Sunday, April 1, 2012

MARCH MOVIE MADNESS 2012 (What We Watched When We Were Watching Films)

And our special hostess, Cosplay Dark Phoenix will now escort you through our gallery of films screened during the month that enters like a lion, and leaves like a lamb, in this special April the Second posting….

Maniac (1980; William Lustig) Joe Spinell’s tour-de-force! Wow, he acts up a storm here. And why not? He’s the executive producer and co-screenwriter—and he brilliantly uses the B-movie/grindhouse/gorehound crowd to spread the word—not to take away from sleazemeister William Lustig’s directorial contributions, and the nefarious talents of splatterking Tom Savini. Dude, do you remember HOW MUCH this flick was promoted in Fangoria back in the day? It was insane!

But this is Uncle Joe’s show, and boy-oh-boy, does he take the ball and run with it!
It’s a fearless performance, and infectious, sucking us in. It’s a weird flick in how strangely personal it all feels, like we’re being permitted into some schizoid psychodrama of personal demons.
As of this writing, I know nothing of Spinell’s personal life (more on this below, however)—but this grimy, nasty, gore-drenched horror flick feels like a genuine product of a fevered id, not just a quickie rip-off of Halloween or Friday the 13th.

I love Spinell’s performances, especially the offbeat, “quieter,” more sympathetic ones, like the personnel officer in Taxi Driver (When he replies to Travis, “Oh yeah, I was in the Marines,” I can’t help but think what sort of battlefield HELL did Spinell’s character see?), and as
the Army Psychiatrist in John Milius’ underrated surf tale Big Wednesday.
Now, aside from director Milius’ good taste in actors,
here’s why I think Spinell was cast in Big Wednesday:
Who else are you going to cast against Gary Busey—playing kee-ray-zee—? (Busey’s a surfer pretending to be crazy in an attempt to avoid the draft.)
In the scene, Big Joe Spinell is sitting there cool as a cucumber—like in Taxi Driver, wearing glasses (both times a nice touch)—wearing an officer’s doctor’s coat—sheeeeeeeeit. He’s unnerving—
and how Busey underplays against Spinell’s calm is wonderful.
It’s a great scene and a high point in an admittedly problematic movie—with incredible surf footage, though.

As for Maniac,
I’d put Maniac on a double-feature with underrated feel-bad-fest Lipstick (see below).

So after watching Maniac, I hunted around the intertubes and found The Joe Spinell Story (2001; David Gregory)—

Holy moly! Joe Spinell was a complete closet case! Not that I’m criticizing any lifestyle choices, but after seeing this doc, Maniac makes much more sense. Watch both of them.
The actor may be dead, but his work lives on: LONG LIVE JOE SPINELL!

Hell’s Angels (1930; Howard Hughes) Great flying footage, still—totally stomps any CGI—the hard work, innovation and effort is all there on the screen, with some incredible miniature and special effects work, as well. Technically, Hell’s Angels is brilliant. The soap opera plot is annoying, though, and can be fast-forwarded through.

Much has been made about producer-director Hughes’ obsession with this film, so I won’t go into that, but…
There’s always been something delightfully a tad OFF with these big-budget films made and financed outside the H’wood “system”: like Gibson’s Passion of JC or Apocalypto; George Lucas’ flicks post-1999, including Red Tails; George C. Scott’s The Savage Is Loose; and so on—
—there’s an Asperberger’s Syndrome obsessiveness about these productions, focusing intently on one basically technical aspect and letting others, like a cohesive script, out to dry.
But the obsession can be rewarding, whether you’re a gorehound with Gibson’s flicks, or an airplane nut with Hell’s Angels: the flying footage still beats today’s work.

Trailer Park Boys: Season Two (2001; Mike Clattenburg) Still great. I’m hooked.
“And the dope’s not bad!”

What happened was… (1994; Tom Noonan) Holy moly! This is a new Ivanlandia fave! The film itself is a classic of loneliness and depression, unrelenting and unblinking and never succumbing to the awful sin of being “clever” or “ironic.”
Purposeful awkward and uncomfortable, this gets some raw emotions going, and I dare you not to be moved.

