Saturday, February 28, 2009
First off, in case I've forgotten to mention it here, I'll be interviewing the great actor Sy Richardson on my radio show, Modern Products, next Sunday, March 8 4-6pm, live on Eastvillageradio.com. You probably know Sy best as Lite in Alex Cox's Repo Man, or in the other Alex Cox films STRAIGHT TO HELL, SID & NANCY, WALKER and, most recently, SEARCHERS 2.0, or from Charles Burnett's TO SLEEP WITH ANGER and MY BROTHER'S WEDDING, or from Jim Jarmusch's MYSTERY TRAIN, or John Carpenter's THEY LIVE, or the TV show PUSHING DAISES, or the Charles Band nudie version of CINDERELLA, with Cheryl Rainbeaux Smith, which is to say he's had a long and varied career in some of the most interesting films of the past few decades. We'll be talking to Sy and playing music from the soundtracks to his films. I've also been making some screenshot galleries that I'll be posting some of here, some of on the Modern Products blog and all of on Flickr.
Negative Pleasure/Modern Products/Me is also now on Twitter. If you think that might be interesting, give it a shot...
Meanwhile, I've been getting way behind on putting up reviews here due to a combo of winter malaise, slight yet persistant illness and, rarity of rarities, a couple days of freelance work this week. So, in the interest of getting caught up, here's some capsule style reviews of what I've seen lately...
1. INSIDE- I've seen a handful of recent French horror films that have come with much hype and failed to live up to the promise. INSIDE, finally, is one that really delivers. A young pregnant woman is attacked (and attacked and attacked) by Beatrice Dalle, who seems, for reasons unknown, inent on taking the woman's unborn baby. Dalle, always great, seems to feel very at home in the role of animalistic she-maniac. This is really pure horror, in that it proposes a scenario that is genuinely horrifying, not entirely unbelievable, and consistently unpredictable, we watch things go from bad to worse, to worse, to worse...At a certain point it becomes apparent that there is a strong possibility things are not going to work out happily. I mean, the same could be said for any horror film, but generally speaking, we know who is going to survive and who isn't. In INSIDE, it's not so easy to predict. The film keeps giving itself potential outs, keeps teasing that things might be alright. Ultimately, the threat is nothing more than one woman, so when the police or other interlopers show up, there's a sense of relief. As each potential savior is dispatched, the feeling of dread increases. Directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, from a script by Bustillo. Alysson Paradis plays the lady under seige, and does a good job of it too, playing trauma and toughness off of one another. Even from the beginning, she's not an especially likable character, but our sympathies are with her, and it's believable that someone of her disposition could hold her own in this kind of survival scenario. Even so, Dalle has an animal magnetism that's irresistible, and I couldn't kind of help but wind up rooting for her maniac character. Good stuff, tough stuff, grisly stuff, it's nice to think of France as the country that brought us this and "Eyes Without a Face" instead of the country that brought us "Haute Tension" and "Frontier(s)."
2. BLOOD CAR- I really feel like I should have hated this indie comedy. It's crude and fairly smarmy and thinks it's more clever than it really is. But I dug it, I dunno, because it's crude and fairly smarmy and not as clever as it wants to be, though it is somewhat inventive, and certainly stretches a low budget pretty far. Mike Brune is Archie Andrews (yeah yeah yeah), a preciously precious hipster vegan kindergarten teacher who dreams of making a car that runs on wheat grass. Anna Chlumsky (yeah, she's hot now, they're all hot now) is the preciously precious vegan juice stand operator who vies for his affections, which are ultimately stolen by the considerably more lascivious Katie Rowlett, who runs the meat stand across the way. The whole thing has a raunchy yet laid back Southern charm (it was shot in Atlanta) that veers into gallows humor as Archie accidentally creates an engine that runs on blood. It's not entirely unlike the original LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, but unlike Corman's skid row original, BLOOD CAR falters when it trys to outstep its' means. Certainly, I appreciate an ambitious low budget movie, but trying to portray a worldwide government government conspiracy on a shoestring budget, it just starts to look pretty threadbare. No, BLOOD CAR works best when it's wallowing in the gutter, which it does quite well.
