Friday, August 29, 2008

I'M SORRY I JUST CAN'T LET THIS GO WITHOUT SAYING SOMETHING. What (if anything) was McCain thinking?!? All day long the news of course has been the naming of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as John McCain's VP pick. Can anybody explain to me how this isn't possibly the most boneheaded choice anyone has ever made?!? I can't think of another more wrong-headed choice in history. Some people are comparing it to Walter Mondale's pick of Geraldine Ferraro as the last boneheaded VP choice. I think they are absolutely wrong in that assessment; even though there IS a comparison to be made. Ferraro was I believe a very GOOD choice for Mondale simply because it was his only chance to get anyone to even notice him. If he had chosen just some guy, I doubt if he would've won even his home state (which is in fact the only state Mondale won WITH Ferraro). However, I think a comparison CAN be made in the fact that choosing Ferraro was a desperate attempt to bolster a badly doomed candidacy -- and that's what McCain's choice today makes HIS campaign look like: a candidacy that must be in much worse straits than we thought. Here in OfficeLand (Hi, Pax!) the talk I've been overhearing from Republicans and Democrats alike is that it's like a bad joke.
  1. First, is the McCain campaign in such serious trouble that they thought they needed to resort to such a blatantly transparent plea for attention. "Gee, Obama's a black guy so I guess I'd better pick. . .uh. . .a woman for my VP. Any woman. At least then maybe someone will notice me." That's how it looks to anyone with more than one brain cell. As far as I knew, McCain and Obama were pretty evenly matched in the polls. But this leads me to believe that the McCain campaign must have some SERIOUS reservations about their candidate's ability to win. The problem, of course, is not that he chose a woman for his VP. The problem is that, of all the eminently qualified and respected women in the country, he chose THIS particular unknown and unqualified PERSON.
  2. Choosing a woman for your running mate is a great idea. However, a woman who has at least SOME standing in the political world and SOME experience would've been nice. A choice of a woman with limited political experience but a top notch resume and high-standing would make sense. Gov. Sarah Palin doesn't have that and no one can seriously claim that she does. At the risk of offending any potential Alaskan readers, Alaska isn't exactly the center of political activity. Unless they suddenly give trees the right to vote. Palin's entire political resume consists of being mayor of some microscopic Alaskan town called Wasilla, unsuccessfully running for Lt. Governor in 2002 and serving as Governor of Alaska since 2006. In other words, she has been in REAL political office (I don't consider being mayor of your small hometown REAL political office) as Governor of Alaska about 2 months LESS than Obama has been running for president. Since the chance of Palin becoming President if McCain is elected are pretty good, McCain's choice for VP should have been someone with impeccable credentials and experience. In the words of Phil Rosen: "When you're 72 and you have had four bouts with cancer, you ought to choose a qualified VP." Frankly, if McCain becomes (the oldest elected) President , there's a good chance he might die in office. In the words of Joe Quint, McCain is older than Israel, Social Security and Phillips-head screws. Consequently, his judgment that thought Palin would make a good successor President is suspect . . . to put it MILDLY!
  3. A word about experience: Virtually McCain's entire campaign strategy of late is to try to convince everyone that Obama is not experienced enough to be president. This spurious opinion is not only inaccurate but now out of bounds. McCain can't very well harp on Obama's so-called inexperience while placing a woefully (and ACTUALLY) inexperienced woman as his Vice President; a woman who has a very good chance of becoming President when McCain possibly kicks the bucket during his term. By choosing Palin, McCain has essentially eliminated the only weak card he had to play. Do we really want someone whose strategical thinking is this bad to become our President?!?
  4. Governor Sarah Palin is known for two (and only two) things in her extremely brief career. As Governor she has striven to push through "ethics laws in politics" as government reform and she is in favour of the Alaskan gas pipeline and drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife refuge. Unfortunately, the so-called "ethical" champion is currently under investigation because one of her personal staff attempted to get her brother-in-law fired as state trooper because he's divorcing her sister. Palin's staffer "implied" he was acting on the Governor's behalf when calling the trooper's boss Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan and trying to get him to fire the trooper. The boss refused (obviously because there was no grounds for dismissal other than the trooper was divorcing the Governor's sister). Palin then fired Monegan allegedly because he wouldn't fire the trooper. The Governor insists she never authorized any member of her staff to do any such thing and that she's "truly disappointed and disturbed to learn that a member of this administration contacted the Department of Public Safety regarding Trooper Wooten." Naturally. The only conclusions possible are either that she knew full well what was going on or else she has no control of her own staff and no knowledge of what's going on in her own administration. Neither scenario bodes well for a possible Vice President or future President. As regards the oil drilling, Palin's husband works for an oil company so she obviously has big oil interests at heart and her record shows this. Meanwhile, her support for oil drilling in Alaska's Wildlife refuge is opposed by her very own running mate John McCain.
  5. If the choice of Palin is meant to somehow woo Hillary Clinton supporters still feeling the sting of Obama's nomination, then that thinking is way off base. Frankly any Clinton supporter who would vote for McCain is out of their minds. Besides the fact that Obama and Clinton agree on almost all political platform points, McCain disagrees with just about all of them. That would be like cutting off your proverbial nose to spite your face. In the words of reporter Jill Porter, herself a Clinton supporter: "no one who shares (Hillary) Clinton's values could vote for anyone but (Obama) in November." So while McCain will gain absolutely no Democratic votes by choosing Palin, he will most certainly lose Republican and conservative votes from this choice.

