Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Indie Lameness & Disappointment (the first of a potentially infinite series)

The National Film Board of Ivanlandia screened some movies on DVD recently.
They were “indie” movies—often highly recommended—and boy, were they disappointing!

Sunshine Cleaning (2008)
Directed by Christine Jeffs
Written by Megan Holley
Starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Clifton Collins, Jr., Mary Lynn Rajskub, Steve Zahn and Alan Arkin

This is a massive case of false advertising:
If you’re going to make an indie movie about people who have the job of cleaning up crime scenes,
then either make a really sick comedy, something truly dark and bleak—but funny—
or go gonzo-gore quasi-documentary style.

Although Sunshine Cleaning started off well, it quickly devolved into a sappy rough-draft script mash-up of possibly every indie movie trope and cliché that’s come down the pike.
Parent’s suicide? Check.
Excessively quirky characters?
Laboriously sensitive music score?
Details that are cool but don’t necessarily add anything?
Check, and double check!
Even the choice of occupation (crime scene clean-up) is a symptom of Indie-itis: it’s just a cosmetic accessory to the sisters’ journey of… whatever.

The worst of all the indie movie clichés Sunshine Cleaning abuses?
The late reveal of information: the audience doesn’t find out until the movie is almost half over, long after the sisters have started their crime scene clean-up biz,
that their mother was a SUICIDE
and that the sisters were the ones who discovered her body!
This has got to be the most egregious case of back-story rationing ever: Oy!

Sunshine Cleaning’s adherence to the Indie Checklist is laid on so thick, it’s almost a parody of the genre—
but it’s neither funny or entertaining or heartwarming.
If anything the flick is meandering and formulaic.

The only thing that impressed me about Sunshine Cleaning was that it was the first movie with a one-armed character where I actually thought the actor playing that part was one-armed himself. There were none of the telltale signs, like the arm under the shirt, oddly shaped clothes, awkward way of standing, etc. And honestly, Clifton Collins Jr.’s one-armed character was, by the end of the movie, the only one I cared about.

Netflix reviewer J-Cadillac said it best:
“If you've watched more than three indie American films from the mid-90s, you've already seen this twice.”

Another disappointing Indie flick:

Sugar (2009)
Written and directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Starring: Algenis Pérez Soto

A good baseball movie with an excellent quasi-documentary style gets sidetracked/derailed by a couple factors: a pointless “let’s mock Middle American Christian Baseball Fans” segment, and Sugar’s giving up.

The movie Sugar didn’t have to have a happy ending, but what immigrant kid who’s gone through all of this would just chuck it away?
This flick is too self-pitying to be recommended.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Maybe some people should be run over…

If you like watching a mess of horror movies around Halloween time (38 more days till Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, 38 more days till Halloween—Silver Shamrock!), here’s one to check out…


Never claiming to be anything more than a B-movie,
there is a lot of awesome about The Car—but also a lot of awful.

The Car (1977; Universal)
Directed by Elliot Silverstein
Produced by Marvin Birdt and Elliot Silverstein
Screenplay by Michael Butler & Dennis Shryack and Lane Slate

(Slate’s the creator of the short-lived super-ultraviolent 1981 TV show Strike Force; subject of a future DVD MIA article)
Story by Michael Butler & Dennis Shryack
(These two were the screenwriters of Clint Eastwood’s awesome The Gauntlet, also 1977) Music by Leonard Rosenman
Cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld
Editing by Michael McCroskey
Visual effects by Albert Whitlock
Car built by George Barris
James Brolin, Kathleen Lloyd, John Marley, Ronny Cox
R.G. Armstrong, and a bunch of roadkill pretending to be actors

If you’re willing to wade through some badly acted, poorly written scenes of fake jocularity and “happy normal life,”
with grannies yelling, “Cat poo!”,
you’ll be rewarded with a bleak, mean-spirited supernatural thriller that’s pretty damn cool.
I mean, how can you not like a flick that starts off with a quote from Anton Szandor LaVey?