3. REDBELT- David Mamet's take on the martial arts film starts off slow before settling into being a really good David Mamet film towards the middle. By the time it becomes a martial arts film, I was already hooked. I mean, not that being a martial arts film was going to make me lose interest (even if it is the kind of cheesy wrestling-ish mixed martial arts, and not a real movie martial art like Jeet Kun Do, drunken Wu-Tang style or ninjas), but I was already digging on the deliberate pacing, stylized acting and near poetic dialogue that are the hallmarks of Mamet's cinema (and theatre, of course). Mamet makes good films and then sometimes he makes great films, this is probably just a good one, but a lesser Mamet film is like a lesser John Ford or Sam Fuller film, it's still pretty great. "Mike, tell him what's the best weapon in the world." "The best weapon in the world is a flashlight." "Tell him why." "So you can look deep in other guy's eyes."
4. QUEEN OF BLOOD and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES- Two ultra stylish science-fiction horror films from the 1960s. Curtis Harrington's QUEEN OF BLOOD (aka PLANET OF BLOOD) is one of several Roger Corman produced sci-fi flicks from the era built around stock footage from Russian films. The Russian special effects footage is pretty outstanding, and Harrington was an excellent choice to build a story around it. Coming from avant-garde filmmaking, Harrington brings a strong sense of camp and ethereal otherworldliness to the space vampire story. Plus, John Saxon is the star. Y'know, fucking John Saxon, he's good in everything. Everything he's in is better for having him in it. Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES has a very similar story, and is absolutely one of the best-looking movies ever made. Bava may have not been the greatest storyteller who ever lived, but he had an eye. PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is sleek and stylish, frequently beautiful and surprisingly atmospheric, and it's not just the cinematography (also by Bava) but the production design and costumes as well, this is a complete aesthetic package, and a lot more influential than I realized, whole visual passages of the film were copied more or less verbatim in ALIEN (see also IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE).
5. THE DESTROYER- I've been waiting years to get a copy of this vaguely comedic horror film starring Anthony Perkins and Lyle Alzado along with 1980s movie mainstays Deborah Foreman (April Fool's Day) and Clayton Rohner (I, Madman). I first saw it on late nite TV, jeez, maybe a decade ago, and was struck by the cool setting (an old prison) and premise (Perkins is directing a low budget horror film), some small flourishes of comedy and the likability of Foreman and Rohner as the leads. Watching it again, I was disappointed. The setting is cool but underutilized- is it really that difficult to make a scary movie set in an abandoned prison? The film-within-a-film and filmmaking in-jokes aren't particularly knowing or funny. Perkins is fun to watch as always but doesn't have enough to do. Alzado makes for a ridiculous killer, perhaps not as much so as Jake Steinfeld in HOME SWEET HOME, but there's still no way around the fact that despite his size, he's way too goofy to be frightening. Foreman and Rohner remain appealing.
6. CHERRY FALLS- Geoffrey (ROMPER STOMPER) Wright's take on the slasher film made a good impression on me when I first saw it in 2000, watching it again a few years later I wasn't as impressed, but watching again now, I kind of love it again. CHERRY FALLS is stylish and perverse, with some humor and a sleek, almost minimal veneer. The plot is appropriately ridiculous, or at least the reveal at the ending is while the actual plot, about a killer stalking virgins in a small Virginia town, plays on the sexual fears and insecurities of adolescence (not that it ever gets much better) and deals with sexuality in a significantly more mature and thoughtful way than most films about teenagers, horror or not. The cast is odd (Brittany Murphy, Michael Biehn, Jay Mohr, Candy Clark) is odd, but effective given the slightly tongue-in-cheek nature of much of material.