These are the facts I've been able to dig up on Governor Palin so far today. Naturally since practically nobody has ever heard of her before today, that's what a lot of us will be doing. Being an unknown, Palin will most-assuredly have a lot to prove next week in St. Paul. More than most, in fact. She has apparently expressed in the best a yen for national office. However, is hitching her star to a very weak Republican presidential candidate -- (exactly how many times has McCain attempted to run for president and been summarily dismissed by his own party?!?! I forget) -- who has now I think made his position even weaker the way for her to go? For their sakes, they'd better hope they grow magic wands in Alaska because they'll need it. As I've said several times, the fact that Palin is a woman has no bearing on her qualifications for office; the fact that she has no real qualifications for office makes the fact that a woman was chosen merely a stunt. Don't we deserve better???

UPDATE!!! Um. . .yeah. So they were interviewing her on TV when I got home from work tonight. They asked her what she thought about Iraq. Her answer was -- and I shit you not - - "I don't know. I never thought about it."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me "What are your favourite films" I'd have $18.65. Seriously, an inordinate amount of people ask me that question and I've never had a real answer for them. It's practically impossible for a ravening "movie buff" to narrow so many diverse kinds of films down to a favourite or two. However, in an effort to stem the constant barrage of people asking me just that question who have literally gone without sleep or decent meals because I wouldn't answer them -- here goes. I've decided to actually stop stalling and list my ten favourite films. I do this with the full knowledge that a week from now (hell, even an HOUR from now) this list will of necessity change. Favourites depends on your state of mind at the time you make such a list. So, these are the ten films I would say are my top ten favourites AT THE MOMENT. And yes, they ARE in order of preference with number one being number one! So here goes nothing....
  1. L'ECLISSE (1962) directed by Michelangelo Antonioni and starring Monica Vitti, Alain Delon and Francisco Rabal.
  2. NATTVARDSGASTERNA (1962) aka WINTER LIGHT directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ingrid Thulin and Max Von Sydow.
  3. CASABLANCA (1942) directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.
  4. IT'S A GIFT (1934) directed by Norman Z. McLeod and starring W. C. Fields and Kathleen Howard.
  5. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre.
  6. HOLIDAY (1938) directed by George Cukor and starring Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Edward Everett Horton and Lew Ayres.
  7. LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (1962) directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Jason Robards Jr. and Dean Stockwell.
  8. A CANTERBURY TALE (1944) directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and starring Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price and Sgt. John Sweet.
  9. REAR WINDOW (1954) directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey and Raymond Burr.
  10. TROUBLE IN PARADISE (1932) directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Herbert Marshall, Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis.

These are the ten films at the moment I would call my favourites. Ask me again next week and you might get a different list. However, these are 10 films which I can honestly say I can watch over and over again (sometimes immediately after watching them) and, if they happen to be on I without fail always watch them. I also don't need much of an excuse to pop one in the DVD player. So there you have it. That wasn't as hard as I thought. Here's hoping I've assuaged your burning curiosity. I expect to hear from everyone lamenting the absence of GHOST RIDER on this list.