"Oh great brothers of the night, who rideth out upon the hot winds of hell, who dwelleth in the devil's lair; move and appear!"

(Although, that is a pretty lame quote; hardly one that instills fear or dread, and certainly not very thought provoking. The quote should have been something like “The Devil appears as something familiar to you, something you use every day, and Satan will crush you with it,” or something. But despite my gripes, it is pretty cool that they used a quote from a fringe character rather than The Good Book.)

The Car absolutely needs lots more gore and destruction, but it is almost a must-see for one grand, sick moment that really “breaks the rules.”
I’m not telling what it is, but it’s at roughly the one-hour mark. (But at the cool site Monstrous Calientes, there are some righteous frame grabs of the sequence in question—as well as some of The Car’s cool overseas posters.)

Universal Studios
in-house effects wiz Albert Whitlock provides
some appropriately hellish opticals at the conclusion
(above, snagged from Monstrous Calientes),
and I really liked the minimalist art-deco Nazi hot rod look of the car:
It’s really simple, almost to the point of dumb,
but it works!

Look out!
Here comes

And I loved the fact that the vehicle itself wasn’t possessed by a demon—
—it is a demon! (That’s my interpretation anyway.)

(And I also love the fact that the Car’s powers keep showing up, like rabbits being pulled out of a hat—one of my fave scenes is when the Car has somehow let itself into Sheriff Brolin’s locked garage; huffing and puffing and blowing its horn like a dinosaur, the black vehicle seems quite diabolical.)

Re-re-released in early 2008, The Car is not perfect, hardly
but definitely worth a look for fans, especially those into quasi-satanic horror. (And check out Kathleen Lloyd’s hip-huggers! Wow.)

Originally released in Spring 1977, forces were at work to make sure The Car was not destined for great financial success—although the flick looks cheap enough that Universal Studios probably recouped its bread, and made enough of a profit to be remembered fondly by the bean counters; why else the re-releases this movie gets?

Star Wars opened on May 25, 1977, and that was a Wednesday.
That Saturday, my family and I went to see the flick in one of the six or so theaters it had opened at in NYC (really; it’s not like today—even when Star Wars went “wide” in August, it was only in eleven theaters in the five boroughs of The Big Apple).

Already a film snob at 11, I was disappointed the flick wasn’t at the Ziegfeld, but as it turned out Loews Astor Plaza (RIP), B’way & 44th, off Times Square, was just as great a place to see Star Wars.

[Randomness: but do people realize that Star Wars, when it first came out, was considered, at least by the people around me who could have these sorts of opinions, to be a stoner flick? Or at least, the height of camp? I mean, my mom thought Star Wars was a hilarious parody of old movie serials!]

So there we were that Saturday, May 28, 1977, waiting on line for Star Wars. We’d arrived at the theater early for the noon show, around 11 (even though we drove, we must’ve left the house around 9:30~10:00am), and were promptly informed that that show was sold out, but we could get on line for the 2 o’clock show.

That line went around two corners of the block, out onto Broadway. Across the street was the National Theater, later the National Twin (RIP), and they were showing The Car.

Because their marquee was large, I recall, they could have little silhouettes of the car and its victims (images taken from the poster) there.
(Later that year, I remember the National showed Friedkin’s awesome, but doomed, Sorcerer—wow, I guess the National didn’t have too good a batting average…
(Although this review of Friedkin’s Bug says Sorcerer opened a week before Star Wars, that’s not how I remember it—the facts be damned! Ha-ha!)

But no one was going into the theater, it seemed.
Once, a guy with two kids, a small boy and a girl my age, walked by our line, seemed to be grumbling to himself or the kids, then crossed Broadway, past the recruiting station, and dragged his kids to see The Car instead: “I ain’t waitin’ an ’our in line for no damn space movie! Yeah, yeah, sure, you kids can have as much popcorn and soda as ya want! Just shaddup will ya?!?”

But other than that sad trio, I don’t remember anyone else going into the National to see The Car….

