ah!), a woman who is constantly topless (saucy!) and a white character in black face (racy!). I guess if you are on the film's wavelength you'll enjoy yourself, but otherwise, as was the case for yours truly, the paltry 73 minutes running time will feel three times the length.

I'd love to provide you with a plot description but because Elfman and co-writer Matthew Bright (Freeway) made the brave decision of having no plot to speak of, the best I could come up with is: There's a weird zone under a house where a bunch of weird shit happens and there's characters in weird frog masks and uh, yeah, it's weird. I don't consider myself the type of person who's necessarily adverse to non-traditional plotted narratives, I love David Lynch, but the difference between Lynch and something like this is that Lynch's films invent their own narrative language and contain thematic explorations be they paranoia induced by parenthood (Eraserhead), self identity (Lost Highway) or the corrosive nature of Hollywood (Mulholland Drive), whereas Forbidden Zone relies solely on a throw the kitchen sink at 'em philosophy without serving a purpose. According to the film's Wikipedia page, it was conceived as "a musical that consisted of 12 musical numbers and a story loosely constructed around them" (loosely being the key word).

That's not to say the film is totally without merit. The art design nicely embraces theatricality over realism; consisting of paper mache and obviously painted sets interspersed with actual hand drawn animated segments Elfman and company create a visual style inspired by early cartoons and silent German expressionist works that proves that a small budget and a unique visual look are not mutually exclusive, I was reminded of what Lars von Trier did twenty plus years later with Dogville. The other highlight is the music, composed by director Elfman and his younger brother Danny's band The Mystical Knights of the Oingo Boingo (later shortened to the more marquee friendly Oingo Boingo, whose rabid fanbase I assume makes up the majority of the film's proponents), the score and songs consist of a combination of wildly varied genres from cartoon sound effects to Calypso to ska to classic rock to name just some. Apparently Paul Reubens, fan of all things bizarre and kitschy, liked the film so much that when it came to scoring his first Pee-Wee Herman vehicle, he requested Danny Elfman for the job, he would thusly create one of the all time great scores for Pee-Wee's Big Adventure which alone makes the film a worthwhile venture. I guess it's just too bad that it's strengths (the visual and musical style) wasn't put to use towards something a little more comprehensible or at least briefer, like, say a music video for Oingo Boingo.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

What's For Dinner

For the most part this little blog of mine focuses on cinema with an occasional foray into sports, but sports and film are but two of my passions. One of my more recent acquired interests is cooking. Thanks to my lovely wife, I have discovered a culinary jones and thought I should share some of the meals we have made together.

These photos are presented with apologies to my vegetarian and vegan readers.


This was a particularly good dish, the squash and tomatoes were purchased from the Silver Lake Farmer's Market.


Yes there is actually a salmon underneath all that, unfortunately it was from the Trader Joe's frozen section which is never as good as salmon purchased from a fresh fish market.


I felt that this could of been much better than how it ended up tasting, but one of the pleasure of cooking is in perfecting recipes to your liking.

Well thanks for indulging. If you have any recipes you'd like to share, feel free to post them in the comment section.

Bon Appetit!
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