Now, having been through all that mess I'm gonna do one of those "TAG" things that are so popular on the intermanet. In the same spirit of loose criteria that I used while choosing my top ten, I'm tagging the following people to list on their own blogs their top ten favourite films:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

AN INVITATION TO BE BATHED IN THE LIGHT FROM ANDROMEDA. That's right. My sister blog is finally up and running! CLICK HERE or else go to the link list on the right and click on BATHED IN THE LIGHT FROM ANDROMEDA. For the moment at least, this is going to be my "all audio" blog. A place you can visit maybe once a week (or maybe MORE) to hear something odd, something rare or even something not so rare. While the audio you will be hearing (drawn down on a cosmic ray from the galaxy of Andromeda) will be mostly in the genre of horror, science fiction and fantasy that does not mean you won't be hearing other stuff as well. But I hope you will find it all interesting and insane . . . as well as a treat for the eardrums. The audio, as I say, will probably be changed about once a week so drop by often. The ghouls and BEMs are waiting. . .and the cosmic light of Andromeda is upon you. . .

Friday, August 22, 2008

THE DIVORCEE (1930) is one of those pre-code Hollywood movies which are trumpeted in the recent TCM box sets called FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD; those films made in the few years between the coming of sound films and the strict clampdown of the production code movie censors. Being such a film means that it features a lot of naughty stuff the bluenoses thought would bring the country to wrack and ruin! Besides that, THE DIVORCEE is also the film in which "Queen of the Lot" Norma Shearer won an Oscar for Best Actress. The film itself therefore is of great historical interest; however it is also quite watchable as long as one has a generous spirit. By that I mean, being from 1930s THE DIVORCEE occasionally sports the very outdated acting styles which can make modern audiences giggle with embarrassment. Also the style of screenwriting (full of rapidly-delivered portentous speeches which build to a crescendo) so prevalent in the 1930's does now and then appear. A generous spirit while watching will however be rewarding since the film alternates such "dated" scenes with many scenes which are quite effective and emotional.
THE DIVORCEE takes as it's taboo subject marital infidelity. Jerry and Ted (Norma Shearer and Chester Morris respectively) reach their third wedding anniversary in blissful happiness. . .until it is revealed that Ted has had an affair in the recent past. The "other woman", you see, has tagged along with a group of wellwishing friends to the couple's apartment and Ted's reaction gives his little secret away. "It doesn't mean anything" is Ted's constant mantra to Jerry; but Jerry is understandable crushed. Ted unfortunately has to go out of town on a business trip on the very night of their anniversary; leaving Jerry to stew while accompanied out on the town by Ted's not-so-best friend Don (Robert Montgomery). And yes, since infidelity "doesn't mean anything" according to Ted, the still hurting Jerry has sex with Don. After a week, Ted returns and Jerry informs him she herself has also had an affair. In a beautiful piece of screenwriting, Jerry tells him that she has "balanced their accounts". Ted, by his angry and hurt reaction, proves that it DOES matter after all. Angered, bewildered and hurt some more, Jerry rails against this obvious double standard "his affair means nothing while hers is a betrayal) and Jerry lets him have it. She decides that she's been missing out on what all these "loose" women knew all along. She's going to have some fun! In another great line, she tells Ted that her doors are open to all men. . .EXCEPT him! The marriage quickly breaks up and the pair get divorced. Jerry decides that her newfound freedom gives her the license to go after all the men she wants. But of course, the pair are still in love with each other despite their newfound hatred towards one another. Will they eventually get back together or has Jerry embarked on a path of no return. Most Hollywood films . . . you'd already know the answer. But this is a PRE-CODE Hollywood film and nothing can be taken for granted as the outcome is by no means sure.
I found myself enjoying this film much more than I thought I would. (I admit to buying the FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD VOL. 2 box set for another movie on it). I was frankly expecting some rather heavy going. I expected it to be a typical Hollywood weepy that was incredibly stilted and creaky. I expected something stagey with old-fashioned overly-theatrical acting featuring people grouped around a big bowl of flowers with the microphone concealed inside of it. I was quite surprised, therefore, to find some camera mobility as well as the willingness to NOT have the film consist of wall-to-wall dialogue (as is the case in most early talkies). In fact, the scene where Jerry contemplates and then has her affair with Tom is played in a series of shots with NO DIALOGUE WHATSOEVER; a very ballsy move for a film of that time period when Hollywood thought they had to have sound sound SOUND in order to distance themselves from the now oh-so-passe silent movie days. We see a grim Jerry and a frivolous Don out on the town in a nightclub (jazz age big band blaring), a seen of the two in the backseat of a taxi and finally cut to outside an apartment window as the curtains close. We need no dialogue to tell us exactly what's going on here. The next scene opens back in Jerry's apartment as the still-clad-in-evening-dress Jerry enters, looks down and softly kicks the MORNING paper lying in the entranceway. The morning paper! If we didn't know what she's done before now, we certainly can't feign ignorance any longer! A nice job by director Robert Z. Leonard; a director I'm only familiar with from his film noir THE BRIBE.
The cast is also top notch. While they do occasionally fall prey to that old-fashioned style of acting I talked about before, they mostly acquit themselves rather well. Screen siren Norma Shearer (Mrs. Irving Thalberg herself) justified her star status (ESPECIALLY after winning the Oscar) here departed from her usual "good girl" image by being the first to really make it OK to be an on-screen non-virgin who ISN'T married! I'm not familiar with the other actresses nominated that year but Shearer probably deserved it. In more scenes than not, Shearer is quite good. Her hurt coupled with interior seething anger really comes across in the scene where Ted reveals his "double standard" thinking about their affairs. She is also remarkable in the kitchen scene right before she tells the just-returned Ted about her affair; Shearer constantly avoids kissing him by placing objects (a tray, a vase, a coffee pot) between them as she restlessly richochets around the kitchen. This is, I think, the first time I've ever actually SEEN Norma Shearer in a movie and I think she deserves her "movie star" status. She is definitely incandescent on screen and her beauty is indeed extremely fragile; she had to be photographed exactly in the right way in order for the camera to "love" her. Shearer can literally look ravishing one moment and plain or odd the next. But she certainly had that indefinable "star quality". As for Chester Morris, he is slightly less successful but still very good. One of the few he-men who made a go of it in the talkies (his voice matched his appearance), Morris doesn't quite match up to Shearer in their confrontation scene but elsewhere in the film he is effective as the macho knucklehead who destroys his own happy marriage.

