Wednesday, March 31, 2010

THE PENGUIN AWARDS THAT NEVER WERE: 1983! Yet another in our series of nominations for Penguin Awards that were never given. These from the year when I got my first job at Rustler Steak House.
****
SONG OF THE YEAR:
Drop the Pilot - Joan Armatrading
Cruel Summer - Bananarama
Modern Love - David Bowie
Photograph - Def Leppard
The Farmyard Connection - Fun Boy Three
White Lines (Don't Do It) - Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel
White Wedding - Billy Idol
I'm Still Standing - Elton John
Send Her My Love - Journey
Din Daa Daa - George Krantz
Pink Houses - John Mellencamp
I Love L.A. - Randy Newman
Stand Back - Stevie Nicks
Synchronicity II - The Police
Love My Way - The Psychedelic Furs
Message To My Girl - Split Enz
****
ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
LET'S DANCE - David Bowie
ESCAPADE - Tim Finn
WAITING - Fun Boy Three
TOO LOW FOR ZERO - Elton John
CONFLICTING EMOTIONS - Split Enz
****
COVER SONG OF THE YEAR:
Our Lips Are Sealed - Fun Boy Three
Young at Heart - Wild Man Fischer
****
DUET OF THE YEAR:
Lisanga Ya Ba Nganga - Franco & Rochereau
White Lines (Don't Do It) - Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel
THE PENGUIN AWARDS THAT NEVER WERE: 1984! Big Brother is watching . . . and reading the Rustler newsletter. Remember this penguin symbol appeared at the end of every newsletter? Is there anyone still alive who remembers? Anyway, now we have the nominees for 1984:
****

SONG OF THE YEAR:

Prime Time - The Alan Parsons Project

The Boys of Summer - Don Henley

Rebel Yell - Billy Idol

Eyes Without A Face - Billy Idol

In Neon - Elton John

Space - Julian Lennon

Yesterday's Men - Madness

When October Goes - Barry Manilow

Love Resurrection - Alison Moyet

Jam On It - Newcleus

Purple Rain - Prince & the Revolution

I Want To Break Free - Queen

The Rodeo Song - Showdown

Jungle Love - The Time

The Bird - The Time

The Unforgettable Fire - U2

MLK - U2

Closing Titles from The Bounty - Vangelis

Panama - Van Halen

Everything She Wants - Wham!

****
ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
AMMONIA AVENUE - The Alan Parsons Project
TONIGHT - David Bowie
REBEL YELL - Billy Idol
BREAKING HEARTS - Elton John
2:00 AM PARADISE CAFE - Barry Manilow
PURPLE RAIN - Prince & the Revolution
THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE - U2
****

COVER SONG OF THE YEAR:
God Only Knows - David Bowie
Sea of Love - The Honeydrippers
Young Boy Blues - The Honeydrippers
****
DUET OF THE YEAR:
Tonight - David Bowie & Tina Turner
The Only Flame In Town - Elvis Costello & Daryl Hall
Blue - Barry Manilow & Sarah Vaughan
Seven Spanish Angels - Willie Nelson & Ray Charles

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Woody Allen On Ingmar Bergman 1/2

Woody Allen On Ingmar Bergman 2/2

THE PENGUIN AWARDS THAT NEVER WERE: 1985! H'ienyiew H'ienyiew H'ienyiew!!! Step right up to the greeter box for the next installment of the nominees. If I plaque your order, will you vote? Or will you just date on the salad bar?
****
SONG OF THE YEAR:
This Is Not America - David Bowie
Living In America - James Brown
Go Insane - Lindsey Buckingham
Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) - Kate Bush
The Big Sky - Kate Bush
Cloudbusting - Kate Bush
Would I Lie To You? - Eurythmics
Two Tribes (Carnage Mix) - Frankie Goes To Hollywood
A Criminal Mind - Gowan
Never - Heart
Highwayman - Highwayman
Nikita - Elton John
The Man Who Never Died - Elton John
Goodbye - Night Ranger
West End Girls - Pet Shop Boys
Is It A Crime? - Sade
Don't You (Forget About Me) - Simple Minds
Head Over Heels - Tears For Fears
What's Love Got To Do With It? - Tina Turner
Bad (Live) - U2
****
ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
HOUNDS OF LOVE - Kate Bush
STRANGE ANIMAL - Gowan
ICE ON FIRE - Elton John
SOUTHERN ACCENTS - Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
SONGS FROM THE BIG CHAIR - Tears For Fears
****
COVER SONG OF THE YEAR:
Brazil - Kate Bush
War - Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Born To Run - Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Desperados Waiting For A Train - Highwayman
Dancing In the Street - Mick Jagger & David Bowie
Family Affair - Iggy Pop
****
DUET OF THE YEAR:
Easy Lover - Phil Collins & Philip Bailey
Dancing In the Street - Mick Jagger & David Bowie
Wrap Her Up (Extended Mix) - Elton John & George Michael

