Monday, June 30, 2008

Busy Month

Time to break out the movie gift certificates I got for Xmas last year and head to the theater for a month of potentially good weekends. July's offering a number of films to enjoy:

  • July 1 - Hancock
  • July 11 - Hellboy 2 & Journey to the Center of the Earth
  • July 18 - Batman 2
  • July 25 - X-Files 2

I just realized that I'm looking at mostly sequels and a remake for July with only one "original" film, Hancock. I'm gearing up to the "wasteland of summer" with the gems that are sure to rear their heads in August!

George Lucas... Late Night Sneaky Uncle

This clip from Brian Posehn's Nerd Rage is a pretty good companion piece to Patton Oswalt's "At Midnight I Will Kill George Lucas with a Shovel" bit from Werewolves and Lollipops. Enjoy!


If Guy Ritchie and Madonna get a divorce... do you think he might start making good movies again?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Follow the White Rabbit

Yeah, there were some similarities between the movie version of Wanted and The Matrix -- the extreme slo-mo, the gun play, the turning around of a loser's life via a "in the know" group of outsiders. But far more than Wanted, the preview for Eagle Eye brings to mind the "pre-red pill" section of The Matrix.

The synopsis of the full film takes the direction away from a cyberthriller into a terrorist actioner but the marketing department certainly is shying away from drawing parallels between the two films.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Star Wars Rip Offs: Epilogue

Perhaps imitation isn’t the sincerest form of flattery after all. The phenomenon has netted some truly outrageous bouts of cinematic tomfoolery from the inane (Star Babe) to the sublime (The Man Who Saves the World). Not everything that has borne the label “Star Wars Rip Off” is truly worthy of such a distinction. While other masked villains, creature-filled cantinas, and religious hokum linger in other post-Star Wars works, the above are most often cited during discussions about the ramifications of Lucas’s 1977 hit film. For the most part, these stemmed from film industries that couldn’t compete with the panache of Hollywood.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Walking Out Invalidates Opinions?

Getting a lot of flack for my review of HELL'S GROUND over on The comment from director Omar Khan has been removed (something about my "charming weirdness" line) but there's an interesting response which questions the validity of a movie review from a reviewer who walked out of the screening. Apparently my opinion is only valid if I make it all the way through a film. I'm not sure if I agree with that. What kind of an obligation does a reviewer have to commit to a film with which s/he can't engage?

The Crimson Kimono (Samuel Fuller, 1959)

Woops! This was supposed to run in Metro Times last week to alert readers of this rare screening on TCM but it didn't make the cut.

Crimson KimonoTurner Classic Movies “Asian Images in Film” series includes a rare screening of The Crimson Kimono (June 24 at 8PM). Still shamefully unavailable on home video, this Samuel Fuller flick examines race relations in the U.S. via a microcosm of Los Angeles. Made fourteen years after the end of World War II, Fuller portrays tensions between mainstream White America and its Asian population simmering at a low boil. Never one to duck difficult matters, Fuller considers immigrant insularity, cultural transplants, and interracial romance.

The film employs the detective milieu; beginning with the spectacular murder of Sugar Torch (Gloria Pall) who’s shimmying her stuff at a burlesque club only minutes before she’s shot dead in the streets. Detectives Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett) and Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta) are on the case which leads them down into Little Tokyo (where City Hall looms large in the background while Japanese characters decorate storefronts in the fore) and introduces them to young Caucasian artist Christine “Chris” Downs (Victoria Shaw). While the case unwinds, Charlie and Joe find themselves drawn to Chris, driving a wedge into their friendship.

No normal love triangle, Joe feels torn between his self-perceptions (“Down deep, what am I? Japanese American, American Japanese, Nisei; what label do I live under?”) and the loyalty to his friend. Rather than racism against Joe as a Japanese American, the film shows Joe rejecting the Caucasian world as sign of reverse racism, as if to plea for more understanding and integration of racial groups. More than a treatise on race, The Crimson Kimono can be viewed as meditation sexual orientation.

Joe and Charlie appear to be more than just close friends. War buddies who joined the police force together, the two share an apartment in which the pair takes a lot of pride. All seems fine between the couple—Charlie acting the role of the supportive spouse when discussing Joe’s upcoming Detective exam—until Chris enters the picture. The other major female presence in the film, Mac (Anna Lee), is similar to Chris in her profession as artist and her masculine name. As she waxes philosophically about the pleasures of drinking hard and smoking stogies, it appears that this is a case where a cigar is not just a cigar.

Shot in crisp black & white, The Crimson Kimono bears the fluid camerawork, flawless framing, and fresh dialogue that elevated Fuller from a simple hack grinding out melodramas to a master craftsman and favorite of the Cahiers du Cinema gang. With any luck, this overlooked gem will find its way to DVD soon.

Once More into the Porn, Dear Friends

Rounding out the Star Wars rip-off cycle is the second porn parody, Sex Wars in which the verbose Brinker Duo (Paul Thomas) and his slightly seen sidekick Mark Starkiller (Richard Pacheco)—two down-on-their-luck losers who can’t afford to pay for intergalactic nookie—come across Princess Layme (Robin Cannes), who tries to hire them to help find her sister, Princess Orgasmo. This quest would take them into the Tyros (in the region of Lesbos)—a veritable “Bermuda Triangle” of space, as the Orson Wellesian narrator informs us. Being chickenshit, our heroes decline the offer until Princess Layme boozes, screws, and shanghais the pair.

The merry band’s ship is drawn to a planet courtesy of a tractor beam and some cheap model effects. Once landed, they find themselves the prisoners of Lord Balthazar (Howard Darkley), a limbless, gold-skinned pervert who controls the minds, and bodies, of everyone he’s captured. In a display of his power, we see a hapless spaceship commander (Billy Dee) being molested by three vixens and Princess Orgasmo. The scene is narrated by a breathy female computer voice that, at one point, chants, “You are required to concentrate on elongation” without cessation.