Pontypool (2008; Bruce McDonald) Very nice twist on the “zombie” genre—I think inspired by Stephen King’s Cell.
But the flick shows a big tip of the hat to William Burroughs, with its whole “language is a virus” theme/causation—Director McDonald isn’t as famous as fellow Canuck Cronenberg, but he’s been making unique semi-genre flicks for some time now (I think of him as a Canadian Wim Wenders)—and this low-budget zombie Apocalypse is one of his best.
And this flick can be VERY intense and frightening for what’s essentially a filmed one-set play (set at a radio station), with only a handful of characters.
And you cannot praise lead actor Stephen MacHattie enough. If it wasn’t for his intense and remarkable perf, this movie would be nothing—an incredible performance by the perennial character actor.

And stick around for the movie’s “cookie” [the weird bit of footage after the end credits—Joe Dante’s movies, and all the Marvel superhero movies have done it—although I don’t remember if X-Men: First Class broke the trend or not…], the one for Pontypool is pretty damn sexy/awesome/bizarre/hilarious!

Ip Man 2 (2011; Wilson Yip) dull overall, especially poor after the awesome first film, where the stakes were higher.
Cool fight between Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen on a wobbly table, though—fans of great martial arts action should rent the flick, just to fast-forward to the meager handful of martial arts excitement.

C.C. & Company (1970; Seymour Robbie) definite ‘70z relic—Joe Namath and Ann-Margaret and bikers and musical montages: huh?!?
Watched as part of my attempt to see as many biker movies as I can—but this movie’s gang,
The Heads MC (great name, though), is a pathetic pack of sad losers. Headed by the incredible William Smith (acting like SUCH a jerk), but losers nonetheless, they can’t even hold onto newest member Namath (who takes off his colors—the vest—so often that you really wonder if he ever had any commitment to the club). And the movie is more concerned with dirt-biking than real hogs.
However Wayne Cochran’s hair is very impressive. (Namath and A-M visit Vegas at one point and take in a show—and I wouldn’t be surprised if that same hotel was where A-M performed…)

No Blade of Grass (1970; Cornell Wilde) Some good portions, but loses a lot of steam by the one-hour mark. Sometimes extremely heavy-handed, and suffering from a lack of budget, No Blade of Grass is often slip-shod, and its script feels like a first draft. Only recommended for connoisseurs of The Cinema of Dystopia (see ZPG, Children of Men and Soylent Green, to name but a few).

This flick doesn’t come close to the awesomeness that was director Wilde’s masterpiece, The Naked Prey, nor does it break new ground like Wilde’s 1968 WWII flick Beach Red tried to.

About the USMC taking an island during The Great Pacific War, Beach Red has an often experimental structure, mixing fantasies and memories with the “now” of combat, as well as treating all combatants as equally human—especially the enemy and the cowards.
It’s not a success, mainly because the opening credits raised the bar far too high: we’re treated to a series of paintings depicting WWII-era Marines in combat, often (if memory serves) panned across or zoomed into via the optical printer, with as the very last image of the opening titles, co-star Rip Torn (as the tough sergeant) literally and very seriously turning and stepping out of a painting! It’s audacious and almost unbelievable still. When I rented Beach Red years ago, I remember rewinding and watching that precise moment over and over again.
Beach Red is definitely in the “Interesting Failure” column—

Both Beach Red and No Blade of Grass suffer from a lack of budget—which director Wilde, rather than adapt to, seems to “make do”—that is, instead of rewriting the script to suit his budget, it often feels as if Wilde is “pretending” that he has the budget.
Wilde cares about his movies—all of his films are unique or personal in some way, and they all carry heavy themes. Maybe it’s just that the purest of his films—The Naked Prey—in terms of action and representation of personal philosophy/worldview has the least dialog and characters. The Naked Prey is the kind of movie I hope Samuel Beckett managed to catch at some point in his life.
Hmmm…I didn’t really talk too much about No Blade of Grass there, did I? That says something…

Portions of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968; Stanley Kubrick) The Best Movie Ever Made.