Monday, March 29, 2010

THE PENGUIN AWARDS THAT NEVER WERE: 1986! Part 4 of our nominations. Give us a vote.

****

SONG OF THE YEAR:

Experiment IV - Kate Bush

Word Up - Cameo

I Want Tomorrow - Enya

Johnny Come Home - Fine Young Cannibals

Spiritual Hunger - Tim Finn

Sledgehammer - Peter Gabriel

Mercy Street - Peter Gabriel

The Way It Is - Bruce Hornsby & the Range

This Is The Time - Billy Joel

Why Can't This Night Go On Forever - Journey

Change of Heart - Cyndi Lauper

Live To Tell - Madonna

Your Wildest Dreams - The Moody Blues

Don't Get Me Wrong - The Pretenders

Who Wants To Live Forever - Queen

You Can Call Me Al - Paul Simon

****

ALBUM OF THE YEAR:

FINE YOUNG CANNIBALS - Fine Young Cannibals

SO - Peter Gabriel

CONTROL - Janet Jackson

THE BRIDGE - Billy Joel

RAISED ON RADIO - Journey

****

COVER SONG OF THE YEAR:

September Girls - The Bangles

Suspicious Minds - Fine Young Cannibals

Jumpin' Jack Flash - Aretha Franklin

****

DUET OF THE YEAR:

I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) - Aretha Franklin & George Michael