I saw The Car a few years later, on CBS-TV, I think, on their Saturday night movie. That Monday at school, it turned out quite a few other boys saw the movie, as it was a hot topic of discussion.
We all thought that the original motion picture, the un-edited for television version, would be much gorier and blood splattered—
Ha! Were we wrong!

The Car has made it to the big city (as predicted by the flick’s end credits—although the metropolis zooming by in the background against the looming locked-down-camera close-ups of various parts of the monstrous automobile, like its wheels or the grill, in the foreground, looks like Los Angeles—showing that the second unit director was demonstrating more style than director Silverstein),
and it’s been sighted on New York City’s Lower East Side!
Look out!



Friday, September 18, 2009

God Bless Roger Corman and the Ground He Walks Upon! Hallelujah, and AMEN!

A couple of summers ago, my wife went to bed with Roger Corman practically every night.

The Missus often needs some background noise to sleep to, and Corman’s audio commentary on films like The Trip or a few of the Poe flicks is her catnip.

Put on a Corman commentary, and my sweetie’s just driffffffting away.

If you’ve heard the legendary filmmaker’s dulcet tones, you know what I’m talking about:
Corman’s voice is like audio laudanum, velvet smooth grandpa tones that comfort yet always fascinate.
Never boring, just so very, very soooothing.
What’s he saying?
Mmmmm….Doesn’t really matter…it’s one of the best drugs around…

(BTW, I met Corman when I was a kid and he was a really nice guy, taking the time to talk to nearly all the fans pestering him. He seemed quite genuine and appreciative that we’d spend our money on his product.)

Speaking of Corman’s commentaries:

I’m wishing that Attack of the Crab Monsters’ current unavailability is a result of a new DVD being created (as opposed to legal hassles), perhaps remastered with a Corman audio commentary track? The movie’s only about an hour long—it would be easy to do! Please? I’ll even buy it with real money!

The commentary for Death Race 2000 didn’t work for The Missus because Corman shared it with cult icon Mary Woronov, who played Calamity Jane in the flick.
While it’s a good commentary for all fans of the movie, and very informative--it just didn’t work for
She Who Must Be Obeyed.

If you’ve never experienced the liquid gold that is the sound of Mack Daddy Roger C.’s voice (and don’t have one of his DVD commentaries handy), there’s an awesome interview with him at DVD Talk;
listen and fall into Corman’s vocal web!
(Don’t worry, kid. The first one’s free—you won’t get hooked!)

So, as you might have guessed, The United Provinces of Ivanlandia considers Roger Corman to be a god among men, and admire his many achievements.

He has made one of my honestly-genuinely Top Ten favorite flicks:
The aforementioned Etc. of the Crab Monsters (Ivanlandia megapost forthcoming, promise!), as well as many other faves:

The Wild Angels (1966)

The Raven (1963)

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

The Intruder (1961)

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967)

The Day the World Ended (1955)

Von Richthofen and Brown (1971)

The Haunted Palace (1963)

And so many more…(and that’s not counting the gazillion films he’s produced!)

Why do I like his films—or at least the above films?
(Because not everything the great man has done is perfect….)

I’d say that they were
Intelligent Entertainment

Well-balanced: high- and low-brow with a sick sense of humor

Using innovation to overcome financial limitations

The triumph of the imagination (in how the films were made)

They appeal to my brain and my gutz


Cutting edge/ripped from the headlines

Willfully exploitative!

Politics and mayhem!




Genre madness!

New World Pictures!

At Slash Film, Russ Fischer writes:
“There isn’t a genre filmmaker working today who hasn’t been influenced by Corman, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any major US director who hasn’t been influenced by him in some manner.”

Writing about the Corman-produced Humanoids From the Deep, Michael (Psychotronic!) Weldon wrote:
“Like it or not, it was a hit and is not dull."

And that about sums up Corman.

In a February 17, 2008, editorial in The Washington Post, columnist Ann Hornaday suggested that rather than the usual dusty waxworks usually trotted out for the Honorary Oscar, Corman should get one.