Shearer and Morris actually have a lot of onscreen sexual chemistry together and one can, with not too much imagination, picture them both setting their bedroom on fire. Poor Conrad Nagel, who features in a parallel storyline which I won't go into here, went from major leading man in the silent days to second banana here (or actually THIRD banana). However, his scenes and storyline are also very nicely done and he can certainly deliver a stage punch better than Morris. Here, oddly enough, we see Nagel actually presenting Shearer's Best Actress Oscar to his co-star.

As the slightly slimy and craven good time boy Don, Robert Montgomery is also excellent. Montgomery plays the part exactly how it should be played; affable with his friend Ted, opportunistically bedding Ted's wife at the first opportunity, pleading on the phone with Jerry NOT to tell Ted about it and, when she says she's going to, quickly hops the first boat out of town. All champagne and self-interest, Montgomery is perfect.

One caveat concerning the FORBIDDEN HOLLYWOOD dvd, however. It is disconcerting that the commentary track, while interesting and lively, lags behind the onscreen action. In other words, it isn't synced properly with the film so the commentators often are discussing scenes that have already passed by. Also, after "The End" appears on the screen it goes to black. However, there is exit music playing under this black screen. Unfortunately, the DVD manufacturer cuts off the film before the music has ended. A very minor complaint, to be sure, but a little too sloppy for the price of a dvd box set. Hopefully more care is taken with the rest of the film in the set.

So, would I recommend THE DIVORCEE??? Actually, yes I would. As long as you watch with a forgiving nature and let the occasional antiqueness of the film roll off your back, you should find THE DIVORCEE and pleasingly frank and actually quite sexy example of movies before the production code made even married couple sleep in separate beds with one foot always on the floor.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