This Is the Picture (Excellent Birds) - Peter Gabriel & Laurie Anderson

Don't Give Up - Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush

Baby Grand - Billy Joel & Ray Charles

Code of Silence - Billy Joel & Cyndi Lauper

Slow Rivers - Elton John & Cliff Richard

THE FALL is the 2006 film directed by Tarsem Singh which no doubt ensured his getting the gig of next year's Greek god-fest DAWN OF WAR or WAR OF THE GODS (the much better title) or whatever they're going to call it. He was also responsible for 2000's abortion called THE CELL but the less said about that the better. Here in THE FALL the director completely redeems himself for that Jenny-From-The -Blockhead production. THE FALL is a glorious feast for the eyes which also has a serious emotional underpinning. It's not all froth and cake frosting but instead a deeply felt storytelling extravaganza. It is like nothing you've seen before but at the same time reminiscent of everything from The Arabian Knights, Jet Li's HERO and THE WIZARD OF OZ; the latter film in the way that all the fantastic lyrical events are parallelled by characters in the real life of the main actors. The film has the feeling of an epic while simultaneously its a very small film about personal relationships and emotions.
The quite beautiful credit sequence is filmed in breathtaking black and white and shows the filming of a silent movie (the proceedings take place in the 1920s) in which a stuntman named Roy Walker (Lee Pace) is paralyzed during a leap from an elevated train trestle. The rich beauty of the black and white photography leave one wondering why on earth anyone would make a film in colour. That is, until the film starts and we see the dazzling colour photography which bursts from the screen. Seriously, you can almost taste this movie and it's vivid candy colours used in the fantasy sequences. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Roy is bedridden in a California hospital where he meets a mischievous Romanian child named Alexandria (Catinca Untaru) who likes to throw oranges at the local priest. Roy tells the girl (in hospital for a broken arm) that her name derives from Alexander the Great and proceeds to spin a tale of that great Macedonian warrior. This is when the colour bursts forth; the deepest blue sky like a cloth canopy over the deep orange sand dunes, the gleaming gold of Alexander's armour, etc. Little Alexandra is intrigued by ultimately unsatisfied with this story so Roy tells her to come back and visit him tomorrow so he can tell her a true epic adventure based in India. This she does and the tale he spins takes up the rest of the movie. A small group of heroes are stranded on a desert island (Butterfly Reef) by the evil Governor Odious: ex-slave Otta Benga (Marcus Wesley), the Indian (Jeetu Verma), explosives expert Luigi (Robin Smith), naturalist Charles Darwin (Leo Bill) and his monkey Wallace and the Masked Black Bandit (Lee Pace). Their backstories are presented efficiently and we learn they have all sworn to kill the evil Odious. They escape from the island thanks to a kindly swimming elephant and next encounter the Mystic (Julian Bleach) who emerges out of a tree. The group vow to rescue the Masked Bandit's brother the Blue Bandit who is being held by Governor Odious. Sadly, the evil villain has murdered the Blue Bandit and the group renew their blood oath to kill Governor Odious. Along the way, they encounter a princess (Justine Waddell) whom falls in love with the Masked Bandit until we (and he) discover she is in fact the fiance of Governor Odious. All along we are treated to breathtaking scene after breathtaking scene of visual splendour which totally immerses us into the fairytale adventure.
Constantly throughout the adventure, we cut back to the real world in which Roy is relating the story to a captivated Alexandria. However, Roy soon cajoles the little girl to steal some morphine for him out of the hospital dispensary and we realize that the crippled stuntman is spinning his tale in order to get the girl to steal him enough pills with which to kill himself. It turns out that Roy's actress girlfriend has thrown him over for the slick movie star of the silent movie he was filming and all Roy wants is to end his life. It is this back-and-forth tension between Roy's efforts to kill himself and Alexandria's interest in hearing the rest of the story which is really at the heart of the film. The whole point of this is actually to show how people deal with tragedy and despair. Alexandria's own recent background, we discover, features an angry mob that burned down her house and somehow resulted in her father's death. The deep, caring bond that forms between Alexandria and Roy unfolds organically and truthfully and, by the end of the film, the tears are flowing.
I really can't say enough about the acting job done by both Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru. Pace is hauntingly convincing and real in his deep pain and self-loathing while Untaru is startlingly good in her performance as well bringing a wicked naughtiness and a heartbreaking vulnerability to her role. The rest of the cast is quite adequate in their deliberately theatrical performances quite appropriate for the operatic fairy story in which they're involved. All of the "fantasy" characters in the story have real-life counterparts in the hospital: Otta Benga is the ice delivery man, the princess is a nurse, Luigi is a one-legged actor in the silent movie, the Mystic is an elderly patient, the Indian is an orange picker and the slick movie star is Governor Odious. However, we're really only interested in Roy and Alexandria and it is the performance of Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru which sets the film's feet firmly on solid dramatic ground. It's also quite fun to realize that, while Roy is telling the story, what we are seeing are images that must be conjured by Alexandria as she is listening. A key to this opinion is that Roy talks about "The Indian" as if he is a native American (he refers to the Indian's wife as a "squaw" and his house as a "teepee"); however what we see in the film is a "real" Indian whose backstory takes place in a gorgeous Indian palace. It's also quite nice (and telling) that halfway through the story, Alexandria manages to insert herself into the fairy tale as the daughter of the Masked Bandit (complete with an identical mini-costume)! The roles of storyteller and listener are blurred and combined before the film is finished. There is, in fact, yet another blurring of the line between reality and fantasy: apparently the director convinced actor Lee Pace to pretend to be actually paralyzed. During the entire filming of the hospital scenes (which were filmed before the fantasy sequences), Pace confined himself to a wheelchair and was lifted into his bed for the day's shooting. In the DVD documentary on the film, we get to see the moment when Pace reveals to his 5 year old co-star (and the entire assembled cast and crew) that he can actually walk after all! This is truly a movie you have to see and preferably on a large screen HDTV because it's truly a sumptuous film experience. Tarsem Singh's direction is note perfect and this bodes well for the Greek God/Theseus blockbuster which awaits us in 2011. Seeing THE FALL, I now have the highest hopes for it. Tarsem's grasp of the visual is without peer in the current cinematic landscape, I think. It's quite fitting that THE FALL begins with the shooting of a silent film since there is a touch of silent film imagery as well in the composition of some scenes. Also remarkable is the scene in which the priest's face turns into a desert landscape as well as a "Quay Brothers"-like stop-motion animation dream sequence. THE FALL, while a sumptuous fantasy film, also deals with real emotional pain and I'm not sure if I would recommend it for very young children; the final third of the film is actually quite harrowing and throughout there is occasional quite realistic violence and mild gore. This film, in fact, plays like the original fairy stories of the Brothers Grimm before Hollywood cleaned them up. That's probably why such a fanciful-looking film packs such an emotional impact. For a quick taste, I've provided the movie trailer immediately following this post. Enjoy.