After a run-in with a couple of Asian gals in whiteface, Brinker and his cronies devise a plan to overthrow their captor. The plan seems to consist of Princess Layme and Princess Orgasmo making hot monkey love in front of the practically drooling Balthazar while Brinker and Mark search for the source of Balthazar’s power. Even this version of Star Wars isn’t free of incestuous themes.

Other parallels between Sex Wars and Star Wars include a flatulent robot named 4Q (a joke name recycled from Hardware Wars) and an over-extended pair of cantina sequences filled with lots of “weird” creatures. However, the film’s narrative shares more elements with the old “Star Trek” episode, “The Return of the Archons,” than Star Wars.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vin Diesel; A Great Interview

Be Nice to Nic Cage (Again)

I caught the clip below over at Filmopia and now my head hurts.

Nic Cage stars in the remake of Bangkok Dangerous. The original is a blatant rip-off of John Woo's The Killer (which Woo admits is inspired by Le Samourai) with a "twist" that the main character isn't just a quiet assassin, he's mute (and deaf). That bit seems to have been thrown away for the American-backed remake to allow for Cage to emote via the only way he knows how--screaming, blathering, and generally carrying on like a crazy person.

Check out the clip to see the Pang Brothers (makers of the original) blatantly parrot the Dragon Boat scene from The Killer. Of course, they're "higher octane" by including a motorbike bit and a (n unintentionally) hilarious disarmament.

If you watched that full Woo clip, the part around the six minute mark is parroted in the opening of the "original" Bangkok Dangerous (as seen below).

Turkish Delight

The most blatant of the Star Wars rip offs, Çetin Inanç’s work actually uses clips from Lucas’s film in the opening sequence of Dünyayi kurtaran adam / The Man Who Saves the World. The clips are run forwards, backwards, and even upside down as they’re intercut with shot of our heroes Murat (Cüneyt Arkin) and Ali (Aytekin Akkaya)—two “great Turk warriors—protecting the Earth.” Strangely, Murat and Ali seem to be piloting TIE Fighters and shoot down X-Wings with glee!

The longwinded voice-over narration posits that the Earth has broken apart but now is protected by a mental force field, showing how powerful the minds of men can be. Somehow, Murat and Ali end up on one of these old chunks of Earth after their battle. Here they find that things are being run by an evil magician who wears a cardboard mask. He has an endless horde of skeleton horseback riders, red carpet monsters, and mummies. All of these Murat and Ali fight with explosive results.

The Man Who Saves the World is bottom-barrel filmmaking at its best. There’s scads of stock footage, pilfered soundtracks (action sequences are usually set to the themes from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Flash Gordon, or both), and truly bizarre plot devices such as a plywood sword and golden brain. While the filmmaking prowess of Çetin Inanç can often leave viewers wondering how he even managed to take the lens cap off the camera, it’s the editing that truly is astounding. It’s as if someone took an early version of the film and threw it into a blender before final release.

By 1982 the steam had gone out of the once-thriving Turkish film market. Once known for his stuntwork and physical prowess, writer and star Cüneyt Arkin looked about as run-down as the cinema he represented. Despite his skillful use of hidden trampolines and kung fu, The Man Who Saves the World is jaw-dropping awful to the point of being bizarrely delightful. The recent addition of subtitles to some DVD bootlegs of this work only adds to the confused charm of this cinematic refuse.

Monday, June 23, 2008

To Infinity and Back

There’s a lot of groaning to be heard when watching William Sach’s 1980 flick Galaxina. Starring Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten, you’d hope that the groans would be coming from the screen with scads of softcore sex scenes as her shapely android character got it on with the crew of her ship, The Infinity. Alas, the groaning is all from the side of the audience as they suffer through one corny joke and bad parody after another in this low budget sci-fi cheesefest. More than Star Wars, the parodies in Galaxina rely more heavily on 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien—right down to the bad egg that Captain Cornelius Butt spits up which later grows into an intruder aboard the ship.

While Stratten stars in the film, she doesn’t utter a line until almost an hour into the proceedings (afterwards she’s a mite too chatty). The rest of the time she’s merely featured in reaction shots as her shipmate, Thor (Stephen Macht), falls in love with her. He and space cowboy Buzz (J.D. Hinton) trade insults with Captain Butt (Doritos pitchman Avery Schreiber) for the majority of the film. Everything just meanders along as the crew of the Infinity seeks out some semblance of plot, aimlessly drifting from one scene to another.

At about fifty minutes into the film things change so fast that they could give a viewer whiplash. Suddenly Galaxina is on a backwoods planet (with the Batmobile in the background!) looking for a plot device called “The Blue Star.” She finds it in the hands of Ordic, a cloaked figure wearing a metal mask. They square-off in the streets of a Western town for an old-fashioned showdown in yet another incongruous scene. While Stratten may be nice to look at (and the filmmakers know how to display her assets well), Galaxina is one long, painful, bad joke of a film.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Prove Me Wrong

I didn't grow up on comic books. Rather, they supplemented my steady diet of Encyclopedia Brown, Judy Blume, Michael Moorcock, et cetera. I remember reading a Fantastic Four sometime in the early '80s and didn't really get into comics until a few years later when I was in Junior High (also known as "Middle School").

Eventually I had to pull the plug on my comic habit. I was spending far too much money. When titles jumped up to $.75 each, it was over. When you're buying every X-men related and Spiderman related titles (plus other things), this added up fairly quickly to much more than my allowance and menial jobs could absorb.

It wasn't until the late '90s that I got back into comics -- though I flirted with "just Spiderman" in the early '90s. This time I swore to not buy single issues. I was just going to get collections/graphic novels. Rather than diving in and catching up with my old superhero friends, I went to my friend Mike Thompson and asked for his advice. What comics would blow my mind?