7. GETTING STRAIGHT- The original post I wrote last week, then lost, was about this film and the recent movies NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST (horrible) and WHAT WE DO IS SECRET (good) and the relation of counterculture to mainstream cinema. It was probably as pretentious and stupid as it sounds, perhaps as pretentious and stupid as Richard Rush's attempt to do a mainstream film on 1960's campus revolt, GETTING STRAIGHT. This film, from 1970, suffers mainly from a preachy, heavyhanded script and an over-the-top performance by Elliot Gould, a great actor but not especially subtle even in his best roles (his turn in THE LONG GOODBYE is about as perfect as acting can get). Here, his character flies off into a rage at the drop of a hat, shouting and spitting self-righteousness at anyone and everyone who dares to disagree or mildly annoy him. He even more or less admits that he's an asshole to long suffering girlfriend Candice Bergen (who was much better in CARNAL KNOWLEDGE a year later), but then still goes on being an asshole. Given that the film the issues of the day are Vietnam and civil rights, it's a serious anticlimax when, at the finale, Gould discovers his true spirit of rebellion and throws it all away because one of his grad school professors suggest that F. Scott Fitzgerald might have been gay. That said, whatever works in GETTING STRAIGHT is all because of Rush (though co-star Robert F. Lyons, as a whacked out hippie, is pretty wonderful), he really knows how to direct a scene. Simple dialogue sequences are shot and cut with an energy and urgency, while the campus riot sequences (with some chilling, very believable moments of police brutality) are absolutely astounding, balancing perfectly a replicated realism with a rhythmic sense of staging and movement. These elaborate stagings are no doubt some of the inspiration for some of the scenes in THE STUNT MAN, Rush's most significant film.
8. ACCION MUTANTE- Alex de la Iglesia's 1992 debut feature, a French-Spanish co-production produced by Pedro Almadovar, seems like a raunchy postpunk sci-fi social parody splatter flick, but it's really a trashed out tribute to the Spaghetti western. In the film's second half, with the characters stranded on a desert planet, orchestrating double and triple crosses and all other violent indignities, Iglesia (who of course later directed the more straightforward Spaghetti western tribute 800 BULLETS) is at his most assured and honest, though the earlier sequences, which look something like a scumbag version of BRAZIL, are fun as well. Basically, this is a just a really cool, funny, gross fucking awesome kind of a movie, though the jewel in Iglesia's cinematic crown remains the sadly still unavailable DAY OF THE BEAST, which lacks the genre setting but is funnier and sicker.
9. CHAPTER 27- This, I guess, is supposed to be a serious movie about the last three days of Mark David Chapman before shooting John Lennon, but between Jared Leto's whispery, Forrest Gump like performance and the fact that Chapman didn't do very much over those last few days, CHAPTER 27 is utterly hilarious. It's just 90 straight minutes of poorly performed voiceover, not just poorly performed, but...it sort of sounds like Leto is pretending to be an old woman, a slightly retarded old woman who says really poorly written, idiotic things, possibly written by an angsty teen. And it just goes on and on. And Lindsay Lohan shows up for some reason to look somewhat concerned that the obvious lunatic she's somewhat attracted to might be an obvious lunatic, or something. And Judah Friedlander is here for some reason too, I'm getting really sick of that guy (I saw him on a panel at comic con with Method Man, and though fairly knowledgable about film, he's also kind of a crowd pleasing, obvious joke making doofus). And the whole CATCHER IN THE RYE thing is certainly wrung out for every possible drop of significance, with numerous, lengthy scenes of Leto muttering to himself "The book...CATCHER IN THE RYE...this is me...John Lennon...Holden Caulfield" et al. ad naseum. Admittedly, I've never been a Beatles fan, and I felt kind of bad for laughing at a movie about the murder of a culturally significant artist whose life and work were important to a great many people, but this film is just a ridiculous piece of shit. If you care about John Lennon, I think you would do him a great tribute by not watching CHAPTER 27.
10. SEX- THE ANNABEL CHONG STORY- Though certainly very intimate, there is something very...bad? false? pretentious? about this documentary on Chong, the pornstar who had sex when a (then record) 251 men at once. Well, not at once, that would be impossible, but in a row, or whatever (this doc wasn't even finished before the record was broken). It's clear from fairly early on that the subject is suffering from deep emotional problems, if not outright mental illness, and I only learned from watching some of the extras on the DVD that the director and Chong were having an affair while the documentary was being made, which gives the whole thing just an extra level of, y'know, illness. This is all very 90's, doing gangbang porn as some kind of academic pseudofeminist exercise, but mentally ill, though I suspect watching SEX served me better than watching a 251 dude gangbang video would have, but so would have punching myself in the face. As it stands, this just wasn't that great.
More to come...