The Fall Movie Trailer (2008)

THE PENGUIN AWARDS THAT NEVER WERE: 1987! S'up! Here we have the next installment of the nominees for neverwere awards:
****
SONG OF THE YEAR:
Attention Na Sida - Franco & OK Jazz
Foolish Beat - Debbie Gibson
Dedication - Gowan
Leave Me Alone - Michael Jackson
The Greatest Discovery (Live) - Elton John
Big Fun - Barry Manilow
Hard Day - George Michael
Weak in the Presence of Beauty - Alison Moyet
Ordinary Girl - Alison Moyet
True Faith - New Order
It's A Sin - Pet Shop Boys
Paradise - Sade
Unhappy Birthday - The Smiths
4th of July - X
****
ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
BAD - Michael Jackson
LIVE IN AUSTRALIA - Elton John
SWING STREET - Barry Manilow
FAITH - George Michael
RAINDANCING - Alison Moyet
****
COVER SONG OF THE YEAR:
Hazy Shade of Winter - The Bangles
Ride My Seesaw - Bongwater
It Was I - Lindsey Buckingham
September Song - Lindsey Buckingham
People Are Strange - Echo & the Bunnymen
You Keep Me Hangin' On - Kim Wilde
****
DUET OF THE YEAR:
Moonlight Desires - Gowan & Jon Anderson
Put A Little Love In Your Heart - Annie Lennox & Al Green
Black and Blue - Barry Manilow & Phyllis Hyman
Summertime - Barry Manilow & Diane Schuur
(I've Had) The Time of My Life - Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes
VOTE NOW!!!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

THE PENGUIN AWARDS THAT NEVER WERE: 1988! Part 2 of a continuing specious. For the full skinny, see the first part immediately preceding this post. Now we're going to present the nominees that would've been nominated for a Penguin Award if the Penguin Awards existed in 1988. Remember, leave your votes in the comment section. You may be the one who breaks a tie!
SONG OF THE YEAR:
Under the Milky Way - The Church
Everybody Knows - Leonard Cohen
Better Be Home Soon - Crowded House
Na Laetha Geal Moige - Enya
Like the Way I Do - Melissa Etheridge
I Hate Myself For Loving You - Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That (Shep Pettibone remix) - Elton John
Tomorrow People - Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers
One - Metallica
Beds Are Burning - Midnight Oil
Dixie Flyer - Randy Newman
Bad News From Home - Randy Newman
Wave of Mutilation (U.K. Surf) - The Pixies
Orange Crush - R.E.M.
Handle With Care - Traveling Wilburys
****
ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
WATERMARK - Enya
MELISSA ETHERIDGE - Melissa Etheridge
...AND JUSTICE FOR ALL - Metallica
BEACHES (Original Soundtrack) - Bette Midler
LAND OF DREAMS - Randy Newman
GREEN - R.E.M.
RATTLE AND HUM ) U2
STAY AWAKE (Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films) - Various Artists
****
COVER SONG OF THE YEAR:
Give Peace A Chance - Elton John
Lili Marlene - Dolores Keane
Sympathy for the Devil - Laibach
I Think It's Going To Rain Today - Bette Midler
Baby Mine - Bonnie Raitt
Blue Shadows on the Trail - Syd Straw
****
DUET OF THE YEAR:
Tonight / Let's Dance (Live) - Tina Turner & David Bowie
When Love Comes To Town - U2 & B.B. King