"Watchmen," he told me. "It's the Citizen Kane of comic books."

This clinched it for me. The way Orson Welles's Kane redefined what could be done in cinema was the perfect comparison to the way Alan Moore's Watchmen rewrote the rules of comic books.

Ever since then, I've been hooked. I still go back to Thompson for advice, especially when I find myself exhausting all of the works of Moore, Millar, Vaughn, et cetera.

Now it's nearly a decade later and Watchmen looms nine months away, destined to come to the silver screen in March '09. I'm terrified of and skeptical about this film.

Going back to Mike Thompson's comparison; Citizen Kane may have roots in the theater and radio but it's purely a creature of cinema. Moving it from one medium to another would irreparably change the storytelling and the message of the film. Can you imagine: Citizen Kane the weekly TV series! See that cranky old Mr. C.F. Kane chew out Jedediah Leland, the rascally reporter, week after week. This fall on the CW!

That said, no matter how cinematic Moore's work may be, the filmic adaptations of his work have left much wanting. It's like taking only the black and white from his works and plopping it on screen, leaving all of the color still on the pages of the original work (this metaphor doesn't work when speaking of From Hell since the comic was monochromatic).

I want to be impressed by the Watchmen movie. I want to be proven wrong. I want this to capture the spirit of Moore's work and not sully the original work. I'm just afraid that the Citizen Kane of comic books should always remain "just" a comic book.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Consider Yourself Teased

I had to revisit this "teaser" trailer for THE INCREDIBLE HULK. I thought that psychiatrist character, Dr. Samson (Ty Burrell), had a bigger role at one point. He's prominently displayed at the beginning of the following trailer.

BTW, for a "teaser," this doesn't leave much to the imagination. Showing The Abomination was probably a mistake but I'm sure there were a lot of marketing challenges when trying to recover from the failed Ang Lee abomination of 2003.

Spaghetti Space Operas

For the production of Luigi Cozzi’s 1978 film Starcrash, more money was spent on eye makeup than for special effects. The film’s protagonist, Stella Star (Caroline Munro) wears gobs of mascara and not much else. And, in each scene, she’s wearing a new collection of “not much else.” She and her navigator, Akton (Marjoe Gortner), are recruited by The Emperor of the First Circle of the Universe (a slumming Christopher Plummer) to find the phantom planet of evil Count Zarth Arn (an overdubbed Joe Spinell stuffed into an unflattering outfit) and the weapon he’s created that could destroy worlds. Accompanying Star and Aktor are the green-skinned Thor (Robert Tessier) and annoying southern fried robot Elle (Hamilton Camp).

The troupe encounters a wide array of improbable hazards, from Amazon warriors to Troglodytes to stop-animation automatons that would make Ray Harryhausen snort and say, “How cheesy!” They narrowly escape each tribulation with a lot of help from Akton’s spiritual attenuation and his light saber—er, “laser sword.” They also get aid in the last act of the film from the Emperor’s son, Simon (David Hasselhoff).

This cheesy Italian film, with its obtuse dialogue, knockoff plot, and poor special effects, has been likened to Edward D. Wood Jr’s Plan 9 from Outer Space for good reason. The film has been adopted by more than one Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan group as fodder for “fan riffing.”

The following year, the Italians would strike again with another Star Wars rip off, L’Umanoide / The Humanoid. Directed by Aldo Lado (under the name George B. Lewis), the obligatory opening scroll states, “Metropolis, known long ago as planet Earth now faces its gravest hour. Lord Graal has just escaped from the prison satellite where his brother, ruler of the peaceful galactic democracy has exiled him. Malevolent and power-hungry, Graal has plans of vengeance that might forever alter the destiny of mankind.”

Wearing a ridiculous Darth Vadar helmet aboard his Star Destroyer ship, Graal (Ivan Rassimov) is but one of a trio of baddies that also includes Lady Agatha (Barbara Bach in cleavage-focused garb) and Dr. Kraspin (Arthur Kennedy). Kraspin is a mad scientist who has kept Lady Agatha young via a contraption that sucks the life essence out of young topless girls. With a supply of “Kappa Element,” he’s promised to make an army of zombie-like humanoids for Graal to use against the peaceful Metropolans and their leader, Great Brother (Massimo Serato). Kraspin is obsessed with one Metropolan in particular: Barbara Gibson (Corinne Clery), his former assistant. He takes great pleasure in saying her name, Barbara Gibson, more times than necessary and has his first humanoid go after her, even before Great Brother.

Minding his own business, the cocky pilot Golob (Richard Kiel) and his cute robotic dog sidekick, Kip, find themselves on the deserted landscape of Metropolis. “Just the human I need,” says Kraspin before bombing the gigantic Golob with “Kappatron bomb,” which converts him into a beardless killing machine. He’s only stopped by Tom Tom (Marco Yeh), a prepubescent mystic who dresses like Luke Skywalker and communes with spirit guides in the desert.

Eventually Barbara Gibson is captured by the forces of evil. While the leaders of Metropolis wait in their “Moon of Yavin” control center, Golob, Tom Tom, and the drably heroic Nick (Leonard Mann) venture to save Barbara Gibson and retrieve the Kappa Element. Is there any doubt they’ll succeed after a series of swashbuckling fights through the halls of Graal’s lair?

The Humanoid is the most like Star Wars in its reuse of characters. Golob is Chewbacca, Kip is R2-D2, Nick is Luke Skywalker, Tom Tom is a pint-sized Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Barbara Gibson is Princess Leia. The focus on Golob as the hero and the addition of some T&A makes The Humanoid one of the few satisfying Star Wars clones.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Goodis Film Series Officially Announced

It's official! The David Goodis film series is coming to Berkeley. I'll be kicking it off that first weekend along with Barry Gifford and Eddie Muller. For all the details click here.