After watching Barbara Stanwyck in the new Criterion DVD of THE FURIES, someone needs to explain to me why exactly there isn't a Barbara Stanwyck action figure?!?!?!? I mean, come on. That would be great. It would come with detachable ankle bracelet, dark shades and blonde wig (for when she was using her secret identity of Phyllis Dietrichson). Other accessories include Mr. Bullard's power of attorney and small pieces of bread (to break with your Mexican childhood beau Juan). And instead of kung fu grip, the Barbara Stanwyck action figure would feature a string which, when pulled, causes her to emote an emotionally charged, partly-hysterical speech. Also included would be a feature (also to be found in the Richard Widmark action figure) for knocking her mean old aunt down a flight of stairs. Milksop/mealy-mouthed ineffectual husband doll (Kirk Douglas action figure) not included. The Barbara Stanwyck action figure is guaranteed to kick hell outta any Bratz of your choice.
"GOD'S SILENCE" is the impetus behind Ingmar Bergman's masterful 1962 film Nattvardsgästerna (WINTER LIGHT) which I saw for the first time last night. I must say it's haunting me today. It is also undeniably a masterpiece. The film itself was graciously sent to me from England by Weaverman whose truly valuable discussion of the film I urge you to read by clicking here. Like Weaverman, I found myself also strongly identifying with the lead character pastor Tomas (I agree that it's a brilliant portrayal by Gunnar Björnstrand). Pastor Tomas not only has a raging case of the flu but also a major crisis of faith. His beloved wife died several years before and it really took the heart out of him. Since then, he has been carrying on a two year affair with schoolmarm Marta (the also excellent Ingrid Thulin -- Marianne in Bergman's WILD STRAWBERRIES) who rather desperately loves him. The film opens on Tomas giving the Sunday service to a mostly empty church. Tomas' flu coupled with Marta's runny nose, the winter coat-and-scarf bundled parishoners and the bleak, snowy Swedish landscape (beautifully photographed by Sven Nykvist) all contribute mightily to the feel of the film. The heavy woolen-looking coats show a group of people bundled against the cold and possibly against the "cold, cruel world" which each may feel. The are looking to the church for comfort and solace. While Tomas' sermons may give some of his listeners something like solace, they are ringing empty and trite in his own ears.
Tomas reveals that he is most disturbed by "god's silence". God is mentioned in another scene by Tomas as being "remote". We human beings reach out but never seem to connect to the loving God we are told about. Some stoically continue to live their lives while others, like Marta (who was raised "non-Christian") declares boldly to Tomas that God does not exist. Tomas, however, is still wrestling with that. At different points of the film Tomas seems to accept that there is no God; in one cathartic yet devastating moment he declares himself "free at last". And yet at other moments we're not so sure (and neither is Tomas) whether he really believes that or not. That's probably the greatest strength of the film in that Bergman never concretely declares Tomas one way or the other. This is the major reason why the ending of the film can be read in two different and contradictory ways; it all depends, I think, upon the viewer. Either Tomas has given up faith in God completely OR he has still held onto his faith. I like, however, the position Weaverman takes in that Tomas just isn't that sure either way so he "keeps all channels open" so to speak.
In that way, I think Tomas is like a lot of us. The truth is we'll never "know" for sure in this life one way or the other. The truth is nobody knows; except those who have left this life . . . and they aren't telling. In this way, I think the film makes it's most powerful connection. There are no sugar-coated, pat statements to make us all feel better. These are questions we've wrestled with throughout time and we're no closer to an answer now. And how could we be? Anyone (or any institution) that declares emphatically that they know the answer is simply engaging in wishful thinking. Nobody can know. There are no facts involved. If something is "known" than it's not faith; it requires no "belief" since the knowledge is plain to be seen. Belief requires that one make the proverbial "leap of faith" between what you can prove factually and what you "believe".
There is a lot of despair in this film but of an obviously deeper nature than "I don't have a date on prom night" variety. Tomas' despair(s) pile on top of him; the loss of his wife, the loss of his faith (presumably he had faith once), the feeling he must have that his life's work has been a waste and a lie. Marta almost frantically loves Tomas but feels it's not reciprocated. This probably results in the strange afflictions Marta suffers: odd stigmata-like rashes on her hands. Marta's overly-fawning devotion to Tomas causes the pastor annoyance rather than love. A parishioner named Mr. Persson (the always superb Max Von Sydow) finds himself beaten down by the bleak horrendousness of the modern world and is filled with suicidal thoughts. When the man comes to Tomas for spiritual comfort, the pastor first delivers the expected trite platitudes before admitting that Persson's probably correct to feel that way. What sane person (Persson) wouldn't feel just that way? The manner in which all the various characters in the film deal with this depair echoes how all of us have to do the same day in and day out. One can either move past it (Marta), let it defeat them (Persson) or take some middle course (as Tomas may resign himself to by the end of the film).
The very definition of a masterpiece would seem to fit Bergman's film. It faces truthfully and squarely the existential tortures each of us must face in our lives. It shows us several different roads toward wrestling with these very intimate crises but takes no stance on which road is the better taken. Bergman forces us to confront them, to think about them, to turn them over in our minds. As in real life, there are no easy answers. But as someone once said: the unexamined life life is not worth living. Unfortunately, for examining life they made him drink hemlock. Fortunately, Bergman was able to examine life in a film. In a career of such films. Are we going to ignore these themes or face them? The tendency nowadays is to ignore them. Bergman (himself the son of a Lutheran minister) urges us to think about them. It's for these reasons that WINTER LIGHT is such an intensely emotional, thought-provoking, sometimes frightening and intimate masterwork; as well as being a quietly powerful experience. The director himself seems to have felt the same way about the film. As quoted in John Simon's book "Ingmar Bergman Directs", here is what the maestro himself had to say about it:
"I think I have made just one picture that I really like, and that is WINTER LIGHT. That is my only picture about which I feel that I have started here and ended there and that everything along the way has obeyed me. Everything is exactly as I wanted to have it, in every second of this picture."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