Saturday, March 27, 2010

2010 IS THE 20th ANNIVERSARY OF THE INCEPTION OF THE PENGUIN AWARDS! In a spirit of celebration and just for fun we thought we'd do some honorary Penguin Awards for that junk which came out before the dawn of official Penguin Awards in 1990. Therefore, we're going to be doing the 80's; presenting those songs and albums which would've been nominated at the time and then choosing the winners. What I'm going to do is put up the nominees and, if'n you're so inclined you can place YOUR votes in the comment section. Then, after a suitably decent amount of time has gone by, I will post the actual winners. Or, more correctly, the virtual winners since this is virtual reality we're dealing with here. So now, without further fondue, we present the nominees for the Penguin Awards That Never Were of 1989:
SONG OF THE YEAR:
Thunderstruck - AC/DC
What It Takes - Aerosmith
Love Shack - The B-52's
Baby, Don't Apologise - Big Audio Dynamite
Everybody Needs A Holiday - Big Audio Dynamite
The Sensual World - Kate Bush
This Woman's Work - Kate Bush
Lovesong - The Cure
Closer To Fine - Indigo Girls
Lonely - Janet Jackson
Healing Hands - Elton John
Keep Each Other Warm - Barry Manilow
Distractions - Paul McCartney
Samain Night - Loreena McKennitt
Home - Stephanie Mills
Run Through the Fields - Nuclear Valdez
Monkey Gone To Heaven - The Pixies
Back II Life - Soul II Soul
Sowing the Seeds of Love - Tears For Fears
*****
ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
MEGATOP PHOENIX - Big Audio Dynamite
THE SENSUAL WORLD - Kate Bush
INDIGO GIRLS - Indigo Girls
STORM FRONT - Billy Joel
SLEEPING WITH THE PAST - Elton John
FLOWERS IN THE DIRT - Paul McCartney
DOOLITTLE - The Pixies
NICK OF TIME - Bonnie Raitt
****
COVER SONG OF THE YEAR:
Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters (Live) - Indigo Girls
American Tune (Live) - Indigo Girls
Three Days - k.d. lang & the reclines
Nothing Compares 2 U - Sinead O'Connor
It's Just A Matter of Time - Randy Travis
****
DUET OF THE YEAR:
Rocket's Tail - Kate Bush & Trio Bulgarka
I'll Be Good To You - Ray Charles & Chaka Khan
Kid Fears - Indigo Girls & Michael Stipe
OK . . . and before we go any further, here's another question for you and the answer to THIS question I will let YOU decide. Officially. Once the winners from the 80's are chosen, should they be considered "official" winners of the Penguin Awards or just a hypothetical exercise??? Vote. It's up to you!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I JUST HAD TO MENTION THE BOOK I'M READING AT THE MOMENT: DAVID THOMSON'S "HAVE YOU SEEN...?: A PERSONAL INTRODUCTION TO 1,000 FILMS". Thomson, of course, is the London born but US based film critic whose "BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF FILM" is one of the best books on movies you can grab. The fairly recent updating of that classic 1975 tome is now accompanied by this brand-new 1000-pager (who is nutty enough to write TWO 1000 page books on movies in one life-time?!?). Now the really nice thing about a book like this is that it's completely fun and not dry scholarship; it's as if an extremely witty film fan is taking you by the hand and asking you the title question "Have you seen THIS one????" There's an enthusiasm there which is quite refreshing; especially from a nearly 70 year old film fanatic like Thomson. He is quick to point out that these are not the "best" 1000 films ever made -- in fact, he writes about quite a few which he is not too fond of -- but just posing the question "Have you seen these rather interesting or important movies?"
The format of the book is quite simple: Each film is listed A-Z (providing the nicely incongruous span from ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN to ZABRISKIE POINT) in short discussions (not film reviews, really) of each film in essays of 500 words. 1000 pages, 1000 films. QED. The writing is, as I said, quite witty with a healthy dose of irony (something we Americans seem to have forgotten how to do); it's all quite conversational in tone. He gives equal time to a Luis Bunuel film and a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Here's how the author himself describes the book in an interview by San Francisco Chronicle book editor John McMurtrie:
It's a book that is there to help a lot of people of all ages and types who feel daunted and lost in the video store or when looking at a catalog, and they see that there's so much that they don't know where to begin. In the end, I don't believe that there are a thousand or 10 best films. There's a whole lot of films that are going to appeal to a vast number of people. And if you or someone else likes films I don't like, I've long since got past the age of looking down my nose at you. Good luck to you, I say, you're getting pleasure. This is getting to be a pretty mean, brutal life (laughs) - day by day at the moment - and we deserve a little bit of pleasure and ease, and find it where you can. Don't break the law while you're doing it, maybe, but I don't mean to say that taste is an absolute. Taste is personal. You know, some people don't like anchovy, I love anchovy. And that's the way things go.