Japanese Whispers

One film unfairly saddled with the “Star Wars rip off” (SWRO) label is Jun Fukuda’s Wakusei Daisenso / War in Space. Released in 1977, this lackluster Japanese production is related closer to Ishiro Honda’s 1959 work Uchu Daisenso / Battle in Outer Space than George Lucas’s film of the same year. In Wakusei Daisenso, a team of United Nations astronauts climb aboard the Gohten and head to Venus to rescue June (Yûko Asano), who’s been outfitted in a pair of leather panties and bustier while held captive by self-proclaimed “Emperor of the Galaxy” Commander Hell and his oversized wooly space demon. With his green skin and Centurion helmet, Hell is a dead ringer for Marvin the Martian and proves to be about as much of a threat (even without a Uranium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator). Apart from the horned, axe-wielding creature that might be mistaken for a Wookie at fifty paces and one character bemoaning, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” the similarities between Wakusei Daisenso and Star Wars are tenuous at best.

The same can nearly be said about the 1978 Kinji Fukasaku (Battle Royale) film Uchu Kara No Messeji / Message from Space. Closer to Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, the hapless Jillucians are suppressed by the steel-skinned Gavanas. In a desperate bid, eight magical walnuts (!) are cast into space to seek out a group of heroes that might save the peaceful aliens. The walnuts are found by a group of annoying twenty-somethings and General Garuda (Vic Morrow)—a drunken soldier with an unnatural affinity for robots.

After some painfully tedious longueurs, including a hunt for space fireflies, the movie seems to reset itself with the rediscovery of the walnuts, as if the filmmakers had been so bored with their own film that they had forgotten the earlier scenes. Things finally get in gear over an hour into the proceedings with the introduction of Prince Hans (Sonny Chiba). He’s got an acorn around his neck and an axe to grind with Gavanas leader Rockseia XLL (Mikio Narita).

Apart from General Garuda’s robot pal, Beba, and a spaceflight down a narrow passage to destroy the Gavanas’s power source (which, in all fairness, looks like the finale of Return of the Jedi), the likenesses between Message from Space and Star Wars generally end at the opening credits.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

From Brazil with Love

Os Trapalhões na Guerra dos Planetas / The Trapalhões in Planet Wars, boasts a credit that it was “baseado no filme Guerra Nas Estrelas” (based on the film Star Wars). One of a long series of films starring the Trapalhões—translated roughly as The Tramps, The Bunglers, or The Dabblers—a Brazilian musical “comedy” troupe, this painful flick has the group helping Prince Flick (Pedro Aguinaga) find the other half of a “brain computer” to defeat the evil Zuco (Carlos Kurt wearing a Darth Vadar meets leatherman outfit) and retrieve Princess Mirna (Maria Cristina Nunes). They’re helped by Flick’s copilot Bonzo (7’2” basketball star Emil Assad Rached looking like Jojo the dog-faced boy) as they fight giant spiders, invisible attackers, and Tusken Raiders.

Feeling like a long episode of Sid & Marty Kroft’s “Far Out Space Nuts,” the movie is definitely a product of its age. More than just ripping off the general plot and characters of Star Wars, the obligatory cantina scene takes place on a soundstage where it looks like a variety show might break out at any moment. While disco dancing with aliens, Luke Skywalker stand-in Flick does some awesome karate against his foes.

This shot-on-video epic looks like it was made by a group of junior high students learning their way around cast off cable access equipment. Utilizing fast motion, repeated shots, backwards footage, incredibly bad chromakey effects, and slide whistles galore, these nasty gimmicks only emphasize how painfully poor the antics of the Trapalhões translate into English. Acting like a cross between the Monkees and the Three Stooges, the Trapalhões’s broad comedy probably appeals to preschoolers or dorm room pot smokers.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

David Goodis - To A Pulp

A clip from Larry Withers's upcoming documentary about David Goodis. Here's hoping it will be ready for Noircon 2010!

In Space, No One Can Hear You Cream

Not surprisingly, it was the porn industry who first cashed in on Star Wars phenomenon. Known for quickie knockoffs of current hits (Edward Penishands, anyone?), Star Babe was helmed by actress-turned-director Anne Perry-Rhine and stars a trio of comely lasses—Star Babe, Milky Way, and Twinkle Toes—as members of the United World Space Agency. They’re on a mission to find secret plans for a weapon that could destroy the Earth. This takes them through a universe comprised of old film reels from a high school astronomy class painfully narrated by Star Babe. Between these clips there’s a great deal of fellatio with guys wearing questionable costumes who boast human genitalia and annoying celebrity-imitation voiceovers (W.C. Fields, Richard Nixon, etc.). Picking up these “aliens” at The Anus Bar, Star Babe discovers the secret plans, while Twinkle Toes is kidnapped by a couple of guys—one wearing a bed sheet and Storm Trooper mask, the other donning a Darth Vader knockoff ensemble.

While Darth Vadar and his minion are cleverly defeated by Loogie, a guy in an ape suit, the gals manage to take out the secret weapon—a giant phallus that shoots “sperm missiles.” Star Babe took the idea of an interplanetary cantina, secret plans, and Darth Vadar for this hackneyed no-budget flick. Otherwise, this “costume drama” is purely a by-the-numbers skin flick that doesn’t boldly go into any new or interesting sexual frontiers.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Galaxy Not Far Enough Away

It’s the thirty-first anniversary of the release of George Lucas’s Star Wars. That means it’s the thirtieth anniversary of the so-called “Star Wars Clones”—cheapie knockoffs made to cash in on the Star Wars hype. These films knew no borders, stemming from around the globe and often crossing generic lines.