Trailer Park Boys: Season Three (2003; Mike Clattenburg)

Trailer Park Boys: Season Four (2004; Mike Clattenburg)

Portions of Monster Zero (1965; IshirĂ´ Honda) Even once in a while I need a kaiju infusion, that’s all. Devo-aliens and their disposable alien wenches screw up taking over the world from us puny humans. One of these days (ha!), I’ll do a longer piece on this movie…

The Flower (2010; wonderful agitprop, although bittersweet

Trailer Park Boys: Season Five (2005; Mike Clattenburg) The show’s still weird—almost Lynchian—but not as funny as it used to be.

Harpoon: Whale Watching Massacre (2009; Julius Kemp) So damn disappointing. Some good gore here and there but otherwise a waste of my time. But an effective anti-tourism commercial for Iceland. And I'm almost sorry the director's last name isn't Kelp.

The Sands of the Kalahari (1965; Cy Endfield) Bought on a whim, this flick winds up being quite disappointing—mainly because all can see that there’s a tight, brutal thriller under there—that some judicious editing could have turned this 119 minute melodrama with too many scenes of solipsistic go-nowhere dialog (bordering too often on the ridiculously pretentious—usually surrounding Stewart Whitman’s asshole hunter character trying to justify his selfish and savage actions) into something awesome.
Trimmed down to a sleek 80 minutes, this “man vs. nature vs. man” tale would have been equal to some of Herzog or Peckinpah’s greatest works, equal almost to The Naked Prey even!
Unfortunately, that’s not the case: Sands of the Kalahari does have potential, but it’s almost if the crew was scared about going too far, about perhaps pushing some uncomfortable questions—for instance, Susannah York’s character is a kissing-cousin to Susan from Straw Dogs—and all that that implies.
If you can rent SotK, or borrow it from the library, go for it. It’s the folks who brought you Zulu stretching their wings, so the action sequences are well-staged and the technical aspects are all top-notch, with a cast of B-list regulars and familiar faces all doing their best in the acting department.
It’s just not worth buying. Sigh…

Not of This Earth (1957; Roger Corman) Yeah, I’m predisposed towards liking Corman’s movies, no matter what. And there’s much in Not of This Earth to criticize if you’re so inclined—but there’s also a lot of cool weirdness in this flick, especially all the hints about the awfulness of life back on Davanna, the alien’s radiation-plagued homeworld. And this movie inspired The Angry Samoans to write a great song!

Trailer Park Boys: Season Six (2006; Mike Clattenburg) The magic is back—a return to the funny: whew!

Portions of Silent Running (1972; Douglas Trumbull) People who tear this flick apart for “scientific inaccuracies” are assholes.
This tale of the last forest exiled into space is a metaphor—I rewatched it during the Bush/Cheney years, and at the time it felt like prophecy—
and one that still pulls the heartstrings (especially for us 1970s kids) primarily through the strength of Bruce Dern’s performance, as well as the performances of the amputees playing the robots. When I was a kid, I cried with sadness after watching this, and any flick that gets a genuine emotional reaction out of me is a winner.

Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970; Joseph Sargent) This is a pulse-quickening Cold War thriller that throws the “fear of the computer” that was rattling around in the late-1960s into the mix.
Every few years, I pop this one in—I used to catch it every time it aired on WOR-TV Channel 9 back in the day. I’ve got the UK PAL widescreen DVD—not available here in the colonies for some obscure reason—the US DVD is an awful pan-&-scan job.
BTW, Colossus, the film is infinitely better than its source novel, ditching the book’s “future” setting, full of “futuristic” techno-junk, for a more realistic “contemporary” setting, becoming very much like Fail-Safe or The Bedford Incident in the process; that is, more of a techno-thriller with some sci-fi elements (as opposed to a more “hard” science film like 2001 or The Andromeda Strain).
Because how the computer works in this film seems to be a bit of hoodoo—why hasn't IBM replicated this yet?—a big magic box, the genie out of the bottle (in reverse?).
But the set-up is played straight till its grim end: Nope, you ain’t beating the mega-computer, puny human.