That having been said, it's quite nice for me to find that many times Mr. Thomson's taste mirrors my own. For instance, how ecstatic was I to see that he included the 1938 Katharine Hepburn/Cary Grant film HOLIDAY and, even more excitingly, praised it to the skies. It's one of my top 10 favourite films. Thomson writes: "It's a nice trick question: What's the most sophisticated film Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn made in 1938? And the answer is HOLIDAY, which is really a new subgenre (of enormous promise) in which someone says, 'Is this a comedy?' and the answer goes, 'Only if you're laughing.' As a piece of material, HOLIDAY is very serious: It's what are we going to do with life -- is it a burden or a duty, or a holiday?" Thomson goes on to say "HOLIDAY was, in a way, a routine picture. Can you credit such brilliance as a routine thing? Can you really hide from the grandeur of smart comedy in all the Hollywood forms -- or miss what has been lost? Yes, they made BRINGING UP BABY, too!" This quoting from his essay on HOLIDAY also helps prove my point that this book is not a collection of movie reviews but instead a very personal reaction to the films themselves. After all, isn't that what we film fanatics relate to? Isn't that what all these movie blogs are about? And this book actually reads somewhat like an expertly-done movie blog. Thomson admits that he had to have his arm twisted by his publisher and his agent to embark on a book this size because he thought it would be an horrendous chore. Imagine his surprise (and ours) when the book turned out to be a joy!
Back to our combined tastes. It's also quite nice to hear Mr. Thomson dislikes some movies which I dislike. Case in point: my perennial beaten dead horse FORREST GUMP about which Thomson writes: " It happens that this is the fourth entry in a row I have written in which there is the same clash between sumptuous cinematic power and intellectual emptiness. ... And I fear that it shows a condition in American culture whereby our 'art' has become helplessly subservient to our insecurities. We have been telling profound lies to ourselves, with sublime oblivion and the flourish of empty good nature. 'Have a nice movie!' " Don't get me wrong. There are some opinions Thomson has which I don't agree with and that's as it should be. In fact, that's what makes this book such an interesting read; a book which exactly mirrors one's own opinions would be a dull affair indeed. It has always been Thomson's particular strength to say exactly what he thinks and let the chips fall where they may. He does so, however, in such a non-confrontational way that even when he's bashing one of your beloved film favourites, you can't really get mad at him. Call it charm, call it wit, call it a deft pen. Whatever you call it, read it. You'll be happy you did. And you'll also have to read it with a pencil and paper to jot down all the many many films you're now dying to see!
And have I mentioned??? -- one of my favourite moments in the book itself is when takes Bunuel's EXTERMINATING ANGEL and Antonioni's L'ECLISSE (my favourite film) -- two movies by different directors which have absolutely nothing to do with each other -- and draws a line between them as if both films are occurring in the same universe and the characters from one movie move over into the other. If you've seen the films -- the characters in L'ECLISSE played by Monica Vitti and Alain Delon do not show up at their rendezvous point on the Italian street because they instead end up at the dinner party on Providence Lane in THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL. It's priceless and typical Thomson! You wicked, wicked man!
Oh, and for the record, David Thomson once DID actually list his top 10 favourite films of all time in a 2002 "Sight and Sound" interview and here they are:
  • BLUE VELVET (1986)
  • CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING (1974)
  • CITIZEN KANE (1941)
  • THE CONFORMIST (1970)
  • HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940)
  • A MAN ESCAPED (1956)
  • PIERROT LE FOU (1965)
  • THE RULES OF THE GAME (1939)
  • THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE (1977)
  • UGETSU MONOGATARI (1953)

You know us film fans and our lists. . .