While Star Wars isn’t the most original film itself—based heavily on Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress and John Ford’s The Searchers—it tapped into the Jungian collective unconscious and tread ground defined in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. From there, the film became something of a cinematic sandbox from which elements were openly pilfered by filmmakers far and wide. The open desert, the kidnapped princess, the masked villain, the larger-than-life creature, the cute sidekick, the bar full of “strange creatures”; all of these archetypes were reworked by Lucas and subsequently reappeared in over a half dozen rip-off films (and a few parodies, such as Mel Brooks’s Space Balls, Ernie Fosselius’s Hardware Wars and the “Family Guy” special, Blue Harvest).

For the next seven days, I’ll be examining some of the more notable Star Wars rip-offs (and a few films that have been unfairly saddled with this label).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Frankenstein, A Dear Friend of Mine

I just checked out the preview for Paul W. S. Anderson's remake of Death Race 2000 (cleverly titled "Death Race"). It seems that Anderson has taken the clever tale two steps back by adapting the trappings of modern gladiator films. Akin to Temmink and The Condemned (with shades of No Escape and The Running Man), Death Race has made the titular event contestants convicts.

While the race is televised in the 1975 film (a great showcase for Don Steele), it's not so much an opiate for the masses to quell political unrest as it is a ratings bonanza (a la Rollerball and its remake) with Joan Allen as the tyrannically producer out to make a buck from what amounts to prison labor. Gone are the thematic racers, in are body armor and front-mounted machine guns (more than just Machine Gun Joe Viterbo) to make Death Race into the long-promised "Spy Hunter" adaptation. Oh, wait, that's actually slated for the big screen in 2009 helmed by...? You guessed it, Paul W. S. Anderson.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Heading for Niagara Falls

I'm going over to (gotta remember that all important to when saying this)... I'm going over to Niagara Falls at the beginning of July. Staying on the Canadian side -- I hear that's the only way to do it. No big plans there yet, apart from doing some of the tourist trap stuff like Maid of the Mist, the Ripley museum, et cetera. I'm also hoping to check out the statue of Nikola Tesla at Victoria Park. If you know me, you know what a nut I am about Tesla.

Nikola Tesla

I'd never seen this before (the one thing I wasn't allowed to see when I was a kid was the Three Stooges). I'd only seen it referenced on "I Love Lucy."

The Plants are Watching

What evil lurks in the chloroplasts of plants? More than being beneficial to mankind—providing food, shelter, and oxygen—our green friends have often appeared in cinema as the enemy of mankind.

The untamed forests and jungles have long sheltered an unnamed specter of malice. The greedy tendrils of vines have plagued the virtue of women most memorably in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2. Other shambling mounds of vegetation have lain their leafs on gals in Charles Saunders’s The Woman Eater, Mel Welles’s Island of the Dead and Reginald Le Borg’s Voodoo Island.

Plants are untrustworthy. In Jonathan Sarno’s The Kirlian Witness spooky Laurie (Nancy Boykin) talks incessantly to her plants, until she’s untimely murdered. Her sister, Rilla (Nancy Snyder) tries to communicate with Laurie’s foliage, the only witness to the foul play. Rilla studies the plant’s aura via Kirlian photography, exemplifying just how deeply steeped in seventies new age touchy-feelie gobbledygook this low budget flick can get.

Plants are weak-willed. They can be patsies of mad scientists, crazed criminals, or shirtless behemoths. Written by Ed Wood, Devil Garden features James T. Craig as the insufferably cranky Dr. Bragan who tries to prove that mankind came from plantkind by turning his Flytrap into an anthropomorphic mutant. In Oldrich Lipsky’s absurdly fantastic Nick Carter tale, Dinner for Adele, the villain utilizes a voracious plant (animated by Jan Svankmajer) to dispatch of his enemies. Finally, the inarticulate Joe Dallesandro skulks through James H. Kay’s The Gardener, an odd melodrama of lonely women, hulky household helpers, and spurious verdure.

Not of this earth. The most notorious chlorophyll-filled killers came not from the Earth but outer space. The pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the hungry Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, the creature featured in The Thing From Another World, and the titular terrors from The Day of the Triffids; they’re all invaders from distant reaches from the galaxy intent on global domination. Yet, they’re not to be outdone by our own homegrown greenery.

In a world where we’re slowly learning an inconvenient truth about global warming, it appears that the human race needs to clean up their act or the planet will do it for us. After an isolated outbreak in The Ruins, the metaphytes in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening attempt genocide of the human race on a massive scale; a threat that not even Corn Man or Swamp Thing could combat. It’s horticultural homicide when plants start emitting an undetectable poisonous gas that causes creative suicides.

With these sneaky plants plotting against us, it’s all enough to make you want to pave paradise to put up a parking lot.

Assassination Week Pt. 5: Winter Kills

Winter Kills (William Richert, 1979)

Brought to the silver screen in 1962, The Manchurian Candidate related the assassination of a Presidential candidate with eerie similarities to the murders of both John F. and Robert F. Kennedy. Richard Condon penned Winter Kills twenty six years after he wrote The Manchurian Candidate. The latter serves as a fitting counterpoint to the former as Winter Kills is a fairly accurate, albeit fictionalized, recounting of the conspiracy to kill JFK.

Directed by former documentary filmmaker William Richert, Winter Kills stars Jeff Bridges as Nick Kegan, brother to slain President Timothy Keegan. Despite the Pickering Commission’s finding that assassin Willie Arnold acted alone in slaying the elder Keegan during a motorcade through Philadelphia, evidence to the contrary (brought forth by a bandaged Joe Spinell) comes forward throwing Nick into an ever-expanding web of corpse-strewn intrigue that will feel very familiar to anyone with even a passing knowledge of Kennedy conspiracies.