Director Sargent really uses the Panavision frame well, filling it and keeping it active—and creates wonderful split-screen effects by having the frame filled with video screens of various characters in different locations.
If Joseph Sargent’s name is somewhat familiar, it’s because he directed one of the greatest movies ever made: The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.
None of Joe S.’s subsequent films ever came close to the awesomeness of these two flicks—which is too bad, but I’m glad to have these.

The Velvet Underground: Under Review (2006; Tom Barbor-Might) Absolutely required viewing for fans of the band. Big Lou and John C. are no-shows, but the doc is more than a hagiography, with plenty of well-spoken music scholars chiming in, as well as good comments by Mo Tucker and Doug Yule.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1978; Lewis Gilbert; produced by Albert R. Broccoli) James Bond films are basically beyond real criticism now—you can complain if they don’t fulfill their promises of entertainment and action—but otherwise, you seem foolish. So I won’t go into how this rip-off of You Only Live Twice (replacing spaceships with submarines, and SPECTRE with Stromberg) is a very stupid, smug and shockingly unrepentantly sexist flick.
However, I specifically rented it because that night I needed a James Bond flick and while stupid, this is a BLAST. The effects are cool, every penny of the budget is on screen, Jaws is a superb villain, and there are oodles o’ quim to eyeball.
Honestly, though, I prefer Moonraker to this one—both have the exact same plot (so You Only Live Twice has been ripped-off twice by its own producer), but the monsto-success of The Spy Who Loved Me allowed Broccoli & Co. (I firmly believe that Broccoli is the auteur/CEO of the series; the directors are all hired hands, and the stunt coordinators get to be much more creative than they do) to up the budget, and really allow special effects master Derek Meddings to go to town.

Children of Men (2006; Alfonso Cauron) Religious allegory or cautionary tale or war/secret mission movie?
It’s the background that I truly love in this film—the urban dystopia, the slow death of England, the crumbling ruined infrastructure.
And the DVD supplementals heavily feature Ivanlandia fave, crazed commie philosopher Slavoj Zizek.

The List of Adrian Messenger (1963; John Huston) A fun, murder mystery, but as shallow as a plate. The gimmick of the guest stars might have been neat 50 years ago, but not anymore—I think Huston was aiming for some sort of post-modern meta-twist on Agatha Christie stories, but if so, he was distracted too much by skirt-chasing and fox hunting.
Thankfully, the movie’s brisk pace and top-notch acting (especially both George C. Scott and Kirk Douglas underplaying—for once), and a super cameo by Robert Mitchum, make this a good movie to kill some time with—especially if you’re on a date: the love story subplot (between the French munitions expert and the Countess) is very mature, yet also very warm and tender. A nice surprise if, like me, you cannot tolerate what poses as a romance movie these days.
BTW, if you’re a fan of voice-over god Paul Frees (as I am) this movie is a treasure as Frees supplies voices and overdubs throughout. Jeez, I love the sound of his distinctive voice! Golden tonsils…

Death Race 2000 (1975; Paul Bartel; produced by Roger Corman) Another Ivanlandia fave—been catching up on my dystopian/bloodsport movies lately (or trying to).
This recent viewing made me realize that Death Race 2000 is ripe for an in-depth look here at The United Provinces of Ivanlandia; there’s a lot of meta-social commentary going on! Stay tuned! Vrrrrrrrrrroooooooooom!

Barry Lyndon (1975; Stanley Kubrick) On DVD, this is still a great film, but without the visuals to overwhelm you—like they would in a movie theater with a good print—the miscasting of Ryan O’Neal is very obvious—at least before his character of Barry Lyndon becomes an out-and-out bully and monster. Then, it might not be acting.

Some people have called Barry Lyndon boring. Some people are fucking morons.