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"NOTHING WILL GO WRONG!!!" FFOLKES is a kind of action movie about a group of terrorists who hijack a North Sea oil rig and hold the British government for ransom. And the name of the movie IS "FFOLKES"; not "NORTH SEA HIJACK" or whatever other stupid retitle they slap on it. The film is based on Jack Davies' novel "Esther, Ruth & Jennifer" and he also wrote the screenplay. These three names represent the three boats/oil rigs the baddies hold for ransom. Roger Moore stars as the bewhiskered Rufus Excalibur ffolkes: a sort of commando/anti-terror ninja warrior who likes cats and hate women (not necessarily in that order). He also drinks scotch the way it was meant to be drunk: neat! Oh and he does needlepoint. I believe Roger Moore has commented that he thought he was miscast in the role but I strongly disagree. In fact, this is probably my favourite Roger Moore film (I never quite fancied him as 007). Roger Moore's ffolkes is cranky, surly, opinionated and downright rude. The actor pulls it off much more successfully than he did James Bond, I think.
The plot goes like this: ffolkes and his ffusilliers are hired by the boss to come up with a plan to thwart any attempt to hijack a North Sea oil rig. ffolkes does so. Coincidentally, about a month later a group of terrorists (headed by the twitchy Anthony Perkins still trying to shake off his Norman Bates character) actually DO hijack a Norwegian oil rig planting explosives on the rig and on the boat they're using as Hijack HQ. The Prime Minister (Faith Brook) -- a female -- how's THAT going to go over with ffolkes -- charges our adorable commando to defeat the terrorists before the ransom must be paid. Roger Moore is ably (?) assisted by James Mason (as a slightly dotty admiral), Jeremy Clyde as the Lord Privy Seal Tipping and David Hedison (the Fly no more). Moore is a treat to watch throughout the whole movie (and how often does one say THAT?!?) as he barks and growls at everyone in the vicinity and sneers out some priceless one-liners with an absolutely straight face. James Mason is also a joy as he seems to be having fun going along for the ride. While the proceedings are meant to be taken seriously, there is a nice, lightness provided by occasional comic exchanges. For example: James Mason's slightly annoyed admiral tells ffolkes "I suppose you're one of those fellows who does the Times crossword in ten minutes?" and Roger Moore scowls back "I have NEVER taken TEN minutes!" Another instance occurs when James Mason is going to accompany Roger Moore over to the hijackers' boat to make the money exchange. When asked if he wants his wife to be informed that the admiral volunteered to go over to meet the hijackers, James Mason scoffs "No I don't! My wife would kill me if she thought I volunteered for anything!" At another point, Roger Moore gives a brief personal history of ffolkes by saying that both his parents died tragically in childbirth. Anthony Perkins as the head hijacker Lou Kramer is, as mentioned, still doing his kinda-crazy Norman Bates routine; however, he also is surprisingly adept with throwing out occasionally funny lines. At one point while leaving the bridge of the boat he tells his accomplise "I'm going to go to the bathroom." After a pregnant pause, he then muses "I'm going to TRY to go to the bathroom." The expert touch of these actors while speaking their lines make them actually funnier than they appear written down here. The only female member of the hijacked Norwegian boat is Sanna (Lea Brodie) who also does a nice job in her role. However, most of the actors playing the minor hijackers and the minor members of the Norwegian crew seem woefully amateur; as if director Andrew V. McLaglen picked up passersby on the street and said "You wanna be in a movie?"
Nice location shooting abounds. The coastal castle in which ffolkes trains his ffusilliers is beautiful and there is a lot of footage shot on actual boats at sea. There is one particularly good explosive effect as well. While the film probably didn't have a monumental budget, it certainly doesn't look like a shoestring production and comes off looking quite respectable. For modern audiences (the film was made in 1979), the action might not start quite soon enough for the attention-deficit generation. However, that's not the whole point of the movie as characterization is given equal time. Ditto the setting up of the plot and situation. The unfolding of the hijackers' plot and it's implementation is painstakingly shown as if we were watching a police procedural in reverse. There is also plenty of screen time devoted to the appropriately cat and mouse game between sly old ffolkes and slimy old Kramer. There are also one or two surprises along the way and a very cute (without being saccharine) final scene. FFOLKES isn't a hold-on-to-your-seat thrill ride but it is a solid action film with good performances (mostly) that I think is well worth your time.
"A wetsuit in vermillion?!?! Just what one needs at night!!!"