She wrote:
His is a style rooted in Hollywood's love of ballyhoo, exploitation and pulp spectacle. He was independent before there were "indies," guerrilla before it was hip. What's more, he has had an incalculable effect on the art form, training plenty of directors and actors -- more than 40 by our count -- who got their starts in movies with titles like "Dementia 13" and "Caged Heat" before going on to win Oscars themselves.

Nearly 400 films later, Roger Corman is, astonishingly, still working. His is a lifetime of nothing but achievement. Give him the Oscar, Academy, or we call out the brain-eating crabs.

Like most fans of the Cinema of Weirdness, I supported Hornaday’s suggestion, but never expected it to happen:
Those self-important blowhards at the Academy give Corman an Oscar? No way.

Then, just the other day—

But there’s a catch (isn’t there always?)—

The Hollywood Reporter says:

“In a break with tradition, this year the Academy's honorary awards will be handed out at the new event in November. While the awards will be acknowledged during the Oscarcast on March 7, the show won't devote the same amount of time to toasting the honorees on air as in past years.”

Which mean that while Corman gets to be in the audience, and who knows, maybe they’ll even deign to let him present one of the “lesser” awards like makeup or visual effects, his actual ceremony, the “c’mon up and get it,” the clip show, the accolades, the prerecorded messages, all that won’t be presented when the 2010 Oscars are aired.

Is that what this means, because I’d love to be wrong about this one.
Are they really giving with one hand and taking away with the other?

And that the show is doing this not only to Corman (so what if he gave half of Hollywood their first job?), but to people like Lauren Bacall and Gordon Willis
—artists with long histories in Hollywood who’ve worked on some of the cinema’s big classics
—to do that to them just seems

And these world-renowned filmmakers are begin given the short shrift because why?
Ohhhh, because somebody somewhere is whining that the Oscar Ceremonies are too long.
Hey pal, who’s putting a gun to your head and making you watch?
Where are the advertisers?
Shouldn’t they be standing up for more airtime, for longer Oscars?

Why do people give a shit how long the Oscars are? It’s not like you can’t go to the bathroom!
And I’m sorry I don’t remember where I heard/read this before, but I’ll reiterate:

Do people ever complain how long a World Series game or the Stuporbowl lasts? Because those go on for hours and hours! And quite frankly, are quite
So you sports-geeks get to watch endless replays of touchdowns and home runs that throw TV scheduling WAY out of whack, but us movie-geeks can’t have a broadcast once a year that goes over three hours?
Fuck you, you crybabies.

As a kid, watching the Oscars was great because it was a clip show: lots and lots of clips of different flicks—because although I grew up near Manhattan, I didn’t get to see everything, and the Oscars were an opportunity to see more of an as-yet-to-be-seen movie than just the trailer.

But how come Hollywood just can’t ever get it right? Sigh….

Of course, with the Intertubes, a clip show isn’t needed, I suppose
—but awful jokes from the likes of Jack Black and Ben Stiller are. Hooray.

There’s a small consolation: While Corman’s ceremony won’t take place in the big hall with everybody else, it will probably be available to watch on YouTube or elsewhere.

Be that as it may, at least he’s getting something.

Roger Corman deserves it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Everybody Loves Lee Marvin—or else!


The Ivanlandia High Command was on the march, off to Los Angeles to witness the madness of the flames.

A more detailed report is forthcoming regarding that expedition,
but for now please enjoy some photos of the beautiful and awesome Lee Marvin
(and a big thanks to the various and sundry sites I downloaded these photos from over the years—most of you are included in the links, if that’s any consolation).

Lee Marvin is one of the greats, and Point Blank (1967) is one of the greatest movies ever made.
Most of these photos today are from that film, but not all of them;
a couple are from the highly recommended Emperor of the North (1973), also starring Ivanlandia fave Ernest (GOD) Borgnine, and directed by another Ivanlandia top dog, Robert Aldrich.

Let us now worship at the feet of
St. Lee Marvin!
(By posting photos of Lee Marvin, we hope to bask in His eternal reflected glory!)