The Onion Field (1979; Harold Becker) Great parts, but overall? Very imperfect. Lead John Savage can’t really carry his part of the flick (it seems like he’s a bad imitation of a drunken Christopher Walken half the time), and director Becker has zero style or flair. The flick is lit and shot like a mediocre TV movie—a decent TV movie vet like Buzz Kulik (see his William Castle-produced Riot), Boris Sagal or Ted Post could’ve turned this flick into a more visually appealing movie. And it didn’t know where to end, either—continuing on and on with a coda that is useless.
The flick really drops the ball on its expression of the existential legal nightmare that goes on in this movie.
However, the performances by Ted Danson (as a doomed cop), Franklin Seales (“Don’t you harass my Nana!”) and especially James Woods are vivid and memorable.
Listen, Woods is FREAKY in this flick, pouring on the psycho evil queer bit thick. But it works—Woods is striving for that Klaus Kinski-esque level of intensity and kee-ray-zee. An absolute must-see for fans of the actor.

The Visitors (1972; Elia Kazan) This has been on my Nflix InstaVue list since I first subscribed to the service, and I was compelled to watch it after seeing Woods in The Onion Field
This is James Woods’ first film and it’s a good one.
Directed by Elia Kazan, shot in 16mm (so the film has a real grainy, sleazy vibe), The Visitors belongs on a triple-feature with Straw Dogs (the Peckinpah version) and Funny Games (the German version).
Inspired by the same incident that inspired Brian De Palma’s Casualties of War, The Visitors postulates what would happen when the two guys sent to prison for raping and killing a Vietnamese girl on the “battlefield” are released—they go visit the guy (Woods) who testified against them.
Also making his movie debut is Steve Railsback, playing the former sergeant of the unit, exuding a spookiness that shows the actor was very intense way before he wound up typecast as Manson.
After seeing The Visitors and Kazan’s excellent 1950 thriller Panic in the Streets, I really must go back and rethinking my attitude towards Kazan’s films.
For a long time I was negatively influenced by the decades of praise heaped on the director for his ability to extract good perfs from actors, his affiliation with The Method, blah-blah-blah and so on.
But Kazan also has style and knows how to edit (or knows how to hire a good editor)—The National Film Board of Ivanlandia will have to conduct a retrospective of his work soon.

Addition—here’s my take on Lipstick, from a Nflix review I wrote back in March 2008 (before The United Provinces of Ivanlandia even existed!)

Lipstick (1976; Lamont Johnson) A unique time capsule from a crazier time in movies, Lipstick epitomizes the type of film that could not get made today: Grim, creepy and often uncomfortable to watch, this is as much a feel-bad thriller as Last House on the Left.
As the John Cage-wannabe (with quasi-electronic soundtrack to match) and rapist, Chris Sarandon delivers another excellent performance as a sleazeball, an unctuous oily creep who makes your skin crawl.
While the filmmakers try to examine rape and molestation in a non-exploitative way, the flick’s “realism” often pushes it into the realm of extremely questionable taste. But then, on the other hand, when Lipstick goes into revenge overdrive, it takes on an almost psychotic disco flavor that must be seen to be believed. So when this movie was released in 1976, the critics tore it to shreds.
It’s worth a second look for fans of bleak ’70s flicks.


  1. i've been looking for no blade of grass. where did you find it?

  2. I don't nothin' about this shit. I saw Maniac recently at a theater however, and it seemed as if i'd never seen it before. i musta been drunk the first time. it was great. it was a new experience.

    Alls i know (alls?) is that Ivanlandia is always a safe haven on this burnt out internet... keep 'em coming, your holiness.

  3. Dave! Good to hear from you--I hope your health is well. SotK is available via Olive Films
    but I'm not sure if it's a "must-own."

    Otto, thanks for the kind words--we must do some drinking soon!

  4. hey man,
    thanks for the kind words. means a ton. it's an ongoing battle. it's no blade of grass i am looking for. actually there are a few titles i'm looking for but not sure how to go about finding them

  5. Dave, I completely misread your first email; sorry! I got my copy of No Blade of Grass from a pal who booted it off the web somewhere. If you send me a mailing address (check my profile for my email), I'll throw it in an envelope for ya--my copy isn't the best...but better than nothing, I suppose. Feel better/enjoy the weekend,