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

WHAT THIS BLOG NEEDS IS SOME HEAVENLY PUSS! This is a tribute to two great cinematic duos: Tom & Jerry . . . and Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger. Now that might sound daffy but I lay it all at the feet of David Thomson who, in his newish book "Have You Seen...?: A Personal Introduction to 1000 Films" tosses off the remark that the classic Tom & Jerry cartoon "HEAVENLY PUSS" from 1949 is a remake of The Archers' "A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH" which I discuss here! Being rather fuzzy on it, I went back and re-watched the cartoon. The first couple minutes are definitely inspired by the British film but the rest of the cartoon has just as much in common with HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1943 -- NOT with Warren Beatty) or the Three Stooges short where Shemp dies and comes back to rehabilitate Moe and Larry. You remember that one: "HEAVENLY DAZE" of 1948.
The cartoon HEAVENLY PUSS opens with the traditional chase scene during which Tom gets flattened by a grand piano. Unlike every other Tom & Jerry cartoon, however, this actually kills da cat and he finds his spirit self ascending a golden staircase through the clouds and glorious light (a shot definitely inspired by the Powell & Pressburger film) to be dropped off in heaven. A kitty St. Peter/railroad conductor figure is checking the credentials of several dead kitties to see if they are entitled to enter the heavenly gates. An incredibly shocking moment occurs when a soaking-wet bag containing three little kittens - the cutest kittens you're likely to see - bounces up and St. Peter tsk-tsks "What some people won't do!" You got it. Somebody DROWNED these three adorable kittens!!! Are you likely to see anything that dark sneaking by in a cartoon made in the last 25 years?!?!? I doubt it. Well, of course, when Tom tries to sneak in, St. Peter stops him and reads how he spent his life basically tormenting a poor little mouse (Jerry) so he's gonna end up in H.E.Double.Hockey.Sticks. But there IS a way out! The "Heavenly Express" doesn't leave for heaven for another hour. If, in that time, Tom can go back to earth and get Jerry to sign a "forgiveness" document, Tom can enter into heaven. If not. . .well. . .a little heavenly closed circuit TV shows the scene in a fiery hell in which the Devil (played by Butch the bulldog) is waiting for Tom.
Tom returns to earth and the clock is ticking. He brings Jerry a nice cake and presents the forgiveness document to the mouse. Jerry is not in a forgiving mood and squirts ink in Tom's face before ripping the document to shreds. Tom gets ticked and lapses back into his Jerry-bashing ways but the devil bulldog appears and eggs him on. Tom repents and pleads with Jerry to sign. Jerry, who after all is a kind mouse, finally relents -- if for no other reason than to get this pestering cat out of his hair. Jerry signs. But before Tom can race back up the heavenly staircase, the clock strikes an hour and Tom falls through a fiery hole into hell where he splashes into a boiling cauldron while the Devil sticks him with a pitchfork. But wait! In true Hollywood cop-out fashion, Tom wakes up and discovers it's all been a dream. However, he is so thankful that he grabs Jerry, smooches him and hugs him close. A bewildered Jerry breaks the third wall as he looks at the camera. Fade out.
The entire cartoon seems to rocket by before you know it and I would've liked a couple more minutes since it all seems rather rushed. However, after the initial Tom & Jerry cartoons, the studio shaved a minute or two off the running times of subsequent cartoons and we're left with only 8 minutes; good as they are. William Hanna and Joe Barbera directed while the great Fred Quimby produced. All in all, a fun cartoon with a different storyline than the usual T&J situation. Warner Bros. did a similar cartoon which I discuss here called "SATAN'S WAITIN'" featuring Sylvester & Tweety.