I saw Point Blank on WNEW-TV Channel 5 in NYC when I was 13 or 14, and I’ve loved that movie ever since— as well as its star, Lee Marvin, and director, John Boorman.

I think what really hooked me on the flick was the whole “walking through LAX” scene (photo above), with Lee’s shoes clomp-clomp-clomping intercut with some seriously Twilight Zoney shots of his zombie-like wife going through the motions of life, making it a zonked out existential moment. Whew! Great stuff.

“You're a very bad man, Walker, a very destructive man!
Why do you run around doing things like this?”

Ahhhhh, Mr. Lee Marvin: what can I say about him that others haven’t already?

(BTW, Lee Marvin, WWII marine, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.)

Lee can speak for himself, thank you very much.
January 1969 Playboy interview

Go elk hunting with Lee!

Some sites about Point Blank:

Good review

Another good review

Good intro to Point Blank by Chef Alton Brown on TCM

Despite his erratic career and choices, I am not at all sad that I’ve seen nearly all of director John Boorman’s flicks, and there are parts of Zardoz and Exorcist II: The Heretic that I’d even defend (like, respectively, the big stone head and the cool Albert Whitlock effects).
(Although I honestly couldn’t stand Boorman’s Beyond Rangoon, and had to turn it off after 20 minutes, finding it trite and dull.)

Interestingly, it doesn’t end there: later in life, I’ve become quite the fanatic about the works of novelist Donald E. Westlake (RIP), who wrote The Hunter, Point Blank’s source material, under his often more (in)famous pseudonym Richard Stark.

A trifecta plus one! (quadfecta?)
Love the movie, love the star, love the director, love the novelist!
But that’s what Lee’s all about: Love.

(Speaking of love, Tom Waits and friends show theirs for Lee)

(But why didn’t Boorman cast Lee as Merlin in Excalibur? Don’t laugh, I’m serious!
Well, if Lee would turn down Jaws…)

M Squad (1957-1960; NBC)
Executive producers: John Larkin and Richard Lewis

Prime Cut (1972)
Directed by Michael Ritchie
Produced by Joe Wizan
Written by Robert Dillon
Music by Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography by Gene Polito

Recently I’ve managed to screen some Lee I haven’t seen before:

Michael Ritchie’s 1972 crime spoof/neo-noir Prime Cut,
and the TV show that made Marvin a star and an almost household name, M Squad:
The TV show is a fun Dragnet copycat/rip-off/riff that had the brilliance to cast young (almost feral) Lee Marvin as its ultraviolent tough cop, Lt. Ballinger. (But it’s also the polar opposite of Jack Webb’s subzero “by the book” role as Joe Friday, with a lot of “beat first/ask questions later” tactics.)
M Squad’s episodes are very repetitive, however, and
Lee's the only reason to watch this—but he always delivers.
Recommended for fans.

As for
Prime Cut,
usually I love Lalo Schifrin's scores, but in this movie the music is really intrusive and often an idiotic counterpoint (being goofy when it shouldn't, schmaltzy instead of sparse, etc.).

Not that this flick would be flawless without this music, but the score does scramble how the film could be appreciated on its intrinsic merits, like its incredible cinematography and the nasty jabs it throws at small-town Americana.

Meanwhile, Lee Marvin is sleepwalking through this one, but if you're a fan of his like me, it never matters.

"Most accidents happen within three miles from home."

But speaking of Michael Ritchie, thanks to the valiant efforts of Toestubber—whom we spent some quality time with in Los Angeles during the Imperial Death March to the Pacific Ocean (Venice Beach was awesome, but Ry’leh was KEE-RAY-ZEE!)—The National Film Board of Ivanlandia has finally seen a letterboxed version of Michael Ritchie’s psychotic pirate movie The Island (1980).

I wrote about this film ad nauseum before, but I will say this: letterboxing gives The Island room to breathe, and therefore a lot more details (both good and bad) show up.
And I’ll give pan-&-scan its due here, I think the lack of visual detail in the VHS version (more than half the screen is missing!) kind of increases the mystery. I do think this must have been a fucked up movie to see in the theater in 1980!
Damn, I regret not seeing it back then. Sigh….