OH DEAR, I'VE BEEN TAGGED! Yessir, Skiffy Films (that ole Paleocinema guy) has tagged me with this Science Fiction Meme: "where the assignment is to mark the instances where I have read the book related to a famous sf movie. In some cases it’s the novel/story the movie was based on, in others it’s a novel adapted from the movie. Here are the rules:
  • Copy the list below.
  • Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book.
  • Italicize the movie titles for which you started the book but didn’t finish it.
  • Tag 5 people to perpetuate the meme.

For some reason, blogger won't allow me to bold and unbold (it always could before) so I'll just have to make the things that SHOULD be bold LARGER.

  1. Jurassic Park
  2. War of the Worlds
  3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
  4. I Robot
  5. Contact
  6. Congo
  7. Cocoon
  8. The Stepford Wives
  9. The Time Machine
  10. Starship Troopers
  11. The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy
  12. K-Pax
  13. 2010
  14. The Running Man
  15. Sphere
  16. The Mothman Prophecies
  17. Dreamcatcher
  18. Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
  19. Dune
  20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
  21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  22. The Iron Giant (The Iron Man)
  23. Battlefield Earth
  24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
  25. Fire in the Sky
  26. Altered States
  27. Timeline
  28. The Postman
  29. Freejack (Immortality Inc.)
  30. Solaris
  31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
  32. The Thing (Who Goes There?)
  33. The Thirteenth Floor
  34. Lifeforce (Space Vampires)
  35. Deadly Friend
  36. The Puppet Masters
  37. 1984
  38. A Scanner Darkly
  39. Creator
  40. Monkey Shines
  41. Solo (Weapon)
  42. The Handmaid's Tale
  43. Communion
  44. Carnosaur
  45. From Beyond
  46. Nightflyers
  47. Watchers
  48. Body Snatchers
I guess you can tell I'm not much of a science fiction reader. Horror's more my thing. Although there are some additions I would make to the list. As for tagging 5 others. . .Paleocinema/Skiffy Films and Fleapit of the Mind were already tagged so that leaves me with 3. So consider yourselves tagged:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