An unusual mix of thriller and pitch black comedy, Winter Kills hinges on a bravura performance by John Huston as patriarch Pa Kegan. Part Joe Kennedy and Noah Cross (Huston’s role in Chinatown), Huston redefines cantankerous as the puppetmaster who seems to own half the world and buys his way out of every problem. He’s got mixed feelings about Nick investigating his brother’s death. At once he’s nonplussed and amused as his disappointing progeny blindly claws his way through the sordid details of the past. All the while Pa Kegan and his henchmen (including Anthony Perkins as crazed eavesdropper John Cerruti) steer Nick through the maze, giving him just enough information to keep him crazed.

Featuring a crop of character actors from Eli Wallach to Sterling Hayden to Ralph Meeker to Toshiro Mifune, Winter Kills resembles a trial run for Oliver Stone’s JFK. With beautiful photography from Vilmos Zsigmond, Richert’s film is an enjoyable fever dream of paranoia and pursuit with an awesome body count. Bridges demonstrates why he was a hot commodity in the early ‘80s as Kegan, acting with a good mix of righteous indignation and powerless exasperation.

Sadly, the production of Winter Kills was plagued with problems due to some shady backers. Not only did some of the actors never get paid, the film faired dismally on its initial, limited release. Released on DVD in 2003, Winter Kills is definitely worth a second (or first) look.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dude, Where's Demi?

I've been finding the Ashton Kutcher Nikon commercials kind of perplexing. I understand them (not like those chocolate Skittles "piñata man" spots), I just keep wondering why Ashton's going to all of these events without his wife. Is Demi fine with his hanging out with younger women? Was she too busy to attend the reception where he's chilling with friends and knocking over champagne flutes? In short, dude, where's your wife?

Assassination Week Pt. 4: Parallax View

Parallax View (Alan J. Pakula, 1974)

The 1970s were a Golden Age for assassination films. The cynicism harvested by Watergate gave new life to conspiracy theories while mourning the loss of innocence that the Kennedy/King assassinations had come to signify. In the two most notable assassination films of the ‘70s, Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View and William Richert’s Winter Kills, paranoia and collusion run rampant.

A parallax is roughly defined as “an apparent shift of an object caused by the motion of the observer,” in other words; the object doesn’t change but seems to, based on the perception of a viewer. The notion of reinterpretation of objects, or events, lay at the heart of Alan J. Pakula’s 1974 film. Herein the assassinations of several Presidential hopefuls are investigated by Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) from the outside as a burned-out reporter and from the inside as an employee of the Parallax Corporation.

The film opens with an Independence Day rally for Senator Charles (William Joyce) at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle. While his top advisor, Austin Tucker (William Daniels), and reporter Lee Carter (Paula Prentiss) talk on the observation deck, Charles is gunned down in cold blood by a man posing as a waiter. The event plays out strikingly similar to the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. A hastily gathered commission determines that the gunman acted alone.

Three years later—just in time for campaign season to start again—Carter comes to Frady fearing for her life and needing the reporter’s familiar face and keen insight. She tells him about the mysterious deaths of those present at Charles’s murder. Her fears are justified: she ends up in the local morgue shortly thereafter filled with enough drugs and alcohol to have killed her, even if she hadn’t been behind the wheel of a car in such a state. This prompts the cynical Frady to begin an investigation which quickly takes his life… or so everyone believes.

With the reports of his death greatly exaggerated, Frady goes undercover with the help of his cantankerous editor, Bill Rintels (Hume Cronyn). Frady visits Professor Schwartzkopf (Anthony Zerbe)—who enjoys playing Pong against a chimpanzee—for help filling out a questionnaire for the Parallax Corporation that he had uncovered before the attempt on his life. Ready to help, Schwartzkopf has a violent sociopath take the test. Frady passes with flying colors.

Parallax shows Frady a breathtaking brainwashing film that looks like it’s from the MKULTRA archives. Comprised of a montage of images interspersed with words and icons of “mother, father, me, happiness, love, country, enemy” the movie starts slowly and builds to a climax that seems to associate the mentally disturbed viewer with Thor and their mother with sex. The most striking scene of the film, this begins a fifteen minute sequence that’s essentially free of dialogue in which Frady observes how the company operates, watching one of his new co-workers get a bomb aboard an aircraft carrying another U.S. Senator.

Based on a book by Loren Singer, The Parallax View was adapted for the screen by David Giler (The Black Bird) and Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Pretty Poison) with an uncredited polish by Robert Towne (Chinatown). The second in Pakula’s so-called “paranoia trilogy” (following Klute), the director’s next film would again deal with ardent reporters and political subterfuge in All the President’s Men. Warren Beatty gives a stellar performance as Frady and the character’s aliases. His character is framed against incredible post-modern monochromatic buildings that dwarf the actor, visually representing the struggle of the lone man compared to the machinations of far greater forces.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ready for My Sophomore Slump

June is turning out to be quite a noir month for me. I've been working on research for July when I'm going to be a guest on Out of the Past, my favorite podcast. The episode won't be broadcast until August at the earliest. I'll be talking to hosts Shannon Clute and Richard Edwards about one of my favorite films, Jean-Pierre Melville's Bob Le Flambeur.

While I'm working on that, I'm also studying up on Francois Truffaut's Shoot the Piano Player for my introduction of it at the David Goodis film series at UC Berkeley.

Max & the JunkmenOther French crime films dotting my horizon are Un Flic and Max & The Junkmen - both out on DVD in July (Un Flic for the second time, Max for the first time with English subtitles). I'm hoping to review both of these for the Detroit Metro Times.

All is not French for me, however, as I'm starting research for an interview with Crispin Hellion Glover - I finally managed to get a "yes" from Mr. Glover and I'm working at watching and rewatching as many of his flicks as I can. The one that I need to get my hands on, Jeremy Kasten's Wizard of Gore, is critical as I'm aiming to get this interview out to tie in with that flick's DVD release in August. So far I've had no luck getting a screener of the film or getting a response from anyone who might be able to provide one.