Personally though, I was SO GLAD to finally see The Island letterboxed! That’s one I’ve really wanted to scratch off my list for a while. Whew!

Returning to the Marvin at hand….

Here’s Point Blank’s original poster:

…and while I do consider Warren Oates a god who can do nothing wrong, gee-whiz, this poster for Oate’s flick Chandler certainly is a rip.
But I haven’t seen the film yet, so can’t compare the two on their cinematic merits. Nor has Chandler been released to DVD, and it probably won’t….
But as an Oates fan, I want to see it!

Below’s the poster for The Outfit (1972; for a good recap, check out the very readable and recommended It’s a Mad Mad Blog 2), based on another of Westlake’s Parker novels.
It’s a great flick with a very Westlake-ian feel—although I’ve read the book twice, I can’t for the life of me remember any of its plot, so I’m not sure how faithful and adaptation it is, but the dialog and tone, and no-nonsense attitude is total Westlake—and that’s the sort of odd thing about The Outfit: it feels much more humane than one of Richard Stark’s Parker novels, the movie is tough, but the books trend towards mean—but the flick (written and directed by John Flynn) is very much in plotting and tone to one of Westlake’s straight crime novels—or a more serious Dortmunder novel, if you can imagine that.

But the movie is a great find for aficionados of 1970s crime thrillers: The Outfit is hard-edged and direct--never ironic, and chock a block full of cameos by noir and B-movie greats, like Ivanlandia faves Richard Jaeckel, Timothy Carey, Robert Ryan and Bill McKinney (who gained fame as the hillbilly rapist in Boorman’s Deliverance).

Then go here to read some of my comments about the flick posted at It’s a Mad Mad Blog 2—I just didn’t feel like cutting and pasting and trying to make things coherent. I’ve got a pile of dishes to wash!

It was director William Lustig who brought The Outfit, and other fab 1970s bleak revenge thrillers out of limbo in his Buried Treasures retrospective at the fab Anthology Film Archives, home of the biker movie series I curated in 1990.

Most of the films screened during Buried Treasures are not available on DVD, and couple I’d never heard of:
the crazed, nasty and very recommended Sitting Target (1972; written by Point Blank co-screenwriter Alexander Jacobs), with (yet another) Ivanlandia favorite: Oliver Reed;
as well as
Welcome Home, Soldier Boys (1972; starring the always awesome Joe Don Baker), which while it’s muddled and rambling and sometimes boring, has an exciting and transgressive ending where the Vietnam War is brought home to small town USA that predates First Blood by about a decade.

Visit Lustig’s company and buy stuff from him! He’s awesome, and I hope he curates more shows like this. And if he needs suggestions for his next Buried Treasures series…I’m right here, baby!

After the screening of The Outfit at the Anthology, courtesy of Ivanlandia ally Chip of Oklahoma, we were treated to beers and snacks and the company of Lustig and several others—including screenwriter Heywood Gould, a very nice guy!

We traded stories and opinions about a variety of things, but one was Paul Newman’s use of tube socks throughout his career as a visual shorthand to indicate that the actor’s character was “blue collar” or “working class.”
Gould had experienced this directly during the making of the film Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981), for which he wrote the screenplay.

And while many felt it was an inappropriate choice, you couldn’t argue with the star like Newman on some things.

Hey! Another coinkydink: Paul Newman costarred with Lee Marvin in Pocket Money (1972), a flick a lot of people like, but that I found dull; I don’t think I could get into the flick’s tone.

Gould also wrote the screenplays for The Boys From Brazil (1978; it seems that James Mason was strongly jockeying for Laurence Olivier’s role) and Rolling Thunder (1977; also screened at the Anthology—to a rousing success, I might add—and coincidentally also helmed by The Outfit’s director John Flynn).

And to end it all, this lovely still of Lee Marvin from the conclusion of The Killers (1964), directed by the awesome Don Siegel:

“Lady, I just haven’t got the time.”