GREETINGS (1968) IS THE KIND OF MOVIE I USUALLY HATE. It's one of those late 60's antiestablishment movies (nothing wrong with that) that usually are so smug and concentrate on more "Look at me! Aren't I quirky" tableaux than concerning itself with actually "moviemaking". It is also by a director whom I dislike with a star I dislike as well. No one could ever accuse me of being a Brian DePalma fan. And Robert DeNiro is without doubt the single most overrated actor on the planet. However, having said ALL this. . .I kinda like the movie. Firstly, while there is a large "quirky 60's" quotient, the film actually does demonstrate a spark of talent. OK, more than a spark. While there are some smug and rather annoying segments (particularly at the beginning when our three main characters run around the city in fast motion as if they were in A HARD DAY'S NIGHT), there are an equal number of interesting and funny segments. DePalma and DeNiro are both obviously at the very beginning of their careers; before DePalma lapsed into shamelessly apeing Alfred Hitchcock (although even here, DePalma STILL manages to insert a shot of a woman reading the "Hitchcock/Truffaut" book). And while DeNiro, as usual, doesn't act but merely plays himself, that actually kinda works here. Shockingly this film, made by DePalma in 2 weeks for a mere $43,000 was so popular with antiestablishment hippies, Vietnam protesters and college students that it took in a cool million on it's theatrical release. And any independent production like GREETINGS deserves some support for just getting itself made and seen in the first place. So, GREETINGS is a diverting and funny little movie.
What's it all about? We know EXACTLY what it's about when the opening scene features a TV set featuring a news broadcast concerning the Vietnam War and featuring Lyndon Johnson looking silly. Three friends Paul Shaw (Jonathan Warden), Lloyd Clay (Gerrit Graham -- "Beef" in DePalma's later PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE) and Jon Rubin (Robert DeNiro) have all been summoned to the army induction office and are trying to find ways not to go to Vietnam. Lloyd went last week and now Paul is facing his imminent appointment with the induction officers. Strategies to make themselves 4F include pretending to be homosexual (DePalma's long-running treatment of gays as some "alien life form" began this early), pretending to be a Nazi (which I suppose DePalma equates with being homosexual somehow) or running around the city staying awake for days so they will "look their best" (echoing Arlo Guthrie's ALICE'S RESTAURANT). Of course, rather than fake mental irregularities, the three men ARE actually kinda strange and should probably not be inducted ANYWAY! Paul is obsessed with sex and, while waiting for his induction appointment, embarks on a series of computer dates where he can exercise his sexual hunger with as many random women as possible. Lloyd is fanatically obsessed with the JFK assassination and conspiracy theory; he has studied every detail and blows up frame after frame of the Zapruder film (linking him directly with Antonioni's BLOW UP -- which is even referenced in the script). In fact, Lloyd is so obsessed that while he's in bed with a naked woman he would rather dress her up in a shirt onto which he plots JFK's bullet wounds than have sex with her! Lloyd is stymied by the fact that blowing up photographs only makes it impossible to see anything; the photo becomes too blurry and grainy. DePalma seems to run with this aspect by featuring many scenes in which our main characters are performing in the foreground while other activity (apparently just as important) is going on farther back in the frame. Lastly, we have DeNiro's character Jon who is a voyeur that likes to film women (thankfully WITH their full knowledge and cooperation) through a window acting out their "private moments". DeNiro is so obsessed that, when he finally does get drafted and sent to Vietnam, he still does the same thing. A TV reporter in the jungle with DeNiro's character films him while he sneaks up with a rifle on a supposedly Viet Cong women and has her act out the same "private moments" for the TV camera.
This is an interesting thing about DePalma's films. He (co-writing the screenplay with Charles Hirsch) has his characters mostly end up where they don't want to be. The sex-obsessed Paul is the only one who probably finishes where he belongs: as the star of a porno movie called "The Delivery Boy and the Bored Housewife". We find this out in a backhanded (and quite deft) manner. In a truly funny scene, a rather sleazy man strikes up a conversation with DeNiro's character on the street and eventually leads up to selling him a dirty movie for $5. This movie, of course, stars his friend Paul. DeNiro's character Jon, as mentioned, fails to stop himself from going to Vietnam but still manages to act out his "peeping tom" obsessions (Michael Powell, anyone) in the jungle for a TV camera. And Lloyd's character meets an extremely cracked character who claims to have been in Dealey Plaza as a witness to the Kennedy assassination. This paranoid guy insists that he (and Lloyd) and are being watched by the government. When he suggests a later meeting, Lloyd shows up and is himself assassinated by an unseen shooter (!) on his way to the Statue of Liberty.
DePalma's direction is predictably slapdash but that can be forgiven due to the "seat-of-your-pants" independent production it was. DePalma also utilizes such old-fashioned movie tricks as title cards (which 9 times out of 10 don't work but here I don't mind them) and fast motion a la silent movies (which is usually irritating in 60's films and kinda is here too). I don't know how much of the film was scripted and how much was improvised by the cast but the actors really do bolster the film tremendously. If they weren't so watchable, we wouldn't be watching; I can assure you. GREETINGS was even more shockingly followed by a sequel called HI MOM (which I've never seen). However, it apparently didn't do as well as GREETINGS so DePalma fell into his more commercial (and less satisfying) Hitchcock pastiche which he has sadly never left; abandoning the rather fresh approach to filmmaking on display in GREETINGS. The DVD of the film can be got quite cheaply online so, if you're so inclined and want to see where Brian DePalma's career COULD'VE gone, you might want to pick up a copy.