I keep playing with the idea of trying to actually get the Cashiers du Cinemart Book published by a "real" publisher. You know; query letter, book proposal, the whole bit. I've also been toying with the idea of another book due to my dissatisfaction with a recent read. As I read a book (that will remain unnamed for now) I realized, "Heck, I can write something better than this." I don't usually have that kind of ego, so maybe there's something to that. I'm ready for my sophomore slump.

Help Bruce Banner?

I'm afraid.

I just saw a commercial for THE INCREDIBLE HULK filled with quotes about how great the film is. The problem? Nearly all of them came from, the hyperbolic fanboy hype machine. Ouch!

Assassination Week Pt. 3: The Price of Power

The Price of Power / Il Prezzo del potere (Tonino Valerii, 1969, Italy)

Though Van Johnson may play a character named James Garfield and claims to be the twentieth President of the United States, that’s where the historical accuracy of Tonino Valerii’s The Price of Power ends. In real life, President Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau in Washington D.C. on July 2, 1881. In The Price of Power, Garfield is the victim of a vast conspiracy, falling pray to assassins in Dallas, Texas. The film is a Spaghetti Western reinterpretation of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

“Texas is against you, even the Governor himself,” warns Garfield’s aide, Arthur McDonald (Warren Vanders). Despite the discontent, Garfield feels that he can’t be a proper President if he’s afraid to visit all of the United States. Yet, more than just the Governor (Julio Pena), the pit of vipers into which his train enters includes renegade former Confederate, Pinkerton (Fernando Rey), the Sheriff of Dallas, Jefferson (Benito Stefanelli), and dogmatic thug Wallace. Regardless of the best efforts of Garfield supporter Jack Donovan (Ray Saunders), Garfield rides in an open-air stagecoach to his doom. Worse, Donovan gets saddled with the murder charge and massacred during a prison transfer.

If only President Kennedy had a defender like Bill Willer on the case. Donovan’s pal, Willer doggedly pursues the truth, choking confessions out of suspects and playing Russian roulette with conspirators in the dark. Willer is played by Giuliano Gemma who occasionally goes went under the moniker “Montgomery Wood”. This is a fitting name as it describes his acting style. He’s as charismatic as a bag of wet flour.

Released a mere six years after the Kennedy assassination, The Price of Power is steeped in conspiracy theories that have the Vice President as a corrupt logroller beholden to businessmen and other “good ole boy” constituents. There are no Cubans or Mobsters in Massimo Patrizi’s screenplay. It’s telling that nearly everyone playing a part in the conspiracy wears a badge, calling into question the involvement of state and federal infrastructure in the plot.

Despite a fascinating premise, the pacing of The Price of Power leaves a lot to be desired. The film degrades into Willer and McDonald chasing after a written confession with a lot of bumps along the road. Things aren’t helped by the score by Luis Enríquez Bacalov which turns into a bombastic racket during action scenes and calls to mind Aaron Copland’s “Hoe Down” so much that you’ll be telling yourself that “Beef, it’s what for dinner,” whenever things get exciting.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Assassination Week Pt. 2: Suddenly

Suddenly (Lewis Allen, 1954)

Before Frank Sinatra was trying to foil an assassination attempt in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), he was intent on knocking off the Commander in Chief in Suddenly. As John Baron, Sinatra brings death to the little down of Suddenly, California. It’s a sleepy little city where things happy so slowly that the city council’s thinking of changing the name to “Gradually.”

Something big finally happens in Suddenly when the Treasury Department shows up to lay the groundwork for an appearance by the President. It’s up to local Sheriff Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden) to make sure the town’s locked up tight and free from “subversive elements.” Things get so wild in Suddenly that Shaw’s deputy has to ask, “What in Hades is going on in this burg? Did some galoot make a uranium strike?”

All roads lead to the house of Pop Benson (James Gleason), the perfect vantage point for gunning down the President and the residence of Shaw’s gal pal Ellen (Nancy Gates) and her son, Pidge (Kim Charney). A precursor to William Wyler’s The Desperate Hours, Baron and his pair of thugs take Shaw, the Benson clan, and their television repairman hostage as the train carrying the President chugs closer. The rest of the film becomes a taut melodrama with Baron and Shaw verbally sparring about patriotism, soldiering, and the Power of the Gun.

“I’ve got no feelings against the President... He’s just a half a million bucks to me, tax free,” says Baron. Hot off of From Here to Eternity, Sinatra delivers a tour de force performance as the psychopathic Baron. Director Lewis Allen gives Sinatra ample opportunity to display his talent including allowing the actor to address the camera directly as he describes his deluded dreams for the future. The screenplay by Richard Sale provides excellent material for Sinatra and Hayden. Seeing these two titans square off is a treat.

Long in the public domain, Suddenly is readily available on cheap DVDs or for free download on sites like

Monday, June 09, 2008

Mad Tea Party - "Every Way"

New video from Skizz.

Assassination Week Pt. 1: The Tall Target

The Tall Target (Anthony Mann, 1951)

John Kennedy doesn’t take shit from anybody. He’s discovered a plot to kill Abraham Lincoln on a stop in Baltimore on the way to his inauguration. When his boss at the New York police headquarters laughs him off, Kennedy (Dick Powell) quits and hops a train to Baltimore to personally foil the attempt on Lincoln’s life. Even in the North, the president-elect isn’t without detractors. “As far as I’m concerned, the new President is Jefferson Davis,” jeers one Secessionist passenger as Kennedy boards the train.

His one contact dead, Kennedy finds himself up one corpse and down a badge, gun, and train ticket. He even manages to lose the corpse and gain a guy claiming to be “John Kennedy.” Kennedy’s doppelganger tries to bump him off but he’s saved by the sharp shooting of Colonel Jeffers (Adolphe Menjou), a guy so friendly and so helpful that he just has to be in on the deception. It seems the Kennedy doesn’t have many friends on the train other than a slave (Ruby Dee) traveling with her owners back to the Land of Cotton. Otherwise, Kennedy’s being pursued by Southern spies, his former coworkers at the police department, and the conductor who’s determined to get his fare.

Even with the workmanlike direction of Anthony Mann, The Tall Target can’t escape feeling like a stage play with its confined setting and clunky dialogue. That the film lacks any kind of soundtrack (save a few bars of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” at the end) doesn’t help matters. Luckily, Powell manages to inject his wry gumshoe sensibility into his character enough to make the film worthwhile.

Released in 1951, the irony of “John Kennedy” trying to save Abraham Lincoln from an assassin’s bullet wouldn’t be realized for years to come. It’s often held that there are “eerie connections” between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy including the mistaken belief that JFK had a secretary named Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy. The John Kennedy of The Tall Target and of history was a New York City Police Commissioner. Still, there is the startling fact that a week before Lincoln was shot he was in Monroe, Maryland and a week before John F. Kennedy was shot he was in Marilyn Monroe.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Street Kings

I'm currently updating my article on James Ellroy and just got done watching a bootleg of STREET KINGS. All I can say is, "Wow." That's not about the movie, though it was fairly good and far better than other Ellroy-based dreck like BLACK DAHLIA, DEEP BLUE, and BROWN'S REQUIEM. Rather, I'm agog about the marketing campaign of the film. The preview lead me to believe that Common and The Game were all over the film. This is a masterful bit of bait and switch. Despite Common being shown as one of the leads (check out the section of the preview that shows Common, Forest Whitaker, and Keanu Reeves in quick succession), he's in the film once (maybe twice). All of the close ups (including the horrible process shot of his face over a shot of a Los Angeles street) are culled from a solitary scene near the end of the film.

An urban tale to be sure, the preview/commercials portray STREET KINGS to be far more African American-centric than it truly was.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Oh Dear God, Make It Stop!

Why? Why do Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer continue to make these movies? They're simply not funny. Worse, they're not even topical! August 29, 2008 (date tentative) brings us yet another of their Blank Movies. This time it's DISASTER MOVIE (could there be a better description?) -- apparently it's a parody of movies that just aren't even being made anymore. AIRPLANE! skewered AIRPORT but it didn't try to also nail EARTHQUAKE, THE POSEIDEN ADVENTURE, THE CASSANDRA CROSSING, et cetera. Without a doubt, DISASTER MOVIE will include "topical" jokes about Paris Hilton, Brittany Spears, and any other celebrity implosions that take place this summer. It'll also try to parody THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, ARMAGEDDON, DEEP IMPACT, THE HAPPENING, and more. Too much more. And all done poorly.

DVD Review

Real quick, here's a review I wrote for the Metro Times for Renny Harlin's Cleaner. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Rough Table of Contents

Figured I'd share this with y'all to give you a better idea of what may be in the works for the book. This is a very rough idea.

James Ellroy
Guy Maddin
Monte Hellman
Richard Crawford
Taylor Negron
Bruce Campbell
Keith Gordon
Dr. Demento
Deafula Producer
Shawna Kenney
John Paizs Appreciation
Midnite Movie Reviews
Parker Films
CdC Manifesto
The Big Clock
Theater Work Story
Paul Williams
The Prize is Your Life
Handi-Capable Chop Sockey
Shuji Terayama
I, Shatner
Killer Cars
Fish out of Water (Andrea)
Mike & Andrea go to Breakfast
Jean Claude Van Dichotomy
Lone Wolf & Cub
Tale of the Tape
Ironic Press Release
Attention Enemy
Tarantino in a Can
Star Wars
The Lost Cut
Jar Jar Done Gone
Everyone Knows It's Windy
Star Wars Documentaries
Star Wars Rip Off Films
Star Wars Comic Strip
Lonely Silver Screen
Cat Woman
Indy Jones
Planet of the Apes
Superman Saga
Alien 3
Black Shampoo
Interview: John Daniels
Interview: Greydon Clark
Interview: Tanya Boyd
Interview: Skip E Lowe
Few Notes (Leon)
DVD release
Highlander Saga
Elektra Glide
Die Hard 3
Road House
Le Petomaine
Black Heat
Bad Boys
Scads O'Reviews
Teenage Rampage
Rampage of Cuteness

Monday, June 02, 2008

Celebrity Wanted

I need a celebrity.

I've been banging my head against the wall trying to think of who I can/should ask to pen an introduction to the Cashiers du Cinemart book. I have a few rough criteria.

  • They can write fairly well
  • They actually have read an issue or two and liked what we were doing for all the years CdC was around
  • Their name will be recognizable enough to garner the attention of at least one person (other than their mom).

Any suggestions/volunteers? A celebrity intro isn't required, but it sure would be nice!

Oh, and they have to get their stuff to me in the next six to eight weeks (I'm flexible).

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Only In New York

Just getting back from NYC where I did my best to play tourist. I took Andrea on a bus tour of the city, we went to a Broadway show (Avenue Q - tried to see it in Vegas before Sin City sent it packing but missed it), and even went to Ellis Island.

The best part of the trip had to be hooking up with Megan Abbott and Jason Starr for drinks followed by dinner and bullshitting with my old buddy Leon Chase. It was great seeing him after so many years.

The best and worst part of the trip had to be the initial leg of our bus tour where we were entertained/flabbergasted by our tour guide, Scotty. He didn't tell us anything that we didn't know already and he did so in an incredibly painful manner. He was a stutterer.

"You guys, you guys, you guys, over here, you guys, over here, this is the Empire, you guys, over here, this is the Empire State Building, right up here, you guys." And so it went from 47th and Broadway all the way to the Flatiron building when we stopped for a Jamba Juice and the safety of another tour guide. We hopped on and off the Greyline for the next couple of days (tickets were valid for 48 hours) and never had the displeasure of Scotty again, thank goodness.