Friday, August 15, 2008

IN THE PIPELINE. It's funny how you turn around and find yourself swamped. Despite the fact that I will shortly be unemployed, I seem to have an ENORMOUS list of movies I recently got or am expecting to get very soon. These were either purchased, given to me or appearing on telly. And this is a list of only the stuff I haven't seen yet; that doesn't take into consideration those movies I've seen before but will suddenly feel compelled to watch again. (MARNIE and TARGETS would be on that list as well as who knows what all). But here's what's on deck. . .in the pipeline . . . just wanted to see them all written down in one place. . .you know, to see what I'm up against. . .
  • ATTACK (1956)
  • AVALON (1990)
  • THE BIG SLEEP (1978)
  • CASINO ROYALE (2006)
  • CUTTER'S WAY (1981)
  • THE DIVORCEE (1930)
  • LA DOLCE VITA (1960)
  • DRAGONWYCK (1946)
  • EAST OF EDEN (1955)
  • FEMALE (1933)
  • FORCE OF EVIL (1948)
  • A FREE SOUL (1931)
  • THE FURIES (1950)
  • GREETINGS (1968)
  • KORKARLEN (1921)
  • NIGHT NURSE (1931)
  • SOYLENT GREEN (1973)
  • STONE (1974)
  • STROMBOLI (1950)
  • TASTE OF FEAR (1961)
  • THREE ON A MATCH (1932)
  • VIRIDIANA (1961)
  • I VITELLONI (1953)
  • YOJIMBO (1961)

Wow. So that's what it looks like all written down. Hmm. Better pop some popcorn. . .

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reasons why I love her:
  • LIONHEART (1968)
  • I'M ALL RIGHT, JACK (1959)
  • THE ITALIAN JOB (1969)
  • SMASHING TIME (1967)
  • THE TERROR (1938)
OK, so it's been a very long time since Part 14. In fact, if you're too new to this blog and don't remember my celebration of character actors, you would probably do well to go over there on the right hand side and find February 2007 because in there you'll find the first 14 character actors I just lovey dove dove.
But here we have the spectacular Irene Handl. My personal experience with Irene Handl is fairly limited since I haven't seen the vast majority of her movies. However, once you see Irene Handl ONCE, she rockets out of the screen at you and you'll never forget her. Hell, I even lapse into Irene Handl impressions at the drop of a hat. Because that's one hell of a voice she had. The epitome of "cockney landladies", Irene Handl could literally prove that old (usually untrue) cliche about being able to read the telephone book and make it funny. Irene caught the acting bug and enrolled in her sister Dame Sybil Thorndyke's acting school; after which she made her London stage debut in February 1937.
I'm not sure when I first became aware of her. Handl often appeared uncredited in movies; she was an uncredited "customer" in Benny Hill's 1956 comedy WHO DONE IT?, and uncredited "cellist/organist" in the classic BRIEF ENCOUNTER and even an uncredited "maid" in the very early (and very boring) 1938 Edgar Wallace programmer THE TERROR. Hell, she was even in the punk rock Sex Pistols movie THE GREAT ROCK 'N' ROLL SWINDLE! But however small her role she ALWAYS garnered the viewer's attention. Handl also appeared in such varied films as Hitchcock's STAGE FRIGHT (1950), the rather unfunny comedy THE WRONG BOX (1966), CARRY ON NURSE (1959), SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS (1960), the caper film MAKE MINE MINK (1960), THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1970) and the from-all-accounts abyssmal Peter Cook & Dudley Moore version of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1978). She was definitely in the right movie when she appeared in the "swinging London ultra-mod" comedy SMASHING TIME with a young and dotty Lynn Redgrave and Rita Tushingham. And I adore her as communist union leader Peter Sellers' bedraggled wife in the classic British comedy I'M ALL RIGHT, JACK. Then there's her sidesplitting brief turn in the classic Michael Caine caper movie THE ITALIAN JOB as the unflappable Miss Peach.
However, there is one appearance which I think I fell in love with her. And I don't own the movie. Or even have the slightest chance of getting it since it appears to be unavailable ANYWHERE!!! In fact, I'm not even sure it's the right movie I'm thinking of since I saw it back in the dim mists of my childhood. However, I'm pretty sure the movie was LIONHEART (1968) in which a lion (named Simba, of course) escapes from the zoo and is befriended by a couple kids. It's a kids movie, obviously. No tearing apart civilians here. The lion turns out to be a real pussycat. There is nothing funnier than seeing Irene Handl, using THAT VOICE of hers, to gently scold a huge lion as if it were a dachshund!!! I saw this film so long ago it was before VCRs -- but somewhere I have an audio tape of some of the movie. All Irene Handl's scenes, of course. Naturally, I'd kill to find this movie but I've yet to have any luck. Irene Handl literally lit up the screen any time she was on it and caused a genuine smile of recognition in the viewer. Especially every time she opened her mouth.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

ALFRED HITCHCOCK (1899 - 1980)